Friday, October 17, 2008

Archaeological riches of Ephesus (Turkey)

Jonathan Jarrett's blog A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe has a fascinating piece inspired by a seminar talk by Professor Charlotte Roueché on the challenges of archaeology at Ephesus (mainly, a common one: everyone wants to concentrate on their favorite period) and the particular insights that can be gained at this amazing locale:

[T]he extent of stone-carving in these cities, which is huge—Professor Roueché had a picture of a fair-sized wall at Aphrodisias covered in imperial edicts, including Diocletian’s price edict which you may have heard of and which we only have from stone—was apparently dwarfed by the number of more temporary painted inscriptions. Such an amazingly lettered culture is implied by this that it does seem quite alien to Westerners, who too often acquire an idea that writing is the preserve of the Latin Church. At Ephesus, the theatre seats are covered in carved graffiti; as Professor Roueché said you begin to think that everyone was carrying a chisel and hammer in their back pocket in case they passed a blank surface…

Lots more good stuff there!

Also, Jarrett has, for you philosophical scholars and would-be scholars, a meditation
on owning books.

2 comments:

  1. It's true that we in the West often forget that many countries now considered "developing" with a high illiteracy rate were formerly places of great literacy and culture. My husband and I were recently watching a documentary on the Alhambra and how its interior was changed following the Christian conquest. I made the observation to him that I found it indicative of a high level of literacy in the moorish and islamic cultures that their places of worship and palaces were decorated not with images but highly lyrical sacred and secular passages. To me, this seemed to indicate that even if a majority of the population was not literate, literacy was at least something strongly value and encouraged by the society. I then contrasted this to the well-known use of icons and visual imagery within churches to tell stories and parables from history and the Bible for a largely illiterate population. My husband, a Moroccan who often is pulled into conversations on such things, had a little light bulb go off over his head and said "ooh, now I'm going to use that at parties!"
    Never the less, the comments about the degree to which Ephesus is covered in writing is an interesting point. Perhaps the Ephesian citizens' modern-day descendants are all pathological school-desk scribblers and coupled initials tree-carvers?

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  2. First of all thankyou as ever and again for the link, Professor, you bring me interesting commentators.

    I don't know that we can draw the same conclusions from the Alhambra as we might from Ephesus however, firstly because figurative art is forbidden under Islam so decoration with writing and geometrical figures is so much the stronger; and secondly, because often the way that Islamic artists work with the text is so elaborate and beautiful—as witness this collection of pieces here— that one doesn't necessarily need to assume that an audience could read it to still be impressed with the beauty of what they will have known was the Word of Allah. Both Islam and Christianity have been known to exploit this literal sense of The Word in decoration. The stuff at Ephesus, by contrast, is anything but sacred...

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