Piecing Together The Fragments Of The Past

From fragments sifted from the dirt
We piece together what was here
An image forms, a poor mosaic;
Some details never will be shown.
The evidence of daily life—
A broken lamp, a shattered vase,
A stairway worn with countless steps,
The profile of a woman’s face—
These buried pieces, lost to time
We may discover, quite by chance
While off in search of something else—
An accident of circumstance.
So, too, it seems, with memories;
Forgotten, lost, for decades hidden
But then, while on another search
They spring to present mind, unbidden.
They feel complete, in every way,
As if no more than hours old
But how much is illusory?
It could be quite a lot, I’m told.
We reconstruct our precious past
And fill in gaps, the experts say,
To fit our present narrative
And lead to what we feel today

I found this verse—well, half of it—
I’d written several years ago;
I’ve reconstructed what I meant…
Or maybe not. We’ll never know.

Frieze fragment

Frieze fragment – image: Cuttlefish

So, yeah, I literally found the first half of this verse, in the back of a notebook I was using in Greece. I must have written it after visiting one of the many archaeological museums or digs we went to (the above image is, I believe, from Pella). The verse stopped after the word “Forgotten”, which (as you can see) is immediately after the shift from literal to metaphor, and a bit of an ironic place to have to reconstruct from. Some of the museums had pots that were considerably more filled-in than original shards; some were nearly complete. Sometimes you knew, or believed you did, exactly what the artist or crafter had in mind; other times, the effect was equal parts their imagination and your own.

Did I complete the thought I had started over 5 years ago? Probably not. Maybe. I’m a different cuttlefish than I was then.

Nike of Paeonius

Nike of Paeonius – image: Cuttlefish

Heh… if I were cruel, I’d link Schubert’s “unfinished symphony” as the autoplay music for this post.

Big Week In Bulgarian Skeleton News

Credulity strains
As the expert explains
That the human remains they have found
Are the bones of a saint,
Which I think is just quaint–
You can’t prove that they ain’t, they expound.

In a similar search
Through the yard of a church
Come some bones that may smirch someone’s name
Searchers saw, with a start
There’s a stake through his heart!
That’s a posthumous part of his shame [Read more...]

I Want To Go To Greece!!

ScienceDaily reports on a new discovery (actually unearthed last summer) that adds detail to the beginnings of Greek culture:

ScienceDaily (Jan. 28, 2008) —The Greek traveler, Pausanias, living in the second century, CE, would probably recognize the spectacular site of the Sanctuary of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion, and particularly the altar of Zeus. At 4,500 feet above sea level, atop the altar provides a breathtaking, panoramic vista of Arcadia.

“On the highest point of the mountain is a mound of earth, forming an altar of Zeus Lykaios, and from it most of the Peloponnesos can be seen,” wrote Pausanias, in his famous, well-respected multi-volume Description of Greece. “Before the altar on the east stand two pillars, on which there were of old gilded eagles. On this altar they sacrifice in secret to Lykaion Zeus. I was reluctant to pry into the details of the sacrifice; let them be as they are and were from the beginning.”

What would surprise Pausanias—as it is surprising archaeologists—is how early that “beginning” actually may be. New pottery evidence from excavations by the Greek-American, interdisciplinary team of the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project indicates that the ash altar—a cone of earth located atop the southern peak of Mt Lykaion where dedications were made in antiquity— was in use as early as 5,000 years ago—at least 1,000 years before the early Greeks began to worship the god Zeus.

Now… I am an American. I live in one of the older areas of the country, having moved here from a considerably younger area. Back in my old state, I used to be impressed by 100-yr-old buildings, which were few and far between. Now, just a few miles from me I can see cemetery headstones from the 1600′s, still-functional buildings from the 1700′s, and hundred-year-old houses are fairly common. I am having trouble wrapping my head around the concept of a structure in use 5 thousand years ago. Thousand. And I know that this site, old as it is, represents just under a tenth of the lifespan of our species.

Anyway, back to the report:

“Mt. Lykaion, Arcadia is known from ancient literature as one of the mythological birthplaces of Zeus, the other being on Crete,” noted Dr.Romano. David Gilman Romano is Senior Research Scientist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and a co-director of the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project.

“The fact that the ash altar to Zeus includes early material dating back to 3000 BCE suggests that the tradition of devotion to some divinity on that spot is very ancient. The altar is long standing and may in fact pre-date the introduction of Zeus in the Greek world. We don’t yet know how the altar was first used, and whether it was used in connection with natural phenomena such as wind, rain, light or earthquakes, possibly to worship some kind of divinity male or female or a personification representing forces of nature.”

Actually, in a way, I find this report comforting. As much as I am boggled by the time spans involved, I can see that any concerns about mortality (and frankly, I am not that concerned about dying–I just want to focus on getting everything I can out of living first) are not mine alone. Even the gods, it seems, don’t live forever.

In Arcadia, Greece, high atop Mount Lykaion,
The weather is rough, but the view is quite nice;
It’s not a location for children to play on,
But rather, an altar for burnt sacrifice.
Mythologists tell us, before written history
Lykaion was seen as the birthplace of Zeus.
Archaeologists now have uncovered a mystery—
Clues, which have thus far been used to deduce
That a culture was here that predated the Greeks
And which worshipped, not Zeus, but an earlier god.
That god is forgotten, and now only speaks
Through the fragments of artifacts under the sod.
The earliest pieces are pottery shards
That date back to 3000 years BCE.
Which pushes the date back that history regards
As the date the beginning’s beginnings must be.
High atop “Wolf Mountain’s” rocky side
A culture’s history comes into view;
Where one god was born, another died—
Reminding us: gods are mortal too.

(also–New York Times article in today’s paper.)