Susanne Ebbinghaus will be giving a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Monday, February 22 at noon. Her talk is entitled “Drinking Horns: Nature and Myth.”

Susanne Ebbinghaus is the George M.A. Hanfmann Curator of Ancient Art and Head of the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at the Harvard Art Museums. Her research focuses on the art and archaeology of ancient Greece and the Near East, with special interest in the material culture of feasting and cross-cultural interaction between east and west. She received her MPhil and DPhil from the University of Oxford, where her doctoral dissertation traced the spread of a specific form of drinking vessel, the rhyton with animal forepart, in the Achaemenid Persian Empire. At the Harvard Art Museums, Ebbinghaus organized Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity (2007) and worked on the installation of the collections galleries for the museums’ 2014 reopening. She edited Superficial? Approaches to Painted Sculpture, a special issue of Source: Notes in the History of Art (2011), and Ancient Bronzes through a Modern Lens (2014), a collection of essays on the scientific and art historical study of ancient bronzes. She has taught courses in classics and the history of art, and is engaged in the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis in Turkey. Currently, Ebbinghaus is a Research Fellow at Bard Graduate Center where she is carrying out research for the exhibition Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings.

In this talk, Ebbinghaus will explore the use and mythology of drinking horns in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East and in pre-modern Europe, but also look to East Asia, Africa, and the Americas for a broader perspective on drinking from horns. In the animal world, horns provide a defense against predators and help the males of a species fight over territory and compete for and impress females. For the human hunter, the horns of cattle, goats, and sheep present ready-made cups and natural tokens of power, prowess, and virility. Used for the consumption of alcoholic beverages, the horn links power and copious drinking; the larger the horn, the more impressive the animal and the greater the hunter’s feat—and thirst. One could say that by their very nature, drinking horns invite notions of the primitive and of prestige. Both their material and procurement hold significant potential for the spinning of tales about magical properties and heroic deeds—the kind of tales that tend to be told over a drink. The inherent prestige, capacity to accrue stories, and ability to shape and express social relations in the context of the feast led to a kind of gentrification of the drinking horn in a number of ancient and modern societies. Decorated with precious materials and copied in other media, horns could turn from cups into barely functional symbolic objects and, in Renaissance Europe, elaborately crafted collector’s items destined for the cabinet of curiosities.