Marking Marathon

From a University of Bristol press release:

A team of runners, sponsored by the Institute of Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition at the University of Bristol, will be running the Bristol Half Marathon this Sunday [11 September] to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary year of the very first marathon.

As well as increasing awareness of this anniversary, the team also hope to raise £2,500 for a new charity called Classics for All, which aims to increase access to Classics tuition in state schools around the country.  The charity will be starting a project in Bristol in January 2012.

The first marathon was supposedly run by Philippides, a Greek messenger, who, having fought in the Battle of Marathon in 490BC, ran non-stop from the battlefield to Athens to bring news of the Greeks’ victory.  He burst into the council house, exclaiming ‘νικωμεν’ (nikomen – ‘We have won’) before collapsing and dying from exhaustion.

The account of this run from Marathon to Athens first appears in Plutarch’s On the Glory of Athens in the first century AD and, almost 2,000 years later, provided inspiration for a great, showcase event in the first modern Olympic Games.  The first Olympic marathon was run on 10 April 1896, and, as a result, ‘marathon mania’ spread throughout the twentieth century.  These days, marathons – and half marathons – take place in cities around the world on an almost weekly basis.

Dr Jessica Priestley, a post-doctoral fellow in Bristol’s School of Humanities, who is leading the team, said: “We are really looking forward to the challenge of running the Bristol Half with Philippides as our inspiration – though, of course, we hope to avoid his ultimate fate!

“Our run aims to show that the study of Classics is as relevant today as it has always been.  By raising money for Classics for All, it will help to introduce more young people to the delights of this fascinating and richly rewarding subject.”  

Running the Bristol Half Marathon is the culmination of a number of activities held by the Institute of Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition to mark this anniversary year, including public talks and a competition for schools.

To help the team reach their £2,500 target, please visit their fundraising page.

Roman Mosaics and Endangered Fish

From a Standford University Press release:

The dusky grouper has been a popular target for Mediterranean fishermen since prehistoric times – their bones have been found in human settlements dating back more than 100,000 years. It’s a slow growing, flavorful and, with the advent of modern sport fishing, endangered species.

In an effort to reverse the decline of multiple species, including groupers, a number of no-take marine reserves have been established across the Mediterranean. But it’s proven difficult to evaluate the success of these protected areas precisely because humans have had an impact on the species for so long. Ideally, reserve biologists would compare modern fish to groupers hundreds or thousands of years ago, before the advent of large-scale commercial fishing.

“When we consider a species recovered, they may still in fact be altered relative to their original baseline,” explained Fiorenza Micheli, a professor of marine ecology at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station.

Now, in an effort to look farther back into the grouper’s history than traditional ecological methods allow, Micheli and Paolo Guidetti of the University of Salento in Italy have looked to art history. Using depictions of the fish in Roman mosaics, the researchers suggest that groupers should be much larger and should be found at shallower depths than they are today. The paper appears this week in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Fishing scenes were not uncommon sources of inspiration for coastal Mediterranean artists. Micheli and Guidetti found hundreds of Etruscan, Greek and Roman artworks involving sea creatures. Fish depicted in mosaics were often detailed enough to be recognizable as dusky groupers.

But unlike today’s animals, the groupers in Roman mosaics are depicted as being enormous – in one case, large enough to eat a fisherman whole.

Though the researchers pointed out that this example could be a case of artistic license, the depictions imply that groupers were large enough to be considered “sea monsters.” By comparison, groupers in unprotected waters today range from 50-60 centimeters (20-24 inches) in length.

Even more surprising, mosaics show men fishing for groupers with harpoons at the water’s surface. Today, this would be unheard of – modern sport fishermen spearfish groupers in deep water. But writings from the time corroborate this Roman view of the grouper as a shallow-water fish – the Roman writers Pliny and Ovid both describe angling for groupers from shore.

“It’s particularly interesting that there are children fishing from the boats,” said Micheli in reference to the Louvre’s “Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite,” which depicts cupids harpooning a grouper. “One interpretation would be that it’s so easy to fish them that kids could do it.”

The good news is that grouper populations in no-take reserves show signs of returning to these historical numbers and sizes. Reserve biologists report that populations that haven’t seen fishing for years do begin to move into shallower waters. Groupers in protected areas achieve population abundances five to 10 times greater than those in the rest of the Mediterranean, and can reach sizes of 90-100 centimeters.

Unfortunately, these advances mainly highlight the failed recovery of dusky groupers at large. Because the average size of many grouper populations is smaller than the size of sexual maturity, current conditions appear unsustainable.

“One extreme suggestion would be to place a moratorium on grouper fishing, because they’re not recovering outside of a few small marine reserves,” said Micheli. “But this would be an unpopular measure.” Sport fishing is a major tourism draw in the Mediterranean, and one of the primary targets is grouper.

But ignoring historical, qualitative sources of ecological data, Micheli pointed out, creates the risk of producing a drastically distorted view of baseline conditions.

“At the moment, we’re missing a major player in Mediterranean shallow-water ecosystems,” she said.

Interesting application of Roman mosaics outside our field, although I’m not sure they (mosaics) do depict ‘literal truth’ in many situations  …

d.m. Michael Hart!/garycorby/status/111579149864402945

For folks who don’t recognize the name, Michael Hart was the guy who set up Project Gutenberg, which was one of the first efforts to make out-of-copyright versions of various texts available in the early days of the interwebs. A great number of those texts, of course, were Classics in our sense of the word and we should acknowledge his contribution to our discipline …


Circumundique ~ September 7, 2011

Quiet day around the Classical blogosphere yesterday: