Saturday, 15 November 2014

TÜRKiYE (Sotto il segno di Hermes)

It was a fantastic trip. The November weather was lovely and very warm (20 - 25°C) but, as ever, I need a week to recover from the sheer amount of travelling. Turkey’s roads are excellent – not a single pothole. A king’s ransom has been spent on infrastructure, but there appear to be few railways and even fewer buses.  I suppose these do run, off the arterial M-ways, but it seems the internal combustion engine rules the road.
  The only day it rained was at Miletus.  We took refuge in the vaulted door of the theatre’s parados wall, but #2 daughter and the ‘oldies’ decided against risking the ancient ruins any further.  Few of the sites are ‘easy-access,’ and limestone and marble are too slippery when wet, polished as they have been by thousands of years of feet. Water, often two or three inches deep, had puddled in the Labyrinth, ancient passages and corridors at Didyma, Apollo’s oracle site at the end of the ‘sacred way’ from Miletus. (A perfect indented circular stropheus, the socket in which the pivot of a door moved or hinged, is still visible at the temenos boundary of the corridor to the adyton, the Didymaion priests’ sacred oracular space.)
  According to Pausanias, the first temple of Apollo existed before the Tenth century BC, but is now far from the sea; ancient harbours silted up with alluvial mud. And it occurs to me the coming of Rome and its road-builders probably marked a sea-change, from coastal shipping to journeys on land.
  At Pergamum we soared aloft in the shiny new glass lift to the cable-car platform.  How did the ancients manage to get the huge blocks of Trajan’s temple up to the high akropolis? 
  Priene is a lovely place. It originally lay along the river mouth of the Maeander, but ca. 350BC a new city was built inland, on the present site. It’s believed the name is Cretan in origin, not Greek – but this is hypothetical. The polis had courtyard houses and vertiginous stepped side streets, and our tour guide rhapsodised about its bouleuterion (ca. 150BC) – square, not rounded in the Athenian pattern. There are very imposing temples, but many of the original Greek structures were obliterated by Roman rebuilding – in turn demolished by earthquake damage.
  Everywhere in Turkey there are ancient fragments of marble and terracotta pottery sherds – it’s a land where time’s layers bleed into one another.

On a brilliantly sunny autumn day we journeyed up over the massif of Mount Ida, where Trojan Paris made his fatal choice, passing the shrine of Apollo Smintheus Apollo of the Mice. There are plans to rebuild the temple, after more than 2000 years here
  Troy was relatively deserted: a real bonus.  In many ways it was the best of the oldest sites ~ and the most atmospheric.  Unique varieties of oak and fir trees grow there, and the place abounds in red squirrels. 
  I spent a lot on books in the Museum shop. I try to buy from ‘official’ outlets, to support archaeological conservation, and ignore touts at the gates. Cash is best WiFi access for credit cards is very iffy outside the cities.
  We had lunch that day by the Dardanelles ~ a naval warship just hoving into view, possibly for an ANZAC Gallipoli-100 flotilla.

Ephesus was clogged with Far Eastern tourists off the cruise liners. Irritatingly, couples stand in front of every monument and take photos of each other on their iPads, but don’t appear to have a clue about ancient history.  I bet if you asked them who Herakleitos was they’d give you an uncomprehending stare.
  It was a very hot day, with sunlight bouncing off white and cream stone, so we stuck to the ancient main street (contains terraced houses, admittance is charged separately) which slopes down to the Celsius Library.  I did not particularly wish to hike on to the alleged final home of the Virgin Mary, just as I am not interested in trekking around the Seven Churches of Asia. I was there for ancient Greeks, not Christian history, legend or myth.

Our three widely-separated hotels were excellent ~ spacious, plush, lots of light and smooth coloured marble. And there were legions of cats about.  Ephesus and Troy both feature resident felines. There’s a Turkish welfare concern which looks after them ~ not one cat we saw was skinny or seemed uncared for, not even the kittens.  The hotels all have cohorts of cats, too – just waiting for someone to carelessly leave doors open. A surprise for your feet, finding a furry interloper beneath the breakfast table! The waiters chase them out, napkins flapping, but they manage to sneak back.
  The daughter and I had booked separate single rooms, which turned out to be doubles with bathrooms en suite, and sea views gratis.  From my marble balcony in Ayvalık (opposite Greek Lesvos) I could watch the moon rise. That whole area is suffused with the scent of olive oil; theres a growth industry in crushed olive stones for fuel burning. Food was similar everywhere, but adequate; lots of meat, fish and vegetables but not enough fruit for my taste.  Daughter and I are now addicted to siyah çay (black tea in little glasses, served with sugar, on pretty Persian-patterned ceramic saucers) freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice and nougat confections! 

The Turks are a very courteous and friendly people.  And there was no evidence of the Syrian conflict. Turkey’s a huge country ~ we were well away from the south. Our Turkish tour guide was OK on his history (including the Attalids) but determined never to dwell on Greeks. Romans, Alexander (a Macedonian) and the Hellenistic Age were discussed ~ but not the actual Ionian Greeks! 
  Also, Greece’s Parthenon marbles aren’t the only ancient artefacts subject to international wrangles. There’s also the question of Germany’s Pergamum Museum housing the huge Altar of Zeus.  All that remains at Pergamum itself is the altar’s original base.
  A Turkish researcher has been working on the first inventory of his countrys ancient heritage spirited abroad to various museums in Europe and North America  ~ chiefly Germany, France, UK and the US, Austria and Greece.

Ionia was the cradle of diverse Anatolian cultures from the pre-Archaic era, and its location has always been a centre of transition.  The Republic of Turkey as a nation came into being in 1923 with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – born in 1881 in Salonika, now Thessaloniki, in what was then the Ottoman Empire – but it was here the Ionian miracle took flight in the second half of the Seventh century BC, and it would be tragic to lose the history.  ‘For the deeds of the past are, indeed, an inheritance common to us all; but the ability to make proper use of them [...] is the peculiar gift of the wise.’ Isocrates, (436–338BC) Panegyricus, 4.9.  If I had the Cambridge Classics clout of a Mary Beard or Paul Cartledge (which I definitely do not) I’d organise an international symposium at the sparklingly modern Ephesus convention centre, here, along the lines of ‘What can we do to help conserve the ancient Turkish heritage?’  And publish the proceedings. (People say they’ll publish post-conference but, it seems, rarely do so.) The big UNESCO sites may have funding but there are ruins, such as Colophon, lying around all over the place. However, there are skeins of nationalistic and political complexities surrounding the issues, and angels fear to tread.
Returning from our travels in Asia Minor, one is submerged in a tide of washing / cat coddling / sorting stuff and playing catch-up, plus attempting to re-submerge into thesis writing (with a marked lack of enthusiasm).  I am very tired; it was  a marathon, taken at the speed of a sprint, with early morning wake-up calls (usually preceded by a muezzins 5.40am dawn chant from a local minaret, claiming prayer is better than slumber).  Plus, last month’s virus hasn’t disappeared; I scooted to GP regarding a persistent cough, which has entailed hi-strength antibiotics.  Very annoying, but should be back to normal (~ish) by next week and, under the aegis of Hermes, can begin planning the next venture.
  Och, well ~ meanwhile, the dreich and dreary cold of dull old Scotland.
  But apparently it was raining even in golden Byzantium yesterday. ...

Picture credits: Miletus, First century AD Ionic stoa; Didyma, Greek altar of offering; Schliemann’s trench, Hissarlık / Trojan walls; Ephesus, library of Celsius; Ephesus, cat atop a pillar, © JAS; Turkish tea glass, online

Friday, 31 October 2014

‘The Orpheus Question’ ...

In regard to the ‘Orpheus Question’ of this research, he is not the easiest of figures to reconstruct, and especially not via a quasi-scientific linear approach. Researching myth per se may veer into logical analyses and scientific rationality, but oblique poetic allegories and allusions can also inform. The extant poetry makes more sense to me rather than ancient prose works – Orpheus’s possible, if evanescent, existence, his suppliant’s mission to Hades, all the miracoli credited to his name.  Having hit on a theoretical PoV to knit the strands of the myth together, which complements / concatenates research done to date, am happy enough for the moment.   

I’ve eschewed modern poets, who weren’t writing of ‘my’ Orpheus. Rilke is not only too late but his Sonnets to Orpheus (1922) are far too ‘precious’ – as are many Neoclassical artworks, e.g., the smooth  androgynous youth of the Hermitage’s Canova sculpture (above, L). The figure of Orpheus went back at least a millennium before Vergil ‘invented’ the story of Eurydike. Nevertheless, there’s always some sense in looking at a different slant, even if you disagree with it.  Its all grist to the mill, whether you use it or not.
  A further perspective on this archaic figure surfaced. I’d been pursuing Orpheus and his katabasis – his connections with the afterlife – but neglected the verso of death, which is living. The Underworld, for Orpheus, was not merely a silent invisible existence. To cite our modern ‘take’ on ancient Greek binary concepts, as with night and day you can’t have one without t’other.
  To brazenly embark on playing a lyre and singing to Hades and Persephone wasnt exactly diplomatically tactful. An Apollonian paean to light and life was a surprising action in Hades’ chthonic realm. It caused a psychic clamour amongst the flitting souls.  In reminding the dead of what it was to see, to be alive, Orpheus ‘[...] sang the brightness of mornings and green rivers, He sang of smoking water in the rose-coloured daybreaks, Of colours: cinnabar, carmine, burnt sienna, blue ...
  These are the hues of nature, the mountain forests of Orpheus’s homeland and dawn mists off its lakes, rinsed in rainbows of colour. No wonder the shades in Hades mourned. Colour didn’t belong in the Underworld. Down there was impenetrable Stygian darkness: ‘Chaos, black as night,’ Ovid called it.
 The adjectival ‘rose-coloured daybreaks’ echoes Homer’s repeating description of the Titan goddess Ἕως (dawn) as ‘rosy-fingered’: a nod to the deified abstractions of the ancient Greek poet.
  Incidentally, it’s from Éōs we get the Old English, Ēostre, Easter. That should tell you something.  Sufficient to say, Éōs opened the gates of heaven for the sun to rise. She also immortalised various Greek mythical figures. ... 
  Such are the mysterious labyrinthine pathways of myth.
  I’m trying not to sound like some New Age dippy hippy. I don’t believe in crystals, communing with trees or fairies at the foot of the garden, but poor Orpheus can, and does, find himself co-opted into these territories, plus the music world hasn’t helped his cause any.  However, I’m concentrating on something older, much less pretty or comforting. Hades pitch-black kingdom was blind dark, and the Greeks referred to Korē/Persephone as ‘the unspeakable girl.’

Back in 2011 I wrote, “What can go wrong? Oh, plenty! [...] And, of course, that thing called ‘life’ will undoubtedly get in the way, and more often than not.” Over three years later, nothing has changed, apart from the institution.  Once back from the east, I’ll compile a rough paper copy – a dummy, as it was known in my publishing days, albeit not one composed of blank pages!  My (lately-neglected) journo friend in Canada opines this is “a cool idea. I have a feeling it will help – not only with the material itself, but with morale as well. Give you the feeling you’re actually getting somewhere. A collection of [onscreen computer] files just cannot do that. You might consider even designing a cover for it. Make it looks as much as possible like a finished product. Could provide a real incentive.”  He’s right: files on the monitor don’t feel real, plus time’s running on fast. Christmas catalogues drop through the door daily, as if we need reminding, and I have to think about next year’s review as well. I need a turbo-boost!
  The jacket’s draft artwork’s already in the PhD storage file: an easy fun task to accomplish, albeit a displacement one. The chronic anxiety concerns what’s between the covers. As suggested by Pat Thomson, an academic literacy broker might be A Good Idea (academic writing being what it is) here. Im talking old hands at the writing game, independent editors who have no investment in your work and come fresh to the narrative to tell you whether it works– or not.  
We leave soon for Turkey, so I can forget the writing for a while. Homer’s Smyrna, Apollo’s Didyma and the Ionian Priene (between Mt. Mykale and the Gt. Maeander river); Pergamon, Ephesus (the steepest theatre in Asia Minor) and – at last! –  Troy. Temperatures are said to be normally ca. 20°C at this time of year, which is hopeful – given all the walking. My experience of slogging over ancient pavements and causeways in varying degrees of heat (and varying degrees of footwear: think Merrells rather than M&S!) tends to make for trepidation, and even more so for #2 daughter.  I’m told parts of the expedition are in fairly untouristy country.  However, she’s faithfully followed me all over the Aegean and Med – the only person consistently willing do so. As long as there are coffee breaks, or wine and olives in sunlit white-walled villages, and good food in comfortable multi-starred hotels, she’s happy, as am I.  Plus she doesn’t have to put up with some of the extremely basic student-level accommodations I’ve endured in my time! 
  It's a fairly long flight, but its worth it just to lift off the windy tarmac of a cold wet Scottish airport and be set down in the ancient world.  I guess there will be a lot of long-distance coach travel. The Republic is vast; many of its archaeological sites are hundreds of miles apart. 

Once more unto Greece: things serendipitous happen. Dunno why – they just do. Recently I happened on an old issue of Blackwood’s Magazine I’ve tried to trace for years. It contains an antiquated piece which contributed to the seeds of this long Grecian odyssey. I managed to source a single copy on a second-hand bookseller’s website; probably the last one left for sale in the UK, so ... 
  Thanks are due, Bookfinder of Belfast. It’s quite amusing, theres a large red-ink stamp on the front cover: Not to be removed from the Smoking Room.’ Shades of a gentlemans club. Does anyone possess smoking rooms now?

This blog’s occasionally slightly mystifying. Mostly Britain and the US play Box & Cox to head up the audience list, but recently China suddenly leaped to #1, displacing the States. Does the Google crawler pick up on content, regardless of what we put in the ‘labels’ section?  OTOH, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned China in any bodies of text, so this theory doesn’t hold water.
  Och well, nice to know.
  However, truthfully, this is becoming a temporary storage facility for all things Orphean. I have to be careful what I write; blogs count as ‘publication,’ and if I re-use my own material (and I will) I have to cite myself!

Credits: Canova, Orpheus looks back, Hermitage, St Petersburg; excerpt from Czeslaw Milosz, ‘Second Space’: New Poems, trans author and Robert Hass (New York, 2005);  Hades and Kerberos, Heraklion Museum, Crete, 2011;

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Lost in Thrace

The inevitable negatives of research include late nights and early mornings, trying to catch up with the ‘must-read’ list. Heaven only knows what it must be like for a modern undergraduate, fresh out of school and away from watchful parents. It’s hard enough for this less-than-modern doctoral researcher pursuing night lucubrations and attempting to weather the troughs of life, the interruptions and claims on her time.  
  O, the guilt, if you’re not reading / writing / thinking (I do a lot of that last one!) I do a lot of sleeping, too. Why does research sap your physical resources, when it’s only supposed to tax your mind? However, laid low by a virus of late, I haven’t been reading much. Like the Olympics, these afflictions come around every four years, usually in autumn, and take ca. a week or so to depart. Meantime, I feel soggily sorry for myself and only want chicken soup and sympathy. 
  (You know how, when you’re feeling off-colour, your cat is supposed to cuddle you for a change, and adopt a sensitive caring attitude to the owner’s miseries? Well, I’m not sure the resident feline here has read that clause of the contract. Even while it measured its length with me on the sofa, or curled up on the duvet, normal service was expected from the Personal Chef and Groomer. ...)
  Adding insult to injury, Edinburgh city council’s parking services (based in Sheffield, apparently) sent a penalty demand notice: my Fiat’s nearside wheels strayed into an unsigned bus lane ~ £60. If you dare to appeal, it automatically increases to £90 ...  
  Can you believe such people exist? There’s a word for them, απόβρασμα, but it’s not ladylike.

I am perpetually irritated by my inability to remember brilliant thoughts and ideas
Proof! Ancient Greeks had laptops.
experienced on the edge of sleep.  I mutter and repeat something to myself, believing I will recall it in the morning when I sit down at this machine ~ but I never do. Notebooks don’t work for me, nor did keeping a voice recorder beside the bed. Neither of those aides-mémoire made any sense next day. Nothing short of climbing out of a comfortable duvet and trekking to the study to switch on the Electronic Beast will conserve that somnolent insight.  As if!  ‘Besides,’ says she, peering at the digital clock, ‘it’s the middle of the night!’
  Mebbe random thoughts are something to do with the wanderings of a semi-unconscious mind as it shuts itself down. The day’s reading / writing / research swirls around, trying to cache its items, and chance connections are made.

In the outer world, updates from the FCO regarding travel to Turkey are now almost daily.  The electronic tickets have arrived, and the flight to Izmir lands at an ungodly hour of the morning, but I’m wondering if – yet again – Troy is off the agenda. ... 
   Turkish authorities have confirmed at least 35 people died last week in violent protests in a number of cities across the country.  The demonstrations were in response to the situation in Kobane/Tal-al-Abyad (Syria).  There have been clashes between protesters and police in Istanbul, including around Taksim Square and on the waterfront area in central Izmir.  Tear gas and water cannon were used to disperse protests.
  There is a high terrorism threat in Turkey and active ideological groups throughout the country. These include domestic religious extremists, and international groups involved in the Syrian conflict.  Attacks could be indiscriminate and could affect places visited by foreigners.  Were warned to remain vigilant and avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place but, so far, nothing’s been issued by the FCO to say they advise against all travel, and its a big country.  We will be in the north most of the time.  

In the inner world, Orpheus is – and is not – progressing. Weary of re-writing / revising pieces again and again, I launched the penultimate chapter for a ‘freshen up’ exercise. The endless revisions are losing the distinctive voice, becoming anodyne and – let’s face it – rather boring. Something new was needed to placate the frustrated writer who’s always trying to break out of academic Colditz.  Writing is an art, not a science, and one of the important aspects is its impact. Anyone can string words together, but – ah! Which words, which phrases?  How best to convey, with the lightest possible touch, the complex ideas one is attempting to shape out of thin air?
  I can still see the outline of the ‘thing.’ I’m aware the numerical order and headings of my initial draft chapters will all be swapped around and re-assigned, entailing a lot of re-writing, but only once I have the whole shooting match together in one place.

According to his history-legend-myth, Orpheus was born in Thrace, north of Greece. At that time it was a wolf-haunted wilderness of local kings, warring tribes and nomads; an area of ancient fable, folklore and practices.
  The Rhodope mountain range, now part of Bulgaria, is still largely forested with pines and dark ilex woods indented with gorges. The lowlands feature stony river beds which can become raging floods in the winter rains. Winds blow hard across this landscape. Ancient Thracians would stand their herd mares with heads held downwind, in order that, as they believed, Zephyrus might put them in foal. (Zephyrus, the west wind, was said to live in a cave in Thrace.)
  As an archaeological friend puts it**, ‘it required appreciable knowledge to move through the mountains, and although local guides would have provided the means, familiarity with the landscape was necessary to traverse the countryside effectively.’ That was the Iron Age, but even today there are not that many reliable guide books. (I’m already thinking about going there ~ and especially if some generous research authority is prepared to grant academic travel funds ...)
Thracian dialects evidence earlier ancestries, ways of life buried in origins impossibly distant, before Herodotus and recorded time.  But how far distant?  Don’t quote me on this – there’s a lot of excavatory reading to be done! – but my current surmise is the Thracians of Orpheus’s reputed era stem from the margins of history – Hellenic invaders who filtered down into Greece before the Dorians wandered into the Balkans, Macedonia and Thrace, later penetrating as far as the Peloponnese. Not a few Bulgarian archaeological sites appear to confirm this.
  We don’t know what the Thracians called themselves – the label was bestowed on them by the Greeks. The immigrants were a northern people, characterised by fair hair and blue eyes, who contrasted with the olive complexions and dark hair of easterners from Asia Minor.
  What did the ancient world know of the Thracians?  Many Classical students would volunteer the thrax or thraex of Roman amphitheatre games, but there was more to archaic Thrace than gladiatorial slaves.  From its forests came trees to build Themistokles’ triremes, Athens’ ‘wooden walls’ in the war with Sparta.  
  Ancient legacies survived.  Until relatively recent times Charon was the spirit of death in northern Greece; at a funeral no one looked back over their shoulder for fear of becoming his victim – just as in the archaic era Hekate or an Erinys could lurk around a burial site.  Serpents brought luck – a milk-fed snake could be the daemon of an ancient Greek dwelling house – and, like Orpheus, Thracian shepherds in the past were reputed to understand the language of animals and birds.    
  Thrace and its peoples hailed from earlier aeons, before the relative civilisation of the Fifth century BC. The Thracians antedate the Greek poleis by several millennia.  And so does the figure of Orpheus.

Credits: sleeper, Google images; Douris painter, man with wax tablet, ca. 500BC, Berlin; FCO info.,; Thrace,; **extract, DRJC, Leics: PhD thesis 2009:108; Thracian horses,