Ancient Thebes, in and out of time

Daniel Berman

What is the relationship between the stories we tell about a city and the “real” history? Stories float from person to person as neighborhoods rise and fall, institutions develop and spread, and natural and manmade events bring gradual or catastrophic change. The media adds an additional layering as it appeals to civic loyalty and commitment in spreading the news.The real history is always somewhere right beyond our grasp, as the competing and conflicting narratives of individuals and institutions reflect a range of motives, from altruistic to selfish to just plain confused. Myths and legends grow up around a city because stories help us establish our connection to spaces and places and fix our personal and communal identity. Often the veracity of stories is less imporant than the feelings they evoke. This is true of Philadelphia, Paris, New York, or any other city.

But how does the historian, the narratologist, the archaeologist tell the difference between the real and the imagined, and what is the relationship between the two? In his new book Myth, Literature, and the Creation of the Topography of Thebes, Professor Daniel Berman attempts to reconstruct the ancient topography of Thebes through two, often conflicting, sources, the ancient literature and the contemporary archaeological record. Thebes, continuously occupied from the Mycenean period to the present day, is the ancient city of Herakles, Dionysus, Oedipus, and Antigone of Greek myth. It was an important dramatic site in Greek epic and lyric poetry, Classical tragedy, and the literature of the Hellenistic period. But behind and layered within mythic Thebes, there is also a very real city that has long experienced the beating pulse of everyday life. As you will learn in this interview, it is hardly a straightforward task to disambiguate the real and the imagined city, as these two elements became entangled so long ago.

I spoke to Daniel Berman on July 22, 2015.

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—Fred Rowland

Politics and the Street in Democratic Athens

A Gottesman

In his new book, Politics and the Street in Democratic Athens (Cambridge University Press, 2014, Print / Online), Alex Gottesman explores the informal political structures that helped to shape events in the more widely documented institutions of assembly, council, and courts in Democratic Athens. Identifying the cryptic utterances and odd descriptions of ancient Greek literature for evidence of puzzles not yet explained by historians, Professor Gottesman patches together patterns of interactions and associations that point to a public sphere centered around the Athenian Agora.

The boundaries between formal and informal political structures were rather porous and they changed over time. Professor Gottesman describes an ancient form of publicity stunts which raised awareness among the public of legal and political issues and procedures. These publicity stunts brought citizens and non-citizens, high born and low, men and women, and slave and free together in a complex network of informal association. Professor Gottesman then speculates on how these informal networks influenced the more famous democratic political institutions of ancient Athens.

I spoke to Alex Gottesman about his new book, Politics and the Street in Democratic Athens, on March 27, 2015.

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—Fred Rowland

Daniel Tompkins discusses Moses Finley

Daniel Tompkins interview

Classical scholar M. I. Finley (1912-1986) was involved in many of the momentous intellectual, political, and social issues and debates of the 1930s and 1940s. He came to the study of the ancient world by a circuitous route, graduating with a B.A. in psychology from Syracuse University in 1927 (at age 15), an M.A. in public law in 1927 and a PhD in history in 1951 (both advanced degrees from Columbia University).

Between his M.A. and Ph.D. Finley worked briefly at General Motors, was an editor of the groundbreaking Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, fought against Nazi race theories, and organized Russian relief during World War II. Finley was in contact and collaborating with thinkers like Franz Boas, Karl Polanyi, and members of the Frankfurt School at the Institute for Social Research.

When finally his dissertation, “STUDIES IN LAND AND CREDIT IN ANCIENT ATHENS, 500-200 B. C.: THE HOROS-INSCRIPTIONS,” landed him a faculty position at Rutgers University, he was forced out due to his left-wing political affiliations. He appeared before the McCarran Committee (United States Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security) in 1952 and pleaded the Fifth Amendment when asked about his affiliation with the Communist Party.

Finley took a position in Classics at Cambridge University and eventually became a citizen of the United Kingdom. As a scholar, Finley brought his own contemporary concerns and interests to questions about the ancient world.  His research on ancient slavery and economy, and democracy and culture, resonate with the intellectual and social struggles of the mid-20th century.

Professor Daniel Tompkins is researching the life of Moses Finley. I spoke to him on December 15, 2015 in my office.

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—Fred Rowland

Three Classics Majors Get Dirty

On March 18, 2013 I spoke with three Temple classics majors about the archaeological digs they participated in during the summer of 2012. Andy Pollack was at the Temple University field school in Artena, Italy, working on a Roman villa; Eamonn Connor was a volunteer at the ancient agora near the Acropolis in Athens, Greece; and Samantha Davidson attended the Davidson College field school at a rural site in Atheneiou, Cypus. We met in my office at 8 AM. With coffee in hand, we had an interesting conversation about the similarities and differences between the three sites. We talked about artifacts, preservation, tools, the daily routine, and the surrounding geography and history of each site.

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—Fred Rowland

Classics Journal: Study on Graduate Programs

The Classical Journal has come out with a study on MA and PhD classics programs: information on different programs, admissions requirements, curriculum, etc. If you’re interested in graduate study in the classics, have a look. Here it is. ————————————————————————————————————– Subject Guides Classics // Islamic Studies // Jewish Studies // Philosophy // Religion ————————————————————————————————————–

Archimedes Palimpsest Project

A palimpsest is a “a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing” (From The Oxford Dictionary of English). The Archimedes Palimpsest Project involves the rediscovery of seven texts of Archimedes scraped from the parchment later became a Byzantine prayer book. Advanced imaging techniques have been used to tease the ancient Archimedean texts from the parchment. This web site contains a wide rage of material–straightforward descriptions with video, scholarly analysis, and scientific details.

Review Article on Early Christianity

This looks interesting, a review of five books, which should be of interest to students of religion and classics: “Remapping the Landscape: Early Christianity and the Graeco-Roman World. A Review ArticleJournal of Religious History ————————————————————————————————————– Subject Guides Classics // Islamic Studies // Jewish Studies // Philosophy // Religion ————————————————————————————————————–

e-Reference Trial: Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism

The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism, trial goes through 10/17/08. (For all current database trials, go here.) “Now expanded and updated, The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism is an indispensable resource for scholars and students of literary theory and discourse. Revised extensively in 2004 to reflect a decade of rapidly changing scholarship, the Guide currently features 52 new entries and subentries and is updated annually. Compiled by 275 specialists from around the world, the Guide presents a comprehensive historical survey of the field’s most important figures, schools, and movements. It includes more than 240 alphabetically arranged entries on critics and theorists, critical schools and movements, and the critical and theoretical innovations of specific countries and historical periods.” from the web site Have a look at it. Let me know what you think. Fred ————————————————————————————————————– Subject Guides Classics // Islamic Studies // Jewish Studies // Philosophy // Religion ————————————————————————————————————–

Free audio books at LibriVox

Try out the free audio books on LibriVox. You can listen to them on your computer, iPod, or MP3 player.

“LibriVox volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain and release the audio files back onto the net. Our goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books.” 

I just downloaded the Anti-Federalist and the Federalist Papers to iTunes and plan to listen to them when I get a chance.  These are works I’ve been meaning to read forever.  I’ll try to listen to them instead.  I searched the catalog a bit and discovered audio works of Descartes, Plato, Martin Luther, Augustine, Aquinas, among others.

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Classics // Islamic Studies // Jewish Studies // Philosophy // Religion