Saturday, December 31, 2011
The National Geographic Magazine canonized this Athenian vantage point in October 1930 with the photograph above in an article on Vergil's Roman geography, written by Georgetown University's president. Interestingly enough, the caption foreshadows the tension that would emerge between American archaeologists and the modern city when the American School would start digging in the Agora a year later. The caption reads, "After seeing the Temple of Athena Victory, the Propylaea, the Erechtheum with its lovely Caryatid Porch, and the Parthenon, visitors to the Acropolis are conducted to this lookout point above the modern city. In Vergil's day the main city was around to the left, where American archaeologists are soon to tear down scores of homes in order to excavate the ancient market place." W. Coleman Nevils, "The Perennial Geographer," The National Geographic Magazine 58, no. 4 (Oct. 1930), p. 452.
I would like to use the photo above and the Tode film previously to stage a photographic investigation of Athens' architecture in the 1930s. The exercise would, on the one hand, help understand 1930s urban topography, but could also stage a reflexive inquiry on the construction of distant visions. When the photo students visit this very spot in July, we could even stage a rephotographing campaign.
I spent a good hour playing the first 17 secs, over and over again, trying to pick up topographical clues that would reveal the real locations. This is what I have come up with. The camera is set on the northeast corner of the Acropolis next to the flag (lat/long 37°58'18.65"N, 23°43'41.19"W). The axis of the camera is aligned with Epiharmou Street in Plaka and pans over Anaphiotika and Plaka. I reconstruct the vantage with the aid of Google Earth (below). The dome and bell tower visible on the foreground belongs to Agios Nikolaos Rangavas. The line of sight down Epiharmou Street is terminated by an Ottoman period house owned by George Finlay. The street turns West as Scholiou Street. The next parallel street line is Adrianou. As the camera pans out, we see grand buildings along Vasilisis Sofias and Lykavitos rising in the distance. The video represents a 20 degree angle from the Acropolis to Lykaviots and covers the NW sliver of the city. The camera also makes a slight norther turn towards Tourkovounia. Using contemporary plans of Athens, it should be possible to create a database of every building represented. Archaeologists of early modernity could go out into the streets and spot-check the urban fabric. I suspect that the majority of the vernacular architecture seen in the video exist no more. Anyone want to join me in an experiment of video archaeology? If you enjoyed this filmic inquiry, make sure to visit earlier postings on the archaeology of Athenian modernity here, here and here.
Friday, December 30, 2011
The ancient cave (marked "A") from which water sprang, was converted into a Christian altar. The excavators discovered frescoes along the lining of the cave, but could not make up the subject matter. An upright stone placed on the altar ledge (left) marked the religious character of the cave. The pseudo-Kufic decoration on the upper border helps us date the installation to the Middle-Late Byzantine period. Other sculptural fragments published by Xyngopoulos testify to the occupation of the site. Adjacent to the sacred water cave was an ancient stoa. In the Byzantine period, the ruined foundations of the stoa were used to create a new building (marked in dark lines above) that included a square room ("D") on the east end. Most intriguing in Mitsakis' drawing are the three semi-circular lines signifying the existence of a church with three consecutive phases of alteration.
Completing the water narrative of the site, note the channel ("C") that carried the water from the cave under the church floors into a cistern ("F"). Remembering the drinker graffiti representing the thirst-quenching experience of water, we may extend the vessel cavity into the water cave. The cave-altar becomes a cavity to be inhabited. The water would then exit the cavity through piping (the neck) and be recollected below the body of the church into the cistern.
The sacral metaphors of water are well known in the Byzantine scholarship and found numerous architectural expressions. The waters in the crypt of Saint Demetrius in Thessaloniki or in the crypt of Saint Andrew in Patras are two of the first examples that come to mind. The Byzantine installations on the South Slopes of the Acropolis should be remembered as additional evidence for the spatial articulation of the phenomenology of liquids.
The sketch plan above is based on M. Mitsakis drawing appearing in Praktika (1878). The altar stone is based on a drawing by Josef Strzygowski published by Andreas Xyngopoulos in "Χριστιανικόν Ασκληπείον" Archaiologike Ephemeris (1915), p. 62, fig. 14. It measures 0.95 x 0.34 m.
For those interested in the fine details of the cave, here is the eye-witness report given by Ioannis Phillipos in his Jan. 9, 1877, report: "Ολίγον δε κατωτέρω η πέτρα είναι ορθίως τετμημένη επί μέτρα 25 περίπου προς δυσμάς και υπ'αυτήν κατωτάτω εφανερώθη εν σπήλαιον κωνικού σχήματος τα έσω, με είσοδον κτιστήν, τους τοίχους του δ'εσώθεν έχον επίχριστους και εζωγραφημένους με εικόνας χριστιανικάς, δυσδιαγνώστους διά την εκ του χρόνου φθοράν. Εν αυτώ κατά τον κάτω γύρον αποστάζει εκ της πέτρας και ύδωρ, το οποίον κύκλω περιλαμβάνεται εκ μαρμαρίνω ευρίπω και διοχετεύεται ύστερον έξω διά τας μετ' ολίγον μνημονευθησομένας εκκλησίας μέχρις ου καταπίπτει εις εν φρεατοειδές κτιστόν όρυγμα." Praktika (1877) pp. 17-17.
My rough translation: "A little below, the rock is cut for about 25 meters to the West. Under the rock, we found a cave with a conical interior shape. Its entrance was built with masonry. In the interior, the wall were plastered and were painted with Christian scenes, but it was difficult to discern the subject due to deterioration. Under the lower circle, water drips from the rock. The water is collected by a circular marble feature and is then routed outside of the cave through pipes. The pipes continue under the ancient stoa and under the churches (to be discussed below) depositing the water in a built cistern."
Friday, December 23, 2011
Scratched roughly on a piece of masonry, a figure drinks with one hand while fanning with the other. The block was excavated in 1877 at the Sanctuary of Asclepius on the South Slopes of the Acropolis in Athens. It was published in 1924 as a personification of August. The Byzantine remains of the Asclepeion have been forgotten by scholarship. The site contained no less than three consecutive churches, a cave altar dripping with water, frescoes, burials, and lots of sculptural fragments from the Middle and Late Byzantine periods. I will discuss the architecture in the next posting.
The block of the drinking figure is striking in its graphic convention of depicting the interior of the vessel with a sectional diagram. The drawing, thus, communicates what is invisible, the interior container of the liquid as it is depleted through the mouth of the drinker. It helps us clarify the spatial experience of drinking. The neck of the vessel and our mouths are two extended thresholds that transfer water from one invisible interior (the vessel) to another (our belly). The figure raises a vessel to his mouth. He will soon swallow its contents capturing that moment of satisfaction offered by the exchange in a hot summer month. Drawing the vessel in section, thus, clarifies the spatial nature of thirst. It doesn't simply represent what drinking looks like, but it tries to encapsulates the essence of drinking as a spatial experience. The cavity that holds water before it enters the body is terminated by a kind of lip in the interior of the vessel. The hand clasps the diaphragm of the vessel and commands its release. The diagramatic depiction of the vessel may also lead the viewer into other bodily associations of the womb and female genitalia.
The carver scratched a phenomenological experience through a complicated system of graphic abstraction. Liquid transfers through interiorities. If we look at the architectural setting of the Byzantine Asclepeion (in the next posting), we will see that the transfer of water takes over the entire spatial expression of the complex. In other words, this small depiction is a moment in a larger phenomenological experience originating from the origins of water in the dripping cave.
Briefly, I summarize the paper trail from this excavation. The Asclepeion was excavated by the Greek Archaeological Society in 1877. The Byzantine remains were discussed by Philippos Ioannou, in Praktika (1877), 17-20. M. Mitsakis, an architectural intern at the Polytechneion, surveyed the Byzantine walls before they were demolished, publishing his plan in Praktika (1878). A quarter century later, Andreas Xyngopoulos published the Byzantine sculpture from the site, "Χριστιανικόν Ασκληπείον," Archaiologike Ephemeris (1915), pp. 52-71, but did not include the drinker. Andreas Xyngopoulos devoted a separate article on the drinker in the debut issue of the journal of the Society of Byzantine Studies, "Βυζαντινή παράστασις μηνός," Epeteris Etaireias Vyzantinon Spoudon 1 (1924), pp. 180-188. In this essay, Xyngopoulos argues that the image above belongs to a tradition of month personifications, specifically August. Accordingly, the seated August quenches his thirst with wine and cools himself with a fan. In addition to iconographic comparanda, Xyngopoulos quotes a relevant passage from the 15th-century novel Lyvistros and Rodamni.
"Είδα τον Αύγουστον απ'αυτόν, τέτοιον και κείνον φίλε, να ένε από κάυματα έμψυχος εις την όψιν. να στέκεη τάλα εις λουτρόν λουσμένος, κτενισμένος. να ένε εκ τα κάυμα έδιψος. και εις το έναν τον χέριν κούπαν εκράτει με κρασί και έπινεν δια την θέρμην και εις το άλλον του εβάσταζεν χαρτί μετά γραμμάτων και το έγραφεν. φίλε μου, άκουσε να το μάθης τους κάψει η θέρμη του λουτρού, τους φλέξει και διψήσουν, κατάψυχον ας πίνουσι οίνον, μην τ' αθετούσιν."
The novel was translated into English by Gavin G. Bates, Three Modern Greek Romances (New York, 1995). I will get the English translation next time I visit the Penn library.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
The opportunity to procrastinate in the midst of grading, also brings me back to a book that I half-started to read during the semester by another great fan of Wallace Stevens, Harold Bloom. In The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life (2011), Bloom returns to the poetic lineage that he has been studying all of his life, the tradition of the sublime. This Longinian tradition includes Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Yeats, Stevens and Crane. Although I have been terribly interested in the theorists of the sublime (Burke, Pater, Freud), I must confess that I have never read Bloom's late poetic tradition. Too enamored by the difficult coldness of Eliot, Pound and Williams, I have missed Stevens and Crane. I had read Brooklyn Bridge years ago, but only for the academic purpose of reconstructing American modernism.
This morning, I brought my pile of blue books to a neighborhood cafe, but made the mistake of sneaking in my bag a brand new copy of, Hart Crane: Complete Poems & Selected Letters (Library of America, 2006). The first poem, "Legend" compelled the drawing above. The blue books had to wait.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
Thursday, December 08, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Water-needy plain trees would grow next to the spring house and provide a focal point for gathering, shade, etc. The "platanos" at the center of the village would typically be one of the oldest trees in the village and would accumulate an iconography of primitive origins, a wet cool shade and a rootedness with place. The village spring would become both a social and a metaphysical center. In the ethographic literature of the late 19th and early 20th-century, the village square began to stand for the coherence of Greek agrarian community. Andritsaina's spring house is particularly important. It's one of the oldest spring houses in the Peloponnese dated by an inscription. A plaque inside the spring's blind arcade commemorates the year "17X9" and declares that it was constructed by the community.
Boissonnas' photo reveals an uncanny moment within this historical monument. Three children stare back to us in the darkness of the plain tree's shade. Remembering Roland Barthes "punctum," we realize that those children are already dead; they have literally receded into the darkness of forgetfulness. They are hard to see (see below), but enough is there to let us reconstruct their posture (see sketch above).
The boys are nestled behind a circular barrel. The left edge is framed by a vertical jar connected with the left boy who hangs his hands from its upper edge. The jar is well framed by the circular outline of the spring's stone arch. The second boy from the left is pensive and inactive. He looks at us from a position of depth and introspection. Half of his body is concealed by the active boy as the two melt into one figure. The right pier of the arch lands on the figures resting all its massive weight on the boys' shoulders. At the far right, tragedy is coupled with comedy. A third boy, not formally connected with the right pair smiles at us. The smiling boy is free from the architectural embrace of the arch. He stands outside of the arch. The placement of his hands and shoulder give the impression that he might push the horizontal big barrel and make it roll. The static radius of the arch along the picture plain can be coupled by an active radius of the unstable barrel ready to rolled. The formal elements that make the boys so beautifully arranged are, of course, accidental. Boissonnas may have staged many of his photos (especially his interior domestic shots), but this seems to be a pure urban scene. By happenstance, the three boys are caught in a three dimensional space of rotating circles. It's a wonderful composition that stands apart from the strictly objective data that this photo provides. The detail gives us information about technologies of water transport, craftsmanship, clothing (discernible caps), and social bonds. But beyond their archaeological utility, Boissonnas photo encapsulates a tightly coherent visual moment.
Saturday, November 05, 2011
Thursday, November 03, 2011
But in addition to revisiting our own photographs, Holmgren and his students will tackle a larger question, namely the photographic tradition that developed in the region since the late 19th century. Holmgren is inspired by Mark Klett, the founder of the Rephotography movement. Coincidentally, Toshi Ueshina was one of Klett's collaborators in Third View and my photography colleague in the Art Department at Clemson University. It will be a great honor to have Mark Klett visit F&M as our annual Nelson Speaker.
Thinking about the objective/subjective intersections of archaeology/photography, I began a historical survey of early photographs covering the Morea Project area. To investigate the documentary utility of this material, I began looking carefully at one of the best known photographic journeys in Arcadia by Fred Boissonnas's in 1903 (pictured above). A set of five photographs depicts the village of Andritsaina that the Morea Project surveyed in 1996 and published in Houses of the Morea (Athens, 2006), pp. 162-63. Some of the Morea Project negatives from 1996 have been scanned and made available online here (search for Andritsaina). As an experiment, I began looking at Boissonnas's photo of Andritsaina's Main Street (one of two shots) as a document of architectural information. With a quick sketch of the photo (below), I began to identify some of the salient architectural features. Relying on low resolution scans of the image (and not the original plates or prints), limited the resolution, nevertheless, a number of features worth documenting sprang immediately from the image. The exercise here was to leave aside the aesthetic deconstruction of the image as a text, and take it at face value. This would follow the objective goals of our seminar and would include identifying the precise location of the photograph in Andritsaina and documenting any surviving architectural facts. Before the site reconnaissance, the image can be tapped for specific information about 18th and 19th-century architecture. A process of decoding the photo would involve extrapolating from the perspectival view a reconstructed set of construction details or general elevations. Notice for instance the scrolling iron bracket that supports the balcony in the right foreground. I have extrapolated it as an elevation (right below). Such a sketch could then be used in the field, seeking to identify this or other examples of historical ironwork in the village. The photograph gives a good terminus-ante-quem. The two buildings facades on the right foreground have been extrapolated as elevation drawings, where we can clearly see relative chronologies, such as a white-washed facade (versus the side wall), a relieving arch above the wooden lintel. This exercise can be further refined as an investigative tool to be taken into the village or matched with the Morea Project photos from 1996. The following drawings were done as a test on my train ride home last night. The possibilities seem endless and I look forward to my collaboration with John.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
In one section of the paper, Caraher seeks the voices of local craftsmen employed by the imperial building boom left behind on the fabric of the building (p. 17). He cites Sanders wonderful discovery of fish graffiti in the mortar bedding of the Panayia Bath, Lechaion basilica and other monuments in Corinth. To this list, I would like to add a couple of additional evidence, based on some notes and slides that I took in a 2000 visit.
1. "Save Me"Few of the marble blocks of the Lechaion basilica contain evidence for a numbering system related to the process of production, transportation and erection. One such block, an Ionic column base dividing the nave and the aisles contains number 1 (Greek letter "A"). The block, however, also contains an inscription of Christian content Σώσων, referring to salvation. Like the numeric Alpha, this inscription would have been disguised by the next column drum. It offers a fascinating example of the mason's temporarily visible/permanently immured apotropaic prayer. Unfortunately, I didn't transcribe or trace the inscription in detail. This slide from 2000 is all I have, but enough of it is visible. The photo also illustrates the evidence for attached parapets that would have divided nave from aisles.
2. Kappa for Korinthos?
In addition to the fish scratching on the plaster, I also noticed the pattern above, vertical lines flanked by two angled lines that make up two Kappas, one Chi, or even some vestige of Chi Rho. I have the vague memory that this slide was taken from the exterior surface of the apse (but it's 11 years ago). As in the case of the fish, these lines were scratched on the plaster to create an adhesive surface for the decorated layer. They were never intended to be seen. Yet, one cannot help but speculate whether these scratches have any linguistic significance. The Long Building that Sanders excavated in the Panayia Field also had such lines (if I remember correctly). In the Middle-Byzantine period the letter "K" or "X" was used for intentional decorative purposes in exterior walls. In Corinth, one can see it at the lower courses of the Tower Building that still survives in the Forum area. The letter "K" is rather common for such Middle and Late-Byzantine walls throughout Greece. Its appearance in the exterior of churches in Kastoria has been used as evidence for urban insignia. The examples from Corinth warrant further thought. Was this just a standard way to prepare a wall surface? or did it have special significance? I let Bill Caraher sort this one out.
Thursday, October 06, 2011
The hand-drawn sheet contains a richness of information that a Word-Processed list cannot replicate. More importantly, the hand-drawn sheet immobilizes the students from their natural habits of manipulating digital information (cutting-and-pasting, googling instead of reading, etc.) The monuments are selected from our textbook, Moffett and Woodehouse, Buildings Across Time: An Introduction to World Architecture. I do these sketches quickly on the train and they highlight issues that I have covered in lecture. For instance, we spent some time in class unpacking imbedded proportions in the classical buildings on campus. The students tested Vitruvius by measuring their own bodies, their bodies in a Doric colonnade and the bodies in relation to the parts of an Ionic base. When they meet Robert Stern in person next week, they'll have a different apprciation of his architecture by having actually measured the proportions of Stern's Ionic base.
The handout is drawn in pencil and then Xeroxed. Unlike these scanned images, the Xerox copies are crips and punchy. I enjoy the qualitative difference between the analog and digital versions. When I assign drawing exercises, I handout special paper. Most of them approach the thicker stock with greater reverence. The change in weight, texture and quality destabilizes the notion that a print-out is a portable version of a computer generated file (that costs 10 cents). Students know that something is special when crafted by hand. I've been amazed by how much my students appreciate (even fetishize) drawings and the process of generation.
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Civic service and other explorations into the human condition (the subject of the humanities, after all) become creators of surplus value in a pool of already perfect people. Extraordinary experiences are strategically acquired by the Super People to boost their perceived value. So how will a Super Person stand out in their college or graduate school application? They need to have a spike in their profile, choreographed by an extraordinary value-free "humanistic" experience like building refugee centers in Bosnia or volunteering at day care centers in Guatemala. Admissions officers have a special word for these people, they are “pointy.”
Like most liberal arts colleges, Franklin & Marshall specializes in the cultivation of “pointy” individuals who will excel in post-graduate arenas. We, the educators, have been very disingenuous in maintaining the Bildung myth, while inflating the market with seemingly value-free collegiate experiences. We all aspire to cultivate full individuals with humanistic depth and breadth. But we should all realize that our actual role in the dynamics of American society is the fabrication of spiky profiles, a strangely subverted ideal. There is nothing that I love more than creating Pointy students, but it depresses me to think that Pointiness is the single most operative capitalist value in the marketplace of the liberal arts college.
Monday, October 03, 2011
Beginning as foreign correspondents, both Caraher and Rask created a coherent genre that became addictive. It is with great pleasure that I learned today that blogging from the American School continues with Dallas de Forrest's Mediterranean Palimpsest launched on Sept. 18. What is fascinating about the Caraher, Rask, de Forrest trilogy is one common thread, namely Ohio State University. Superficially, this link reveals an organic circle of friendships and the need for human encouragement for blogging that defies the inherent digital distance. But I think there is something more important to the Ohio connection. Those following the current debates over Modern Greek Studies in the U.S. are aware of the concept of Ohiology, put forth in the May 1998 issue of the Journal of Modern Greek Studies. Ohiology refers to a highly theoretical strand of the discipline that received criticism by older generations of scholars. Although they may not agree with my assertion, Ohio State contains a powerhouse of theoretical Hellenism: Gregory Jusdanis, Georgios Anagnostou, Anthony Kardellis, Tim Gregory. To use a Greek colloquium, δεν παίζονται. Caraher, Rask and de Forrest are archaeologists with no stakes in Modern Greek areas studies. Yet, their sensitivity to post-classical Greece is so incredibly acute that the imprint of Ohio cannot be coincidental. It is with great pleasure that I read Mediterranean Palimpsest as the third manifestation of a blogging genre. I have no doubt that future historians will assess the postings from Greece as primary documents of a new digital relationship with a physically present Greece.
Saturday, October 01, 2011
Thursday, September 29, 2011
1. Take the diameter of your column and divide it in 2 (ie. the column radius). This is how tall your base should be.
2. Divide that into 3. The lower third should determine the height of your plinth.
3. Take what is left above and divide it by 4. The top quarter will give you the height of your upper torus.
4. Take what is left between your base and upper torus and divide it into two. That will give you the height of your lower torus.
5. Divide what is left over between upper and lower torus into 7. The top and bottom sevenths will give you the height of your two fillets.
6. Whatever is left over will be your scotia.
The proportions are quite simple and easy to construct. In 2003, Mario Carpo wrote a fascinating essay in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, "Drawing in Numbers," where he traced the translation of the proportional values into a numerical system with the emergence of modernity and calculus. My sketch above is based on Carpo's analysis. I look forward to reading Carpo's newest book The Alphabet and the Algorithm (2011) that deals with the issue of digital duplication.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
So time comes to sit. And I sit on the beautifully paneled seats of Thirtieth Street Station in Philadelphia. And I measure away trying to understand what makes this moment so infinitesimally precise.
Monday, September 26, 2011
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