Friday, December 27, 2019

Terracotta Figurines and Athenian Topography: An Update from the CIG Fellow

The first four months of my term as the Neda and Franz Leipen Fellow at the CIG in Athens have been incredibly productive and rewarding. Immersion in the community of scholars associated with the many foreign archaeological institutes has been tremendously valuable in guiding and enriching my research. This collegial atmosphere consistently facilitates engaging discussions at lectures, shared meals, and darts night at the Red Lion; I am constantly being exposed to innovative new ideas, methodologies, and theoretical approaches that I can apply to my own work. As a classicist whose focus is primarily on textual evidence, I have been especially fortunate to have so many material-culture specialists at my disposal whom I can engage as questions arise with my interdisciplinary research project.

Terracotta figurine depicting a comic actor. Hellenistic period. Karystos Museum.

The research I am conducting here represents an important component of my dissertation. My dissertation presents a discursive commentary on the fragments of the comic playwright Apollodoros of Karystos, who competed in Athens in the first half of the third century BCE. In order to properly contextualize Apollodoros, it is imperative that I consider how the Euboean theatrical tradition shaped his dramatic works. I have therefore set out to reconstruct the traditions of Euboean theatre. Since no texts of Euboean drama survive, my reconstruction is based on the cumulative findings suggested by the relevant theatrical figurines, epigraphic evidence, and performance spaces that inform our understanding of Euboean theatre and speak to its relationship with the Athenian tradition.

Terracotta figurine depicting a comic actor. Early fourth century. Kanellopoulos Museum.

Since arriving in Athens, I have begun work on several facets of this project. I have already assembled a database of comparative Attic type figurines against which the Euboean objects I have isolated for study will be set. For quick reference, the Agora museum has a robust collection of these Attic type figurines and the Kanellopoulos Museum has some of the best preserved of this type. I have also documented several more examples of Euboean dramatic figurines which are now on display at the National Archaeological museum and added them to my growing body of evidence. Finally, I am nearing completion of a comprehensive review of scholarship on coroplastic production in southern Euboea, the theatre of Eretria, and a critical Hellenistic inscription which outlines the organization of dramatic troupes for theatrical performances in several cities of southern Euboea (IG XII 9, 207 and p. 176; IG XII Supplement p. 178; SEG 34.896).

Remains of the Hellenistic skene of the Theatre of Dionysus.

Extended residence in Athens has also greatly enriched my dissertation research in ways I did not anticipate. I often find myself in a position to verify or challenge scholarly claims I read in the morning with my own autopsy of the relevant objects and archaeological sites later that afternoon. I’ve been especially consumed of late with the topography of Apollodoros’ Athenian production context.

A cat sleeps on the base of the eastern parodos gates to the Theatre of Dionysus.

I’ve consequently been spending substantial time in the Theatre of Dionysus to get a more precise sense of Apollodoros’ primary performance venue. When I arrive, I am always greeted by the same guard (see above). Certain facets of performance cannot be ascertained from site plans and inherently deceptive images (e.g., viable lines of sight, degrees of visibility and audibility between the koilon and orchestra/skene) and I’ve found that direct engagement with the performance space helps to reconstruct the performer/spectator experience. Visits to the theatre have also provided me with a sense of scale and spatial relationships that contribute to an understanding of realistic performance scenarios (e.g., chorus sizes/movement possibilities, requisite timing for entrances/exits). Finally, first-hand viewing has been incredibly valuable in helping to distinguish elements of the ‘Lykurgan’ phase from the Hellenistic renovation of the skene.

Mouseion Hill in the distance, viewed from the koilon of the Theatre of Dionysus.

One of the most striking features of the theatre for my purposes is that as one climbs the koilon, the peak of Mouseion Hill slowly comes into view to southwest. In the third century a fort occupied this space and, depending on the year and its occupants, it represented either a symbol of Athenian security and independence or a grim reminder of subjugation, with a Macedonian garrison literally looming over the city. For the third-century theatregoer, this fort and its symbolism represented a microcosm of Athens’ contemporary circumstances and provided a visual overture for Apollodoros’ productions in the Theatre of Dionysus.

A warship patrols the coast off Cape Sounion.

The theatre’s relationship with the fort on Mouseion Hill has compelled me to consider the broader Athenian context with which Apollodoros’ comedies engaged. The picture of third-century Athens that is painted from fragmentary epigraphic and literary evidence is one of a city that constantly beset by political instability, warfare, and economic hardship, byproducts of the persistent Macedonian conflict that continued to ravage the Attic countryside until 229 BCE. Visits to the locations of the contested deme forts at Sounion and Piraeus reinforce the totality of Athens’ isolation and extent of the Antigonid hegemony during this period.

A view of the Diateichisma.

Further enriching my impression of Apollodoros’ Athens was a walk along the remains of the so-called Diateichisma. This was a defensive wall that ran north-south across the summits of the hills of Musaeus, the Pnyx, and the Nymphs. It effectively sealed off the city from the fortified passage to Piraeus which had formerly been provided by the Themistoclean long walls. It is one of the only Athenian constructions that can be firmly situated in Apollodoros’ period of production, and its construction speaks volumes about the context in which he was working.

Running route to Vyronas Forest.

Research aside, my partner and I have found Athens an extremely pleasant city and the CIG very supportive. When I have the chance, I like to go for long runs in Vyronas Forest. Long runs would normally be frustrating in a city like Athens, where you are met with aggressive traffic at every intersection; however, the CIG is ideally located near the National and Kapdistrian University of Athens, whose campus provides an extended traffic-less path to the outskirts of the city and the foothills of Mount Hymettos. Here, local runners, hikers, bikers, and sightseers can explore the hills and get unique views of Athens.

Gemista ready to go in the oven.

I’ve also taken the opportunity to enjoy Greece’s wonderful comestibles. Every Friday, my partner and I roll our grocery trolley to the local laiki in Ilisia and load up on the fresh and flavorful produce harvested by local farmers. Kalamata olives and Hymettan honey are regular purchases. With this produce, I’ve been trying my hand at some new Greek dishes and am honing my skills with gemista (stuffed vegetables), though I tend not to go more than two days without a breakfast zambonotyropita and lunchtime pita kalamaki from a local eatery.

As this year comes to a close, I look forward to an exciting and productive 2020 as my research takes me to Euboea and I explore everything that Athens has to offer.

Justin S. Dwyer
2019-2020 Neda and Franz Leipen Fellow, CIG

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