Lyre of Hermes

About once a year we hear of someone reproducing this or that ancient instrument. This time around, it’s the so-called “Lyre of Hermes”, which is the lyre you often see depicted on Hellenistic pottery.

Dixit Serkan Çelik (a lecturer at Ege University Turkish Music Conservatory):

“Some depictions were not too clear, that’s why we had some problems during the process. While reproducing the instrument, we used natural materials and brought it to life back. Its sound box was made from tortoise shells and strings from intestines.”

“We are the first ones to produce this instrument. Another example was reproduced by French musicologist Belis but that instrument’s sound box was created from wood rather than tortoise shell, so the one we produced is closer to the original.”

Queen’s Firsts

One of the fun aspects of going to Queen’s (where I did my M.A.) was reading the local paper, which had the great name Whig-Standard (which is almost as good as Times-Picayune) and I note a letter to the editor this past week from R. Drew Griffith, one of my former professors and current head of the department (I believe):

The story “Hate on campus” (Jan. 24) outlines Queen’s University’s uphill battle for inclusiveness, noting that last month the university’s board of trustees failed to endorse a plan to name a building on campus after Robert Sutherland (BA, 1852), the first black graduate of any college in British North America, later a successful lawyer and Queen’s first major benefactor.

When Sutherland’s story is fully celebrated, as it should be, I will note with pride that he majored in classics (my department) and mathematics, and that he graduated with a prize for translation from English into ancient Greek verse, a feat neither my colleagues nor I nowadays would dare to attempt.

Queen’s classics department scored another first, by the way, in 1917, when it and the English department appointed Queen’s first two female professors – not too shabby for a field devoted to the study of dead European males.

There’s actually a visiting professorship at Queen’s named for Sutherland as well, and the accompanying biography in the description thereof only mentions a Classics connection in passing (if that) … perhaps some rectification of this would be a good thing as well. Perhaps we need a Canadian version of Twelve Black Classicists

Mac Classics Redux (sort of)

Every so often you start to wonder whether ‘outsiders’ are seeking attention from rogueclassicism — and assorted parts of my brain usually kick in to set my head straight. But in the wake of our Mac Classics post last week, I can’t help but wonder whether Digital Daily is looking for some rogueclassicism love … check out this photo:

… which is accompanied by this incipit:

Apple observers sifting entrails for portents of iMacs to come have three new signs in which to put their faith this week.

… and this headline:

Romans At Silbury Hill?

A piece in the Telegraph suggests (n regards to Silbury Hill), inter alia:

So the mound wasn’t simply some ghostly feature that became abandoned in prehistoric times, says Rob Harding, the English Heritage project manager for the site. According to Harding, there is also evidence of Roman usage in the platforms along the side of the hill. “Often, the Romans adopted the local gods and forms of worship when they arrived in new countries, so we think it would have had some sort of ceremonial function for the Romans. But it is possible it was disused in the period prior to their arrival in 43BC. The Roman road to Bath (the A4) runs around the base of the hill, but we have nothing to suggest it was in use after the Romans until the late Saxon or earlyNorman period.”

Actually, back in 2007, archaeologists found remains of a substantial Roman settlement at the base of the hill. According to a Guardian article from the time:

It was already clear that the Romans knew Silbury – the largest prehistoric structure in Europe, nearly 40 metres high and estimated to have taken 35m baskets of chalk to build – because their ruler-straight road, which the A4 follows, jinked to avoid it.

However the revelation that regularly laid out streets and houses of a village the size of 24 football pitches lay hidden under the modern road and the fields around it astonished the scientists, who were surveying the site before restoration work on the hill.

Bob Bewley, regional director of English Heritage, speculated that Silbury may have been an overnight stop on the way to the sacred springs and bathing pools at Bath, but may also have been a Roman pilgrimage site in its own right.

… and even back then there was this ‘ceremonial’ bent to the interpretation (I think this was also said by the aforementioned Bob Bewley):

“Given the sacred value we know Romans attached to sites close to water it seemed impossible that they would not be drawn in the wake of their prehistoric forebears to Silbury Hill, which lies close to both the Winterbourne River and the Swallowhead springs. To have found such a substantial and organised settlement though is amazing.”

I can’t, however, find any mention of remains of a Roman shrine or evidence of votive offerings or whatever … is there any material evidence to back up this ‘ceremonial’/’sacred’ claim?

Extraterrestrial Rome

Can’t resist this one … a piece at io9 relates a dozen science fiction “Romes”, including the one in the “Bread and Circuses” episode of Star Trek,  Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series,  and even the “Problem with Popplers” episode of Futurama — in regards to the latter, Classicists might appreciate the involvement of the “Omicronians” too. Assorted trivia and script excerpts for the latter here

From the Italian Press

Well, now that I’m full of espresso, it seems appropriate to peruse what our friends in Italy have been reading about:

Authorities have discovered evidence of tombaroli operating around Ragusa:

They’re going to be sprucing (cypressing? decypressing?) up Augustus’ mausoleum:

The previous two items hint that the bases for obelisks which once stood in front of the Mausoleum have been discovered … la Repubblica gives more details:

This item from Quaderno relates the debate over what to do with archaeological remains found beneath the Duomo in Benevento; inter alia, there are Roman remains from both Republican and Imperial (and later) eras, including remains of the Forum:

Eva Cantarella weighs in on the ongoing concerns over conditions at Pompeii:

Recovery of stolen antiquities in Puglia/Bari is up 15%:

Puglia/ Bari, aumentano gli scavi clandestini: +15% (Vergilio)

A report on the find at San Mango d’Aquino (in Calabria … not sure what its ancient name would be) of a Roman tomb from the ‘Augustan age’ … it might be hinting at the location of a long-rumoured necropolis in the area:

I don’t quite get the connection to archaeology in this one … a prize for archaeological journalism named after some guy we’ve all heard of:

Centurion Flick in the Works

According to Hollywood Reporter:

Michael Fassbender, Dominic West and Bond girl Olga Kurylenko are girding their loins for Neil Marshall’s Britain-set sword-and-sandals thriller “Centurion,” for “Slumdog Millionaire” producer Christian Colson of Celador Films.

The movie, billed as a thriller set during the Roman invasion of Britain in A.D. 117, tells the story of Quintus Dias, sole survivor of a Pictish raid on a Roman frontier fort, who marches north with General Virilus’ legendary Ninth Legion, under orders to wipe the Picts from the face of the Earth and destroy their leader, Gorlacon.

Hmmm … the “invasion” of which they speak must be when Falco was sent to suppress an uprising in “Scotland” of assorted tribes, no? I guess they’ll also be telling us what happened to the lost Ninth Legion …

Classical (?) Accessories

Okay … so a couple of weeks ago I get an item in my mailbox about some guy who makes handbags with Classical names. I sat on the item for a while, then decided not to bother with it (it did get mentioned on one of the lists) and now I can’t find it again. About a week before that, there was a somewhat incoherent item on the Conturelle Swimsuit collection which mentioned:

This story with an all-over print and isolated motifs is inspired by antiquity: coins and meanders in French blue, turquoise and gold evoke the foam-borne love goddess who lent her name to the three ranges: Aphrodite, Aphrodite Allover and Aphrodite Bleu.

Today at MSN we read this:

The legendary world of the mythical Greek Gods of Mount Olympus, symbols of virtue and guardians of the arts, is the inspiration for the new Roberto Cavalli Eyewear collection, in which each model represents the meeting point between luxury and art, an extreme expression of beauty and creativity.

Each family – Aphrodite, Apollo, Hera, Artemis, Ephesus, Dionysus, Demeter, Hestia, Poseidon – stands out for its own specific features, the result of the perfect fusion of jewellery craftsmanship.

Nothing particularly ‘classical’ about any of these (to judge from the photos) other than the names …

Shipwrecks Off Albania

Not sure why the only source for this seems to be the rather obscure Owen Sound Sun Times, but it appears there has been a rather major shipwreck discovery off the coast of Albania. Adding to the mystery (for me) is why most of the article seems to quote people who weren’t directly involved.

Dixit Andrej Gaspari (a Slovenian archaeologist not involved in the project):

“The discoveries are very important because of the lack of properly documented objects from that period … The only ships found and documented from that time belong to the western Mediterranean and Israel . . . so our knowledge on the technology used for construction of ships is more or less limited.”

Among the finds:

A 51-centimetre-long pottery jar, or amphora, used to transport wine and olive oil, and a smaller version found about 80 metres deep were probably made in the southern Greek city of Corinth, in the sixth or early fifth centuries BC. Both were recovered from a merchant ship that sank about three kilometres off shore. Albanian archeologist Adrian Anastasi said if the sixth-century BC dating is confirmed, it would be only the fifth of its kind found in the world.

Other highlights included a fourth-century BC amphora and roof tiles, a north African jar from the first to third centuries AD and a Roman stone ship’s anchor of the second-first century BC. The team, operating off the southern port city of Saranda, also located more than 20 unknown 20th-century shipwrecks.

Dixit Adrian Anastasi (who is connected to the ‘dig’):

“A wreck with a whole shipload of tiles has never been found before,” Anastasi said. “The number of tiles and the way they were lying clearly shows the ship is below them.”

The article continues:

Anastasi said he had unearthed the same type of large tiles — which measure 74 by 51 inches — during excavations on land at the ruins of ancient cities in western Albania. He said the ship seemed to have been loaded on the nearby Greek island of Corfu and possibly foundered on its way to a Corinthian colony in Albania.

There’s more info (and some photos of the sorts of things we’re interested in) at the Albanian Coastal Survey 2008 webpage …

Greek Shipwrecks at Risk

A while back we mentioned that the Greek goverment was opening up a pile of potential underwater archaeological sites to scuba access … an excerpt from a piece in the Guardian:

“Greek waters are some of the richest in antiquities in the world,” said the marine archaeologist Katerina Dellaporta. “Thanks to very stringent controls over underwater exploration shipwrecks have been extremely well preserved.”

Until recently divers were allowed access to just 620 miles of the country’s 12,000 mile coastline, but in an attempt to boost tourism, the conservative government opened the country’s entire coastal waters to underwater exploration in 2003.

Since then, looting has proliferated, say archaeologists.

Treasure hunters, encouraged by scuba-diving websites from America to Australia, are homing in on the “archaeological sea parks” armed with hi-tech scanners, cameras and nets.

One US-based diving company offers on its website an exhaustive list of “underwater treasures” which have been discovered by scuba divers, including sculptures, jewellery, warrior helmets, Phoenician beads, vases, and a variety of personal items reflecting life in the region in ancient times, from oil lamps to medical supplies.

… is there anyone out there who isn’t saying “I told you so”?

Pantheon Sundial?

Alun Salt mentioned this on Twitter and I finally have time to explore it a bit … A piece in New Scientist relates Robert Hannah’s suggestion that the Pantheon served as a sundial of some sort. Here’s an excerpt:

When Robert Hannah of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, visited the Pantheon in 2005, researching for a book (see “Review: Time in Antiquity by Robert Hannah”), he realised that the Pantheon may have been more than just a temple. During the six months of winter, the light of the noon sun traces a path across the inside of the domed roof. During summer, with the sun higher in the sky, the shaft shines onto the lower walls and floor. At the two equinoxes, in March and September, the sunlight coming in through the hole strikes the junction between the roof and wall, above the Pantheon’s grand northern doorway (pictured). A grille above the door allows a sliver of light through to the front courtyard – the only moment in the year that it sees sunlight if its main doors are closed (see diagram).

Hannah reckons this is no coincidence. A hollowed-out hemisphere with a hole in the top was a type of sundial used in Roman times, albeit on a much smaller scale, to show the time of year. While the Pantheon’s dome is quite flat on the outside, it forms a perfect hemisphere inside. “This is quite a deliberate design feature,” says Hannah.

I tried to find a photo of one of these hollowed-out sundials, but Google is being very weird at the moment, but what I’d like to figure out is whether we can go beyond an ‘hour of the day’ idea to a full blown calendar idea. I think the interior of the Pantheon is much modified from Roman times and one could see the ceiling and walls being usefully used. Indeed, Cassius Dio (53.27) suggests:

2 Also he completed the building called the Pantheon. It has this name, perhaps because it received among the images which decorated it the statues of many gods, including Mars and Venus; but my own opinion of the name is that, because of its vaulted roof, it resembles the heavens.

If by ‘the heavens’ Dio is referring to actual decoration within the vaulted roof and those decorations were ‘accurate’, the dome could conceivably be used as a calendar, marking the sun’s position in relation to the zodiac or whatever, no?

“Lost” Latin Found

It’s been the buzz of all the lists over the past week, so if you missed it, ecce:

prisoner type one: Quare non sunt vestitus eis?
prisoner type two: Tace!

blonde: Cognoscitis qui sumus?

… there was apparently some later as well; I can’t find that one yet, but the blond (the character’s name is ‘Juliet’, apparently … sorry, not a regular Lost viewer) talks about it in this podcast:

CONF: Jews, Christians, Greeks, Romans


A symposium in honour of Professor Tessa Rajak

University of Reading

Thursday, 25 June 2009

10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.

The conference is to mark the long and distinguished career of our colleague, Tessa Rajak, and her many years of research, teaching, and service to the global academic community.


PHILIP ALEXANDER, Professor of Post-Biblical Jewish Studies and Co-Director of the Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Manchester. “Did the Rabbinic movement lose the West? Reflections on the fate of Greek-speaking Judaism after 70 CE”.

E. GILLIAN CLARK, Professor of Ancient History and Head of Subject (Classics & Ancient History), University of Bristol. “Augustine and the Septuagint”.

HANNAH M. COTTON, Shalom Horowitz Professor of Classics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “The Conception of Jesus and the Documents from the Judaean Desert”.

MARTIN D. GOODMAN, Professor of Jewish Studies and Fellow of Wolfson College, University of Oxford. “Tolerance of Variety within Judaism in the Early Roman empire”.

ERICH S. GRUEN, Wood Professor of History Emeritus, University of California at Berkeley. “Perseus as a Multi-Culturalist”.

FERGUS G. B. MILLAR, Camden Professor of Ancient History Emeritus, University of Oxford. “Jews and Christians in Late Antique Mesopotamia”.

JOHN NORTH, Professor of History Emeritus, UCL, University of London. “Pagan Orthopraxy”.

TESSA RAJAK, Professor of Ancient History Emeritus, University of Reading. Moderator of final panel discussion.


For some time now, scholars have sought to undermine rigid distinctions between Jews, Christians, and other religious communities in Greco-Roman antiquity. Researchers have progressed far in understanding the complex religious and cultural interactions that flourished in the Hellenistic and Roman periods and in exploring the social and cultural milieux inhabited by different religious groups.

In bringing together distinguished international experts in the field, this conference aims to evaluate and interrogate long-established positions and to move discussion to the next level. We seek to build on the current understanding of religious interaction in the Roman Empire, and on the broader question of hybrid identities, and develop critical perspectives for future study. The primary focus is Jewish-Christian interaction, but within the context of a broader framework that includes other religious communities. What does religious multiculturalism mean in an ancient context? What becomes of categories such as “Jew” and “Christian” (or “Diaspora Jew” and “Judaean Jew”, or “Pharisee”, “Sadducee”, and “Essene”) in a scenario where religious and cultural identities appear to be fluid? How does the interpretation of sacred texts proceed in such a situation? How exemplary is the case of the Empire’s Jewish communities? What are the politics of religious contact and boundary-manipulation in the Roman Empire? What is the role of collective memory? These are the questions we hope to address in our papers and discussions.


Conference Only: Registration for the conference is £25 and includes lunch and a reception. If you would like to attend the conference, please send your name, address, email address, and a cheque for £25 payable to the “University of Reading” to: Nina Aitken, School of Humanities, University of Reading, P. O. Box 218, Reading RG6 6AA, U.K.

Conference and Dinner: Registration for the conference is £25 and includes lunch and a reception. The conference will be followed by a dinner, which has a separate fee of £30. If you would like to attend the dinner as well as the conference, please send your name, address, email address, and a cheque for £55 payable to the “University of Reading” to: Nina Aitken, School of Humanities, University of Reading, P. O. Box 218, Reading RG6 6AA, U.K.

Students: The conference is free for students. Please inform us of your participation by sending an email to Nina Aitken at However, students who would like to attend the dinner as well as the conference should send their name, address, email address, and a cheque for £30 payable to the “University of Reading” to Nina Aitken, School of Humanities, University of Reading, P. O. Box 218, Reading RG6 6AA, U.K.

The conference is sponsored by the Jowett Trust, Oxford, and the School of Humanities and the Department of Classics at the University of Reading.

For further information, please contact Phiroze Vasunia at p.vasunia AT or at the Department of Classics, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AA, U.K.

Telephone: +44 (0)118 378 8410.

“Spaghetti Gladiator” Flick reveals that Jonathan Liebesman — of Texas Chainsaw Massacre ‘fame’ — has a project in the works. Ecce:

Liebesman revealed that it’s a project he’s working on with the producers of 300 that he hasn’t said anything about until now. The film is about “the story of Odysseus and basically it’s like a Clint Eastwood story where he comes back after 20 years at war and finds his island overtaken by bad guys and it’s sort of a little kinetic action movie of how this guy wins his island back.” Liebesman also added that aforementioned bit about how it’s like a western, but set in the time of ancient Greece instead.

Oh oh …

Mac Classics

A piece in Tidbits — a blog for Mac types — turned up in the scan today with an article commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Mac with some interviews with some users … inter alia, “Matt” says:

As a programmer, I’d been working with computers since 1968, but as a Classics professor in the early 1980s, my immediate problem was typing Ancient Greek, or, more precisely, typing both English and Greek in the same document. I had an IBM Selectric typewriter with interchangeable typeballs, and later an Olivetti electronic typewriter that used interchangeable typewheels and had a tiny “memory” so that it was almost a miniature word processor. But the real solution was a personal computer: I got an Apple ][c clone called a Laser 128. This, together with an ImageWriter and a wonderful (now defunct) program called Gutenberg, gave me a full-featured word processor with the ability to alternate English and Greek letters at will.

While teaching at Cornell University in the late 1980s, I met Adam, who taught me to use the Macs in the computer labs; I remember us performing some clever tricks with Microsoft Word and QuicKeys (and swapping a lot of floppy disks). But the Mac still felt like a toy to me, and I didn’t actually want one.

Then, in 1990, I arrived at Swarthmore College and found that, like every professor, I was given an office Mac. It was one of those early squat all-in-one machines with a tiny monochrome screen – probably either a Plus or an SE. Naturally, since it was right there on my desk and hooked into something called the “Internet,” I started playing with it constantly. (Oh, the INITs! Oh, the bombs!)

But what turned me into a Mac person wasn’t the machine so much as the killer apps I got for it. Nisus, a fantastic word processor with amazing search-and-replace and macro features, along with LaserGreek, a gorgeous Ancient Greek font, allowed me to do all my multilingual scholarly writing. And HyperCard 2 made the Mac interface itself programmable, letting me create an Ancient Greek language lab for my students. By the end of that school year, I was a Mac convert, the proud owner of a brand new pizza-box Macintosh LC which, together with a StyleWriter printer, remained my workhorse machine for many years.

… hmmm … Matt at Swarthmore in the 1990s … can’t figure it out.

Breviaria 01/27/09

Akropolis World News (in Greek) has been updated (really wish they had an rss feed!):

If you think you’re too old to take up Latin:

An interview with the folks behind Brandeis Theater Company’s production of Hecuba:

Greece is campaigning to erect a statue of Alexander the Great at the site of Gaugamela:

The headline says it all:

Graeme Clarke was made an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia:

DIG: Gabii Field School

The Gabii Project (Central Italy) is sponsoring a volunteer field school program for undergraduate students in 2009 (season dates: 21 June – 25 July).  If you are interested in applying (deadline 15 February 2009), please visit; inquiries may be directed to gabiiproject At

The archaeological project is located at the site of ancient Gabii, some 18 km to the east of Rome in Central Italy.

The Gabii Project is an international, multi-institution archaeological initiative under the direction of Nicola Terrenato of the University of Michigan. Field research at the site of Gabii commenced in 2007 with a campaign of magnetometric geophysical survey, undertaken in order to begin to establish an archaeological plan of the site – something that had never been done before – and to assess the nature of archaeological deposits and determine whether or not urban excavation at the site would be a workable research approach. Encouraged by the 2007 results, the project returned in 2008 to complete the magnetometry survey of the site and to carry out various other geophysical prospections in order to construct stratigraphic site profiles for Gabii. With the data in hand from 2007 and 2008, a fairly complete plan for a substantial part of the urban area is now in hand and will serve as a useful guide for excavations that will commence in June 2009.

The 2009 season will be the first season of fieldwork at the site of Gabii that will involve excavation, and thus the Gabii Project is pleased to offer a field program for student volunteers. We welcome applications from any interested students.  The program, which will not grant academic credit in 2009, will run from June 21 to July 25, 2009. During the program students will receive an introduction to, and instruction in, the range of practical skills employed by the field archaeologist, as well as exposure to the various techniques and methods of the archaeological field laboratory. The following represent some of the skill sets that the program will cover.
•    Open field excavation methodology
•    Archaeological documentation and record keeping
•    The use of the Harris Matrix for stratigraphical analysis and documentation
•    Identification and initial conservation of archaeological finds
•    Use of a transit and exposure to the operation of a Total station (electronic surveying instrument)

Students will be housed in Frascati, Italy, at the Hotel Ville Mercede, a pensione that features air conditioning, wireless internet access, and an on-site restaurant.  Meals will be provided at the restaurant (Monday-Friday) as well as on-site.  The program cost for five weeks is $3,600.

Applications are submitted electronically via the Project’s website: