Wine ‘Warehouse’ at Oplontis

Found this one in the Wine Spectator:

Harvest season may have been their busiest time of year, but wine was the last thing on the minds of the 54 people huddled in a room of Oplontis Villa B in A.D. 79 as they looked out to sea in vain for a ship. In happier times, boats likely docked there frequently to pick up wine for export or drop off imports; on that day, none arrived before the deadly gas and fumes of Mount Vesuvius’ terrible eruption. “They were waiting to be saved,” said Dr. Michael Thomas, codirector of the Oplontis Project near Pompeii and director of the Center for the Study of Ancient Italy in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. To California wine lovers, Thomas is known for the outstanding Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and Syrah made under his Wrath label. But planting Falanghina—”one of the most ancient Italian varieties”—in California is just one way Thomas is exploring the Romans’ wine legacy. In his day job as an archaeologist, he and his team have been freshly appraising two Oplontis villas, mostly excavated in the 1970s and ’80s but never fully studied. When the team turned to Oplontis B last summer, they realized that the large edifice was no villa at all, but most likely an ancient distribution center for wine. “It’s almost like a co-op where everyone brings their wine, dumps it off, they make a huge bulk wine out of everybody’s grapes and then they redistribute it,” said Thomas, explaining their working theory, presented at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in January. The Oplontis team will be analyzing the site for three more years, but a picture is already emerging of an operation not unlike the co-op and négociant models of today. The most obvious clue was a cache of 400 amphorae, terracotta vessels used by the Romans to transport liquid. The residue inside is awaiting analysis, but these jars are a design almost always used for wine in the region. “A lot of these big villas had working vineyards,” Thomas told Wine Spectator, and probably sold off some of their wine. “You probably had these vineyards scattered all over and even up fairly high on Vesuvius.” There are smaller tells as well. Fire pits in evidence would liquefy pitch, which the Romans used to seal amphorae. Digging below the A.D. 79 street level, to older construction, the team found paving in the courtyard, suggesting it was well-trafficked by carts making or picking up deliveries. The place is littered with pomegranates, which were used by the Romans to treat leather; wine was carried over land by cart, in a big leather sack called a culleus. “They filled up the cowhide with wine because amphorae were too heavy to transport by cart,” explained Thomas. Once local wines came into Oplontis B, were they blended? The team has discovered some evidence of waterproof concrete, but a more conclusive answer will call for some Indiana Jones maneuvering. “There’s one area that we’re going to try to excavate, but there’s also some danger, some stuff collapsing, so we’re going to have to be careful. But if we can excavate it, one of the possibilities is there’s some sort of vat over there.” Finished wines went into amphorae and out to sea. The full picture never came together during the first excavation largely because no one realized that Oplontis B was right on the water, but Thomas’ team did tests with coring and radar to determine its situation. (The ancient shoreline can be difficult to map because the sands of time have literally silted it over.) A stash of Cretan amphorae suggests the owner of Oplontis B may have been in the import business as well. “The Cretan wine for their own consumption makes sense because nearby are these luxury villas, and Cretan wine certainly had a reputation as a luxury item,” said Thomas. What about drinking local? “Campanian wines did not have the reputation of some of the other wines from not too far away, like Falernum,” Thomas considered. Pliny the Elder, writing in his Natural History just a few years before Vesuvius’ blast, noted that some of the wines were finding their groove. “In Campania, more recently, new growths under new names have gained considerable credit, either owing to careful cultivation, or else to some other fortuitous circumstances,” he wrote, but cautioned: “As to the wines of Pompeii … they are found to be productive of headache, which often lasts so long as the sixth hour of the next day.” (The terroir famously proved Pliny’s final headache: He was killed in a daring attempt to rescue friends from the eruption.) By all appearances, Oplontis B had been doing brisk business. “The owner had a strongbox that had all sorts of coins and jewelry in it. He had a big crew that was working there,” as the body count indicates, according to Thomas. So who was buying the wine? Rome topped 1 million people at around this time, and “tons of wealth poured into the city, so it was a big-time consumer city at that point. My guess would be that taking any wine up the coast would be a no-brainer,” said Thomas. Culty Falernian wine may have been the fashion of the day, but “these could’ve been less expensive drinking wines that you could find in a tavern.” We are awash in evidence that the Romans had a hearty wine culture. (At one Pompeii site, Bacchus is depicted as a grape cluster “sort of like the Fruit of the Loom commercials where the guy is dressed as a grape” with Vesuvius in the background.) But if Oplontis B functions as the team thinks it does, it would be the first distribution center of its kind discovered. And perhaps proof that even humble bulk wine has pedigree after all.

Making Greek Pottery

… no, not poetry, like I originally typed.  Interesting project at the University of Arizona:

On a sunny morning on the University of Arizona campus, art student Steve Carcello, dressed in a clay-spattered T-shirt and sunglasses, steps up to what might look to the casual passerby like a round wooden table. In moments, the “tabletop” becomes a spinning blur, propelled by Carcello’s clay-coated hands.

Slowly, a pot begins to take shape in the middle. As the form grows, a fellow UA student stands alongside the wheel, taking measurements with a handheld tachometer, recording the wheel’s number of revolutions per minute.

The students are engaged in hands-on research exploring how ancient Greek pottery was created, using a replica of an ancient hand-operated wheel.

With no known ancient Greek potter’s wheels surviving from that era – just artists’ depictions of what the wheels looked like – Carcello, a Master of Fine Arts student, made his own wheel, constructed from spruce and oak.

Unlike modern electric pottery wheels, which are equipped with foot pedals to make them spin, Carcello’s wheel is operated entirely by hand. As suggested by Greek artists’ renderings from about 600 B.C. to 450 B.C., potters would turn the wheel by hand themselves or with the help of an apprentice.

Carcello built the wheel last semester as his research project for a Greek pottery class taught by Eleni Hasaki, UA associate professor of anthropology and classics.

“It was an unexpected success,” Carcello said.

Now, under Hasaki’s guidance, Carcello is part of an interdisciplinary research project exploring the art and technology of ancient Greek pottery.

While Carcello recreates Greek vessels on the wheel, Dan Pont, a senior majoring in biology and minoring in classics, focuses on the math and science behind the wheel, measuring how many revolutions per minute of the potter’s wheel are required to create pieces of different sizes. With the help of Mike Jacobs, archaeological collections curator at the Arizona State Museum, Pont has also measured the weights of several ancient Greek pots to examine the correlation of pot size and required speed of the wheel.

Meanwhile, Katherine Bare, a freshman honor’s student majoring in linguistics, has been studying ancient Greek drinking vessels as part of an honor’s project, creating her own replicas in the School of Art’s ceramics studio with assistance from Aurore Chabot, UA professor of ceramic art.

Together, the students are gaining insight into how ancient Greek potters achieved what they did.

“Through hands-on experience, they get an understanding of the techniques and challenges ancient Greek potters faced, and how these tools and these pots were used in society,” said Hasaki, a native of Greece.

Much of the students’ work is done at the in the School of Anthropology’s Laboratory of Traditional Technology, an experimental archaeology lab, founded in 1983 by Michael Schiffer, Fred A. Riecker Distinguished Professor of Anthropology. Hasaki and anthropology professor Dave Killick are in line to take over the lab next year following Schiffer’s retirement. A potter himself, Schiffer recently successfully formed several pots on the replica wheel.

“The students are using replicas to emulate what was being done 2,500 years ago,” Hasaki said.

In addition to the hand-operated potter’s wheel replica, the UA also owns and maintains replica of an ancient Greek kiln, housed at St. Augustine High School in Tucson. Funded by the Archaeological Institute of America, the kiln has been fired 10 times since its completion in 2004, and Hasaki hopes to use the kiln to fire some of the pieces created on the replica potter’s wheel.

She says: “We’re slowly recreating an entire potters’ workshop.”

CJ Online Review | Knapp, Invisible Romans

posted with permission

Invisible Romans. By Robert Knapp. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011. Pp. 400. $29.95. ISBN 978-0-674-06199-6.

Reviewed by Sandra R. Joshel, University of Washington

Robert Knapp’s Invisible Romans presents an engaging and informed picture of the lives of “the great mass of people who lived in Rome and its empire” in the first three centuries ce (1): for Knapp, these men and women who seem “invisible” in the elite sources. He uses the term “ordinary people” to distinguish them from the elite and to leave “their definition open to the wide range of their existence, from fairly wealthy to modestly well-off and downright poor, male and female, slave and free, law-biding and outlaw” (3). This wide range of lives extends not only chronologically over some three hundred years but also geographically to include evidence and people from the entire empire. The latter offers up a rich mixture of human lives, though at points a conflation of times and places obscures some of the developments that altered those lives. This is a highly readable book aimed primarily at an interested, general audience, but individual sections also will engage the interests of classicists in various specialties (though they may debate some of Knapp’s observations in their own fields of expertise).

Knapp organizes the material effectively, moving from chapters on free men and women, with a separate chapter for the poor, to slaves and ex-slaves, and then to soldiers and their families. He ends with three chapters on those who might be considered socially and legal on the margins—prostitutes, gladiators, and bandits (and pirates). Though the concerns of every chapter are roughly similar topically, they are approached in distinct ways appropriate to the particular conditions of the group under consideration and following the emphases in recent scholarship. In defining its subjects, each chapter deals with the complications of overlapping categories, locating them in the large social order. Knapp sketches the economic and material conditions of each group, attuned especially to the variety of limiting conditions that characterized the lives of “ordinary” people and shaped their values and perceptions. The latter, what Knapp calls the “mind world,” is the book’s special focus: “the aim will be to get, so far as we can, inside the minds of these different people: what attitudes and outlooks they had, what fears haunted and what hopes inspired them” (3).

Knapp is acutely aware of how the limits and nature of the ancient sources make this project difficult. To this end, he reads the elite sources critically, but above all he draws on other literature—fables, proverbs, novels. He makes good use of documents authored by “ordinary people”—inscriptions (especially epitaphs) and papyri (letters and contracts). And he deploys works whose audiences were ordinary Romans: magical texts, the Carmen Astrologicum, and Artemidorus’s Intrepretations of Dreams, for example, trace the worries and hopes of men and women, free and slave. Interweaving bits and pieces from this variety of sources produces passages of thick description that enliven the lives of the businessman anxious about financial success, the poor man ever on the edge, the slaves “forging spaces of action” (147), or the bandit dividing the gang’s loot into equal piles (21–2, 104, 147, 306). In many places, Knapp lines up passages from a series of documents that address a similar concern but with a difference: for example, several epitaphs in which ex-slaves commemorate their origins or multiple dedications in which slaves act as a group (139–40 and 143; cf. 22–3, 92–3, 107–9, 113). In doing so, Knapp conveys the general point without sacrificing all the particularity of varied, individual lives. The effect perhaps is especially important for non-specialists used to “big men” histories of ancient Rome, but whose interest in “ordinary” people has been piqued by the picture of lower-class life in HBO’s Rome. Knapp takes one more step. Not only does he provide a guide to the sources and their use at the end of the book (“Sources”), he also constantly engages his readers in the problems of the sources and his own use of them throughout the substantive chapters of the book.

A book on such a large topic, and one accessible to non-specialists, has its limitations. Though the book has thirty color plates and thirty-two black and white images, Knapp barely refers to them and omits material evidence from his discussion almost entirely, as he himself observes, leaving it to “another more versed in the material.” In addition, the book mentions a few scholars at points in the text, though not with any consistency, and it lacks footnotes. In “Further Reading” at the end of the book, Knapp gives a fairly extensive list of relevant scholarship for each chapter (with few exceptions, scholarly work in English, as is appropriate for the English-speaking general readers who are the book’s intended audience). The absence of scholarly apparatus creates a smooth and more readable narrative for a general audience; however, the drawback is the reader’s inability to see the scholarly work relevant to particular points in the discussion.

In short, Robert Knapp’s Invisible Romans is a well-written and well-researched account of the lives of ordinary Romans living in the Roman empire, intended especially for the non-specialist.

CJ Online Review | Acosta-Hughes and Stephens, Callimachus in Context

posted with permission

Callimachus in Context: From Plato to the Augustan Poets. By Benjamin Acosta-Hughes and Susan A. Stephens. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xiv + 328. Hardcover, £60.00/$99.00. ISBN 978-1-107-00857-1.

Reviewed by Marco Fantuzzi, Columbia University

Callimachus’ poetry has become the perfect touchstone for classicists against which to determine other authors’ self-positioning in the cultural arena. In turn, the defenses he mounts against anonymous “rivals” are now more and more often investigated as a means of fictionally projecting a positive image of his own intellectual peculiarity (P. Bourdieu’s original ideas; see J. Klooster, Poetry as Window and Mirror (2011)). However, the “context” to which Benjamin Acosta-Hughes and Susan Stephens refer in their title has an ampler range of meanings than Bourdieu’s “cultural arena”; it includes not only the contemporary concerns and individuals Callimachus engages in his poetry, but also the way in which Latin poets of the 1st c. bc adapted Callimachus’ positions.

The first three chapters of the book are a full review of Callimachus’ allusive reactions to other writers and the issues they address. First, there is an individual rival, Plato, whose relevance for Callimachus had so far been substantially unexplored. Then, there is the discussion of Callimachus’ interaction with his ‘ally’ Hipponax in Iamb 1, and the stance he takes on the matters that were ‘hot’ in his day (or at least Callimachus presents them as such). Callimachus’ self-positioning here helps define his poetics in much greater detail. Only a few years ago, Callimachus’ “rivals” were the “Telchines,” supposedly jealous opponents reprimanded by Apollo at the close of the Hymn to Apollo, and the writers of monumental epic (or, as Alan Cameron or Ewen Bowie posit, of narrative/catalogic elegy). The varied challenges and differentiations Acosta-Hughes and Stephens now delineate come to form a much broader context than used to be the case.

From Ch. 1 we learn (irrefutably, I think) that Plato was among the intellectual predecessors whom Callimachus challenged most frequently. Callimachus’ own position in the quarrel between poetry and philosophy is, understandably, quite different from Plato’s. An obvious starting point is Callimachus HE 53, which features Cleombrotus, who commits suicide after reading Plato’s Phaedo on the topic of the soul’s immortality (is he the character of the same name featured in the Phaedo?). The connection is so obvious, in fact, that the authors omit to observe that this epigram not only reveals Callimachus’ attention to Plato, but also mockingly blames him—a philosopher who had so often decried the danger that readers/spectators might imitate the evil characters they encounter in poetry—for not understanding how dangerous his own philosophical works could be. The authors’ next step leads to an original and convincing re-reading of the Aitia prologue. Here, Acosta-Hughes and Stephens see Callimachus defend an idea of musicality that may be reacting to Plato’s appropriation of μουσική for philosophy. It is rooted in fact in an aesthetical appreciation of “lightness” that is diametrically opposed to both Plato’s opinions about poetry’s educational value and the taste for sublimity displayed by Dionysus in Aristophanes’ Frogs. A similar dialogue with Plato surfaces in Pollis’ banquet in Aitia 2, which constitutes a re-writing of the Symposium and of sympotic etiquette, as well as a criticism of Plato’s ideas about the ideal state and the ideal ruler. Having unveiled the rivalrous role Plato plays in Callimachus’ oeuvre, the authors suggest that Hipponax, the “ally” of Iamb 1, may have served Callimachus as a model of non-philosophical wisdom to oppose to Plato’s “professional” philosophy. Besides, Hipponax agrees to “time-travel” to Alexandria to intervene in the fights among the scholars of the Museum and modify his original topics to fit Callimachus’ ideas and his contemporaries’ issues. This formerly archaic, now fully “Alexandrianized” poet thus serves as a brilliant illustration that one need not be from the same century as one’s great literary predecessors in order to imitate them successfully (Iamb 13).

Chap. 2 investigates Callimachus’ positioning towards different forms of literary performance and the relevant authors: dramatic genres; lyric meters and sympotic poetry; spoken meters. About dramatic genres, Acosta-Hughes and Stephens insist that Callimachus’ epigrams on tragedy, tragic masks, and dramatic competitions—HE 26, 57, 58, 59—do not prove that he despised theatrical genres; he may simply be criticizing their excessive weight in education, or conveying his disdain for popular occasions of performance, or his preference for Euripides and the New Music; but I do believe one should not simply dismiss the more generally scornful tone that is prevalent in these epigrams, which may have something to say about Callimachus’ negative views of the theater-genres (it seems a point of agreement with Plato, though with totally different motivations that confirm the most substantial difference: Callimachus would simply hate the mob audiences of the theaters and their unruly reactions that conditioned the correct aesthetic appreciation of the poets, whereas Plato appears to care about the way these large audiences could be ethically affected by poets). Extremely interesting is the suggestion that the etymology of ῥαψῳδός, discussed in the fifth aition of Aetia 1 as derived from ῥάβδος, is meant to suggest that Callimachus’ role in the composition of the Aitia resembles that of the ῥαψῳδοί stitching together epic tales; Callimachus would then be pursuing his own “continuous” διηνεκὲς ἄεισμα, albeit one quite distinct from the suggestions of the Telchines.

Ch. 3 focuses on the way Callimachus draws lines of continuity between continental Greece on the one hand, and Alexandria or the Ptolemaic kingdom on the other. He thereby “ennobles” recent geo-political developments and (re-)constructs his own poetic landscapes in tune with the encomiastic “Ptolemaic” geography that has in recent years been made more familiar by texts like the New Posidippus. For example, Callimachus moves the newborn Zeus to Crete (after his birth in Arcadia) in HZeus and emphasizes that Ptolemy was born at Cos in HDelos. Callimachus thereby opts for spaces that are located halfway between the Macedonian “homeland” and Egypt. Similarly, he describes Thera as the motherland of Cyrene in HApollo, with Thera being between Sparta and Libya. And two of Callimachus’ lost works, Arrival of Io and Foundation of Argos, probably connected the Macedonian kings to Argos, via the city’s Egyptian founder, Danaus. Above all, the Aitia are brimming with stories that place Alexandria-related mythological characters or landmarks on the map of Greek mythology and lore (the relevant pages are supported by a final “Appendix” on the stories’ arrangements within the Aitia, which is useful not only to newcomers to Hellenistic literature). Finally, the Hecale includes a radical Callimachean appropriation of a most prominent character of Athenian myth and drama (Theseus), inasmuch as the focus of the narrative is the humble life of the old lady Hecale, rather than the deeds of Theseus.

Ch. 4 is an excellent addition to Richard Hunter’s The Shadow of Callimachus (2006), as it offers a thorough study (not exhaustive, of course) of the way Latin poets of the 1st c. bc—mainly the Neoterics, Catullus, Virgil, Propertius, and Ovid—re-contextualize the Callimachean model to have it fit their own cultural agendas. For example, they erase the Egyptian connections that Callimachus had encomiastically pursued, and they often replace them with more familiar Greek images. They also adjust their new texts to specifically Roman occasions. Acosta-Hughes and Stephens’ emphasis on the female voice of Sappho as added or magnified in Catullus’ translation of Callimachus’ “Lock of Berenice” is especially thought-provoking.

This book discusses anew or re-discusses an awesome number of understudied texts of Callimachus, and the discussions are thoughtful, well-informed, well-written, and substantially accurate—the zeugma identifying the four-syllable past and passive verbal forms expolitum and ποτέπλασθε (aorist) as both “participles” (224) is the biggest lapsus I could find. I am sure that it will have a long shelf-life, and I hope it will inspire similarly holistic research on Theocritus. Of course, Richard Hunter’ pioneering Theocritus and the Archaeology of Greek Poetry (1996) has covered already much of the field, but one would in particular hope to see a study of Theocritus’ engagement with Plato. Theocr. 14, after all, is just another miniature Symposium mainly about love, thought it chooses not to eulogize an idealized educative love in the Platonic mode. Instead, it investigates how to cope with unfulfilled love in everyday life; as such, it is in tune with the presentation of love as despair that is ubiquitous in the Theocritean corpus, and the effects of “realism” regularly pursued in the bucolic poems.