Tuesday, November 17, 2009

'Beyond Magna Graecia' conference follow-up

This past weekend I was in Cincinnati for the Semple Symposium "Beyond Magna Graecia: New Developments in South Italian Archaeology. The Contexts of Apulian and Lucanian Pottery." Turnout was quite frankly higher than I'd been expecting, possibly somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 -- the photo below, taken Friday around midday, doesn't really do it justice. As usual, it was good to catch up with a couple of friends and meet others for the first time.

So, have new developments taken us 'beyond Magna Graecia'? There was plenty of evidence on hand for a widespread corrective necessary in this A.T. period (After Trendall), to put South Italian Red Figure back into its contexts (Trendall frequently omitted such information in his publications, even when it was certainly known). Some of Trendall's attributions were questioned, painters divided and joined, but one of the take-aways was to what an extent the field still relies on his monumental works. In any case, those contexts turn out more often than not to be non-Greek. Moving from Messapia, up to Daunia, and then back through Peucetia, the papers provided a sensitive analysis of the way Red Figure ceramics were used and produced by both non-Greek and Greek inhabitants of Apulia, responding to local needs and customs.

Ted Robinson speaks on archaeometric analysis.

The art historical element, strong in traditional Anglophone scholarship on South Italy, was present at the conference, but it was clear that no one would today dispense with the archaeological context of the artifact class in question. Ted Robinson's work on archaeometric analysis is certainly a step in the right direction, and the wider exposure of information from ongoing excavations in Italy is welcome. That the work of Italian researchers is not more widely known is a problem, and one that is only part due to the difficulty of obtaining foreign publications. I hope that the published proceedings will do their part to lead a new generation of American students to learn Italian -- honestly, if one has already learned Latin and French, it shouldn't be that difficult!

Several speakers emphasized the continued importance of Taranto, so as not to throw the baby out with the Greek bathwater. But, despite some tantalizing new data, there is still no certainly clinching evidence of Red Figure production at Taranto, at least not of the sort found at Metaponto, likely though it may be.

The conference was organized with the express intent of publishing proceedings as an up-to-date state-of-the-field in English; the last few Semple Symposia have had an average of three years from lectern to library, so look for a volume in 2012, maybe -- perfect vacation reading for the apocalypse?

Thanks to all at Cincinnati.

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