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.