Plutarch, On the Principle of Cold

21 February 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

Again a treatise by Plutarch online at LacusCurtius: this time, the venerable author deals with the Principle of Cold (Περὶ τοῦ πρώτως Ψυχροῦ), and that turns out to be far more interesting than you would think.

First, Plutarch argues that an “element of cold” exists, and then, he Plutarch considers what that element may be. Since fire is obviously excluded, can it be air, as the Stoics believe, or water, as Empedocles holds? Or, indeed, may it be earth itself? This latter opinion is put forward by Plutarch as his own contribution to theoretical physics, but the essay closes with a recommendation to skepticism. The Sage of Chaeronea may not have regarded his attempted proof as cogent, as indeed it is not.

Einsiedeln Eclogues

15 February 2009

Einsiedeln Abbey

… or Anything Except, continued: the Einsiedeln Eclogues are up, Latin, English, introduction, proofread.

Just two fragmentary poems, not even worth calling them “116” — and not to be confused with the more famous item, and to me the far more interesting, the Einsiedeln Itinerary, which should prolly be going onsite soon too.

Gandhara Exposition, Bonn

15 February 2009
coin of the Bactro-Greek king Antimachus Theos (c.170 BCE). Museum of Taxila.

"Thundering Zeus": coin of Antimachus Theos (c.170 BCE). Museum of Taxila.

At the moment, there is a nice exhibition of Graeco-Buddhist art from Gandhara in the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn. My friends Marco and Marlous and I drove 600 kilometers to visit it, and it was certainly worth that effort.

The story starts with Alexander the Great, who opened the road from the Mediterranean to the Punjab, settled many Greeks in Bactria, and destabilized the Indian subcontinent (more…). Order was created by the Mauryan Empire, which helped to spread Buddhism to the Punjab and Afghanistan. A bit later, the Bactrian Greeks crossed the Hindu Kush and settled in Taxila, the capital of the Punjab. A new culture was created, mixing Buddhist and Greek elements; it flourished in the age of the Kushan Empire – the first centuries of the common era.

A Buddha in Jaulian.

A Buddha in Jaulian.

Marco and I visited Pakistan in 2004, and had seen many objects in the museums of Peshawar, Taxila and Lahore. It was certainly nice to be, in some sense, again at sites like Jaulian and Shahbazgarhi. The exhibition hall is a big square, with a circular room in the center of it, which is a bit like a stupa and contains statues of the Buddha and is surrounded by reliefs with scenes from his life. Some of these scenes, like Buddha riding on a ram, are inspired by Greek art and are unknown from outside the Punjab.

A Buddha from the Museum of Lahore.

A Buddha from the Museum of Lahore.

The square that surrounds the circle is divided into several parts dedicated to certain aspects: the Greek conquests, art from the Swat valley, the Bamyan Buddhas, the iconography of the Maitreya. It is not an easy exhibition: you need to keep your mind to it, even though the explanatory signs are excellent. But an explanation of the main tenets of Buddhism would have been helpful.

The time in the Bundeskunsthalle was well-spent, although I stick to my perennial complaint about big exhibitions: that you are not allowed to take photos, and are forced to buy a catalog. The Bonn Gandhara catalog is fine, but as always, it does not contain photos of those particular details you want to study a bit better. Museums that obstruct study, have something to explain.

Jaulian, detail of a stupa

Jaulian, detail of a stupa

But this is just a minor criticism on a very interesting exhibition, which is really worth a visit. Entry to Gandhara: the Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan is eight euro. The exhibitions lasts until 15 March, and then moves to Berlin’s Martin Gropius Bau (9 April to 10 August). The catalog, lavishly illustrated with 400 photos, costs 29 euro.


11 February 2009


… or Anything Except Proofreading Tacitus: the Eclogues of Calpurnius Siculus are up, in Latin and English, the usual editor’s introduction, etc. Proofread of course. Pastoral poetry: one of the seven actually is about sheep (#5); but to those of us not overly enamoured of sheep-verse, #7 is of interest as an atmospheric piece on amphitheater spectacles in Rome.


8 February 2009

Magians performing a sacrifice

Magians performing a sacrifice

Dascylium (satellite photo), situated to the southeast of Lake Dascylitis on a bank of a river, was the capital of the Persian satrapy of Hellespontine Phrygia and the residence of the Pharnacid dynasty (Artabazus, Pharnabazus, Pharnaces, Pharnabazus, Ariobarzanes, and Artabazus), until it was captured by Parmenion, a general of Alexander the Great, after the battle of the Granicus (334). The site is famous for several fifth-century reliefs, showing Persian Magians performing sacrifices; they are now among the (many) highlights of the Arkeoloji Müzesi of Istanbul.

My new page is here. As I already announced, I am moving several pages of my website; I also moved Shushthar to a new location – so now there’s 121 pages left to do.

Fort Zenobia

7 February 2009
The southern wall and the citadel

The southern wall and the citadel

The big wars between the Roman Empire and the Sasanian king Shapur in the mid-third century proved that Rome’s defenses on the Euphrates were insufficient. The Palmyrene rulers therefore built Fort Zenobia, named after their queen/empress, and now better known as Halebiye. It was rebuilt several times, a/o by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. This reconstruction is described in some detail by Procopius (Buildings, 2.8.8-25).

On the opposite bank is a similar fort, poorly preserved, now called Zalebiye. This gained some fame as the place of an Israeli air strike in September 2007.

A view from the citadel.

A view from the citadel.

Zenobia, which covers about twelve hectares, remains impressive: the fifteen massive towers and the praetorium are almost intact, just like Justinian’s fantastic walls. The southern wall is about 550 meters long and connects the citadel on the hill to the river; the northern wall is 350 meters long. The praetorium is adjacent to the northern wall, halfway up the hill: a multi-storeyed building with a very large hall that would have been called a knight room in more recent fortifications.

Less well preserved are the 385‑meter-long wall along the river, which had to contain the Euphrates, the bathhouse, the palaestra, the governor’s house, and the two basilicas. The East Basilica probably dates to the fifth century, the West Basilica was built by Justinian.

My new webpage is here. And it is little bit special, because it is the 3333rd page on the site.

The Neronian Sacra Via

7 February 2009

Map of the Neronian Sacra Via

The Via Sacra (or Sacra Via) in Rome is the road that connects the valley that is now dominated by the Colosseum, passing over the crest of the Velia, to the Forum Romanum. People celebrating a triumph used this road. What you can see today when you walk from the Temple of Caesar to the Arch of Titus is the road as it was in the age of Augustus.

However, it is possible to imagine what it looked like at a later stage. In an article originally posted in the American Journal of Archaeology (in 1923), Esther Boise Van Deman showed how the area was restructured during the last regnal years of Nero: a straight road leading to the Vestibulum of the Golden House (where the Colossus stood) with basilicas to the left and right – now the site of the Basilica of Maxentius and the Horrea of Vespasian. The article has been made available now by LacusCurtius‘ Bill Thayer, and you can find it here.


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