ED: Palaeography Summer School

Seen on the Classicists list:

Third International Summer School in Greek Palaeography, August 16-22, Oxford

The Third Lincoln College International Summer School in Greek Palaeography will take place in August 2010. Further information can be found on www-gpss.linc.ox.ac.uk.

The programme consists of more than 25 hours of teaching in the form of lectures, seminars, reading classes, special subject classes and tutorials. Participants will have the opportunity to see original manuscripts in the Bodleian Library and have a tutorial on manuscripts relevant to their research.

The Summer School addresses advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as early post-docs working in subject areas such as classics (Greek language and literature), medieval and early modern Greek philolFroogy, patristics, theology, art history and archaeology, and late antique, medieval, and Byzantine literary and cultural history. Application deadline is the 23rd December 2009.

For queries contact Maria Konstantinidou (maria.konstantinidou AT classics.ox.ac.uk).

Fetchez la vache ….

Yet another misuse of vomitorium:

Rome was a custom-borrowing society, and elite Romans happily scooped up Greek food culture. But what we remember most about Rome, food-wise, is the period of its decadence, symbolized by disgustingly overwrought banquets and the vomitorium. We haven’t gone so far as to install vomitoria in the bathrooms of fast food restaurants (perhaps an idea whose time has come back?), but in many respects our society’s enslavement to the hyperpalatibility of junk food recalls the excesses of Rome in its self-destructive decline.

Once again we are forced to mercilessly deride journalists for not even bothering to check Wikipedia on the meaning … Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries and all that …

Happy Cyrus the Great Day!

Tip o’ the pileus to Eleanor Jefferson for passing along that today is apparently “Cyrus the Great Day” according to the International Committee to Save the Archeological Sites of Pasargad. According to the website:

Twenty five centuries ago, when savagery was the dominant factor in human societies, a civilized and compassionate declaration was written on clay and issued to the “four corners of the world” that dealt with important issues relevant to the rights of humans, the same issues that not only in those days but even today can inspire those who believe in human dignity and rights.

This document, known as “The Declaration of Cyrus the Great,” emphasized on the removal of all racial, national discrimination and slavery, bestowing to the people, freedom to choose their places of residence, faith and religion and giving prominence to the perpetual peace amongst the nations. This Declaration could actually be considered as a present from the Iranian people, expressed through the words of Cyrus, their political leader and the founder of the first empire in the world, to the whole humanity. In 1971, the general assembly of the United Nations recognized it as the first Declaration of Human Rights, thus, registering such an honor to the name of Iran as the cradle of this first historical attempt to establish the recognition of human rights.

Followers of Explorator will know that Iran and the British Museum are currently in the midst of a brouhaha/potential saga over a loan of the Cyrus Cylinder, which is what is being referred to above. Here’s the most recent coverage from the BBC on same to bring you up to speed:

The Cyrus Cylinder is being held by the museum because of Iran’s “post-election situation”, an Iranian official told the country’s Fars news agency.

Hamid Baqaie said the museum’s pledge to send the Babylonian artefact at another date was “just an excuse”.

The British Museum said its trustees “reaffirmed their intention to lend the Cylinder to Iran”.

Their statement added: “There are a number of issues and practicalities to be resolved, but the intention is to send it as agreed.”

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper recently, the British Museum’s head of press Hannah Boulton said: “When lending any material you have to check that it is an appropriate moment.

“We hope to be able to honour that commitment, we can’t say when that will be. At the moment we are monitoring the situation in Iran,” she added.

Mr Baqaie said Iran’s Cultural Heritage Organisation would consider severing ties with the British Museum if the piece was not loaned to them within two months.

He added that it was due to have been lent last month.

The object, which is around 2,500 years old, was ordered to be made by Persian king Cyrus following the conquest of Babylon.

It is said to represent the first bill of rights and encapsulate religious toleration.

While I won’t comment on that dispute directly, I do find it odd (perhaps) that there is such emphasis on getting the Cyrus Cylinder back in Iran but for the past couple of years, the threat to/ongoing destruction of one of Cyrus’ early palaces on the Borazjan Plain seems to not even make the news outside of the Iranian Press … most recently:

Some sections of Cyrus the Greats’ palace known as Charkhab (čarxāb) located in the Borazjan Plain, in the Persian Gulf’s Bushehr Province has been completely destroyed and the remaining of the edifice is on the verge of total destruction if no action is taken soon, reported the Persian service of CHN.

According to the report, two years ago archaeologists left the site for no apparent reason and the unique early Achaemenid edifice has been left to be destroyed. The director of the team has continuously requested the recommence of some archaeological research but this has been rejected and permit denied.

“This site is important evidence for the Iranian nation and their rule over the waters of the Persian Gulf. I have asked number of times from the Bushehr Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organisation [BCHTO] to restart the [archaeological] excavations, but it seems the organisation tries to repel me from this task,” said Aliakbar Sarfaraz, the former director of archaeological team at Charkhab Palace.

Archaeological excavations conducted in past have shown it was built by the order of Cyrus the Great the founder of second Iranian dynasty, the Achaemenids (550-330 BCE) and left incomplete.

While regretting the lack of protection for this unique ancient edifice, Sarafraz said Charkhab Palace is as important as Persepolis and Pasargadae palaces in terms of its compliance with architectural regulations.

Borazjan Plain, due to its closeness to the Persian Gulf, was considered an important area during the Achaemenid dynasty, especially as one of the imperial naval forces was stationed there. The naval base served as the base for transferring the imperial troops to the satrapies in North Africa in case of emergency, as well as controlling the waters of the Persian Gulf.

Beyond that, we’ve had reports in the past of threats to Cyrus’ Tomb as well … FWIW …

Say What?

Headline and first paragraph of an item in the Appeal Democrat:

Ancient Greeks considered chocolate the ‘food of the gods’

Chocolate is made from the seeds of the tropical cacao tree. In the Mayan language, it is pronounced “kakaw,” and in Greek, it is called “Theobroma,” which means “food of the gods.”

The lack of a sense of anachronism is mind boggling …

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem vi kalendas novembres

ante diem vi kalendas novembres

  • ludi Victoriae Sullanae (day 2) — games held in honour of Victoria commemorating Sulla’s defeat of the Samnites in 82 B.C.
  • 43 B.C. — Marcus Junius Brutus commits suicide in the wake of the defeat at Philippi (by one reckoning)
  • 113 A.D. — the emperor Trajan departs from Rome for his war against the Parthians
  • 251 A.D. — the future emperor Valerian is elected by the senate to the recently-revived office of censor
  • 1469 — birth of Erasmus

Difficile est bloggam non scribere!

One of the things which continues to bother me about blogs and the like is that they really haven’t been embraced by a significant number of academics actually working in the field (there are exceptions, of course) and as a result, the press is ‘getting away with murder’ in regards to claims it is making about things within our purview.  This past week or so has just been brutal for this sort of thing, as the following little survey will show. We begin with the supposed news that there was a settlement at Alexandria prior to Alexander’s founding of the city. Here’s Livescience via MSNBC:

Alexander the Great has long been credited with being the first to settle the area along Egypt’s coast that became the great port city of Alexandria. But in recent years, evidence has been mounting that other groups of people were there first.

Well if nothing else, we have a fine example of petitio principis … I’d love to know the source of the claim that Alexander was the “first”. Whatever the case, it continues with some useful information:

The latest clues that settlements existed in the area for several hundred years before Alexander the Great come from microscopic bits of pollen and charcoal in ancient sediment layers.

Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C. The city sits on the Mediterranean coast at the western edge of the Nile delta. Its location made it a major port city in ancient times; it was also famous for its lighthouse (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) and its library, the largest in the ancient world.

But in the past few years, scientists have found fragments of ceramics and traces of lead in sediments in the area that predate Alexander’s arrival by several hundred years, suggesting there was already a settlement in the area (though one far smaller than what Alexandria became).

Christopher Bernhardt of the U.S. Geological Survey and his colleagues took sediment cores (long cylindrical pieces of sediment drilled from the ground) that featured layers going as far back as nearly 8,000 years ago as part of a larger climate study of the area.

In these sediment layers, Bernhardt and his colleagues took samples of embedded ancient pollen grains to look for shifts from primarily native plants to those associated with agriculture. They also analyzed levels of microscopic charcoal, whose presence can indicate human fires.

At a mark of 3,000 years ago, Bernhardt’s team detected a shift in pollen grains from native grasses and other plants to those from cereal grains, grapes and weeds associated with agriculture. They also found a marked increase in charcoal particles, all of which suggests that a settlement pre-dated the great city of Alexandria. [etc.]

Now I strongly suspect it was the journalist, and not the geologist in this situation who has embellished the tale somewhat. But even my mind boggles that the journalist doesn’t appear to have even checked the Wikipedia article on Alexandria to read about the fishing/maritime settlement of Rhakotis which was on the site prior to Alexander’s foundation. Heck, one would think this settlement would be well known since it is usually brought up as “evidence” that there was a library at Alexandria prior to Alexander (and in case you’re wondering; it isn’t … there’s no evidence of the library prior to Alexandria). And it boggles the mind somewhat — but maybe not — that an editor would allow such a false claim to form the hook for a story which is important in its own right.

Our next foray is against some book hype masquerading as a news article. Paul Cartledge is working on/about to publish a book on the wide influence of the Greeks in the Mediterranean world and the hype this week focussed on the ‘discovery’ (it seems) that the Greeks introduced viticulture to France. Here’s some representative (excerpted) coverage from PhysOrg:

Rewind 2,500 years, however, and the original makers of Côtes-du-Rhône are more likely to have prided themselves on rather different qualities, such as Athenian sophistication, and perhaps just a soupçon of Spartan grit.

Writing in a new study, Cambridge University Professor Paul Cartledge suggests that the French, not to mention the rest of the West, might never have become the passionate wine lovers we are without the assistance of a band of pioneering Greek explorers who settled in southern France around 600 BC.

Finding a sheltered port at the mouth of a major river system with natural hilly defences, the Greeks founded the city of Massalia, or modern-day Marseilles, and soon began to mingle and trade with friendly local tribes of Ligurian Celts, turning the settlement into a bustling entrepôt.

Within a matter of generations, Professor Cartledge says, the nearby Rhône became a major thoroughfare for vessels loaded with terracotta amphorae containing a new, exotic Greek drink made from fermented grape juice that would soon be taking the uncivilised tribes of western Europe by storm. Travelling up the river might even have constituted the original booze cruise.

The portrait of Marseilles’ origins, which appears in a new book, Ancient Greece: A History In Eleven Cities, will, Professor Cartledge hopes, lay to rest an enduring debate about the historic origins of supermarket plonk.

Although some academics agree that the Greeks were central to the foundation of Europe’s wine trade, others argue that the Etruscans (of modern Tuscany), or even the later Romans, were the ones responsible for bringing viticulture to France.

As Professor Cartledge points out, however, two points swing the argument firmly in the Greeks’ favour. First, the Greeks had to marry and mix with the local Ligurians to ensure that Massalia survived, suggesting that they also swapped goods and ideas. Second, they left behind copious amounts of archaeological evidence of their wine trade (unlike the Etruscans and long before the Romans), much of which has been found on Celtic sites.

Again, I’m having difficulties putting the blame for the spin on this on Dr. Cartledge. I am fairly positive that he doesn’t believe that he’s the only one privy to the knowledge of the archaeological evidence for Greek viticulture in France. Perhaps there are “some academics” and “others” engaging in some major debate on this (as Dr Cartledge seems to imply in a comment in the Telegraph), but I’m not sure where it might be happening.

Fulfilling the ‘scholastic rule of three’, we have this ‘labyrinth business’. The intro to the Discovery News coverage is pretty typical:

The site that inspired the ancient Greek Labyrinth, a mythical maze that supposedly housed the bull-man Minotaur, may have just been unearthed in Crete by an international team of researchers.

Oxford University geographer Nicholas Howarth and his colleagues believe a cave complex near Gortyn on the Greek island could have led to the myth. The cave system consists of a twisting and turning network of underground tunnels. Howarth describes it as “dark and dangerous.”

The 2.5-mile-long underground system is even called Labyrinthos Caves by locals. Some of its paths lead to large chambers, while others result in dead ends. (etc.)

FWIW, I had never heard of these caves before, so the claim that they had “just” been discovered, was a bit exciting. But as the week or so of coverage played out, and as discussion on the Classics list and (especially) AegeaNet ensued, it became clear that these caves had, in fact, been known for quite a while. Indeed, Dudley Moore includes a chapter on the caves in his to-be-published thesis The Early British Travellers to Crete and their contribution to the island’s Bronze Age archaeological heritage, and he kindly sent the relevant chapter along to me to peruse. To make an interesting story less so (by me, of course), Dr. Moore documents possible visits to this cave system beginning in the sixteenth century and stretching down to the nineteenth, and the long accompanying debate whether it was the ‘labyrinth’ or just a quarry (as an aside, I found the numerous attempts by travellers to ‘prove’ the existence of the labyrinth very interesting … in all our first year Classics courses, we are told that Heinrich Schliemann was alone in having this sort of ‘prove the myths true’ attitude, but it seems to have a longer history … I’ll have to look further into this). The upshot: this was nothing new.

Now to be fair, the Telegraph did explain this one a bit more clearly:

An Anglo-Greek team believes that the site, near the town of Gortyn, has just as much claim to be the place of the Labyrinth as the Minoan palace at Knossos 20 miles away, which has been synonymous with the Minotaur myth since its excavation a century ago.

The 600,000 people a year who visit the ruins at Knossos are told the site was almost certainly the home of the legendary King Minos, who was supposed to have constructed the Labyrinth to house the Minotaur, a fearsome creature born out of a union between the king’s wife and a bull, the Independent reports.

Nicholas Howarth, an Oxford University geographer who led the expedition to the site, said there was a danger of Gortyn being lost from the story of the Labyrinth because of the overpowering position that Knossos had taken in the legend “People come not just to see the controversial ruins excavated and reconstructed by Evans, but also to seek a connection to the mythical past of the Age of Heroes. It is a shame that almost all visitors to Knossos have never heard of these other possible ‘sites’ for the mythical Labyrinth,” Mr Howarth said. [etc.]

Taken together, what probably bothered me most about all of these cases was that there clearly was some discussion about the claim going on amongst people who did know the facts, but that the ‘public’ wasn’t privy to that discussion. The public was only privy to the misinformation and/or sensationalized claims being put forth by the media. We need to be doing a better job of what the media is doing with ‘our stuff’.

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem vii kalendas novembres

ante diem vii kalendas novembres

  • ludi Victoriae Sullanae (day 1) — games held in honour of Victoria commemorating Sulla’s defeat of the Samnites in 82 B.C.
  • 1656 B.C. — Noah enters the ark (this must be Bishop Ussher again)
  • 31 A.D. — suicide of Apicata, wife of the disgraced Praetorian Praefect Sejanus
  • ca 250 A.D. — martyrdom of Lucian and Marcian
  • 1852 — during a “violent storm” at Athens, one of the columns of the “Temple of Jupiter Olympus” was toppled (perhaps portrayed here?)

iPod App rcReview: Bolchazy-Carducci’s Latin Proverbs

There is an increasing number of Classics-related apps hitting the App Store over at Apple and with any amount of luck, I’ll find time to review most of them here. We’ll start with one which just hit the store: the Latin Proverbs app from the fine folks at Bolchazy-Carducci. This interesting little app, which costs $1.99 boasts to having some 1200 Latin proverbs contained within. When you start the app, you tap the screen and are presented with a new proverb everyday. Right now, e.g., I’m met with Bernard of Clairvaux’s dictum Necessitas non habet legem.

If you’re not satisfied with the random startup proverb, you can always swipe the screen and get another (n.b. for seasoned iPod users, shaking your iPod does nothing). If you’re looking for something on a specific topic, there is a search function with topics ranging from abstinence to year; you can also search by authors (ancient and less so) and work.

The proverbs themselves can be presented to you as Latin only, Latin with English translation, English only, or English with a Latin translation. All the Latin versions include, interestingly enough, macrons over the long vowels, suggesting Latin teachers might be a major target market for this one.

Outside of that, I’ve been playing with it for a few days and it functions exactly as advertised … an interesting way to start your day, whether a Latin teacher or not.