School of Historical Studies
By Angelos Chaniotis
“Who are you?” A simple question sometimes requires a complex answer. When a Homeric hero is asked who he is (e.g. Iliad 7.123 ff.), his answer consists of more than just his name; he provides a list of his ancestors. The history of his family is an essential constituent of his identity. When the city of Aphrodisias (in Asia Minor) decided to honor a prominent citizen with a public funeral (ca. 50 B.C.E.), the decree in his honor identified him in the following manner:
Hermogenes, son of Hephaistion, the so-called Theodotos, one of the first and most illustrious citizens, a man who has as his ancestors men among the greatest and among those who built together the community and have lived in virtue, love of glory, many promises of benefactions, and the most beautiful deeds for the fatherland; a man who has been himself good and virtuous, a lover of the fatherland, a constructor, a benefactor of the polis, and a savior . . .
The components of Hermogenes’ identity include his name and nickname (Theodotos = “the gift of the gods”), his social class, the history of his family, and his personal achievements.
We can define “identity” in an elementary manner as the answer to the questions “who and what are you?” Depending on the context in which the question is asked and who wants to know, the answer may vary and change over time.
It is hard to imagine contexts in which a modern-day citizen of a European country when confronted with these questions would give the answer: “I am a European.” And yet discussions about European identity abound, usually tacitly taking the existence of European identity, cultural rather than political, for granted. Studies of how identity was defined in other cultures invites us to critically reflect on modern discourses of European identity.
By Caroline Walker Bynum
Material objects play a role in all religions. Jewish women light candles for the Sabbath; Christians sprinkle or douse bodies with water to baptize; Hindus offer coconuts and clarified butter to images of the gods and goddesses; the ancient Incas preserved mummies of their ancestors in caves, and Quechua-speaking peoples in the Andes still feel uneasy about these remains. Such objects—coconuts and images, candles and mummies—carry with them a community’s past, making it present and at the same time underlining its location in the past. They convey holiness from place to place, focus prayer and meditation, enforce or undermine hierarchy. But religions do not all venerate or fear the same objects or use them in the same ways. Over the past hundred years, historians of religion have been particularly interested in a subset of devotional objects that have been designated by worshippers with a word that can be translated as “relics” or “remains”: holy bodies or parts of bodies, or physical objects that have been in contact with them or their burial sites. Given this definition, relics are not found in all religions. Jews, for example, do sometimes venerate gravesites (although rabbis have been very dubious about this practice) but they do not revere dead bodies as holy. Hindus return the ashes of the dead to the Ganges rather than preserving them, but Buddhists build monumental containers or stupas for the ashes of the Buddha, and these stupas are considered so powerful that even their shadows convey healing or harm. Moreover, traditions vary over both space and time in how far such objects are crucial. Protestant Christians in the sixteenth century rejected the relic cult of Catholic Christians as superstition or idolatry. So it might seem as if it would be an interesting exercise in comparative religion to explore why some religions have relic cult and some do not. That is what Julia M. H. Smith of the University of Glasgow (see article, page 5) and I thought we were setting out to explore when we began to plan a workshop titled “Matter for Debate: Relics and Related Devotional Objects,” to be held at the Institute in July 2010. But the topic ended up being far more amorphous and far more challenging than that.
By Julia M. H. Smith
Reliquaries were designed as receptacles for tiny bundles of sacred stuff such as handfuls of dust, pebbles from Biblical sites in the Holy Land, tiny fragments of the hair, clothing, and even bone of those deemed to be saints and martyrs by the Christian church. Wrapped in cloth and carefully labeled, these paltry, nondescript objects were transformed into things of eye-catching beauty and great prestige by the containers crafted to house them—reliquaries. But, prior to about 1200 C.E., reliquaries did not make their contents visible to the viewer: instead, they were designed to conceal them. The specifics of the content were nevertheless important to medieval Christians, and hence their care to label and inventory their contents in minute detail.
Several medieval reliquaries, upon scientific investigation, have been shown to retain their original contents to this day. These collections of relics can be mapped to reveal the social and geographical networks of contacts that contributed to their formation. These anchored a church in its locality and region, but might also extend across much or all of Christendom. In this way, the items inside a reliquary represented the key events and notable places of the Christian story from the perspective of the particular patron who commissioned the craftsman to produce these stupendous works of art. The contents are as fascinating as the container; when we look inside a reliquary, we see “Christianity in miniature.”
By Stephen V. Tracy
We do not know who made the first paper squeeze of an inscription. The practice is quite old; large numbers of them were made by Richard Lepsius on an expedition to Egypt (1842–45) and by Philippe Le Bas in Greece (1843). The invention of the squeeze must stem from the desire to acquire an accurate copy of the text of an inscription. Rubbings constitute a simpler, more rudimentary way of doing this. Photographs more recently provide an easy means of recording inscriptions, but each photograph is taken in a certain light. That lighting may not do justice to the inscription, or it may actually be misleading at places where the stone is difficult to decipher. A well-made squeeze provides the best and most accurate record of the state of the inscribed surface of an inscription. In the future, digital images may come to match them.
The term squeeze itself is not very elegant; the French estampage is more descriptively accurate of what they are. They are sort of papier-mâché impressions of inscriptions. They are made using acid-free chemists’ filter paper. The paper is wetted thoroughly and placed on the inscribed surface; then it is beaten with a long-bristled, specially made brush from the center out so that any air bubbles trapped under the paper may be worked out to the edges and dispersed. (Air bubbles not removed cause soft spots, places where the letters are unclear.) The squeeze is then allowed to dry on the stone. When removed, it provides a very accurate image of what is preserved on the inscribed face. It must be read from the back, and so the image is in reverse. (Students of inscriptions become very adept at reading backward!)
By Christian Habicht
Soon after his appointment as a Professor at the Institute, Benjamin D. Meritt took the first steps to build a Repository of Squeezes, “which will be second only to that in Berlin,” as he wrote to the Director, Abraham Flexner, on September 8, 1935. He intended to begin with the Epigraphical Museum in Athens and to have squeezes made of all its inscriptions, more than 13,000 at the time. He expected this to be done within a year for a sum of about $500. He also planned to establish a Working Library for Greek Epigraphy with an initial outlay of $2,000, plus $200 annually to keep it up-to-date. Before the end of the year, the Director had allocated the requested sums for both projects. Meritt went to work. From December onward, three men were working in the Epigraphical Museum making squeezes, a fourth on the Acropolis, and a fifth at Eleusis, a large community with a famous sanctuary, and a fortress. Furthermore, Meritt contacted several museums that had large holdings of Greek inscriptions; he wanted them to contribute to the squeeze collection: the Ashmolean, the British Museum, the Louvre, and the Archaeological Museum at Izmir.
Today, the total number of squeezes from the Epigraphical Museum amounts to 8,532 pieces in the IAS collection. It is rivaled only by those from the Athenian Agora. American excavations had begun there in 1931. Meritt was put in charge of dealing with the inscriptions, which soon ran into the thousands. Copies of their file cards, photographs, and squeezes, as well as Meritt’s transcriptions of their texts, came to the Institute, by August 1940 already amounting to six thousand. By August 1974, the number had risen to 7,184, of which the Institute has 7,135, plus 7,047 copies of their texts by Meritt. After Homer Thompson, another Institute Professor, retired as Field Director at the Agora and was replaced by Leslie Shear Jr. of Princeton University, the new materials went to Princeton University. After that, only a few dozen squeezes reached the Institute from the Agora, the one with the highest number in the inventory being 7,642.