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Chryselephantine Couches, Feasting, and Royal Opulence in Hellenistic Macedonia

Rachel Kousser, CUNY Graduate Center

October 27, 2022 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 010 East Pyne

Department of Art and Archaeology
Ivory relief of Dionysus, Ariadne, and a young satyr from a chryselephantine couch, Tomb III, Vergina, late fourth century BCE.

Macedonian chryselephantine couches — exquisitely carved and gleaming with gold, glass, and ivory — constitute some of the most spectacular yet understudied monuments of the era of Alexander the Great. Well-documented in archaeological remains and written texts, the couches offer a concrete material lens through which to analyze the transfer of cultural knowledge about feasting: an ephemeral activity as significant for Hellenistic kings as for their Persian predecessors.

This talk examines the chryselephantine couches and their connection to the extravagant, hierarchical, and sometimes violent feasts of Alexander the Great. It also demonstrates how Alexander transformed the resonances of the couches’ most valuable material, ivory, to evoke the exotic east and imperial conquest. This re-evaluation of Macedonian chryselephantine couches illuminates global interconnections during the formative period of Hellenistic art. With its focus on feasting, it also offers a case study in the integration of ephemeral practices into our analysis of Hellenistic court culture.

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