Amber Shoulders

Major: Art History & Classical Studies
Herron School of Art and Design

Giving Objects a Voice: The Phenomenon of First-Person Inscription and Its Relation to Cursed Text

Cultures throughout history developed their own set of unique beliefs and practices, some of which still exist in one form or another. One such practice is that of inscribing objects. This common practice was often used to denote personal ownership. An oddity, however, is that several objects have been found, inscribed in such a way so that the object itself appears to be speaking. These came to be known as ‘Speaking Objects’ within the academic community. Found as far back as the Greco-Roman period, some Speaking Objects take it one step further, by placing a curse upon anyone who would seek to falsely take possession. Three such cursed Speaking Objects that follow this format are the Sutton Brooch, Tataie’s Aryballos, and Nestor’s Cup. Each possess voice, identification, and a curse that are written in similar styles despite having existed in different time periods. This practice would evolve, making its way into the legal system of medieval England, most notably in the form of charters. During this time focus began to shift from that of personal to communal protection against wrongdoers. Such a practice was not only accepted during this time, but in many ways encouraged as it was thought to invoked divine favor. This practice blended Pagan and Christian beliefs at a time where they were often at odds with each other. Even now, people often write their names in books to mark ownership. What is it about this practice that has persisted through time and culture?