March 24, 2004

19th Century Photography of Ancient Greece. '19th-century Photography of Ancient Greece illustrates approximately 200 nineteenth- and early twentieth-century photographs of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. Focusing on Greece, Asia Minor, the Aegean islands, Cyprus, South Italy, and Sicily, these images belong to the Getty Research Institute's Gary Edwards Collection. '
  • Great link, plep. And thank you for linking to From Ritual to Romance on your blog. It's a fantastic work which I haven't looked at it in many years.
  • I keep wondering what they must have looked like before they were ruins - and also to remind myself that Ancient Greek art was never conciously broken, and often painted in bright colours, including skintones, rather than what we are familiar with today.
  • Could only look at a few sites before a feeling of desolation swept over me -- Corinth, in particular had a Martian atmosphere. Great link, thanks, plep.
  • What gets me is that all those European photographers were interested exclusively in Ancient Greece (the Glory that Was); the modern Greeks, and their messy modern villages, oxcarts, and degenerated language, just got in the way. I really think a lot of Brits and Germans would have been much happier if all the actual Greeks had been deported and they could have achieved oneness with their beloved ruins without distraction. (I've had my say about this here, for those who are interested.)
  • But, languagehat, if you get lost on the slopes below the Acropolis, you can still find the messy, narrow paths bounded by white-washed walls set about 3 feet apart, leading to houses that must look as they did 500 years ago. It isn't all gone. On the other hand, are we not supposed to find out what important sites looked like when they were young? Is going back to roots not informative? I can understand the Greek disinterest in maintaining the mosque since they fought the Turkish conquest so hard and so long. And, I can understand why they would want to hark back to the glory that was ancient Greece (apart from the tourism value), even though they aren't from the same lineage to a large degree. And, do you think you've become a bit of a prescriptionist in this controversy? But the statement that none of the original bricks of the Parthenon remain was a shock to me. I trust you implicity, so I'm sure that's true. I can deal with it, though, since I have secret (till now) admiration for the "restoration" at Knossos.
  • are we not supposed to find out what important sites looked like when they were young? So why not tear out all modern structures in Rome, Paris, Naples, &c &c; bring all sites that were important in antiquity back to what they were like when they were young? Except that we can't, of course; we can only unearth skeletons and try to imagine the flesh. Well, we can do that perfectly well even with modern flesh on top of them. To privilege the Ancient World over everything that's happened since is to deny time, to deny life. And it's not just a matter of historical philosophy; to my mind there's a direct connection between the Greek denial and eradication of the Ottoman past of their country and their deep hatred of Turks and Turkey. To accept history is to accept your neighbor; to obsess about an ancient past (*cough* Israel *cough*) is to choose endless war. they fought the Turkish conquest so hard and so long Well, no, not really. For centuries they accepted Ottoman rule pretty much like every other conquered people. It was a combination of factors in the late 18th-early 19th centuries that led to the growth of nationalism (a new concept), and it was only accidental factors like the fact that the Ottoman army was off fighting Ali Pasha (who ruled most of what's now Greece and Albania) that allowed the badly organized rebellion to get going. (And of course it was eventually crushed anyway; it was only the involvement of the British, French, and Russians that won them their independence at Navarino.)
  • What the... How did my response wind up above the comment it's in response to??
  • You're really fast!
  • 'So why not tear out all modern structures in Rome, Paris, Naples, &c &c; bring all sites that were important in antiquity back to what they were like when they were young?' I have to think that that would depend on the will of the residents. You've made it clear that the Greek restoration was dependent on the Europeans who came in to study the early culture, but the modern Greeks that I've talked to seem happy with the continuing excavations, in spite of the problems that causes for day-to-day life. It's been a few years since I've been to Greece, so maybe they're protesting in the streets now about digging up the old stuff while destroying the more recent, but the media must not be covering it. If they're willing to trash some of the more modern stuff to get back to some ideal, why would we complain? And they certainly do keep buildings important to them in place. There are Orthodox churches built on ancient sites that will never be destroyed, even if I'd like to see what's underneath them. But my opinion doesn't matter in that case. I'm amazed that you're taking the stance that the current Greeks must decide that they shouldn't recognize their past in the way they want. Yes, they did adopt Turkish coffee, but "nationalism" or not, they did get rid of the Turks and others to try to keep their national identity. And if that identity includes replacing newer buildings with excavation sites, how does that hurt us? I'm sure that they're aware of the other influences on their culture, but maybe they're looking for something that they can define as just Greek? (My theories on the Turkish problem are influenced by my time on Crete, which may not be representitive of the whole of Greece, so give me the skinny if I'm wrong.)
  • You're mixing up completely different things. Of course modern Greeks like Greece the way it is! I'm not talking about anything done today; Greeks have the right to do whatever they want with their country. I'm talking about the wholesale antiquification that was imposed on the country beginning with the advent of the Bavarians (do you think the average Greek wanted to be ruled by a bunch of Germans?) and continuing for decades, and having nothing to do with the wishes of the locals. Do you think people living in a house their parents and grandparents had grown up in, on a street that had been there as long as anyone could remember, wanted to have it all torn up and themselves forcibly relocated to some hellhole far from any source of decent water, just so that a bunch of archeologists could dig around in the ruins? Do you think the residents of hundreds of towns and villages wanted to have the place names they had used all their lives and were familiar with changed by government fiat to some name they'd never heard of because it was mentioned in Thucydides or Pausanias? Sure, their descendents have no problem with it, but it's not them I'm thinking of (except that, as I say, I suspect a lot of their national neuroses go back to that forced deracination). And it's not just the foreign stuff that got tossed, it's the Byzantine stuff as well. Remember, the Acropolis was one of the greatest cathedrals in Byzantium, and if the long-desired revival of the empire had occurred (with Constantine riding out of the east on a white horse and a chorus of angels over his head), the first thing that would have happened is the rededication of the mosque-Parthenon to the Virgin and the celebration of a Te Deum, and if anyone had suggested tearing off all the Christian stuff so pot-sniffers could contemplate bare white marble, they'd have been tossed off the edge of the Acropolis. It is important to remember that the average Greek of the early 19th century didn't give a crap about the ancient world and didn't think of himself as a "Hellene" -- he called himself Romios ('Roman') and wanted the restoration of the Roman Empire (what we call 'Byzantine'). They didn't want ancient Athens back, they wanted Constantinople as their capital. It was a squad of supercilious foreigners imposed on them by other supercilious foreigners who convinced them they were "really" Hellenes, the heirs of bla bla bla, and should worship the sanitized glories of the past and gloss over the unpleasant realities of the present. And eventually they bought it. Propaganda, sadly, works.
  • pot-sniffers hee!
  • the Acropolis was one of the greatest cathedrals in Byzantium The Parthenon, that is. Dammit. All these Greek names sound alike.