National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Emily C. Egan

Affiliation: University of Maryland

Emily C. Egan is Assistant Professor of Ancient Eastern Mediterranean Art and Archaeology at the University of Maryland. She holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati (PhD. and M.A.), the University of Cambridge (M.Phil.), and Brown University (B.A.). Her research focuses on painted wall and floor decoration in the Bronze Age Aegean and especially at the sites of Mycenae and Pylos, where she is engaged in active fieldwork. From 2019-2020 she served as Fellow in Aegean Art at Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies. Her publications investigate issues of iconography, artistic agency, cross-craft interaction, and early traditions of Mycenaean mural making. Currently, she is preparing a monograph on the painted floors of the megaron of the Palace of Nestor.


This lecture takes a deep “dive” into depictions of marine life in the art of Late Bronze Age Greece (ca. 1600–1100 BCE). Amid a survey of sea creatures including octopods, dolphins, and fish, special attention is given to the enigmatic argonaut motif and its appearance in the wall paintings of the Mycenaean ‘Palace of Nestor’ at Pylos. At the time of their discovery, painted argonauts – pelagic cephalopods that grow their own shells – were classed among the site’s purely decorative designs on account of their fanciful coloration and stiff presentation in single-file lines like elements in a modern wallpaper border. New research at the Palace of Nestor, however, suggests that argonauts were not simple ornaments but powerful royal symbols, on par with more fearsome Aegean “totems” like lions and griffins. This lecture presents this new theory and the evidence that underpins it, and also demonstrates how the painted forms of the creatures, when viewed closely, offer rare insight into the thought processes and working methods of Greek Bronze Age artists.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

C. Egan. 2020. “Standardization vs. Individualization in the Pylian Painted Argonaut,” in The Entangled Sea, L. Berg and L. Hitchcock, eds. Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies 8, pp. 379–388.

C. Egan and H. Brecoulaki. 2015. “Marine Iconography at the Palace of Nestor and the Emblematic Use of the Argonaut,” in Mycenaean Wall Paintings in Context: New Discoveries and Old Finds Reconsidered, H. Brecoulaki, J. Davis, and S. Stocker, eds., National Hellenic Research Foundation, pp. 292–313.

Berg. 2013. “Marine Creatures and the Sea in Bronze Age Greece: Ambiguities of Meaning,” Journal of Maritime Archaeology 8, pp. 1–27.

Petrakis. 2011. “Politics of the Sea in the Late Bronze Age II–III Aegean: Iconographic Preferences and Textual Perspectives,” in The Seascape in Aegean Prehistory, G. Vavouranakis, ed., Athens, pp. 185–234.

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