Ancient and modern

Benjamin Clementine hasn’t really dedicated his prize to the Paris victims — yet

The true meaning of dedication requires a kind of self-sacrifice not normally found at awards ceremonies

28 November 2015

9:00 AM

28 November 2015

9:00 AM

Benjamin Clementine, who won the 2015 Mercury Music Prize for his debut album At Least For Now, received his cheque for £20,000 and the trophy and, breaking down in tears, ‘dedicated his award to the victims of the Paris terror attacks’. One may be given leave to doubt it.

In the ancient world, people of all backgrounds made dedications, from soldiers thanking gods for their escape from a nasty situation in battle to those who had had a threatening dream or wished to demonstrate their piety. Often people made ‘votive’ offerings (votum, ‘vow’), i.e. after vowing to the god that if they e.g. escaped a storm, they would make a dedication. Such dedications could take the form of anything from monuments like a temple or statue to cakes, garments, plaques, weapons, tools (from retired craftsmen) and figurines.

On the Acropolis in Athens there are dedications from aristocrats, manual workers and women (washerwomen and bakers). Children dedicated toys or locks of hair to the god as they reached puberty. Tithes of booty or percentages of sales from prisoners were regularly offered up after battle. The Greek potter Nearchos (c. 500 BC) commissioned from the famous sculptor Antenor a statue of a young girl, inscribed ‘Nearchos the potter dedicated the first fruits of his products to Athena. Antenor, son of Eumares, made the statue.’ The stonemason Archedemos dedicated a shrine to the god Pan on Mount Hymettus. The architect Julius Lacer put up a small temple to commemorate the bridge he had built in Spain.

The point about all these dedications is the element of self-sacrifice: the dedicators hand over something precious to the god, but thereby make it sacred and so eternal. Indeed, victors at some games were required to dedicate their winnings to the deity.

Which brings us to Mr Clementine, ‘dedicating’ his award to the victims of the massacre. What has his ‘victory’ got to do with them? What sacrifice has he made? Now, if instead of his vacuous gesture he spent his £20,000 winnings on (say) a monument commemorating them…

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