Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-cnmwb Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-21T23:47:16.287Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Art and Archaeology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 March 2018

Rights & Permissions [Opens in a new window]

Extract

If asked to cite a single image as symbolic of Athenian democracy, many Classicists would probably suggest the Tyrannicides group. It seems the obvious choice. Yet while no one would deny the ideological value given to the statue(s) raised in commemoration of the event, there are some well-known historical reasons for being sceptical about any democratic ideals harboured by Harmodius and Aristogeiton when they assassinated Hipparchus in 514 bc. In that sense, the Tyrannicides group is inappropriate. So what alternatives come to mind? Here is one possibility, which was once visible, like the Tyrannicides, in the Athenian agora: a fourth-century bc marble relief showing several figures engaged in making footwear (Agora inv. I 7396). The piece carries an inscription, worth quoting:

Dionysios the son of [Sim?]on, the cobbler, and the children dedicated this to Heros Kallistephanos. Having seen a divine vision in his sleep, Dionysios adorns the hero and the children of Kallistephanos; do you give in return for these things wealth and happy health.

Type
Subject Reviews
Copyright
Copyright © The Classical Association 2018 

If asked to cite a single image as symbolic of Athenian democracy, many Classicists would probably suggest the Tyrannicides group. It seems the obvious choice. Yet while no one would deny the ideological value given to the statue(s) raised in commemoration of the event, there are some well-known historical reasons for being sceptical about any democratic ideals harboured by Harmodius and Aristogeiton when they assassinated Hipparchus in 514 bc. In that sense, the Tyrannicides group is inappropriate. So what alternatives come to mind? Here is one possibility, which was once visible, like the Tyrannicides, in the Athenian agora: a fourth-century bc marble relief showing several figures engaged in making footwear (Agora inv. I 7396). The piece carries an inscription, worth quoting:

Dionysios the son of [Sim?]on, the cobbler, and the children dedicated this to Heros Kallistephanos. Having seen a divine vision in his sleep, Dionysios adorns the hero and the children of Kallistephanos; do you give in return for these things wealth and happy health.Footnote 1

The sculptor is unknown, and hardly of the first rank; arguably there are three generations shown in the workshop, with Dionysios central and most evidently involved in crafting a shoe, but details are indistinct. As a social statement, however, image and epigraph combine with clear significance. Seated on proper chairs (klismoi) and wearing elegant gowns (himatia), Dionysios and two sons have evidently devolved the basic chore of cutting up leather to a slave (foreground), while they do the skilled assembly; an older man, plausibly the father, holds up a finished product as if doing a final quality control before putting it on a peg, apparently with pride. We lack the image of the fair-crowned hero, probably shown reclining at a banquet (with his offspring in attendance). But we see that Dionysios, banausos though he was, had heroic connections. Like Shakespeare's ‘rude mechanical’, Bottom the weaver, he has had ‘a most rare vision’, and presumes, with this tall stele, to bargain with a demi-god for further prosperity. It seems the very soul of ‘democratic’ citizenship. And it is one of the 224 pieces carefully gathered in Carol Lawton's Votive Reliefs (Agora XXXVIII).Footnote 2 Most of these belong to the fourth century, and many of them feature images of communion with a banqueting hero. Plato, perhaps, might see in this further proof that ‘democratic man’ was brutally obsessed with feeding himself. More impartially, Lawton's catalogue adds valuable evidence for the style and practice of hero-cult and regular piety at the civic heart of classical Athens.

Not long after Dionysios set up his stele in the Agora, a certain Domsalos dedicated a funerary relief in the Kerameikos (Athens National Museum 1488). Its carving, again, was not done with conspicuous technical virtuosity, but both the image and the text of the dedication are full of historical interest. The inscription is bilingual, revealing our Greek Domsalos as Domseleh, from Sidon, and his deceased friend ‘Antipatros’ as Shem, from another Phoenician city, Ashkelon. The image shows a figure upon a bier beset by lion, and the lion in turn attacked by another figure standing near a ship's prow. Close readings of this stele have recently been made by Jennifer Stager and Olga Tribulato; now it is set within a broader assessment of the visual evidence for Greco-Phoenician interaction in Becky Martin's The Art of Contact. Footnote 3 Years ago, David Gill made a spirited case for recognizing a distinct historical reluctance on the part of classical archaeologists to acknowledge the extent of Phoenician activity within ‘the Greek world’.Footnote 4 Martin's tone is a little less polemical, but nevertheless pressing hard to redress an imbalance. Her range of theoretical reference is admirably wide, and she is unafraid to confront some well-known genres of ‘typically Greek’ artistic production: for example, the kouros-type. It is refreshing to have the ‘Alexander-sarcophagus’ analysed as it might have been viewed by ‘elite Sidonians’. Clinching the argument that the ‘Slipper-Slapper’ Group from Delos deserves to be seen as a work of Phoenician, specifically ‘Beiruti’, sculpture, is rather more difficult. That it was found in a clubhouse on Delos used by merchants from Beirut, and that it was dedicated by a Dionysius unashamed to declare himself a grandson of one such merchant, is obviously important. But, as Martin herself concedes, ‘we know very little about the artistic process anywhere in Phoenicia, either the role of artists or that of patrons’ (151). What if the Phoenicians on Delos were like the Romans on Delos – apparently content to accept that ‘others’ (i.e. Greeks) should coax likenesses out of stone and bronze?

The Romans, wherever they were, liked to stage a good funeral. A continuing abundance of freshly excavated material is one reason why the study of the Roman funerary process is academically so ‘alive’, as demonstrated by a collection of new essays, Death as a Process.Footnote 5 The editors draw attention to the impact of more refined analysis of skeletal and organic remains upon our understanding of ancient ritual sequences. But biomolecular microscopy is not the only advance, as revealed by a series of case studies encompassing sites such as Canterbury, Kenchreai, Pompeii, and Tiel-Passewaaij in the Netherlands. Deposited artefacts are scrutinized not so much as status indicators of the deceased but as signals of ritual sequence. A fascinating contribution from Sébastien Lepetz strives to clarify how the detritus of various foodstuffs and offerings recovered from the Porta Nocera cemetery at Pompeii relates to funerals and funerary cult. What steals the show, however, is probably the discussion of ‘mass graves’ located near Kalkriese in Lower Saxony. It was in 1987 that Tony Clunn, a metal-detector enthusiast serving with the Royal Tank Regiment at nearby Osnabrück, picked up a trail of Augustan coins, which in turn led to surveys and excavations along the course of a defile some 18 miles (30 kilometres) long. The quantity of bones – of humans and pack animals – along with thousands of fragmentary items of Roman military equipment, persuasively suggests that this was the site of the ambush and massacre of three legions in ad 9. Quintili Vare, legiones redde! echoes down the centuries; this reviewer will not easily forget the experience of being in a Munich Bierkeller when drinkers took up the refrain Herr Quintilius Varus, tam ta-tam tam tam! in honour of Arminius (Unser Hermann), as if the victory were only yesterday. Indeed it is relatively recently (2007) that a number of pits, located beneath a collapsed rampart, have been excavated. The results, presented here by Achim Rost and Susanne Wilbers-Rost, indicate that these may attest the pieties discharged by Germanicus, on his mission to the site of the disaster six years afterwards. Legions XVII, XVIII, and XIX were never re-formed. What remains of them now belongs to a multidisciplinary project involving osteologists, anthropologists, metallurgists, and more, financed by the Volkswagen Stiftung. Procurate, viri…

References

1 John Camp's translation, with a proposal – from Camp – that the dedicant's father may have been Simon, the cobbler known to Socrates.

2 The Athenian Agora. Results of Excavations Conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Volume XXXVIII. Votive Reliefs. By Lawton, Carol L. Princeton, NJ, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2017. Pp. xxv + 150. 12 colour illustrations, 60 plates. Hardback $150, ISBN: 978-0-87661-238-5 Google Scholar.

3 The Art of Contact. Comparative Approaches to Greek and Phoenician Art. By Martin, S. Rebecca. Philadelphia, PA, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017. Pp. vii + 282. 38 colour and 59 b/w illustrations. Hardback £50, ISBN: 978-0-8122-4908-8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Gill, D. W. J., ‘Silver Anchors and Cargoes of Oil: Some Observations on Phoenician Trade in the Western Mediterranean’, PBSR 56 (1988), 112 Google Scholar.

5 Death as a Process. The Archaeology of the Roman Funeral. Edited by Pearce, John and Weekes, Jake. Studies in Funerary Archaeology. Oxford, Oxbow Books, 2017. Pp. ix + 300. Paperback £38, ISBN: 978-1-78570-323-2 Google Scholar.