Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Monday, December 29, 2008

Shedding Light on Ancient Women

Women have been marginalized throughout history.  Ancient Greece and Rome, hailed as paragons of western civilization, were not immune from misogyny.  It can perhaps be argued that women weren't as bad off as some historians may claim, but truth be told, women and men were far from equal.  Until the last few decades, the study of women's role in history was negligible. Besides taking a look at the most famous females of antiquity, every day women (and men for that matter) didn't fit into the upper class/white/male viewpoint on history.  Times are different now, and movements like Engendering Archaeology and Post-processual Feminism have allowed us to take a scholarly look at ancient women and the role they played.  

The new exhibit at the Onassis Cultural Center, Worshiping Women:  Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens, looks like a wonderful experience.  Women of the past deserve to have their story told, and this exhibit appears to do that story justice.  I'm surprised that it took until 2008 to see such an exhibit come to light.  I'm always excited to see new exhibits focused on the ancient world, especially when they appear to be of this high a caliber.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Discovery of Roman Lamps

Pottery is a blessing for archaeologists.  Short of grinding pottery into dust, it is practically indestructible.  Also, pottery can be a wonderful dating tool, as styles tended to change often and relatively uniformly.  This latest find in Italy is another example of how pottery shapes our perception of the ancient world.  Lamps in the Roman Empire were as common as they are today (albeit of a different kind), and made in equally diverse shapes and sizes.  Lamps, being a necessity, were made to suit all budgets (see below) and some very plain as well as outrageously ostentatious examples have been found.  Its interesting to think of the different name brands and trendiness in pottery manufacture in the ancient world.  It just goes to show that no matter how much people have changed over the past 2,000 years, there are parts of us that are still the same.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Who owns Apollo?

The looting of antiquities is an ongoing problem that plagues us today, and it is a issue that I have talked about in this blog before.  The question of "who owns the past" is seemingly impossible to answer, and I certainly don't claim to know how the issue should be resolved.  One thing I do know is that politics and scholarship are not good bedfellows.  Take the Cleveland Museum of Art for example.  In their possession is a bronze sculpture of Apollo possibly made by Praxiteles himself.  For those of you who don't know, Praxiteles is one of the most famous Ancient Greek sculptors, and original large bronze sculpture from Ancient Greece is extremely rare.  The valuable bronze of ancient statues was too easy a target for later smelting.  A good deal of our knowledge of Greek bronzes comes from Roman copies made of marble.  Now, the true identity of the Cleveland Apollo's sculptor is in question, but an important chance to study the work in comparison with Roman copies of Praxiteles' work has been lost due to politics and the international illicit antiquities scandal.  Instead of recapping what happened here, please read the link below for full details.  To make a long story short, the Cleveland Apollo was shunned from a Louvre exhibit on the famous sculptor due to unsubstantiated claims by Greece that the statue was illegally looted.  It is a shame that a wonderful opportunity for scholarly research has been blocked by the ongoing international antiquities scandal.  When a country of origin can make claims with no evidence that an object has been looted, and the repercussions of those allegations lead to stifled research, a sad day has indeed come.

Also, the Cleveland Museum of Art has agreed to return 14 works of art to Italy that were proven to be acquired illegally.  In contrast to the Cleveland Apollo, if artifacts can indeed be proven that they were looted, they should be returned to the country of a point.  I know what a divisive issue that is, and I will dwell on it more in depth at another time.