Monday, 15 December 2014

Nine lives ... or losing my marbles?

I’m currently keeping a sharp eye on the Great Elgin Marbles Debate, albeit, in common with many such as Prof Mary Beard, remaining resolutely on the fence ~ precarious as the fence is.
  It’s impossible to judge the rights and wrongs of ancient artefacts currently reposing in foreign museums, far from their origins.  #1 daughter blogged last week on the action of advancing a reasonable point that nobody would really disagree with and using it to justify a more extreme point,here and this is whats happened to the Elgin debates. The Ottoman Empire was one contributor to the rape of Greek and Ionian treasures, the Nineteenth century’s political realities another. (The Ottomans cared nothing for what they viewed as non-Moslem pagan art, and were burning marble to obtain lime for mortar.) Schliemann smuggled ‘Priam’s Treasure’ out of Turkey (it’s now in Moscow’s Pushkin museum) and Germany built Turkish railways and then carted off Pergamum’s Great Altar of Zeus (now in Berlin).  No mean task: it’s huge.
  What’s the solution? I don’t think there is one.
  (And, Wikipedia ~ please learn how to spell ‘frieze.’)

It’s not only the feline who has nine lives around here.  It appears its owner does, too.
  #1 life ~ the reader: The Kindle accompanied me on travels through Turkey.  I’ve come to
Bonnie on the bookcase
love this flat little notebook-sized piece of tech ~ not least because I no longer have to lug weighty tomes in my baggage ~ but it’s not really capable of taking on more academic type volumes. The footnotes cause a problem. Some of my research volumes have pages which are more than half made up of footnotes.  But, for ordinary reading, the K’s fine.
  #2 life ~ the researcher: This is the life with a limited duration. It has an expiry date. ‘Research’ and ‘writer’ are concatenated together, but in practice are separate exercises. And reading because you want to and reading because you have to require different mind-sets.  
  #3 life is an extension: writing, and book people. This life is part of #1 and #2 lives, but leans to the critical (or picky) side.  As a reader of Greek mythology I become impatient with inaccuracies, especially with authors and editors who don’t know omega from alpha, i.e., their Odyssey from their Argonautika.  A case in point: one woman’s written, ‘The Argonauts were told to block their ears up with wax. [...] Odysseus got Orpheus to sing and play his lyre so loudly that the Sirens’ song could not be heard. Consequently, the Argo passed by safely, and the Sirens secured no victims. ...’
  Eh? Odysseus wasn’t on the Argo.  Orpheus was. Get it right, or don’t bother.
  I shant review that one.  I tend to attract brickbats for pointing out elementary errors. Besides, I dont have time for reviewing these days. 
  #4 life’s the online one: rapidly becoming not for me.  Perhaps this is to do with the increase in advertising for TV programmes which I have no desire to view, e.g., anything which employs ‘celebrity’ or ‘X’ in its title, or is a soap opera. News and current affairs are so dismal I avoid them – our recent venture east reminded me I can exist very happily without hourly updates on petty trifling domestic Scottish politics or the Life of Cameron et al.
  #5 life ~ family and animals. Not to be confused with each other. Family is about to be augmented with the anticipated arrival of #1 daughter’s first infant, and ‘animals’ is now limited to the one resident feline where once there were four cats and two horses.
  #6 life is travel and other pursuits, e.g., music and arts. This one is ongoing. Travel is my perpetual thing to be looked-forward-to. You can’t live in Scotland without hankering for the sun. And I can’t exist without music. I recently discovered Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony. Why it took so long is because I broadly dislike that particular Strauss; his Four Last Songs are just too doom-laden, worse than Mahler. The 1981 Berliner Philharmoniker recording of Eine Alpensinfonie was the first CD ever to be pressed, conducted by von Karajan (Greek descent: Karajánnis).
 #7 life ~ projects and planning, a.k.a. the road to hell. Ongoing ~ Jane’s perpetually cycling Five Year Plans defeated by DIY, i.e., Jane’s inability to progress her schemes to fruition.
  #8 life’s the routine one. Self-explanatory.
  #9 life ~ there isn’t one ...

The thesis has taken a back seat and the university semester’s winding down. The progress report is ~~ one officially gave in and re-wrote a truncated ‘Intro.’ in precisely one thousand words (erstwhile journo habits die hard) e.g., “I will be showing ...”, “Chapter One will demonstrate ...”  etc.  It’s clean, it’s clear and concise.  IOW, it’s on the damnably dull and kindergarten level of ‘I will tell you [...]’ ~ ‘I am telling you [...],’ and ‘I have told you [...]’ and so on. But hey! ~ if it gets the job done it’ll be OK.  I figure if I can’t beat ‘em needs must join ‘em ~ anything to wrench the albatross from around my neck.  The exercise proved beneficial in that it had the same effect as outlining ~ clarified the thing. All’s to do, of course, but it’s beginning to seem as if it might make sense.
  Overall, a cheerful little bunny, pro tem. That flickering light at the end of the tunnel just brightened.  And Chapter One’s also been pruned, made more logical, reduced to manageable proportions. Although its scope is such the word count will creep up if not reined back.

  An early New Year resolution’s been made: plan what’s to be done tomorrow before you wrap today.  I know ~ shouldve done this lang syne, but it’s not my usual writing MO. I do what I feel like doing ~ not a good idea v/v research write-ups.
  And, for a diversion, I drafted the covers artwork. The painting itself was no problem ~ finding its exact whereabouts in Italy was. (Attributions are important.) Hunting through my bookcases, I eventually ran it to earth.  
  I did all this while domestic chaos raged. 
  A contractor was ‘in,’ resurfacing the bath (it now looks pristine-new, v. impressed!) so it was generator, extractor fans + spraying machine on full blast.  #2 daughter was home at the time, so there were also three radios going, on different stations, and the cat was hopping around, wild-eyed, disturbed by the noise and the awful smell of the white enamel – it made my eyes water, so goodness only knows what it did to the feline’s sensitive nose.  But, if one can work under these circs guess one can work anywhere. Tho’ I’d prefer not to feel ‘poisoned’ by chemicals wafting around the house.

The current bleat I have (she’s being ultra-Classically-picky, again) is the appearance of ‘Orpheus’ in BBC One’s ‘Atlantis.’ A blind seer? Aw, come on! Aspects of Homer, Demodokos, Teiresias. And Eurydike has been miraculously resurrected ... 
  Alright, it ain’t ‘real’ Greek myth.  It’s only fantasy TV, on a par with Game of Thrones, Percy Jackson, or even Peter Jackson murdering The Hobbit.
  But is this youthful Jason character ever going to get to build the Argo?

Otherwise, Christmas has taken a back seat, too. We are, as ever, having a clan gathering; Tayside this year, not up north. I don’t want to stray too far from home soil. With #1 daughter’s baby due, an extra 125 miles or so would increase an already long journey south by another third. The ‘clan’ has dwindled. These days, sons and daughters make their lives elsewhere.  Some on the opposite side of the globe.

καλές γιορτές ~ may your days be merry and bright.

Picture credits: Parthenon frieze panel, © Google images; black cat, pen & watercolour © J.-A. Shaw, 2014;  Blind Homer, William-Adolphe Bouguereau

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;