Tuesday, April 25, 2017


The Difficult Definition of "Syrian": It was never a single ethnicity.

Berlin, StM.  Zincirli (Sam'al).  Orthostat with a sub-Hittite warrior or god.
PHOENICIAN.  New York, MMA.  Romantic exoticism, Phoenician adaptation of late Egyptian style: note the "Tutankhamen proportions" of the figure and the type of sandals.  From the Assyrian palace at Nimrud.  9 or 8 c BCE.  H. 5 5/16"
PHOENICIAN.  London, BM.  Ivory plaque from Assyrian palace at Nimrud.  Romantic exoticism in the subject, Phoenician adaptation of late Egyptian style.  8-7 c. BCE.  H. 0.105m.  The inlays are of lapis lazuli and carnelian; it is partly gilded and plated with gold.
Berlin, StM.  Zincirli (Sam'al), time of King Barrakub, ca. 720s BCE.  Detail of the Aramaean princess on her grave stele.  Notice her rosette jewelry (typical) and her Phrygian-type (remarkable) dress pin.
SYRIAN.  London, BM.  Ivory head of a woman.  750-700 BCE.  H. 0.044m.  The eyes, with equally curved upper and lower rims and a drilled dot in the center, the round cheeks, the shape of the ears, and the rendering of the hair are all Syrian--nothing Egyptianizing about this.
You can't imagine how few archaeological picture books there were in the early 1950s.  I mean the kind that have adequate and correct captions, never mind that they looked like newspapaer photos.  When in 1952 I took the Survey course in ancient art, the two most useful were Helmut Bossert's Alt-Kreta and Alt-Syrien.  Popular accounts, themselves new, like Gods, Graves, and Scholars, were scantily illustrated and, for that matter, very generalized.

It is Alt-Syrien that remained precious, even after Henri Frankfort's Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, 1954, one of the very first volumes of the Pelican History of Art; it contained only one slim chapter on Aramaeans and Phoenicians in Syria.  Frankfort had been old when he wrote it, and his devoted successors had to keep his chapters.  So it wasn't surprising that the late, lamented University Prints stuck to Frankfort.  Besides, the profitable textbooks, which had to be used by teachers who still were bewildered (even those who had access to German books of Bossert's generation, or could read German) by what wasn't either just Messopotamian or Egyptian, there being no illustrations of early Jewish art unless you believed the Providence Lithograph Company, often just skimmed over the material that they were in a hurry to get through the course.  There is still, I must say, unresolved difference of opinion as to the sense in which ancient texts use the epithet Phoenician: whether it is only geographical, or cultural, or linguistic and ethnic; cultural it certainly is, but when very old books speak of the alphabet as Phoenician, questions arise.  Such questions do not excuse journalists' tendency, even in Wikipedia (which is by no means so faulty as folks like to say), to generalizing in terms of who "the Syrians" are, or were.   And, when I found the college textbooks unendurable (after several years they did improve), I was one of numerous professors teaching ancient art in survey courses who put together their own courses using University Prints.
When I had been retired for several years, aware of the horrendous prices of the new textbooks and concerned for students worldwide who might not have affordable access to any orderly corpus to study, I felt that I had to offer my mid-20c (so "traditional" simply because it comprises what the University Prints offered at the Survey level, held together by my outline as free of ideology as I could make it)  and offer it free of charge.
You will notice that the posts are in reverse chronological order.  The University Prints have their own captions (and some of them are very old and corrected in the accompanying texts).  The images from my own teaching collection are hand-held color photos.
You can open to the Introduction page and, from the list at right, go to the page that will help you put Syria in its place in history.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

An Unabashed Recommendation: Charles Peters

Wherever I picked it up (perhaps from PBS News), this recommendation of a brand-new, Random House book is my own.  As usual, I downloaded it on trial (to see if it was well written!), then bought the eBook (Kindle), and, as my posts earlier this year will suggest, you will learn what I mean by "true liberal".  The author is, of course, only a few years older than I am, a member of that Shirley Temple generation who has lived preserving all his marbles.  His is the mindset that formed my own; he remembers what I remember (only better, because in the '70s I was in a religious order with very limited time, so that I really needed help to make continuous sense of some of that decade), and he saw it in the same light as it had been formed, basically in the 1950s in Berkeley, CA.  He doesn't see FDR quite the way that textbook-formed baby-boomers do; it is part of his life and his career as a literate journalist.  Jon Meacham, though, is right: until now I didn't know anything about Charles Peters.

In any case, it proves that my own memory and attitudes are not peculiar nor, indeed, aberrant.  And it is so recent, and so thoughtful, that he even has thought through President Trump's campaign.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Cohen, The Life of Riley, and One's Turn in the Barrel

When I honestly recall what I knew and understood when I was a college student, I cannot despair of  today's young, eagerly trying to make sense of Life.  I was still reading Edna St. Vincent Millay, biographies of opera stars, and assorted novelists.  I still did not know, really, how sex was done (the books that Parents Magazine had recommended to my mother...).  I thought the newspapers were dumb (and they were, really) but the little map of Korea on the front page of the Berkeley Daily Gazette didn't indicate where it was.  I had no TV, and when I went to my mother's there was no news on it.  But would I have followed Public channels if I'd had them?  And, of course, there was no Cable TV.  The Voice of Firestone was still on AM radio (I had no FM) and of course nothing was in color.  In compensation we had the NBC Symphony (Toscanini), the New York Philharmonic (Mitropolis, usually), and both the Metropolitan Opera and the San Francisco Opera, besides the Chicago Opera (? title?) with a speech by Col. McCormick.
That's enough to show how different things were.  LP mono records were just beginning to come on the market, but most of our collection was in albums (and that is when and why we say "album"): a symphony was usually five discs, ten sides.
And so on.

But here I'm going to describe a ten-inch record of a vaudeville song.  Later I bought, new or used, some vaudeville material, but the pop stuff my parents had was from their high school days and not at all indecent.  I must still have "Cohen is Living the Life of Riley Now".
(1) I cannot locate the disc or the cassette taken from it, but I think it was a blue-label US Decca two-sided  10-inch disc, and I can actually recall what it sounded like, so I think it was early electric.  It definitely was vaudeville, late vaudeville, and purchasable at the dime-store, not at the music library shop that sold RCA red-seal records; I got it from a bin in a secondhand store or possibly from a batch of records from someone's family attic.  What is remarkable is that I cannot find it in the LOC jukebox site or anywhere in Amazon or in YouTube.  Not that it is explicitly, verbally sexual.  No.  It is horribly Incorrect: Cohen is making out with Reilly's wife, named Molly, and they are teaching each other their food, their slang, and so forth (which serve to imply the unmentionable things they share).  That's how it was.  As in "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn": you could take the whole family and pretend that the children didn't know what Cohen and Riley did.  So I thought I'd check to see how much popular culture (most of the stage acts being Jewish or Irish in fact) dealt crudely with such crude affairs.
And I found nothing else!   Not even in Eric Partridge.  I only found a footnote in the 15th (centennial) Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, on p. 922, with, yes, a vaudeville show about the Life of Riley in the 1880s, followed by a slew of references to 'life of Riley' with as many variants (they are on line, svv) as for 'I used to work in Chicago' but not as rich, and, yes, the first ones British and all in the same spirit as old Punch jokes, with their Tenniel-style stereotype of an Irish man.  That is, crude (and unprintable today) but not blatantly sexual: my phono record is at least two generations later and New York rather than London.  Does anyone else know this NYC recording?

(2) Just as blue-collar families took the whole family to shows in eastern cities, unless a grandmother was available to babysit, so when I started in art school, on a scholarship in 1952, my coeval fellow students were far more knowing and certainly less inexperienced than I was, but though protective and eager to show me a San Francisco, that of the Beat Generation in galleries and coteries that are now famous, that my mother's employment as a club vocalist for soldiers and sailors, though hinted at at home (like my father's stories from the Hunter's Point shipyards) also were unaware of.  Some of them did have signs saying "Off Limits to Servicemen".  Only once (and, after all, I was still far under age for any bar), did they take me to one of these and they made the regular customers assume I was someone's little sister, but we all hung out at the same cheap eateries and bookstores, such as City Lights, wherever someone's pictures were hung.  And back in our neighborhoods and in the studio classes they told me who slept with whom and who wouldn't speak to each other.  And they told me, when I asked, what homosexuals did.  I guarantee you, my family (I no longer lived with them, since there was an addiction problem there) did not know what they did.  I must tell you that the class distinction between folks who who did things they couldn't or wouldn't name and those who could and would talk and write about what they did not do (and, as I said, if you were young and inexperienced, one's friends shielded you from doing or being used).   This seems, today, an odd way of talking.  Yet, until a decade ago when I retired from teaching, it still seemed to me that I could tell which students (freshmen) were still shielded and which probably were not.  Not that it mattered.
The only reason for mentioning this is that one of my homosexual friends told me a lot of his favorite jokes, including one about an ocean-going ship of hard-up sailors, who might be introduced to the Barrel.  I forget the mechanics involved, but the punchline was, when a new crew-member asked if he could have its use on a given weekend, he was informed, no, that was his night in the barrel.  I couldn't imagine how this joke made sense unless both guys were katapygon, a word I'd just learned from a Greek vase inscription.  I assumed, further, that this joke belonged to homosexual society. Funny, you say, what one remembers.  Indeed.  But when on MSNBC someone wrote a tweet, addressing Mr. Podesta, that next it would be HIS turn "in the barrel", guys younger than me knew that to be "in the barrel" (so not privy to jokes left over from WWII in the Pacific) meant that taking one's turn willy-nilly was nasty and unpleasant.  Getting the point of genital humor is, after all, universal? Locker room humor...  Our President's social past, admittedly, I decided, probably was not exceptional, though letting it be recorded certainly was imprudent.  I mean, half a century later someone still cherished a recording.

(3) Since then, I have continued reading about the scandals in international banking / investing.  Are any of the large institutions not scandalous?  How does one get stupendously rich?  The studies I have read, at UBS and Deutsche Bank, just to name two, are hair-raising.  No wonder it seems impossible to know how much one did or did not pay to the IRS.  No wonder, if one's President does not want to put up with publicity on Fifth Avenue or a former DC main post office, one may have a whole remodeled floor of an uninhabitable tower at Baku in Azerbaijan, managed by his daughter.  Not that I know it firsthand.  Only, Adam Davidson's long article, The New Yorker, March 13, pp. 48, ff. (and now he's a staff writer, too), is not only hard to put down and very hard to dismiss and awfully coherent.  Now I had to give in and subscribe on line to The New Yorker.  Having read it since the 50s and still missing the bloopers at the bottom of the back page, it was more than my old eyes could take to read it every week.  And I was astonished that ALT+F, but spelled out in full and freely, was now, especially in Reviews, abundant.  I feel much better having its company in this world.  But you'll have to read it yourself; I won't be anybody's press secretary.

P.S. Originally I had been struck by the preponderance of Irish names in the Trump cabinet and staff, but I couldn't find any explanation for it and even began to think that it might be illusory.  But that was why I had headed this Post with Life of Riley.

Monday, February 6, 2017


I didn't mean to follow up on my last Post, which  I wrote deliberately very promptly, so as not to hear others' opinions.
But I just was badly frightened by BookTV which I've listened to almost every weekend since the 1990s, even when it covered authors far to the left or to the right of Brian Lamb or his successors.
For three hours Nick Adams said whatever he wanted in depth, though his depth was not quite such as I'd call it.  Thing is, I watch Fox News channel only for major sports events (I had just turned off the Super Bowl).  I only knew Bill O'Reilly, for example, from Henry Louis Gates' genealogy program.  Had just, unhappily, made the on-line acquaintance of KellyAnne Conway, whom I didn't like.  Anyway, now, directly following Nick Adams, I am consoled by Hugh Hewitt, who like Morning Joe is reasonable and even entertaining.  Certainly reasonable (though I prefer Chris Mathews).  And like Hewitt, I've been reading lots of stuff I ought to have read decades ago, but the Kindle now encourages instant purchases, and back in my graduate student years and early teaching years I had neither the money nor the time taken from publishing to gain job security (I didn't have time or shelf space. either).
Anyway, though I always voted D, I am no political fanatic.  It's interesting however, now that I'm reading up on Eisenhower and the Bushes and the youth of Joseph Pulitzer has proven that American history may be wasted on kids, but Nick Adams seems to me a frightening basket case.  That label shows how scary he felt to me.  So bless Hugh Hewitt for consoling me.
But I have to get back to that word: liberal.  Don't ask me to say what that new OED may say of it. What I say is what it HAS meant, and why it is worth considering that.
Liberality is the mentality of the freeborn, such as Romans born as freeborn children are, of famuli of patres familiarum.  Of course, there were others in the household, who could work their way out of slavery: I've never been sure, in the absence of something quite like our Welfare, whether all of them were purchased persons, or in either case, they were at least indentured.  They were servi, who were servili, just as the freeborn liberi were  liberali.  Nicely bigoted children, who might grow up to inherit or to marry their peers, could be called liberal as adults, just as servi, whom you might dislike even when they'd worked their way free, might be dismissed as servile, especially if they had bowed and scraped.
Now on BookTV Dennis Prager in his turn is heartening me even more than Hugh Hewitt did, though I'm sure, alas, that Nick Adams is awfully illiberal.  But I do recommend Dennis Prager.  And the ancient source of the word liberal clings happily to its etymology, even though usually it is mangled.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


The closing address.

I just listened to President Obama's address from Chicago.
l have to say, unabashedly, that I believe every word of it and its sum.  It is why I voted for him before,  and even more after all he's been through.  My Pacific president, but not just that.  Now I can't refrain from saying so.  A great president.  A great American.  Not that other forms of constitutional government (such as monarchies) can't be great.  I no longer am so unhappy as I was just a week ago.