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.