Friday, June 7, 2019

A year in Athens...Part 2

It is hard to believe that my time in Athens has come to an end, since it feels as if I have only been here for a short amount of time. After spending a delightful (and restful) Christmas and New Years with friends here in Athens, the second half of my time in this wonderful city began on a rather strange foot. In January it felt as if I was back in Southern Ontario: I was bundled up in a warm winter coat, and there was actually snow on the ground! I took a short walk through Kolonaki and I will never forget the amusing sight of seeing snow-covered orange trees. The time that I spent in the city this term was highlighted by the opportunities that I had to go inside the buildings of the Acropolis. Being guided through the Parthenon, the Propylaia, and the temple of Athena Nike by the likes of Drs. M. Korres and D. Tanoulas was truly an extraordinary experience.

I also had the opportunity to travel outside of Athens and explore other parts of Greece. I made it a priority to head to more islands, and I had the chance to visit Mykonos, Naxos, and Salamis, each of which had their own unique features; however, my favourite of the three, by far, was Naxos. While there was a lot to take in with respect to the archaeology of the island, not to mention its Venetian fortress, the cheesy potatoes and meatballs with tomato sauce will remain some of my favourite dishes. Here’s hoping I can recreate them at home!

In addition to revisiting favourite sites such as Thorikos and Brauron, I finally got to two places that have always fascinated me: Meteora and Delphi. I was initially hesitant about going to Meteora in February, but the coldness and the grey sky added to the surreal landscape that it is famous for. Exploring the monasteries, learning more about the history of the Greek Orthodox faith, and the daily life of the monks who lived in these remarkable buildings was a welcome departure from my everyday work within the library.

As for my journey to Delphi, it took two trips to really take it all in. It was overcast and raining for the majority of the first trip, but I cannot complain. The weather added to the mysterious nature of the sanctuary: the combination of the grey sky and the greenery of the surroundings, as well as the relatively quiet landscape of the site (thanks, in part, to the fact that it was the off-season), makes you realize exactly why this was the site of the Pythian oracle. The second trip was an absolute must because both the stadium and the museum were open this time around. Although there were many highlights in the museum at Delphi, the real highlight for me was the Archaic statue group of Cleobis and Biton. Perhaps one of my favourite stories from Herodotus’ Histories (1.31), the twins of Argos who took their mother, by wagon, to a festival of Hera in Argos. After travelling 45 stades to the temple, their mother sought to reward them with whatever was best for a man to receive. After they sacrificed and feasted, the two fell asleep and never woke up. The group is a dedication by the Argives set up in honour of Cleobis and Biton, they are over-life size, which is so fitting for the ‘best of men’. Fortunate, indeed.

As for my work, I managed to inch closer and closer to finishing the last chapter of my dissertation and at the same time I started a new project, which, although slightly daunting, was an absolute pleasure to work on. This new endeavour allowed me to step away from my dissertation and explore another type of evidence that I find intriguing. I investigated how Classical Attic tombstones featuring mothers and infants conveyed the continuity of the oikos, representing it as an entity that, despite the death of a family member, remains steadfast and how this continuity exists because of the women in the family – a particularly significant role in the shadows of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenian plague, and the Periklean citizenship law. I also explored how these stelai focussed not just on the deceased individual, but also the family unit as a whole. These monuments are meant to represent an accomplishment of sorts, in that the family manages to gain membership to the important social institution that was the Athenian family. Thanks to the thorough research that I was able to conduct for this paper and the overwhelmingly positive feedback that I received from supportive senior and junior scholars, I plan on pursuing this new avenue of research on a larger scale.

Lastly, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the Canadian Institute in Greece and the Homer and Dorothy Thompson Fellowship. Through their generosity, I was able to spend this wonderful year in Athens, work on my dissertation, and conduct research for a new project. It has been an intellectually-stimulating and thoroughly rewarding experience for me and I am so very grateful to have been given the opportunity to be here.

Barbara N. Scarfo
Homer and Dorothy Thompson Fellow, CIG

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