Worth the price of admission . . .

I went to an exhibition on Friday that I won’t bother to take the class to see. It wasn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been. Looking at this ivory up close (and taking a photo!)  was worth the price of admission for me, though.Symmachus Diptych, British Museum

An apotheosis – perhaps the apotheosis of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, late 4th/early 5th C. British Museum, London. M&ME 1857,10-13,1. 30.1×11.3 cm. Really something to see. Symmachus was one of the last great pagans – an opponent of Ambrose and Theodosius. The organizers of the show wanted to suggest that it was an emperor – but at the very least it’s a deeply nostalgic pagan senator recalling imperial funerals and apotheoses – or just apotheosizing himself. Hence, Symmachus.

Scale shock!

Scale shock! by Michael Tinkler
Scale shock!, a photo by Michael Tinkler on Flickr.

When someone who knows art through pictures (digital images, nowadays) encounters the real thing he sometimes suffers scale shock – finding out that something is much bigger or much smaller than he always thought.
That’s certainly me and this fresco from the Coptic Monastery of St Apollo – Christ in Majest with the Four Beasts of the Apocalypse from the 6th Century.
I always thought it was an apse fresco over an altar, not the conch of a NICHE I can stand inside!

Fun with Late Antiquity!

I got an announcement in a listserve yesterday of a new online database – the Last Statues of AntiquityHere you will find a searchable database of the published evidence for statuary and inscribed statue bases set up after AD 284, that were new, newly dedicated, or newly re-worked.

Searchable all KINDS of ways! I just pulled up female statues (any material) from Gaul and Germany – 10 hits! Then changed to female members of the imperial family, whole empire – 4 hits. I think this may be very instructive!

Here’s a link that describes the real work and the team that did it. Thank you!

The future of books? No, the future of the codex.

I like books a lot. Or to speak more accurately, codices (singular: codex). I’ve got a lot of them. There are 3 active beside my bed at the moment, a couple in the bathroom, several on my desk at school, and one on this kitchen table. But the codex is not the book. Neither was the scroll.

What I really like are texts. I read poetry (A Shropshire Lad is in the bathroom right now), novels (I’m listening to All the King’s Men – does that count if it’s not a codex?), and way too much history and art history.

But you know, I’m less and less dependent on the codex. I tell my students all the time that they’re living through the same kind of transition that we see in late antiquity between the scroll and codex. For instance, I read almost all article-length scholarly production in PDF format, usually on my iPad. That transition has happened in the last year, really — and what tipped the balance was iAnnotate, which allows note taking, highlighting, marking, and all kinds of other interventions on a PDF which are printable. My colleague Lara Blanchard found it and I love it!

What has me thinking this morning is this bewailment of “A dark day for the future of books.” What the piece finally comes down to is a defense of the publishers. Authors get a mention in there, but we know that the bulk of the profits of the current model are spent on things other than authors. I’ll be there were a lot of people bemoaning the losses to the papyrus manufacturers back in the 6th century.

The real reason to worry is the inherent ephemerality of electronic texts. They’re great, they’re handy, but they’re really easy to lose. Codices and scrolls are more predictably durable. That I miss, occasionally. But really now, don’t cry for the buggy whip manufacturers!

Roman Route Planning — online!

This is supremely weird and fun — well, for people like me. A René Voorburg has made up an online reconstruction of the Peutinger Table (Tabula Peutingeriana), a c. AD 300 Roman road map. It was something like a AAA Triptych rather than a fold-out map. More than 2000 of the 2760 spots on the Tabula have been given geolocations.
You can put in your AB (from) and AD (to) locations and see the route on the map — and on the left, the figures for how long it will take! For example:

Ab ‘ROMA’ ad ‘Mediolavm’
Summa CCCLXXI Milia Passum / Leuga Gallica.
Fere XXV dies.

25 days! The Freccia Rossa fast train does it in about 3 hours now.
The Tabula
Some explanations.
I’m teaching my 300-level Roman course next semester — guess what we’ll be playing with!
via The Shekel – Coins, Law and Commentary, a blog I had never visited before I wandered there this morning, Lord only knows from where.

9 down, 5 to go!

I’m giving midterms in Layers this week, and I’m most of the way finished.
I assigned them a neighborhood (Forum Boarium / Velabro area) about 10 days ago. They’ve had that time to visit and study and read. This week we started meeting — about 30 minutes per student — for a one-on-one conversation about things. I let them pick the first building to talk about. Then we switch to a building or site of my choice. If there’s time, we talk about a 2nd choice of theirs. So, if they choose a church, I switch them to a Roman temple — or vice versa. We always talk about the neighborhood, mythology, and topography — why the area is associated with Hercules and why it was a good place for a cattle market.
Most of the talks end with a huge sigh of relief and a “That wasn’t so bad!” Then I ask if they’ve chosen their building yet for the final! They will each choose a single building, site, piazza, or some such, and take the whole class on a detailed, scholarly tour.
I figured out this assignment in 2008 and decided to use it again. There’s enough variety in the neighborhood that I don’t get bored while doing this, and the exercise is very good practice for their final presentation.


Even a first day of success is encouraging! I chose to do something new this time with the architectural history course. I made lists of elements or themes to study for Rome, divided into five periods that span the work we’ll do this semester. I took my 14 students (yes, such luxury!) and had them draw numbers — everyone receives a set of elements/factoids to study.

So today at San Clemente, one of my favorite layered sites in Rome, various folks were on duty for:
Cremation / Burial / Sarcophagus (especially well done!)
Pontifex Maximus
Mithra and Mithraea
Early Christian Basilical Form
Pilgrimage / Indulgence
Crucifixes (the student with that responsibility did an excellent job with the one pictured)
Cosmatesque work
Four Orders and Spolia

Several people did excellent jobs, some people did good jobs, and a few people had to be pushed hard to get anything…but they’ll know what the group needs next time!

And since the whole process was spent inside San Clemente, I had a great time: 1st century walls, Mithraeum inserted in a 2nd century cyrptoporticus, early Christian basilica above that with lots of interesting frescoes (and one or maybe two tombs of St Cyril-as-in-Methodius), the 12th century basilica above with its mosaics, the early Renaissance chapel by Masolino da Panicale, a baroque wooden ceiling, 19th century plaques — everything up to a photograph of Pope Benedict XVI!

Someone at the door of S Lorenzo in Miranda!

We went to the Forum Romanum yesterday. The program has leased a sound system. Everyone has a little box slung on a lanyard around the neck – it’s smaller than a Walkman, but not by much. Everyone has an earpiece wired to the box, except me. I have a headphone set up. I was able to talk at a normal speaking level and everyone could hear me! The furthest we tested was once when my colleague Nick Ruth was about 30 yards away, and he picked up the signal just fine. Something more to lug from place to place, but worth it!

OK – the picture. Click on the picture to go to my Flickr photo stream and see a full view of the building, one of my favorite examples of literal layering and unlayering. The temple of Antoninus Pius and Fausta was built around 140, when she died, and rededicated with his name at his death 20 years later. The building was buried by the rising detritus and silt in the Forum until the 8th or 9th century, when a church was inserted inside the ancient building’s envelope. In 1602 a baroque facade was added — and the green door was at an appropriate entry level for that period. Think of what that means for the relative ground levels in the Forum!
In the 19th C the temple was excavated, leaving the door left hanging (there’s an entrance on the side of the church). Yesterday for the first time I saw people at the 17th Century door! So that explains the picture.
However, the interesting thing for me (and I hope for my students) are the layered stories — temple to divinized rulers, church inserted (triumphantly?) in the shell, colonnade preserved because of the church. Then the 19th Century archaeologists brutally ignored history in pursuit of some ideal state or ground level — and dug out the detritus, reconstructed a fictive staircase (that brickwork is not original!), and declared it “restored.” At least they didn’t tear down San Lorenzo in Miranda, which they did do to some other churches in the Forum area.
All in all a great place for me to teach my stuff — and someone at the door waving to us!

Santa Maria Maggiore – no chairs!

Seldom do you see a major Roman basilica without a sea of plastic chairs – so I was shocked to see the floor so clearly at Sta Maria Maggiore last week. I asked an attendant — he told me it was for cleaning.

Still, you can see the floor so much better this way! Click on the picture to get to the photo-stream and see another view.

Carnivalesque 63

Carnivalesque 63 – an Ancient and Medieval Version!
Do cities that are just NOT THERE any more matter? You bet they do! But how do we show people what was there if there’s no there there any more? Go look at what can be done with Antioch on the Orontes.
How do you get extant but really fragile manuscripts out of the library where more than one scholar at a time can use them? Here are some really interesting digitalization examples.
And how do you get the DNA out of a manuscript folio to figure out things about – well, about everything, starting with the sheep herd the page was made from. Well, first you have to convince a librarian that a set of 40-micron diameter holes in the edge of a manuscript is acceptable. Then you have to use Michael Drout’s new machine – prototype now available!
Bit players in the grand play of the Fall of the Roman Empire and the eventual emergence of the modern western European nations? Not so fast, buddy! Go read about the Burgundian Civil War and think harder about what makes people(s) central to the story.
Not a bit player at all – the power behind the throne – a new life of the Empress Theodora.
Periodization is always a question. In question? Questionable? But much like bit players and great powers, definition is important, if impossible. Magistra et Mater asks “How late should the late antique go?”
So you didn’t make it to Kalamazoo this year? Jonathan Jarrett covered a BUNCH of sessions incredibly thoroughly – here, here, here, and here He’s not quite Prof. Dr. Boethius P. von Korncrake, but hey – most of us aren’t.
The most important Kalamazoo news? The Chaucer Blogger steps forward!
And finally, what I think must be the most-forwarded ancient or medieval story of the year — the lurid cemetary of the Gladiators at York. Men bitten by Tigers! Differential development of right arms! At least three of my students in Greek Art & Architecture this semester forwarded this to me – and it was on every list serve I’m on, too. And then ADM sent it as a suggestion, too – so clearly Gladiators are In the News!
Happy reading!

How had I missed this blog?

The Digitised Manuscripts Blog – the digitalization project of the British Library. Here’s the “about” statement:

The Digitised Manuscripts Blog covers not only the progress of current digitisation projects at the British Library, such as the Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, but also more generally all topics associated with generating digital images of manuscripts, making them available to researchers, and pursuing old and new ways of researching digital surrogates of ancient manuscripts.

Their initial project is 250 Greek manuscripts, but there is some interesting discussion in the comments about what manuscripts people would like to see scannedl
A colleague sent me a link to a current entry on the Vatican’s decision to go ahead with digitalizing 80,000 manuscripts (40,000,000 manuscript pages, on estimate). Neat blog!

Sources and Documents

I had to buy a new copy of J.J. Pollitt’s Art of Ancient Greece: Sources and Documents; I have no idea what I’ve done with mine, the library’s is too fragile to xerox out of, and books like this are endlessly useful. I sometimes think of just ordering one of them as the primary textbook along with a history of a period and working through mainly the images (or kinds of images) referred to in the surviving texts. It would be an interesting way to run a course – but ultimately I probably wouldn’t like it. We (or I) depend too much on the insights from archaeology, which this kind of textual evidence is not all that helpful at generating.
Here are some other ones I use all the time:
Cyril Mango: The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453: Sources and Documents
Caecilia Davis-Weyer: Early Medieval Art 300-1150: Sources and Documents
Teresa Frisch: Gothic Art, 1140-c. 1450: Sources and Documents