Category Archive 'Antiquity'

15 Aug 2018

Music from Ancient Greece

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Armand D’Angour, an associate professor in classics and a fellow of Jesus College at the University of Oxford, in Aeon, claims to be able to reconstruct the music of Ancient Greece.

    They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead;
    They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed;
    I wept as I remembered how often you and I
    Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.
    And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
    A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
    Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
    For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

This epigram by Callimachus, in a moving translation by the Victorian poet William Johnson Cory, speaks of the timeless survival of Heraclitus’ songs. Ironically, the poem is the only evidence of their existence: the poet’s ‘pleasant voices’ must remain unsung. Most classical poetry, spanning around four centuries from the songs of Homer in the 8th century BCE to those ­of Aristophanes in the 4th century BCE, was in fact composed to be sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments such as the lyre and aulos (double-pipe). It was, in other words, music; but what did that music sound like?

Despite a wealth of ancient writings, archaeological remains of instruments, and even inscriptions with musical notation, the question has long been thought intractable. ‘Research into Ancient Greek music is pointless,’ pronounced Giuseppe Verdi in the 1880s. By the 1980s little had changed. Recently, however, the subject has experienced exciting developments, with credible realisations of musical scores and the remains of auloi being accurately reconstructed and beautifully played.

RTWT

HT: The Passive Voice via Karen L. Myers.

27 Nov 2017

Tyrian Purple

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(My apologies for inflicting on you the sanctimonious cant at the end of the video.)

“(…) Purple dye production was a gritty and often conspicuous, seaside business for those doing the intense manual labor required to harvest it. Although there are few other references to it, the Roman poet Martial alludes to the fact that Tyrian purple, named after the city of Tyre, retained a distinct, rather fishy smell even after it had been made into a garment. He mentions a certain Philaenis, who enjoyed wearing the luxurious textile for its smell rather than for its color. The poet also composed a list of bad smelling things that he would rather smell like than a woman named Bassa: sulphurous waters, a fish pond, an amorous goat, the old shoes of a veteran soldier, the breath of a Jew who had been fasting, ointment made from Sabine oil, and fleece twice dipped in Tyrian purple (‘bis murice uellus inquinatum’). Smelling worse than even a double-dipped fleece of Tyrian purple was quite the slur against the woman. (…)”

Via Ratak Monodosico.

29 Aug 2015

Knot of Herakles and Butterfly Brooch

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HeraklesKnot&Butterfly

Brooch with Heracles knot and butterfly pendant, 300-100 B.C. Gold, Almandine, Emerald, Glass. Greece. Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Cologne. (Photo: Martin Kilmas.)

The marriage-knot or knot of Hercules, a strong knot created by two intertwined ropes, originated as a healing charm in ancient Egypt, but is best known for its use in ancient Greece and Rome as a protective amulet, most notably as a wedding symbol, incorporated into the protective girdles worn by brides, which were ceremonially untied by the new groom. This custom is the likely origin of the phrase “tying the knot.”

According to Roman lore, the knot symbolized the legendary fertility of the God Herakles; it probably relates to the legendary Girdle of Artemis captured from the Amazon Queen Hippolyta. In this, the marriage-knot was probably a representation of the virginity of the bride.

The butterfly symbolizes the Greek princess Psyche, whose beauty was such as to provoke the envy and wrath of Aphrodite. The goddess’s revenge was foiled, however, when her son Eros fell in love with Psyche, and after various difficulties, persuaded the gods to make her immortal and thus his equal. Eros then married Psyche and the couple were bonded together eternally in passionate union.

This remarkable object was clearly made as a wedding present for a bride.

21 Apr 2015

Margarita’s Epitaph

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Margarita1

Margarita2

Margarita3

Margarita4

Peter Kruschwitz

Today, I had the immense pleasure of seeing one of my most favourite inscribed Latin poems – the epitaph for Margarita (‘Pearl’), a lap-dog, born in Gaul, deceased in second or third century Rome.

[T]his marble plaque… is preserved and on display in the British Museum in London (CIL VI 29896 cf. p. 3734 = CLE 1175; for the entry in the BM online database follow this link). …

On the right-hand side, there is a palm leaf incised as an element of decoration.

The inscription has been beautifully laid out (using aid lines) and carved – only in the penultimate letter of the final word tegit (‘covers’), the stone cutter originally made a mistake (writing teget instead of tegit, which he then tried to conceal by giving more emphasis to the I subsequently):

Unsurprisingly, this inscription has received a lot of scholarly attention.

Scholars and amateurs alike were taken by the affectionate way in which these Roman dog-owners (who remain nameless) talked about their pet. The allusion to the epitaph of the Roman poet Vergil in line 1 (Gallia me genuit, ‘Gaul sired me’, following the model of Mantua me genuit; see the learned article by Irene Frings on this topic [in German; available for free here]) was duly noted. …

The inscription, as I said, is a decent-sized marble-slab (61 x 50 cm), beautifully prepared and carved. Margarita was an imported animal from Gaul (it is unclear as to whether this is where her owners picked her up or whether they bought her in Rome as an imported animal). In addition to being a lap-dog, she served as a hound for animal hunts, roaming woods and hills.

In other words, she almost certainly was a costly, precious item owned by a wealthy aristocratic family – a family that would engage in pastimes such as hunting and keeping precious imported pets for display purposes. …

From The Petrified Muse via Ratak Monodosico.


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