Reviewing the new corpus of inscribed stirrup jars

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ISJ from Thebes. Image via Mnamon.

I’ve just had a review published by the Bryn Mawr Classical Review of Louis Godart and Anna Sacconi’s Supplemento al corpus di iscrizioni vascolari in lineare B (Supplement to the Corpus of Linear B Inscribed Stirrup Jars) – a collection of drawings, photographs, and transcriptions of all the Linear B inscriptions painted onto so-called stirrup jars (after the shape of the handles) since Anna Sacconi first published her corpus of these inscriptions in 1974.

An epigraphic corpus isn’t, I admit, the most thrilling thing to read cover-to-cover, but it’s vitally important for researchers to be able to access details of these inscriptions without having to trawl through several decades’ worth of archaeological publications, often in fairly obscure places, to track them all down. The ISJs themselves are also a particularly interesting, important, and problematic set of Linear B inscriptions since they’re the only large group of texts written in this script that aren’t written on clay tablets within a palace or other administrative centre – they’re produced all over Crete, probably written by the same people who made and/or painted the pots, and found in various places on Crete and the Greek mainland – not just in palaces, but also in places with no other known use of the Linear B script, and even in tombs. They’re the subject of all sorts of ongoing debates, from what the inscriptions were for (some say they’re marking the jars, and the oil or wine they contained, as gifts being sent from one palace to another; others, myself included, say they were used to keep track of production as part of the same administrative system as the Linear B tablets), to what they mean for levels of literacy in Linear B (to what extent could the people painting these inscriptions read/understand the signs they were painting?) For more information, you can read the review here, and also check out the article I wrote a few years ago about the ISJs, which is freely available here.

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Book review: Making Monsters

Making monsters“We have always made monsters: in art, in myth, in religion; out of clay or bronze, pixels or hybrid flesh; from the stuff of human nightmares; by cursing women with bestial traits. This anthology brings together fiction and accessible academic writing in conversation about monsters and their roles in our lives—and ours in theirs.”

So says the blurb from the back cover of Making Monsters. A collaboration between Emma Bridges (Public Engagement Fellow at the Institute of Classical Studies) and Djibril al-Ayad (a speculative-fiction editor and publisher), it’s an anthology collecting a mixture of short stories, poems, and essays about (mostly) classical Greek and Roman monsters and our responses to them. Medusa, as shown on the wonderful cover illustration, and Sirens seem to be the most popular of the monsters – and are used by many of the entries to explore the ways in which women in particular are viewed as monsters – but the Furies, Circe the sorceress, and Talos the bronze giant all make appearances too, and there are even some monsters from further afield like the Japanese tengu. It’s a wonderfully varied collection – some of my favourites are Megan Arkenberg‘s re-imagining of Danae as an inventor of living mechanical creations that I would have loved to have seen animated by Ray Harryhausen; L. Chan‘s “Field Reports from the Department of Monster Resettlement”, in which a harassed Singaporean civil servant attempts to get a group of monsters to agree to relocate from the locations they haunt; and Margaret McLeod‘s poem “Helen of War”, putting a different spin on the mythological tradition that says that Helen of Troy never went to Troy at all. There’s definitely something for everyone in this anthology, and I’d highly recommend getting hold of a copy to anyone who likes mythology and/or speculative fiction!

Book review: Colm Tóibín, House of Names

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I’m always interested to see how contemporary writers retell stories from the ancient world. When it’s done well, it can lead to a fascinating interplay between the ancient and modern versions of the stories – for instance, see my previous review of a wonderful collection of short stories based (loosely) around the Odyssey. I had pretty high hopes when House of Names, by the Irish novelist Colm Tóibín, was published in 2017. The book is based on the myths of the House of Atreus, as told in various Greek tragedies such as Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy: Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia on his departure to the Trojan War; his murder, and that of the Trojan princess Cassandra, by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus on his return; her subsequent murder by her son Orestes, encouraged by his sister Electra). Plenty of scope for a novelist of Tóibín’s talents (his novel on Irish migration to America, Brooklyn, won the Costa Book award and became a bestseller, and I can definitely recommend it) – and also, I have to say, an excellent cover, with the swallows from the Spring Fresco of Akrotiri.

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Book review, Variation within and among writing systems

I’m away at the moment to attend a conference (more on that soon…) so this is just a quick post to say that a book review of mine has just appeared on the Bryn Mawr Classical Review. It’s of a volume entitled “Variation within and among Writing Systems: Concepts and Methods in the Analysis of Ancient Written Documents”, edited by Paola Cotticelli-Kurras and Alfredo Rizza – check it out here!

More classical board games: Cyclades

2017-02-12-17-19-45Not a game that I’ve made this time, but one I bought some time ago: when I found out there was a board game called ‘Cyclades‘ about a bunch of Greek cities fighting for control of the Cycladic islands with the help of various gods and mythical creatures, I pretty much had to get a copy and give it a go. I finally just got around to trying it out with my usual crew of fellow-Classicist-board-game-fans and can report it was a great success (and not just because I won. OK, a little bit because I won.)

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Greek plays online

Last term I wrote a review of the fantastic Cambridge Greek play, a tragedy/comedy double bill of Antigone and Lysistrata: now the production team have made some video highlights of both plays available online. Have a look at the video below!

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The Cambridge Greek Play 2016: Antigone and Lysistrata

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Image from http://www.cambridgegreekplay.com

There’s a tradition in Cambridge of putting on a production of an Ancient Greek play every three years – entirely in Ancient Greek (with English surtitles!). Expectations were running high this year when, after a phenomenal tragedy-comedy double bill three years ago (Prometheus Bound and The Frogs), the same production team returned for another double bill: Antigone and Lysistrata – a tragedy about a woman who defies the laws of her city (and her uncle Kreon, the king) to bury her dead brother, and a comedy about a woman who organises a sex-strike to put an end to wars between the Greek city-states. When I say expectations were running high, I mean that at the time of writing tickets were entirely sold out, though there may be returns for the last couple of shows on October 14th and 15th (check the theatre site) – but I also mean that I personally was looking forward to another incredible performance – the ‘Prometheus’ last time round in particular was hands down the best production of any ancient Greek play I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen quite a few. I’ve just got back after the show, and I can safely say I wasn’t disappointed – in fact I think this production may have been even better than the last one. Continue reading “The Cambridge Greek Play 2016: Antigone and Lysistrata”