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: