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Couched in Death: Klinai and Identity in Anatolia and Beyond

Couched in Death: Klinai and Identity in Anatolia and Beyond

By Elizabeth P. Baughan (Wisconsin Studies in Classics). Pp. xvii + 487, figs. 168, color pls. 11, tables 2. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison 2013. $65. ISBN 978-029929180-8 (cloth).

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In book 10 of Plato’s Republic, while debating the art of mimesis, Socrates draws a distinction between the divinely conceived couch (kline), the couch created by the carpenter that conforms in appearance to this original idea or form, and the couch produced in imitation of it by the painter (596b–597e). As Baughan argues, the exemplum works because the couch was so familiar a part of the material and visual landscape of classical Greece (86). It is this ubiquitous furniture that Couched in Death attempts to capture by providing a comprehensive survey of the physical remains of couches and their representations in the Mediterranean and Near East from roughly the eighth to fourth century B.C.E. However, what emerges is not an understanding of one single and singly defined furniture type—the kline in its original form, to adopt Plato’s vocabulary—but an object of diverse practical use and symbolic association. For as Baughan shows, it can be at once and together a bed, a funeral bed, and a banqueting couch. Put into service in tombs, it can play a role in funerary ritual, provide a resting place for the dead, and convey retrospectively hopes for the future or aspects of identity. In establishing this fluidity, Couched in Death not only elucidates the valency of the couch but also works toward a new appraisal of the origins of the reclining banquet in a culturally contiguous world and the specific incorporation of banqueting elements into funeral practices by elite Anatolians.

The book’s chapters proceed from close study of physical shape and practical use toward analysis of the couch in sociopolitical contexts. Chapter 1 traces elements of continuity and difference in the representational scheme of klinai in Greek painted pottery across the Archaic and Classical periods, and primarily from Athens. Given that the main focus of study is Anatolia, this starting point is initially surprising. However, the corpus is well known, and fresh attention to compositional details in terms of their fabric and structure as well as the purposes to which the furniture is put affords a way through the problems that pictorial representations raise. The integration of the kline into scenes illustrating the laying out of the dead, mythological tales where the action unfolds on or near a bed, and the drinking party, or symposion, provides a framework of potential use, while in the last of these the couch is implicated in the ideology of elite banqueting. At the same time, with the help of excavated remains from sanctuaries and graves, the materials and modes of kline construction are elucidated, leading to the description of two principal types, A and B, distinguished primarily by their legs and associated decorative schemes. This leads Baughan toward the East Greeks and workshops at Miletus and Chios that reportedly provided two different forms.

With this observation, the study moves geographically closer to Anatolia, where chapter 2 begins. Working within the same time frame but with a discrete set of evidence, the author demonstrates the presence of types A and B in tombs across the region, both as physical objects made of wood, bronze, or stone and as elements in pictorial scenes. Attention to their distribution in Phrygia, Lydia, Lycia, Caria, and Paphlagonia demonstrates both the longevity of the practice of utilizing couches within funerary ritual and new, if less frequently attested, patterns that draw ideologies of banqueting into the tomb. In such instances, with the dead set to rest on the klinai surrounded by drinking sets and sometimes in juxtaposition to painted banqueting scenes, the couch becomes part of a three-dimensional representation that parallels the two-dimensional image on the wall. Here, the Greek sympotic practices sketched previously appear to line up, but Baughan warns against assuming influence or similarity, preferring to emphasize the difficulty of pinning down the resonances of the symbolism, be they eschatologically or socially oriented.

The remainder of the book works through one set of possible resonances, anchored in a distinctively Anatolian context. This requires a segue in chapter 3 into the origins of the reclining banquet, to consider when and how this behavior came to influence long-standing funeral practices involving eating and drinking. By the eighth century, a banqueting culture involving wine, sex, and song and enjoyed on the couch had spread from Syro-Phoenicia to neighboring areas, including Lydia (from whence it may have influenced the nearby Greeks and encouraged a market in klinai for the Milesians and Chians). In the centuries that followed, as Lydia and Anatolia fell under Persian power, the habit became increasingly attested through local funerary practice. From this basis, chapter 4 forcefully argues that the appearance of Persian features in the furniture and accessories of the banquet, evidenced in finds and imagery, does not represent the “Persianization” of Anatolian elites following the wholesale absorption of outsider practices but rather a fusion of local and Achaemenid culture in the region. Thus, staging the reclining banquet in three dimensions is not an expression of “Persian” identity for the dead, but rather of their social status within a hybrid culture in which incoming Persians and native Anatolians were jointly invested.

In sum, Couched in Death provides a meticulous and in-depth analysis of surviving evidence for the couch, divided clearly by region and made accessible to the reader by photographs, line drawings, and computer-generated reconstructions, as well as an up-to-date catalogue of tombs. It also presents a credible reevaluation of the interrelationship between the reclining banquet and contemporary funeral culture. While navigating the Greek material (and branching out also to Etruria and Macedon), the author allows Anatolian developments to stand in conversation with those in other regions but ultimately to be understood in their own terms. The tyranny of the Greek symposion, which rather dominates academic conversations about the reclining banquet, is thus avoided. Furthermore, the book stands apart from its direct predecessors (e.g., B. Fehr, Orientalische und griechische Gelag [Bonn 1971]; J.-M. Dentzer, Le motif du banquet couché dans le Proche-Orient et le monde grec du VIIe au IVe siècle avant J.-C. [Paris 1982]) by considering the couch in action. By examining the couch as a component of social practices and contributor to discourses of identity, Couched in Death brings the kline to life.

Fiona Hobden
Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology
University of Liverpool

Book Review of Couched in Death: Klinai and Identity in Anatolia and Beyond, by Elizabeth P. Baughan

Reviewed by Fiona Hobden

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 1 (January 2017)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1211.Hobden

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