Each time I see the little Temple of Dendur crouching behind its view of the park as if someone had given it A-framed spectacles with which to view the twentieth century, I think of the Metropolitan Museum’s Egyptian wing when I was a child—those long, swarthy corridors down which one mummy-case after another invited the ten-year-old toward a vista of what the ages were, what death might be, and what reflection could be. As I walked on into other wings an idea came on slowly, happily repeatable from tour to tour, persuading me by the vast succession of almost similar objects presented, each identified only by its tiny inscripted card. I came to feel there was a repetition at the core of it all, coiling in each rescued treasure and fluttering in each viewer, uniting the two of us from the very bottoms of time and art.

That lure was what pulled one along the endless aisles of Greek and Roman amphorae. These were neither...


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