Tag Archive for Classical Studies

Classics/Archaeology Class Learns about Ancient Bronze Casting from Local Bladesmiths

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Two professional bladesmiths taught Wesleyan students how to create weapons “the old fashioned way” on Oct. 24. The class, Single Combat in the Ancient World, is taught by Kate Birney, pictured second from left.

Students taking the CCIV/ARCP 153: Single Combat in the Ancient World course learned how to cast their own bronze sword and arrowhead during class on Oct. 24.

The process is a modern-day method of how weapons would have been crafted during the Late Bronze Age (3000 to 1200 BC).

The two-hour workshop was taught by Connecticut bladesmiths Barbara Wechter of Wechter Arms and Matt Berry of Hopkins Forge. Berry is a former contestant on History Channel’s “Forged in Fire.” While Berry heated molten bronze (copper and tin) to 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit, Wechter demonstrated how to build a mold from oil-based sand, a wooden box, and a sword-shaped form. After pouring the molten alloy into the form and letting it harden, Berry cooled the sword in a bucket of water. Within 10 minutes, students took turns passing around the six-pound object, which with additional crafting, could become a complete weapon.

They also cast Scythian arrowheads—a style known from the 6th century BC—using a lost-wax technique.

The class is taught by Kate Birney, chair of the Archaeology Program and associate professor of classical studies.

“One of the things that the CCIV/ARCP 153 course explores is the reciprocal relationship between weapons design and the rules of combat, and how changes in technology demand new rules. In a world where everything is bought off-the-shelf, students rarely have a chance to think about the relationship between technology and craftsmanship, and to appreciate the tremendous technical expertise that is required for every step of the process, from sourcing raw materials to making the base alloy to casting and finishing the final blade,” Birney said.

Experimental approaches like the workshop help students better understand the material properties of the artifacts they’ve been studying in class.

“It also drives home the extent to which the adoption of new technology was a big commitment—not like simply buying the next upgrade—one which required the movement of people, ideas, and a cultural commitment,” she said.

Photos of the casting demonstration are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Bobrick in The Conversation: What the Greek Tragedy Antigone Can Teach Us About the Dangers of Extremism

Elizabeth Bobrick

Elizabeth Bobrick

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Elizabeth Bobrick, visiting scholar in classical studies and visiting assistant professor in liberal studies, writes about lessons from Sophocles’ Greek tragedy Antigone, a play which, she writes, “mirrors the state of America’s current disunion.”

What the Greek tragedy Antigone can teach us about the dangers of extremism

In a Greek tragedy written in the middle of the fifth century B.C., three teenagers struggle with a question that could be asked now: What happens when a ruler declares that those who resist his dictates are enemies of the state, and that ruler has as many supporters as he has detractors?

The story of Sophocles’ Antigone and the accursed royal family of Thebes belongs to the mythical pre-history of Greece.

Greek tragedy portrays in broad strokes the cruelties that take place within families and cities, but keeps them in the safe distance of the mythical past. The mythical past provided a safe space to present contemporary problems without outright political affiliation.

The play, named after its young heroine, mirrors the state of America’s current disunion: Political and moral views are framed in terms of a fight between patriot and traitor, defenders of civic order and its enemies, and law and conscience.

Roberts’s Book Revisited by Society for Classical Studies

Michael Roberts

During the Annual Meeting for the Society for Classical Studies, Michael Roberts, the Robert Rich Professor of Latin, Emeritus, served as a respondent in a session devoted to commemorating the 30th anniversary of the publication of his book, The Jeweled Style: Poetry and Poetics in Late Antiquity.

The meeting took place in San Diego, Calif., Jan. 3–6, and included numerous paper and panel presentations; roundtable discussion sessions; performances by the Committee on Ancient and Modern Performance; meetings and receptions of affiliated groups; and more.

In The Jeweled Style (1989), Roberts offers a new approach to the Latin poetry of late antiquity, one centering on an aesthetic quality common to both the literature and the art of the period. In Roberts’s view, the writer or artist of this period works as a jeweler, carefully setting compositional units in a geometric framework, consistently demonstrating a preference for effects of patterning over realistic representation.

Szegedy-Maszak Receives Onassis Fellowship to Teach Greek History to Incarcerated Students

Andy Szegedy-Maszak

Andy Szegedy-Maszak. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

As an inaugural Onassis Foundation Teaching Fellow in Culture and Humanities, Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, the Jane A. Seney Professor of Greek, will have the opportunity to teach Greek history to incarcerated students through Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education (CPE).

Starting during the spring 2019 semester, Szegedy-Maszak will teach an adapted version of his Wesleyan course CCIV 231: Greek History to men at the Cheshire Correctional Institution.

“I was surprised and very honored when I heard that I was awarded the fellowship,” said Szegedy-Maszak. “This class will be a survey of ancient Greek civilization over about 1,000 years, from the Bronze Age to the death of Alexander the Great. It’s less about the memorization of facts than how to use sources—literary, archaeological, and artistic—to put together a narrative, and also how to think about a culture that had some similarities to, but many more differences from, our own.”

The Onassis Foundation established the fellowship with the aim of promoting Greek culture through expanded college course offerings in Greek philosophy, humanities, art, and politics. Through a partnership with the Bard Prison Initiative, Onassis invited partners from across the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison to apply for the titled, distinguished fellowship. Szegedy-Maszak was selected as one of two inaugural fellows.

Birney Receives Mellon Fellowship to Pursue Role of Scents in Antiquity

Kate Birney

Kate Birney

The scent of ancient perfumes evaporated eons ago, but scientists are able to reconstruct their ingredients by analysis of the residues left on their containers. Up until now, however, such studies have largely been isolated in the scientific literature, disconnected from the textual and archaeological data that place these perfumes back into the hands of their ancient users.

Kate Birney, assistant professor of classical studies, archaeology, and art history, is hoping to change that as co-architect of the OpenARCHEM project, which seeks to assemble the largest set of organic residue samples ever collected from archaeological artifacts around the Mediterranean. Built in collaboration with archaeochemist Andrew Koh of Brandeis University, OpenARCHEM connects botanicals with the containers in which they traveled and the ancient texts that mention them, to reveal the many roles they played in Mediterranean cultures. To develop this project, Birney has received an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellowship.

The New Directions Fellowship will enable Birney to take advanced coursework at M.I.T. and to study with experts in mineral analysis and the ecology of the ancient Mediterranean, fields that are essential for understanding the cross-disciplinary nature of this work.

Students Learn about New Technologies Being Used to Study the Past

On March 28, the Archaeology Program and the Department of Classical Studies invited Ian Roy of Brandeis University to Wesleyan to discuss ways new technologies are used to study the past. Roy is the founding head of Brandeis MakerLab and director for research technology and innovation at Brandeis University’s library.

Object from the Wesleyan Anthropology Archeology Collections

Students learned how to use a portable Artec 3-D scanner to scan a vessel from the Wesleyan University Archaeology and Anthropology Collections.

Roy first visited the Archaeometry: How to Science the Heck out of Archaeology class taught by Andrew Koh, visiting assistant professor of archaeology. There, he demonstrated how to scan objects in 3-D using an Artec Space Spyder, a tool that uses structured light to capture incredibly high-resolution scans of objects. The class produced multiple models of artifacts, including a vessel that has since been posted to Sketchfab.

“What’s so amazing is that these are just quick versions made in only 15 minutes, without any post-processing and touch-ups,” said Kate Birney, assistant professor of classical studies, archaeology, and art history.

Students Learn to Translate Academic Knowledge for Public in Calderwood Seminars

In Andy Szegedy-Maszak’s Calderwood seminar, Classical Studies Today, nine juniors and seniors learn to translate weekly academic readings into writing that can be understood and appreciated by various audiences.

In Andy Szegedy-Maszak’s Calderwood seminar, Classical Studies Today, nine juniors and seniors learn to translate weekly academic readings into writing that can be understood and appreciated by various audiences.

When President Michael Roth speaks about the purpose of college, he frequently boils it down to three key things: students should find what they love to do, get better at it, and learn to share what they love with others. This semester, Wesleyan is adding to its curriculum to help students develop this third critical skill.

Wesleyan recently received a 3-1/2 year grant for over $600,000 to pilot on campus the Calderwood Seminars, which train students in translating complex arguments and professional jargon from their academic disciplines into writing that can be understood and appreciated by the general public. The seminars, developed by Professor David Lindauer at Wellesley College in 2013, have proven valuable for students in life beyond college. The program’s pedagogical approach has been successfully adapted across many different disciplines.

Faculty Re-Create Ancient Roman “Pork Clock” at Wesleyan

A model of the "pork clock" sundial shows the time as 9 a.m. (Photo by Christopher Parslow. 3-D print by Christopher Chenier)

A model of the prosciutto sundial shows the time as 9 a.m. (Photo by Christopher Parslow. 3-D print by Christopher Chenier)

The Ancient Romans relied on a curious object to tell time: a sundial in the shape of an Italian ham.

National Geographic has featured the work of Wesleyan’s Christopher Parslow to re-create this ancient “pork clock” through 3-D printing, which is helping researchers to better understand how it was used and what information it conveyed.

“It does represent a knowledge of how the sun works, and it can be used to tell time,” said Parslow, professor and chair of Classical studies, professor of archaeology, professor of art history.

The small, portable prosciutto sundial —the “pocket watch of its day,” according to the article—was first excavated in the 1760s from the ruins of a grand country house in the Roman town of Herculaneum, which was destroyed by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

Chris Chenier, digital design technologist and visiting assistant professor of art, printed the sundial on 3-D printers at Wesleyan, and Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy assisted with the research. Parslow first presented his initial findings at a presentation in Wesleyan’s Wasch Center last December.

According to the article:

After Parslow was asked about the pork clock, he was inspired to build a 3-D model. He took dozens of photos of the timepiece at its home institution, Italy’s National Archaeological Museum of Naples. A 3-D printer at his university churned out the model—in plastic rather than the original silver-coated bronze—in a matter of hours.

Like the original, Parslow’s model bears a dial, in the form of a slightly distorted grid, on one side. The vertical lines are marked for the months of the year. The horizontal lines indicate the number of hours past sunrise or before sunset.

The original clock is missing its gnomon, the part of a sundial that casts a shadow, but an 18th-century museum curator described it having one in the shape of a pig’s tail, so Parslow re-created that, too.

Parslow then experimented with the sundial outdoors. The clock is hung from a string so that the sun falls on its left side, allowing the attached pig’s tail to cast a shadow across the grid.

The user aligns the clock so that the tip of the tail’s shadow falls on the vertical line for the current month. Finally, the user counts the number of horizontal lines from the top horizontal line to the horizontal line closest to the tip of the shadow. That indicates the number of hours after sunrise or before sunset.

Wesleyan Group Helps Discover First Philistine Cemetery

Assistant professor Kate Birney (pictured in foreground wearing a blue shirt and tan hat) and Joy Feinberg '19 (pictured in back with a long-sleeve shirt) work to unearth skeletons and artifacts buried in a Philistine cemetery.

Assistant professor Kate Birney (pictured in foreground wearing a blue shirt and tan hat) and Joy Feinberg ’19 (pictured in back with a long-sleeve shirt) work to unearth skeletons and artifacts buried in a Philistine cemetery.

Two Wesleyan students, one recent alumna and a faculty member contributed to a groundbreaking discovery of the first Philistine cemetery, a crowning achievement of more than 30 years of excavation in Ashkelon, Israel. Archaeologists and scholars have long searched for the origin of the Philistines, and the discovery of the cemetery is poised to offer the key to this mystery. Findings from the cemetery, dated to the 11th–8th centuries BCE, may well support the claim – long inferred and recorded in the Bible – that the Philistines were migrants to the shores of ancient Israel who arrived from lands to the West around the 12th century BCE.

Kate Birney, assistant professor of classical studies, assistant professor of archaeology, assistant professor of art history, is the assistant director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon and has been bringing Wesleyan students to the site since 2011 to participate in the research and excavation. The 3,000-year-old site, located in the southern district of Israel on the Mediterranean coast, offers clues to the Philistines’ way of life. Little is known about their origins.

Sarah McCully '16 has worked for the Leon Levy Expedition in Ashkelon for three years.

Sarah McCully ’16 has worked for the Leon Levy Expedition in Ashkelon for three years.

This summer, Joy Feinberg ’19, Jaimie Marvin ’19 and Sarah McCully ’16 worked on the Philistine cemetery. McCully ’16, who came to Ashkelon with Birney years ago, is now a staff member for the Leon Levy Expedition. In addition, Sam Ingbar ’16, Hannah Thompson ’17, Maria Ma ’17 and Sabrina Rueber ’18 are also in Ashkelon this summer working on the excavation of a 7th century merchants’ neighborhood.

Students Catalog Roman Gems during Museum Internship

Margot Metz '18 holds a tiny intaglio gem from the early Roman Empire that appears to be made of carnelian or sard, and depicts an athlete holding a strigil (a tool for scraping oil and sweat from the skin during exercise). Metz, Maria Ma '17 and Emma Graham '19 spent four weeks this summer cataloging about 200 gems during an internship at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford. 

Margot Metz ’18 examines a tiny intaglio gem from the early Roman Empire that appears to be made of carnelian or sard, and depicts an athlete holding a strigil (a tool for scraping oil and sweat from the skin during exercise). Metz, Maria Ma ’17 and Emma Graham ’19 spent four weeks this summer cataloging about 200 gems during an internship at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford. An intaglio is made by grinding material below the surface of the gem, leaving an inverse image.

During the Roman Empire, the art of gem carving or intaglio provided a way to characterize one’s self, family or acquaintances.

This summer, three Wesleyan students with an interest in classical studies worked with a Roman intaglio collection previously owned by J. Pierpont Morgan (father of J.P. Morgan) at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford.

As interns, Maria Ma ’17, Margot Metz ’18, and Emma Graham ’19 collaborated on documenting and cataloging about 200 intaglio gems, which made the collection accessible to a wider audience of scholars and museum visitors. The gems were hidden from public view for decades.

The student researchers determined this Roman intaglio (at right) pictured Ajax carrying Achilles over his shoulder. An arrow is sticking out from the top of Achilles' foot. By using The Handbook of Engraved Gems by C. W. King, the students were able to find an illustration of a similar gem. "This is how we came to the conclusion that it is Ajax carrying Achilles," Margot Metz said. 

The student researchers determined this Roman intaglio (at right) pictured Ajax carrying Achilles over his shoulder. An arrow is sticking out from the top of Achilles’ foot. By using The Handbook of Engraved Gems by C. W. King, the students were able to find an illustration of a similar gem. “This is how we came to the conclusion that it is Ajax carrying Achilles,” Margot Metz said.

“It’s so exciting that our students had the opportunity to work in the local community and to employ what they know about Greek and Roman antiquity in a partnership with a wonderful museum like the Wadsworth Atheneum,” said Lauren Caldwell, associate professor of classical studies.

Graham, a College of Letters major, felt the internship would perfectly combined her two intellectual passions: classics and art history.

“I have always been interested in how these two areas of study overlap and influence each other,” Graham said. “Also, I have always been a great lover of museums and I was interested in what goes on behind the scenes at a museum.”

The students would frequent the museum three days a week for about six hours a day. During their time, they documented the gems’ measurements, material and imagery.

“The subject matter of the gem determined how long we spent on each one. For example, we were able to identify animals very quickly but other gems, such as badly weathered gems or gems with more complex imagery, took more much time,” Graham said.

In order to determine the symbolic meaning of each gem, the students worked together and consulted intaglio collections online owned by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and The British Museum, as well as a huge collection of imprints of intaglio gems housed at Cornell University.

“We were able to personally work with every gem in the collection, which was truly an amazing experience,” Graham said.

Metz was interested in the internship because she wanted to explore another area of ancient civilization. “It was fascinating being able to apply what I had learned in the classroom at Wesleyan in a practical manner at the museum. We were able to identify generic figures as gods and goddesses, such as Neptune and Ceres, by using the objects they were pictured with in gems and comparing them to stories in mythology,” she said. 

The internship, which concluded June 23, was jointly supervised and organized by Wesleyan faculty and Atheneum staff including Caldwell; Clare Rogan, curator of the Davison Art Center; Linda Roth, the Charles C. and Eleanor Lamont Cunningham Curator of European Decorative Arts; and Johanna Miller, school and teacher programs specialist at the Wadsworth Atheneum. The Watson Squire Fund in the Department of Classical Studies supported the students’ room and board expenses. Students applied and interviewed for the internship through the Atheneum.

“The interns did a great job and their work will be entered into our database and made available to the public through our website,” Roth said. “There already is a small selection on view now in a gallery devoted to Art and Curiosity Cabinets.”

Roberts Publishes Journal Article on Gregory, Bishop of Tours

Michael Roberts, the Robert Rich Professor of Latin, professor of medieval studies, professor of classical studies, recently contributed his work, “Venantius Fortunatus and Gregory of Tours: Patronage and Poetry,” to a journal dedicated to providing an expert guide to interpreting the works and legacy of Gregory, Bishop of Tours (573-594) in religious and historical studies.

Published in A Companion to Gregory of Tours, in December 2015, Roberts’ article looked particularly at the relationship between the historian of 6th century Gaul, Gregory, Bishop of Tours, and the Italian-born poet Venantius Fortunatus. Throughout his work, Roberts argues, “that Gregory was Fortunatus’ patron and friend and that Gregory’s appreciation for poetry in general and for the poetic skills of Fortunatus in particular lay at the root of their relationship.”

The purpose of this book is to gain a deeper understanding into the life of Gregory, Bishop of Tours, who was a writer, often described as “ahead of his time.” In his work, Gregory covered history, hagiography and religious instruction and wrote about events, as well as himself as an actor and witness. Roberts uses this platform to explore just a small excerpt of the life and work of Gregory, Bishop of Tours.