31 October, 2011
This week On the Reading Rest I have a collection of scholarly essays:
Classics and translation. Essays by D. S. Carne–Ross. Edited by Kenneth Haynes. Lewisburg. Bucknell University Press.ISBN 978-0-8387-5766-6.
And I read the first: Jocasta’s Divine Head: English with a Foreign Accent. (first published in Arion 1990, 3rd series Vol. 1 No. 1 Winter) Accessible also through JSTOR http://www.jstor.org/pss/20163447 A fair and favourable review of the whole collection, by Peter Green, can be found in Times Literary Supplement Sep 2, 2011.
In 1964 I came to Athens by bus from Corinth. There were three of us on a tour and we had avoided Athens for well over a month. Among the very first things we did was going to the National Archaeological Museum directly to look at Cycladic and Archaic sculpture – to indulge in Pre-Classical Greece. One point in doing so was a wish to stand eye to eye with the inspiration behind a very disciplined form of Pre-World-War II modernism in Danish sculpture still alive in mid-20th century Denmark. Since we were Danes on an educational tour, more provincial Scandinavians than you would believe, this interest (and our avoiding Athens) wasn’t as odd as it may seem today. We wanted to see the foundation, the Greek mainland before past Acropolis and present Syntagma. As we had hoped and expected, there were subtle paragons of the modern in the Archaic and less subtle ones in the Cycladic, Proto-Cycladic being the most fascinating. In those days the construction of the term itself, ’Proto-Cycladic’, signified the abstract and modernistic essence of evolution. But even so, the subtle feeling of renaissance and modernity didn’t help; because here in Athens, instead of echoes of the past, it was the Henry Moore exhibition at Louisiana, north of Copenhagen, a couple of years earlier that stood out as modernism: radical sculpture forcing the voluptuous modern to expand and absorb the Proto-Cycladic as well as the past. In the early 60s this was mo(o)re and very ok!
It was easy to see the difference between the strength of Moore’s modernism and the faithful Danish sculptures. Although they were, once upon a time, at the roots of modern 20th century Europe, they were also sculptural translations of Archaic Greek into unobtrousive modern Danish. Nevertheless, they still have a calm insistence on the past and the artists knew that their chisels (in Eickhoff’s sculpture) marked out the foreign teeth in their mixture of creation and translations. They were sculptures of a renaissance when the end of History, post-war modernity, had just been announced.
It was easy to see that the sculptural expressions of Ancient Greece had also come to an end. Once intended to look both dead as a mask and alive in the super-human sense of the eternally present posture, and the intense gaze of his inlaid eyes, the elevated Charioteer in the Delphi museum lost his controlled divine agency when he lost his eyes, arm, reins, chariot and horses, and became an aesthetic exhibit. And that insight too was the 60s.
There is a tragic beauty to DC-R’s essay because it aims in vain to reinvent the importance of history and Ancient Greek as late as 1990s when the whole defence line, compulsory Classics as the foundation for the Eurocentric super-power civilisation, had long ago vanished into the thin didactic air of modern grammar schools. And then again: when characters die in tragedies they sometimes have something melodramatic, quite a lot in fact, to say for themselves. That goes for DC-R too. But more important, his text is laced with learned references that sometimes stand out as slightly arbitrary or indeed frightfully learned. Meandering rather than coming to the point, the essay reminds one of the lamentations and ‘Bildung’ of a dying actor, acting a dying era already dead. This prolonged stage of learning, crowded with intellectual properties, is perhaps not what we would have expected from an essay with a title so ostentatiously measured: Jocasta’s Divine Head. English with a Foreign Accent rather than the gentle English with a Foreign Accent: Jocasta’s Divine Head. The measured title, but not the essay echoes ‘case closed’.
As it happens, DC-R makes a point of discussing the translation of this specific expression, ‘Jocasta’s divine head’, in Oedipus Rex. In passing he points out the astonishing forcefulness of Hölderlin’s noiminalizing German, (das) Gemeinsamschwesterliches used as an adjective describing Ismene’s head, and the weaknesses of plain modern English in another part of the play. Nonetheless, DC-R thinks that an English poet, e.g. himself had he been one, could have come to terms with the Greek usage of ‘head’.
There are nevertheless several head problems: (1) the head as pars pro toto has lost its power in English; (2) one must not let the rhyme ‘dead’ – ‘head’ be heard; (3) DC-R has difficulties accepting that the divine can die. Such problems/quasi problems undermine translation as well as the announcement of its death, p. 25f.. In the end, having argued all the way up to Ezra Pound, and not a step beyond into the modernism of a Henry Moore, DC-R acknowledges that Jocasta is probably dead. Still, he is not completely without hopes that she will ‘recover’ her divine head, p. 47. The scholar doth protest too much, methinks.
To less sensible and educated souls such as mine DC-R’s case is simple: Jocasta, a symbol of Ancient Greek poetry, having grasped the width, and seen the offspring, of her incestuous relation and intercourse with her son-lover-husband Oedipus (the English Poetry), i.e. seen some of the English she gave birth to in translated poems mixing Ancient Greek and Modern English, kills herself. This is tragic, but we all agree that among the ‘children’ – recalling Antigone, Eteocles, Polynices and Ismene – the result of mixing Ancient Greek poetry and English couldn’t always have been successful.
In the tragedy, Jocasta’s suicide must be announced and it is the task of the 2nd messenger to do so. He thinks this fact can be expressed and understood by means of a series of just four words: τέθνηκε θειον Іοκάστης κάρα, drawing attention to the facts that: Jocasta has a head, Jocasta’s head is divine and Jocasta ‘s dead; or as the messenger, who has seems to have an archaeologist’s interest in facts and material remains of the past, could have put in English:
2nd messenger: dead divine Jocasta’s head.
If this pile or words is too staccato, pointless and close to the ‘dead-head’ rhyme, i.e. if it’s not ‘poesy’ enough, then we may add a little extra for meter’s sake:
2nd messenger: Dead lies divine, Jocasta’s head.
This is a reasonably divided line, a syllable short, a word too long. And too iambic and anapaestic! But that, as Hopkins and Swinburne have long ago observed, is English for you . The points, nevertheless, are there: (1) there’s no pars pro toto, if we don’t want it, just the head as a metaphor. (2) You need not hear the ‘dead’-‘head’ rhyme, if you don’t want to. (3) Obviously the divine may linger in the looks of someone dead, if you want it to.
Once a useful creation, lost heritage is lost, and the line between creativity and translation always a fine one. Notwithstanding, translations without creativity tend to be sadly educational and creativity without translation nothing but original. There is no essence in today’s past.
In the Marvel universe, on the other hand, they seem to know that somehow translation must always complement creativity. At least they never tire of recovering, reconstructing, aiding, transferring, keeping, restoring, duplicating, returning, sabotaging, re-retrieving and resurrecting – Jocasta’s head, bless ‘er:
Seeking inside information about the Avengers, the High Evolutionary recovered Jocasta’s parts and reconstructed her. She sent an emergency signal to the Avengers, who came to her aid. Again, Jocasta sacrificed her body to destroy the foe, this time preventing the detonation of a genetic bomb which would have altered mankind. However, Jocasta’s head survived the explosion, and her memories and personality remained intact, though dormant. The head was recovered by the Avengers who, unable to do anything with it, transferred her to the keeping of her friend, Machine Man. Working on restoring her, he was interrupted by one of the metal-devouring Termini and fled with Jocasta’s head. Both Machine Man and Jocasta were taken to a nearby factory belonging to Sunset Bain (Madam Menace), where Bain covertly duplicated Jocasta’s head and returned a sabotaged copy to Machine Man. The head was later stolen by Mechadoom and re-retrieved by Machine Man, who, unaware of Bain’s interference, was unable to resurrect Jocasta.
More on Marvel.com: http://marvel.com/universe/Jocasta#ixzz1aC4zayHm
 It is a well-known fact that Water Rat, i.e. the Victorian poet in the Wind in the Willows, and a contemporary of one of DC-R’s favourites, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who despite his Archaic preferences had to confess the unpleasant feeling of an affinity of the mind with the ‘very great scoundrel’ Walt Whitman, a sentiment similar to Water Rat’s when he feels attached to Sea Rat — it is a well-known fact that Water Rat abhorred the way Toad, that most prolific writer of English verse in iambic and anapaestic meter, used the verb ‘to learn’:
The Toad, having finished his breakfast, picked up a stout stick and swung it vigorously, belabouring imaginary animals. `I’ll learn ’em to steal my house!’ he cried. `I’ll learn ’em, I’ll learn ’em!’
`Don’t say “learn ’em,” Toad,’ said the Rat, greatly shocked. `It’s not good English.’
`What are you always nagging at Toad for?’ inquired the Badger, rather peevishly. `What’s the matter with his English? It’s the same what I use myself, and if it’s good enough for me, it ought to be good enough for you!’
`I’m very sorry,’ said the Rat humbly. `Only I THINK it ought to be “teach ’em,” not “learn ’em.”‘
`But we don’t WANT to teach ’em,’ replied the Badger. `We want to LEARN ’em–learn ’em, learn ’em! And what’s more, we’re going to DO it, too!
So, you simply can’t use ‘poesy’, and don’t pronounce it like ‘cosy’, as an adjective. DC-R doesn’t like Victorian translations either.
 DC-R quotes Swinburne, p. 38, but also a letter from Gerard Manley Hopkins, p.37, to Robert Bridges where iambic and anapaestic are similarly discussed, cf. Letters to Robert Bridges, (Letter XC 18 October 1882, see p. 156 f.).
17 October, 2011
This week on the reading rest I have an archaeological field report.
Björck, Niclas & Larsson Fredrik. 2011. Stenålder längs nya riksvägen 56. Sträckan Stringtorp Tärnsjö. UV rapport 2011:41. Arkeologiska förundersökningar. 178 pages. UV Mitt Hägersten.
This report can be downloaded as a PDF file on the from:http://www.raa.se/cms/showdocument/documents/extern_webbplats/
When the Ladykillers explain the economic effect of their coup to Mrs Wilberforce, their fragile landlady who has just exposed them and their deceitfulness, they define the loss to the public, i.e. the loss brought about by their robbery of a money transport belonging to an insurance company, as no more than a farthing on everyone’s insurance policies. That kind of trifle, in this case on every tax payer’s declaration, goes also for the report on the rest. Only when we figure out our cost in terms of our most basic needs, such as breathing, does cost become significant, since we may be required to hold our breath for an unpleasant while, dependant on our income, to cover the loss we, the tax payers, have had financing this report. We pay for the report instead of holding our breath, but we do hold it at little because, on the one hand this report is as daft as they come, and on the other, we paid for the project, didn’t we? Since we were taken advantage of we hold our breath to gain a little time and compose ourselves before we complain.
To begin with, because of language and redundancy. there is a waste of paper.
And this is a test, rewriting and compressing it for the benefit of clarity:
Within the area of investigation was taken all together 74 phosphate tests (Fig. 14). The result gave a span from 0-91 phosphate degrees (P⁰) with an average value of 13.57 P⁰. The 74 phosphate tests spanned from 0 to 91 P⁰. Forty were below the average 13.57 P⁰. 34 of the 74 tests were on or above the average value, the other 40 consequently below the average value. The spatial distribution of these tests gave the opposite picture compared to the artefact distribution. The said distribution have been observed on several of those sites where phosphate mapping was being carried out , which makes it probable that it has its origin in how traces of different activities have been organized on the sites. A circumstance that indicates that within Digerholmen there are subareas of different character. As expected on a site covering 5400 m2, the distribution of quarts quarries, hearths, artefacts and phosphates suggest a heterogenic site (Figs 13 & 14).
True to the definition of ‘redundancy’, the crossed out italic sections are indeed ‘repetition of linguistic information inherent in the structure of the language’. There is no need for that, and if we venture to expand the contents of the section a little we can shortened it substantially from 708 to 240 characters (the fat black text substituting the crossed-out text). Potentially, rephrasing may thus have saved us 65% of the text. Had we been more fortunate we would have read c. 40 pages rather than c. 125.
Since shortening is a pain killer rather than a cure it avoids the real problem, i.e. is the unconscious attitudes and lack of understanding hiding behind the text. This problem surfaces already at page 15 in a diagram intended to show us what knowledge production looks like during the excavation of a site – knowledge grows exponentially.
In the diagram, by chance or mistake, more that 100 percent of a site is actually excavated and the amount, load or burden of knowledge produced in these non-existent 100+ percent square metres surpasses the amount produced during the excavation of the first 90 percent of a site. The prospect is frightening because there seems to be no redemption from exponential knnowledge growth.
Luckily, to most archaeologists no simple graph can shows how knowledge grows during an excavation and few would believe growth to be constant, let alone exponential. In fact, sensible archaeologists believe that now and then they get it wrong during their excavation. Often they are able to correct themselves, happily losing their initial and deficient knowledge. And some of the assumptions formed in the field may become wrong when the documentation is analyzed and new opinions formed at the archaeologist’s desk. Although being wrong is commonplace when we explore the past, Niklas Björk and Fredrik Larsson (NB&FL) seem unfamiliar with this experience. They are as convinced as can be that they have been excavating shore bound Mesolithic sites (all sites are ‘settlements’, although, if that was the case, they are also landing places. ‘Landing place’  as it happens is not in their vocabulary). NB&FL knew what they were looking for before they started to excavate and they have chosen to overlook, minimize, obscure and explain away any indication that they have misunderstood anything.
In fact, with a minimum of understanding of a coastal cultural landscape they have proceeded to excavate a number of promising shores. Every bit of knowledge produced is thus exactly what they expected and precisely what they were looking for, even when they actually came upon something else. Before their time team started, they knew what they knew and afterwards they knew more or less the same. Since in reality their knowledge production has been a matter of reproducing their pre-understanding, they have learnt little from their excavations. In this respect their curve of knowledge production is horizontal rather than exponential.
On their road show, the leaders of the NBFL time team thought that by means of any number of 14C-tests they could verify their central dogma: Mesolithic settlements are located on the beaches and shores of their day and age.
The team invested in no less than nine tests to prove themselves! Eight of these were not even remotely Mesolithic.
The singular Mesolithic date belonged to a piece of charcoal found among brittle-burned stones quite deep in layers on a beach 12 m from the shore. However, this Mesolithic date is late suggesting that when the wood was burned and the charcoal deposited, the beach was situated 100 metres or more east of the find spot and lower than the site. This means that the only Mesolithic 14C test speaks against the general model that guided the NBFL time team. The date suggests that the water (and the landing place) was nowhere near the site when Mesolithic man insisted on staying there.
Discrepancies threatening the dogma of the team’s pre-understanding are not discussed in the report. Instead we are told, opaquely, that in one case a date was obtained of the Mesolithic phase reflected in the artefacts (p. 104:2nd col). Since the phrase refers to something as chronologically imprecise and besides the point as ‘the Mesolithic phase’ and phase-reflecting artefacts, we would expect that the phrasing was designed to obscure an important fact without actually lying. But given the present field-report lingo what reads like a half truth may actually be the whole truth – to the authors.
Given the importance of chronology and the costs for carbon-14 tests, the eight dates that are simply wrong must be commented upon. But instead of suggesting the obvious – contamination of Mesolithic sites by later intrusions – the authors (p. 104 f.) end up arguing that the likely is probably the unlikely. Of course they don’t deny that in the unlikely event of later visits to the sites these visits would have taken place in later times. In fact the authors circumstantially point out to us that ‘later’ in this case may mean a visit in periods such as ‘the latest part of the Bronze Age’, ‘the Migration Period’ or ‘the Early Middle Ages’. Blimey!
In the end NB&FL emphasise that the natural phenomenon: forest fire, is actually a most relevant explanation for five of the dates. This is a bold idea that makes a reader think and ask him- or herelf why forest fires were so very common in the first millennium CE compared to every other 500 year period: Was it the climate or was it the wind, was it grill parties gone wrong?
Obviously the authors’ discussion of the 14C-dates is a smokescreen of rubbish. In addition to some obvious later disturbancies, the dates demonstrate (1) that contrary to the author’s opinion there has been a considerable number of invisible contamination of the Mesolithic sites in later periods and they suggest (2) that contrary to the author’s opinion some Mesolithic settlements were not shore-bound.
Random sampling of 14C tests is always methodologically refreshing where convention reigns, and so is every sign of Mesolithic man going astray.
The report started out protesting an exponential learning curve. Soon, the reader understood that the curve was rather horizontal, eventually, close reading revealed it to be negative.
In the film, the lady killers killed off each other and mrs Wilberforce ended up with the lolly – just our tax payer’s luck to end up with nothing but an embarrassing report.
 Lately Kristin Ilves has written a number of articles on landing places and among other things presented a general model of the landing place as a social space. See:
Ilves, K. 2009. Discovering harbours? Reflection on the state and development of landing sites studies in the Baltic Sea region. Journal of Maritime Archaeology, Vol. 4, No. 2: 149-163 [DOI 10.1007/s11457-009-9050-5 Published online: 27 October 2009].
Ilves, K. & Darmark, K. 2010. Some Critical and Methodological Aspects of Shoreline Determination: Examples from the Baltic Sea Region. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 18: 147-165 [DOI 10.1007/s10816-010-9084-x Published online: 15 June 2010].
Ilves, K. 2011. Is there an archaeological potential for a sociology of landing places? Journal of Archaeology and Ancient History 2011 No 2:1-25. ISSN 2001-1199
3 October, 2011
This week On the Reading Rest I have an article:
Williams, Howard; Rundkvist, Martin and Danielsson Arne. 2011. The Landscape of a Swedish Boat-Grave Cemetery. Landscapes (2010) I pp. 1-24.
Saturday morning, Asyut families visit the eternal homes of their ancestors and relatives. The cemetery is situated next to the rock containing prominent Pharaonic graves. On the modern grave houses there are numbers, arrows and directions leading you right in the narrow alleys off the main street.
In Asyut, contrary e.g. to Cairo, nobody lives permanently in graves, and the prime time-consuming reason for visiting is keeping them tidy – sweeping floors and courts with date palm leaves. But since going there and doing this takes a while and since the monuments are capacious, there is a point in bringing food and organize a picnic or perhaps an overnight stay. This doesn’t mean that religious rituals are forgotten, far from it. It just means that visiting the graves fuses family, society and religion in Upper Egypt .
The Roman town, situated safely above the high-water mark of the once flooding Nile, is still visible in the street plan, in a nowadays very souterrain bath and in the old desert road, Darb al-Arba’in, The Forty Days‘ Road, to the Kharga oasis and the Sudan. That road passes by the cemetery. Passing by sepulchres that occupy the foot and lower slopes of the mountain overlooking the town, means entering or leaving through a barrier separating the desert without life and the town of the living. Given the striking difference between the desert that runs all the way up to the Eastern flank of the cemetery and the fertile Nile Valley that takes over at its Western flank, the cemetery as a zone of transformation, is as cardinal as the city-of-the-dead metaphor.
Before entering or leaving Asyut we would have crossed the canals that irrigate the fields and make the transformation, when crossing, a matter ’pontification’ or ’bridge-making’ in the literal sense of the word. Today, forgetful of ancient traditions, nobody actually offers anything on the bridge.
In Asyut, therefore, the cemetery combines the two main kinds of Iron Age Scandinavian cemeteries: the ones defining a border or a zone of transgression and the ones mirroring the settlements. In Scandinavian Iron Age they are often but not necessarily separated. The latter are generally speaking later than the former, and not until the Roman Iron Age, especially the end of that period, do some graves start to resemble rooms. Roman influence cannot be ruled out.
Concepts, such as Border and Mirror are probably almost archetypical in connections with graves and they may well be something to look for in any cemetery.
Williams, Rundkvist and Danielsson (WRD) approach their cemetery the other way round. Having stated the unique character of the Skamby boat grave cemetery, by means of excavating one of the 21 graves visible to the naked eye, and knowing nothing about unmarked graves or the time depth of the cemetery, they set out to contextualize its centrality taking the equation ‘one cemeteryequals one settlement’ for granted. They start with the regional perspective presenting a next to arbitrary source material, i.e. village names with –stad as the second component. Then they zoom in on cemeteries and hill forts before they proceed to local rune stones. Eventually they end up on the grave-covered ridge at Skamby. On all levels, mapping a haphazard source material, distinction and essence link-in with place. Since we know so little about the actual places, the link is mostly hypothetical.
WRD make a number of relevant and some slightly irrelevant observations, but cursed by their quest for uniquity they end on a resounding ‘Really!’:
Hence, the landscape was a pivotal medium in the practice of boat-inhumation, allowing a local elite group to perform their identities and allegiances by distinctive and dynamic means (p. 20f.).
Really, what a swinging and liberal landscape, the Ostrogothic – very similar to the Asyut setting or by all means Saint Nicholas Churchyard in central Aberdeen – allowing all kinds of things to take place.
There is little to critisize in the authors’ conclusion and yet it would seem that WRD may have missed some slightly less commonplace points.
From excavations carried out by W&R, we know that some time in or after the 9th century. a visitor placed a purse of 9th century. gaming pieces on the wooden roof of the only excavated grave at Skamby. The precise date of the burial is unknown, but coeval with, older or younger than the production date of the gaming pieces. Let us suggest at the cemetery was used in some way or other during the 9-10th c.
Rune stones are meant to be seen and read, and thus by means of text and decoration, a rune stone combines two input rooms: (1) Social Network and (2) Place and conveys a message. A rune stone, therefore, makes up the central node in its area of influence. In principle these areas are proportional to the number of stones at the node. Mapping rune stones this way discloses the area of subsistence related to the Skamby cemetery as indeed void of rune stones . Not surprisingly, when it comes to rune stones, churches stand out as more important nodes than villages or farms.
The map also defines the position of Skamby as early-iron-age inasmuch as it is somewhat withdrawn from the coast and situated between a resource area, the woodlands to the Northeast, and a subsistence area, the open fields to the Southwest. Well-watered by streams and brooks they benefit pasture and haymaking. We can expect the cemetery to be a reflection of a settlement as well as a demarcation of a border between areas. Pointing out ‘the voyage’ on the ‘ridge wave’ by means of boat graves at the edge of the woodlands (sailing North to somewhere Home?) as far from the water as almost possible, is odd in an Early Iron Age perspective. Nevertheless, given the kenning way in which incompatible phenomena are mixed to give metaphoric meaning in Norse poetry during the Carolingian Iron Age, 750-1025 CE, the situation of the cemetery and its ‘grave-speak’ idiom could nevertheless be meaningful.
As the rune stone distribution shows there is nothing Early Medieval in the position of Skamby and that should prompt us to explain why:
(1) Skamby belonged to the upper echelons of society in which traditional (commemorative) rune stones were less interesting.
(2) Skamby in the Carolingian Iron Age and Early Medieval Period was not settled by its owner. (We may suspect that stewards, the holders of an office rather than holders of land, are reluctant rune stone erectors).
(3) Skamby had already lost its importance and its land (and its landing-place at Å?) to farms less dominant such as the rune stone farms. Perhaps because Söderköping was about to become a fact and Slätbaken barraged at Stegeborg.
Local knowledge will eventually make Skamby unique, but until we know more, its landscape exhibits general qualities only. The site matters because it may have existed during the Carolingian Iron Age, despite the fact that it echoes Early Iron Age ideals and because it sports Late Iron Age mortuary metaphors. If Skamby represents a manor, then it is intriguing that its possible landing place at Å attracted rune stones and the first parish church. In a clear-cut Late Iron Age/Early Medieval landscape the powerful would have preferred to build their large farm, its cemetery, and perhaps its church, somewhere between their woods and their landing place.
Some more or less similar Early Iron Age large manorial landscapes survive as a form of centres – Kvåle in Sogndal (well into the Middle Ages), Gudme (as manors such as Broholm and Hesselagergård), Uppsala and Uppåkra (as the archdiocese of Uppsala and Lund respectively), Skamby, if there were ever a manor next to the cemetery, did not survive.
In Asyut, however, nothing could change the basic interplay between town, graves and landscape.
 Upper Egypt Identity and Change, edited by Nicholas Hopkins and Reem Saad. American University in Cairo Press, Cairo New York 2004, is a splendid moder introduction to the more cognitive aspects of society in Upper Egypt. And Hans Alexander Winklers study Ghost Riders of Upper Egypt: A study of Spirit Possession (1936) translated and printed by American University in Cairo Press 2009, dives deep into unorthodox spiritual live in Upper Egypt.
 Please note that the landscape was a pivotal medium in the practice of rune stone erection, allowing a local elite group to perform their identities and allegiances by distinctive and dynamic means.
 WRD have mapped the rune stones from Å at the new church rather than the old, i.e. the ruin called Ring, where they belong. This blurs their picture a little.