Yves Saint Laurent Classical Content?

While most of the news this past week about the auction of Yves Saint Laurent’s extensive collection focussed on some possibly-purloined Chinese items, I did search to see if there was anything genuinely ancient in the collection (plenty of stuff from the 17th and 18th century with Classical themes, to be sure) but all I found was a slide in a BBC feature on the auction:

This is described as a “Roman marble minotaur” … it doesn’t appear in the results at Christies, nor does a search for “minotaur” turn up anything. Anyone know anything about this? I suspect this isn’t anything to do with YSL

UPDATE (03/20/09): Tip o’ the pileus to the folks at Research News in Late Antiquity who twittered me with a link to the catalog describing this as a 1st/2nd century piece, originally from some private collection in Saint Tropez back in the 1970s. (It was part of the YSL collection)

Rhesus Pieces

The Standard Freeholder ponders the meaning of pH and Rh … the latter is of interest to us:

The technical “Rh factor” refers to a protein characteristic of blood.

The blood of about 85 percent of the world’s population is Rh positive while that of the other approximately 15 percent is Rh negative (lacking the protein). The two blood properties are not compatible.

That insight came came in 1937 from the research in New York by Austrian-born biochemist Karl Landsteiner (1868-1943) and American forensic pathologist Dr. Alexander Wiener (1907-76). Together, they studied blood-based diseases and refined blood-typing techniques for transfusions. Landsteiner had received a 1930 Nobel Prize for his previous work on polio.

The Rh positive protein creates antibodies against Rh negative blood which negate the benefits of such transfusions.

In their experiments, the two blood experts were doing transfusions between rabbits and monkeys (of a type called Rhesus macaques) when they noted the particularity of that protein in the monkeys. Thus, they called their discovery the “Rhesus factor” -a tag later shortened to “Rh factor.”

“Rhesus” macaques were so named by French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Audebert (1759-1800) when he sketched them while also doing drawings of birds, the latter skill being what he had been hired for by French ornithologist Guillaume Antoine Olivier (1756-1814) on a research trip through Southern Asia (also those macaques’ habitat).

Some word analysts have attributed Audebert’s naming that type of macaque to his interest in the Trojan War of antiquity in which King Rhesus of Thrace had a small part.

Another likely possibility could be that, as customary for scholars of his time, Audebert had a knowledge of ancient Greek in which the word “rhesis” (related to “rhetoric”) means “talkative” -a descriptive readily applicable to the screechy gibbering abundantly done by those lively little simians.

Unsubmerging Alexandria

We’ve heard about this one before and it’s back (coincidentally, so is the piece which is below this one). Excerpts from a piece in the Guardian:

Some of the world’s most exciting sunken treasures could soon be on view after Egypt confirmed plans to build a giant underwater museum in the Mediterranean.

But as preparation begins on the site of Cleopatra’s Palace in Alexandria, funding and technical problems are proving as divisive and controversial as the famed queen herself.


Remnants of Queen Cleopatra’s palace complex are also submerged beneath the waves, after the island on which it stood fell victim to earthquakes in the 5th century.

Now ambitious but controversial plans are under way to open up this unique site via an immersed fibreglass tunnel which would enable close-up viewing of the underwater monuments. The designs were drawn up by the French architect Jacques Rougerie, a veteran of water-based construction projects, and have been backed by the United Nations cultural agency Unesco.

Next month a detailed technical survey will be launched. “If all goes according to plan, construction will begin in early 2010 and be completed within two and half years,” says Ariel Fuchs, a scientific director at Rougerie’s firm.

The idea is also being promoted by the high-profile marine archaeologist Franck Goddio, who is currently touring Europe with a selection of artefacts already dredged up from the Alexandrian coastline.

Yet the project is running into obstacles. Funding for the museum, which will cost up to $140m (£98m), has not yet been secured.

I hae me doots about the feasibility of this one … I think Goddio could be doing something more useful.

Unsubmerging Seuthopolis?

The incipit of a piece in TopNews suggests:

Discovered under centuries-old layers of dirt in 1948, then submerged under 20 metres of water, the ancient city of Seuthopolis is to emerge once again in a bold rescue project.

The magnificently preserved city, founded by the Thracian king Seuthes III in 323 BC, was discovered in central Bulgaria during the construction of a dam on the Tundzha river.

Despite the stunning discovery, Communist authorities went ahead with the dam and created the Koprinka reservoir six years later, in 1954, flooding Seuthopolis under 150 million cubic metres of water.

Now, a 150-million-euro (192-million-dollar) project by Bulgarian architect Jeko Tilev aims to right the wrong and expose the polis at the bottom of the reservoir to archaeologists and tourist by creating a dry well 20 metres deep and 420 metres across.

Once in place, the 1.27-kilometre wall, effectively a round pier, would allow further exploration and the reconstruction of five hectares now at the bottom of the reservoir, 160 kilometres east of Sofia near Kazanlak.

Visitors will arrive to pier in the middle of the lake by boat and observe the city from a height of 20 metres or descend to ground level by glass-encased elevators, gliding along the tilted walls, all of it illuminated at night.

… like the underwater museum that’s constantly being bruited about for Alexandria, I’ll believe it when I see it …

I Can Has Autograph?

In a piece about the sorts of folks who hound celebrities for autographs, Barry Koltnow writes in the Orange County Register, inter alia:

After all, autograph-collecting (philography) has been practiced since the ancient Greeks, although I doubt whether any Greek would have asked Paris Hilton for an autograph.

Unlike most of our ‘origins’ commentary, this one has some basis in fact, but it is clear that it is a major misunderstanding among the philographic community. A quick scan of the web will turn up numerous instances of the first “autograph” being sought as Aristotle’s (hence, I suspect, the ‘Greek’ origins for this). But the intro of a page on collecting autographs pretty much clarifies things, if you’re a Classicist:

In ancient times, the autographs of great men were regarded with reverence. The Athenians considered the original manuscripts of their poets the chief treasures of their city, their cultural patrimony, and displayed them in their temples. Aristotle collected manuscripts and maps, and formed the first considerable library of antiquity as well as a museum of natural objects.

Aristotle’s own manuscripts are perfect examples of both the perceived value of manuscripts and the fact that secretarial autographs are an ancient problem indeed. Aristotle died in 322 BC leaving his papers to his successor Theophrastus, who in turn willed them to one Neleus. Neleus took the writings from Athens to Scepsis, where his heirs let them languish in a cellar until the first century BC, when Apellicon of Teos discovered and purchased the manuscripts, bringing them back to Athens. When the Romans under Lucius Cornelius Sulla occupied Athens in 86 BC, he carried off the library of Appellicon, complete with Aristotle’s papers, to Rome. There they were published by philosopher Andronicus of Rhodes, who, while reviewing them, determined that most did probably not represent works which Aristotle himself prepared for publication, but appeared to be notes of his lectures taken by his students.

etc.. What is clearly being confused/conflated is the idea of an autograph in the modern sense (i.e. a signature of a celebrity, athlete, whatever) and the idea of an autograph in its proper sense (i.e. a manuscript written in the author’s own hand). They aren’t quite the same animal …

George Orwell on Antiquity

Not sure why, but Sfera online has a big excerpt from George Orwell’s essay on the Spanish War … inter alia he ponders the notion that we want to believe that a system founded on slavery has to eventually collapse, but notes that some civilizations founded on slavery endured for thousands of years. Then an aside:

When I think of antiquity, the detail that frightens me is that those hundreds of millions of slaves on whose backs civilization rested generation after generation have left behind them no record whatever. We do not even know their names. In the whole of Greek and Roman history, how many slaves’ names are known to you? I can think of two, or possibly three. One is Spartacus and the other is Epictetus. Also, in the Roman room at the British Museum there is a glass jar with the maker’s name inscribed on the bottom, ‘FELIX FECIT’. I have a mental picture of poor Felix (a Gaul with red hair and a metal collar round his neck), but in fact he may not have been a slave; so there are only two slaves whose names I definitely know, and probably few people can remember more. The rest have gone down into utter silence.

Battlestar Galactica and the Aeneid

Okay … I’m officially confused about this one. For reasons unknown, it is being presented as something ‘new’ and hitherto unheard of that Battlestar Galactica (presumably the new one) is actually a retelling of the Aeneid. Charlotte Higgins’ latest blog at the Guardian includes this bit:

Now, am I the only person who regards the sweep of the story of the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica as a kind of re-reading of Virgil’s Aeneid? I am talking, of course, of the great Roman epic poem that recounts the flight of Aeneas and his followers from their conquered city of Troy to Italy, where, it is prophesied, their descendants will found Rome.

For a moment, let’s forget about the Cylons (although whenever I see one on the screen, I am reminded that the original, real-life Cylon was a wannabe tyrant of Athens, a failed coup leader in 632 BC, but surely that really is a coincidence. If you don’t know the series, these are the enigmatic attackers of the humans’ home planets, a race of cybernetic workers turned aggressive).

Let’s think about the humans for a moment. A leader leaves the destroyed wreck of his former civilisation (Troy/Caprica), which has been blasted into smithereens by an invading force (Greeks/Cylons). You might even see Gaius Baltar as a sort of Trojan horse. That leader is accompanied by his son: it’s Adama as Aeneas, and Apollo as Ascanius, if you follow me.

On they forge, guided by prophecies that the leader is initially unwilling to accept, towards their fated new home (Adama, like Aeneas in Aeneid book two, needs some persuasion that the various portents pointing the way are of any value.)


Canada’s own National Post picked up on this and asked if their readers saw any other connections. Sadly, this is Canada where there are probably even fewer folks who have read the Aeneid than read the National Post. That said, when the original Battlestar Galactica was the only one in existence, I thought it was well-established that it was a retelling of the Aeneid, with bits of the Odyssey thrown in (I’m sure we discussed this on the Classics list or somewhere else at some point … by the time I was paying attention to this sort of thing BG was long into reruns of its one and only season (the 1980 thing doesn’t count; I also acknowledge that there were early comparisons to Mormonism as well). A lot of the names pretty much point to such connections, but let me just give a trio of quick examples which I vaguely recalled and managed to track down on the web with fuller episodic descriptions.

  • In the original episode, the Cylons give the humans the impression that they are suing for peace (with a treaty) but really have taken their fleet behind a foggy moon … this fleet is actually discovered by Apollo (= Aeneas, more or less) and he warns his father (Adama); when the battle finally comes, only Galactica manages to escape. (Saga of a Star World)

  • For some Odyssey content, the third episode involves Apollo being stranded on a planet (with an old west type setting) and he ultimately has to defeat the ‘red eye’, which he does as the latter exits a saloon. (The Lost Warrior). There’s also reminiscences of Achaemenides in the War of the Gods, Part I episode.

I haven’t managed to see a complete episode of the new version yet, but it sounds like the parallels might be even more obvious. Still, I’m surprised that there seems to be so much ‘surprise’ about this.

Kizilburun Shipwreck

Not sure how I’ve missed the scattered news reports on this one over the past few years, but the Kizilburun Shipwreck ‘dig’ seems to be rather significant. As the name might suggest, the site is off the coast of western Turkey and is largely the project of Deborah Carlson (and others) from Texas A&M. The wreck itself is interesting because it was carrying some 50 tons of marble, obviously destined for some major temple-type building project. This past week, National Geographic was alone among the newsmedia in giving coverage to Carlson’s identification of the cargo’s ill-fated destination. An excerpt:

The Temple of Apollo at Claros, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Kızılburun, was at the top of her list during the July 2007 election holiday. She drove up to the deserted site and knew she was on to something when she looked at the fallen-down marble columns scattered on the marshy land. “I was struck pretty much right away,” she recalls. The columns were Doric, the same as the marble on the ship, and looked like the right size. She waded around in the spring water that floods the site, checking chunks of columns with a tape measure. “I thought, wow, this is definitely a candidate.”

A year-and-a-half later, it looks like Carlson’s first impression was right. Using a variety of techniques, she has linked the column in the Kızılburun shipwreck to its likely intended destination, the Claros temple—as well as to its origin, a marble quarry 200 miles (322 kilometers) away on an island in Turkey’s Sea of Marmara.


To figure out where the marble might have been going, Carlson started by ruling out homes and other small buildings. If the drums were stacked, the column would have been huge—more than 30 feet (9 meters) tall—so Carlson knew it must have been intended for a monument. She narrowed down the list of temples near the shipwreck to those of the right architectural style that were standing or being worked on in the first century BC—the date for the wreck, based on the amphoras (two-handled jars) the ship was also carrying. That’s how she ended up at Claros.

Like the famous Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the Claros temple featured an oracle. When visitors came, the oracle, a priest, drank water from a sacred spring and made cryptic pronouncements on behalf of the god, who was associated with truth and prophecy.

Fans of Tacitus might remember Germanicus’ Alexander-like trip to the oracle of Apollo at Claros, with the unAlexander-like presaging of his impending death …

See also:

Neutron Analysis

Last week there were piles of stories in the press about the utility of the ISIS Neutron scanning technology for various matters archaeological. Now Science Daily has come out with a piece that is closer to our purview with a report on plans to scan some bronze artifacts from a couple of high-status Roman pit burials in Kent, in the hopes of determining whether they were manufactured locally or imported from Italy.

Dixit Dana Goodburn-Brown (ancient metals specialist):

Our experiments will hopefully aid us in characterising different Roman metalworking practices and perhaps recognising the distinction between imported south Italian goods and high standard copies produced by skilled local craftsman. These artefacts represent a time of great change in Britain – they appear shortly after the Romans arrived in this country, and may represent locals taking on cultural practices of these ‘newcomers …”

Dixit Andrew Taylor (ISIS director)

“For these rare and highly-valued objects, analysis with neutrons can give fantastic insight. Neutrons are a very powerful way to look at matter at the molecular level and they give unique results that you can’t easily get with any other technique. The measurements are extremely delicate and non-destructive, so the objects are unharmed by the analysis and can be returned to the museums unscathed.

The neutron beams we have at ISIS are a very versatile research tool and we’re always keen to help researchers answer a broad range of questions. Here we realised that we could take the same analysis methods we developed to look at parts of aircraft and power plants and use them to help archaeologists understand how ancient objects were traded and manufactured.”