Friday, November 15, 2013

The Classical Past and Present

The years around 1800 were times of avid interest in the classical cultures of ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt. Archaeological discoveries had made people aware of the richness of these civilizations, and fortunately, inspired them to preserve and protect these finds. The former Roman Empire was still littered with the ruins of ancient structures, so it was no surprise to anyone that farmers or ditch diggers would unearth even more buildings or artifacts. In the late 18th century, a concerted effort was made to excavate the former Roman resort city of Pompeii, and there was great excitement over the remains of probably the best-preserved Roman settlement in existence. As excavation continues there, and in the neighboring town of Herculaneum, to this day, we are given a somewhat unnerving time-capsule of life in the first-century Roman Empire and of the tragedy that struck Pompeii's residents. In 1799, a soldier in Napoleon's army in Egypt uncovered a large, flat stone, or stele, covered with inscriptions. Dubbed the Rosetta Stone, it was discovered to have the same inscription repeated in three languages: Egyptian hieroglyphic, Egyptian demotic text, and ancient Greek. Its value was immediately recognized and scholars set to work decoding the symbols, starting from what they knew. The result was the first decoding of the hieroglyphic symbols by Jean-François Champollion in 1822. Archaelogy Fever gripped the western world, leading to discoveries that would change the way Europeans thought about life in ancient times. It also led to many serious confrontations between governments which clashed over possession of important artifacts.

Dolly and Minerva attend a lecture on the recent discovery of the Venus de Milo in 1820. There has been much made of the Greek recognition of certain ratios equaling visual perfection, and although armless Aphrodite might seem a bit solid, she is, indeed, perfect.

I've dubbed the older man 'Linear B. Chadwick', after John Chadwick, who, along with Michael 
Ventris, decoded the 'Linear B' script, the oldest known form of ancient Greek.

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