Thursday, September 30, 2010

Appetitve/Reasoning: Great Getty Resources and the Problems with Publishing Classics Books

There are some really fabulous features attached to the Getty Villa exhibition The Art of Ancient Greek Theater. So even if you are not fortunate enough to go see the exhibit, you can experience some of the fabulous work put together there.

First, there is a slideshow with audio commentary which displays seventeen of the art pieces displayed. Check out the slideshow.

Second, they put up a reading of a fragment of a Sopholces satyr play called the trackers. As far as I can tell, the pronunciation is pretty good. However, my pronunciation and linguistic understanding is still not what it should be. If anyone has any thoughts, I would love to hear him. The audio can be found here.

Although I did not get to peruse them very thoroughly, there are three books that the Getty published in conjunction with exhibit. Two of them, The Pronomos Vase and It's Context and Pot's and Plays, are edited by Oliver Taplin. The Art of Ancient Greek Theater is edited by Mary Louise Hart.

The Pronomos Vase and its Context The Art of Ancient Greek Theater Pots & Plays: Interactions between Tragedy and Greek Vase-painting of the Fourth Century B.C. (J. Paul Getty Museum)

Sadly, the books are all extraordinarily expensive. This, however, is not unexpected given the price of classics books in general. In a thesis meeting, I was told by Messalla, my fabulous thesis adviser, that classics textbooks were originally significantly cheaper (with adjustment for inflation). Publishers eventually realized that a large portion of the audience for these books was comprised of professors and libraries, most of whom had access to some portion of the University budget. As such, the publishers realized that they could increase their profit margin by making the books ridiculously expensive-- thereby cutting out the student and causal-reader market-- and sell the books significantly more expensively from smaller printings (which were more expensive per book to make). I do not have any specifics on the Getty as a publisher, but think that, in general, the expense trend with classics books is ridiculous. Although libraries are a great resource, with public funding decreasing everywhere, a lot of libraries are having trouble affording the same books that students cannot afford for themselves. Also, the rarer and more expensive the books are, the more likely they are to be stolen (a bunch of expensive classics books were stolen from my college last year) and then resold.

I do not believe there is any real way to break the trend of such expensive books. Some publishing houses obviously provide significantly better prices than others. And, of course, I would never want to deny money or publishing access to the scholars who produce the wonderful things that I read. I know this might sound a little hypocritical given my recent blogpost, but would it not be better if publishing houses just made books less expensive, rather than making them really expensive and then putting some portion of the scholarly collection up for free online (see the incredible CDL archive). I love ebooks and free books, but I would not search for them quite so hard if the books I needed were less expensive or appeared in more libraries.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Appetitive/Reasoning: Cerinthus Reports on the Theater at Epidaurus

Cerinthus' panorama from Epidaurus

So after enjoying the amazing pottery concerning theater at the Getty Villa that I have written about in my recent blogposts (#1, #2, #3), I was feeling marginally less jealous of Cerinthus' trip to Greece. That was until I saw his most recent photos.

On his trip, he visited Epidaurus. The theater is incredible. According to an article on LiveScience as well as Wikipedia, the theater was built by Polykleitos the Younger in the 4th century BCE. Cerinthus explained that the limestone of the theater was the reason that the acoustics are so perfect. The LiveScience article explains the phenomenon. Specifically, the porous and grooved limestone absorbs the lower frequency sounds made by the audience while heightening higher frequency sounds made by the actors. Although it might seem as though the sound would be distorted by the lack of lower frequency sounds, the human brain fills in these sounds so that the sound does not seem distorted.

Earlier theaters, like that in Athens, were originally made of wood which does not have the same acoustic effect of the limestone. Even other theaters built after these period did not have the same perfect acoustics. The LiveScience article claims this is because the Greeks did not understand that the perfection of this theater came from the limestone combined with the shape and slope (LiveScience article).

More of the Theater from Cerinthus,

Correction: I mistook this picture for part of the theater because of the countryside. It is actually the Temple of Aesclepius at Epidaurus.
Temple of Aesclepius. Photo by Cerinthus.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Reasoning: The Iconography of Greek Theater #3, Ralf Krumeich

My mom took this picture in the gardens.

Ralf Krumeich spoke first, after Mary Louise Hart's introduction. I had not heard of him, because it appears that he writes only in German, but he is Privatdozent (which I assume is like a professor) of classical archaeology in at the Universitat Bonn and writes on archaeology, satyr plays, and the relationship between classical monuments in Athens and Delos as conceived by different cultures in the Hellenistic and Imperial periods.

Krumeich was a fascinating character. He was immediately likable and charismatic. His English was fabulous, although heavily accented. It made me realize how differently the Germans pronounce Greek names like Atreus (he said "aahh-traus"). He was perfectly understandable, and oddly enough when he was answering questions his English was better and more fluid than when he was reading his presentation. I want to be able to do that in German, someday.

Ralf Krumeich's ideas were also rich and well-explicated. He created a system for categorizing pottery and its relationship to theater and mythology:
  1. Images which explicitly show Athenians (or those from South Italy or Sicily) in or around the performance of a tragedy/satyr play/comedy.
  2. Mythological images which can be connected with theatrical performance through visual tropes such as masks, costumes, aulos players, etc.
  3. Myths where a character or characters are portrayed in theatrical costume. One of the main features that places a pot in this category is the lack of masks, as well as only some rather than all of the characters in theatrical dress.
He explained that a large portion of evidence about theater is tainted because it blurs these barriers. Most of the evidence that he problematized is scholars using pieces of pottery from the last two categories in order to make suppositions about the plot or staging of plays which remain only as fragments or titles.

From this information and these categories, he draws two interrelated conclusions. First,Theater, including rehearsals, and those who participated in theater (actors and dancers) have a social and religious significance which made them common themes. But second, although there are many images which incorporate the iconic tropes of theater, most of them are mythological paintings with a gesture toward theatrical performance and its cultural significance in the mythic narrative rather than any specific portrayal of theater or a theatrical performance.

I thought the paper provided valuable insights on the missteps of scholarship in equating art too closely with potential instances of theater. It also seemed to me that the three-level categorization was clear and useful. Overall, Ralf gave a great talk, accompanied by a wide variety of pictures of the different types of potter of which he spoke.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Appetitve: Free Polytonic Unicode Greek on Windows (and a question for computer geeks)

One of the things that I have been aiming at for quite a while now is being able to easily write polytonic Greek with relative ease on the computer. I have difficulty with Macs so the computers to which I have access are a Windows XP machine and a Windows 7 machine. I finally found two sites that have helped me out: this one which allowed me to download the Unicode Greek Keyboard for Microsoft and this one which helped me change my settings so I could toggle between the two [1] .

I can now toggle beautifully: αβγδεζηθικμνξοπρστυφχψω. However, I can only get one of the accents to work ά. According to the website, I need a dead key to make this work (i.e. a key that will postpone the action on the keyboard so it can be modified by a further keystroke). I am supplying a picture of my keyboard. Does anyone know what my dead key should be or have any ideas? Thanks!

Sorry for it being blurry. The silver keys are just quick-function buttons such as calculator.

  1. An easier way to do this than the website recommends (for XP and AFTER you have downloaded the Unicode Greek Keyboard) is to go to Control Panel. Double click on Regional and Language Options. Click on the Languages Tab. Click on the Details button. Click on the Key Settings button. Click on the Switch between input languages line of text. Click on the Change Key Sequence button and then select one of the two key sequences. Click on the Ok buttons all the way through to save your changes.

Spirited/Reasoning: Questions about Plato and Xenephon

I am taking a brief respite from the conference write-up in order to rest my brain from this horrible day. I spent today proctoring an exam in 96 degree heat. While I was proctoring the exam, I read about the first third of the heavily-prefaced version of Xenephon's Socratic dialogues in Conversations of Socrates.
Conversations of Socrates (Penguin Classics) 
There are many interesting things both about Xenephon and what Robin Waterfield has to say about Xenephon. One of the most fascinating is Waterfield's claim that Socrates was guilty of violating the state religion. I will leave this spicy debate for another time.

My focus today is going to be this: why was Xenephon kicked out of Athens while Plato was not? (I would love to hear what people think if anyone wants to comment or email me at

This was a question that never occurred to me until today, mostly because I had no idea that Xenephon was actually exiled from Athens. I knew that Xenephon left Athens in 401 to live in Sparta (Waterfield 7) and that his children were educated there, but I was unaware that this exile was formalized. Apparently he returned to Althens in 365 after his formal exile was rescinded in 368 (Waterfield 7). According to Waterfield (who uses Diogenes Laertius, 2.51 as his source), Xenephon was charged on suspicion of pro-Spartan and pro-Oligartich tendencies (Waterfield 7), which must have been a pretty poisonous charge after the bloody reign of the Thirty Tyrants.

What is more striking is that this criticism of Xenephon, according to Waterfield, extended to all of Socrates' students. He states: "Not only were several members of Socrates' circle overt [1] or covert oligrarchs [2], but they were all, without exception, members of the upper classes" (Waterfield 6). Plato, too, is accused by modern scholars of being at least in favor of the Spartan form of government, both in the Republic and in the Laws [3]. So what made Plato so different than Xenephon? He was closely tied to Socrates, he was wealthy and from a eupatrid family, there were disernable pro-oligarchic and perhaps pro-Spartan tendencies in his writing, and he may have been (not sure of the historical source on this) asked to be one of the Thirty Tyrants.

This is obviously puzzling. My answer, which at the moment is not very well-developed, is that the "discernable" pro-oligarchic and pro-Spartan tendencies in Plato are not his views, but rather a philosophical means of imparting information. Furthermore, I would argue that Plato's intellectual and rhetorical flair in his writing probably made him a popular figure, dispite his associations. This is a benefit Xenephon did not have. Finally, if the rumors that Plato did refuse an oligarchic position are true, than it is possible this differentiated him in the mind of the populace from the problems of Socrates' students. I don't have a solid answer yet.

  1. Critias and Charmides were both members of Socrates' circle (Waterfield 38). See Plato's Charmides for a fascinating portrayal (this is one of my favorite Platonic dialogues, but I will have to leave discussion of it for another blogpost).
  2. I don't know if Alcibiades was particularly covert, but he was not explicitly oligarchic so far as I know (I am happy to be corrected-- I am not much of an Alcibiades scholar) (Waterfield 38).
  3. I had a long debate with a friend in the classics lounge at school about this, which I probably lost. For reference, I was trying to portray Plato as hinting at, but not explicitly condoning the Spartan governmental system. Hopefully, there will be more on this in future posts as well.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reasoning: The Iconography of Greek Theater #2, The Overview

getty villa,Greek Art
A picture from the exhibit "The Art of Ancient Greek Theater" at the Getty Villa [1].

The conference, "Artists and Actors: Iconography and Performance in Ancient Greece," was held over the last two days (although due to obligations at work I was only able to attend the first day). As Mary Louise Hart, the associate curator of antiquities at the Getty, remarked, it was primarily concerned with the "culture of performance," and the powerful images it inspired. The conference was held alongside a wonderful exhibit curated by Hart and entitled "The Art of Ancient Greek Theater." Although i did not get to see much of the exhibit, what I saw was magnificent. Mary did an incredible job not only gathering all of the wonderful pieces of pottery in one place for the first time, but also in the arrangement of the vases. Vessels with similar themes were placed together in order to display the juxtaposition of the depictions from different artists, places, and eras.

For my part, I would like to say thank you to Mary Louise Hart . To see all of this incredible craftsmanship in one place and to gather such an illustrious group of scholars, both among the contributors and the audience, was a phenomenal task. Hopefully, I will be able to return in the next few days to see the exhibit again and take the opportunity to study it.

Mary also put together a book, The Art of Ancient Greek Theater, from the images in the exhibit. The bookstore was a bit of a nightmare, so I did not get to look at it, but I can only imagine it's awesome.

The Art of Ancient Greek Theater

  1. Red-figured Neck Amphora showing Orestes slaying Klytaimnestra (detail), Paestum, South Italy, about 340 B.C. Terracotta, 18 3/4 x 7 13/16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, gift of Stanley Silverman (citation from the website). © 2010. The J. Paul Getty Trust. All rights reserved

Friday, September 24, 2010

Appetitive/Reasoning: Iconography of Greek Theater #1, Thoughts

I went to an incredible symposium today on the Iconography of Greek Theater. I was a little worried because I read the edited transcript of the last symposium held by the same people in 2003 and was highly irritated by it's contents (JSTOR). However, the symposium was absolutely incredible. Every single speaker was fabulous, the display was incredible-- gathering much of the available pottery that deals with tragedy, comedy, and satyr play, and it was a distinguished group of scholars.

I will tell more details of the conference over the next few days (as well as what I hated about the 2003 transcript). It was just so incredible to be there. I was totally starstruck when I saw Helene Foley, whose research I utilized in my thesis. I was like a little kid who had just seen her favorite movie star.

I also saw Kathryn Morgan, with whom I was told I should work if I go to UCLA. She seemed brilliant and terrifying and she reminded me very much of my Greek history professor. Overall, it was a pretty awesome day.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Spirited: Notes on My Thesis #1

I have been meaning to put up a summery of my thesis for a very long time. I have not put it up partially because the thesis took up such a part of my life and I just have not been able to look at it again [1]. I practically had to pry it from my hands before going crazy like Dow Mossman with  The Stones of Summer, as was reavealed in the lovely documentary, the Stone Reader.

I have just begun to reread it to see if it needs any editing before I send pieces of it out as a writing sample. I remember thinking, after I wrote it, that it made the ideas that I was elucidating so clear and easy to follow that anyone could read it. I even included a summery of the Republic, the Phaedrus, and the Laws for those who had not read them. However, rereading my abstract, which was essentially a page-and-a-half version of my conclusion, I realized that it actually a lot denser than I remember. This may have been because by the time I wrote my abstract I was working 5-6 hours a day on my thesis and I could no longer think straight about anything else.

My introduction was a summery of the most important parts of the three texts I referenced for my work. My first chapter was a thorough textual analysis of Republic Books 2, 3, and 10 (each of which discusses Plato's critique of tragedy and poetry). I also formulate an understanding of the various jabs at tragedy and poetry in the Laws which are scattered throughout. My analysis focuses on two aspects of the critiques: 1) the way in which Plato's texts violate the critique espoused in them and 2) the differences between the critiques in the Laws and the Republic. For the second point, I relied upon Catherine Zuckert's insightful dating scheme (presented in her excellent 2009 tome Plato's Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues) to explain the differences in the critiques by the Athenian Stranger (Laws) and Socrates (Republic).

More to come on my thesis in the next installment...

Translations I recommend:
For the Republic I would recommend either Allan Bloom's translation or the translation in the Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought series, edited by GRF Ferrari. Bloom's Translation is very literal because he believes that Plato's meaning comes from reading in between the lines and that the only way to do that is to have as literal a translation as possible. In some ways, I like this theory of translation and his translation is very good. His essay in the back, however, is awful. Ferrari's edition provides a solid translation-- a little less literal than Bloom's-- but also provides a set of very helpful notes that are not tainted by Bloom's ideology.
The Republic Of Plato: Second Edition Plato: The Republic (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)
For the Phaedrus, the Aris and Phillips Classical Texts edition is fabulous. Rowe, the translator and editor, provides helpful commentary (on the English) and the edition is equipped with facing Greek. Unfortunately, there is not a particularly good grammatical commentary for the Greek in this edition, but there aren't very many commentaries for the grammar of the Phaedrus in general. Both this edition of the Phaedrus and Ferrari's edition of the Republic were recommended to me by a fabulous professor of mine who served on my thesis orals board.
Plato: Phaedrus (Aris & Phillips Classical Texts)
For the Laws, I have only read two translations. However, the one I preferred by a wide margin (and also the one recommended by the afore-mentioned fabulous professor) was the Penguin Edition:
The Laws (Penguin Classics eBook)

  1. My blog was originally titled Fragments from Thesis Hell, after the popular phrase from a number of different universities, Postcards from Thesis Hell. I renamed it Fragments of Sulpicia when I graduated.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Spirited: Translating Horace I.5

On Saturday night and Sunday morning (yes, I can certainly be a procrastinator), I read Horace I.1, 5, and 9. I had never read any Horace before, which seems a bit strange considering I took the equivalent of three years of Latin [1]. Since Horace was one of the texts on the Berkeley example reading list [2], Properitius II and I decided to read Horace together. Of the poems we have read thus far, I.5 is my favorite and I will offer my translation [3]:
Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa
perfusus liquidis urget odoribus
grato, Pyrrha, sub antro?
cui flavam religas comam

simplex munditiis? heu quotiens fidem
mutatosque deos flebit et aspera
nigris aequora ventis
emirabitur insolens

qui nunc te fruitur credulus aurea,
qui semper vacuam, semper amabilem
sperat, nescius aurae
fallacis. miseri, quibus
intemptata nites. me tabula sacer
votiva paries indicat uvida
suspendisse potenti
vestimenta maris deo.

Which slender youth, imbued with liquid scents
solicits you, Pyrrah, on a bed of roses [4]
under an pleasant grotto [5]
For whom do you arrange your golden hair,

simple in its elegance? Alas how often
he will lament faithfulness and changed gods and
the level seas, cruel because of black winds,
will be [a cause of] wonder [6]

[for him] who now delights in you, believing you golden,
who always hopes for vapidness, always for attractivenss,
ignorant of false air. Pitiable [are] men, for whom
you shimmer untried. The sacred wall
indicates by votive tablets that I have hung-up
my damp garments
to the powerful sea god [7].

I used the Shorey and Laing edition, an electronic version of which can be found on Perseus. It is a beautiful poem and has been translated by Milton among others.
Horace: Odes and Epodes (The Students' Series of Latin Classics)

  1. I look my first "year" of Latin in 8 weeks through a fabulous summer course.
  2. Although grad schools do put out a reading list of texts that are required reading for graduating their programs and passing written and oral exams, this is not the kind of reading list of which I speak. The other graduate school reading list is the list of materials that are required for acceptance to a grad school, which functions as to prevent graduate schools from needing to look over the syllabi of every class the applicants took in order to determine which and what portion of texts students read in the original languages.
  3. As it seems to be a popular sentiment on the acknowledgment pages and in the introductions to various classics texts (and is also true), I shall offer this disclaimer: although Propertius II aided me
  4. rosa literally on many roses i.e. on a bed of roses (from Shorey and Laing's notes).
  5. antro, translated here as grotto, is literally "cave." It is used her possibly as an allusion to the cave in the Aeneid where Dido and Aeneas's "marriage" takes place (credit to Propertius II for his insight).
  6. I definitely messed with the grammar here. Literally, "sea harsh with black wind will be wondered at," but aequora is the word for level, and I thought I should translate it with that meaning in mind. Also, I took the nigris ventis as an ablative of cause because I think it better expresses the image. Also, qui in the next line is nominative and added a dative connecting phrases, which I felt that it made the transition better in English.
  7. Mariners who were shipwrecked would hang their wet clothes (presumably on a piece of the ship) as an offering to Neptune, god of the sea, in order to pray for safe passage.