“The ball no question makes of ayes or noes;” or, Is this the ancient origin of baseball?

March 31, 2012 at 5:54 pm (Art)

[This post is a follow-up to The Met Museum in March.]

I spent an inordinate amount of time in front of this; staring, simply standing and staring….

Dating from between 380 to 246 BC, this relief is made of quartzite. Its dimensions are given as 33 7/16 by 27 15/16 inches. Its 1947 entry into the Met’s collection was facilitated by the Joseph Pulitzer Bequest.

On the Met’s site, the work is entitled “Ball-Playing Ceremony” and is subtitled, as it were: “the king before a goddess, possibly Hathor.” This further information follows:

This finely cut relief depicts a rite in which the king hits a ball before a goddess, often Hathor. Ptolemaic texts liken the ball to the eye of fiends who are enemies of the gods. Usually the king holds a stick.

Usually the king holds a stick….It looks to me as though the goddess is holding the stick, or a staff of some sort. At any rate, this is merely one of several instances encountered by me at the Met, in which a somewhat cryptic description of a  given work of art seemed to raise more questions than it answered.

Whatever its true import, “Ball-Playing Ceremony” held me in its thrall.


Here’s the rest of the quatrain whose first line appears in the title of this post:

The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Right or Left, as strikes the Player goes;
And he that toss’d Thee down into the Field,
He knows about it all — He knows — HE knows!

This is the fiftieth quatrain from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald

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