180 ‘..Et trovai un chemin a destre
Parmi une forest espesse.’
180 ‘..And I found a path to the right
Into a thick forest.’
Chrétien de Troyes, 12C
The Yvainof Chrétien de Troyes was the subject of a justly famous essay by Erich Auerbach. Of these lines in particular he had this to say:
“Calogrenant tells King Arthur’s Round Table that, seven years earlier, he had ridden away alone in quest of adventure, armed as befits a knight, and he had come upon a road leading to the right, straight through a dense forest. Here we stop and wonder. To the right? That is a strange indication of locality when, as in this case, it is used absolutely. In terms of terrestrial geography it makes sense only when used relatively. Hence it must have an ethical significance. Apparently it is ‘the right way’ which Calogrenant discovered. And that is confirmed immediately, for the road is arduous, as right ways are wont to be…”
And I am reminded of these words whenever I encounter directions, such as these, which Mycenologists routinely supply:
“Directions: from the main square of (Kato) Psari, take the road on the right leading into the hills. At a junction with a signpost, take the middle route and follow the road until you reach the church of Ayia Anna. Hence follow a dirt track roughly south until you reach the tholos.”
Emphasis is mine.
Truly this is Auerbach's 'right way'. 'Take the road on the right'. Go 'into the hills', Find a mysterious sign but take the via media. Proceed an unspecified distance until, through a revelation, you find a church named for the mother of the Virgin. These could be directions to the Holy Grail.
These directions are actually intended to lead us to two well-known tholos tombs that sit on a high and airy ridge above Kato Psari, a pretty little town which nestles under the foothills that range along the northern border of the Soulima Valley in Messenia in Greece. Its position is here: 37.328005 N, 21.886706 E. Because of its location all of its roads lead into the hills and we are sorely tried to select the correct road that is ‘on the right’.
After much puzzled searching I located the junction with a signpost and which has ‘a middle route’. I show it in the following illustration. Its lat/lon pair is 37.327493, 21.888423. We are told to take the middle route but it actually doesn't matter which one you take; they all converge on the church of Ayia Anna.
|The three-fold way at the edge of Psari, Messenia, Greece.|
Even so I found it impossible to locate the church or the tholoi until I literally stumbled across them by scanning, one at a time, all the ridges above Psari. The tholoi turn out to be located here: 37.333092, 21.892140. In a previous blog entry I posted a picture of what they look like in Google Earth. In the next picture I show the church of Ayia Anna as I was able to locate it in Google Street View.
|The church of Ayia Anna above the town of Kato Psari.|Why do Mycenologists give anecdotal directions instead of simple and unambiguous lat/lon pairs? Anecdotal directions become useless almost as soon as they are set down. Roads are re-routed. Hills are bull-dozed for olives. Signs fall down. ‘Large trees’ are cut down or struck by lightning. Towns expand, contract or simply pick up sticks and move. Even compass bearing lines tend to wander aimlessly across the landscape and are no more likely to come togetherthan so many members of the Anarchists Club.
Why does it have to be this way?
|Pausanias. Although not, probably, a good likeness.|
In the second century of our era the renowned traveler Pausanias journeyed to most parts of Greece and left us descriptions of all the things that he was interested in: remarkable buildings and temples, sculptures, etc. His directions are given anecdotally; we are constantly being told how far things are from each other in stadia and how long it takes to travel from point A to point B. By mule, presumably.
In the middle of the fifteenth century Cyriac of Ancona, a prosperous businessman who seems to have known everyone, lived out his professional life in the form of business and political travel all over Greece and the Near East. He has left us invaluable descriptions of ruins from the classical period and, above all, he recorded many inscriptions (which he seems to have loved) including a number that are now lost. He travelled by boat, on foot, on horseback and, again, left us anecdotal descriptions about how far one place was from another using estimated distances and several different modes of antique transportation.
|James G. Frazer|
James G. Frazer, perhaps the greatest English-language Classicist, did the same in the early years of the twentieth century. In his monumental commentary on Pausanias he had occasion to revisit much of Greece and he left copious anecdotal accounts of his travels, in which he recorded the times to traverse from one town to the next - apparently on horseback.
Pausanias had no way of determining latitude and longitude and it wouldn't have occurred to him to try. Cyriac of Ancona lived in a time when latitude could have been determined more or less accurately but not longitude and, again, it probably wouldn't have occurred to him to try. Frazer has less excuse; he lived in a time when both could be determined accurately and he would have had access to good maps but he could not, apparently, imagine a world in which latitude and longitude could replace simple directions on land. Our modern scholars have no excuse at all for omitting this vital information.
So. It’s simple. Archaeologists leave anecdotal accounts featuring ‘bends in the road’, ‘large trees’, and ‘young olive groves’ along with very dodgy travel times and travel distances because they’ve always supplied static land directions to sites. They do not suppose themselves to be scientists but inheritors of the great traditions of travel and adventure upon which archaeology was founded. This – even though they are constantly complaining that they cannot find burial mounds or tholoi which were perfectly well-known and even excavated thirty or forty years ago but which have now disappeared as is testified to by Boyd and every other researcher in this area.
In what other area of endeavor do we find such mismanagement of the inventory? As Oscar Wilde might have said: 'To lose one tholos is unfortunate; to lose two begins to look like carelessness.'
Boyd identifies 'modern farming' as the real problem. It's not so much tomb robbers who are, I admit, a continuing concern but the wholesale destruction of the environment consequent to industrial olive farming which I described in my last post. Unless we nail down specifically where these old tholoi and mound tombs and habitation sites are located we're not going to know when they're threatened by bulldozers and we won't be able to take any preventative action.
Recently, on the island of Hawaii, a consortium led by the University of Hawaii wanted to build a new telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea. Local groups, activated by a kind of native conciousness and the stated goal of preserving ancient habitats, organized and successfully thwarted the University in its plans. I don't agree with this particular result but we have to admit that these native groups were, at least, effective. Organized effort of this kind with respect to Mycenaean remains (and in more than just Messenia) is at least conceivable. But it is inconceivable
that you can preserve ancient sites if even specialists in the matter don't know exactly where they are.
I cannot tell whether organized action to preserve Mycenaean sites is possible. However it is time that Mycenology figured out exactly where its objects of study are actually located. The time for anecdotal directions has passed. I notice that even Michaela Zavadil, when describing the many mounds and tholoi around Koukounara (a very important investigative area for Mycenaean funeral practice), simply throws up her hands and repeats all the instructions for getting to various places from all the archaeologists she has consulted. In so doing she exposed, probably without intending it, a series of hilarious contradictions. But even she does not do the simple and unambiguous thing. She does not provide us with simple lat/lon pairs for the sites in question even though her dissertation was concluded in 2012.
Bear in mind that Google Earth can, at 37 degrees N latitude, distinguish between two positions which are as little as four inches apart. And GPS receivers are ubiquitous. A sufficiently accurate device can probably be found in your camera.
Armed with a lat/lon pair the student who wishes to visit these sites will know precisely where the goal is. He or she is perfectly capable of planning what route to take in getting there no matter how many old-fashioned archaeologists – like grizzled old timers at some country store – want to load him or her down with capricious, contradictory, and out-dated route instructions.
When equipped only with anecdotes the student quickly learns the truth of the old punchline which says: ‘You cain’t get there from here.’
Next time I'm going to describe the beginnings of a solution.
I have just received (12/30/15) a copy of Simpson . In it I find these words:
"From now onward, it should be possible to record the coordinates of all (or almost all) of the sites by means of the Global Positioning System (GPS) by satellite."
So far I have only been able to scan this work by Simpson; it is the definitive statement of a lifetime's work by, perhaps, our greatest living scholar of Mycenaean Messenia. It is to be regretted that he was unable to include lat/lon pairs in his new gazetteer and, by not doing so, he leaves us with the usual cloudy idea of exactly where many of these sites really are. (That phrase 'or almost all' speaks volumes.)
Dr. Simpson has taken much care with the beautiful maps that grace this volume.
If only they were useful! Of these maps he himself says:
"The maps show only the approximate locations of the sites, and are themselves not entirely accurate. Before Loy had completed a set of contour maps in 1966, it had not been possible to plot the positions of the sites definitively."
What does one say to this remarkable statement? 'It had not been possible' ?? Nonsense! What could that possibly mean? It sounds very much like Dr. Simpson is content to let the best be the enemy of the good. Far better to have no knowledge at all rather than knowledge which is merely state of the art!
"Whenever possible, the locations of sites visited by UMME were indicated on the backs of the set of air photographs (taken by the Royal Hellenic Air Force in the 1950s), now located in the archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens."
Perhaps I would have an easier time locating some of these sites if I were to knock politely on the door of the ASCSA and ask to see the old air photos? That's one way, I suppose, to find out what their Security is like.
Mycenologists have to ask themselves a simple question. 'Is Mycenology a Science or is it an Arcanum?'
I appreciate that Dr. Simpson's contributions to the field of Mycenology are of an extraordinary, almost superhuman, magnitude; one hopes however that his grad students are a little more technologically current. Frankly no area of study can survive without being able to say precisely where its objects of study are located.
In the meantime there is much that the determined scholar can do and I will begin to outline a new approach in the next post.
 Auerbach , ‘The Knight Sets Forth’, 123 ff.
 Ibid., 128-9.
 The author, a good and learned Mycenologist, shall be nameless.
 E.g., Soulinari is translated into Nea Soulinari, 2 1/2 km. distant.
 For example, in his 'Corinth', xi.3: "The road to Titane is sixty stades long, and too narrow to be used by carriages drawn by a yoke. At a distance along it, in my opinion, of twenty stades, to the left on the other side of the Asopus, is a grove of holm oaks and a temple of the goddesses named by the Athenians 'The August'.." I put 'The August' in single quotes, otherwise the translation is Jones  305. Should we still be looking for that grove of holm oaks? And note the distance 'twenty stades' which is simply guessed at; does that sound familiar?
 As here, taken entirely at random, from Diary V (as arranged in Bodnar in Cyriac of Ancona  pg. 321, par. 41), in which Cyriac visits the famous cave at the tip of the promontory of Tainaron: "And at the nearer hill of the same harbor, in a grove thick with slender holm oak saplings, at a remove of five stades from the shore, we found that huge cave from which, they say, the divine Hercules dragged Cerberus out of the lower world .." There are those holm oaks again.
 Here's a sample: In Frazer 301 he describes an itinerary from Heraea (Agios Ioannis) to Megalopolis. Here is his account of the stretch between the modern Agios Ioannis (or Heraea/Irias, at 37.613395° N,21.864346° E) to Kakoureika (at 37.583979° N, 21.923355° E):
"We cross the beds of several streams that take their rise in the neighboring mountains, traverse a plateau planted with olives, and reach (in 38 minutes from Heraea) the village of Anaziri. From this village the direct route to Karytaena runs south-eastward to the village of Kakouraika, distant about 1 1/4 hours from Anaziri."
It is six km. in a straight line from Agios Ioannis to Kakoureika. I cannot find the towns of Anaziri or Karytaena. At a minimum they have been renamed but, more likely, they no longer exist. Given the travel times (about 19 minutes per straight-line kilometer over mostly smooth ground) as well as the date of publication (1898) I can only suppose that Frazer is either walking or on horseback. So the times given are walking or riding-times but it's pointless to speculate.
 McDonald and Simpson  235 in '32. Karatsadhes (Loutro)': "The site is .. in an olive grove with stony reddish alluvial soil." Same directions simply repeated by Boyd in  311. Simpson  129 in 'F118 Eva: Nekrotapheion': 'This site is on a very low spur, covered in olive trees, ..'
Simpson  in 'Platanos: Lambropoulou Piyi' on 117: 'On a slope about 800 m. east-southeast of Platanos is a very low mound.' Indeed.
Electrical wires and pylons often mark the spot. In Boyd  405 we read that the famous tholos
of Koryfasion is located 'at an intersection of three telegraph lines..' In Simpson  123 we learn that an important EH settlement near classical Thouria is 'shown to have been the field marked by the electricity pylon which lies immediately to the south-west of the southern end of the Ellinika ridge..' There are a dozen pylons on this ridge
; selecting the right one (assuming that they are in the same positions that they were fifty years ago) is a nice art.
Directions can include bus-stops. McDonald and Simpson  225, '3. Sodhiotissa (Ayios Ioannis)'. 'On the ridge ca. 150 m. north of the tiny monastery (one nun) of Panayia Sodhiotissa, which is built into a cliff immediately north of the Pyrgos-Katakolo highway at a point 800 m. west of the bus stop for Ayios Ioannis village.' Nice detail about the nun. I could (I think) find the nunnery but not the bus stop.
And this in McDonald and Simpson  245, '69. Tourkokivouro (Mesopotamos)'.: 'A mound ca. 250 m. north of the Kalamata-Pylos highway .. 200 m. east of the bus-stop called Ekklisoula.'
'Ekklisoula' is the name of the bus stop at 36.981246 N, 21.820816 E and I picture it below:
|The Bus Stop at Ekklisoula|
 A few examples among very many: Boyd  808 "Moreover, the inability of later workers (myself included) to relocate mounds on the basis of McDonald & Hope Simpson's sketch maps or other instructions has made their many identifications seem doubtful. The action of modern farming has undoubtedly contributed to the loss of these sites." This would be a disturbing criticism of the UMME enterprise, if true. But it's unlikely to be true. McDonald and Hope Simpson simply failed to leave adequate descriptions of where exactly these mounds were located. When Dr. Boyd says 'myself included' he is alluding to the fact that he was one of the participants in PRAP's ground surveys. Also Boyd  313, "The small tholos tomb Polla Dhendhra is not on Mr Koukis' land. From the large tree, walking approximately in a line perpendicular to the Potami, it is about 100m-200m, located in the ground at a field edge, unmarked and difficult to locate". Emphasis is mine. This repeats an unfortunate and all too common pattern of referring to actual landowners who are now, in most cases, long dead and forgotten.
With reference to the destroyed(?) tholos of Kopanaki (approximately here: 37.290518, 21.826234): '(Valmin) reports a much destroyed tholos on the south slope but we could see no sign of it.' [McDonald and Simpson  233, '24. Stylari (Kopanaki)']. Also: "N. Valmin fand 1927 südöstlich von Ano Kopanaki eine zerstörte Tholos am Südhang eines Hügels, auf dessen Kuppe sich das Dorf Stylari befindet. Das Grab konnte später nicht mehr nachgewiesen werden." from Zavadil  264, 'Ano Kopanaki/Stylari (Ep. Triphylias)'.
And this: 'Note: In BullLund (1925/26) 89 Valmin mentions a probable tholos mound in an area called Feretze. This periphereia is ca. 4 km. east of Kopanaki and 1 km. west of Dorion village on both sides of the highway. We could not locate the mound and local inhabitants do not know it.' from McDonald and Simpson  233, '24. Stylari (Kopanaki)'. These directions: 'four km. east of Kopanaki and 1 km west of Dorion village' are themselves absurd. The two villages are only three km. distant from each other.
 McDonald and Simpson have this to say with respect to the six funeral mounds at Kaldamou (Levki) "All are being rapidly eroded by cultivation." McDonald and Simpson  239, '43. Kaldamou (Levki)'. And here: "Der NNW-Teil des Geländes wurde im Jahr 2000 für die Anlage eines Olivenhaines eingeebnet." "The NNW part of the site was levelled in the year 2000 for an olive grove." In Zavadil  485 referring to Marinatos' important Myceanean building discoveries at Katarrachaki, near Koukounara.
Destruction through cultivation is not always inadvertent. As Zangger, et al  571 say "After their first encounter with archaeologists, some landowners, possible fearing future restrictions and perhaps expropriation, appear to have intentionally damaged sites on their fields by extensively plowing the soft marl. Such deliberate destruction by landowners, who balance the rise in land value with the increased cost caused by excavation on private property, has been observed elsewhere in Greece."
 Zavadil  454-5. Dr. Zavadil goes on to quote McDonald and Simpson  150, '65. Katarachi (Koukounara)' on this very topic:
"The general area discussed by Professor Marinatos under Koukounara is so large and was so heavily occupied in prehistoric times that a brief and clear exposition of the topography is very difficult. A carefully prepared topographic map of the area with all archaeological discoveries clearly marked is now needed.“
She continues (454):
"Diese Sätze, vor etwa dreißig Jahren von W. A. McDonald und R. Hope Simpson in bezug auf einen der interessantesten Fundorte Messeniens formuliert, haben bis zum heutigen Datum leider nichts von ihrer Berechtigung verloren. Es ist noch immer kein Plan der auf dem Hochplateau zwischen Pylos und dem messenischen Golf in der Umgebung des Dorfes Koukounara gelegenen bronzezeitlichen Relikte erschienen, obwohl die hier erforschten Grabanlagen mit Recht zu den wichtigsten Bauten dieser Gattung in Messenien, wenn nicht sogar der gesamten Peloponnes gezählt werden dürfen."
 For a survey see this.
 Simpson  19.
 Ibid., '2. Mycenaean Sites in Messenia', 15-43.
 Simpson  19.
Auerbach : Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Translated by Willard Trask and with an introduction by Edward W. Said. Princeton University Press, 2013. Mimesiswas first published in Berne, Switzerland in 1946.
Boyd : Boyd, Michael. Middle Helladic and early Mycenaean Mortuary customs in the southern and western Peloponnese. Ph.D. Dissertation for The University of Edinburgh in 2 volumes. Online here.
Cyriac of Ancona : Cyriac of Ancona: Later Travels. Edited and translated by Edward D. Bodnar with Clive Foss. I Tatti Library, x. Harvard University Press. 2003
Frazer : Frazer, James G., editor and translator, Pausanias's Description of Greece. Volume IV. MacMillan and Co., Ltd., New York. 1898. Online here.
Jones : Pausanias. Description of Greece, Volume I: Books 1-2 (Attica and Corinth). Translated by W. H. S. Jones. Loeb Classical Library 93. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1918.
McDonald and Simpson : McDonald, William A. and Richard Hope Simpson, “Prehistoric Habitation in Southwestern Peloponnese”, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Jul., 1961), pp. 221-260. Online here.
McDonald and Simpson : McDonald, William A. and Richard Hope Simpson, "Further Explorations in Southwestern Peloponnese: 1964-1968", American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 73, No. 2 (Apr., 1969), pp. 123-177. Online here.
Simpson : Simpson, Richard Hope. "The Seven Cities Offered by Agamemnon to Achilles", The Annual of the British School at Athens. Vol. 61 (1966), pp. 113-131
Simpson : Simpson, Richard Hope. Mycenaean Messenia and the Kingdom of Pylos, INSTAP. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. USA. 2014. 978-1931534758
Zangger et al. : Zangger, Eberhard, Michael E. Timpson, Sergei B. Yazvenko, Falko Kuhnke, and Jost Knauss. “The Pylos Regional Archaeological Project: Part II: Landscape Evolution and Site Preservation”. Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 66 (4). 549–641. Online here.
Zavadil : Zavadil, Michaela, Monumenta: Studien zu mittel- und späthelladischen Gräbern in Messenien. Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Denkschriften, 450. Band. Mykenische Studien, Band 33. Wien, 2012. Online here.