For those of you in the Grand Forks Metropolitan Area this evening, I am giving a talk at the North Dakota Museum of Art in the Faculty Lecture Series. The talk starts at 4:30 with a reception from 4:00. Considering my post yesterday, I promise to include only a few illustrative slides using The Powerpointer.
My talk is entitled Dream Archaeology and represents the third version of my efforts to come to terms with this subject. Unlike earlier versions, I think that I problematize my paper somewhat better and add a bit of flair (mostly because I am going to present it to relatively diverse audience). If you doubt my efforts to make my paper better you can (although I don’t recommend it) read the first draft here, read the second draft here, and contemplate my third draft below:
Caraher Dream Archaeology 2010 http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf?document_id=30697799&access_key=key-21c1iybbuqhac3sqcieh&page=1&viewMode=list
For more on Dream Archaeology without leaving the comfortable informality of the blog, see below:
Dreams in Ravenna
Dream Archaeology in the Early Christian West
Blindness, Dreams, and Relics
More Dreams, Religion, and Archaeology
More Byzantine Dreams…
Dreams, Pausanias, and Archaeology
Dreams, Inventio, and Archaeology
A few months ago a thought-provoking article on the destruction of pagan statues and sanctuaries in Egypt by Troels Myrup Kristensen appeared in the Journal of Late Antiquity. Now, less than a year later, another thoughtful and extensive article on the topic has appeared in the august pages of the American Journal of Archaeology: “Production to Destruction? Pagan and Mythological Statuary in Asia Minor” by Ine Jacobs.
The article is a sweeping study of the production, re-use, and destruction of pagan statuary in Late Antique Asia Minor. Jacobs brings to light particularly important issues regarding the declining production of statuary over the course of Late Antiquity particularly at traditional production centers in Asia Minor. She also touched in useful ways on issues regarding the context is which a statue was displayed (pp. 288-289) Statues that appear to have come from a cultic context or with close associations with local cult activities (for example, isolated statues of Artemis found at Ephesos) were more likely to be destroyed or damaged than statues in more secular settings or in groups depicting mythological or literary events. This resonates, in particular, with the work of Glen Bowersock (and others) who have shown that emergence of Christianity did not suppress the importance of pagan literary motifs in Late Antique culture. In fact, he, Peter Brown, and others have shown that references to pagan gods in literary texts was inseparable from the demonstration of Late Antique paideia, the elite discourse of both pagans and Christians.
At the same time, Jones introduces the idea of statuary as decoration particularly in so-called “secular” contexts. Pagan statues, for example, could stand in baths, fountains, theaters, and even gates without offering a sustained threat to the increasingly Christianity community. The incidents of violence toward statues — ranging from ritual and systematic destruction to the incising of crosses on the heads of pagan statues — appears to have been sporadic and, in most cases, random. And this likely reflects the nature of most anti-pagan (and indeed anti-Christian) sentiments in antiquity.
The article concludes with a nice catalogue of “Pagan and Mythological Statue Remains in Late Antiquity” which should be a nice guide for anyone looking to do some work on this topic.
Whenever I read any article on the destruction of pagan statues in Late Antiquity (or their preservation in increasingly “decorative” contexts), I begin to consider the relationship between Christian attitudes toward pagan statuary and the emergence of the iconoclastic movement at the very end of Late Antiquity. I can’t help but think whether the changing attitudes toward statues and images more generally tell us less about the end of antiquity and more about the emergence of Byzantine attitudes towards images. The creation of secular art (following R. A. Markus’s idea that the discourse of Christianity, in effect, created the secular out of the remaining fragments of the pagan world in Late Antiquity) must have put particular pressure on its opposite, religious, and in the Late Antique world, Christian art. The surplus meaning generated from the secularization of pagan art created a new set of expectation for Christian art and these new expectations met their challenge in the iconoclastic controversies at the very end of antiquity.
Recently Dumbarton Oaks invited a group of archaeologists with research interests in the Byzantine period to Washington, D.C. to discuss the future of Byzantine Archaeology in North America. Kostis Kourelis has posted the schedule on his blog. He has also re-posted a related letter that he sent to the new director of Dumbarton Oaks, Margaret Mullett last year, and links to a nice post critiquing Dumbarton Oaks’ attitudes toward intensive pedestrian survey.
I was invited to this conference, but unfortunately the invitation came too late for me to secure funding to make it. I belly-ached a bit about the somewhat abrupt planning of the conference which made it difficult for those of use in the hinterland to attend. In a big picture kind of way, it is understandable that Dumbarton Oaks would have overlooked the interest of very junior scholars who lived many miles from either coast. As a result, Director Mullett invited me (as I am sure she did to other folks) to send along my thoughts on Byzantine Archaeology in North America.
After some thinking, I decided that I might as well post my email here.
Dear Director Mullett,
Thank you for the invitation to contribute my thoughts to the ongoing reflection on the relationship between Dumbarton Oaks and the discipline of archaeology. So that you know, I consider the work done at DO over the past five decades to be fundamental to the development of Byzantine studies in the US and I tried doggedly for over a decade to get funding for my research from the institution, not so much because I felt like I could contribute to what was going there, but because I felt that being in contact with the environment, people, and resources of DO would make me a better scholar. I learned this respect for the institution from my advisors Jim Morganstern and Timothy Gregory, both of whom benefited from the generosity, collegiality, and resources of DO.
My take on how DO could return to the forefront of the study of Byzantine archaeology involves reconsidering both the place of Byzantine and Medieval archaeology in the academic world and leveraging the resources that DO has developed to contribute not only to Byzantine studies, but to archaeology more generally. To do this, I can see three things:
1. Archaeology has become increasingly method driven over the past 30 years. These methods range from the quantitative approaches of New Archaeology to the more reflective methods of post-processuralism. Medieval archaeology has taken advantage of both of these developments (although more the former than the latter!). A recently published proceedings from a 1998 conference on the archaeology of Medieval and Post-Medieval Greece shows the discipline’s deep investment in a wide range of methodologically sophisticated discourses. Unfortunately, publications from Dumbarton Oaks were largely absent from the bibliographies in this work and, as result, from the conversation. I know that Kostis Kourelis has shared with you his thoughts on the role of DO in the support of intensive pedestrian survey in the Mediterranean world. (And I recognize that DO has supported innovation in preservation practices as well as in such scientific methods as dendrochronology). Overlooking intensive pedestrian survey, however, is particularly glaring because this method has contributed significantly to how we understand the Byzantine period across so much of the Eastern Mediterranean. Looking at a slightly bigger picture and overlooking my own, practical commitment to this form of archaeology, DO has supported very little in the way of overtly methodological discussion in Byzantine archaeology. In short, if DO wants to influence the future of Byzantine and Medieval archaeology in the Mediterranean, they need to engage in methodology. (Marcus Rautman and Tim Gregory’s contributions here are particularly significant.)
2. At the same time, archaeology – and the humanities in general – have become increasingly theoretical. Most of this theoretical bent comes, as you know, from the so-called challenge of postmodernism. Despite these somewhat discredited (or at least controversial) origins, the themes introduced by post-modern thought have exerted a tremendous influence on archaeology by not only asking difficult questions of the archaeologist as practitioner, but also offering important critiques of the role of archaeology in the emergence of national identities, the understanding of material objects as active agents in social networks, and the place of archaeology in challenging historical and political orthodoxies. Despite the longstanding investment of DO on the study of important objects from the Byzantine Mediterranean, they have exerted very little influence on discussions of how and why objects create meaning. The most striking example of this is that DO has played a key role in supporting the study of Byzantium in Eastern Europe where the intersection of archaeology, Byzantine studies, and national identities is particularly visible and susceptible to important scholarly critique, but offered very few critical reflections on Byzantine archaeology as an a cultural and political phenomenon. (The work of Florin Curta is an important representative of this approach)
3. Permeability. The final observation regarding DO’s place in the academic ecosystem may be largely self-serving. As impressed as I have been with its scholarly achievements, I have larger felt like an outsider looking in on its resources and activities. I am not naïve and I understand that my academic credentials have not positioned me geographically or professionally to gain access to what DO has to offer on a regular basis. Moreover, I understand that resources (both financial and otherwise) are limited. That being said, I do wonder whether DO can make itself more inviting to scholars from outside its traditional academic catchment area. One can easily imagine programs that range from archaeological field schools for graduate students, pedagogical outreach to ensure the health of Byzantine archaeology as field taught in American universities, and research outreach so that the good work of scholars affiliated with Dumbarton Oaks is visible beyond the traditional bastions of Byzantine studies (the AIA lecture program is a nice parallel here).
Issue 3 likely reflects my own professional insecurities and academic limitations, and I hope it does not overshadow the significance of issues 1 and 2. The theoretical and methodological are areas where the archaeology of the Medieval and Byzantine world has exerted an influence beyond those interested in its traditional chronological and geographical limits. I suppose my earlier observation that DO’s position of leadership in the field of Byzantine archaeology has lapsed derives from the observation that they have not played a particularly significant role in developments in archaeology that have extended to other periods and places. My perspective on the potential of Byzantine archaeology may be a bit naïve, but it seems to me that the transdisciplinary nature of Byzantine Studies and the deep and persistent commitment to art, texts, architecture, and objects provides a formidable foundation for a kind of sophisticated, synthetic archaeology. This is a powerful offering for an academic community that looks in an increasingly positive way on the inter- and transdisciplinary organizations whose efforts to forge research questions across disciplinary boundaries in a self-conscious way surely reflects the future of academia.
I’ve just finished reading through John Bintliff and Hanna Stöger’s, Medieval and Post-Medieval Greece: The Corfu Papers (2009). It’s an edited volume produced from a conference in Corfu in 1998. The papers, however, have largely been updated and represent a nice cross-section of the kind of work being done in Medieval and Post-Medieval Greece. The papers focus on ceramic studies, the results of intensive pedestrian survey, studies on settlement patterns, new directions in the study of domestic and monumental architecture, and, finally, discussions of issues of cultural research management in Greece. I found W. Bowden’s short analysis of the Christian archaeology in Greece with an emphasis on church in Mastron, Aetolia, which scholars have traditionally dated to the 7th-8th centuries. Bowden suggests that simple stylistic dating based either on decoration or architecture can be misleading especially considering the prevalence of re-use and conscious anachronism in the Middle and Late Byzantine period in the region. Also worthy of note is Platon Petrides short review of Late Antique Delphi, which doesn’t say anything new here, but is still a nice overview of post-ancient period at the site. T.Gregory, F. Lang, J. Vroom offer some useful commentary on the use of intensive survey and the study of ceramics in the study of Medieval and Post-Medieval Greece; Gregory’s article, which has been substantially up-dated, has a nice critiquing the impact of “second-wave” intensive survey projects on our understanding of Medieval and Post-Medieval Greece. The final three papers (M. Mouliou, K. Sbonias, and L. Tzortzopoulou-Gregory) deal with issues of cultural resource management in Greece. L. Tzortzopoulou-Gregory’s paper provides more useful evidence for the difficult position that foreign (or even just non-local) archaeologists find themselves in when they are placed between the national archaeological bureaucracy, local communities, and non-local/non-national research interests.
I received my copy of this volume the same week that I was invited (along with many others) to a “conversation” at Dumbarton Oaks on Byzantine Archaeology in North America. While I will not be able to attend, I was invited by the director of Dumbarton Oaks (as I am sure were many of my colleagues) to send along any thoughts I might have about this particular topic. I was struck by how rarely Dumbarton Oaks publications appeared in the bibliographies of the various articles in this volume. The main reason for this absence is because few of the papers showed much concern for the kinds of art historical approaches long favored by Dumbarton Oaks (for this critique see Kostis Kourelis open letter). The approaches favored by Dumbarton Oaks have tended to particularly ill-suited to research in the Greek countryside where textual evidence is relatively scarce, monumental architecture is often in poor condition, representing stylistically “crude” or provincial work, or even “late” by Dumbarton Oaks standards (although DO has contributed significantly to preservation of neglected buildings, the definition of provincial style, and late and post-Byzantine art), and the field techniques and methods require some specialized training to evaluate and critique. Ironically, Dumbarton Oaks’ interest in economic history, the history of everyday life (particularly as manifest in realia in saints lives and other Byzantine documents), and the character of “the provincial” in terms of style and influence on the traditional centers of Byzantine society (Constantinople, Thessaloniki, et c.).
The Bintliff and Stöger volume (along with another recent volume focusing on the same period and region) have shown that the tools exist to develop more nuanced interpretations of the Byzantine countryside. And that these analyses have much to offer traditional textual approaches to the history of Byzantium. In fact, one fault I might offer among the articles in the Bintliff volume is the relative lack of attention to questions that extend beyond the national or local boundaries of Medieval (or even post-Medieval) Greece. The transnational approaches fostered by institutions like Dumbarton Oaks could work to counteract a tendency toward studies that emphasize the modern region or nation at the expense of more revealing Medieval concepts of political, economic, and cultural organization. Moreover the relative absence of sustained discussion of texts, urban centers, or elite art in the Bintliff volume is not necessarily a strength. The very areas neglected (to some extent, but not ignored) in the Bintliff and Stöger volume are areas where Dumbarton Oaks could and perhaps even should show the way by showing the value of traditional methods and approaches to contemporary archaeological research.
It seems clear to me that the archaeology of the Medieval and Post-Medieval Mediterranean is at a watershed moment. As Kourelis noted, a generation of pioneers in the field of Byzantine archaeology are approach retirement age. Part of their legacy is there a strong group of ambitious and dedicated young scholars. This informally-defined group seeks not only to push the methods advanced by folks like Tim Gregory, John Bintliff, Jack Davis, and others, in their individual scholarship but to find ways to push institutions like the American School in Athens and Dumbarton Oaks to bring these methods into fold of traditional research on these periods and places. This should not involve rejecting the important traditions of scholarship at these institutions — after all, hardly a week goes by when I don’t consult a publication produced at Dumbarton Oaks and I value the amazing support that I have received from the American School in Athens — but showing how recent developments in, say, survey archaeology, applied post-modern or post-processural theory, or even kinds of reflective, historical criticism of past and present institutional practices, can enrich the disciplines to which we are all committed.
This past weekend, I read V.N. Makrides’ Hellenic Temples and Christian Churches: A Concise History of the Religious Cultures of Greece from Antiquity to the Present (New York 2009), and I did it graduate school style, cover-to-cover in a couple of days. The book was pointed out to me by a colleague and I immediately saw how the diachronic scope of the work might resonate with my own diachronic study of dreams as a religious phenomenon. The first part of the book is a pretty superficial survey of the interaction between Hellenic ideas and Christian ideas across the broad span of Greek history. I wasn’t overly impressed with this survey which said little that was new, but it would be a nice complement to a Greek history class in that it touches on many of the key points of conflict. In fact, class many years ago, when I taught my Greek history, which considered Greek history from the Neolithic to the Modern period, I was looking for exactly this kind of book to help me integrate and problematize the legacy of the ancient world within the modern, Christian nation. The appearance of a book like this, in English, from an American press, suggests that there might be a growing market for not only the study of modern Greece, but also the an approach to the entire span of Greek history that views understanding the modern nation-state as an indispensable part of any study of the ancient world.
The real value in this book comes from the second part where Makrides addresses some of the same that I am dealing with in my dream project. He had to find a way to explain clear parallels in religious expression overtime without falling back on tired arguments for the continuity of Greek culture. To do this, he argues that Greeks over time consciously engaged in an intertextual reading of their religious past, selecting certain modes of expression (whether Hellenic or Christian) to suit particular strategic goals. He presents these various strategies in a series of chapters which focus on the various strategies at play: Antithesis, Thesis, Conflict; Selection, Transformation, Synthesis; Symbiosis, Mixture, Fusion; Individuality, Distinctiveness, Idiosyncrasy. This chapters demonstrate an impressive ability to understand a wide range of area of religious conflict ranging from clashes between Christians and Pagans in Late Antiquity to the politics of the Orthodox church under Ottoman rule to the church’s role in modern conflicts with secularizing forces within the Greek state and society. The only thing that I really wished for was for Makrides to make more clear the link between a particular strategy and a particular situation. In other words, were there patterns in how and when Greeks (broadly construed) deployed various religious strategies through time? G. Jusdanis, Belated Modernity (Minneapolis 1991), for example, has made clear that modern Greece’s engagement with the modern was not random, but selective and strategic.
The other curious weakness in the book is the lack of any sustained conversation about archaeology. Archaeology in Greece has long played on both nationalist, but also religious impulses within Greek society. Moreover, archaeologists often express the vocation of archaeology in religious terms. Makrides acknowledges this with a quote from Yiannis Sakellarakis who considered his “higher calling ” to be “a hunter of the mystical continuity of place.” (229) Y. Hamilakis recent work The Nation and its Ruins: Antiquity, Archaeology and National Imagination in Greece (Oxford 2007) dealt with some of these matters specifically.
Preserving and producing the archaeology of the Hellenic past not infrequently involved overwriting the history of Byzantine and Christian Greece. Foreign archaeologists destroyed numerous churches in search of inscriptions or Classical buildings. Major, recurring restoration projects like those on the Parthnon on the Athenian Acropolis have likewise eliminated traces of Christian antiquity in an effort to preserve an more authentic expression of a Classical ideal. As a rule, Byzantine , Ottoman, and Early Modern (19th c.) monuments, many of which remain deeply embedded within the physical and ritual fabrics of communities have far less protection from the Greek state. The physical manifestations of the conflict between Hellenic and Christian ideals within the Greek state is particularly crucial in an archaeological context because ancient, Hellenic monuments represent the most visible face of the nation to foreign visitors and in tourist, popular, and academic publications. Historically Greece has catered to the interest of foreign visitors in this regard and suppressed or overlooked aspects of Greece’s Christian identity which nevertheless played a key role in its national development.
Despite this missed opportunity, Makrides book is well worth reading! In particular, his emphasis on the persistent religious plurality in Greek society serves as a useful reminder to all states that romanticized and idealized images of a religious and culturally homogeneous past are almost always false. Greece like so many Mediterranean countries has a long history of diverse forms of religious expression both within their Christian community, but also outside of it. Thus, in his final analysis, part of the Christian and Hellenic legacy of Greece is the ability to respond to religious diversity through a variety of strategies and this is as good a thing for scholars of the past as it is for modern society.
Just a short post today because I want to leave my loyal readers plenty of time to digest Mick Beltz interesting and important arguments about cheating over on the Teaching Thursday blog. That being said, I can’t resist commenting on a recent article in the Weekly Standard (forwarded to me by Kostis Kourelis). This short article summarizes the arguments of E. Luttwak in his new book, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, and casts them in the light of U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy. Luttwak himself summarized many of the arguments in an article in Foreign Policy entitled “Take me Back to Constantinople: How Byzantium, not Rome, can help preserve the Pax Americana“.
In the article, he suggests that the often-embattled position of the Byzantine Empire is a good parallel for the US in the 21st century. Like Byzantium, the US is surrounded by a variety of enemies using a wide range of tactics, with a wide range of political, military, and, ideological goals. Moreover, the economic foundation of the Byzantine state, like the US today, was often variable making long term strategic decisions difficult to implement (if not to contemplate). Luttwak’s observations regarding the Byzantium represent another example of recent intellectual efforts to see Byzantium as a useful lens through which to view a post-Modern 21st century. (My favorite being J. Kristeva’s Murder in Byzantium).
To get back to cheating, Luttwak argues that we can learn from the Byzantine’s is that “subversion is the cheapest past to victory. So cheap, in fact, as compared with the costs and risks of battle, that it must always be attempted, even with the most seemingly irreconcilable enemies.” Subversion is often seen as means to gain an “unfair” or at best, unseemly victory. It undermines the ethical nature of battle and threatens on fundamental grounds some of the most widely held arguments for just wars. The morally ambivalent (to our 21st century eyes) Byzantines (read: Oriental Byzantines) could get away which such practices, whereas the U.S. as practitioners of the “Western Way of War” must play by a more restrictive set of rules or run the risk of undermining the very values that justified military actions from the start. In other words, cheating in warfare is wrong.
Tim Gregory sent me a link to this curious Twitter feed Cry for Byzantium. The feed reports sequentially on events in Byzantine history as if they were being twittered by the Byzantine Emperor (currently Anastasius I). The entire scheme is explained in the feed’s companion blog. To create the feed, the author of the Twitter feed draws upon the work of Julius Norwich and Warren Treadgold to create his first person narrative. According to the blog, it is basically a labor of love.
This is not the first instance of Byzantium in the new media. The most famous example was Lars Brownworth’s 12 Byzantine Rulers series of podcasts. The popularity of these podcasts resulted in an article in the New York Times and eventually a book deal (he also maintains a blog).
Cry for Byzantium and other new media experiments in Byzantine history got me thinking about the relationship between scholarship and the new media. At the same time, my graduate historiography seminar is reading Hayden White and Dominick LaCapra this week. While these two scholars have not said anything in particular about history and the new media per se, they have both written about the largely uncritical acceptance of traditional forms of historical writing. They have singled out the uncritical assumptions that undergird most historian’s adherence to traditional forms of narrative pointing out that the basic structure of most historical narratives remains rooted in early 19th century forms which drew heavily on the conventions of “realist” fiction. Since that time, of course, attitudes toward the fictional narrative have changed, but history has not. Our approach to narrating a “realistic” past continues to look to a 19th century style for validation.
As styles and practices of narration have changed to accommodate and capture the dynamism of a changing world more successfully, the book as the medium to communicate, narrate, and critique has come under increasing criticism (e.g. for a very recent one). No one would deny that recent efforts to create a paperless book (or eBook) are not at least a little absurd. New forms of writing, technics of constructing narrative, and communicating information such as those most obviously visible in the internet (and new media) run the risk of making historian’s long standing commitment to the book as quaint as the 19th century narrative practices that White and LaCapra have critiqued. While historians are trying to embrace the new media and the potential of a “bookless future”, it still seems that practicing, academic historians are a step behind the interested public in our willingness to experiment.
On my walk home last night, I thought about what it would mean to use Twitter to write an article, for example. I regularly serialize my research here on my blog (in most cases writing blog posts as I am doing the scholarship as sort of proto-working papers). Blog posts are much shorter than the finished articles, but nevertheless contain at least some basic scholarly apparatus (hyperlinks rather than footnotes in many cases) and often help me formulate an idea before having to compose it in its full academic form. A tweeted article could look the same way except limited to 140 character expressions. Cry for Byzantium approaches this by narrating an “emperor’s eye” view of Byzantine history in such short passages, but the author admits to composing his tweets before hand and preloading them into an application that posts them regularly. Tweeting an article, as I imagine it, would require the author to be more spontaneous and actually compose the article in twitter over the course of a stretch of time (perhaps a month?). The intervals between tweets, like the moves in a game of correspondence chess, would allow an author to think carefully about his next move. At the same time, the audience for the article could respond and critique, or not, to the various ideas and arguments that emerge before their eyes. (One downside of Cry for Byzantium is that it does not do much with the social media aspects of Twitter. For example, neither the Ostrogothic King Theodoric nor Pope Symmachus respond to Anastasius tweets.) This would put some pressure on the author to articulate arguments concisely and clearly. This focus on language is a good thing for any writer and the limit of 140 characters is not much more arbitrary than word limits imposed on various other forms of academic writing (or works of literature in general, particularly poetry).
While it’s unlike that I will run out and start Twittering an academic article, the thought of it and the potential of such new media experiments as Cry for Byzantium is intriguing. It serves us well to keep an eye on these kinds of things (and that means following the Cry for Byzantium Twitter feed!) and consider the potential of these experiments as real critiques of our tradition-bound scholarship.
On the recommendation of Phyllis Graham (archaeological librarian/archaeologist extraordinary), I picked up Cathy Gere’s Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism. It was officially the last book of my summer reading season, and it left me with much food for thought.
In particular, the book brought into focus the influence of modernism on archaeological practice outside of the context of the archaeology of nationalism where the most pronounced tendencies of modernist paradigms tend to appear. This was useful to me in three ways. First, it helped me understand what I meant when I quipped that the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis might be one of the most modern archaeological sites in the Mediterranean. In saying this, I didn’t simply mean that the temple set atop the “sacred rock” lacked obvious ties to the past (they had been stripped away gradually over the course of numerous intellectual, archaeological, and architectural reconstructions), but that it forms the center point of a whole range of irrational feelings ranging from expressions of passionate nationalism to transferred affections of poets and thinkers ranging from Henry Miller to Freud. Gere makes a compelling case for the place of Arthur Evans’ Knossos in the modernist imagination by going well beyond the excavator’s fantastic reconstructions to the sometimes dizzying thought-world that the palace and its Minoan inhabitants evoked across Europe.
Second, the book pushed me again to return to my rather unformed work on Dream Archaeology. In particular, Gere’s arguments has encouraged me to return to some of my episodes of Dream Archaeology in the 20th century and consider their relationship to the modernist moment in archaeology (for more on Dream Archaeology see here and here). This will likely go back to Freud and also to the modernist movement in Greece, since some of my Dream Archaeologists are Greek. (As an aside, it is interesting to note that Gere’s book deals very little with modernism in a Greek context — outside the almost requisite reference to Kazantzakis — and it would have been interesting to see how Greek intellectuals engaged Evans’ work on Knossos.) I will certainly have to press Kostis Kourelis to read Gere’s book and chat with him at the Modern Greek Studies Association meeting this fall about how Angellos Tanagras fits into a broader modernist movement which sought to bridge the gap between the rational and irrational and, in the process, validate the experience of a distinctly Greek past in the language of an pan-European intellectual movement. Tanagras work to understand the power of seemingly “supernatural” Greek folk practices, like the evil eye or malevolent dreams, within a psychoanalytical perspective represents a kind of Greek counterpoint to Evans’ mystical engagement with the site of Knossos.
Finally, Gere’s work is going to take me back to Kourelis’ “Byzantium and the Avant-Garde: Excavations at Corinth 1920s-1930s” to explore again how the broader modernist movement made room for the emergence of Byzantine and Early Christian archaeology within Greece. Modernisms rejection of the overly-rationalistic Christianity of Western Protestantism must have led some to seek spiritual satisfaction in the familiar, yet challenging experiences of mystical Byzantine and Early Christian thought just as Evans took refuge in the world of the ancient Minoans.
In the context of Gere’s work, A. Orlandos, perhaps the most important archaeologist of the Athenian Acropolis and a scholar who reported without comment on an episode of Dream archaeology, makes a little more sense.
The Athenian Acropolis preserves an amazing collection monuments. Perhaps because of the prominence of these monuments, it never fails to attract attention and controversy. In fact, as much as the Acropolis and its crown jewel the Parthenon has inspired, the idea of the Acropolis has also shown an amazing power to disrupt, destroy, and disorient. The most recent example of this (via Kostis Kourelis) is the short film directed by Constantin Costa-Gavras designed to be shown at the new Acropolis museum. Apparently, the church became upset by a scene that showed priests destroying part of the sculpture of the Parthenon frieze. According to AP:
The animated segment showed figures clad in black climbing up ladders and destroying part of the Parthenon frieze; the scene referred to well-documented episodes of destruction that took place in the early Byzantine period (5th-8th centuries A.D.), when Christians often demolished monuments and temples belonging to the old pagan era. Many parts from those temples were used to build churches. The Parthenon itself suffered some damage but was spared a worse fate by being converted into a church.
“The priests used to destroy ancient temples. Now they want to remove scenes from a film,” Costa-Gavras told Greece’s Mega TV channel. “This is the kind (of censorship) that used to happen in the former Soviet Union.”
This entire episode is fascinating and another testimony to the power of the Acropolis and the Parthenon to destroy. History first. The “well-documented episodes of the destruction that took place in the early Byzantine period” is wrong. There are almost no well-documented incidents of anything during the Early Byzantine period. In fact, the closing of the Parthenon as a temple and its consecration as a church remain a hotly debated issue with no particular chance of any resolution any time soon. Alison Frantz in her still seminal and elegant article from 1965 puts it best (A. Frantz, “From Paganism to Christianity in the Temples of Athens,” DOP 19 (1965), 185-205):
“The zeal with which the classically-oriented archaeologists of the nineteenth century stripped away from Athenian temples all possible reminders of their post-classical history has rendered unduly complicated the task of dating their conversion. The nature of the required alterations made it impossible to eradicate completely all traces and these, supplemented by descriptions and drawings by the early travelers, have sometimes made it possible to reconstruct the general appearance of both exterior and interior. But the systematic removal, without recording, of wall masonry and, in many cases, even of foundations, destroyed at the same time almost all chronological evidence…” (p. 201)
In fact, the lack of good chronology for the conversion of the temples of Athens to church means that there is no way of knowing who and when the Parthenon marbles were damaged.
The issue with the film and the marbles and the Parthenon and the Acropolis is not just about some quibbling over the date of its conversion and the changes wrought by its conversion to a Christian church. (There have been some good, recent work on the Parthenon during the Byzantine Period). The real issue that I want to focus some attention on here is how amazingly destructive the idea of the Parthenon has become. The prominent rock that is the Acropolis has long stood as a place where the various rulers of Athens sought to project their identity onto the city and, more recently, the modern nation. At the same time that the rock with its temples has represented the commanding voice in Athens, it has also worked to negate competing visions of the city and the nation. The Conta-Gavras film is a typical example of this. His work, like many intellectuals of modern Europe, has always contained an anti-clerical strain, so it is unsurprising that he would project his left-leaning ideals onto the Parthenon. At the same time, the Parthenon is a place where identity is tightly controlled by the Greek state which, particularly when governed by a center-right party, closely tied (if not properly inseparable) from the Greek Church.
From the 19th century on, efforts have been made to purify the history of the Parthenon through the systematic destruction of its post-Classical phases (see the work of Y. Hamilakis); more recently, the construction of the new Acropolis museum in one of the most archaeological sensitive areas of Athens has caused its own kind of destruction without mentioning the high-profile controversy surrounding the need to destroy a nearby art-deco style building to ensure the museum’s view of the “sacred rock”. It is a testimony to the power of the Acropolis that the recent episodes have captured the modernist roots of archaeology and broadcast them so globally. A the Parthenon, perhaps more than anywhere else, destroying the past and collapsing it into an permanent present has become the key method for transcending it.
The most recent controversy over images of destruction in the Costa-Gavras film and the subsequent destruction of his artistic vision falls in line with the politics of nation building and identity formation that have swirled around the monument for its entire history. It’s also a nice reminder of how an inspirational monument can empower destruction as well as creation.
Some fun quick hits on a cloudy Friday.
- Two interesting articles on First Monday. A nice article on the relationship between using facebook and grades among college and graduate students and another on a genre based typology of blogs.
- An interesting back and forth (and back) between two veteran bloggers.
- I can't remember whether I've linked to the Digital Scholarship in the Humanities blog. This series on Digital Humanities in 2008 (I, II, III) is really good.
- Only Hesperia (with their flashy new address on the web: www.hesperia.org) can pull off a 58 page article on the road linking Corinth and the Argolid. That's well over a page a kilometer. Amazing. But it's a good article with lots of interesting topographic tidbits including another tower that I think is probably a farmstead.
- Lots of exciting reports on the Dumbarton Oaks Spring Symposium: Morea: The Land and Its People in the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade.
- This is a lovely little church and it's "restoration" is sad and complicated. I simply love the 13th-14th century undomed (is that a word?) cross-in-square churches from the Argolid and Corinthia.
- Movies with Greek and Roman themes this summer from the Languages Department.
That's all for today and have a good weekend!