Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

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Hylander
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Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

Post by Hylander » Sat Dec 01, 2018 4:07 pm

I posted some of this (about the modern Greek pronunciation of Thucydides' name) in the Learning Greek/Bowen's Advanced Greek Unseens thread.

When our Greek driver/guide referred to Thoo-ki-'thee-thees, I had to translate for the four other members of our party. They thought the modern Greek pronunciation was funny. I thought their need for a translation was funny. The modern Greek pronunciation is of course much closer to the original ancient Greek, and really not too distant from the way his name has been pronounced in Greek since Roman times.

Another pointless anecdote. On Aegina we went looking for a restaurant someone recommended called "Baba". We came to it but it turned out to be closed for the season. My companions, who knew the Greek alphabet, saw the sign which read ΜΠΑΜΠΑ. "That doesn't say 'Baba,'" they said. Again, I had to set them straight.

We found another restaurant, where the staff took me into the kitchen to select a fish for grilling, showing me an array of fish on ice. I selected some type of bream and thought they would grill that fish, but no, they went across the street to where the boat was docked, got a fish from the boat, and grilled it to perfection for me.

The next day we visited the Doric temple of Aphaea on Aegina, and then, day after I flew to Munich, where I saw the sculptural groups stolen from the temple on commission for Ludwig I and now on display in the Glyptothek. They have been unrestored and returned to thedilapidated state in which they were carted off from Aegina, undoing the imaginative "restoration" by the Icelandic/Danish sculptor Thorvaldsen in the first part of the 19th century. Some of Thorvaldsen's work is also on display. I have to say that while I don''t disagree with the decision to undo the "restoration", Thorvaldsen was a great neoclassical sculptor, second only to Canova, and his "restored" figures are a masterpiece in themselves.

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Re: Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

Post by jeidsath » Thu Dec 06, 2018 4:38 am

Looking up the images of the Glyptothek restoration with Google, I came across some of the colorized versions of some of the sculptures that they currently (?) have on exhibit. I've seem these before, and I feel like they just can't be highly accurate. Surviving Roman wall frescos seem to indicate to me that ancient color sense must have been better than this.
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Re: Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

Post by seneca2008 » Thu Jan 03, 2019 2:14 am

This reminds me of my first ill-fated attempt to visit the temple of Aphaea on Aegina. It was in the 90s and I arrived on a day the temple was closed but I nevertheless got off the bus and tried my best to see what I could from the outside. (I seem to make a habit of this as on my first trip to Nemea the site was also closed although after a little climbing I was able to see the race track and some of the temple from afar. I am glad I preservered because on a later visit a few years ago I noticed that they had started re-erecting columns in the temple. Still not sure what I feel about this attempt to “improve” the aesthetics of the site). Subsequently I visited Munich (en route circuitously to Bayreuth) and saw the pediment sculptures as you did. I think the Thorvaldsen additions were removed many years ago. I seem to recall that the museum showed two possible reconstructions, the later one using the actual sculptures and another using replicas in the arrangement first used when the sculptures first “arrived” in the museum. (I smiled at the description “stolen”). Happily I finally saw the temple a few years ago. Travelling in Greece is so much easier in the age of the internet although one can never guarantee sites will be open.

Joel I have seen several exhibitions of sculpture casts with restored colour. I have always found it shocking. It’s difficult to set aside one’s own aesthetic prejudice when viewing them. I am persuaded that under the brilliance and intensity of Greek sunlight that they look less tawdry than they seem to me in more temperate climes. But perhaps this too is romantic wishful thinking?

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Re: Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

Post by Scribo » Sat Jan 05, 2019 11:11 am

I think I am going to agree with Joel on this, re: colours. I recall seeing some much better reconstructions by an Austrian (?) archaeologist. The thing is, the fragments of pigment we retain are open to widely differing interpretations in terms of intensity and hue*. The surviving paintings we have still may display alien palettes, but there is a subtelty and an artfulness lacking in most of these reconstructions.

Also, isn't it amazing how scholars of Northern European origin always manage to make the ancients look like Northern Europeans? Hmm...

Aegina is wonderful btw, though I have never managed to get a good meal there. The Saronic nowadays is largely famous for Spetes and (to some degree) Spetses where rich Athenians keep second houses. Times were these rough islands furnished the heroes of revolution, like Bouboulina.



* Irrelevant, but it just occurred to me how funny it is we're discussing colour (Latine, color) and then using the native A/S hue in a different way.
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Re: Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

Post by seneca2008 » Sat Jan 05, 2019 6:28 pm

I am not sure how we can easily infer much that is helpful from wall paintings (I assume the majority you are thinking of are from Pompeii, they are at least the best preserved) about how archaic Greek sculpture might have been painted. First there is the approximately 500 years or so between the paintings and sculptures. Secondly, paintings inside a room are likely to have a completely different tinta compared to sculpture that was intended to be seen out of doors.

I have not read any academic literature on ancient colour and only have a hazy recollection from undergraduate days about Greeks conceiving of colour in a different way from us. So I am not really in a position to argue strongly about this. Nevertheless it does seem to me that when looking at a particular reconstruction we are only experiencing one small part of the aesthetic and so it is difficult to make judgements. If we were surrounded with painted sculptures then it just would not look so odd.

I thought this article https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-cul ... ors-17888/ and these videos interesting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjDccOpwGys
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xZxAQjn_lA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UsYHo5iarM

Vinzenz Brinkmann Is the archaeologist responsible for the Glyptothek colour restoration. I find him persuasive but as I said I have no academic background in this area.

Scribo I think the point you make about Northern European scholars shows how difficult it is for all of us to free ourselves from our unconscious biases.

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Re: Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

Post by jeidsath » Mon Jan 07, 2019 11:29 pm

It seems strange to me to argue that we have an alien color sense to the Greeks, and that at the same time we have managed to create a perfect color reconstruction, using a subjective process, with little more than ultraviolet lights to go on.
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Re: Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

Post by seneca2008 » Tue Jan 08, 2019 1:21 am

I don’t think anyone and certainly not me is arguing that the reconstructions are “perfect”. My understanding is that more than ultraviolet light is involved. Chemical analysis plays it part too.

My point about conceiving colour in a different way was the difficultly of mapping modern words describing colour to Greek “colour words”. χλωρός and οἶνοψ being immediate examples. But I am shooting from the hip here as I have said and await correction.

I don’t know whether we have an alien colour sense to the Greeks. The fact that we find the reconstructions so difficult to take might suggest that in some sense we do. The Greeks are different from us but reassuringly similar isn’t that the fascination?

As someone very involved in historically informed baroque performance I am very conscious that reconstruction is a fraught issue. I try to be objective but recognise the limitations and difficulties of achieving some kind of respectful resuscitation of the past. I am certain that in the future what I am sure about will be questioned.

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Re: Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

Post by jeidsath » Tue Jan 08, 2019 1:39 am

You're referring to Gladstone's theory of Homeric color-blindness from his "Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age". (The work as a whole is surprisingly learned and readable.)

For a nice introduction to the modern understanding of the language of color, see this video, which is good, despite the millennial "uptalk" vocal pattern of the narrator: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMqZR3pqMjg

Anyway, the universality of the basic color categories, and the standard order of how different languages add new color names is now very well established. And it's not very surprising, as our color vision mechanism (the cones in our eyes) was developed while we were still primates, and all human groups (very nearly) share the same three types of cones that respond to the same wavelengths of light.
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Re: Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

Post by seneca2008 » Tue Jan 08, 2019 9:01 pm

Thank you. I was unaware that I was referring to Gladstone. Incidentally I have a local connection as I live not far from a modest country house used by him when he wanted to escape from central London (when this area was mostly farmland before the arrival of the railway). It now only takes me 15 minutes (by underground) to get to Bond Street!

I was inspired to look on line for something more modern this review from Bryn Mawr was interesting http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2006/2006-08-47.html.

Also I found a copy of “Greek Color Theory and the Four Elements J.L. Benson University of Massachusetts Amherst 2000” available free here https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/view ... t=art_jbgc

However well “the universality of the basic color categories” is understood I think there is clearly a lot to learn about how different cultures express their notion of colour.

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Re: Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

Post by ariphron » Sun Jul 28, 2019 7:56 am

When our Greek driver/guide referred to Thoo-ki-'thee-thees, I had to translate for the four other members of our party. They thought the modern Greek pronunciation was funny. I thought their need for a translation was funny. The modern Greek pronunciation is of course much closer to the original ancient Greek, and really not too distant from the way his name has been pronounced in Greek since Roman times.
I guess that means that my reconstruction of the pronunciation must be spot on, except that maybe a version of the φθχ more like the modern Greek pronunciation (which is nothing like English/English/German FThCh) would be even better. My handling of certain βδγ as fricatives, as in Modern Greek, was, I believe, based only on internal evidence of the texts/ my sense of what makes a typologically plausible language.

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Re: Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

Post by ariphron » Thu Aug 01, 2019 9:37 am

On the subject of reconstructed color sense, is it established that the ancient Greeks had the same genetic constitution for color that we do, namely a majority with three kinds of cone cells, including a red sensor cone with a secondary peak in the violet, while a significant minority has a red sensor cone with no secondary peak in the violet? (Am I getting at what Joel means by "with little more than ultraviolet lights to go on?") Is Gladstone's theory that Homer's red sensor cones were of the second category?

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Re: Visit to Greece, especially Aegina

Post by jeidsath » Thu Aug 01, 2019 11:35 am

No. I meant that the German team simply shined ultraviolet lights on the statues to do the reconstruction, and there was no chemical reconstruction of the pigments.

William Gladstone was not aware of the cell mechanics of color vision because he lived in the late 19th century.

We can be fairly sure, that biochemically, color vision was almost exactly the same for modern humans and ancient Greeks.
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