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Below are the 5 most recent journal entries recorded in
|Saturday, July 22nd, 2017|
|Grenfell Tower and the Fire of Rome
There was a good episode of The Long View on Radio 4 last week, looking at a terrible fire in Glasgow in 1905 as a ghastly parallel of the Grenfell Tower. But I couldnt help thinking also of a much more distant fire, and the blame game around it that has lasted for centuries: the great fire of Rome in 64 CE.
We now know it best through the phrase Nero fiddled while Rome burned or to give the fuller version, he (apocryphally, Tacitus says that he was in Antium <Anzio> at the time) went to a great vantage point and as he watched the city go up in flames, he sang a song about the Fall of Troy, accompanying himself on the lyre (it was fiddling in the musical sense, not footling, as I have blogged before). But more interesting is the controversy about what had really caused this, and what the clean-up operations were or should have been.
Nero blamed the Christians and a few people have since followed him. Many early Christians thought that the end of the world was nigh, and that it would come in a vast conflagration: what was more tempting than to give it a helping hand? Other people blamed Nero, believing that it was a quick way of clearing the centre of the city to make space for the new palace he wanted to build (that is, The Golden House).
Nero certainly turned on the Christians instantly, crucifying some, turning others into human torches. It was the first documented persecution, but gave him a worse reputation later than at the time (Christians were as popular then as terrorists now). The interesting thing is that he does seem to have instituted rather more effective relief measures than the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. He opened his own grounds to house the homeless (not something we have recently seen). And he made all kinds of Health and Safety regulations (about building height etc: ancient Rome was almost as high rise as modern London) to prevent the same thing happening again.
What he didnt do was set up a public inquiry. On which subject, I must confess that I have started to feel very slightly sorry for Martin Moore-Bick. There is no doubt that he doesnt look particularly well qualified for some of the jobs that need doing right now. Nor is there any doubt for me that someone needs to look at all the wider social and political issues that are off Moore-Bickss agenda (the not my remit line). They are rightly not going to go away. But I really do want someone to go through the mountains of paperwork, the trail of contracts and subcontracts which involve dozens of firms and consultants etc and to work out, as nerdily as possible, who made what decision about that cladding, when, and on whose authority. As well as everything else, I want to know where the buck stops; and Moore-Bick might be just the man for that job.
AND THAT"S IT FOR THE TYPEPAD VERSION OF THE BLOG. I HOPE YOU WILL JOIN ME ON THE NEW SITE:
|Wednesday, July 19th, 2017|
|A great little Greek Museum
Just to prove that I put my break to good use, let me recommend another little gem of a museum, this time on the Greek island of Kalymnos. We went over there from Turkey for a night. The formalities are a bit time consuming (couldnt help thinking that this is what it might be like trying to get to Calais in years to come) but, boy, was it worth it.
The museum on the island is famous for its ancient bronzes, especially the Lady of Kalymnos (above), who came up out of the sea in some fishing nets in 1995: probably (its devilish difficult to date bronzes) a second century BC piece, probably lost in a ship wreck on the way from Greece to Rome. (Any Greek sculpture found on the Mediterranean bed is always assumed to be Roman plunder: some of it might well be, but it is a tremendously catch all assumption.)
But there is a lot more that makes the museum really worth visiting.
When we first went in, my eye was caught by this sixth-century BC figure a standard archaic type of kouros, except that this one is clothed. There are a few others like this, but the norm is for these male figures to be naked, and it is striking to notice the really different impression they make when they are draped. (You cant really see it on this photo, but he has also got a lot of still surviving red paint on him, especially on the back.)
As for two other highlights amongst a lot of good marble pieces, then I would go for this wonderfully characterful Roman portrait.
Hes a bit battered, but makes a great match (as the husband observed) for some of the late second/early first century BC sculpture on the island of Delos. The usual guess would be that he was part of the Roman community of traders making a lot of cash out of the new opportunities in the East (on Delos, it was the slave trade that brought the profits; on Kalymnos, Im not so sure).
And my favourite little bit of re-identification is this one.
Its labelled in the Museum as the statue of a boy wearing an unusual diaphanous chiton. Well so he might possibly be, but he also has a strangely prominent willy. He must in fact be Attis, the young consort of the goddess Cybele; suspecting his affections were straying (or at least this is one version), she sent him mad so that he castrated himself. Hes often represented in something like this style, or even more revealing. This isnt the best parallel (not sure about the strange leggings), but I hope you get the point.
So not an ordinary little boy at all.
Anyway, its a small, high quality collection, which takes an hour or so to enjoy. And after that, the swimming is great.
|Next week's blog
OK everyone. After months of preparation, we are moving onto the TLS/Wordpress of this blog from next Monday, 24th July.
The most you will have to do in order to comment is register once. It is simple.
It has taken so long because the valiant TLS people have tried very hard to respond to your very useful comments and criticisms of the protype (thank you commenters, and thank you TLS). I am assured that all the previous posts and the comments will be there, there will be no unsightly gaps between comments etc etc.
Of course, there may well be a few teething troubles, but very few I hope.
See you there -- with all those learned, witty, incisive and temperate (sic) comments for which this blog has become known.
|Saturday, July 15th, 2017|
|The sea, the sea
I have spent the last week on a boat with friends, sailing around the south coast of Turkey. Those are her sails, above. It was, I confess, mostly for holiday purposes, but there were a couple of days of antiquity hunting. The truth is (and believe this justification if you will!) that some of the best sites are actually much more easily accessible from the sea than from the land, so it makes good sense to combine the pleasures of the deep (best bathing I know), with shore-dashes to the serious antiquarian stuff.
Anyway, on one slightly marathon day we did three inland ancient cities, all within reasonably easy reach of Bodrum (and of each other), and a good trip to make if you are ever in that area: that was (in the order we visited), Miletus, Priene and Didyma.
Guidebooks are rather down on Miletus (despite it being the home of the whole Milesian School of Pre-Socratic philosophy Thales et al.) . They recommend the theatre, which is as you see damned good, but suggest that there is not much else to see. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
We didnt have time to do the whole site, but we explored the second century AD baths (the Baths of Faustina, named after the wife of Marcus Aurelius), which were a real textbook set of facilities. Here is the plunge pool:
And we also had fun in a beautifully restored fifteenth century mosque on the site.
Priene is very and interestingly different. Most of what is visible at Miletus and most of these big Asia Minor sites is Roman. But, thanks to a big fire and the silting up of the coastline, Priene really didnt make it into the Roman period in any big way. So what you see is, unusually, more or less completely pre-Roman Hellenistic.
It is, I warn you, a tougher nut to crack than Miletus: a stonking climb up a steep hill, over which the determined town planners of Priene imposed a perfect grid plan. I was indeed pretty knackered here, as you see (the remains of the columns providing a useful resting point):
But it is a great opportunity to put some physical remains next to the kind of political and social analysis of the place offered by Peter Thonemann in his excellent little book on the Hellenistic Age.
The last stop was Didyma, where there is a huge temple of Apollo, housing one of the most famous oracles in the ancient world. It was centred over a sacred stream, and had a pretty chequered history. At one point the stream apparently dried up, but flowed again when Alexander the Great passed by (which is obviously a metaphor for something!). And there is a sense in which, at least in the reformed, post-Alexander version of the cult, they have one eye on the procedures at Delphi, with a priestess apparently speaking mumbo jumbo, interpreted by a priest. But it does, even better than Delphi, give you some sense of the splendour of an A list oracle. This is one of the approach routes to the main oracular centre of the shrine.
It isnt hard to imagine what it might have felt like coming here with a question . . .
So a bit of a busmans holiday, but different from a similar trip last year with some of the same friends. Last year, as one of the party remarked, we went off to the sun in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. This year it was just Andy Murrays defeat!
|Wednesday, July 5th, 2017|
|Emperors on the Market
One of the fun things about working on modern images of Roman emperors is that there are such a lot of them about, and for sale. Just this last week a rather splendid (vulgar?) set of four came up at Sotheby's. They were probably rightly said to be very like the sixteenth-century versions of Della Porta and interesting partly because these sets of busts only really get off the ground a bit later than this.
Tipped off by a friend, I did go to Sotheby's to have a real look. And two things struck me apart from the price (half a million for four emperors, rather beyond me).
First, these are emperors done before the iconography has become clearly standardized. The pic at the op does match up a bit to the standard Julius Caesar, but I wasnt certain that I detected a classic Marcus Aurelius here (as the catalogue suggested). I have always liked the 'porosity' of these Caesars and this looks like a good case. Who is who?
But second I was struck by a bit of the cheap skate construction. The busts are at firat sight made out of the most lavish coloured marble.
But as you can see from this pic, the construction is basically a few strips of marble on a rough plaster base. They were a nice showy construction in other words, but in the end without much bottom (apart from the glorious faces).
Anyway, no half a million to spare at this end -- rare, nice and cheap skate as they are.