Uncomfortable Texts


I am staying in the home of some lovely Ottoman scholars.  Thus I picked up Yeğenoğlu’s Colonial Fantasies to read with my grilled cheese (as ya do).  First, it had me wondering what parts of our other travel blog or even this blog or my social media feed might unwittingly be perpetuating Orientalist dialogues, patterns, topoi etc.  Something like an antiquarian curiosity had me reading a Social History of Ottoman Istanbul before bed of late.  Even that book itself — although careful to distinguish between its bedrock of in-culture sources and outsider perspectives and speculations — still seems ready fodder for such curiosities, turning the city and the history into a spectacle for a new crop of Anglophones eager for tales of the mysterious East.

Then, I came across the Said quote above.  Reading it in Yeğenoğlu‘s context, I suddenly stopped seeing the word Orientalism and in its place saw Classics.  How often I find myself drowning in footnotes of detail.  Crafting my cross references at times with more care than my own reactions or observations.  Those are nothing without the substructure of  academic scaffolding.

122 thru 127 out of 410 days: A Little Thought

Most all my time is spent on learning Turkish: writing little essays on my last holiday, constantly comparing the grammar to Latin, and struggling with vocabulary.  Tonight we came home in good spirits from the class and a fun exchange with our vegetable seller.  I put on Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods on Librivox while cooking dinner.  Normally we listen together to such things at bedtime, and usually Greek or things I’m unlikely to ever write about.  I do enjoy just listening sometimes, remembering that my ‘primary evidence’  is good literature too.  It occurred to me that if I needed a little break from Turkish Cicero might keep the mind ticking over in a useful way hands free.  So… the spinach is sitting half washed in the sink and i’m in my new office at my new standing desk trying to spit out a little thought:

atque haut scio, an pietate adversus deos sublata fides etiam et societas generis humani et una excellentissuma virtus iustitia tollatur.

I do not even know, if we cast off pietas towards the Gods, but that fides, and all the societas of human life, and that most excellent of all virtues, iustitia, may perish with it.

The article I just sent off said a good deal about representations of fides on coins.  I’m struck here by the connection of it with societas generis humani.  The L&S (no OLD with me in Turkey, I will confess!) says of societas:

implying union for a common purpose; cf.: conjunctio, consociatio; and not a mere assembly; cf.: circulus, coetus; conventus, sodalitas; freq. and class.

 The Cicero passage surely supports this implication.  My attraction to the passage is that it gives a nice illustration of how fides is associated with divine bonds in human society.  It demonstrates how the ‘virtue’ is conceived of in a foundational manner, of practical significance to all associations. but also more than practical, something dependent on the sacred as well.

Anyway, spinach awaits.  After the exam (my first in how many years I dread to think?!) we’re going to pop out east to see a ruin and museum or two for 48 hours and then straight on with the coin book.  I finished the book review Friday and tweaked and sent it off Sunday, so it’s not ALL been Turkish.


120 and 121 out of 410 days: Very Punny Names

Reverse of RRC 141/1. 1944.100.235


Crawford says of this coin:



This type of logic permeates RRC.  Given enough time with the series one starts to think that this type of symbolic language must have been pervasive at Rome.  But is this actually how people thought?  Are the name plays obscure or obvious to their audience? Is it a Roman phenomenon or something much wider?

Yesterday (because of the book review I’m diligently working at), I was thinking about the legacy of Pythagoras.  Not a figure I can say I’ve cared much about in the past, beside mentioning the legendary connection to Numa in some of my classes or this rather fun video. Of course, he shows up on some provincial coins of Samos.  But I was surprised to learn that May thought there might be a fifth century portrait on a coin from Abdera.

Here is what Burkert, Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism, 1972, p. 110 says:




I’ve singularly failed to find you an image of this coin.  And after ‘wasting’ a hour and a half plus looking for it (and in the mean time getting rather visually acquainted with the mint of Abdera — what a great series!), I decided that it had nothing to do with the review or the book and so I’d better drop it.  The only tangential connection is this use of visual puns on the moneyer’s name.  Take for instance this beauty:

The moneyer, Dionysas, has the head of Dionysus.  And here’s Python and his tripod:

Silver coin.The British Museum has their whole (?) collection of Abdera coins up with photos.  It’s a great shame its not searchable by inscription and May number.  [The ANS has the May numbers, but few images and the legends are not transcribed.]  A look through the BM collection suggests straight off that not all images are naming puns, even if some certainly are.

Did real people think like this or was this a coin designers’ game?  Enter, Timeaus (via the anonymous author of On the Sublime):

Observe, too, his language on the Athenians taken in Sicily. “They paid the penalty for their impious outrage on Hermes in mutilating his statues; and the chief agent in their destruction was one who was descended on his father’s side from the injured deity—Hermocrates, son of Hermon.”

Or Timeaus via Plutarch:

Indeed, he often lapses unawares into the manner of Xenarchus, as, for instance, when he says he thinks it was a bad omen for the Athenians that Nicias, whose name was derived from victory, declined at first to head their expedition; also that, by the mutilation of the “Hermae,” Heaven indicated to them in advance that by the hands of Hermocrates the son of Hermon they were to suffer most of their reverses during the war; 

This is prophetic, symbolic thinking, not iconography, but nonetheless I detect a similar type of name=symbol association as we find on the coins.  Perhaps we could marshal Timeaus as part of an argument for decode-ability of the logic behind our numismatic symbols.   And perhaps Abdera + Timeaus = some background to just what exactly the Roman moneyers thought they were communicating with their symbolic language.

Update 5/19/14:  An old piece of scholarship that does a fine job of surveying the use of visual puns in media other than coins.




118 and 119 out of 410 days: Pyrrhus and Thetis

Yesterday late afternoon whilst reading about sources for the Pyrrhic Wars for this book review (It’s a really good book thus far! But slow going because I want to look everything up and enjoy the fun along with the author.) I became obsessed with the image of Thetis on the hippocamp. Above is the ANS specimen of coin of Pyrrhus with this reverse type. Below is a rather beautiful specimen in trade:

This is often attributed to the Locrian mint in Italy c. 279-274 B.C. The obverse is identified as Achilles (Pyrrhus’ ancestor) and the “portrait” is sometimes thought to be assimilated to Alexander or maybe even Pyrrhus himself. Perhaps the best thing to read on Pyrrhus’ use of the Trojan War narrative is Erskine, Troy Between Greece and Rome, p. 157-161. It’s basically a take down of the idea that Pausanias 1.12 can be taken as actual evidence that Pyrrhus used ‘anti-Trojan’ type propaganda against the Romans. The interesting thing is the relationship of Pyrrhus’ coin type to that of Larissa in Thessaly:

There are also an number of illustrated specimens in the ANS collection. Note how on this specimen below the obverse head has the “whale spout” hair style so often associated with Alexander and also the AX monogram on the reverse shield standing for “Achilles”.

What does Pyrrhus have to do with Thessaly? Well it was his next stop after Italy. So Pausanias, and with references at Plutarch, and Diodorus, and the dedicatory inscription he set up is in the Greek Anthology attributed to Leonidas (6.130). Some discussion of his memorable dedication and his choice of sanctuary can be found in Graninger’s Cult and Koinon in Hellenistic Thessaly. The dedicatory inscription in fact emphasizes his decent from Achilles:



Of course, the image was generally popular, a popularity often ascribed to a lost statue group of Scopas thought to be referenced in Pliny. An Attic Red-Figure Bell Krater c. 350 BC in the BM show the basic image. And, the iconography is also known on Italic ceramics as well:

Black glazed pottery askos with a ribbed body and in relief on the top, Thetis or a Nereid on a hippocamp to the left with Achilles spear in right hand and in left a shield, the hippocamp has a fimbriated fish's tail.

Just to make things more confused there are some little understood finds said to be from Thessaly near Larissa including this:


There is a decent discussion here about this comparative evidence as it relates to Thessalian jewelry and gems.

I guess I’ll just have to mug up on the literature on Larissa and Thessalian numismatics starting with:

C. C. Lorber, Thessalian hoards and the coinage of Larissa, In: American journal of numismatics second series, vol. 20, 2008, p. 119-142, pl. 41-46.

Other literature of interest: Lücke, S. 1995. ‘Überlegungen zur Münzpropaganda des Pyrrhos’. In Brodersen, K., and Schubert, C. (eds.). 1995. Rom und der griechische Osten: Festschrift für Hatto H. Schmitt: 171–3. Stuttgart. As well as, Franke, P. R. 1989. ‘Pyrrhus’. CAH2 7.2: 456–85.

Italic Horserider Imagery

Note To Self: When considering the issue of L. Manlius Torquatus below (111 BC according to Mattingly), don’t forget that there are earlier Italic precedents for the reverse design, such as the AE quinrunx of Larinum above, dated by HN Italy to c. 210-175 BC.

You will want to order from ILL the relevant literature on Larinum (listed in HN Italy) and look for other similar Italic imagery.

Notice how the Torquatus coin even places all three elements of the legend in a similar location to that of the Larinum coin. His name for the ethnic, EXSC for the five pellets, and then, most strikingly, the Q for the V behind the riders head. [See three images down for a specimen of the quinrunx showing the V.]

The obverse of the above Larinum specimen looks more like a Minerva than an Ares in the Corinthian helmet. HN Italy queries lists as “Mars(?)”. Other specimens are more ambiguous or masculine:

But then see these long necked specimens (1) and (2)… The four specimens in the ANS seem very masculine indeed, especially the ‘fat necked’ SNGANS.1.131 and SNGANS.1.132.

Update 26/11/2013: Just adding this glass paste for comparison. It is dated by the Thorvaldsens Museum to the republican period.  This rider doesn’t have the same helmet but otherwise shares many design elements right down to the the shield details.

Rytter med spyd og skjold. Romersk republikansk paste

They also given this a republican date:

Kriger til hest. Romersk republikansk paste

Second update 27 February 2014: The coinage of Tarentum (Taras) also needs to brought into discussion (esp. HN Italy 1013):





Most of the rider imagery from Tarentum has the shield behind the rider, making this type stand out.  Even here, the horse is rendered differently from above imagery, but it is certainly in the same visual repertoire.

Also see this newer post for comparative evidence.

112 thru 117: A “Loyal” Return


The ‘intensive’ Turkish language class and bureaucracy have occupied much of the last week, but now as the Kurban Bayrami festivities begin our lives are settling down a bit.  The language class is certainly part of my professional goals for this sabbatical, but as it doesn’t touch on my research and writing directly I don’t find I have much to say about it. I set a simple goal of reading two chapters a day of a book I’m reviewing and writing notes there on in order to have a draft of the review by next Sunday.  This should allow plenty of time for flash cards and grammar exercises and perhaps even some more bureaucracy, if any offices are open.  It should also let me blog here a bit about the material, like the inscription above.  Here’s a recent translation:



Here’s the link to the translation source and here’s an even more recent discussion.  There is controversy over the date: Late Empire? Late Republic? The latter is more favored at the moment.  The passage is often discussed regarding the role of the historian in society and how histories would have been experienced by contemporary audiences, i.e. reception in antiquity.  What caught my eye was the list of things that cause problems in societies, the understanding of which will be beneficial to the audience of the history:

  • popular politics
  • greed
  • infighting
  • AND loss of trust (pistis)

It’s the last rhetorical point that resonates with numismatic imagery and more.  In the passage infighting (staties emphulioi), i.e. conflict between kinsmen, those who should be ‘natural allies’, is juxtaposed against the idea of a loosening loyalties (pistion katalusies), implying, perhaps, that the latter refers to external treaties or agreements, interstate affairs.  The first pair similarly contrasts poor and rich.  The poor should be stirred up to want undo societal influence, but equally the rich should not seek to become richer still. Harmony within a community, perhaps, depends on these two precepts (homonoia, the rhetorical opposite of statis).  

This started me thinking about how Homonoia (= concordia) and Fides (= pistis) have a strong overlapping iconography, most obviously the joined right hands. 


The joining of the right hand is so much a part of the iconography of each abstract ideal that when unlabelled we should perhaps read both ideas instead of just one alone:


The question of course becomes how far back should we read the development of this overlapping and sophisticated icongraphic rhetoric:


102 thru 111: The Great Hiatus


In preparing to relocate continents it seems sensible to do the rounds of one’s healthcare providers.  It is NOT sensible to let your dentist drill into your teeth 24 hours before your flight.  A school girl error really.  I’m not that experienced with matters of the teeth having never needed any serious prior work.  A week on we’re settling into Turkey but my jaw still aches.

The jet lag is the worst that I’ve experienced, but the house is lovely and I sent off the chapter to my editor yesterday.  It was basically no different than the draft as it stood before the drilling but I didn’t trust myself to let it go.   We began intensive Turkish Friday.  Four hours every afternoon for 20 sessions.  Being an elementary student again will certain inform my teaching next fall.

More anon.

A travel blog by both of us is in the works.  This will remain primarily about work.