Sunday, January 17, 2010

What not to do when you're bored at Corinth: Walk to Sikyon

It's Sunday here in Columbus and I was trying to find something adventurous to do. After a bit of interwebbing I realized that the Historical Society is closed and anything from their website that sparked my interest also seems to be inaccessible. It's raining today and foggy, so it's really not a good day for biking around town and playing Investigator. Here I am with all this creative and inquiring energy to spend and nothing to do with it.

This state of affairs recalled to my memory a long Saturday this past summer at Corinth, when Dan Leon and I were desperate to get out of dodge. So desperate, in fact, we decided to go Topograph-ing (Yes, I just made that word up).

One thing I learned about archaeologists while at the American School is that they like to wander aimlessly around the countryside, investigating 'topography.' Of course, when an archaeologist is aimlessly wandering, they are actually, you know, looking at stuff. Sherding. Learning things. Observing hills and dells and ravines and flood plains and stream beds. They're seeing archaeological sites of the future. Processing historical possibilities. They are doing a mystical activity utterly foreign to people of my generation - Learning The Lay of The Land. (Note: this is why archaeologists tend to play such vital roles in wartime).

So at Corinth (and Greece at large) there's an archaeologists' tradition of making 'treks' off to other towns in imitation of 'treks' made in antiquity: Corinth to Nemea, Corinth to Kleonai, Corinth to Mycenae, etc. In Hill House (the Corinth Dig House), there's a folder with records of past archaeological escapades of the sort. The main actors are usually Ron Stroud and John Camp, and their notes record extraordinary details - what olive grove they turned left at, how many minutes exactly did it take to proceed down the slope, what dirt road has now overgrown and is no longer passable. That sort of stuff. They're great historical documents - and consciously so. Meanwhile, as the years pass, those hikes have become the stuff of legends.

Anyways. In the early 2000s some students decided to re-live the glory of the Stroud-Campian expeditions and left their own detailed notes, but with social commentary (on each other) and with descriptions of all the debacles included. So, not only is there a rich oral tradition about these walks passed down by people like Guy Sanders and Charles Williams, but there is also a growing collection of textual evidence beefing up Hill House's material culture. It sits there on the Corinth library table, staring at you, reminding you that other people, once, were not so lazy.

So Dan and I decided we were going to make our own walk. We weren't going to just rehash the Stroud-Campian Days, but we were going to boldly turn towards the heights of Sikyon, a place growing in mystique and aura ever since Guy first introduced it to us in the autumn days of the year. We did the appropriate research, asking advice of Guy and James and Iulia, consulting maps, squinting over satellite images, scribbling down as much as we could on scrap papers that we packed into our bags with snacks and water and various other contingency items. We got up early, when the light was still kind and soft, and left at 7am.

Woooo! Here we go!

I think I had a specific vision in my head of what the trip would be like. All the tales I'd heard abounded with dirt tracks meandering through olive groves, little ravines and quaint bridges, mustachioed farmers on slow donkeys, melting mudbrick shacks and overgrown structures. But instead of going inland, where those things abide in all directions, we went down into the Corinthinan plain, towards the coast, where an enormous impassable highway slices the landscape in half, and concrete town after concrete town follows one after another. I think Dan remembers our Corinthia hike with a more measured cast, but for me, it was a day that started with a beautiful morning's promise and turned into a sweltering stone hell. But I get ahead of myself. Here's how it went:

A beautiful morning with Akrocorinth and the excavation house far in the distance. Ah, the freedom of the open countryside and our own two feet!

Okay, we made it about 30 minutes before we started getting lost. Crappy printed maps from Google work in theory, but no so much in practice.

We saw a lot of dogs. We were barked at, alot.

We passed a rabbit farm. I guess this is where all those tasty rabbit dinners come from.

We went from town to town, moving through the rural patches, empty lots and suburban monotony. It was June 20th and, as the day grew on, it got hotter and hotter. The asphalt stretched forever. Fumes and truck exhaust engulfed us. The sensation I remember most strongly was the aching of my feet after hours of hiking on the unforgiving road surface. A whimpy whine began to grow in my throat.

We got remarkably lost in Assos. No one - seriously, no one - knew how to get to Sikyon (modern Vasiliko) when we asked in our meagre Greek. It was noon-ish, we were halfway there, and our will was flagging. Finally we found a corner store that pointed us in the right direction and gave us free water. It was like an oasis of beauty in the depths of the harshest desert. We ate lunch with our feet hanging into the concrete drain on the edge of the road.

Help us find the way! Please!

Near the end we returned for a bit to rural life, but never a cushioning dirt road for our feet. We passed by several enormous gypsy camps.

By this time, I was very difficult to be around, truly surly. Poor Dan.

Finally reaching Sikyon required climbing an enormous hill with a zig-zagging road that nearly did me in. But we were almost there, almost to Sikyon itself, where we would collapse into chairs at a shady taverna and eat enormous quantities of Greek food. We could pretend we were ancient people arriving from Corinth to see the great artists and sculptors of famous Sikyon. Yes!

Except that in actuality, Sikyon has nothing. And there aren't any tavernas. No restaurants at all that we could find. That is, NO FOOD after walking for 8 hours and well over 12 miles. Sure, we did pass two packed cafeneios (watering-holes for dudes only). There were no women in sight. At this stage we were desperate for sustenance, but found none. The archaeological sites were closed; there was really nothing, in the end, at Sikyon for us. No food, no archaeology, no charming corners, only bone-deep weariness.

Dan was a trooper and entered a small convenience store to ask if they could call us a taxi. Calling a taxi entailed walking out to the street and yelling down to the cafeneio, "Giorgo, are you working today?" Giorgo was not working. We had to call the nearest city and have them send a cab out for us, which then zipped us back the way we'd come, straight back to Ancient Corinth and the fastest, most satisfying taverna food we could find. 8 hours and 12 miles undone in half an hour.

Apparently there was a reason no one at Hill House had walked to Sikyon before us. Well, we tried. We made it without dying. And it was a learning experience. I learned that I am no good at Topograph-ing in beautiful charming countryside like Denver Graninger is - instead I am a pro at Topograph-ing on concrete and in traffic. Somebody's got to do it, I guess. Or could it be that, in the end, Dan and I were just two more grad students trying our damnedest to be like Ron Stroud and John Camp, and failing miserably? At least it's a good story, and we laugh about it now, and it allowed us to get out of the House. And perhaps we can insert ourselves into the oral history of walks-gone-wrong; maybe I should print this out and add it to the Hill House Folder, as a guide for how not to walk to Sikyon.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Classics and Sci-Fi Panel at next year's APA

Huh. Here's a Call For Papers for next year's APA conference. I can't decide if I have anything to submit.

Ad astra per antiqua: Classical Traditions in Science Fiction

A rich and relatively under-explored area in modern receptions of classical traditions is science fiction. Although points of comparison may be offered by the study of classics in other areas of ‘popular culture’ (e.g., film and comics), science fictional receptions of classical traditions have historical and artistic significance all their own. A complex relationship is evident already at science fiction's arguable point of origin, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), whose subtitle "The Modern Prometheus" alludes to classical meditations on the use of technology to create and control nature and human life. The relationship was developed further by such 'classic' authors as Jules Verne (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864), H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, 1895), and Frank Herbert (Dune, 1965). More recently, classical material has been a part of science fiction in genres as diverse as space opera (e.g., Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek franchise, 1966-present) and steampunk (e.g., William Gibson's and Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine, 1990), as well as direct but complicated re-tellings of classical tales (e.g., Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos series, 1989-1997, and Ilium, 2003).

Science fictional receptions of classical traditions raise questions not only about science but also about, for example, religion, philosophy, social thought, political theory, and literature. Such questions necessarily must address the complex interaction between (1) science fiction's continuous but mysterious reference to scientific method and to the historical results of that method's applications, and (2) the classical tradition's status – in a mixture of historical fact and fictive imagination – as pre- or non- or differently-scientific. How, then, does science fiction imagine ancient thinking as contributing to or challenging modern discourses with special regard to those discourses' scientific aspects or interests? How does it constitute the classics in light of master narratives of modern scientific knowledge and practice? By raising these and other questions, the comparative study of classics and science fiction helps to ask how ancient Greco-Roman classics continue to speak – or are received as speaking – to a modern world separated from antiquity by profound processes like the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Art of Google Earth

Check out this awesome essay about the photos you can find on Google Maps' Street View:

The Nine Eyes of Google Street View by Jon Rafman.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Some blogs

I've recently found two more blogs that combine nerdy stuff and academic life. Here they are if you are interested:

Robert Travis's Living Epic documents his efforts to teach college students Greek history through role-playing games. How cool is that? Dungeons and Dragons and Herodotus.

Samuel Collins is a professor who reviews science-fiction books through the eyes of an anthropologist...All Tomorrow's Cultures.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

More Graves of Archaeologists

So, to continue with one of my many half-finished side projects, it's time to document a few more archaeologists' graves in Greece. (Previous entries: 1, 2)

Last time, Bill Caraher informed me that the 'Big O' Oscar Broneer and his wife were buried in Corinth, so I wrote to Guy Sanders* to find out more about late members of the Corinth crew.

Oscar Broneer and his wife Verna are buried at the Church of Agia Anna, on the north side of the village of Old Corinth. Guy snapped some pictures for me and he relates that "the Broneers are in the NE corner in a plot granted in perpetuity in gratitude for the relief work he and Verna did in the community after WWII."

Oscar Broneer. Note that many of the graves of foreigners in Greece list both the place of their birth and the place of their death.

Verna's tombstone with a relief carving of an ancient lamp and an actual lamp in metal. Incidentally, the Broneer's son Jon Winroth became a famous international wine critic, although he first spent time studying fortresses built by Ali Pasha in Greek Epirus.

Broneer is one of those Greek archaeological giants. He was the Professor of Archaeology (i.e. pre-Mellon Professor) and his stint as the excavation director of Corinth and Isthmia has been called one "of the most shining chapters of the American School's excavations... (p.170)." He published the first typology of ancient lamps (see Verna's grave above) and, as all the internet blurbs about him relate, on his very first day of excavating at the site of the Isthmian Games he discovered the Temple of Poseidon. Not bad. Nowadays, Broneer's name will be recognizable to all poor, desperate graduate students, since the Broneer Fellowship is much sought after by those who want to study in Athens or Rome.

The other late Corinthian still residing in the area is Darrell Amyx. Like Broneer, Amyx got his PhD from Berkeley and in fact went on to found the History of Art Department there. He became a big fan of studying vase-painting a la Beazley - Morelli , attempting to identify the hand of specific painters. His ashes, Guy tells me, were spread over Akrocorinth.

Archaeologists having 'buchman' (snack time) beneath Akrocorinth.

As a final note, one of Corinth's finest is also buried in the First Cemetery in Athens. Theodore Woolsey Heermance is about as Old School American School as you can get. The "gruff, red-bearded professor" had already started excavating at Corinth by 1896 and was in the trenches throughout the early Teens.

Heermance's excavation notebook from 1903, Corinth Notebook #19 (courtesy of the digitized notebooks on the ASCSA site!).

Plus, you can buy his 1901 book Greek Art for $175 on Ebay!

*Thanks, Guy!