27 June 2009

A Missing Acropolis Marble

There is no image for this posting because photography was forbidden but imagine a wonder dancing, to unheard music.

The Acropolis Museum is being opened during a series of carefully orchestrated receptions and lectures. It is a remarkable building and details can be read elsewhere. What appears to be the main point of the openings is the emphasis on the Elgin Marbles, and this is demonstrated visually by placing plaster copies of them amid the carvings that have survived in situ.

The Elgin Marbles are a problem I will not solve: at least they can be seen. I am much more concerned with Greek marbles, in Greece, kept unseen.

A few months ago, a group of us had the priviledge of seeing an extraordinary collection of sculpture in the apotheke of the museum of Astros. Despite guidebook recommendations, this museum has been closed for a number of years and the Greek Archaological Service seems to have no interest in reopening it, so the very real treasures it contains might just have well been left in the ground.

We had 10 minutes in the apotheke, thirty of us in a crowded humid space too low for some to stand up straight, photographs were forbidden, and there was too much visual wealth to grasp in too little time. The apotheke houses the best of the treasures found at the villa of Herodes Atticus in nearby Eva-Douliana by archaologists George and Theodore Spyropoulos over the last seventeen or so years. It is a singularly unattractive site for a villa. Four years ago the Supreme Archaological Council (who makes up these names?) announced that this villa was to become an open-air museum: it has not happened.

This Astros apotheke holds the surviving marbles from the villa. Two are especially memorable.

The first is an amazing stone that appears to be the casualty list from the battle of Marathon. The inscription is written in boustrephon and diagonally, and was acquired by Herodes Atticus when he honored his home town of Marathon by constructing a great tumulus over the burial site of the Athenian dead.

This is to make a point. Herodes Atticus, who had more money than God, did a great deal of building across Greece which allowed him innumerable sources of art for the swollen collections at his various villas, including those at Marathon and Kefissia. These sources for his collections included the Acropolis of Athens.

The second marble in the apotheke is a dancing girl so lovely that there was a pain in my heart for the rest of the day, so fiercely did it leap in response to her. She whirls, one foot up for an instant, and I have never seen lovelier motion in marble. In about 420, the sculptor Callimachus carved her as one of a dozen dancing girls for a stoa on the Acropolis opposite those rather hunky caryatids. Herodes Atticus selected the girls for his villa. It is possible that she is not as wonderful as I remember: the lighting was bad, the time short, but I truthfully cannot say that in his place I would have left them alone.

This wonder of a dancing girl, surely one of the loveliest of the Acropolis marbles, remains unseen in a back corner of the humid apotheke.

14 June 2009

The Complaint of the Anonymous Naupliote

On 22 March 1451, an anonymous Naupliote wrote a poem from a Venetian prison in one of those towers at the upper left. The poem is written in 72 lines of trochaic tetrameter, what the Greeks called "politicals" as it was a form much used for social complaint. This poem is all complaint and it appears to be a complaint written for the Venetian judicial system.

Anonymous had been to the Nauplion fair of Ag. Demetrios, on 26 October, perhaps the previous fall, or perhaps the year before that. He was quite well-off, mostly because of his animals, and he thought well of himself. There was an incident at the fair in which he was somehow involved, and an Albanian named Spatharos was killed. Various individuals who were jealous of his prosperity falsified their testimony to say that Anonymous had done it. He was exiled from the territory.

He went to Mouchli in Byzantine territory, about a day's walk from Nauplion, to complain to the governor, Demetrios (Laskaris) Asan. The Albanians had apparently come over from there for the fair. Perhaps Anonymous did not explain adequately to Asan: he certainly does not explain adequately to us, but he was put in prison, in irons. On occasion he was taken out and tortured for his evidence "with the rope" -- which means he was hauled up by his wrists behind his back and then dropped. After four months of this, Asan gave him a written judgment of aquittal and three
stratioti to escort him out of the territory.

He went to Argos,back in Venetian territory, where the citizens took one look at him and, expecting he would do something involving fraud, insisted that he be jailed again. This time he was held in a private house, which was probably better than irons and the rope. After two and a half months, the governor of Argos wrote a decision that sent Anonymous back to Nauplion. To prison.

That was because, he assures us, the Greek and Venetian citizens at Argos and Nauplion were plotting to gain his wealth and destroy his family.

So there was a hearing before the Nauplion governor, probably Nicolo Valier, and two citizens -- a Fra Nicolo from the Franciscan convent (the Panagia church is now all that remains), and a Marin Catello whose family and relations had been prominent in Nauplion for three generations. There were documents and witnesses.

Anonymous complained of the injustice of it all, so they said he needed to bring his case to the Syndics. Every two years Venice sent around two Syndics to investigate justice in her cities. Anyone could bring a complaint.

Anonymous did not know when to keep his mouth shut, and said--without malice, you understand-- that he **** on the people of Nauplion.

Not a good move. The governor wrote up his report and said that Anonymous had said he **** on the Syndics. Anonymous was fined 14 ducats and put back into prison without being able to see his family. He was alone all day, and four guards locked him up at night.

He wrote up his 72-line complaint Presumably he is still waiting for the Syndics to arrive.

This is an extremely important manuscript. I am presenting a paper on the Anonymous Naupliote at Monemvasia this weekend. You can read his full complaint here.

06 June 2009

Nauplion: Two Details

This is a snip from the oldest surviving map of Nauplion, published in 1571 by Giovanni Francesco Camocio, in the celebratory wake of the victory over the Turks at Lepanto. Although Nauplion had been under Ottoman control since the fall of 1540, Camocio's map shows Nauplion as it was under the last years of Venetian control, rather than with any more recent changes. A grimmer detail from this map was discussed earlier.

This road in the form of an inverted Y shows something about how cities evolve, and because I always stay at one of the pensions at the plateia at that fork -- Atheaton or Amfitriti -- I have thought a lot about the Y and how the modern neighborhood has evolved.

The tail of the Y goes up the stairs, past the Turkish fountain, past the great Turkish mansion now under conversion, past the little mosque now a Catholic church. That has always and ever -- with Byzantines, Romans, ancient Greeks -- been the main route from the lower land to Akro-Nauplion. It was the single easiest route by which one could make the transition from the flat land to the very steep ascent. As for the rest of the Y, you can see remnants from the windows at either pension. Despite the street rationalization of the 1860s and 70, a bit of either side still slants -- that accounts for the odd shape of the apse of Ag. Spyridon, and for the angle of the small Turkish house facing the Atheaton. Other bits of the slant can be found in the basement of a shop on the next street, and in the back yard of another shop, but the fact that it remains at all is exciting to me.

Another particular view comes from a map drawn in 1686, just when the Venetians had retaken Nauplion, and before they had made any changes, or made the maps of proposed change that have led to so many assumptions.
Thirty years ago, the old city had two massive ficus trees -- one was locally pronounced the largest tree in the Balkans -- near what both of these maps show as the harbor wall. One, growing behind a hotel which was greatly overrated then and now, shaded my balcony. The other, in a walled restaurant garden -- a restaurant whose owner would serve goat and swear it was lamb -- was at the end of my street. The trees in this map detail are in the same positions -- given the vagaries of old maps.

The hotel destroyed its tree when it wanted to expand.
The tree could not be seen from the street, and so no one saw it happen. The passing of the second, larger tree -- easily 400 years old -- was a public spectacle. The owner was seen one day in early spring of 1979 girdling the bark with an axe. A crowd soon gathered and shouted at him. He tried to ignore it. Parts of the crowd shouted at each other. He shouted at the crowd. Then he went back and forth behind his restaurant, brought out planks, and hammered a modesty panel over the girdle. I am told he had bypassed the various Nauplion authorities and acquired a permit from Athens. I am also told that he later committed suicide, but this was probably not immediately connected to the tree.

The tree took years to die completely, and more years to be removed. The space is now a chic, pricey cafe, but this blog does not patronize it.

One old tree is left in the city, a platan tree old enough to remember the Turks at least 200 years back, beside the Arsenale in the main plateia. An excellent cafe has tables under its branches, and it shades the front of my friend Stavros' shop.

[These two details are updated here.]