Margaret Fuller and Aeneid Nightmares

Perpetually filtering through my inbox I find I had saved a link to a review over at the Smart Set, which, inter alia, reviewed a biography of author Margaret Fuller and inter inter alia included this bit:

Maybe it was her daddy issues. She had plenty. Her father did not so much bestow his love upon her as train her from a young age to be a brilliant writer. Matteson outlines her course of study:

[W]hen Margaret was 4 and a half, he proudly proclaimed that she could read and understand “in a very great degree” the stories in Maria Edgeworth’s Parent’s Assistant… When she was six, he introduced her simultaneously to English and Latin grammar. The rudiments of Greek followed in due course. By nine, she was reading a compendious list of histories and biographies in English, as well as many of the major works in the Latin canon.

Fuller began, around that age, to have recurring nightmares recreating scenes from the Aeneid, and she also started sleepwalking around the house, moaning — classic signs of a deep emotional disturbance. She reported in her memoirs that her father’s love was very much tied to her performance as a young scholar, and today’s psychiatrists would have a field day with theories about her “false self” shielding the fragile, feminine true self behind it. She even predicted such a diagnosis in her memoirs, reporting her “world sank deep within, away from the surface of my life… my true life was only the dearer that it was secluded and veiled over by a thick curtain of… intellect.”

… I wonder if the “Classic signs” there was an intentional pun … it’s interesting, though, how Latin and Greek (and Classics) pervade one’s dreams at regular intervals; just the other night  I bizarrely dreamt, e.g., that there was some conference on Demeter going on at my (elementary) school and as I was going into my classroom someone handed me a large brown tome entitled Kore

CJ Online Review: Komast Dancers in Archaic Greek Art

posted with permission:

Tyler Jo Smith, Komast Dancers in Archaic Greek Art. Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xxx + 357. Hardcover, £92.00/$120.00. ISBN 978-0-19-957865-8.

Reviewed by Kirsten M. Bedigan, University of Glasgow

The playful and dancing image of the Komast figure is a frequent theme in Greek vase painting. It is clear that a re-evaluation of the relevant material is required, given the relative antiquity of many of the current publications which attempt to analyze their iconography.[[1]] Smith aims to conduct a comprehensive study of the Komast in selected regions of the Greek world with the purpose of achieving an updated and revised interpretation of the material. The vases are not considered merely from an art historical perspective, and literary sources and other relevant archaeological evidence are incorporated as a supplement to the main discussion.

The introduction presents an overview of the identification and spread of the Komast through the Greek world. Chapters are divided by region and their material is assessed under three main categories: dress and other attributes; poses and gestures; and contexts. The analysis of the Komast begins with the Corinthian evidence in Chapter 2; Smith refers frequently to the earlier research conducted by Seeberg (and Payne), and believes that it is unnecessary to update and revise these conclusions.[[2]] Observations concerning the origins of the style are presented, though Smith notes that many of the theories are largely conjectural.

Chapters 3 and 4 summarize the Athenian evidence, dividing it chronologically. In the first period three groups of the early sixth-century BC ceramics (the Komast and Tyrrhenian groups and the Siana cups) are all presented individually and the distinctions and attributes relevant to each collection are analyzed. The second period concerns the Athenian material following the decline of the Corinthian Komast in the later sixth century BC. Again discussion concentrates on a few key painters and groups, and highlights the break in Komast traditions, with new clothing forms, dances and contexts featuring prominently.

Other non-ceramic material is introduced in Chapter 5, illustrating the Laconian tradition of adopting styles and motifs from different regions before applying them to a variety of different objects. Chapter 6 summarizes the Boeotian use of the Komast and highlights the humor and debased nature of Komos scenes from this region. Smith notes the significant degree of originality in the Boeotian representations, in both the form of the figures and the vessels themselves. This originality and independence can also be seen in the East Greek wares (Chapter 7) which retained their own local traditions. As with the Laconian material, depictions of Komasts in many different fabrics are noted. The chapter summarizes the sometimes limited evidence by subdividing by production centre (Chian, Fikellura, Clazomenian and other related Black Figure). The penultimate chapter details the extremely rare evidence from the Western Greek sites. No uniform models are seen and evidence for local influence, primarily Etruscan, is strong. Again the vases are considered by production areas (Etruscan, Sicilian, Caretan, Campanian, Chalcidian).

Chapter 9 offers the conclusion that Komos scenes in the Greek world show some familiar iconographic patterns. However, a degree of independence and originality in each of the Komast-producing areas persists. The basic model is modified by local traditions and motifs to suit their specific markets.

Smith approaches her study with the aim of analyzing a broad range of Greek ceramics (and other artifacts) to determine their variations in the depiction of Komast dancers. This is not, however, an attempt to dismiss or dismantle earlier theories but merely to consider the evidence from alternative perspectives. This volume follows earlier conventions of considering the ceramics as discrete examples, separated into distinct hands and groups.

Smith writes well and engages the reader in what can be a relatively prosaic subject matter. Each chapter is clearly constructed, and comparisons and observations are incorporated into the main discussion. Supplementary tables of the statistical analysis are included at the end of the text, though sadly these do not include the summaries of the Corinthian vases. Those regions omitted from the study due to the scarcity of evidence, notably Euboea and Northern Greece, are briefly mentioned in passing in the introduction. The text is well illustrated, though these are primarily restricted to plates at the end of the volume, which does hinder use of the text when one wishes to consult the appropriate image whilst reading.

Smith’s study offers an important contribution to the interpretation of the Komast and their place in the corpus of Greek vases. The wide range of material assessed, and the concise and logical manner of interpretation permits the reader to draw his or her own conclusions on the nature and function of the vases, whilst offering a clear understanding of the Komast figures and their many variations.


[[1]] For main studies on the Komast, see Adolf Greifenhagen, Eine attische schwarzfigurige Vasengattung und die Darstellung des Komos im VI. Jahrhundert (Königsberg, 1929); Axel Seeberg, Corinthian Komos Vases (London, 1971). Other volumes also address the Komast from more specialized perspectives.

[[2]] See Axel Seeberg, Corinthian Komos Vases (London, 1971); Humfry Payne, Necrocorinthia: A Study of Corinthian Art in the Archaic Period (Oxford, 1931).

CJ Online Review: MacMullen, The Earliest Romans

posted with permission:

Ramsay MacMullen, The Earliest Romans: A Character Sketch. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011. Pp. xi + 193. Hardcover, $65.00. ISBN 978-0-472-11798-7.

Reviewed by Gary D. Farney, Rutgers University (Newark)

This short work (126 pages of preface and main-text), by a well-known and prolific scholar of the ancient Mediterranean world, proposes to tell the story of the early Romans—a task made all the more difficult by the lack of trustworthy historical information. MacMullen proposes to do this, rather uniquely, by breaking down the Roman personality into (what he feels are) four defining, salient features: conservative, tolerant, aggressive and practical. By doing so, he invokes the spirit, if not the method, of “the first real genius in what we would now call sociopolitical studies, Alexis de Tocqueville” (viii), who was an eye-witness to the United States of the Jacksonian era (i.e. the 1820s and 1830s). The book is divided into two halves, Part 1 to 509 BC, and Part 2 from 509 to 264, each with four chapters on the elements of the Roman personality noted above; a concluding “Wrap Up” finishes the book, followed by 40+ pages of endnotes and another 20+ of up-to-date bibliography.[[1]]

MacMullen admits from the beginning that he is from the more skeptical school of thought about the trustworthiness of the written historical sources, and indeed invokes archaeological and topographical evidence to support his analyses quite frequently. I myself admit a great deal of sympathy toward this school of thought. For example, he rightly throws up his hands about the nature of the early Roman military (at 53: “Before the fifth century all that can be said with certainty is what is too obvious: the Roman army consisted of infantry and cavalry …”). But he also has an excellent, critical analysis of early Roman armor, weapons and fighting-style (103–4). Furthermore, he correctly questions the census figures for early Rome, though, importantly, not the census itself (p. 101–2).

Unfortunately, this does not prevent MacMullen from following the historical tradition in main at points, even when there is no supporting material evidence. This is a trap that many “skeptics” have fallen into: decrying the uncritical use of the written source material without ever explicating a methodology for when and how one ought to approach information only carried in literary sources like (say) Livy. For example, MacMullen accepts not only that the story of the immigration of the first Claudius and his retinue to Rome right after the beginning of the Republic to be more or less true (based solely on literary sources, which are not united in their details[[2]]), but that it must mean that Rome already possessed ager publicus by that point in their history to be distributed to these proto-Claudii (48–9). There is also his acceptance of the so-called “Struggle of the Orders,” also only known from our literary sources (70–5 and 98ff.; at 98: “These success were won without bloodshed or other great risks … and, since the tribunate and assembly are fixtures in subsequent history and their origin is not placed in any other moment, the outline of these events may be accepted as fact.”).

MacMullen is also not immune to various common assumptions, increasingly called into question, about the nature of early Rome. For instance, he falls into the common trap of assuming that religious rites and practices are windows into Rome’s remote past since their “conservative” personality compelled the Romans to keep all of these things unchanged, even when they no longer understood their purpose or even the archaic Latin which they spoke during certain rituals (8ff.). The only problem with this old idea is often that, where we can see rituals diachronically, they do change quite remarkably in their practice and meaning: e.g., the cult of Anna Perenna and the Lupercalia Festival.[[3]] Another common sentiment about early Rome that MacMullen espouses is that Rome must have come to Greek culture only through “a more or less Etruscanized translation,” even as he admits that there is more Greek than Etruscan in early Roman material culture (24).

It is very difficult to know to whom to recommend this book. Its lack of detail makes it less useful for a specialist on early Rome, except where MacMullen discusses issues that are less well-known or widely-recognized, like his description of the on-going debate about the authenticity of the Capitoline Wolf and the modern political (i.e. Italian nationalistic) forces that are influencing this scholarly discussion (31–2). Yet this work is also too detailed for all but the best-informed lay-person. It is perhaps best recommended to specialists, or aspiring ones, in other areas of Roman or ancient studies who are looking for a readable, solid introduction to some of the problems and controversies in the study of early Rome and its historiography. The thoroughness of the bibliography and end-notes certainly means that such scholars can be assured of getting the latest ideas out there. One suspects that few scholars, however, will be satisfied by the simplistic notion that Rome’s “personality,” across centuries of history, can be consistently distilled into four common features.


[[1]] I found only a few significant typos or editorial mishaps. On p. 36, “Manilian Tower” should be “Mamilian Tower.” The map on p. 39 is a bit confusing in that some of the dots marking settlements have no names attached to them. On p. 48, MacMullen calls the family involved in the Lupercalia the “Quintilii” though on p. 19 he had called them the “Quinctii”; they are named both ways in our sources: ILS 1923, ILS 4948, CIL 6.33421, Ver. Fl. ap. Fest. [Paul.] 78L, Prop. 4.1.26 and Ov. Fast. 2.375–8, cf. Ver. Fl. ap. Fest. 308L (though badly mutilated, “Quinctilii” may be restored. On p. 145, n. 24, the work cited should be Crawford (1974) not (1971).

[[2]] B. J. Kavanaugh, “The Admission of the Claudian Family to Rome,” AHB 4 (1990) 129-132.

[[3]] T. P. Wiseman, Unwritten Rome (Exeter 2008) 18–22, 77–8.

Parthenon Marbles Debate

Back in June mention was made of a debate over returning the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles which was to be broadcast live on the web, featuring Stephen Fry and Andrew George arguing the ‘pro’ side and Felipe Fernández-Armesto and Tristram Hunt contra …Just came across a Youtube version of the actual debate:

The iPad in Archaeology

From the University of Liverpool:

Peta Bulmer, a Ph.D student from the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology is carrying out a study on the use of iPads for fieldwork.

In a joint project between the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology and the Computing Services Department, Peta will explore the use of mobile devices, whilst working ‘in the field’ on a number of sites across Europe, over the summer.

The iPad will be used to take photographs, make notes and sketches, and record data from digs, rather than collate them post trip, as is the norm. It is hoped that the flexible and portable nature of the device will enable speedier, more efficient and accurate recording and analysis of the data gathered onsite.

Peta selected a 64GB iPad 2, one of the most popular tablets in the marketplace, as her chosen mobile device. An additional stylus has been provided to enable sketch work.

Jake Gannon, Head of Systems and Applications, in Computing Services Department, said: “We were delighted when Peta approached us to see how we could support her academic endeavours in the field. We are very excited at the prospect of using Peta’s experiences to help us shape our existing services as well as develop new services and guidance for our student and research community.”

As part of the study, Peta will use the iPad whilst digging at the ancient Greek site of Pistiros in Bulgaria, the medieval site of Poulton on the English – Welsh border, Delemere, and the Roman – Viking – medieval site at Hungate, near York. She will also be exploring the archaeology of ancient Kos.

Peta, said: “So far, the iPad has proved quite useful. It’s small and lightweight so easier to travel with than a laptop, and especially helpful when negotiating more physically challenging sites. It’s also handy to have readily available access to guidance documents such as recording conventions, and makes recording dig findings and data much less time consuming. Although I don’t have them at the moment, I can see the benefits of additional drawing and data packages.”

On her return to the University, Peta will produce a report highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of using technology in the field. Once complete, a case study and guidelines will be made available on the CSD website.

CSD will make a series of recommendations based on the findings of the study, and will investigate how it can tailor its services to complement mobile devices such as an iPad. The development of a University of Liverpool fieldwork app is already being considered.

Folks might remember a couple of years ago when Apple was touting iPads being used at Pompeii …