Another Nice Mosaic Find

From Hurriyet:

A mosaic from the second or third century with a human figure has been found during the construction of a district bazaar area in the southern province of Mersin’s Tarsus district.

Tarsus Gov. Orhan Şefik Güldibi said the mosaic was unearthed by chance in the construction area.
“Maybe we have reached one of the most important archaeological remains in Tarsus. We know that the history of Tarsus dates back to ancient ages. We have found Orpheus mosaics on the ancient Roman road next to the courthouse. It shows us the richness of the district’s archaeological treasures,” he said.

After unearthing the mosaic, construction work was halted and scientific work was initiated. The district governor said that there was a structure 25 meters by five meters in the area they thought could be a water cistern from the early Roman period.

“This structure may also be the remains of a bath, palace or villa. We will see after the examinations. The human mosaic has Greek writing on it, which will be translated by experts. We think there are other mosaics around this one. We will restore and display it,” Güldibi said.

… as often, Hurriyet includes an annoyingly small photo of the mosaic (we want to read the Greek!!!!), ecce:

… I can’t figure it out, other than perhaps to suggest this is the origin of North American style football as we clearly have a quarterback sporting a playoff beard … more coffee needed.

CJ Online Review: Raeburn and Thomas, Agamemnon Commentary for Students

posted with permission:

The Agamemnon of Aeschylus: A Commentary for Students. By David Raeburn and Oliver Thomas. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. lxxiv + 289. Paperback, £29.99/$55.00. ISBN 978-0-19-959561-7. Hardcover, £65.00/$135.00, ISBN 978-0-19-959560-0.

Reviewed by Eric Dugdale, Gustavus Adolphus College

David Raeburn and Oliver Thomas have made a difficult but rewarding play accessible to students with this the first commentary on Aeschylus’ Agamemnon to be published in English since 1958. It offers an impressively wide-ranging introduction to the play that also sets it in the broader context of the Oresteia as a whole. Raeburn and Thomas prove to be dependable guides who offer judicious readings of difficult passages; they are even-handed in presenting variant readings or interpretations, and provide the resources necessary for readers to engage with scholarly debate.

Introduction: In 60 pages, the introduction covers the following topics: (1) an introduction to the tetralogy and its playwright, with a synopsis of the storyline of the plays and their mythical background; (2) the historical context of the Oresteia, especially recent political events such as Ephialtes’ reform; (3) prior versions of the Orestes myth and distinctive attributes of Aeschylus’ treatment; (4) ideas in Agamemnon (justice, religion, causation and responsibility, learning through suffering, gender); (5) Aeschylus’ dramaturgy (use of theater space, performers, stage action, and the structure of the play); (6) the power of words (performative language); (7) the chorus; (8) the characters (referred to as the “solo characters”); (9) language, imagery, and themes; and (10) the textual transmission of Agamemnon.

The range of topics covered in the introduction is exemplary, with an overview of the structural elements of Greek tragedy (i.e. what is a parodos, episode, stasimon etc.) and discussion of the biographical tradition about Aeschylus and Nachleben of the play being perhaps the only significant omissions. The section treating the distinctive elements of the staging of the play and the way its structure builds suspense is especially insightful, as is the discussion of causation, responsibility and the principle of “multiple determination.” Readers about to grapple with Aeschylus’ difficult style are given a sympathetic portrayal of the artistry of his language, including an extended case study of dog metaphors. Throughout, Raeburn & Thomas adduce a wealth of relevant secondary scholarship, cited in footnotes and in suggested reading at the end of sections, often accompanied by annotations. They have restricted citations to scholarship written in English, an understandable arrangement given their intended audience.

However, I had a mixed response to the introduction. Certain sections (e.g. 1 and 5 above) were a model of clarity—as, for example, the discussion of the textual transmission, which equips readers to engage with later discussion of textual cruxes. Others failed to fully spell out the implications of an issue (e.g. by setting the Areopagus reform within the shift to broader-based democratic participation) or to define key terms (e.g. δαίμων is a term used throughout the introduction, but not defined until notes ad 768-71 (“evil genius”), 1663 (“luck”), and 1667 (“the guardian spirit of the house”); so too δίκη needs a clearer definition than that adumbrated at xxxi – it would help to note that Dike is often personified, and that she is the daughter of Zeus). Hubris is referenced extensively in the introduction and commentary, but never properly explained—especially problematic given the term’s imprecise vernacular use; references to the “hubris syndrome” are even more opaque. Frequent references to Aeschylus’ “theology” and to “sin” are likely to give students a skewed impression of religious thought in 5th-century Athens. The main problem, though, is one of intelligibility, sometimes stemming from prior knowledge assumed, other times from allusive or opaque wording.

Commentary: The commentary itself is pitched at just the right level. Grammatical and linguistic assistance is provided at the right moments, including cross-references to Smyth, Denniston, and the LSJ where appropriate. English translations of difficult phrases are provided. Over the course of the book, students are introduced to a wide range of aspects of the classical world. So, for example, students are introduced to the use of Doric vowels in choral odes and are reminded to distinguish between words that look the same but for their accent. Notes offer excellent treatment of the semantic range of individual words; religious and socio-political aspects are also illuminated. Each new episode is given an introduction that treats issues of staging, interpretation, meter, characterization, and plot trajectory. There are welcome references to famous modern echoes of the Oresteia (e.g., Robert Kennedy’s quotation of Ag. 179-83 in his speech after the assassination of Martin Luther King; the use of the beacon sequence in Peter Jackson’s 2003 film version of Tolkien’s The Return of the King). Such references should be a standard element of commentaries for students; that this is not yet the case is indicated by the fact that these references are relegated to the bottom of the page as footnotes on notes! Rather broad understandings of what constitutes performative language and ritual and a propensity to spot dark resonances in every utterance are idiosyncrasies of the commentary rather than major faults.

The decision to reprint the Greek text of Page’s OCT means that on dozens of occasions Raeburn and Thomas (rightly) take issue with their published text. They handle this problem adroitly, using it as an opportunity to introduce students to textual criticism as they lay out the grounds on which one reading is preferred over another. The text has an attractive layout and font, and is free of typos but for a couple of minor slips. End matter includes a bibliography, index locorum, and general index, as well as a 29-page appendix, titled “Sound and Rhythm,” introducing readers to the meters of the play. This appendix includes tips on delivery as well as discussion of the effects of various meters, and a general introduction to metra and cola. It concludes with a metrical analysis of the play’s choral passages, which indicates rests as well as posits which syllables correspond with footfall. Thus the reader benefits from David Raeburn’s considerable experience in the performance of Greek drama in the original language. In summary, Raeburn and Thomas have provided a comprehensive and reliable guide to the Agamemnon that will be of use to students and scholars alike.

On Multi-Heeled Achilles

Interesting post over at Scientific American wherein a researcher ponders the use of “the Achilles heel” in cancer research … here’s a tease:

[... ] I decided to google the expressions “Achilles’ heel” and “cancer”. It turns out that every year, numerous press releases and news articles claim that researchers have finally identified the “Achilles’ heel” of cancer. In Greek mythology, Achilles only had two feet and thus two heels; only one of the two heels was vulnerable. So how can it be that hundreds of researchers have found the Achilles’ heel of cancer? Apparently, I am not the only one who has used this metaphor inappropriately and it begs the question, whether we should even be using it at all.

When I was a child, Gustav Schwab’s “Sagen des klassischen Altertums” was one of my favorite books. His gripping narrative of the ancient Greek myths has also been translated from German into English and is available as “Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece”. It was in this book that I first encountered the legend of Achilles and the story of the Trojan War, originally relayed by the Greek poet Homer in his great epic “The Illiad”. Achilles was the son of the sea-goddess (nymph) Thetis and King Peleus and was known for his great strength and skills in battle, but I could find nothing heroic in this demigod Achilles.

Even though I loved Schwab’s narration, I despised Achilles. He vacillated between fits of rage and episodes of prolonged sulking. He was rude, arrogant and violent – Anakin Skywalker on steroids. I was especially horrified by how Achilles tied the body of his enemy Hector to his chariot and dragged it around, in order to humiliate the deceased and inflicting great psychological pain on Hector’s family. Basically, Achilles was a jerk; but according to the diagnostic classification of the American Psychiatric Association, Achilles may just have had IED (intermittent explosive disorder). [...]

CJ Online Review: Sourvinou-Inwood, Athenian Myths and Festivals

posted with permission:

Athenian Myths and Festivals. By Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xi + 377. Hardback, £83.00/$150.00. ISBN 978-0-19-959207-4.

Reviewed by William Blake Tyrrell, Michigan State University

Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood’s attention was turned to aristocratic religious associations (genê) in Athenian festivals through Stephen Lambert’s claim that the genos Bakchiadai played an extensive role in the City Dionysia.[[1]] Her response found its way into the penultimate chapter of Athenian Myths and Festivals but not before inspiring a lengthy study. Sourvinou-Inwood traced the part played by these associations and the peplos of Athena Polias in the Plynteria and the Kallynteria. She pursued the peplos into the Panathenaia and the frieze of the Parthenon. Her methodology led to exhaustive studies of the myths of early Athenian history and the cults of Athena at the Palladion and Dionysus Eleuthereus. The result was a lengthy manuscript which her editor, Robert Parker, has reduced to one sixth in producing Athenian Myths and Festivals. Sourvinou-Inwood was writing her second mystery novel, Murder at the City Dionysia, while she was working on genê.[[2]] It may be my fancy, but Athenian Myths and Festivals conveys the impression of a detective story: the scholar traces the actions and whereabouts of dead aristocrats like her hero, Chloe, the story of the corpse in Dionysus’ sanctuary. Sourvinou-Inwood’s book is not for the faint-hearted, but it has many rewards, for example, her observations on the Chalkeia (268–70).

It was at the Chalkeia that the loom was set up for weaving Athena’s peplos. Girls (Arrhephoroi), nubile young women (Ergastinai), and the married priestess of Athena were involved in weaving. Scholars dutifully note that the Chalkeia was celebrated nine months before the Panathenaia, but Sourvinou-Inwood points out that the females involved represent “the three stages of women’s lives as perceived by the Greeks” (268), that this symbolically relates their participation to that of all Athenian females, and that the process of weaving this important gift to the goddess, symbol and emblem of the polis’ relationship with its tutelary goddess and all the gods, took nine months to create so that “the biologically based, and therefore universal, association of nine months with human pregnancy could not but have imbued the enterprise of weaving the new peplos with the metaphorical colouring of the production of a child …” (270).

Chapter One sets out the course and explains her methods. They are basically structuralist, emphasizing in-depth probing of the data for patterns. “Meaning is created … with the help of relationships of similarities to, and differences from, the other elements in the system of which each element is part” (289). I found her explanation in terms of “Greek ritual logic” (13) illuminating and her use of “parameter,” a favorite word, a bother, perhaps because of its one-time status as the buzz word.

Sourvinou-Inwood’s first “investigation” (72) delves into the myths of early Athenian history. She bedrocks her “arguments” upon the Homeric Erechtheus (Il. 2.546–51; Ody. 7.80–1). He is her “complex” Erechtheus; with him is associated a nexus of elements that defines primordial times of first beginnings, namely, earthborn, nursling of Athena, Athenian king, definer of the land and its inhabitants as Erechtheidai, and the Eleusinian War. In the fifth century, mythmakers distributed these elements to create Erichthonios and a second Erechtheus. In turn, they made Aglauros, daughter of “complex” Erechtheus and savior of Athens, into Kekrops’ silly disobedient daughter who takes her own life. Sourvinou-Inwood argues convincingly for her reconstruction. The motive behind the later mythmaking, which she mentions (37, 40, 65) without development, is to widen the impact of autochthony and extend it to all Athenians in the way of orators at public funerals.[[3]] The inevitable inconsistencies, she suggests, were “narcotized” (48).

In Chapters Three and Five, Sourvinou-Inwood reconstructs how rites of the Plynteria, Kallynteria, and Panathenaia dovetail around Athena’s peplos. In the Plynteria, the soiled peplos and the abnormality of closing the goddess’ temple evoke, respectively, pollution and primordiality. The washing of the peplos in fresh water by the girls of the genos Praxiergidai on the Acropolis and its escorting by procession from Athens to Phaleron set in motion the return to purity and contemporary times. At Phaleron, women of the genos washed the statue in sea water and redressed it on the beach. The festival complex is organized around, and embodies the Greek religious ideology of, pollution giving way to purification, primordiality to the present, and the movement out in the Plynteria and back in the Kallynteria. In the Panathenaia, all Athenians present their goddess with a new peplos that is an “intensification” (281–3) of the clean peplos.

Throughout her investigations, Sourvinou-Inwood illustrates the various ways and degrees of gentilicial involvement in festivals from the high density of the Eleusinian Mysteries to the minimal in supplying the priestess of Athena Polias in the Panathenaia. With her characteristic panoply of arguments that converge like panzer columns upon Lambert’s hypothesis, she deftly prevents its becoming “orthodoxy by default” (313). Like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, she commands the final scene where she sets out succinctly that aristocratic genê were most prominent in festivals that entailed secrets, e.g., the mysteries and secret sacrifices of the Plynteria. Secrets could be managed, guarded, and transmitted by families whose members were born to their service.

I know Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood only through her writings, but I venture that these writings will become an object of study in their own right. Her methodology is both irritating and compelling by its attention to detail as well as the breadth of its scope, but her small asides also demand attention. That myths are created through a process of “bricolage” (39), composites assembled from separate mythemes, heads off the assumption that the presence of one part of a myth implies the whole myth. Her most famous warning, that against cultural determination, holds true; classical studies has accumulated much “baggage” that someone once thought “felt so good that it had to be.”[[4]] Most Athenians would have accepted her judgment that Antigone is a “bad woman” [[5]] but surely not that of moderns that she was a Sophoclean hero.

Yet I’m left to wonder whether freedom from such contamination is possible.


[[1]] S. D. Lambert, “The Attic Genos Bakchiadai and the City Dionysia,” Historia 42 (1998) 394–403. The article came to Sourvinou-Inwood’s attention “only rather later” (Robert Parker, Editor’s Preface, vi).

[[2]] Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, Murder at the City Dionysia, New York: Vanguard Press, 2008. Her novel is out-of-print and unavailable to me by interlibrary loan.

[[3]] For autochthony in funeral oratory, see Nicole Loraux, The Invention of Athens: The Funeral Oration in the Classical City. Translated by Alan Sheridan. (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1986) 148–50.

[[4]] John Sandford’s Detective Lucas Davenport worries about cultural assumptions “that he was ‘locking in,’ a problem he saw with other cops, all the time, the sure sense that something was just so, when it wasn’t. Something felt so good that it had to be. You could build a great logical case out of pure bullshit, and it happened too frequently” (Mortal Prey [New York: G. P. Putnam’s
Sons, 2002] 305; Sandford’s italics).

[[5]] Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, “Assumptions and the Creation of Meaning: Reading Sophocles’Antigone,” JHS 109 (1989) 134–48; quotation is on p. 140; and “Sophocles’ Antigone as a ‘Bad Woman,’” in F. Dieteren and E. Kloek, eds., Writing Women into History (Amsterdam: Historisch Seminarium van de Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1990) 11–38.

This is Sparta!

This one from the South China Post is kind of interesting:

The ancient Greek city state of Sparta has given mainlanders an innovative way of venting their discontent over the Communist Party’s 18th national congress without being snared by the online police.

The Chinese word for Sparta, which sounds similar to the shorthand name of the congress (shi ba da), has become a catchword for netizens when referring to the over-the-top security in Beijing and the barrage of pre-congress propaganda.

Sparta has also gained currency because some have likened the preparations to the 2008 parody film Meet the Spartans, a spin-off of the 2007 Hollywood blockbuster 300.

“I’ve almost gone Sparta (collapsed)!” has become one phrase commonly used online.

Some have said that referring to the party congress as Sparta in cyberspace is justified by the similarity between the political system depicted in 300 and the authoritarian, one-party state. The film’s catchphrase, “this is Sparta!”, has become “this is the 18th party congress!”.

Security preparations were put into overdrive weeks ahead of the congress, including a ban on the sale of kitchen knives.

While discussion of the party congress on social media sites has been strictly policed, with searches for “18th congress” yielding no results, internet users have still been able to get around the censors by using euphemistic references linked to ancient legends and fables.