Pages

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The symbolism of the Centauromachy

The Lapiths were a group of legendary people in Greek mythology, who were horsemen in the grasslands of Thessaly, in the valley of the Peneus and on the mountain Pelion, said to have invented the bridle's bit.  They were an Aeolian tribe, like Achilles' Myrmidons, and descendants of Lapithes, a twin to Centaurus and son of the god Apollo and the Nymph Stilbe.  

Lapithes was a valiant warrior, but Centaurus was a deformed being who later mated with mares producing the race of half-man, half-horse Centaurs.  Lapith warriors and kings, included Ixion, Pirithous, Caeneus, and Coronus, and the seers Ampycus and his son Mopsus. In the Iliad the Lapiths sent forty manned ships to join the Greek fleet in the Trojan War, commanded by Polypoetes (son of Pirithous) and Leonteus (son of Coronus, son of Caeneus).

At the wedding of the Lapith King Pirithous and the horsewoman Hippodameia, the famous Centauromachy erupted when the invited centaur, Eurytion, unused to wine, upon meeting the bride leapt up and attempted to abduct her. In the battle that ensued, Theseus came to the Lapiths' aid. They cut off Eurytion's ears and nose and banished the centaurs from Thessaly.

In later retellings, the battle between Lapiths and Centaurs eventually took on aspects of the struggle between civilized and wild behavior and was used to demonstrate the necessity of tempering wine with water to avoid the consequences of excess. The Greek sculptors of the school of Pheidias depicted the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs as a symbolic struggle between the civilized Greeks and "barbarians" on the Parthenon and on Zeus' temple at Olympia (Pausanias, v.10.8). The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs was also a familiar theme for classical Greek vase-painters.



Image:  A centauromachy relief on an ancient Roman sarcophagus, c. 150 CE, at the Museo Archeologico Ostiense courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor, Sailko.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Brading Roman Villa to reopen on selected days beginning Friday, August 7, 2020

The museum on the site of Brading Roman Villa preserves the West Range of the structure, built around 300 CE, which is the last and grandest of three buildings on the site. The foundations of two earlier North and South Ranges are now outlined in chalk outside. The South Range was erected around 100 CE, not long after Claudius' Roman invasion of Britain in 43 CE and was followed by the completion of the grander North Range around 200 CE.

For those living here, this location was a perfect choice. It enabled the  freedom to communicate with and travel to local Island settlements, mainland Britain and cross the Channel to Gaul (France). Fertile arable lands around the Villa complex allowed good crops of grain to be grown. Sheep and cattle could fertilize the land between seasons and springs nearby gave a good water supply. 

By the early fourth century this high status house was completed. As a winged corridor villa, common in southern Britain, it provided separate private living accommodation for the owner and their family together with space for entertaining guests. Like modern homes today the West Range had many changes and adaptions to the living space. This included removing and moving internal walls and adding new mosaics.

The villa was rediscovered in 1879 by Captain John Thorpe and excavated from 1880-1883.  Over 100,000 artifacts were recovered including board games, jewelry, and farming implements.  The villa's mosaics are among the best preserved in Britain and depict mythological subjects including Orpheus, Bacchus, Ceres and other gods and goddesses framed with geometric patterns.




Image: The Orpheus Mosaic at Brading Roman Villa courtesy of their museum.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

VENUSTAS. GRACE AND BEAUTY IN POMPEII through January 2021 at the Palestra grande (eastern portico) of the Pompeii excavations

An immersion in what were the canons and aesthetic tastes of the populations of the Vesuvian area in ancient times (from the VIII / VII century BC to the first century AD), based on the finds, about 300 , found in the various sites of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii:  the protohistoric village of Poggiomarino, the protohistoric necropolis of Striano and that of the Archaic Age of Stabia, the sanctuaries of Pompeii and Stabia, the villas of Oplontis and Terzigno, and finally the town of ancient Pompeii and its surroundings.

Related video (no audio):


Note: Since the video has no audio, it runs rather slowly to give viewers a chance to read the text (in Italian). I tried to turn on translation but it doesn't work with this particular video.  However, the video does provide a selection of images of the frescoes, artifacts, and sculpture included in the exhibit.  I noticed from viewing information on past exhibits on this official website that apparently these types of displays have been presented since about 2017, some within the houses where the artifacts were actually found. I applaud this effort to provide a richer experience for visitors to Pompeii.

Friday, July 31, 2020

The art of ancient Yemen: Arabia Felix to the Romans

Ancient Yemen was composed of a number of regional kingdoms including the Minaeans in the north in Wādī al-Jawf, the Sabeans on the southwestern tip, stretching from the highlands to the sea, the Qatabānians to the east of them, and the Ḥaḑramites east of them.  They were all engaged in the spice trade, especially frankincense and myrrh. They left behind many inscriptions in the monumental ancient South Arabian script or Musnad, as well as numerous documents in the related cursive Zabūr script.  Scholars disagree about their origins with some claiming these kingdoms arose about 1200 BCE.  Others say they did not begin to flourish until the 8th century BCE and lasted until they were conquered by the Himyarites.  The Himyarite Kingdom conquered neighbouring Saba' for the first time in c. 25 BCE, Qataban in c. 200 CE, and Haḍramaut c. 300 CE. The Middle Saba' kingdom rose in the early 2nd century CE with its capital established at Ma'rib. Himyar's fortunes relative to Saba' changed frequently until it finally conquered the Sabaean Kingdom again around 280 CE. Himyar then endured until it finally fell to invaders from the Kingdom of Aksum in 525 CE.

Arabia Felix was one of three regions into which the Romans divided the Arabian peninsula: Arabia Deserta, Arabia Felix, and Arabia Petraea with Arabia Felix representing the southwest corner of the peninsula.  In 26 BCE, Aelius Gallus under Augustus's order led a military expedition to Arabia Felix, but after some beginning successes he was obliged by the unhealthy climate and epidemic to desist in the conquest of the area.  The ancient city of Eudaemon (modern Aden) was a  transshipping port in the Red Sea trade but by the first century CE it was by-passed to eliminate the costs associated with these middlemen.

The early archaeologist most associated with excavations in ancient Yemen was an American, Wendell Phillips.  Phillips was born in Oakland, California in 1921. His mother, Sunshine, was a gold prospector in California. His family was poor, and Phillips worked various jobs as a youth, including serving as a guide on Treasure Island during the San Francisco World's Fair. He suffered from polio as a young man and recovered in his early 20s.

Phillips graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1943 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in paleontology. His studies had been interrupted by World War II, in which Phillips served in the Merchant Marine before returning to college. Also during his college years, Phillips participated in fossil-hunting expeditions to Arizona, Oregon, and Utah, and corresponded with archaeologist William F. Albright, who later accompanied Phillips on his first archaeology expedition.

In the late 1940s, Phillips acquired funding from the University of California to organize a broad archaeological exploration of Africa. Though Phillips was inexperienced as an archaeologist, his used his charisma and persuasion skills to lead a team of approximately 50 scholars and technicians, equipped with trucks and an airplane. The expedition lasted 26 months and covered the entire length of the continent between Egypt and South Africa, receiving significant publicity in the United States. A highlight of the expedition's findings were jaws and teeth of a hominid from the Swartkrans site in South Africa.

Phillips's next expedition was in 1951 to the Arabian peninsula to explore the ancient city of Timna, a center for the incense trade in the ancient world. At Timna, Phillips's team excavated through layers of strata, allowing them to develop a timeline of the city dating to the 8th century BCE. An excavation at the House Yafash uncovered twin bronze lions and an alabaster figurine referred to by the team as "Miriam". The excavation also uncovered many utilitarian objects from daily life and funerary objects from a cemetery at Timna. Excavations included the Marib Dam, which was the largest of ancient times, and the Awwam Temple, which was one of the most important temples of the Sabaean people. Phillip's work was eventually brought to a halt by hostility from local Bedouin tribes.  At one point Phillips was even taken prisoner.

During his time in the Middle East Phillips became acquainted with the Sultan of Oman, who granted him the mineral rights to a modest oil producing region of his country, two offshore oil concessions, copper mining rights, and offshore fishing rights, the foundation for Phillips Middle east American Oil Company in 1954. Phillips traded some of his original concessions for more profitable mineral rights in Venezuela, Indonesia, and Libya.  By 1975, Phillips was the largest individual holder of oil concessions in the world, with a net worth in 1975 United States dollars of $120 million.

Here's a video on YouTube about his exploits:


Phillips' estate eventually donated the artifacts he recovered from Timna and Ma'rib to the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery of Asian Art.  I thoroughly enjoyed "Unearthing Arabia,"a fascinating exhibit at the Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C. in 2015 although at the time they did not allow photography of the objects. I have included the museum's image of the famous bronze erotes riding striding lions, though.

Arabia Bronze head of a youth in the Classical style with corkscrew hairstyle popular in ancient Saba 2nd century CE Ghayman, Yemen photographed by Mary Harrsch at the British Museum

Arabia Female Sculpture from ancient south Arabia 900 BCE - 600 CE photographed by Mary Harrsch at the British Museum

Arabia Fragment of a pediment depicting a nude fertility goddess and mythological creature South Arabia (Marib) 2nd century CE alabaster photographed by Mary Harrsch at the Walters Art Museum

Arabia Funerary Head-Stela of a Bearded Man South Arabia 5th-2nd century BCE Calcite-alabaster photographed by Mary Harrsch at the Walters Art Museum


Arabia Head of a man Qataban (Arabia Felix) 3rd-1st century BCE Alabaster photographed by Mary Harrsch at the Seattle Art Museum

Arabia Stela with bust of a priestess South Arabia 1st century BCE - 1st century CE calcite alabaster photographed by Mary Harrsch at the Walters Art Museum

Bronze Man of the Kingdom of Saba' (800 BCE - 275 CE) at The Louvre courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor PHGCOM

Bronze erotes mounted on striding lions 1st century BCE - 1st century CE courtesy of the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Elaborately Painted Shroud of Neferhotep, Son of Herrotiou, 100-225 CE, Romano-Egyptian

  
Neferhotep’s shroud bears a Roman-style portrait. Neferhotep  avoided the cost of the typical wooden panel often used for Roman period mummy masks by instructing the artists to paint directly on the shroud. In addition, Neferhotep’s artists used less-expensive tempera rather than encaustic paint. When Neferhotep’s shroud was excavated by the French archaeologist Bernard Bruyère in 1948, parts of it were missing and were replaced by painted patches in a restoration done about 1970. The shroud entered the Brooklyn Museum’s collection in 1975.




Image: Elaborately Painted Shroud of Neferhotep, Son of Herrotiou, 100-225 CE, Romano-Egyptian at the Brooklyn Museum courtesy of the museum.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Cultural mingling in the Roman provinces of the 3rd century CE

This funerary stela shows a boy who died when he was three. His father, a Roman soldier, was stationed near Alexandria. His Egyptian mother is not mentioned. The child’s costume and pose are Roman, but his long sidelock of hair is traditionally Egyptian, as are the jackal god Anubis and the falcon god Horus above his head. The griffin in the lower right corner represents the classical goddess Nemesis, who controlled life and death and appears to show Greek influence. In his left hand is a bucket perhaps a type of situla used as a libation vessel.  With his right hand he grasps a circular object, perhaps an offering he is about to place on the small altar. He is probably intended to represent Horus.  The Latin inscription provides the boy's name and age at death.  Extensive but faint traces of bright red paint remain on the hatched background. It is thought this monument was recovered at Terenouthis, Egypt, located in the western Nile Delta, about 70 km northwest of Cairo.  Terenouthis flourished thanks to the trade of wine and salt. The northeastern sector of the site contains a very large necropolis dating to the Graeco-Roman and Coptic periods.



Image: Funerary Stela of C. Julius Valerius, Roman, 3rd century C.E. Limestone at the Brooklyn Museum, courtesy of the Museum (CC BY)

Monday, July 27, 2020

The emperor Hadrian and the Castel Sant'Angelo

The emperor Hadrian's tomb was erected on the right bank of the Tiber, between AD 134 and 139. Now known as the Castel Sant'Angelo, originally the mausoleum was a decorated cylinder, with a garden top and golden quadriga. Hadrian's ashes were placed here a year after his death in Baiae in 138, together with those of his wife Sabina, and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who died in 138. Following this, the remains of succeeding emperors were also placed here, the last recorded deposition being Caracalla in 217 CE. But much of the tomb  contents and decorations were lost when the building was converted to a military fortress in 401 CE then subsequently included in the Aurelian Walls by Flavius Honorius Augustus. The urns and ashes were scattered by Visigoth looters during Alaric's sack of Rome in 410, and the original decorative bronze and stone statuary were thrown down upon the attacking Goths when they besieged Rome in 537, as recounted by Procopius.  In the 14th century the popes converted the tomb into a castle and connected it to St. Peter's Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo. It was also used as a prison and executions were performed in the inner courtyard.

I first visited the castle in 2005 when  a friend and I walked there after spending the morning at St. Peter's and the Vatican Museums.  At that time, however, photography was disappointingly not allowed inside the structure.  But yesterday when I was researching the origins of a Roman relief I thought might be in the Castel Sant'Angelo, I was searching the images of the castle on Wikimedia Commons and discovered quite a number of excellent interior images, including this one of a fresco of Hadrian. Rome must have changed their policy on photography at this site!  I encourage you to browse the images of this impressive monument on Wikimedia Commons.  


They certainly refreshed my memory of my experience there!  You can find the fresco of Hadrian in the room known as the Sala Paolina.  This image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor, Vassil. 

Fresco of the Emperor Hadrian in the Sala Paolina of Castel Sant'Angelo courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons contributor, Vassil.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Fate of Crispus

Anytime I read about a Roman imperial execution and the rationale given is a sexual tryst I become suspicious because sexual indiscretions have historically been used to justify Roman assassinations since the beginning of Roman history.  So, after writing that post about Constantine's wife, Fausta, yesterday, I did a little more research on Constantine's son, Crispus.

Crispus was leader in victorious military operations against the Franks and the Alamanni in 318, 320 and 323. Thus he secured the continued Roman presence in the areas of Gaul and Germania. The soldiers adored him thanks to his strategic abilities and the victories to which he had led the Roman legions.

Crispus spent the following years assisting Constantine in the war against by then hostile Licinius. In 324, Constantine appointed Crispus as the commander of his fleet which left the port of Piraeus to confront Licinius' fleet. The subsequent Battle of the Hellespont was fought at the straits of Bosporus. The 200 ships under the command of Crispus managed to decisively defeat the enemy forces, which were at least double in number. Thus Crispus achieved his most important and difficult victory which further established his reputation as a brilliant general.

Following his navy activities, Crispus was assigned part of the legions loyal to his father. The other part was commanded by Constantine himself. Crispus led the legions assigned to him in another victorious battle outside Chrysopolis against the armies of Licinius.

The two victories were his contribution to the final triumph of his father over Licinius. Constantine was the only Augustus left in the Empire. He honored his son for his support and success by depicting his face in imperial coins, statues, mosaics, cameos, etc. Eusebius of Caesaria wrote for Crispus that he is "an Imperator most dear to God and in all regards comparable to his father."

"...Comparable to his father." There are the damning words (in my opinion).  After reading this summary of Crispus' career, I can't help but suspect that the son's military genius actually outshone Constantine and like other successful generals before him, including  Germanicus, Corbulo, and Agricola, and those who followed him, including Aetius and Belisarius, was perceived as a threat to Constantine's power.

I also suspect both Constantine's mother, Helena, and his wife, Fausta, fiercely defended young Crispus, infuriating Constantine, so the fiction of adultery was concocted to provide a socially acceptable pretext that unfortunately required the murder of Fausta as well. Some scholars think Fausta's execution was subsequently delayed because of a final pregnancy since the dates of birth of the last two daughters of Constantine are not known. 



Image: Tapestry showing Constantine's triumphal entry into Rome by Peter Paul Rubens Flemish 1623-1625 CE wool and silk that I photographed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Flavia Maxima Fausta: Victim of Constantine's Wrath

Flavia Maxima Fausta was Constantine's second wife, the daughter of the Emperor Maximian. She became empress in 307 CE when Constantine set aside his wife Minervina and married Fausta to seal the alliance set forth in Diocletian's tetrarchy.  In 310 CE when her father became involved in an assassination plot against Constantine, Fausta revealed the plot to Constantine, resulting in the death of her own father.  For her loyalty, Constantine eventually proclaimed her augusta in 324 CE, a promotion from her previous title of nobilissima femina. Fausta bore Constantine three sons, Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans, who all eventually became emperors, and three daughters, including Helena who married the Emperor Julian.  But none of this saved her from Constantine's wrath when he suspected Fausta of having improper relations with his son (by his first wife), Crispus. Zosimus reports Constantine killed Crispus then, to assuage the anger of his mother (the young man's grandmother), boiled Fausta alive in the baths.

This head likely represents the Empress Fausta, wife of the Emperor Constantine. There has been some debate as to whether Helena, Constantine’s mother, is depicted. However, the square jaw, full cheeks, and small mouth conform to numismatic portraits of Fausta. Typical of members of Constantine’s family, this head has heavy-lidded eyes and incised eyebrows. The incised pupils and upward gaze are characteristic features of late antique portraits. The face is smooth and blemish-free with full cheeks and softly modeled flesh. Her hair is in a style known as the Scheitelzopf, in which the hair is drawn back and folded over the top of the head to form a broad roll. At the point where the hair folds upwards at the back of the neck, her hair is interwoven with false locks in a net rendered through cross-hatching. The semicircular locks of hair framing her face are punctuated by drill points. - Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Portrait head of Fausta at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 300-325 CE


.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Achilles and Briseis a popular motif in late Roman and early Byzantine art

This ivory/bone relief is part of a larger plaque that illustrated a scene from the life cycle of the Greek hero Achilles from the Iliad. What remains is a composition of 4 figures, two females (one holding her left hand to her face in a gesture of concern, the other kneeling at her feet offering a stringed instrument—the lyre of Achilles) and two males (one older with balding head and beard, the other younger who is seen from behind) from the left side of the fuller scene, now lost. The use of the architectural setting (a colonnade with fluted columns) and the figure of the draped and worried woman suggests that this a scene from the life cycle of Achilles.The closest composition is found on a large silver luxury plate found in France (now in the Cabinet des Médailles, Paris) seems to be a combination of the leading away of Briseis, the embassy of Phoenix, and the death of Patroclus.

The plaque was probably part of a larger group of decorated bone panels that were attached to a wooden chest or box, a luxury item favored in the late Roman and early Byzantine periods. It is unusual in that it represents a narrative scene as most of the surviving plaques are more ornamental. A number of grand silver display plates survive from this period with scenes from the life of Achilles which attest to the popularity of these myths for all range of luxury objects. - Museum of Fine Arts Boston


Ivory or bone plaque with partial scene of Briseis and Achilles, Late Roman or early Byzantine Period, 4th-5th century CE courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

So-called Bouclier de Scipion (“Scipion's shield”) or Plat d'Achille (“Achilles' plate”) Patroclus leads Briseis outside the tent where Achilles is stting, Silver missorium (one of the biggest known), end 4th or beginning of 5th century CE, originally found in the Rhône near Avignon in 1656 and offered to king Louis XIV in 1697, now at the Cabinet des  Médailles in Paris.  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marsyas 


Thursday, July 23, 2020

Penn Museum to reopen July 28, 2020!

Today's featured "Antiquities Alive" exhibit:  The Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) will reopen to the public on July 28, 2020!  Here's a selection of images I have taken of their marvelous collections!

Dionysos with lion garden statuary from Latium region of Italy Roman marble

Etruscan Sarcophagus 3rd century BCE

Mosaic thought to depict Theseus sailing away from the Cretan labyrinth, Utica, Tunisia, First half of the 3rd century CE

Roman Theater Mask of a River God from a bath complex in Teano (southern Italy) Flavian Period limestone

Recarved image of Ramesses II excavated at Harsaphes, Heracleopolis, Egypt 1897-1843 BCE

Gilded Cartonnage Funerary Mask Ptolemaic or Roman Period ancient Egypt

Plaster funerary portrait bust of a man from El Kharga (upper) Egypt Roman Period 2nd century CE

Painted Pottery Horses Tang Dynasty China 7th to 10th century BCE

Guanyin Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 CE or Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 CE) China Wood overlaid with Gesso

Bull-headed lyre recovered from the royal cemetery of Ur Iraq 2550-2450 BCE Gold Lapis Lazuli

Famous "ram in the thicket" sculpture recovered from the royal cemetery of Ur, Iraq 2550-2450 BCE

Male human statue from Khafaje, Iraq 2600-2350 BCE Alabaster

Electrotype copy of a Gold Harp Ornament depicting a bearded bull from the royal cemetery of Ur 2550-2450 BCE

Electrotype reproduction of a helmet recovered from the royal cemetery of Ur, Iraq 2550-2450 BCE

Famous "ram in the thicket" sculpture recovered from the royal cemetery of Ur, Iraq 2550-2450 BCE


Terracotta sarcophagus from Beth Shean, northern cemetery, tomb 202 A Iron IA, 1200-1150 BCE

Portrait of a Roman matron Sardinia italy 10-20 CE Marble

Statuette of Selinus sitting astride a full wineskin

Lamp stand with pot-bellied satyr

Egun Mask of the Yoruba Culture Nigeria

Female Figurine with painted or tattooed body design Ceramic 1 - 500 CE Colima, Mexico

Seated Male Figurine Classic Veracruz 500-700 CE Veracruz, Mexico

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Exploring historical research with modern translation tools

by Mary Harrsch © 2020

As an education technologist I used computer-assisted translation for a couple of decades with mixed success whenever I was faced with research reports I needed to analyze in a language other than English.  Gradually, over the last ten years, however, I found the new tools introduced by Google and the German company, DeepL GmbH based in Cologne to be increasingly more accurate.  This advancement was particularly of interest to me when I decided to focus on Roman archaeology and the early 18th-19th century excavations in Pompeii in my "second act" after retiring from the university. 

First, a short history of machine translation

Machine translation dates as far back as the 9th century CE to an Arabic cryptographer named Al-Kindi who developed techniques for systemic language translation, including cryptanalysis, frequency analysis, and probability and statistics, which are used in modern machine translation.  Other ideas for machine translation were proposed during the Renaissance by such thinkers as René Descartes, who, in 1629,  proposed a universal language, with equivalent ideas in different tongues sharing one symbol.  
The first patents for translating machines using an automatic bilingual dictionary and paper tape was applied for by Georges Artsrouni in the mid-1930s.  But progress was limited until the late 1950s when some of the first computers were developed.  In the meantime, successes in code breaking during World War II and theories about  the universal principles underlying natural language, coupled with computer development, prompted new proposals based on evolving information theory. 

A replica of Alan Turing's "bombe" machine used to crack the
code used on German Enigma encoding devices 
during
World War II.  Image courtesy of 
Wikimedia Commons.
Despite modest successes, though, the problem of semantic ambiguity of words or phrases with more than one meaning plagued the development of high quality machine translation.  Then the ALPAC report was published by the U.S. commissioned Automatic Language Processing Advisory Committee in 1966 stating that machine translation was more expensive, less accurate and slower than human translation, and that despite research expenditures, machine translation was not likely to reach the quality of a human translator in the near future.  The report decimated funding and machine translation was virtually abandoned in the U.S. and to a lesser extent in the Soviet Union and the U.K. for more than ten years. In Canada, France and Germany, however, research continued while in the U.S. two companies were eventually founded to provide automated translation services for the Department of Defense.  

As computers became more powerful, however, machine translation capabilities increased dramatically.  Models based on statistical and example-based machine translation were adapted for online use to facilitate global communication and provide the capability for rapid translation of even technical documents and texts using such free tools as Google Translate and DeepL, the German product from the firm in Cologne.

The Hauser in Pompeij Project


During this time I became increasingly interested in learning more about the archaeological remains of a 1st century Roman structure, dubbed the House of the Prince of Naples, in Pompeii. But, I quickly discovered that a comprehensive analysis of the remains published in 1984 was available only in German.  I also searched in vain for a digitized version and found the German hardcopy text, "Hauser in Pompeji (Volume 1): Casa del Principe di Napoli" published by the German Archaeological Institute was now out-of-print and used copies were difficult to locate. I finally found a copy up at the University of Washington and requested it through interlibrary loan.  I decided I would attempt to scan the hard copy and use the latest, much improved, online translation tools to produce an English version of the book.
Atrium of the House of the Prince of Naples in Pompeii
courtesy of Carole Raddato

When I was notified the volume had arrived and went to the university library to retrieve it, I was aghast at its size!  Although it is only 52 pages, the Germans apparently wanted to preserve the precise physical scale of the drawings in the book, so it was produced at a size of 19.6 x 13.6 x 1.2 inches. This made it very unwieldy to handle and  too large to scan with my personal oversize scanner or even the ones available at the university.  Not to be deterred, however, I tried reversing the head of my digital camera tripod so I could use it as a copy stand and photograph each page. 

Camera tripod with head reversed to create
a copy stand for a large book

I knew I could then OCR the resulting images and extract the text. My resulting tests with this approach were successful. To speed up the process, I centered the first right hand page as precisely as I could under the camera then photographed all the right hand pages without having to readjust the book's position between pages.  Then I centered the first left hand page under the camera and photographed all the left hand pages.  
I initially tried to use a sheet of glass to flatten the page and hold it in place but the overhead lights created too much glare on the glass so instead I pulled the page tawt with one hand and used my other hand to trigger remotely the shutter of my Olympus camera using its Blue Tooth connection to my iPhone.  

After I photographed all of the pages, I opened the JPEG for each page in Adobe Photoshop.  To produce as much contrast between text and background as possible (the book was printed on cream-colored paper), I converted the image to black and white with Topaz Labs' BW Effects plug-in Filter and adjusted the histogram for optimum black and white values using Photoshop's built-in Adobe Camera Raw filter.  I also straightened the image if necessary, then saved it first as a .JPG for a text reference when checking OCR accuracy, then exported the images as an Adobe PDF. I then opened the PDF in Microsoft Word 2016 (the latest version I have) and allowed it to use its built-in OCR feature to extract the text and create a Word (DOCX) file.  After proofreading several pages I noticed that the OCR was very accurate except for the footnotes because of their small font size (especially the letters o,e, i,j, and rn in place of m). So I decided to forgo proofing each page word for word except the footnotes to reduce my eye strain. I thought I would discover any OCR mistakes in the body of the text anyway when I translated a page and the translator could not make out a word, and that proved to be the case.

Translation finally begins


Now with the extracted text I was finally able to begin my translation. I started out using Google Translate then I compared its results with those of the free German translator, DeepL since I was translating mostly German except for the artifact find summaries that were left in their original 19th century Italian. As I worked, I noticed DeepL seemed to have a slight edge over Google Translate with the German text (understandable) although they were pretty comparable when translating Italian.  But, DeepL offers a Windows 10 add-in tool that can be activated by highlighting the passage you wish to translate then pressing Cntrl-C twice.  This helped to speed things up. The other really nice thing about DeepL is the ability to click on a word that seems weird to you in the English pane and a list pops up of other words it could mean in a particular context.  I was able to make some sentences sound more natural using this feature.  So I began using DeepL as my default translator and used Google Translate to verify particularly awkward passages.  Of course each time I reached a finds summary in Italian instead of German I had to translate that portion separately  because neither of the  translators could switch from one language to another within the same selection.

When translating the Italian find summaries from the late 19th century, however, I also encountered words that were either unique to Italian archaeologists or were no longer in use in modern Italian.  Fortunately, one of my Facebook friends majored in Italian at university and he was quite helpful in teasing out the meanings of some of the terms used.  He told me that part of the problem was that the Italian used in the excavation report appeared to be a regional dialect, and not the modern Tuscan version presently taught in universities.  Furthermore, the Italian archaeologists used special words, such as procoe, lagena, oleare, odorino, cocciopesto, punteggiato regolare,  that had no modern definition in current bilingual dictionaries.  

Architectural terms were also used by the German archaeologists that I had not encountered before either, such as lesbian cyma, dentil cornice (that kept being translated as "tooth-cut" cornice) and socle (that kept being translated as "base" which is descriptive of the architectural feature but not the proper term.)  So, as I worked I began compiling a glossary of these terms and researched their definitions which I later added as an addedum to my English version since the original text did not include a glossary.

The original text also included examples of both Latin and Greek "tituli picti", inscriptions on ancient amphora and other artifacts, using ancient letters not in my font collection.  For these references, I ended up just photographing them separately and embedding them in the text as images rather than text.
Example of "tituli picti" on an amphora in
The House of the Prince of Naples 

Footnote numbers also interfered with the translation.  At first I removed them but I wouldn't do that again since the placement of adjectives and adverbs is different in German (and Italian) than in English so replacing the footnotes afterwards was difficult because I couldn't just count sentences. 

Translators also don't always reword something in the proper English order either and I would have to read through the snippet I was translating and reword phrases with adverbs and adjectives to place them in the proper order to make the sentence read naturally from an English language perspective. 
To get around the problem with the superscripted footnote numbers that the translators could not understand, I added a space before the footnote number in the German pane of the translator so the translator would not become confused when translating the preceding word and would pass the number intact through to the English pane.  This gave me the indicator I needed to insert a footnote with Word after the translation was completed.

Capitalization was also an issue since the Germans capitalize all nouns not just proper nouns and many of these were passed through the translator.  I ended up using Word's search and replace feature after I completed the translation to correct a number of incorrect capitalizations.

The original text was lavishly illustrated and I wanted the English version illustrated as well.    So, I photographed each image separately without it's related caption then translated the German caption and inserted the caption in English with Word.  Some of the images were  graphics with German labels that required me to "paint out" the German references in Photoshop and replace them with English using the Text tool.  

Construction Period floor plan with German and English legends


I decided not to place all the images at the end of the text like Professor Strocka did. Instead I context mapped each image to the appropriate place in the narrative then allowed Word to assign a figure number and simply referred to the original plate number in the image caption.  I also added some Creative Content-licensed images that were not available at the time the book was originally published to illustrate some of the finds and painting comparisons made with other artwork elsewhere in Pompeii. 
 
I also did not translate or include the original index because a digital version can be searched at any point in the text.  I also did not bother to include the table of grayscale to color matrix for the grisailles produced for the interior paintings. Whenever you photograph a black and white image with a digital camera, the camera is calibrated to produce the image with an algorithm to create neutral gray for the midpoint of the visual scale.  Therefore, the precise gray scale values of my digital images would have been altered and no longer match the matrix included in the original text. 

Professor Strocka spent a great deal of effort describing the painted decorations in each room but I found his verbal descriptions rather difficult to follow. Although I did translate these descriptions and include them in the English version, I think a detailed map of images accompanied by a discussion of possible motivations for mythological content or style classification would be more easily understood.  In the book's comparisons of the decor of the house with other documented iconography elsewhere in Pompeii, I think visual comparisons of actual images would have been more effective as well. That is why I hunted for at least some of those that still exist to augment that section of the text.

Frescoes of Perseus and Andromeda (L to R) from the House of the Prince of Naples, House of the Colored Capitals and the House of Saffo

With this much effort, did I actually learn anything particularly significant? Definitely!  When I translated the artifact find summaries, I discovered three surgical instruments and a mortar and pestle were found in the original excavations. I also learned of the intriguing find of human skeletal remains in the cubiculum (bedroom) flanking the main entrance designated as entrance 8.  Further research revealed the existence of a list of houses in Pompeii where surgical instruments were found and, researchers suspect, may have been homes of physicians.  The House of the Prince of Naples was not on the list and appears to have been overlooked. 

Professor Strocka's team clearly focused on the construction aspects of the house and on full documentation of any surviving decorations.  Household inventory, however, was not evaluated, but simply included from original late 19th century excavation records.  I discovered through additional research that small finds, especially those of a non-luxury nature, were viewed with little interest by archaeologists during the late 1800s.  Furthermore, the House of the Prince of Naples was far from an undisturbed site. Three so-called "robber" holes were found in the cubiciulum containing the skeleton when it was eventually excavated in 1896-1898.  Artifacts could have been carried away by salvaging owners shortly after the eruption, or looters, either in antiquity or in modern times, who could have pilfered more valuable objects. The other potential "contamination" of the finds was the staged "excavation" by the Prince and Princess of Naples in 1898. We are led to believe the original excavators merely suspected the presence of finds in certain rooms of the structure and left them in situ for discovery by the royals.  But we must recognize the obvious connections between wealthy patrons and the archaeologists who desired to continue site exploration. If the finds were, in fact, "planted" for the royals to find, it is of no consequence if they were originally found in the structure by the original excavation team, although it would reduce the value any analysis of find assemblages and room function.  If, however, the finds were supplemented from the substantial inventory of finds recovered previously from other structures in Pompeii and had no connection with this structure, future comparisons of this structure with others possibly occupied by residents engaged in a similar occupation or in a similar social position would be tainted. 

At least apparently overlooked information was obtained from the project that could seed further research.  The results of this project can be reviewed here in .pdf form:


The Challenge Continues


Recently, I have begun another project, an article about the excavation of the House of Sallust (originally the House of Acteon) conducted between 1805 and 1809.  The excavation report was published in Italian as Pompeianarum Antiquitatum Historia. Leaping back in time another 80 years from the excavation reports of my first translation, though, I have found this excavation journal has proved even more challenging.  Some of the words used in it are unknown by modern translators.  On top of this, of course, are the special names given to the objects recovered by the early archaeologists that have no modern equivalent.  I also discovered spelling differences that cause translation problems, too.  Some words in the early 1800s are spelled with a "j" instead of an "i"  such as operaj which is now operai (workers) or caldaja which is now spelled caldaia (boiler).  Fortunately, when the translation fails, I can usually isolate the word that is problematic and "sometimes" the Italian-English dictionary will find a word that is the closest match and I can tease out the meaning from it.

At least with this project, I did not have to photograph and OCR anything.  I found a copy up on Google Play and can highlight a section of the text and select COPY from the popup menu then paste it into DeepL or Google translate.  The only problem this causes is that hyphenated words at the end of a sentence are output with only a space instead of a dash so when I paste the section into DeepL I then have to go back and check for line breaks in the original text, find them in the DeepL copy and remove the space so the translator identifies the complete word.  Using Google Play you also have the ability to select TRANSLATE from the popup menu but the result is less than optimal.  It will give you sort of the gist of what is being said but is not as accurate as I need, especially for the list of small finds that often includes specialized words.

The antiquated font used in the original text also causes problems with translation, especially the number 1 (the translators think its a 4) and fractions which I have to manually correct. 
In the early 19th century, Italy had not yet converted to the metric system either so measurements are given with the abbreviations: on. (oncia which equals .73 in.), pal. (palmo, which I assume is the palmo of Naples at 10.381 in. and not the palmo of the Papal States at the time which ranges from 8.79 to 8.347) and occasionally min. (minuti = .146 in. since 5 min. = 1 on.)  

As I am primarily focused on the years 1804-1809, I will translate that portion of the text and make it available when I am finished.

Tools needed for a translation project using an original hardcopy:

Adobe Photoshop or image editor with the ability to Export as .PDF

Microsoft Word 2016 or newer (built-in OCR and PDF export capability)

DeepL Translator (free) & DeepL Windows 10 add-in translator (free)

Google Translate (free)

Pre-metric list of Italian units of measurement:

German to English online dictionary (free)

Italian to English online dictionary (free)

Latin to English online dictionary (free)

and some great bi-lingual friends on Facebook!


Machine Translation History References:


DuPont, Quinn (January 2018). "The Cryptological Origins of Machine Translation: From al-Kindi to Weaver". Amodern (8).

Knowlson, James (1975). UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE SCHEMES IN ENGLAND AND FRANCE 1600-1800 ISBN 978-4-87502-214-5

White, John S. (31 July 2003). Envisioning Machine Translation in the Information Future: 4th Conference of the Association for Machine Translation in the Americas, AMTA 2000, Cuernavaca, Mexico, October 10-14, 2000 Proceedings. Springer. ISBN 9783540399650.

"Google Switches to Its Own Translation System". 22 October 2007. Retrieved 12 February 2018.

Lyrists and Citharists

The earliest reference to the word lyre is in Mycenaean Greek ru-ra-ta-e, meaning "lyrists" and written in the Linear B script.  In classical Greek, the word "lyre" could either refer specifically to an amateur instrument, which is a smaller version of the professional cithara and eastern-Aegean barbiton, or "lyre" can refer generally to all three instruments as a family of stringed instruments. A classical lyre has a hollow body or sound-chest which, in ancient Greek tradition, was made out of turtle shell. Extending from this sound-chest are two raised arms, which are sometimes hollow, and are curved both outward and forward. They are connected near the top by a crossbar or yoke. An additional crossbar, fixed to the sound-chest, makes the bridge, which transmits the vibrations of the strings. The deepest note was that farthest from the player's body; since the strings did not differ much in length, more weight may have been gained for the deeper notes by thicker strings, as in the violin and similar modern instruments, or they were tuned by having a slacker tension.  The number of strings on the classical lyre varied at different epochs and possibly in different localities—four, seven, and ten having been favorite numbers.  Plutarch says that Olympus and Terpander used but three strings to accompany their recitation.

According to ancient Greek mythology, the young god Hermes stole a herd of sacred cows from Apollo. In order not to be followed, he made shoes for the cows which forced them to walk backwards. Apollo, following the trails, could not follow where the cows were going. Along the way, Hermes slaughtered one of the cows and offered all but the entrails to the gods. From the entrails and a tortoise/turtle shell, he created the Lyre. Apollo, figuring out it was Hermes who had his cows, confronted the young god. Apollo was furious, but after hearing the sound of the lyre, his anger faded. Apollo offered to trade the herd of cattle for the lyre. Hence, the creation of the lyre is attributed to Hermes.

Apollo Kaitharoidos from the Hadrianic Period (2nd century CE) Roman copy of Hellenistic original Marble photographed by Mary Harrsch at the Palazzo Altemps in Rome

Apollo Kaitharoidos from the late 1st century CE Roman copy of Hellenistic original photographed by Mary Harrsch at the Palazzo Altemps in Rome

Roman fresco of erotes playing with a cithara, a professional version of the lyre, from Herculaneum, possibly the basilica 1st century CE from MANN (Naples) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Fresco of actors with masks and a lyre from Pompeii 1st century CE MANN (Naples) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Lyre player. Marble, Roman copy from the 2nd century CE after a Greek bronze original of the 5th century BCE at The Louvre courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Salli

The Mycenaean sarcophagus of Hagia Triada, 14th century BC, depicting the earliest lyre with seven strings, held by a man with long robe, third from the left courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor J. Ollé