How ancient is αρχαιο ?

Aρχαιο is a word bandied about in Greece a lot. I don’t mean by historians or archaeologists but by the lay person  It’s a glamorous word. It’s impressive and esoteric and marks a place, statue or artefact as important. Technically it means ancient but does it always mean Ancient Greece?

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Tower ruin outside Olinthos – it’s ancient, or is it?

Greece has a very long history of habitation by people expressing different cultures: pagan, Christian, Muslim.  Wherever you visit, if you indulge the locals they will regale you with stories about their place’s monuments, topography, churches, ruins etc. Not all of the ruins are well documented. Their history may be filed away in an archive somewhere with nary a signpost to explain why a tumbled down tower has been allowed to stand. A local yarn may be as good as you’ll get.

Chalkidiki in northern Greece has many towers I’m told. On the road to the αρχαιο, yes-if-really-is ancient, archaeological site at Olinthos stands the recalcitrant ruins of a tower. I’m told that it’s αρχαιο.

I’m also told that once upon a time it was the lookout tower for Olinthos. Sentries would be posted atop to watch the sea for pirates or foreign invaders. Sounds convincing? Hmm… I found no mention of it in all of the information on display at the archaeological site. Maybe it’s not that much, αρχαιο?

I’m told that, once upon another time when a polis was being attacked, the queen was spirited away through a subterranean tunnel system that ran from the city to the coast via this tower. But which queen, in which era? And how long was the tunnel system? Was Olinthos the starting point or was a settlement further inland? And did the tunnel reach the tower all the way at Nea Fokeas?

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Tower overlooking Nea Fokeas, Chalkidiki – is it ancient? byzantine?

Did you know that it’s said that one αρχαιο king actually buried his treasure beneath one of the towers? Truly, what I’m telling you sounds a little far fetched even to me, especially when you consider that night, that summer, when Johnny was coming back from the club and came off his motorbike right through that lower window. Johnny said that the tower was full of hard dirt – his head can testify to that. No treasure, no tunnel. Local lore needs to satisfy the ever expectant tourist.

If the locals can speculate, why not I? So…if you were to light a beacon on the battlements of the tower at Nea Fokeas could a sentry atop the Olinthos Tower see it? And if not Olinthos what about that Byzantine ruin in the beach at Potidea? And from Olinthos could it be seen further inland by Galatista? Could these towers have been part of a beacon relay from Thessaloniki to Constantinople?

Leo the Mathematician (c.790-869CE) was said to have developed the beacon system that spanned Asia Minor from Constantinople to the Cilician Gates and warned the capital of an invasion within an hour of its sighting. Leo was the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki between 840-843 CE – why wouldn’t he instigate a warning system for his city, the second city of the Empire? Theassaloniki does have that old, dare I say αρχαιο, iconic White Tower – what more could it be appropriate for? Could all of these towers be that old? Where are the other towers in Chalkidiki?

When in doubt consult the internet.  The White Tower of Thessaloniki is an Ottoman construction over the site of a Byzantine tower mentioned in medieval literature. The tower at Olinthos is the Tower of Mariana and displays a cross in the configuration of its brickwork, on its far side. And it’s Byzantine. No mention of who Mariana was, if she was a queen, when she lived nor whether she had to escape a siege through a tunnel. As it stands it was built in 1374 – too late for Leo.

The tower at Nea Fokeas is also Byzantine, St Paul’s, after the monastery complex on which it stands . It also overlooks the sea. Did St Paul visit it? When was it built? Is it connected by subterranean passage or merely styling to Mariana’s Tower? Built originally in 1407, it too, is too late to be from Leo.

The ruins in the beach at Potidea may or may not be part of Byzantine fortifications built in 1407 by Ioannis VII Palaiologos – the same year as St Paul’s! The other tower further inland at Galatista is also Byzantine. Together, could they all have been part of a later warning system?

Speculation, hearsay and local lore – heart warming hearth stories feeding the need of history devouring holiday-makers! They should probably be taken with a draught of ale, mug of hot chocolate or dragged out slowly overlooking an Aegean beach with a bottomless frappe on the table.

Occasionally local traditions can inform history. Have you heard the one about baklava?

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Eis tin Poli with Machiavelli whispering in my ear

 

Eis tin Poli. I’ll be seeing you in the city. The polis. Which polis? Constantinopolis! Yes, Istanbul. Istanbul is the greeting, Eis tin Poli, in the Turkish mind’s ear of 1929. Istanbul is charming and exotic, rich with history and the diversity of the people’s that have made it their home. And rich, of course, with the warmth and hospitality of the Turkish people. However visiting the polis in 2014 stirred up rational, irrational feelings I hadn’t expected – grief for a city, a homeland and times that were never mine. But they were my family’s. I couldn’t enjoy the city freely, everywhere I turned conquest met my gaze and its base sound reverberated through the ether and into my soul. Conquest in Machiavelli’s terms.

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We stayed just off Taksim Square. Not the touristy side with all the grand hotels, nor the cosmopolitan side off Istaklal St but the far, forgotten edge. Here cobbled streets pushed the present past derelict mansions and stray cats, and strayer people lived temporary stays with permanent hopeless resolve. Refugees from personal and political cataclysms were taking refuge in homes abandoned to decay. Quiet façades and boarded doorways promised sound shelter for the homeless. How long had these buildings been neglected? Machiavelli whispered, since 1999? 1955? 1922? Machiavelli go away. Did they quake over the pressure of civil turmoil or seismic crisis?  Who owned these buildings? Where were they now? Machiavelli kept whispering.(1)

The other superior expedient is to establish settlements in one or two places; these will, as it were, fetter the state to you… (The Prince) injuries only those from whom he takes land and houses to give to the new inhabitants, and takes land and houses to give to the new inhabitants, and these victims form a tiny minority, and can never do any harm since they remain poor and scattered. All the others are left undisturbed, and so should stay quiet, and as well as this they are frightened to do wrong lest what happened to the dispossessed should happen to them.”
The Prince, Machiavelli, Penguin Classics, Bull, George (Trans.), 1981, pp. 36-37.

 

When states newly acquired as I said have been accustomed to living freely under their own laws, there are three ways to hold them securely: first, by devastating them; next, by going and living there in person; thirdly, by letting them keep their own laws, exacting tribute, and setting up an oligarchy which will keep the state friendly to you.
The Prince, Machiavelli, Penguin Classics, Bull, George (Trans.), 1981, p.47

Machiavelli’s style of devastation was physical and spiritual in 1453. Did the residents of Constantinople really believe their unbreachable walls would fall? What was this explosive new weapon in comparison to the might of God? A story survives that a cleric – was it the Patriarch? a bishop? was fishing when news came to him that the Turks had broken through. He laughed it off. He just pulled up a good catch and stayed by the water to fry his meal. He replied to the messenger that if the walls had been breached then his half fried fish would jump out of his frying pan and back into the Golden Horn. Splash! and so they did.

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Orthodox Patriarchate College

In Istanbul in 2014 the pride of the Turkish people was everywhere on display, conquest declared on a sea of Turkish flags fluttering over the city. Each cloth depicted Sultan Mehmet’s victory moon on a background of blood red. The shape of the moon’s crescent declared the night of May 29th, 1453 ever present in the city – present on a full moon as well as the new, on government buildings and on private ones and even on Orthodox ones. The Orthodox, the descendants of the Rhomaioi/Byzantine keepers of Constantinople, can practice their religion in Turkey but there is tribute to pay to the mighty Turkish state, its flag declares their obeisance on the Orthodox Patriarchate College.

Conquest is constant. It seemed that wherever I saw an Orthodox Church a Mosque was built beside it, the call to prayers of the conquerors enveloping it intermittently throughout the day. Some Mosques began life as churches and like the Hagia Sophia, spear-like minarets now square them off. The Hagia Sophia itself has been and remains a psychological prize. Sultan Mehmet had to convert it into a mosque, whitewashing the historic and religious iconography of the Cathedral and the city. He tried to eradicate the grandeur and significance of an organic culture, millennia old. For the Byzantines, the Rhomaioi – the Greeks, it was the emotional rallying point for insurrection right up until 1922.

Conquest pervaded my senses the day we spent in Sultanahmet. We took a taxi (2) from Taksim Square where we were staying to where Byzantine monuments are concentrated and of course the Blue Mosque dominates the sea and landscape. Instead of dropping us off at the open square bounded by the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Justinian’s Basilica Cistern, the driver left us in front of a rug store on the other side. It was early in the day so we thought a detour was okay. It was a wonderful detour. No one does customer service like the Turkish people. The shop was multi-storeyed: just beneath street level they sold ceramics – beautiful, ethnic, colourful, and reminiscent of art nouveau. The design motifs were taken from nature with arabesque linework, watery glazing and a traditional feel that surely influenced the Arts and Crafts movement of the 1800s. Hefty in appeal, weight and price, I had to resist, but my appetite was whetted. Rugs, waited upstairs.

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The salesman was warm and talkative as he sat us on a divan, serving us Turkish tea and the most amazing Turkish Delight I have ever tasted. Each style of rug was representative of a region of Turkey or weaving technique. The salesman imparted his knowledge and was patient with our indecisiveness. He was chatty as he tried to build a connection with us. Yet, with all of his gregarious warmth he couldn’t crack my shell. Yes, we have a Greek background. Yes, my family originated in Turkey – Pisidia, Propontos and the Dardenelles. Yes, I remembered the earthquake that devastated Istanbul in 1999…Tears began to fall…Yes, the Greeks were the first foreigners to run to their aid. The Greeks were passionate to return to the Polis, yes? I couldn’t reply to why the Greeks ran to save the city, but they did. I looked at more rugs. Finally, we chose one from Mt Ararat depicting animals from Noah’s Ark and descended to street level. Led out by an adjacent door, we walked through a narrow room with glass-topped counters filled with Turkish Delight. Not simple rose water infused loukum but exotic flavoured Delights mixed with dried flower petals, pistachios, a variety of other nuts, pomegranate and dried fruits and spices I didn’t recognise. And so soft – so fresh- so delicious.

 

 

 

We walked to the Hagia Sophia from the far side, buying the kids Fez’ to wear from a hawker on the way. The queue that awaited us was trying on the kids’ already stretched patience, it tracked far into the square. Thankfully, young boys with wooden spinning tops on long cords zeroed in on their next customers just ahead of us. Our kids were taken with the zeal that comes from wanting to get a closer look at something that is being offered to other children. Eventually the enterprising locals offered our kids the same attention. The simplicity of the mechanism and the beauty in its motion was mesmerising… But, for how long?

Was there another way in to the museum? I decided to walk around the complex to see. On the far side, sure enough, there was another entrance. No queue. A guard and a turnstile and no crowds either! I phoned my husband to get smart, leave his spot in the queue and bring the kids around. Removing the kids took longer than I anticipated. I walked into a couple of stalls that were set up on the road side. They sold ceramics!!!! They sold sets of Turkish coffee cups with imitation Iznik tile designs. I started to haggle – when in Rome, er, New Rome, er, Constantinople, er, Istanbul…

This is beautiful. I’ll give you this much for it.

No, that is the price.

I’ve seen it cheaper elsewhere.

Not this design.

Yes, this design. Much cheaper.

My price is what it is.

But I’ve seen it much, much cheaper in shops off Istaklal Street. Honestly.

When the half cooked fish jumped back into the water, honestly.

And there it was – a reference to the defeat of the Greeks/Byzantines where I wasn’t expecting it. Don’t forget you were conquered, and won’t win now. I walked away empty-handed, miffed and conquered.

Few of the hundreds of visitors to the Hagia Sophia took the time to go around the back. It wasn’t an entrance to the cathedral proper. It was an eye-opener. The courtyard is bounded by the baptistery off the once Christian cathedral on one side and by Islamic family crypts on the others. Beautiful Iznik tiles and calligraphy adorn the final resting place of sultans and their family members. Their coffins covered in green cloth still rest in state elevated off the floor. It is a quiet, reverent place. A place of contemplation.

“But when states are acquired in a province differing in language, in customs, and in institutions, then difficulties arise; and to hold them one must be very fortunate and very assiduous. One of the best, most effective expedients would be for the conqueror to go live there in person. This course of action would make a new possession more secure and more permanent; and this was what the Turk achieved in Greece…”

The Prince, Machiavelli, Penguin Classics, Bull, George (Trans.), 1981, pp. 36-37.

The Ottoman Turks didn’t settle with just moving in. They were and remain assiduous in proclaiming their dominance. They appropriated centuries old spiritual and historical sites and made them their own. First and foremost is the Hagia Sophia. Permanent fixtures, minarets and the royal tombs, were added outside and Islamic calligraphy adorns the central dome. When you walk inside you can almost imagine it being an Orthodox Christian Church again until you raise your head and look above and beyond the colourful masonry up to the pendentives. As minarets square off the outside of the building, inside, four large, painted, wooden discs lean on the base of each cherubim. Today the mosaics have been restored as the Hagia Sophia complex is a museum – a compromise solution between two heritages and two religions. Byzantine mosaics of Emperors pay homage to their Christian god in the upper gallery while below the library of Sultan Mahmut stands empty. A holy place regardless of the noise, the tour groups, the hide-and-seek antics of my youngest child. Historically a holy place for two opposing religions. Could Christians and Muslims ever share this space in common purpose – worship? Spiritually, could we ever reach that height of acceptance, forgiveness, love?

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The Library of the Sultan Mahmut – built inside of Hagia Sophia

We arrived in Istanbul during Ramadan, a wonderful time to be in that city. Istaklal Street was abuzz with foreign visitors – tourists with a middle eastern flavour. In the morning floral garlands were offered in the Square away from the poised and watchful keep of four war heroes on their stone pedestal. Plastic helicopter blades shot off into the night sky and and flame fuelled miniature balloons delighted children and adults alike. We saw a harem for the first time. Eight people walking together through Taksim Square led by a man, an eight-or-so-year old boy by his side, then a black-clad woman wearing sunglasses, slightly to the side and behind, and followed by another six women. My western sensibilities were offended. But this turned to laughter that night when we encountered a different harem altogether.  One man, seven women and multiple designer tote bags were an armada tearing through the Square. This time, the beleaguered gent was struggling to catch up to his wives. At least they were all running in the same direction. Many a western man would flinch at the idea of a shopping trip with one wife, let alone 7!

Ramadan in Turkey means a celebration of the shadow puppet theatre Karagöz. Visiting the city on our own, not knowing the language and staying in an apartment, not a hotel, I couldn’t find a venue to go and see a performance live. But it was being screened on TV.

Just before I first started blogging Karagöz and Karagiozis were mixed up on Wikipedia. The Karagiozis site had images of the Greek puppet and then the rest of the characters were taken from the Karagöz repertoire. Wikipedia prefixed their articles with their wish to amalgamate the two puppets into one entry. The thinking was that the puppets had the same name and therefore were the same. It was the first theatrical issue I blogged about. I argued that they may have the same name but they look very different. And while they both serve to entertain, where the laughs are derived from are very different. Karagiozis began as a barefoot pauper from a ramshackle shanty on the outskirts of town. Always trying to get one over his Ottoman overlords he provided a release to a repressed culture of people. Karagöz on the other hand, was the well-heeled bumpkin who was in need of sophistication and whose theatre, a comedy of manners and situation, satirised the many different ethnicities of the Ottoman Empire.

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Karagiozis meets Karagoz

The obfuscation of the two puppets arises from an apparent general blending of Greek/Byzantine and Turkish culture since the fall of Byzantium. There is much layman debate over who was first to do what between Greeks and Turks. This extends to food – who was first to serve baklava, Loukum/Turkish Delight, pulverised coffee, kebabs/yeeros, revani, manti, imambaldi … Language is looked to, to provide the answer. Is a name Turkish or Greek? But in the Ottoman Empire language wasn’t always the greatest safeguard of culture. You just have to look at the tropes of the Karagiozis puppet theatre, so much of it is Roman. The world of Karagiozis exists in the streetscapes of Plautus’ comedy. Menander is said to have been the first playwright to incorporate stereotyping – stock characters – into his work which is what the shadow puppets are about. Comedy of the Late Romans in antiquity as well as the Romans under the Turkish yoke as in Karagiozis – is of satire and situations. It has been my contention that Karagiozis-style theatrical satire not as shadow puppetry, nor called Karagiozis, existed before Islam came into Asia Minor but had to metamorphise into a form that the authorities would condone. Islam at the time didn’t allow human representation, so shadows were a way of getting around religion.  Karagiozis, possibly evolved from a Selenus-type character, took the name and form of the popular Turkish shadow puppet theatre to survive. In Italy, Roman comedy developed into the very physical, masked street theatre, the commedia dell’arte, in Turkey Roman Comedy developed into shadow puppetry.

Neither Greek nor Roman nor Byzantine. Why not Rhomaioi, that’s what they called themselves?

Language may not be a perfect safeguard for culture but it can help. The Turkish language has preserved the identity of its Greek speaking population as Romans. What, you ask? Well who are they, this ethnic minority? Are they Greeks? They don’t live in Greece. The Greek they speak is a little more formal, the food they eat differs… Are they Turks? They don’t have equal rights with their Muslim counterparts due to their Orthodoxy. Are they Byzantines? The Byzantines were Orthodox but lived in ancient and medieval times and identified as neither ‘Byzantines’ nor ‘Greeks’. Are they Rum, as the Turks know them? Rum, Rumla, the Turkish way of saying Roman. How could they be Roman when they live in Turkey, not Rome, and generally speak neither Latin nor Italian? It’s a problem Western scholars face when trying to come to terms with a Roman Empire that had lost Rome, spoke Greek and was not recognised by the West as Roman in medieval times. I like Rhomaioi. It’s simple if it doesn’t look simple on paper. Rom-Aye-E! It’s what Greek-speaking Byzantines called themselves. Rome – the seed of their empire gets a nod without the pure implication of being citizens of an ancient city no longer part of the Empire.  Rhomaioi – Roman citizens transformed in name, language and religion all wrapped up in one word, Rhomaioi! Rum for the Turks, even today.

 

Agia Sophia Photo by Nikos Niotis on Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Often when Turkish people talk of their pre-1453, historic monuments and architecture they refer to the people who built them in a past tense. As if their race has extinguished. As if there are no people left who have a heritage, a bloodline that connects them to this architecture. Could they claim it as their own regardless of it being a Graeco-Roman ruin in Ephesus or a Christian Church in Istanbul? Regardless that Rhomaioi are still around? On the other hand Turkey can’t claim this history or culture completely as it doesn’t feed the narrative of the victorious, glorious conquerors. In any case Constantinople is just a small part of modern-day Istanbul – the western side. The eastern side is a modern economic hub, so , so different, so now. A lot of Constantinople’s history and significant sites are obscure or forgotten. This is best illustrated by a trip to Phanar, the seat of the Orthodox Patriarchate.

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Neglect in Phanar – just across from the College

An eerie silence pervades Phanar. It’s an old neighbourhood with cobbled streets and fewer inhabitants than buildings it would seem. Off the main road, few stores exist and those that do, do so obstinately for the sake of maintaining their existence, they have given up any pretense of inviting customers. It’s a suburb trapped in a time warp, an alternate reality that you can walk in and out of. The streets are too steep for motor vehicles to access in low gear. Our taxi driver didn’t know how to find the Cathedral of St George and tried valiantly to push his car up the hill in low gear to the College. The College must be the Patriarchate, right? – it’s the only building with any semblence of prestige – former or current. The whining revolution of the engine was an invasion of sound that called the silence to attention. It felt right to dismiss the driver and just walk.

Once the equilibrium of silence and inactivity returned, gleeful wheeing swooshed down at us from even higher up those streets. A child astride a cardboard sled was tobogganing down a steeper block. Life in Phanar isn’t for the uninvited. Our coming had disturbed his play, but we weren’t the only ones – just the noisiest. There was a slow trickle of  foreign visitors – history students and Orthodox faithful, puffing their way up the hill looking for the Patriarchate, the College, Byzantine museums or sites. From them we learnt that the Patriarchate survives at the bottom of those steep streets, unobtrusively tucked away and humbled.

Don’t look for the Vatican in Phanar. Don’t expect taxi drivers to know where to find the Patriarchate. We were guided by other pilgrims who found it on their own. When you reach the Cathedral of St George, don’t be disappointed with its size. The liturgy, the relics and the history will move you. And if one particular relic of the Virgin Mary is the one you most hope to see – the icon that St Luke painted, the one that paraded the Walls so often throughout history, know that it isn’t there. It no longer protects the Walls but is protected elsewhere.

Istanbul is no Rome and Phanar is no Vatican City.

Why is Phanar so neglected? Is it to cloak the Patriachate with invisibility? Is it because so much Byzantine power emanated from the Patriarchate? Would it have to be so if  Byzantine history was universally appreciated? What does Byzantine mean for most people? For the polyethnic descendants of the Empire? Is it because no country can fully claim Byzantine heritage as solely their own that its study has been neglected?  Is it because the history of the Byzantines is one of a waning empire? Because its sites and relics are not celebrated does this perpetrate a vicious circle of neglect? My generation of Greek learners outside of Greece weren’t taught any Byzantine history besides the fall of the Polis. Our texts were standard Greek government issue of the 1970s. I’m learning about it now through the History of Byzantium podcast. I knew so little then that when we returned from Istanbul we had a Verfremdungseffekt moment when an Armenian jeweller was taken aback that we, Greeks, would know what Byzantine meant. His implication was that it had more to do with Armenian history. We were perplexed that he would consider it anything but Greek. We both have much to learn. Byzantine history has been a casualty of conquest, obeisance, neglect and…Karma?

Lets be fair, the Byzantine/Romans/Rhomaioi didn’t respect the monuments of the lands they conquered.

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Emperor Justinian’s Basilica Cistern

Arghhhh! Splash! My Fez! Pluts, pluts, pluts!

No. Stop! You’re gonna fall in. Let your father get it.

Shhh! Wait for the group to pass.

Can you reach it? You might have to get in. Want me to hold the camera?

Looook at the fish!

Stay put!!!!

Oooooo …my….hat….

Baba’s got really long arms.

My hat! Thanks Baba.

Trying to get a better look at the Medusa head column my excitable son had lost his new fez! Medusa’s head sits in a far corner of the Cistern, upside down, the base of a supporting column. It’s not the only architectural curiosity. Justinian’s Bascilica Cistern is made up many purposely built columns but also proud masonry from the far reaches of the Empire. They respected these foreign artworks so much, they ended up in a subterranean water works for no one to admire. Had conquest come hard for the Romaioi in the home of Medusa? The obelisk of Tuthmose III from the temple of Karnak was erected and still stands on the site of the Hippodrome, renamed the Obelisk of Theodosius and mounted on a pedestal celebrating that Byzantine Emperor and the races . Did it really need to be thus justified? It had its own majesty and purpose. Did it really need to be removed from Karnak? What purpose other than celebrating conquest could it have served? The Byzantines could never understand it. Did they have to celebrate their conquest of a much older and intriguing civilization thus?

 

 

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In a thousand year old church in the mountain town of Iassou, on Mytilene, is the icon of the Virgin and Child said to have been painted by St Luke. If so, it is the icon that was paraded around the walls of Constantinople when the young son of Heraclius held regency for his father.

Recently Robin Pierson of the History of Byzantium podcast brokered the idea of doing a Byzantine audio tour of Old Istanbul, Constantinople. It’s something that would benefit any Byzantine history buff. It placed me in a quandary as I’ve wanted to write about Istanbul for awhile but have run away from it. Should I write the post? How do I convey the grief, excitement, nostalgia, anger and curiosity that my brief stay there invoked? And if what I have to say is negative, should it be said at all? It’s not my home but it was a very important part of my family’s livelihood back when it was still Constantinople. Does this colour my perception? Does it render my conclusions unjust and my post irrelevant? Then I read history blogger, Sean Munger’s response to the city and why he hasn’t visited it. Then there was Palaiologinos Ultimate Byzanitine Roadtrip post (set in Greece) and the history Fangirl’s podcast re the Grand Bazaar and Walls of Constantinople – all very different in feel but all taking me back to my quandry. Do I, don’t I? Catharsis won in the end. So here I am in 2017, writing about my responses to the city in 2014.

We enjoyed so much of the city. The kids loved chasing stray cats, riding a Phaeton on the Princes Island, swimming in the Maramara Sea and marvelling at the steam-punk mechanism of the funicular – the subterranean trolley car connecting Taksim Square to the ferry quay. There was so much to discover in the Grand Bazaar. Playing backgammon amongst locals in a street lined on either side with coffeehouses offering baklava, arghele and Turkish coffee. We had a lot of fun dressing up as Ottoman Sultan’s in a store set up in a corner of the Basilica Cistern. It didn’t go unnoticed that there wasn’t a toga or a red boot to be offered but it was a lot of fun.

It’s the pain of the past that Old Constantinople conjures up that makes Istanbul bittersweet. If Istanbul were Rome, the site of the Hippodrome would be alive with al fresco cafes selling overpriced coffee and souvenir stalls selling bobbing chariot car toys. Kitsch but embracing the greatness of a civilization that once belonged. In Rome, Romans can walk in the steps of their ancestors with pride. Why can’t Byzantine history be paid tribute to in the old part of the city without acknowledging Ottoman conquest. What has Mehmet to do with Justinian?

 

(1) Travel Tip – when booking your stay online, don’t just look at the apartment on the website, go to google maps and check out the streets that surround it. Wherever we stayed was clean and comfortable but we could have stayed on streets that were better suited to children.

(2) Travel tip – when going by taxi get your hotel concierge to order it for you, that way you can avoid what I came to see as the 16-60 ruse. This is where you ask the driver before the journey the approximate cost, he clearly states a figure in the teens e.g., 16 lira and then demands 60 lira when you arrive. So 13 became 30, 19 became 90, etc. It happened whenever we didn’t get a local to order a cab for us.

(3) Travel tip – when planning your visit check the days that the site you wish to see will be open. They all seem to shut one day a week but it differs for each site.

 

1. Voila! Silenus Spoila?

When you have only read about ancient civilizations, you can only understand so much. Photos and footage will help you, tricking you into believing you have a good idea. Being there, walking through a town that was once inhabited is an experience of its own. Walking in and out of shops with their residences no longer on the floor above, or down a road defined today by its storm-water gutters, just like ours are, brings their daily lives into our sphere of understanding. What separates us from them? Is it merely technology? The realities of their lives are the realities of ours. But they’re dead. They’re anonymous. Their concerns have been silenced.

As you wander through the vestiges of their lives, their silence is palpable, oppressive, contained. It’s a directive, an order. Stop. Perceive. Smearing wheels over dirt roads are muffled and consumed. The mythic monster, Yesteryear, is a jealous, posturing tyrant. Engage only with it. Engage with the bustling noise of a city trying to penetrate through ether masquerading as air. Did you hear its hum? It’s in the breeze. Turn around fast enough and you may see them. Did you catch them? Did the sky steal them away? The sky belonged then as it does now. Time and the sky. Cronus and his father, Ouranos, fraternize, conspiring to keep us and their ancient supplicants in separate cells. Cells woven with silence, contained in the compression of tymbals. Any warp is perpetually mended with the laboured ticking of the cicadas. It’s a love song heard then and now.

The Kouros statue from the Sanctuary of Pythian Apollo, now in the Archaeological Museum of Thasos

On Thasos, the ancients daily interaction with their gods resounds through the archaeological site.  Nigel Mc Gilchrist, author of a series of books for travellers to the Greek Islands, describes Thasos thus:

“most valuable of all, is the vivid picture it gives of how the Ancients sensed that a network of divine presences with different areas of influence participated in, and watched over the daily life of their community. Dionysus caroused with the artists, performers and drinkers in the thick of the town; Apollo watched from the lofty height of his temple, way above the city; and Pan sometimes kept company with the lonely guardsmen on the highest look-out posts of the acropolis, when the autumn mists descended. This is the unusual gift of Thasos – that it presents not just a multitude of ruins, but the living texture of an ancient city and its whole imaginative world.” (1)

 

The ancient drain, to the right of which was the two story building.

The ancient drain, to the right of which was the two-storey building.

The ancient town of Thasos now at Limenas was walled. It stretched from the present day archaeological museum and up the hillside to the cliffs. It had two ports, a series of lighthouses leading to them, boat drying sheds, two theatres, jewellery workshops, a farmstead, potters workshop, an agora, shops, double storey residences, shrines and temples. Within the length of the walls are several gates, dedicated to various ancient deities. One of these is dedicated to Silenus.

Head of Silenus, in the Archaeological Museum of Thasos

Silenus, in the Archaeological Museum at Thasos

 

Reference

(1) Mc Gilchrist, Nigel, Mc Gilchrist’s Greek Islands, Volume 11. Thasos, Genius Loci Publications, London, pp 10-11.

 Photo Credit

The Kouros statue from the Sanctuary of Pythian Apollo, now in the Archaeological Museum of Thasos – Panegyrics of Granovetter / Foter / CC BY-SA

Shakespeare’s Marina, St Marina?

My gentle babe, Marina (whom, For she was born at sea, I have named so) here…”

Act III Scene III, lines 12-13

In my recent posts chronicling my attempt to find physical connections between the island of Thasos and Shakespeare’s Tharse, from Pericles, I withheld my misadventure of the mind. You see, I postulated my hypothesis and then had the wonderful opportunity to visit the island before completing the necessary background reading.( In no way does my lapse impact on my argument that Thasos was intended for Tharsus.) When I returned I was so excited about my time on the island that I couldn’t wait to start writing. So I did. That was wrong. You see, I had read about the source for the play, John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, but hadn’t read it until after I had started posting. I had assumed that because Shakespeare gave Marina her name that he had actually added the character to the story. This is incorrect. Marina is part of Gower’s plot but her name is given variously as Taisa, Thaisa and Thaise, after her mother.

On Thasos, having passed the ancient submerged marina that would have sheltered Pericles; walked through the ancient Agora and around Roman floor mosaics, fit for a governor’s residence;  and spotted violets in the archaeological site, I was exhuberant. These are all inherent in the text. I went looking for a reason he renamed Gower’s character, a church, chapel or site that may have been the inspiration behind the name, Marina. I ignored the text. There had to be more to it, right?

Icon of St Marina, from St Andrew’s, Constanta, Romania
the bubu / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

When I read Pericles, it struck me how saintly Marina was. The girl could be placed in a brothel and turn the patrons away from their libidinous purpose. The portrayal brought to mind the early christian saint from Antioch(1), St Marina. St Marina was born at the end of the 3rd Century C.E., about the time of the earliest surviving renditions of the Pericles story. (2) Similarities between Shakespeare’s Marina and St Marina include that they were both “only” children; both came from nobility; both were raised by a nurse after the death of their mothers; both were said to be beautiful women; and both rebuked the advances of prevailing Governors. Whereas St Marina’s father disowned her completely, Pericles abandoned his daughter for many years. These are their similarities. In the icon above, the Silenus-like creature is a devil who St Marina pounded to death when she was in prison. You can read more about the life of St Marina on the wonderful Mystagogy website. By sheer coincidence, I found myself on Thasos on St Marina’s Day, July 17. This was fortuitous as there are no churches dedicated to St Marina marked or written about in Thasos’ tourist literature – ie maps or books – but St Marina was within shallow access of people’s minds.  After a quick enquiry at the Archaeological Museum, my companions and  I were given rough instructions on how to find St Marina’s Chapel. It is about two kilometers inland from the Ancient Agora.

St Marina's Chapel, just a few kms north of the Ancient Agora of Thasos.

St Marina’s Chapel, just a few kms north of the Ancient Agora of Thasos.

The small chapel, easily forgotten on such a small island with so many important archaeological and religious drawcards is built in a clearing amongst olive groves. The simple chapel is neat and small. Its stone and brickwork tell nothing of its age. That it was St Marina’s day meant that the Chapel would be host to a liturgy and festivities. The yard was decorated with flags.We arrived late for the festivites but were able to ask the odd faithful straggling in how old the church was. “Old” was the repeated answer. But how old? Could it have stood in the 16th Century? Above the door the lintel stone shows the carved figure of sheep/goats. It looks like spoila from the archaeological site. It is not the only christian edifice on Thasos to have benefited from the once abundant ancient masonry. Could the chapel be so old as the early Christian era? The icons within aren’t that old. Their pigments haven’t decayed in that murky brown vacuum that nulls out all detail. Traced silverwork encasing brown, voided faces in frames, are nowhere in the chapel. Its icons are all painted on panels and have retained their colours. In style they appear much younger than 400 years old. The fittings are fairly recent too, but the building?

Very old olive grove by St Marina's Chapel

Very old olive grove by St Marina’s Chapel

Just over the fence of the chapel’s enclosure are olive groves. Their trees are very old. Their broad and gnarled trunks belie their age. If only they could talk. Olive trees can survive thousands of years. One of my companions, an olive grower from Chalkidiki, assured me that the orchards were easily 400 years old. An orchard, not 100 m along was even older.

Me in a tree - almost. The older olive grove down the road from St Marina's Chapel

Me in a tree – almost. The older olive grove down the road from St Marina’s Chapel

My feeling from having read the text and visited the island is that Shakespeare, his collaborator, or source, may have visited the island but not spent too much time there. The chapel isn’t too far from the ancient marina to walk too, if you intend on looking for it. It is not something that you would stumble upon casually. Why did he rename Taisa/Thaise/Taisa, Marina? It seemed to me that he would have seen the parallel between Gower’s character and the Catholic/Orthodox saint: but how? There were two saints named St Marina and there exists some confusion between the two of them as regards to the afterlife of their relics. There are a couple of stories which you can read here and here. Essential to both stories is that her relics were transferred by the Crusaders from Constantinople to Italy early in the 13th Century. Having the power to cure illnesses, these relics have been venerated in Venice, among other Christian cities, for centuries. Many Englishmen travelled to Venice in Shakespeare’s day who would have seen the relics and heard of their miraculous healing power and the life of St Marina. It is not a great leap that Shakespeare may have made the connection. Am I reading too much into this? Early literature is full of two dimensional portrayals of women. They are either sinners or saints. Shakespeare’s women aren’t fully free of this blight. And then history is full of coincidences. Remembering his text:

My gentle babe, Marina (whom, For she was born at sea, I have named so) here…”

Act III Scene III, lines 12-13

it seems so.

Footnotes

  (1) Antioch is where the play of Pericles opens (2)That is the earliest renditions of the Apollonius story

The “thing” I do in Greece

When I visit Greece I have this, “thing,” that I do. I can’t help myself, I have to do “it.” If circumstances prevent me from doing “it”, I sulk silently, within. It’s just a little peccadillo. I feel somehow robbed if I can’t. So, as often as possible I do, “it.” I find myself an ancient amphitheatre and I photograph it.

I’ve photographed one in Larissa, and one on Delos.

Amphitheatre on Delos

Amphitheatre on Delos

In Delphi …

Amphitheatre at the ancient oracle, Delphi

Amphitheatre at the ancient oracle, Delphi

In the Peloponnese . . .

Epidaurus

Epidaurus

And in Athens, the Theatre of Dionysus . . .

The Theatre of Dionysus, South Slope, Acropolis, Athens

The Theatre of Dionysus, South Slope, Acropolis, Athens

Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes did not see their plays produced in this amphitheatre. Their time preceeded the stone stage. Their plays were produced on a wooden stage, perhaps at this very spot, but without the elaborate skene indicated by the row of decorative sculptures at the far end of this structure. Their protagonists would have shared the semi-circular performance space, the orchestra, with the chorus. This theatre is from a slightly later period when the actors treaded upon the front section of the skene (scene), the proscenio.

Theatre of Dioysus, the actor's view into the audience

Theatre of Dionysus, the actor’s view into the audience, featuring the “orchestra” ie the performance space

This theatre is situated on the southern slope of the Acropolis in Athens. It served the city of Athens, it’s said, for 1000 years. Below it, is the Temple of Dionysus, above it can be seen the fortifications that surround the Parthenon and Erechtheion. The much later (Roman), and still in use, Odeon of Herodotus Atticus, is a short way away on the walk to the summit. From the Orchestra, we see the koilon, the seating for the audience. It’s the seating of this theatre that bring the Ancient Greeks a little closer to us.

Proedria, reserved seating for officials and priests

Proedria, reserved seating for officials and priests

The best seats in the “house,” the proedria, were reserved for dignitaries. Some of their names can be still seen carved into the marble. They remind me of the patrons/sponsors plaques on the chairs of my former, high school auditorium.They are the ancient equivalent of the member’s stand or the royal box. These were, of course, the front row.

Farther up and along the path to the summit you will encounter a statue of Menander. He, the greatest writer of New Comedy, had his plays produced here. If you have the time, climbing the Acropolis from the Southern Slope, you will get a better sense of the value of drama and music to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, from the number of buildings dedicated to their appreciation there.

Further Reading

Greek Amphitheatres

http://www.greektheatre.gr/constr.html

Southern Slope of the Acropolis, Athens

http://www.greece-athens.com/place.php?place_id=30

2.To Thasos with Shakespeare to guide us!

Could Shakespeare have understood John Gower’s, “Tharse” to mean Thasos when he wrote, “Tharsus” into Pericles? In my previous posts, beginning with, Shakespeare’s Tharsus: Thasos or Tarsusthrough to my last post, I have reasoned why I think that Shakespeare had a particular time period (the Graeco-Roman world), Empire (the Seleucid) and settings in mind when he retold this much loved Medieval-Byzantine tale. Gower, in his translation of an earlier re-telling, perhaps French, uses different suffixes in his place settings than Shakespeare does e.g., ‘Pentapolis,’ in Shakespeare, is “Pentapolim,” in Gower. Shakespeare chose the Greek suffix over the Latin. Was he deliberately hellenising “Tharse?” With Shakespeare’s renowned biblical knowledge, he would have recognised the difference between biblical, “Tarsus” and Gower’s, “Tharse”.

If he meant, “Thasos,” how well did he know the island? Well enough to have gone there? Following Richard Roe’s lead, I looked for the details specific to the island that would answer this question. Richard Roe also provided a logical explanation for the presence of any Englishman in the North Aegean from the late 16th Century – there was an English Embassy and merchant – trading company in Constatinople from this time.(1)

Having previously compared Cleon’s description of the island, its wealth, the ancient marina and his imagined residence, with the present archaeological site on Thasos, I will now focus on Marina. After Dionyza has Marina’s maid killed, Marina goes to her grave with flowers.

“No. I will rob Tellus(2) of her weed.

To strew thy green with flowers: the yellows, blues,

The purple violets, and marigolds,

Shall as a carpet hang upon thy grave,

While Summer-days do last.”

Act IV Scene I, lines 13-17

Thasos - violets growing wildly in the archaeological site.

Thasos – violets growing wildly in the archaeological site.

Photographing violets in the archaeological site was easy, they were growing wildly in abundance. Being so small, I thought I’d include larger, wildly-growing violets from the neighbouring mainland, Macedonia, in Northern Greece. The island shares its geographical features.(3) Marigolds are a common feature in Aegean gardens.

Wild Violets of Macedonia

Violets growing wildly in Macedonia, Northern Greece

Although I didn't see any marigolds growing wildy on Thasos, they are a very popular flower in Greek gardens. These are Maro's marigolds, grown not too far away from Mytilene.

Marigolds growing in the garden of another North Aegean Island, Lesvos. Today, marigolds are a common feature in many Greek gardens.

 After Dionyza has ordered the death of Marina, she taunts her husband, Cleon, for his disapproval of her actions thus:

“…Be one of those, that think

The pretty wrens of Tharsus will fly hence,

And open this to Pericles. I do shame

To think of what a noble strain you are,

And of how coward a spirit.”

Act IV Scene IV, lines 21-25

From Wikipedia, we may guess that the type of wren that is being referred to is the eurasian wren. This rings true as the eurasian wren nests in coniferous forests and Thasos was named for just forests (4).Wrens are also mentioned by ancient writers such as Plutarch and Aesop. Shakespeare may be referring to Suetonius here in using the wren to forewarn Pericles of his daughter’s supposed death. Suetonius used a wren to forewarn Julius Caesar of his own. Shakespeare thus knits his work closer to the Graeco-Roman world.

Troglodyte mignon Troglodytes troglodytes - Eurasian Wren

Eurasian Wren

Although the specific details relating to Tharsus are few, they have a resonance with the island of Thasos. Noteably, they don’t exclude Thasos from being, “Tharsus.” There are probably wrens in Tarsus, and yes, there is an archaeolgical site there, and it is hard to imagine Thasos, or any ancient Graeco-Roman site, to have had towers, but the geography of Pericles’ voyage better fits Thasos. Shakespeare was accurate in his foreign details, just as Richard Roe said he was. Did he go there? The historical record has many gaps. Pericles is regarded by many as a collaborative text. Did his collaborator visit the island or the North Aegean? By looking closely at Shakespeare’s texts and regarding them from the point of view that the author(s) had travelled abroad, we may get a clearer picture as to whose hand(s) held his quill.

Photo Credits

Eurasian Wren

Footnotes

1. According to Wikipedia, the first English Ambassador to Turkey was William Harborne (c1542-1617). He served as Ambassador from 1583-1588. He was serving the interests of the Levant Company.

2. Tellus was an Ancient Roman earth-mother goddess.

3.”Something of the greenness and spaciousness of Macedonia is distilled in Thasos. Its effect is more intense for being concentrated within the circumference of an island.”

Mc Gilchrist, Nigel, McGilchrist’s Greek Islands: 11. Thasos,Genius Loci Publications, London, 2010, p.9.

4.Grandjean, Yves and Salviat, Francois, Odigos tis Thasou, Ecole Francaise D’Athenes, 3:Sites et Monuments, Sanidas, Yiorgos and Argyri Artemis (trans.), 2012, p.19.

1.To Thasos with Shakespeare to guide us!

Holidaying in Greece this northern Summer, we were blessed. Our vacation was a time of reconnecting with relatives, many of whom I hadn’t had the pleasure of knowing as adults. Getting to know them now, was like making new friends minus the awkwardness. They were so hospitable, so generous with their time, so indulgent.

Catching up, of course, meant answering the inevitable question of what am I doing with my time. Kids. House. Family. Writing …blogging. About what? Which fixation should I go with? Karagiozis? Menander? Shakespeare?

The modern day township of Limenas, built up over centuries of history. The ancient marina is submerged beneath this modern day one.

The modern-day township of Limenas, built up over centuries of history. The ancient marina is submerged beneath this modern-day one.

Did I know Thasos wasn’t too far away – when you consider the distance already bridged that is – Sydney, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Thessaloniki? We could go tomorrow. Why not? On the morrow with Pericles in hand and a child being cared for by the extended family, my cousins Michail and Aristea, drove me, my husband and eldest son, through Chalkidiki, north to Kavala and onto the ferry for Thasos.

We were there to answer the question, “How well acquainted with Thasos was Shakespeare?” With so many holes in the historical record, could he have slipped through a trip to Thasos without leaving a trace on the fabric of history? Are the details of Tharsus so precise that they describe Thasos? Unless I looked, all I would be left with was my own conjecture.

The place I wanted to find the most was the Governor’s, Cleon’s, residence. I imagined that he would have lived in a castle or fortress. Being unsuccessful in my attempts at googling archaeological sites on Thasos, in English, we headed for the archaeological museum to make our first enquiries. Just across the road from the museum’s entrance was the entrance into the Roman Agora. I was thrilled. I had placed the action of the play during the time of the Seleucid Empire, which coincided with the Roman occupation of Thasos. The Agora, just metres inland from ancient boat sheds and marina, was a place of interest in forming the possible cityscape of Shakespeare’s Tharsus. It was the heart of the ancient city.

Ancient Agora of Thasos

The Ancient Agora of Thasos

Could this archaeological site be all that is left of:

This Tharsus…
A city, on whom plenty held full hand,
For riches strew’d herself even in the street;
Whose towers bore heads so high, they kissed the clouds,
And strangers ne’er beheld, but wondered at…

Riches? Ancient Thasos was a mineral rich island. There had been a succession of mining activity on the island that began with ochre in pre-history and moved through gold and silver and continues today off-shore, with oil. If statues can be numbered as riches, Thasos honoured gods, civil leaders and a home-grown athlete, Theagenes, with public installations.

The ancient drain, to the right of which was the two story building.

The ancient drain, to the right of which was the two story building.

Walking through the Agora and along a drain that cut across the width of the site, it was hard to imagine a double storey structure by it.* Harder to imagine towers. Walking deeper into the site and under a small bridge that accommodates the present day road, we came to an area only partially excavated by the French archaeological school in the 1930s. Beyond this and only recently excavated is a Roman official’s villa and bath. The mosaic floor has been relocated to the forecourt of the archaeological museum. It is one, complete floor, shown in the next couple of photos.

Roman Official's Villa -  Mosaic Floor

Roman Official’s Villa – Mosaic Floor

Detail of Roman Villa's Mosaic Floor - joins the previous image

Detail of Roman Villa’s Mosaic Floor – joins the previous image

Having found the city and possibly the Governor’s residence, I was euphoric. I wanted to find more. Is this how Richard Roe felt during his searches for the real settings of Shakespeare’s Italian plays? Did he get carried away wanting to find more?

More? What about Marina? That’s a nice Christian name belonging to a saintly maid. Marina, the virtuous, despoiling the clientele of Mytilene’s brothel with her philosophising! Shakespeare’s Marina whitewashed their blackened souls. St Marina, a wealthy young woman of the Eastern Mediterranean world shunned marriage for her loftier religious ideals. Could there be a connection between Shakespeare’s Marina and St Marina? Was Shakespeare thinking of the saint when he named Pericles daughter? Has there ever been a connection between Thasos / Tharsus and St Marina? And what of more specific connections between the text of Pericles and Thasos? I’ll leave these for next time.

Acknowledgments

I’d like to especially thank Michail Papalexiou and Aristea Londou for their enthusiasm, generosity and patience in making this search possible and the extended Papalexiou family for their caring and capable child minding.

*Mc Gilchrist, Nigel, Mc Gilchrist’s Greek Islands:11. Thasos,Genius Loci Publications, London, p.27.

Richard Roe’s “The Shakespeare Guide to Italy” – Book Review

Italy seems like an amazing place to visit. There’s Ancient Rome, Pompeii, Renaissance Florence, Pisa, Venice and, for the lover of Shakespeare, Verona. (Oops, I’ve just skimmed over so many places!) When I read travel blogs, guides and websites, it all seems lovely but nothing has made me want to visit there more than Richard Roe’s The Shakespeare Guide to Italy. It’s not that Italy needs Shakespeare to be appealing, there is so much history and art there, rather it’s that seeing it through Shakespeare’s eyes is to put yourself in one of his romances.

Richard Roe’s book works as a tourist’s guide to Shakespeare’s Italy as well as a student’s reference book. Over the course of 20 years and several trips to Italy, Roe set out to prove that Shakespeare had an intimate acquaintance with the localities he chose to set his plays in. The conviction that Shakespeare knew Italy is not new. Mainstream scholars in the 19th century were convinced of it. Advocates of the Shakespeare Authorship Question are also convinced. Why is it important? It aids in our reading of the plays, it signals to the dramaturg how deeply s/he should research, and for SAQ advocates it’s a mighty strong argument against the man from Stratford.

Roe’s interpretation of which plays are Italian can be found in the beginning of the work. He then devotes a chapter each to them. His list is not arbitrary. He includes A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play set around Ancient Athens but excludes Julius Caesar, a play set around Ancient Rome. This is because his book deals with the Renaissance plays set on the Italian penninsula. He justifies his inclusion of AMSND by arguing that an Italian estate was the setting used to describe Ancient Athens. He puts up a strong argument to favour his researched opinion. The issue I take with this instance is that the mythology of Theseus, Hippolyta, Hippolytus and Phaedra had been dealt with by ancient writers and, no doubt, discussed by students of the classics for centuries, Shakespeare did not need to visit Italy to have written it.

It’s a trap that Roe fell into and, I must admit, I followed on his heels when I went to Thasos earlier this year. You see, looking for physical evidence from the plots becomes addictive once you have found something. The possibility that every reference is literal and not illustrative takes over and it’s hard to resist looking for it and photographing it. It becomes like historic orienteering or placing yourself in the Amazing Race where your mightiest opponent is the time dictated by your passport or travel tickets.

Where Roe really shines is when he reads the localities from a Renaissance perspective. Any student of history will tell you that towns sprouted along river systems and how important rivers were to trade. Roe clearly explains transport by river and canal systems in Italy. He delves into the history and mechanics of how they operated. Da Vinci’s mechanical gate apparatus is explained and he shows us with maps the canal systems that allowed travellers to sail overland. No, Shakespeare wasn’t wrong about sailing from Verona To Milan in The Two Gentlemen of Verona or part of the way from Pisa to Padua in the Taming of the Shrew.

He corrects editors of their clumsy translations e.g., in Othello the word Sagittary had been understood to mean an inn with the sign of the centaur. Roe has shown it to be interchangeable with the Venetian word, frezzeria, meaning the street of the arrow maker ( see p. 167).

Then there is his correction of misunderstandings of local practices e.g., the use of the word tucket in All’s Well that Ends Well. Editors have described it as a flourish. Roe emends this to the distinctive musical sentence belonging to a ranked individual that heralded their approach at a city gate. Splitting hairs? Not quite. The difference between the two alter the setting of Act 3 Scene 5. Just any old ditty would mean that the women are outside the city or in its walls to recognise Bertram by sight. A personal signature tune would place them within the walls of Florence, and in their cloistered, feminine domain. They recognised Bertram’s approach by sound from home and did not flout society’s closeting of women by being without the walls of the polis.

His regaling of local history gives a rich background that has otherwise been lost over time e.g., in Much Ado About Nothing his research into the life of Don John of Austria and his connection to Messina. Roe explains the bitterness of John the Bastard who he claims the Bard modelled on Don John.

And there is his knowledge of the law in Venice e.g., the prohibition of wearing swords in public and the law governing shipping.

Roe supports his arguments with historic maps, prints, drawings and his personal photos and specially charted maps. Where buildings still exist, the photos are the reward for walking through Italy with Roe. It’s a great book.

Reading it from the perspective of the SAQ, it feels as though it began as a fact finding mission to bolster the argument that Shakespeare was not the untraveled provincial from Stratford but a man with a sabbatical firmly under his belt. As the book progresses, challenges to the traditional attribution are thinly veiled. Roe was an Oxfordian and I can’t shake the feeling that his search was guided by the known travels of the Earl of Oxford in 1575. I am left to wonder whether an adherent of another pretender would have interpreted A Midsummer Night’s Dream differently?

Regardless of his searching rationale, Richard Roe got results. What he adds in the way of our knowledge helps to clarify many, many points of confusion. For someone who would like to understand the practicalities of living in Renaissance Italy, this is the book to read. To immerse yourself in this world, all you need do after reading this book is read one of the Bard’s Italian plays.

A fantastic Christmas gift for the lover of history, Shakespeare and mysteries.

Shakespeare’s Tharsus: Pericles’ Voyage -Pt 3

To retrace Pericles voyage today would be like doing an archaeological tour of the Mediterranean. From the previous post in this series, we can assume that Shakespeare kept the historical pretext for the play accurate, despite changing the name of the main protagonist. There was a historic Tyre, Tharsus, Pentapolis, Ephesus and Mytilene. Although he makes contemporary references e.g., the Spanish naval commander, Pedro de Valdes, who was imprisoned in London from 1588-1593; the Antiochan, Thaliard, having a pistol; and the existance of a Transylvanian in the market town of Mytilene, the world of the play is firmly set in the Graeco-Roman world in the time of the Seleucid Empire. Looking at how probable the journey he embarked on was, we can judge whether Shakespeare indeed meant the Aegean island, Thasos, when Tharsus was printed

I must apologize in advance for the crudeness of my map. Making it was an excursion into my school days, before computer graphics and scanners. Something, necessity forced me into, and a little curiosity as to whether it was do-able. Probably unwise, but I couldn’t find the necessary map in cyber-space. I hope it gives the idea of the journey in its jalopy way.

hippodrome from distance 1

The Hippodrome, Tyre (Sour), Lebanon

When Pericles flees from Antioch he is persued by Thaliard, an Antiochean lord entrusted with poison to kill him. Immediately, he returns home to Tyre. He loads his vessels with ample provisions and leaves quickly. Thaliard, not finding his wake, returns to Antioch.

Map of the journey of Pericles after fleeing Antioch

Pericles’ Journey, with apologies for the naivete of the map

Reason 1 – Why Tharsus was Thasos and not Tarsus – Distance

Looking at my crudely drawn map above, Tyre and Antioch are situated on the banks of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Tarsus is situated, north-west of Antioch, in modern-day Turkey. Tarsus is built about 20km inland from the Mediterranean Sea along the Berdan River. In trying to escape Thaliard, Pericles’ fleet would more likely have sailed in a direction away from Antioch and the local coast. He was particularly concerned not to embroil his people in a military conflagration with imperial Antioch. Sailing deep into the Mediterranean and up into the Aegean he had many islands to hide on. From Thasos, in the North Aegean, he could head up the Dardenelles (ancient Hellespont), through the Marmara Sea and into the Black Sea.

Reason 2 – Proximity to Troy

When Pericles arrives on Tharsus, he offers the provisions of his ships to the Governor of Tharsus. News of their famine had reached faraway Tyre, so Pericles had come prepared. He allays their suspicion over his intent by saying,

“And these our ships, you happily may think

Are like the Trojan Horse, was stuff’d within

With bloody veins, expecting overthrow,

Are stor’d with corn to make your needy bread,

And give them life whom hunger starv’d half dead.”

(Act I Scene IV lines 92-96)

Troy was situated in the Dardenelles, just off the Aegean Sea on what is today,Turkey’s west, mainland coast. On my map, it is north of Mytilene on the southern shore of the strait of water heading into the bodies of water to the top right (Marmara Sea.) Troy was a neighbouring power. The inhabitants of Thasos would have heard the stories from Troy before Homer would have finished writing them down. In Pericles time, Trojan history was local lore. Pericles words then, are not merely allegorical but straight-forward.

After news from Tyre, Pericles sets off for home. His ships are caught in a storm from which only he survives. He is washed ashore in Pentapolis.

Pentapolis, in modern day Libya

Pentapolis in modern day Libya

Pentapolis in ancient times could mean a group of five cities. I have taken it to mean those of the north African coast, Cyrenaica, now in Libya. These cities  were Cyrene, Berenice, Apollonia, Ptolemais and Taucheira. In keeping with the idea that Antiochus referred to a monarch descended from Alexander the Great’s generals, I believe that the story is probably referring to a kingdom once ruled by descendants of another of them, Ptolemy in Egypt.

Reason Three – Thasos is closer to ancient Pentapolis than Tarsus is. From Thasos, Pentapolis is a detour on the way to Tyre. It is more likely that the fleet was misdirected descending out of the Aegean from Thasos than being blown there from Tarsus.

In Pentapolis, Pericles wins the hand of the daughter of the King in a tournament. They then set sail for Tyre. Another storm causes calamity.Thaisa, Pericles pregnant wife, delivers their daughter on board. She is believed to have died in child-birth. She is placed in a sealed container and thrown overboard. Her make-shift coffin lands off the coast of Ephesus where she is miraculously brought back to life by Cerimon. She enters the Temple of Diana (Artemis) there as a proselyte.

a temple in the Ruins of Ephesus, Turkey

A Temple in the Ruins of Ephesus – The ancient Temple of Artemis/Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world has not survived.

Reason Four – The Proximity of Ephesus to Thasos.

The make-shift coffin would have had to float up into the Aegean, passing by Crete, the Cyclades Islands, as well as several others to reach Ephesus from Pentapolis. At the same time Pericles ship had to be close enough to Tharsus to harbour there. The ship was more likely to have been near or in the Aegean when this storm commandeered it. Being in the vicinity of Thasos, floating to Ephesus, is a more direct route for the coffin, and quicker for Pericles to obtain aid for his newly born daughter.

Thassos - Limenas

Aerial shot of Thasos. The ancient theatre is visible up on the hillside on the left. The ancient marina is submerged off the coast on the right of the shore. The ancient and modern city co-exist in the same locality

Coming into shore at Tharsus, Pericles leaves his daughter, Marina, in the care of the Governor. He returns home, abandoning her for years. In the interim she grows to be a pious beauty. She excels at all she does, be it needlework or philosophy. Her stepmother, envious that her own daughter is not similarly graced, arranges for an assassin in kill her. Before Leonine has the chance to perform his duty, Marina is kidnapped by pirates bound for Mytilene.

Moria - Late Roman Architecture - Aqueduct

The Late Roman aqueduct that took fresh water from Mt Olymbos to Mytilene in late antiquity. Moria, Lesvos

Reason Five – the Renaissance association of Mytilene and Thasos and their geographic proximity.

Why Mytilene? Mytilene is the port and capital of the ancient island of Lesbos. During the Renaissance it was the seat of a Genosese dynasty who governed the islands of the north Aegean, including Thasos. The founder, Francesco Gatteliusi (1355-1384), was a pirate. He earned the governorship of the island by aiding a future Byzantine Emperor attack Constantinople.

Eventually Pericles is reunited with his daughter in Mytilene. He then sees a vision of the goddess Diana. She sends him to Ephesus where he is reunited with his wife, Thaisa.

The strongest reason why Thasos was meant for Tharsus is geography. It is more plausible than Tarsus.

 

The Hippodrome, Tyre

Photo credit: stevendamron / Foter / CC BY

Pentapolis

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Ephesus

Photo credit: neilalderney123 / Foter / CC BY-NC

Thasos – Limenas

Photo credit: Visit Greece / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Late Roman Aqueduct supplying Mytilene with fresh water