Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Berkeley's Plato a genuine Roman copy of Greek original

I was contemplating a trip down to the Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California - Berkeley and came across this fascinating article about a herm of Plato that was acquired in 1902 and had been subsequently (and erroneously) termed a fake.

"A portrait herm of the Greek philosopher Plato is emerging from a century of obscurity and disrespect to assume its rightful place in ancient history, thanks to the sleuthing of a University of California, Berkeley, classics professor.

Stephen G. Miller today (Wednesday, April 9) publicly outlined his research and scientific test results that he said shows the sculpture purchased for UC Berkeley and brought to its anthropology museum in 1902 is not a contemporary fake.

Additionally, Berkeley's Plato turns out to be a rare depiction of Plato not as a famous philosopher, but as a just and virtuous citizen, said Miller, a specialist in Greek and Roman archaeology and art who leads a UC Berkeley excavation project in Ancient Nemea, Greece.

nitial museum catalogue records at UC Berkeley note that the herm's significance was in doubt. But the crowning blow came in 1966, when UC Berkeley graduate student R.J. Smutney, studying Latin inscriptions, inspected the writings on Plato's shaft - it had been separated from the head, which couldn't be found -and declared it a fake.

Miller said today that he can now prove the opposite.

The sculpture, brought by ship and then overland by rail to the museum in 1902, dates back to approximately 125 A.D., Miller said. While it is a copy, it is an elegant replica of a Greek original from about 360 B.C., he said.

What's more, he said, it provides a glimpse of what Plato really may have looked like.

Paul Zanker, Sather professor at UC Berkeley a decade ago, has suggested that previously identified portraits of Plato were unsatisfactory because they attempted to force a prototype into the later mould of "philosopher" types.

"The Berkeley Plato," said Miller, "not only proves that Zanker was on the right path, but it gives us a much sharper and more accurate image of Plato's appearance. It takes us closer to that non-philosopher prototype. What a thrill to think that our contacts with the historical Plato are much more direct now than a few months ago."

Miller said he bases his conclusions on his inquiries into several topics, including:

  • Ribbons that adorn the sculpture
  • Plato's writings and what's known of his life
  • Quotations inscribed on the UC Berkeley Plato
  • The source of the marble and the quarry's known time of use
  • Lettering on the shaft

The ribbons on the UC Berkeley Plato are significant for many reasons, Miller said. One is that modern artists typically have depicted Plato with long tresses, not ribbons.

The ribbons also underscore Plato's known love of athletic competition and visits to Olympic games, his training as a wrestler, his competition at the Isthmian Games, and the ribbons' association with gymnasions - the schools of ancient Greece, the dramatic setting for at least four of Plato's dialogues.

The UC Berkeley Plato also depicts the philosopher with a puffy, deformed lobe on the left ear, and Miller noted that in Plato's "Protagoras," he referred to admirers of Sparta, who bound their hands in order to box so that their consequently deformed ears would be like those of their heroes. The UC Berkeley Plato's bad left ear may indicate the impact of a ferocious swing by a right-handed opponent, Miller said.

Also supporting the case for the UC Berkeley Plato as an antiquity, Miller said, is that the ribbon reflects Plato's belief in a need for the state and the individual to train both the intellect and the body without over-emphasizing either one.

"But the ribbons of the (UC) Berkeley Plato have an even greater pertinence to the man and his work," said Miller. "The Republic," probably written between 380 and 370 B.C., when the philosopher was in his 50s, and largely regarded as Plato's masterpiece, presents Plato's notion of the immortality of the soul.

One quotation inscribed on the base of the UC Berkeley sculpture states, "Every soul is immortal." While Plato first advanced the idea in the "Georgias," he more fully developed the concept in "The Republic," Miller said.

Plato argued that every soul is immortal, and the total number of souls immutable, with lives spent in cycles of 100 years on earth and the next 1,000 years in heaven or hell, depending on the justice and virtue of that first century lived. The first quotation on the UC Berkeley sculpture advises caution in choosing that next soul: "Blame the one who makes the choice, God is blameless." This quotation from "The Republic" reinforces the idea that the UC Berkeley Plato is a copy of a portrait sculpted during or after "The Republic" was written.

"The Republic" ends with an admonition that, if people live their 100-year lives in a just and virtuous manner, they will come to the end like victorious athletes going on their victory lap to collect their ribbons.

"We are looking at Plato's own definition of the good citizen," said Miller.

He reported that tests of samples of the bust and pedestal by the Demokritos Laboratory of Archaeometry in Athens prove that both pieces are Parian marble, the stone of choice for ancient sculptors.

Even more significant, Miller said, is that the Parian quarry ceased production in the late Roman period, and there is not a single example of a Renaissance or early modern forgery or copy of an ancient statue made with marble from the island of Paros.

Heavily encrusted portions of the herm reflect its old age, as does the presence of miltos, a red pigment used in ancient inscriptions to make them more legible, he said. Miltos is found in every inscribed line on the herm, and encrustation has formed over the miltos.

Unique theta and square omicron letterforms on the UC Berkeley Plato also are found on other ancient portrait herms, Miller said."

Monday, April 07, 2008

Pompeii Timeline

Current Archaeology Magazine's website offered this great timeline of development for the city of Pompeii:

8th century BC Iron Age agricultural settlement
6th century BC City founded by Oscans, Greeks or Etruscans
City walls built. Street grid laid out
First masonry building on site of House of Amarantus
4th century BC Second phase of building on site of House of Amarantus
First settlement on site of House of the Vestals
Rome conquers the Bay of Naples
3rd century BC First masonry buildings on site of House of the Vestals
218-201 BC War against Hannibal
2nd century BC House of the Vestals doubles in size
146 BC Destruction of Carthage and Corinth
91 - 87 BC Social War; Pompeii besieged
80 BC Roman colony founded
Early 1st century BC House of the Vestals doubles in size and is substantially rebuilt
Late 1st century BC House 12 constructed on the site of House of Amarantus
30 BC - AD 14 Reign of first emperor, Octavian-Augustus
20s AD House of the Vestals substantially rebuilt with fountains
AD 62 Earthquake strikes Pompeii
70s AD House of the Vestals substantially rebuilt without piped water
House of Amarantus becomes a run-down bar
AD 79 Pompeii destroyed by Vesuvius

Go to the link for an extensive article on Pompeii. Their interactive map of the site is also very interesting. For additional images of Pompeii, check out my Flickr photo set

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Vitruvius - Roman Architect and Engineer

born around 84 B.C., died after 27 A.D., Roman architect, military and hydraulic engineer, art theorist

The name Vitruvius Pollio was reported by the epitomist Faventinus, but only the gentile name Vitruvius is assuredly correct. Vitruvius served as military engineer in the armies of Caesar and Augustus and worked with Marcus Aurelius, Publius Minidius and Gaius Cornelius to build projectile artillery and other war machines. It is highly probable that he belonged to the circle around Marcus Vipsanius Aggrippa from 33 B.C. and that he was involved in the construction of public plumbing in Rome. The only building that can be attributed to Vitruvius with certainty, which was designed by him and constructed under his direction, is no longer standing: the basilica of Fanum Fortuna in Umbria [should be Marche instead of Umbria], (presumably Vitruvius’ hometown, called Fano today). The very precise description of this building in De architectura libri X (V 1, 6 – 10) suggests that this basilica was similar to the basilicas in Pompeii and Ardea near Rom.
Vitruvius began writing his famous work De architectura libri X, which he dedicated to Augustus, even before 33 B.C. and apparently completed it before 22 B.C. Unfortunately this book is full of gaps and many of its passages are unclear and ambiguously formulated, but it is of outstanding importance for us today because it is the only Ancient textbook on architecture and technology that remains preserved today. In Book I Vitruvius deals with architectural training and elucidates general aesthetic concepts as well as the planning of cities and fortifications. In Book II he describes the construction materials used at the time and explains the technology of building walls. Books III and IV deal with the construction of temples and the orders and proportions of columns. Book V is dedicated to the erection of public buildings; Vitruvius deals in particular with the construction of markets, basilicas, theatres, halls and water installations. The different types of private buildings and the design of individual rooms in such buildings are discussed in Book VI. This book also deals with agricultural buildings and the influence of climate on the type of construction. The interior d├ęcor of buildings, such as stucco and plasterwork, colours and decorative murals, are the subject of Book VII. The installation of waterworks, for example, the construction of the aqueducts, is described in Book VIII. Because the main subject of Book VIII is the construction of sundials and water-clocks, the beginning of this book presents general astronomical observations about the measurement of time. An introduction to the mechanical engineering of that time, which was primarily concerned with the construction of lifting machines and guns, is given in the final Book IX. Vitruvius bases his purely technical data primarily on his own experience; on occasion he also refers to that of older Roman practitioners, otherwise he mostly refers to late Hellenistic authors such as Hermogenes, Pytheos and Varro, whereby, however, he does not always quote accurately and barely mentions buildings from the Augustan era. The compilatory character of his book also influences his linguistic style. In the introductions to the individual books, Vitruvius’ style is quite circumlocutory and rhetorical, whereas the language in the technical descriptions is extremely dry and concise. Vitruvius’ style is quite often criticized in Ancient philology, but what he writes does not actually amount to vulgar Latin. In Classical archaeology the concepts and schematic ground plans handed down by Vitruvius have often been used to reconstruct excavated buildings with great success. Vitruvius’ characterization of the Classic orders of columns (Ionic, Doric, Corinthian, Tuscan) remains part of architectural history even today. In his own day Vitruvius had no important influence. Not until the late Ancient period and the early Middle Ages did an intensive reception history of Vitruvius commence, whereby it is difficult to determine what influence Vitruvius actually had on the Middle Ages. By far the greatest influence was exerted by his book De architectura, in the period of the Renaissance, when his theory of proportion and his description of Ancient architectural orders became fundamental components of architectural theory. Whether his theory of proportion was actually used in practice can hardly be determined today. The ambiguity of Vitruvius’ text made many different interpretations possible, which was apparently quite advantageous for Renaissance architects and allowed them to integrate the architectural principles and aesthetic theory of the Ancients into their own architectural practice on the basis of Vitruvius’ writings. Many important artists of the Renaissance, including Leonardo da Vinci and L.B. Alberti, studied Vitruvius thoroughly and found diverse sources of stimulation in his work. Approximately 55 hand-written manuscripts of Vitruvius’ De architectura are known. Vitruvius is one of the first Ancient authors whose work was printed (Editio princeps around 1486) and was translated into many European languages. The numerous sixteenth-century editions are important not only because of their commentaries and translations, but primarily because of the illustrations they contain. These editions are of particular value for art historians: because the original Ancient illustrations for De architectura were not preserved, all illustrations for Vitruvius’ De architectura are always interpretations from the period of the given edition. The commentaries on the editions of Vitruvius from the sixteenth century codified the system of the ancient forms of buildings; this codification was soon elevated to dogma and continued to exert an influence well into the nineteenth century (Vitruvianism).
- From The Archimedes Project

Digital images of a 1567 edition of his work

(contains beautiful architectural illustrations)