Friday, December 21, 2012

Laconian Cups, Books and (No) Pucks!

Enigmatic figure on a Laconian fragment from Miletus
There’s a Laconian (Spartan) drinking cup in the Vatican (no. 16592) which depicts the giant, Atlas, being punished by Zeus by having to hold up the heavens on his shoulders for eternity; his one hand rests on his hip as he tries to shift some of the weight off his shoulders, but his legs are buckling under the strain. Right in front of Atlas is his counterpart, Prometheus, who is also being punished by Zeus; he is tied to a stake and a large eagle stands on his thigh and pecks away at his bloodied chest. His legs also are buckling from the pain. If you want to see this magnificent cup (copyright prevents me) – go to The two images on this cup by the Arcesilas Painter remind me of what it’s like for a professor sometimes during the academic year. Pressures of lectures, marking, committee work, research deadlines, letter writing and meetings make your legs buckle at times.

There’s a second Laconian cup that comes to mind at the moment, this one in the Louvre (no. E 667), which depicts a group of symposiasts reclining with food trays and drinking cups around them, being presented with wreaths by winged daemons and sirens. This to me represents the wonderful banquet of knowledge that one has a chance to enjoy during a sabbatical leave as I’m enjoying now, occasionally crowned with the wreath of “Good Idea” by those winged spirits that work so closely around you in a quiet academic atmosphere. This cup too can easily be found online -

Skating with Giorgos and Tess. Kerameikos park. Dec. 17.
For the past seven weeks I’ve been a symposiast figuratively here in Athens, living at the Canadian Institute and enjoying its many activities, at the same time as I’ve been taking advantage of the Blegen Library at the American School of Classical Studies. My topic, Laconian vases found during excavations by Ruhr University (Bochum, Germany) at ancient Miletus (Turkey), is full of fascinating twists and turns, delightfully different iconography, and important historical associations. “Coming in to work” has never been quite so much fun. Some nights, always late, I leave the library and feel the pleasant weight of the wreaths of “Good Idea” sitting somewhere on my head. Other nights, I head off to a guest lecture at one of the other institutes in Athens, and enjoy the “Good Ideas” that other “symposiasts” have generated of late. Without wanting to belabour the metaphor too much, if I haven’t already, let me just say that the feeling of warmth and friendliness at the Canadian Institute’s hostel, offices and library, have made my stay genuinely pleasurable, even with the loss of half the hockey season, both my own, and the NHL’s. And the productive research environment of the American School, with the British School right next door, have made this sabbatical leave as enjoyable and worthwhile as any I’ve had. Now, to find a puck, a hockey stick and a couple other Canadians who know how to play the best game on ice.

Gerry Schaus
(Professor of Classical Archaeology, Wilfrid Laurier University)

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