The indomitable spirit cannot be diminished – by negligence, by war, by time spun farther than the grasp of memory. This occurs to me on September ninth, in the Egyptian gallery of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, as I stand before the only remaining fragment of an ancient sculpture. The body has vanished, and most of the head is gone. What remains is a small artefact, about six inches high: an elegant mouth – smiling, in repose – and the beginning curve of a face, carved from yellow jasper. Between ragged fractures where the stone is sheared off – one just above the top lip, the other below the chin – the mouth has been sculpted with astonishing precision by the craft of a culture now strewn across the debris field of history. This statue, all that’s left of the queen of a remote age, was fashioned in devotion and shattered by war, almost twenty-five centuries ago. And still, she smiles.
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