Pan, Plato, and the Nymphs: exploring Vari Cave

Natalia has co-written a fascinating blog post about her adventures in the Cave of the Nymphs, taking place during her research trip based in Athens.

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Mount Hymettus is known to the local people of Attica as the ‘Mad Mountain’, η Τρελοβούνι. Situated on the western side of the Attica peninsula and stretching above the coastal towns of Elliniko, Glyfada, and Voula, this mountain and its undulating topography are eclectic — if not ‘mad’. The granular limestone of the mountain makes the landscape perfect for the formation of caves, and indeed there are over 300 caves documented for this area alone. A little over seventy of these were used in antiquity, and they have variously yielded archaeological remains from the stone age right through to more recent times. On a recent weekend off from life in Athens, we (Natalia and Michael) escaped the metropolis and took an adventure up to Hymettus. In this blog post, we recount what we saw in just one of these caves, ‘Vari Cave’, also known as the ‘Cave…

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A timeline of the invention of writing. Which is made of cake and chocolate. And strawberry laces.

I can’t resist reblogging this wonderful post from @eatingartefacts, featuring edible incarnations that retell the early development of writing in Mesopotamia. Look at that cake!

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I have spent longer trying to figure out a good pun for this post than I spent baking the cakes, and I’ve finally just given up. I nearly made the entire thing out of Scottish tablet so I could work one in. It would have been the right colour and a pretty good consistency, but then I don’t like Scottish tablet, and what’s the point of making a timeline of the invention of writing in cake form if you won’t enjoy eating it afterwards? So instead this is all chocolate cake, coffee icing, coffee fondant, chocolate and strawberry laces. I can now inform my readership that strawberry laces do not go with any of those other foods. This blog truly is about learning. All dates are, naturally, BC.

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So we start off with chocolate tokens, in geometric shapes (those splodges of chocolate definitely count as circles). Non- chocolate versions are…

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Writing beautifully

I just saw that it is World Calligraphy Day today (noticing all these “(inter)national days of X” seems to be a product of hanging out on Twitter!). This got me thinking about what we mean when we say ‘calligraphy’. The word comes from Greek and means simply “beautiful writing” – which in practice can mean a whole range of things.

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Page from the Lindisfarne Gospels. Image from HERE.

Today we tend to think of calligraphy as an art that involves writing in ink with special pens on fancy paper. You can do it in any writing system from around the world – Wikipedia has a nice range of examples in its calligraphy entry HERE. The above page from the 8th century AD illuminated Lindisfarne gospels is a typical piece of monastic medieval calligraphy from northern England, while below is an 11th century AD work from the Chinese Song dynasty, On Calligraphy by Mi Fu. Continue reading “Writing beautifully”

Writing Gods & Myths IV. Norse mythology

We continue our journey through different mythologies to find all the stories about writing. This time it’s the turn of Norse mythology and the invention of runes. In the Poetic Edda, we are told that the god Odin (dedicated to wisdom and magic, among other things) hung himself on the tree Yggdrasil for nine nights, not receiving any kind of food or drink. This was a kind of self-sacrifice to himself that granted him the revelation of the runes. Since then, runes were used not only as a writing system, but also in magic and divination.

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Odin fan art, taken from: https://odindevoted.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/giving-blood-to-the-runes/

Continue reading “Writing Gods & Myths IV. Norse mythology”

Learning Hieroglyphics!

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the Bloomsbury Summer School in Egyptology, where I developed my reading in Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was a very rich experience, and it certainly improved my knowledge of Middle Egyptian. I wanted to do this because Middle Egyptian hieroglyphics omits almost entirely the writing of vowels. This is the same characteristic in Phoenician and Ugaritic writing systems that I am investigating for my part in the CREWS project.

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Detail from coffin of Khnumnakht, Middle Kingdom. Met Museum New York, Rogers Fund, 1915 (http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/544326).

The fact that these three writing systems do not (in principle at least) record vowels is at odds with other notable second millennium BC writing systems, namely Linear B (for Greek) and (non-Ugaritic) cuneiform, which do record vowels. A priori it therefore seems plausible that there should be a link, either genetic or typological, between the Egyptian writing system and that of the early north-west Semitic alphabetic writing systems. Before exploring some possible links in future blog posts, for those who are not necessarily familiar with the Egyptian writing system, I thought in this blog post I would lay out some of the basic principles of the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system. Continue reading “Learning Hieroglyphics!”

Happy Linear B Day!

On this day in 1952, 65 years ago, Michael Ventris made the announcement that he had deciphered Mycenaean Linear B. Against all expectations, he had discovered that these Late Bronze Age documents were written in Greek – making them some 400 years earlier than any other known Greek inscriptions.

 

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The announcement was made on the radio, and luckily the recording still survives. You can hear it HERE in a post made by the BBC a few years ago.

You can read more about the decipherment process HERE in a resource made available by the Cambridge Mycenaean Epigraphy Group.

 

 

Writing Gods and Myths II: Mesopotamia

Today we will continue our journey through the myths about writing and its patron gods in Ancient Mesopotamia. This area is especially important, as it is in the Sumerian city of Uruk where we have the first attestations of writing in the form of pictographs c. 3200 BC. Later, Sumerians would develop from these pictographs what we call “cuneiform” writing (which consists of abstract wedge-shapes representing words or syllables).

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Mesopotamian pictograms. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/329081

One of the Mesopotamian stories that talks about the creation of writing involves Enmerkar, one of the mythological kings of Uruk. According to the Sumerian King List he was the second king of the First Dynasty of Uruk and the builder of the city. In the epic poem that narrates the conquest of Aratta by king Enmerkar it is said that his messenger, who had the task to transmit the messages between the two kings (Enmerkar and the king of Aratta), was failing to remember these messages. Therefore, Enmerkar had the idea of writing them down on clay.

Continue reading “Writing Gods and Myths II: Mesopotamia”