Friday, December 16, 2005

Home again home again

Well. I am sitting at home in Massachusetts. Expect pictures.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Materan Museuming

Last night (was it only last night?) I visited the archaeology museum in Matera, in Basilicata. You know it as the setting of countless movies with "historical" Near Eastern settings, e.g. the Passion of Mel Gibson, because of its sassi, millenia-old stone dwellings carved directly into the hillside. It was dark when we got there, it having been one of those last-minute trips, but the museum was open for another hour. They didn't have change for a €50 bill, and after I changed it they couldn't work with a ten either, so I ended up with admission gratis. I was the only one there, and a couple of times the lights in the galleries got turned off, only to be turned on again moments later after I shuffled distinctively. A wonderful little museum; they have an Apulo-Corinthian helmet from a site in the region (always nice to see provenience!), as well as numerous Italiote vases (that is, figured vases, like the ubiquitous Attic black- and red-figure, but produced in Italy and, in this reporter's opinion, more fun).

Olive harvest continues. We're down to the three Americans and the local foreman Pasquale, the others having departed for Slovakia this afternoon. They (and their taste for whiskey) will be missed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Moving south

A few days ago I arrived in Puglia, near the town of Toritto, about 20 km from Bari. I'm helping with the olive harvest. There's a machine that shakes the branches to knock the olives down onto big mats spread underneath. When the machine breaks, though, we have to go at the trees with long poles, much like those shown on some Attic figured vases. There are two other Americans, who arrived the day before I did, and three Slovaks who've been here for three months and are quite ready to go home. It rained all night and most of the day, so the soil was far too soggy to work.

I got here two days later than I'd planned because... the morning I was supposed to leave, before I went to the train station, I decided to check to see if the museum in Boiano was open. It just happened to be so, because the Soprintendenza was making an inspection. Quite small, but some nice Oscan brickstamps and some tombgroups from the area. On the way out, I saw a poster for the 'Premio Salmon', an annual award for local high-schoolers who excel in Greek, Latin and Ancient History. It's named for the man who wrote the book on the Samnites (Samnium and the Samnites), E. Togo Salmon, a Canadian historian. The ceremony is preceded by a lecture, which I decided to stay for. A nice presentation on settlements in south-central Italy in the 4th and 3rd cent. BCE. There were also a few remarks by professor Gianfranco De Benedittis, a very eminent Italic archaeologist. My 30 minutes are nearly up, so that's it for now.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Pilgrimage to Pietrabbondante

After spending the whole morning in Agnone, I caught a bus to Pietrabbondante around 2 pm. There are two big rocks that loom over the town (hence the name -- "abundant rocks"), and many smaller ones that do more lurking than looming. I descended from the bus in the main square, where a brazen Samnite warrior glared down upon me from his commemorative pedestal. The ancient site is a bit of a walk from the town, but it gives a good panoramic view:

By happy coincidence, the Samnites built their theater-temple complex on Mommsen Street:

It's generally agreed that Pietrabbondante, whatever its ancient name, was the foremost sanctuary and meeting place of the Samnites, regardless of tribe. It's likely that the legio linteata ("Linen Legion"), the crème de la crème of the Samnite fighting forces, was mustered here before its defeat at Aquilonia in 293 BCE.

This, the signs all say, is the greatest monument left by the Samnites:

It's called "Temple B," and it dates to the end of the 2nd century BCE. The section of standing wall was reconstructed by archaeologists from fallen blocks. Below Temple B and on the same axis is a theater...

...where I sit and listen to the chirping of the remaining autumn birds, the almost imperceptible rush of the wind, and the song of a distant jackhammer. Some future post may hold more photographs and a fuller description of the site and its history, but for the moment I find that I have little to say. veni, vidi, arrivederci.

Idle thoughts

I'd like to visit Egypt -- the past few months I've been thinking a lot about Alexandria. But this is not the time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Agnone Adventures

The day after Capua, Mario was going to Rome, so I had him drop me off in Isernia with the intention of catching a bus to Pietrabbondante. As it happened, there was no direct connection, so I went to Agnone first, which is a bit northwest of Pietrabbondante. I had about an hour to kill, and I knew there was a replica of the Oscan 'Table of Agnone' floating around (the original is in the British Museum), so I decided to investigate. At the first bar, I learned that a copy was housed in the church of , and thence I went. The church, however, was closed and locked; since it was only 9:30, I figured I'd try back after 10. In the meantime, I hoofed it to the centro storico looking for picturesque alleyways and maybe some spolia. I was passing the Municipio (town hall) and happened to glance through the open doorway. I spied a courtyard, and since antiquities are often to be found in such places, I stepped in. Two gentlemen strolling under the modest collonade asked my business, and I said I was looking for the reproduction of the Oscan tablet. It seemed I was in luck: there was one in the library upstairs. Upon arrival, however, it was not to be found. I was led down the hall to the office of some petty magistrate whose closet, as it happened, contained a replica in plastic. Just after getting the thing in my greasy little fingers, another man entered and informed us that the more true-to-life copy in bronze was being used for a class, and would I like to sit in? Shortly thereafter I was introduced to a class of about twenty ten-year olds as an "archaeologist from the United States very interested in the Oscan tablet" and shown a seat. The man teaching the class (who incidentally looked a bit like Rex Wallace) then turned to me, raised an eyebrow and said, "I know you." It turned out he was a journalist I'd been introduced to while helping Mario sell cheese at the Truffle Fair in S. Pietro Avellana a week prior... In any case, I got a 45-minute refresher course on Samnite history (in Italian, naturally). After the kids were dismissed, I got to take a look at the replica tablet and talked with Nicolà for quite some time.

His three great loves, it turns out, are the Samnites, tratturi, and horses. After picking up his kids from school, he drove me to the outskirts of town to show me the remains of the massive Samnite fortification walls:

We don't know the ancient name of Agnone; Nicolà suggested Aquilonia, site of the decisive Roman victory against the Samnite legio linteata in 293 BCE, but that seems to me to be more wishful thinking on his part. Whatever the case, he kept stressing the fact that the site has never been excavated and hinted that it might be a good place for my future work... I think it pained him to live so close to such a site and know so little about it. But it was time for me to catch another bus to Pietrabbondante, as the first one had departed hours before.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Capua Recap

On the 8th of November I had the opportunity to visit Capua for several hours. The modern city is located on the site of ancient Casilinum, the river port of (pre-)Roman Capua, which is today Santa Maria Capua Vetere. As I was only tagging along while Mario went to Caserta a bit further on, I got there later than I'd hoped. Consequently I had only an hour to zoom through the rich and fabulous Museo Provinciale Campano before it closed for the afternoon and the day. When that's the case, I usually photograph everything and sort through it later; unfortunately, almost the entirety of the indoor galleries were No Foto Zones. Since I was the only person daft enough to be visiting at 12:30 in the middle of the week in the middle of November, I had my own personal "tour guide" -- read camera monitor. Be that as it may, it was still a great museum and I did take a few pictures:

A Roman mosaic full of young 'uns. Actually, a so-called "sacred choir" (makes me think of the Carmen Saecvlare) from the temple of Diana Tifatina. This was the picture that prompted the admonition "Vietato fare foto." Now, all those kids gotta come from somewhere...

...and that's where Mater Matuta comes in (though these date between the 6th and 2nd centuries BCE -- well before the mosaic). There are several galleries filled with statues of this sort -- I don't remember, but I believe there are over a hundred in the collection. They come from an Italic sanctuary nearby, and were probably ex voto dedications: an expecting mother would vow to set up a statue to the goddess if childbirth went easily. Numbers of children held range from one to twelve (seen here). Jumping forward again to Roman imperial times...

This is a detail of the left half of a relief, showing a man-powered crane lifting a column into place, the goddess Minerva in attendance. The inscription reads:
Lucceius Speculiaris redemptor prosceni fecit ex biso
"Lucceius Speculiaris the theater contractor made (this) after a vision."

I didn't have time to see the iuvilas-inscriptions (in Oscan), which are by request only. In any case, I plan to come back and spend at least a day, maybe a week. I spent the rest of the day wandering up and down practically every street in the center of Capua. It's rich in spolia, that is, ancient inscriptions and architectural bits reused in later buildings. For example:

The church of S. Angelo in Audoaldis, which dates from the 11th c (CE). At the base of the tower you can see three or four reused Roman funerary stones.

The church of the Annunziata. Those familiar-looking blocks that form the base (and not only in front -- they stretch around the entirety of the rather long structure) come from the Roman amphitheater in S. Maria Capua Vetere. In fact, the entire modern city of Capua was built from the remains of that amphitheater. Indeed, no one in Europe has cut building stone since the fall of the Roman Empire. It's more efficient to go down to your friendly neighborhood Roman ruins and take what you need, plus it saves the environment by reducing the need for ugly quarries. Everybody's happy...

There are at least five pieces of spolia in this picture. Can you find them all? As the sun sets, farewell to Capua for now. Watch this space for exciting updates over the next several days.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

What's in your saddlebag?

When you ride off to put the sheep out to pasture, what do you carry at your side? You're looking at two to six hours of ovine overseeing in the remotest meadows of darkest Molise.

Water: 1.5 Liters of it. On a hot sunny day you need it all.
Lunch: Always delicious. Sometimes even better, like today, when I had two egg-and-cheese sandwiches, two apples and a janiform kiwi. The cheese is home-made (with milk from the farm down the road) scamorza --think dry mozzarella; actually, it's a bit too dry for my tastes, but excellent fried inside of an egg! Homemade sausages, bread from the wood-fired oven and my god, the ricotta is to die for (and I met a man who did, too). I don't even think it could be stuffed into manicotti shells: they would burst from the overwhelming goodness.
Reading materials: T.S. Eliot, Poesie. It's a Not-Quite-Complete Works (how could they omit the Four Quartets ?!) with facing-page Italian translation that I bought at the street fair in Larino many weeks ago. Sometimes Crime and Punishment, for the second time. I first read it at the last farm, in the archaic and unsigned Penguin Classics translation.
Instruments of composition: Notebook, stylish black LAMY (note that if you click on 'My LAMY', you get an error page: the correct address is this) fountain pen, utilitarian ballpoint in case of rain.
Instruments of melody: Pennywhistle in the key of D by Feadóg. I've been picking out some new songs, but I can't quite remember how 'Blackberry Blossom' goes.
Instruments of communication: cell phone -- so much for the romantic isolation of the shepherd in the mountains. Used to call for backup in case there are more than twenty-three sheep rustlers. I can handle any number less than that, with the three-to-five large and ferocious fluffy white Maremma sheepdogs and the yellow plastic shepherd's cane of righteousness that draws down lightning from Heaven.
Instruments of torture: Fuses to scare off menacing canines.

What's in your saddlebag, or would be, if you had one?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Quid Novi?

(that's Latin for "£9?!")

Some things that I had not done prior to this sojourn in Italy...

eaten lotus:
It's true, I'm a lotophagos now. The fruit is about the size of an apple and is a bit redder than the tomatos you see in ads. You pull the leaves off the top, and inside it's mushy, with three or four large seeds each enclosed in its own membrane. I'd bet that the reason I've never seen these in the US is they're too messy to eat (either that, or kids would choke on the seeds).

drank must:
that is, freshly pressed grape juice undergoing fermentation before it turns into wine. It's delightfully fruity and fizzy. The word, incidentally, comes via Old English from Latin mustum, the neuter of the adjective mustus, "fresh." There's a page regarding the use of mustum in place of wine in Catholic communion here: it was written by then Cardinal Ratzinger, the present Pope Benedict XVI (Note also the continued life of Latin: quibus glutinum ablatum est).

herded sheep:
I started with the 20 at the agriturismo in Busso, now I'm herding 250 here on the farm in Castropignano. I work with an aging border collie named Whisp and a yellow plastic whacking stick to keep the sheep in order. I'd like to take this opportunity to say that the phrase "follow like sheep" doesn't mean what you think it does. Sheep, in my experience, only follow other sheep. If you see a shepherd leading a long line of sheep, it's because the first sheep in line thinks the shepherd is a sheep (they aren't known for great eye-sight) and all the rest are following the first. Sheep also stop following whenever they feel like it, usually if there's something green close by; the exception to this is if that green something is a field of grass that you want them to eat, in which case they'll walk right over it, shuffling along like people trying not to look like tourists in Times Square.

ridden a horse (apart from those pictures of me at two years old being stood on top of one):
Yesterday I had my first 15-minute lesson, covering such things as how to put the saddle on, how to get on the horse, how to make the horse go, how to make the horse stop, turn left, turn right, get off the horse....

herded sheep while riding a horse:
Since they're sheep, I guess I can't be called a cowboy. Supposedly the sheep always follow the horse. So far, they follow about the same amount as when I went pedestrian. I'm still working on making the horse go where I want it to, so god-only-knows how I'm supposed to make the sheep go there, too. It was a nice long ride back from the meadows this evening as the sun went down. Since it was dark, the sheep couldn't tell that the big white horse wasn't, in fact, another sheep, so they followed peacefully, and I was left free to imagine that I was a lance corporal in the Queen's Third Samnite Cavalry headed back to camp after a long day of chasing down bandits in the Hindu Kush (it was a very long day...).

worked for two Italians who have been to San Francisco:
Both Giovanni and Mario have seen the Golden Gate, a place I have never been (Who are three men who've never been in my kitchen?).

Friday, October 14, 2005

Time hurries on

Well, well... several days ago I arrived safely at the next farm on my itinerary, in Castropignano (Castrum Expugnatum), Molise. Mario and Carmela have a bunch of sheep, maybe 200; I've taken them out to the meadows twice so far. This is real shepherding: strolling down tiny roads and turning onto overgrown dirt trails, the sheep strung out behind in a great white, rolling mass, or coming home at the end of the day along the "shortcut," a dry streambed, as thick fog settles over everything and you think that people will speak your name in whispered tones around campfires for centuries to come... looking out from the pastures, I can see the towns all around, perched on hilltops: Frosolone, Torella del Sannio, Castropignano itself. Today we went out along a stretch of tratturo, the system of transhumance trails that used to crisscross Italy, predating even the Samnites and Romans. Only in Molise are substantial sections of these ancient highways preserved, and even fewer of those are actually used for the movement of animals. I generally go out around noon and stay the whole afternoon, affording me the opportunity to do a lot of reading. It turns out by felicitous coincidence that Mario's father Pietro Borraro was Lucanian historian, so there are a lot of very interesting books to be found here. At the moment, though, I'm making my way through one of the books I recently purchased, Safinim -- actually the acts of a convention held in 1992 on the Samnites and the Table of Agnone.
I bought it at the archaeological museum in Isernia three days ago. When I left Giovanni's farm, I took the train from Boiano to Isernia, the ancient Aesernia, and checked out the museum. Their claim to fame seems to be the so-called Homo aeserniensis, although no human remains have been found -- only evidence of a 400,000-year-old human encampment, with elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and lion bones, along with other less exotic things. I much preferred the lapidary section, where there are housed many fine inscriptions and some fabulous relief sculpture, including a bit of a funerary monument decorated with a naval battle. (Pictures from the last several months should be appearing over the next week or so... ) I saw some other ancient traces around the town: the cathedral is built directly over the foundation of a Roman temple, for instance.
Later that day I took the train to Venafro, ancient Venafrum, but I have to say it left me disappointed, at least coming from Isernia. The museum had a no photography policy, but there truthfully wasn't all that much to photograph in the first place. Just a couple of inscriptions (besides a nice big one on the regulation of aqueducts), plus many fragments of frescos, which, although nice enough, weren't spectacular. I guess I've grown picky when it comes to antiquities. There is more to say, but for now it's time to sleep. A hundred thank-yous to all of my correspondents, keeping me informed via letters and e-mail.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Update from Busso

Hard to believe I've been here three weeks already. I have to say, it's still fun, but working on a farm seeing the same two people day in and day out grows tedious from time to time. It's much more fun when we get off the farm. I've been to Larino twice now, about 20 km from the Adriatic shore. A (modern, I'm assuming) Latin inscription proclaims it Larinum, Urbs Princeps Frentanorum ("Larinum, principle city of the Frentani" - one of the Samnite tribes). There's a fair-sized Roman amphitheater preserved, built ex testamento; unfortunately the museum was closed both times I was there. On a pleasant walk through the old town, however, I found about a dozen (genuinely ancient) Latin inscriptions set into the walls of buildings): mostly tombstones, with some honorary inscriptions as well.

I've been as well to Campobasso, the capital of this half of Molise (the other is Isernia, ancient Aesernia). There are supposed to be the remnants of some Samnite walls in town, but I couldn't find them. I did find the Museo Provinciale Sannitico Nuovo (The New Provincial Museum of the Samnite, as the website translates), which looked promising but turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. One helmet from the 10th or 9th c. BCE (a bit early for my tastes) and only a single triple-disc cheekpiece from a 4th c. helmet. About a dozen Latin stones, plus a nice bronze tabula patronatus. They even had a room with materials for children to apparel themselves in Samnite garb; a bit too small for me, I'm afraid. The central mountain in town is topped by a string of old churches and a castle, nothing fancy. On the way back down I stopped into the offices of the Ministero per i beni culturali e archeologici for Molise (basically the Ministry of Archaeology) because I wanted to find out a bit more about the Samnite part of Saepinum. We visited the well-preserved Roman city when I was studying at the Centro in Rome, but not the fortified hilltop of Saepins near-by. I'd hoped for simply a brochure or map or the like, but I ended up chatting with one of the archaeologists whose specialty is the site for around 45 minutes! We're still supposed to visit Saepinum before I leave for the next farm, as well as the Samnite settlement at Monte Vairano, which is just on the other side of our hill here.

I plan to leave this farm on the 10th of October, so if you're thinking of mailing anything, plan accordingly! The address of the next farm (I arrive the 15th of Oct.) is
Dan Diffendale
Az. Agr. Carmela Colavecchio
Contrada Selva, 20
86040 Castropignano (CB)

In other news, I'm considering coming home earlier than planned from my Italian adventuring in order to devote myself to grad school applications for next year. Any thoughts or suggestions on that process or related matters would be much appreciated.

That's all for now... ciao ciao!

Friday, September 16, 2005

et ego in Samnio sum

I'm here, I'm alive, I'm loving it! (and I'm on dial-up). The country is beautiful, the people are nice, there's a bunch of ancient stuff around, the address I posted below works (takes about 5 days - thanks for the letters!). So far I've dug postholes, dug a ditch, mended a wheelbarrow, raked, hoed, picked tomatoes and zucchini... a fabulous land where the four major food groups are wine, pasta, tomatoes and olive oil! I feed the animals every evening - pigs, sheep, chickens, geese, dogs, and one horse -- and the barnyard cats get something, too. That's all for now, time for dinner!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Wonderful Porticos

A most enjoyable time in ancient Felsina/Bononia... wonderful hospitality, super-cool museum -- even if much of their Classical collection is closed indefinitely. Found a couple of new stones for the Imagebase, plus some pictures of the Montefortino helmet from the Gallic necropolis.

My address for the next month or so is

Dan Diffendale
C. da Perito,
86010 Busso, Campobasso, Molise

I think that will get mail there; I'm not entirely clear on that. Again, it's only until October 15 or thereabouts, so don't send mail too close to that date.
Missy and I went to the phone store, and after figuring that my phone just won't work with this service, I got a new one, nice and cheap, only €34! Anyhow, should you want to call, the number is
three three nine - two nine two - three zero seven zero.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sic itur...

After many enjoyable days touring Umbria from my base in Perugia, it's time to move on again. First stop is Bologna, to visit the lovely Melissa and the Museo Civico Archeologico. On Sunday, a change of pace: I head south to Molise to start work on an organic farm located between Bojano (Bovianum) and Campobasso, in the heart of ancient Samnium -- you'll notice the many towns with "Del Sannio" or "Sannitico" in their names... to the northwest are Isernia (Aesernia), chief city of the Pentrian Samnites and Pietrabbondante, a major Samnite sanctuary. I'll probably stay there for about a month, before heading about 10 km north to another farm. I'm not sure how regular the internet service will be, so posting may become sporadic once more. Thanks to all my readers for bearing with me...

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Just a few... the rest will probably have to wait a few months.

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Me 'n Scipio

Today, Todi

Rain threatened early, but it held off. All the museums in Italy close for lunch, so when I arrived I had to do some wandering -- not that I minded much. I followed the "Via Mura Etrusche" in hopes of something, but something failed to materialize. I'm sure half the stones in the houses were first cut about 2500 years ago. Which reminds me of a slogan I thought of a couple of days ago... The Roman Empire®: Providing well-cut stone, lime, and architectural details to Italy and the rest of Europe for over 2000 years. I also saw walked the "Via del Teatro Antico," the only trace of said theater being the curving route of the street. Likewise at the end of the "Via del Anfiteatro Romano," although there was a section of wall more or less preserved.

The Museo in the Palazzo del Capitano was modest but respectable. No military equipment, alas, aside from some of the ubiquitous spear- and javelin- points. Their claim-to-fame seems to be a coin collection, which is mounted in rotating frames that must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but are a few degrees short of perfection. The coins end up facing down, which, with the way the lights are set up, leaves them shrouded in shadow.

I realize now that Angelo already blogged the Iguvian "battle hymn" I included a couple of posts ago... and he was more scholarly responsible to boot, including references that I utterly failed to note, plus his has nicer formatting.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A soggy Assisi

Well, I mentioned I might go to Todi today, but instead I found myself in Assisi, as one does... the bus is quite convenient. My first stop was the tomb of St. Francis, a crowded place; I was reminded that he is the patron saint of Italy, after all -- the man must be busy! I considered skipping the upper church, which is more richly decorated than the lower, in keeping with the ideas of the saint, but my Let's Go guide promised a room off to the side wherein I could view his tunic and sandals, so I bit the bullet and went up. No vestments in sight, unfortunately. Next stop was the Foro Romano in (where else?) the center of town. There's a bit of a lapidary collection, as all Italian towns seem to have. There are stones lining the halls of the excavated Forum. It's really nifty - the Roman level is a bit below the modern level, so it's all underground, walking along the original pavement and drainage ditches; half of the stairs up to the temple of Minerva are preserved. I hadn't realized that Assisi (Latin Assisium) had itself a monumental temple approach like those at Praeneste's Temple of Fortuna Primigenia and elsewhere... Assisi seems to have been the birthplace of the poet Propertius, and there's a "Casa di Properzio" lurking about somewhere, but I didn't encounter it. Lots of epigraphic evidence of the gens in the collection, though.

After the Forum, I went in search of the amphitheater, which turns out to have been consumed by the city; the Via dell' Anfiteatro Romano preserves the ovoid outline of the structure in much the same way that the streets outline Pompey's Theater in the Campus Martius in Rome. Then the rain came in, and I headed back to Perugia, where it continues to rain.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

ukriper fisiu tutaper ikuvina

Spent the day in Gubbio (Latin Iguvium, Umbrian Ikuvium) today: took the bus from Perugia. I got there just at noon, which is when the museums close for lunch/siesta, so my first destination was the funivia (chair-lift, minus the chair) that ascends Monte Ingino to the Basilica of St. Ubaldo (whose pickled body lies atop the altar). Before I visited the basilica, though, I climbed the path behind it to the summit of the mount, the ukar fisiu (Fisian mount) of the Iguvine Tables (q.v. sub). It was a perfect day for it: the sun was out but not blazing, there was a gentle breeze; there were bees and butterflies and the buzzing of cicadas. There's a medieval-looking tower at the top, well-maintained, behind the large metal scaffold used every December to hold a giant star when the entire hill becomes the world's largest "Christmas tree." The view is spectacular, which combined with the thrill of being on a mountain sacred to the ancient Umbrians made for an awesome experience. There's a kind of blue thistle that grows on the top, apparently a plant much loved by snails: I saw them on nearly every stalk. Back down in the basilica, I also saw the three ceri ("candles"), enormous wooden pillars run through town and up to the basilica every May 15, in celebration of the saint. Some see in this run a survival of Umbrian rituals outlined in the Iguvine Tables.

The funivia closes between 1:15 and 2:30, but I didn't mind being stranded. I wandered around the three summits of Ingino and relaxed. After the mountain, the museums were underwhelming. The seven Iguvine Tables (Tavole Eugubine in Italian), which in themselves make up about 95% of the surviving records of the ancient Umbrian language, were mounted rather quaintly in glass-and-wood swivel cases in a room off to one side. The first tablet was even mounted upside-down... it should have been possible to swivel it to read correctly, but the mechanism was stuck. The light from the window reflecting on the glass made them a bit difficult to read, not to mention next to impossible to photograph. I know they've been professionally photographed (indeed, I bought a book with such photographs afterwards), but there's nothing quite like taking your own pictures of something. I suppose it's a sort of poor substitute for the experience of killing a man in battle and despoiling his corpse.

The tablets describe in great detail the purification of the entire state of Ikuvium and the lustration of the army, among other things. They are the basis of our understanding of the Umbrian culture, which materially is not sufficiently different from other Sabellic and Etruscan cultures to distinguish archaeologically.

The remainder of the two museums was mediocre. They're divided into the Museo Civico (which houses the Tables, some quotidian Latin inscriptions, glossy medieval ceramic and some paintings) and the Museo Archeologico (a case of Umbrian spearpoints, some bits of pottery, some more humdrum Latin, statuary bits and such). I also hit the Roman theater, nothing out of the ordinary, but well-enough preserved that they still put on performances in it. An Antiquarium nearby, which promised mosaics from the surrounding area, looked open but turned out to be locked. In any case, the trip up the mountain was worth the whole trip.

Tomorrow, I believe I'll head south to the city of Todi, which is mentioned in the Tables...

...totam tarsinatem trifo tarsinatem tuscom naharcom iabuscom nome /
totar tarsinater trifor tarsinater tuscer naharcer iabuscer nomner nerf sihitu ansihitu iouie hostatu /
anhostatu tursitu tremitu hondu holtu ninctu nepitu sonitu sauitu preplotatu preuilatu

the Tadinate (= of Todi) town, the Tadinate territory, the Tuscan, the Narcan, the Iapodic name, the veterans in office and not in office, the young men under arms and not under arms, of the Tadinate town, of the Tadinate territory, of the Tuscan, the Narcan, the Iapodic name: terrify them and cause them to tremble, defeat and ruin them, kill and annihilate them, wound and ulcerate them, shackle and fetter them!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Velzna and Perusia Bella

Not the Bellum Perusinum, mind you... I'm holed up in Perugia at the moment, though with more freedom of movement than Lucius Antonius when he did the same in 40 BCE.

Yesterday I rode out of Rome on the Orvieto (Etruscan Velzna) Express: Two museums and a tour in two hours. First, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. They've only recently moved in to this location to the right of the Duomo, so they've got spiffy new cases and everything, although they could do with a bit more in the way of description. Then again, how much can you really say about case after case of bucchero? Some very nice terracotta sculpture from temples, but the best in show was split between two painted Etruscan tombs installed in the back and a full panoply, which actually came from one of the two tombs and therefore the prize need not be split at all. Made up of a bronze shield cover, greaves, muscle cuirass, and Montefortino-type helmet (others of this type). All the museums seem to insist on referring to these as "elmi di tipo Etrusco," when it seems rather to have been a Gaulish invention. Furthermore, many of them (including this one) show up with triple-disc cheek-pieces, which must be inspired by the triple-disc armor popular among the Samnites a bit farther south. Finally they, like many -- nay, most -- other museums had the helmet displayed backwards, with the brim of the neckguard sticking out in front. This type is also referred to as a "Jockey"-style, because of the brim -- but it was worn with the brim in back, unlike a jockey. I told one of the guides about this problem, so maybe they'll fix it....

The Museo Faina across from the Duomo in Orvieto was a wash for me... I have a confession to make: I'm sick and tired of Attic figured vases. Exekias this! Berlin Painter that! Bah humbug. I think it's because in my mind they represent the adoration of antiquity to art object, the tearing of form from context, the elevation of beauty to truth, the destruction of knowledge in pursuit of esthetics. Keats is wrong. But if you like such things it's a fabulous museum.

Next I caught a tour of some of the Etruscan tunnels underneath the city: wells and workshops, millstones for olive oil and such. Pretty neat, but nothing mind-blowing. The really impressive thing is that they stretch under the entire city and you only see a fraction on the tour. Then I jumped on a train for Perugia, skirted the edge of Lake Trasimene (now something of a resort, I gather) and got into the hostel just before curfew after a bus ride that was a real trip.

Today I wandered around Perugia, saw walls, gates, wall & gate museums... the Pozzo Etrusco, or "Etruscan Pit," formerly the city's main source of water. The Mus. Arch. Naz. in Perugia has scads of Etruscan burial urns, very nice, very nice. The Cippus Peruginus, one of the most important Etruscan inscriptions, dealing with a property agreement between two families, is tucked in at the end of a hallway with little fanfare, although it does rate a polychrome explanatory panel...

There's a nifty Greek parade helmet of Phrygian type from an Etruscan tomb, associated with three urns... I wasn't expecting more than that. I entered another room, and felt a bit like Dave in Kubrick's Odyssey: "My God, it's full of helmets... " Eleven, count 'em, eleven helmets and associated grave goods from various necropoleis around Perugia. Five Montefortinos (di tipo Etrusco, of course) plus four Chalcidian/Attic and four "of Italic type" that have many similarities with the Chalcidian. Of particular interest was a pair of greaves, not actually present, having been removed for restoration, bearing an inscription in Umbrian:
that is, "of the people/state," leading to speculation that the Umbrians had state-issued military equipment. This was certainly the case in Athens, at least after the Ephebic Reform of 335 BCE, but Athens and Umbria are two different places entirely. Finally, the greaves came from an Etruscan grave: perhaps spoils of war buried with their captor.

Updates will follow. Maybe pictures, too, though that doesn't seem likely in the near future, unfortunately. Also, I have my phone figured out -- except that I don't seem to have service, which probably means something's broken.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

With my knapsack on my back

Got the wanderlust again... had an offer to work at the hostel where I've been staying, but I came to Italy to get out of Rome for a while. Tentative itinerary: Orvieto - Perugia - Gubbio - Ancona - Ascoli Piceno - Campobasso or Bari. The last two are options available for organic farming. I'm not sure which I'd prefer, but there's no reason I can't do one after another. Campobasso is in Molise, the real heart of ancient Samnium -- I've got the sanctuary at Piettrabondante in my sights.

In other news, my digicam was guasta, only showed black and purple lines on the LCD and took correspondingly trippy photos. If I were a modern artist, I might have appreciated it more, but it doesn't take very good pictures of inscriptions and helmets and the like. In any case, I googled the problem, discovered that it's a common one with this model (Canon PowerShot A70), which Canon denies any responsibility for, and can be temporarily fixed by applying a good whack with the palm of the hand. Apparently it's caused by a loose connection inside.

I've been passing my time with a lovely pair of Aussie fiancées who've spent the last two months travelling; last night they taught me how to play gin rummy while we swapped stories.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The dig is finished

We finished up cleaning pottery and photographing and documenting the site late Thursday afternoon, the day after a gigantic downpour turned the excavation into a mudbath. We were dogged by rain the whole two weeks I was there, but it wasn't so bad the first four, I've been told. As the rain poured down for the better part of an hour and Jove thundered with both great menace and great proximity, one of the supervisors, proclaimed in a rare English utterance, "The dig is finished." This the same fellow who on many occasions was heard to state, "We will never surrender!"...

That coin turned out to come from the 3rd c. BCE, and so worn that a ship's prow seemed like military standards -- in total contrast to the two pristine asses found the following day, which seemed to have been deposited by the hand of the moneyer himself! Hopefully I can soon post pictures. At the moment, the hostel is giving a free pizza-and-beer party to celebrate the opening of their new patio, and at 9 Elton John is giving a free concert at the Colosseum, so the rest must wait.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

In Rome again for the day, and I'm headed to the Musei Capitolini.

At Trebula, we thought we were digging in 3c BCE Republican levels, but someone had to go and find a coin with the Parthian standards on the reverse, which weren't returned until the reign of Augustus... I'm having a wonderful time. Monteleone Sabino is a gem of a medieval hilltop village. This weekend was the Festival of San Giovanni, and twice a day they throw ciambelle -- more or less rock-hard bagels -- from a certain house in the town, while all who are able fight to catch them. My Italian is improving, though slowly.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

(Pretend this was posted a week ago, like the date implies)

I made it safe and sound to Rome...

I hit the Museo Nazionale Romano at the Palazzo Massimo last night after I got settled in at my hostel. This morning I revisited my old friend, the museum at the Terme di Diocleziano with its collection of early epigraphic materials and the proto-history of the Latin peoples. At noon I met my new friends Jasper and Christy, until then only online acquaintances, through the Roman Army Talk forum. We grabbed lunch and then did the Pantheon and the Palazzo Altemps with its rooms of fine (and frequently heavily-restored) statuary. After that they went back to their hotel, and I journeyed on to another friend, the Museo Nazionale Etrusco della Villa Giulia. Of course, there's a "No Foto" policy in effect there -- I had to be careful and take my time so as not to get caught until I'd gotten what I needed. There were certain things that were just untakeable -- it's really a museum best done with a large group, so the bulk of the party can create a distraction while you snap your prizes.

Tomorrow I head to Monteleone Sabino north of Rome for the TrebulaMutuesca dig... who knows when I'll next have internet access. Vale for now.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Vengo volando

I fly out of Boston Logan tonight and into Rome FCO via Frankfurt courtesy of Lufthansa... the dig starts on Sunday: one day to rest and another to hit some museums with a Dutch friend on vacation.

Last night my friends and I invented a game which involves hitting frisbees out of the air with croquet mallets. I think we took our inspiration from this guy - Charun, blue Etruscan underworld demon extraordinaire. Later on I tore my toe playing capture the flag -- absit omen!

Adieu, adieu! my native shore
Fades o’er the water blue;
The night-winds sigh, the breakers roar,
And shrieks the wild sea-mew.
Yon sun that sets upon the sea
We follow in his flight;
Farewell awhile to him and thee,
My native Land – Good Night!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

For all your imperial household cleaning needs

Some pictures I cooked up a couple of months ago...

some background: I suppose Galba was in Spain and Vindex in Gaul, but I don't feel like changing it now.

Monday, August 15, 2005

LARTH marches on

The wireless is working at home now, and I can work from my own computer. Eugepae! One of the first things I did was to update my Emporical Images site with some new pics sent by a friend in Germany after his visit to Copenhagen. I want it to be an emporion for the empirical study of Antiquity, hence the name. Despite all the interesting-looking categories taking up space above it, the real heart of the site is in the Italic Military sections, in particular helmets.

In the fall of 2003, while studying at the Centro, I started a weekly study group called LARTH (Languages of Antiquity Research for Thrill and Honour). We met every Thursday (or was it Friday?) night for an introduction to a particular language. Each session included historical context, writing system, basics of grammar, and some original material for translation. My friend Pat Owens and I teamed up for the first session on Faliscan and Old Latin. Pat later presented Linear B Greek; I gave Umbrian, Oscan and an abortive attempt at Sumerian, and Ari Gerstman gave us Biblical Hebrew. I would note that Sumerian was not presented only because that night was too near to the end of the program and people's priorities lay elsewhere -- the handouts are in a box somewhere...

This summer, I was a Resident Assistant at the Lancaster site of the Center for Talented Youth, a program for academically-advanced 12-16 year-olds. I'd applied too late to get a TA position, but I think I had more fun as an RA than I would've as a TA. In any case, RAs organize afternoon activities for the students on a daily basis. I decided to revive LARTH for one activity period each session. I chose Etruscan and eliminated most of the hardcore linguistic material.

I gave an introduction the Etruscans and their language. After a brief tutorial with the alphabet, I had them cut out and assemble dice with Etruscan number-names, then using the rule that opposite sides add to 7 elicited the Etruscan names for 6 (huth), 5 (mach) and 4 (sha) given 1 (thu), 2 (zal) and 3 (ci). Next I (or rather my lovely assistants Marya and Alice) distributed the shards of terracotta planting pots we'd (deliberately) broken on the sidewalk behind the office. I had them write their names in Etruscan letters: for the second session, my supply request for a box of nails was approved, while the first session kids had to make do with markers. The questions that arose over how to represent sounds not present in Etruscan were illustrative of the difficulties the Etruscans themselves faced when writing Greek and other foreign names. This was as far as I got first session; the 43 kids who signed up generated more questions than I'd anticipated. Second session, with only about 20, we moved on to some fun with divination: they each cut out a diagram of the Piacenza liver and I showed them how to orient (or rather meridient) themselves and had them read the names of some principal divinities.

Both sessions were a blast and the kids had fun, too, besides lots of intelligent questions.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Champagne on the rostrum

I'm in the midst of some downtime between my summer employment and the first two weeks of the rest of my life, so I thought I'd start a blog. The title, Tria Corda, is an allusion to the poet Quintus Ennius, whom Aulus Gellius reports ...tria corda habere sese dicebat, quod loqui Graece et Osce et Latine sciret. I don't claim to know any of those languages as well as Ennius, but they are all at least in my heart if not hearts in and of themselves.

Sporadic Italic blogging is all that can be expected. In a week I'm headed to Monteleone Sabino in the hills north of Rome for a dig at ancient Trebula Mutuesca, the site of a sanctuary of the Sabine goddess Feronia. This summer, Dr. Vallarino hopes to be able to date the foundation of a large rectangular structure (probably late 4th/early 3rd c. BCE).

I've been trying to spread the word on this initiative from SAFE (Saving Antiquities For Everyone), regarding legislation restricting the US import of Italian antiquities: