Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Every once in a while, I have my doubts about the benefits of blogging. But then, magical things happen that would have never been possible in the pre-blogging age. One such event is the following. Diana Wright, NEH Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, sits in the Gennadius Library and considers an article about a treatise that the library's founder, John Gennadios himself, wrote in 1930. In this treatise, Gennadios lists Cyriaco of Ancona as the earliest looter of ancient antiquities (see here). Few people know Cyriaco's late-medieval intellectual environment of Greece better that Dr. Wright, as evident in her blog Suprised by Time, where she has recently posted Cyriaco's defense. In all accounts, the Renaissance humanist was not a looter. Gennadios wrongly attributed malicious motivations in Cyriaco's scholarship, swept over by his nationalist zeal. "Along with the Bishop and Huntsmen..." reminded me that Cyriaco is indeed a fascinating figure, the first humanist to take Greek antiquities seriously enough to document them on paper. Wright gives an example of his masterful drawings at the church of Merbaka.

And I remembered a paper that Wright presented at the 30th Byzantine Studies Conference in Baltimore, "Was William of Moerbeke an Angevin Agent?"It's a fabulous piece of scholarship linking geopolitical agendas with antiquarianism.
As far as I know, the paper is unpublished. I also wish I had been in Athens to see Wright's lecture, "Ottoman Venetian Cooperation in Post-War (1463-1478) Morea" (November 25, 2008). I'm also reminded of a paper that Siriol Davies gave a few years ago about a new discovery of a Venetian map in a Vienna. This map shows explicit classical antiquarian interests in the Venetian occupation of the Peloponnese. (I'll have to dig up the reference). Many thanks also to Guy Sanders and to Mary Lee Coulson, who have made Merbaka central to our scholarly concerns.

Going back to Cyriacus, I cannot help but share my favorite Cyriacus passage, where he describes the state of ancient cities as he rides by them.
While visiting his fellow humanist Plethon at Mystras in 1448, Cyriacus inspected Laconia for antiquities and inscriptions. The following passage might constitute one of the earliest examples of settlement archaeology. It comes from Cyriacus' diaries (V.55), edited and translated by Edward W. Bodnar and Clive Foss, Cyriac of Ancona: Later Travels (2003) pp. 328-329:

"While contemplating en route from afar the ruins of once-famous Laconian towns, mulling this over in my mind, I thought, naturally, of that fact that, even though one must grieve to behold these noble, ancient, distinguished and richly adorned cities, now in our time in a state of utter collapse or demolition almost everywhere throughout the region, one must endure with an [even] heavier heart, in my opinion, the pitiable ruin of the human race, because the fact that the world’s outstanding towns, marvelous temples sacred to the gods, beautiful statues and other extraordinary trappings of human power and skill have fallen from the pristine grandeur seems not so serious as the fact that, throughout almost all the regions of the world, the pristine human virtue and renowned integrity of spirit has fallen into an [even] worse condition; and where they had once flourished most, there they had more and more departed."

The Renaissance antiquarian witnessed a landscape of devastation and abandonment, scarred by the neglect of time but also by wars, civil strife and plague. Seeing the ruins inspired lament for the loss of classical culture and the ideals it represented. Cyriacus’ countryside instructs in humility and virtue and offers a new interpretive paradigm. A. T. Grove and O. Rakcham have argued that Cyriacus' point of view was partially created by the perceptible difference between the Italian and Greek landscapes, see Mediterranean Europe: An Ecological History (2001) pp. 8-10. Naturally more barren than Campagna, travels to the Peloponnese fueled sentiments of a lost Eden. Et in Arcadia ego was fabricated with rolling Italian hills in mind. Visiting the real Arcadia was traumatic.

On the Peloponnesian front, I must note a nice study of Mazaris's Journey to Hades published in the last issue of the Dumbarton Oaks Papers. Mazaris's Journey is a humorous account of Late Byzantine court life, written in 1414-15 and performed in Mystra. Lynda Garland, "Mazaris's Journey to Hades: Further Reflections and Reappraisal," DOP 61 (2007), pp. 183-214, takes a fresh look at a text, which has traditionally been received negatively; at best, Mazaris had been read for its prosopographic clues. Garland puts the Journey in the context of contemporary humor and literary genres, but also elucidates the environment for the piece's delivery and reception in the παλάτια (palaces) of Mystras. In the paranomastic humor of the text, the palaces are turned into Παλαιά Άτη ("Old Destruction") of Mystras (p. 210). Now I am convinced that the Byzantines had a much better sense of humor than most of the Byzantine scholars who have studied them. I look forward to reading other such texts from the 14th-15th centuries, such as the "Fruit Book," (Διήγησις του Πωρικολόγου) the "Bird Book" (Πουλολόγος) and the "Shit Book" (Σκαταβλάττας).

The 2007 issue of Dumbarton Oaks Papers is a great issue for the archaeologist because it contains essays from the 2005 Symposium "Settlement Patterns in Anatolia and the Levant: New Evidence from Archaeology." In addition it contains a book-length article by Tassos Papacostas, "The History and Architecture of the Monastery of Saint John Chrysostomos at Koutsovendis, Cyprus," pp. 25-148 and the most recent excavation report from Amorium.


Anonymous said...

Cyriacus's sentiment appears to draw on Servius's unconsoling letter to Cicero after the death of his daughter Tullia in the mid-40s BCE -- text follows:

Ex Asia rediens cum ab Aegina Megaram versus navigarem, coepi regiones circumcirca prospicere: post me erat Aegina, ante me Megara, dextra Piraeeus, sinistra Corinthus, quae oppida quodam tempore florentissima fuerunt, nine prostrata et diruta ante oculos iacent. Coepi egomet mecum sic cogitare: "hem! nos homunculi indignamur, si quis nostrum interiit aut occisus est, quorum vita brevior esse debet, cum uno loco tot oppidum cadavera proiecta iacent? Visne tu te, Servi, cohibere et meminisse hominem te esse natum?"

Unknown said...

oops -- read "nunc" for "nine" and "Piraeus" for "Piraeeus" in the quote above. Cut and pasted from a bad source.

Anonymous said...

Siriol Davies' reference to Vienna concerned, I think, a group of maps taken there from Venice during the Napoleonic Wars and now being edited by Olga Katsiardi-Hering. These are marvelous and large-scale, dating to 1700 more or less. Various scholars are contributing to the project of editing them, including Davies who is studying the map of Arkadia. The map of the Argolid indeed shows the walls of Mycenae. Also of interest to readers of this blog will be Alexis Malliaris's edition of the travelogue of Alessandro Pini, a Venetian physician who travelled the Morea with Pausanias in hand at the time of the 2nd Venetian occupation of the Peloponnese. On the Vienna maps see further: A Historical and Economic Geography of Ottoman Greece (2005), p. 112, n. 8; also N. Yoffee, ed., Negotiating the Past in the Past, pp. 235-239, regarding Pini, Ciriaco, the Vienna map, and antiquities in the Argolid.

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Kostis Kourelis

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