Another Antiquities Dealer in Trouble

A different sort of case from the Guardian:

A British antiquities dealer who faces being deported to Greece and imprisoned over claims that he sold stolen ancient artefacts to an Athens dealer is expected to learn his fate within the next fortnight.

Malcolm Hay, 60, an Oxford-educated trader who has sold antiquities to museums worldwide, was arrested in 2007 – eight years after he sold broken pottery pieces to the dealer.

He claims the trader, who bought hundreds of shards from him, used his invoice falsely as “whitewashing” for valuable unprovenanced items that were later found in her shop by Greek police.

The items seized from the trader in 2000 were worth nearly £200,000. They included unbroken pots and figurines from around 6BC, which under Greek law belong to the state. She was later acquitted after claiming that she bought them from Hay, a charge he disputes.

Hay maintains that the only evidence is the word of the Greek dealer, which “the Crown Prosecution Service wouldn’t regard as evidence”. He says that he sold her the shards for £1,880 in 1999, invoicing them as “550 pieces of terracotta”.

Having previously sold to the Athens dealer, Hay was surprised when in 2000 Interpol requested an interview with him as a witness.

He heard nothing more until he was arrested by British armed police in 2007, based on a European arrest warrant (EAW) issued by Athens. He said: “I had never been notified, accused or summoned by the Greek courts in the intervening years, and this came like a blow.”

His plight has shocked the antiquities world and has led dealers to attach photographs to invoices.

Hay faces being jailed for four years if he is extradited under EAW legislation, which no longer requires foreign prosecutors to provide evidence of guilt to British courts. Lawyers say the advent of the EAW has sparked hundreds of extradition requests from member states – some, such as a request from Poland, for offences as minor as the theft of firewood.

The article continues, but it seems largely a duplication of the above … the ‘whitewashing’ claim is kind of interesting, as it is the sort of thing that I have long suspected is the purpose of many online auctions of antiquities (especially those strangely private ones which used to be regular features on eBay … not sure if they are still allowed) … we’ll see what happens in this one.

Latest Lysistratidai

Belgian politico-spouses are being urged to give their hubbies the Lysistrata treatment:

… we started keeping track of these things a couple of years ago … fwiw, I could have sworn I saw a sign suggesting a similar thing in the tv coverage of the recent Egyptian or Tunisian uprisings, but I can’t find any mention of it …

Gladiator Epics — Classics Departments’ Dirty Little Secret

Lengthy piece in the Miami Herald on the ongoing popularity of Gladiator/Roman movies … along the way, they interview some Classicists:

From the biblical epics of the ’50s to the toga dramas of the ’60s through more recent hits such as “300,” “Gladiator,” “Braveheart” and TV series such as “Hercules,” “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “Rome” and I, Claudius,” it seems there is always an audience out there that is as equally entranced by the ancient world as the modern – even if the genre is often dismissed as sword-and-sandal or toga trash.

[…]

No one knows that better than those who teach the classics for a living. They understand why some view movies/TV shows about the eras with which they are fascinated with a jaundiced eye.

“That’s a legacy of the ’50s, those great Roman biblical epics that were so serious. … but there were fake beards and visible smallpox vaccinations,” says Matthew Brosamer, an associate professor of English at Los Angeles’ Mount St. Mary’s College, who specializes in the literature of Roman, Middle Ages and Renaissance eras. “Literate moviegoers didn’t respect them.”

Richard Armstrong, associate professor of classical studies at the University of Houston who has taught a course on how Rome is perceived in cinema called “Epic Masculinity,” says in an e-mail response that the accents also get in the way. “Part of it is that we have these odd conventions that the Romans had British accents, while all the Christians sound like they’re from Kansas.”

(Actually, in “The Eagle,” Scottish director Kevin Macdonald flipped the script and wanted American actors to portray Romans and British actors to play their slaves and occupied peoples. “He wanted to make a bit of a political statement,” Tatum says.)

Of course, there’s the undercurrent of homo-eroticism which was most famously lampooned in “Airplane!” with the line from the late Peter Graves: “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”

Not to mention sex in general which, in Hollywood’s eyes, Romans seemed to be having all the time with anyone, anywhere.

Armstrong thinks that Starz’ “Spartacus” series is aping the worst aspects of “Caligula,” the 1979 Roman Empire-era film produced by Penthouse magazine’s Bob Guccione that was derided at the time for being pornographic.

“‘Spartacus’ aspires to that level of transgression,” says Armstrong. “I think the constant juxtaposition of sex and utter brutality oversimplifies whatever it wants to say about the ancient world, and reflects more the worlds of cage fighting and the Playboy Channel than Rome, or Capua where it’s actually set. … Pretty boring unless you’ve never seen naked people before.”

That sense that the ancient world strutted to a different moral drummer is why some think that so many are intrigued by that time period. We can live vicariously through these characters and accept behavior from heroes and villains that we would be repulsed by if set in the contemporary world.

“Why can we be titillated by sexual situations involving Roman slaves but would perhaps object to modern pornography about sex slaves? Putting those actions among those ‘decadent Romans’ lets us turn our fantasies to 11 while displacing all, or almost all, the guilt,” sums up Ricardo Apostol, assistant professor of classics at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University in an e-mail. He teaches a course called “Sword and Sandal: The Classics in Film.”

“Some people can consume it that way, as straight ‘awesome.’ Others, needing a little more distance, ironize it into a guilty pleasure or camp,” he continues. “But it all comes down to the same thing, and our projections onto the Romans say a whole lot more about us than they ever could about them.”

Yet, for all of that, they feel there is also an upside to all this Hollywood revisionism. “The best of the genre, as in the case of HBO’s ‘Rome,’ can help give a sense of the texture of ancient life – not so much the ‘facts,'” says Armstrong.

Sums up Apostol, “Spectacles like these not only get students in the door, they offer ready starting points for discussions. … And, for students, it’s much more exciting and rewarding to hear that, no, Spartacus was not fighting against the institution of slavery, than it ever could be to hear random facts about a bunch of dead people that they never heard about. … I can only say to Hollywood: Keep ‘em coming.”

I’ve always found it strange that the powers-that-be in those universities who decide to shut down Classics departments don’t realize the butts-in-seats side of things … it’s not like there is ever a long period without this sort of movie …

Pamphilus and Servilia, Reunited!

From the University of Reading comes a nice Valentine’s Day tie in:

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching romance is in the air and this year the University of Reading has played the ultimate role of Cupid.

Dr Peter Kruschwitz and Virginia Campbell from the University’s Department of Classics have used their expertise to reunite a married couple…after 2,000 years apart!

Sometimes little things result in couples going their separate ways, but sometimes it takes greater forces, like the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Lucius Caltilius Pamphilus and his wife, Servilia, who lived in the ancient city of Pompeii, was such a couple. The funerary inscription Lucius commissioned for his beloved wife was broken apart, the pieces scattered and buried by the destruction caused by the volcanic eruption.

Excavation of the pieces begun as early as 1813 and scholars originally recorded them as separate fragments. Virginia, whose current PhD thesis is on Pompeian tombs, and Peter, an expert in Latin inscriptions, were examining material for Pompeii when they made the exciting discovery that the pieces are actually from the same inscription. Reconstructed with skill and loving care it now reads:

‘Lucius Caltilius Pamphilus, freedman of Lucius, member of the Collinian tribe, for his wife Servilia, in a loving spirit.’

Peter Kruschwitz said: “Amazingly the inscription was fragmented in such a way that all that was missing from the first part was the name of the wife. So identifying these as parts of the same inscription literally reunited the couple.

“Dealing with fragmentary Latin inscriptions is often like playing with a giant jigsaw puzzle. You have ten pieces of what used to be a 2,000 piece game. If you manage to discover adjacent pieces and then a beautiful little vignette emerges, this is among the most fulfilling moments for anyone dealing with ancient inscriptions. This case, of course, is even more beautiful than others, because it literally reunites two human beings who once were a loving couple almost 2,000 years ago.”

Lucius and Servilia are now happily side by side in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples

The Reading team’s findings have been published in the most recent volume of the journal Tyche: http://www.verlag.holzhausen.at/?pid=14&lang=1&book_id=203#203

The original article has links to the Museum of Naples and (obviously) Tyche, but they aren’t directly linked to anything pertaining to this, alas …

Them’s Fightin’ Words!

So Daniel Mendelsohn wrote a scathing review of the tv series Mad Men and someone didn’t like it … an excerpt from an account at the New York Times (which has all the relevant links, of course):

Mr. Peck is perhaps better known for not liking things than liking them (see, e.g., his collection of literary essays and criticism “Hatchet Jobs”). Naturally, his response to “The Mad Men Account” begins with a delicious bit of ad hominem, in which he calls Mr. Mendelsohn “a Princeton-educated classicist who should never be allowed to write about anything more recent than, say, Suetonius.”

… actually, I think we need more Classicists writing reviews of things like Mad Men and fewer people telling us what we can’t do, because we are Classicists.

Cleopatra’s Mummified Hand! (doubt it, but still interesting)

Catching up on a pile of backlogged email, I was gobsmacked to read this excerpt from an upcoming auction announcement … from Auction Central News (inter alia):

The most extraordinary of all items in the sale is the actual mummified hand of Cleopatra, to be auctioned with documentation. The preserved, mummified left hand has an unbroken history of ownership since its acquisition in Egypt by the English General Bowser, in 1794. It was presented to the general as the “hand of Cleopatra, daughter of Ptolemy Auletes.” It measures 7 7/8 inches and is in excellent condition (20.3 cm). The hand is in great condition with slender fingers and well preserved nails.

Accompanying the hand is the original 1894 article about its rediscovery by Mr. Jordan in a lady’s collection, containing the facts per Rev. John Wharton. The hand is retained in the original mahogany case constructed by Mr. Jordan, with original label and photo. Also included is a piece of Mrs. L. Jordan’s stationery with notation about her husband’s prior ownership of the hand, an insurance form for £500 dated 1/4/59, and two letters regarding the sale of the hand for L. Taylor at Sotheby’s, both on their stationery, one dated Aug. 28, 1958 and the other Dec. 31, 1958. Also included is a late 19th-century pamphlet about Cleopatra’s Needle, the Egyptian obelisk that stands on the Victoria Embankment in London.

Following is an excerpt from the paperwork that outlines the history of the hand:

“The mummified hand was presented to the English General Bowser, who defeated Tippoo Sahib in 1783-1794, in 1794 when he was visiting Egypt on his way back to England. Since this was not the usual route from India to England he must have been there for some exploration and acquisition. A letter in an 1894 English newspaper [recounts] the rest of the history of the hand as told by Rev. John Wharton: ‘The account which I have always heard is this: as the General was residing in the country various excavations of mummy pits were being made, and one magnificent but ponderous sarcophagus was brought to light. The inscription was not, I should think. hieroglyphic at so late a date, indicated the mummy as that of the celebrated Cleopatra. One of the hands was immediately presented to the valiant English general, and this is that identical hand.’”

  • Ancient Resource’s Feb. 19 sale features Amlash rhyton, Cleopatra’s hand.
  • Now one reason for my gobsmackedness — and no, I don’t believe for a moment that this is actually Cleo’s mummified hand — was that it was just back in October that the BBC mentioned (and I failed to blog about):

    Staff at a Newcastle auction house have been a little nervous of late, refusing to do anything that means being in the building on their own.

    The reason is a 2000-year-old mummified hand which they’ll be auctioning in December.

    It comes in its own glass-covered, mahogany box but is far from the prettiest thing the company have sold.

    It’s claimed it’s the hand of Queen Cleopatra – though the auctioneers can’t yet guarantee which one.

    Andrew McCoull, from Anderson and Garland, says: “The hand itself is what can only be described as a yellowy, leathery colour.

    “It’s a lady’s hand, a left hand, with manicured fingernails which are still there and evidence of what was possibly a ring on one of her fingers – there’s a sort of a dark patch – but, all in all, it’s a pretty gruesome looking object.”

    The real queen?

    The hand – remarkably well preserved – reputedly belonged to the famous Queen Cleopatra but Mr McCoull needs further evidence to support that claim.

    The ancient Egyptians seem to have had a habit of giving any old mummified hand to visiting dignitaries.

    He says: “It’s got an interesting history. It surfaced in Kirkby Stephen in 1894 and it is documented all the way back to its presentation to General Bowser in Egypt in 1794.

    “It was then believed to be presented as Queen Cleopatra’s hand, although there were several Queen Cleopatras.

    “We don’t really know at this stage if this is the famous one.”

    Rare sale
    Card from box containing mummified hand
    The hand seems to have provenance – but which Cleopatra is it?

    No-one could pretend the hand is pleasant to look at though it obviously has potential historical interest.

    The auction house hope to do more research before the sale, possibly contacting The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo to see whether this could be ‘the’ Cleopatra’s hand.

    They have no idea who might want to buy it. Mr McCoull admits: “It is pretty gruesome. But, bearing in mind it is over 2000 years old, it’s got a good right to be looking pretty gruesome I think.”

    The sale is on Wednesday, 8 December and, between now and then, Anderson and Garland have to decide what the guide price should be.

    Normally it’s based on what similar objects have sold for in the past but Mr McCoull says that doesn’t help in this case: “I’m not aware of any mummified hand of any description coming up for sale, certainly in my memory, and that goes back quite a long way, unfortunately.

    “So I think we’d be having a stab at probably somewhere in the region of a £1000.”

    The official description from the online auction site fills in the ‘hole':

    In 1958 the widow of Mr. Jordan, a Mrs. L. Jordan, an antiques dealer herself, sold the hand to one L. Taylor of Tynemouth, Northumberland. This L. Taylor Esq. had the hand insured and began corresponding with Sotheby in late 1958 and early 1959 about placing the mummified hand into one of their auctions, which they showed interest in doing.

    The hand however remained in the Taylor family until its sale in late 2010.

    A most interesting item with an unbroken history of ownership since its acquisition in 1794!

    It is definitely an interesting item … I wouldn’t doubt that it belonged to someone named Cleopatra, actually, but I highly doubt it would be Cleopatra VII … the 18th century tombaroli must have made great profits from their European invaders …