MASt@CHS – Winter Seminar 2021 (Friday, February 5): Summaries of Presentations and Discussion

2021.03.17 | By Rachele Pierini and Tom Palaima

§0.1. Rachele Pierini opened the Winter 2021 MASt@CHS seminar by welcoming the participants to the session. In addition to the steady members of the MASt@CHS network, new guests joined the meeting: Hariclia Brecoulaki, Morris Silver, Agata Ulanowska, and, also, Zafeirios Adramerinas, Michele Mitrovich, and Jared Petroll, three graduate students from the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory (University of Texas at Austin). The co-founding member Tom Palaima and the expert of ancient-world economies Morris Silver were the speakers of the Winter 2021 MASt@CHS seminar.

§0.2. In the first twenty minutes Palaima presented, and we discussed for ten minutes, the second and last part of his work on *a-mo-te-u, a shadowy and puzzling figure within the Mycenaean palatial élite. Building on the analysis of the Linear B evidence that he carried out at the November 2020 MASt@CHS seminar, Palaima explores here the attestations of the root of *a-mo-te-u and its metaphorical and sociopolitical implications in representative sample passages from the alphabetic Greek literary tradition. For the final ninety minutes, Morris Silver then presented—and we then discussed—some key points of his forthcoming monograph The Purpled World: Marketing Haute Couture in the Aegean Bronze Age, of which Gregory Nagy has offered a preview here. Silver’s book explores the economic and symbolic multiverse spreading around purple in the Bronze Age Aegean, and he is presenting his thoughts in two parts. In this MASt@CHS seminar meeting, Silver focused on the implications of the use of purple for the Mycenaean textile industry and the artistic production in the palaces. The forthcoming Spring 2021 MASt@CHS seminar will feature the second part of Silver’s presentation, with further insights and material from his book.

§0.3. Contributions to the seminar have been provided by Hariclia Brekoulaki (see below at §§25.1, 28.4, 29.1, 30), Hedvig Landenius Enegren (§§15, 17, 22, 23.2), Michele Mitrovich (§§23.3, 25.2), Sarah Morris (§§11.2, 27), Gregory Nagy (§§10.2, 11.3, 12.6, 28.3), Tom Palaima (§§12.3, 23.1, 24.1, 28.2), Jared Petroll (§24.2), Rachele Pierini (§§14, 26.3, 28.1), Morris Silver (§§12.4, 16, 18–21, 26.1, 29.2), Agata Ulanowska (§26.2), and Roger Woodard (§§10.1, 12.2, 12.5, 12.7).

Topic 1: Mycenaean *a-mo-te-u, Greek ἁρμόζω, and the Ideology of Joining

Presenter: Tom Palaima

§1. Investigating the functions and prerogatives of the Mycenaean *a-mo-te-u is part of a broader program of my long exploration of the ideology of Mycenaean palatial élites (Palaima 1995, 2006, 2007, 2012a and b, 2016, 2020). The more securely interpreted vocabulary relating to the administrative officials at Pylos is devised and used with the aim of portraying the palace as the guarantor of the nourishment of its community. In particular, designations such as ko-re-te, po-ro-ko-re-te and da-mo-ko-ro seem related to the Greek verb κορέννυμι ‘to satiate’, thus identifying these agents of the palatial center as providing ‘nourishment, nurturing, sustenance and satiety’ within palatial territories. It is worth noting, following García Ramón (2010:82–3), that in the Linear B tablet from Thebes TH Ft(1) 219 the basic term ko-ro seems to refer to fodder and foddering. The image of the leader as a protecting and sustaining shepherd is well known in the Homeric epic phrase ποιμὴν λαῶν.

§2. The tablet PY Ta 711, introducing the set of texts in the Ta series that record ceremonial paraphernalia, lists three ritual vases, one of which is described as a-mo-te-wi-ja. The question we raised during the November 2020 MASt@CHS seminar was to what extent the *a-mo-te-u (of which the adjective is likely a derivative) was a chariot wheel manufacturer stricto sensu or whether there was some further symbolic value associated with the title and its root sense of ‘joining’. After all, the wheel was the joined object par excellence for the Mycenaeans and the later Greeks. This is reflected by the very formation of Mycenaean a-mo /(h)armo/ = ‘the joined thing’ being semantically specialized by the Mycenaean Greeks as ‘wheel’ and in later Greek ἅρμα as ‘chariot’. These words rest on the same metaphorical process as Greek ποίημα ‘poem’ from the verb ποιέω ‘to make’, i.e. the application of the process of ‘joining’ (see PIE *h2er-) to the most culturally significant object resulting from it. The key article that highlights this process is by the late and revered Petar Ilievski, “The Origin and Semantic Development of the Term Harmony,” Illinois Classical Studies 18 (1993), 19–29. In this work, Ilievski identifies the original meaning of Mycenaean a-mo /(h)armo/ as ‘joint work’ and discusses its formation and some parallels in IE languages. The most relevant parallel is the Slavic ramo ‘arm’, which highlights the semantic similarity between a wheel and an arm: “the arm is an organ with which one can carry, pull or push a load, and the wheel is a privileged substitute for it” (Ilievski 1993:22).

§3. The spoked wheel was not invented by Mycenaeans, yet they developed and improved it technologically. The centrality of this device in Mycenaean and later Greek culture was reflected in the language not only by the above-mentioned formation of a-mo/ἅρμα, but also by its important derivatives ἁρμόζω ‘to join, to fit together’ and ἁρμονία ‘union, order, harmony’. These derivatives reflect the later movement of this concept from the concrete sphere to the intellectual or notional one. Once again, a metaphorical process was at work. This mechanism then produced an ideological set of meanings, as they are attested in the highlighted terms relating to ‘establishing and maintaining order’, ‘fixing and fastening’ and ‘joining’ in the following passages from Greek epic. (The above overview follows Ilievski 1993:23–24.)

§4.1. Hesiod, Works and Days 72–76 (translation into English by Palaima):

ζῶσε δὲ καὶ κόσμησε θεὰ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη·
ἀμφὶ δέ οἱ Χάριτές τε θεαὶ καὶ πότνια Πειθὼ
ὅρμους χρυσείους ἔθεσαν χροΐ· ἀμφὶ δὲ τήν γε
Ὧραι καλλίκομοι στέφον ἄνθεσιν εἰαρινοῖσιν·
πάντα δέ οἱ χροῒ κόσμον ἐφήρμοσε Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη.

Goddess gray-eyed Athene girded her and set her in order
and around her goddess Graces and potnia Persuasion
set golden necklaces upon her skin; and round about her
the beautiful-haired Seasons set a crown with springtime flowers;
and Pallas Athene fitted upon her skin every orderly adornment.

§4.2. This passage describes the creation of Pandora, starting from scratch. It is remarkable that the passage begins and ends with Athena, a deity also present in the Mycenaean pantheon, who decides on and effects the arrangement in creating this seductive creature according to the cosmic (kosmos) order.

§5.1. Iliad 17.209–212 (translation into English by Palaima):

ἦ καὶ κυανέῃσιν ἐπ᾽ ὀφρύσι νεῦσε Κρονίων.
Ἕκτορι δ᾽ ἥρμοσε τεύχε᾽ ἐπὶ χροΐ, δῦ δέ μιν Ἄρης
δεινὸς ἐνυάλιος, πλῆσθεν δ᾽ ἄρα οἱ μέλε᾽ ἐντὸς
ἀλκῆς καὶ σθένεος·

Indeed and the Son of Kronos nodded assent (ἐπί = ‘upon’) with dark-blue brows
And for Hector he fitted armor upon his skin, and Ares entered down into him
terrifying and enyalian, there and then his limbs were filled inside with protective force and strength.

§5.2. Again a compound of ἐπί and ἁρμόζω is used, this time with reference to fastening τεύχεα, the elements that make up a set of armor, upon the skin of Hector. This same word comes up in another title in a Mycenaean record, namely PY Un 2, where an o-pi-te-<u>-ke-e-u is mentioned, likely ‘the supervisor of the arms’ or ‘the supervisor banqueting materials and objects’ (cf. e.g. Mycenaean o-pi-su-ko ‘overseers of figs’ and o-pi-ka-pe-e-we ‘overseers of digging’, DMic 2:39-40, 43-44) in regard to banqueting provisions on an occasion involving the wanaks and what seems to be a ritual initiation that has elements of mysteries cult.

§6.1. Odyssey 5.247–248:

τέτρηνεν δ᾽ ἄρα πάντα καὶ ἥρμοσεν ἀλλήλοισιν,
γόμφοισιν δ᾽ ἄρα τήν γε καὶ ἁρμονίῃσιν ἄρηρεν

He bored all (the wood pieces) and fitted them with one another
and with pegs he fitted the ‘held-together-thing’ (= raft) and with joinery fittings he fitted it.

§6.2. In this passage, the form ἥρμοσεν is used with reference to Odysseus’s seagoing vessel, which he fits together with the permission and assistance of Calypso. The necessity of the boat is largely present as a motif in Greek culture, and is also exploited metaphorically as representing the state. τήν here refers to σχεδίη, which emphasizes the fundamental nature of a sea craft, in this case a kind of basic raft as a carefully joined and fastened ‘held together’ thing and not a full-fledged ναῦς. In regard to the technical skill of joinery, vessels for sailing are the technological equivalents on the sea of wheels and chariots on terra firma, and they provide on the sea the kind of protective enclosure of human beings against the savage forces of nature that is provided by city walls of the kind built by Nausithous to protect the civilized Phaeacians as reported soon in the next book of the Odyssey (6.7–10): Ναυσίθοος θεοειδής … ἀμφὶ δὲ τεῖχος ἔλασσε πόλει.

§7.1. Odyssey 5.234–236 (translation into English by Palaima):

δῶκέν οἱ πέλεκυν μέγαν, ἄρμενον ἐν παλάμῃσι,
χάλκεον, ἀμφοτέρωθεν ἀκαχμένον· αὐτὰρ ἐν αὐτῷ
στειλειὸν περικαλλὲς ἐλάινον, εὖ ἐναρηρός·

She gave to him a big axe, fitted in his hands,
bronze, from both sides brought to a sharp point; but in it
(was) a very beautiful olive-wood handle, well fastened in.

§7.2. It is worth noting that Calypso provides Odysseus with tools for felling the trees and then for working the felled trees at first into what in Linear B tablet PY Vn 10 are called a-ko-so-ne /aksones/ ‘axles’. In the passage from the Odyssey the big axe (πέλεκυς) is fitted into Odysseus’s hands (ἄρμενον ἐν παλάμῃσι) and its olive-wood (ἐλάινον) handle (στειλειόν, emphasizing the uniform sturdiness of an implement made from a single branch or tree trunk, essentially an element that itself is strong in being one whole piece and by virtue of needing no joinery) is ‘well fitted in’ (εὖ ἐναρηρός) to the bronze axe head.

§8.1. Odyssey 19.106–114 (translation into English by Palaima):

τὴν δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς·
‘ὦ γύναι, οὐκ ἄν τίς σε βροτῶν ἐπ᾽ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν
νεικέοι· ἦ γάρ σευ κλέος οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἱκάνει,
ὥς τέ τευ ἢ βασιλῆος ἀμύμονος, ὅς τε θεουδὴς
ἀνδράσιν ἐν πολλοῖσι καὶ ἰφθίμοισιν ἀνάσσων
εὐδικίας ἀνέχῃσι, φέρῃσι δὲ γαῖα μέλαινα
πυροὺς καὶ κριθάς, βρίθῃσι δὲ δένδρεα καρπῷ,
τίκτῃ δ᾽ ἔμπεδα μῆλα, θάλασσα δὲ παρέχῃ ἰχθῦς
ἐξ εὐηγεσίης, ἀρετῶσι δὲ λαοὶ ὑπ᾽ αὐτοῦ.’

Odysseus responding with much thought spoke to her
Madame, no human being upon the boundless earth
could fault you. For praise of you in fact spreads across the broad skies
just like that of some perfect king, who god-fearing and
serving as anax among many forceful men
holds up (maintains) righteous dealings, and the dark earth bears
wheat and barley, and trees teem with fruit,
and sheep and goats give birth fixedly, and the sea furnishes fish;
the source is his good leadership, and his peoples fittingly excel under him.

§8.2. The same emphasis is given yet again in this last passage discussed here. Order, imposed and maintained, brings prosperity of many forms, here in the different spheres of the natural world: grain crops and fruit trees planted in the earth’s soil, herd animals that graze upon the grass, and plants that grow upon the earth; and all manner of fishes in the sea that round out the human diet.

Discussion following Palaima’s presentation

§9. The discussion revolved around three main issues, i.e. (1) the relationship among kosmos, the order of the society, and the self-representation of the élites; (2) the name of Homer; and (3) Kadmos and Harmonia.

§10.1. Roger Woodard highlighted that, in the ancestral Indo-European ideology, a rightly ordered society has a triadic division: (i) religious specialists, (ii) wielders of physical force, and (iii) a figure that embodies the great part of society, i.e. the producers who nurture and sustain. This backdrop makes Linear B tablets like PY Un 718 particularly interesting, since these documents record the Mycenaean palatial functionaries as responsible for nutrition. In this regards, Woodard has also shared some results of his current monograph project. These insights concern the sphere of nourishment in ancestral Indo-European thinking as reflected in the warrior link with the Indo-European root *h1ag̑-, Greek ágō (ἄγω) in the terms wánaks and lāwāgetās, also attested, in Woodard’s view, in Linear B as wa-na-ka and ra-wa-ke-ta respectively. (For discussion of the alternative, non-IE etymology, cf. Palaima 2016:135–144, with references.)

§10.2. Gregory Nagy pointed out that in Sparta the order of the community is identified with the kosmos itself, as is also beauty, in the sense of ‘perfectly put together’. Nagy has extensively analyzed the topic in Chapter 6 of his book Pindar’s Homer (Nagy 1990).

§11.1. Building on functions and roles that are related to the maintenance of the social order, the discussion then focused on the name of Homer.

§11.2. Sarah Morris highlighted the etymological relationship between the verb ἀραρίσκω and the name Homer (ὁμ+ἀρ-). By referring to the concept of ‘crafting, joining’, the name ‘Homer’ designates the one who ‘fits together’ and being a ‘homer’ indicates his poetic craft in ‘joining’ words and verses.

§11.3. Nagy added on this point that Homer as the maker of chariot-wheels is simultaneously ‘Homer the federal hostage’—who gets blinded as a sign of his being true to his role as the ‘joiner’ of the social order. Nagy’s argument can be read in full here, as Chapter 9 of his monograph Homer the Preclassic (Nagy 2009).

§12.1. The topic of divine craftsman has been further expanded by exploring the mythological figure of Kadmos = Cadmus.

§12.2. Woodard has argued for Cadmus as chiefly a bringer of technology in light of two arguments, i.e. the link between Cadmilus/Casmilus and the Cabiri, and the Anatolian smith god Ḫašamili lying behind the figure of Kásmilos. In this framework, Cadmus is in origin a divine craftsman who deftly fits together parts—especially, in surviving tradition, grámmata. As such, the bit of technology that he ends up being assigned, as importer, is the writing system. Hence, it is quite appropriate that Cadmus should be made to wed a figure named Harmonia.

§12.3. Palaima pointed out that it matters historically if the root of Kadmos is Semitic, as has often been suggested, or IE and when the name entered the Greek lexicon. For a comprehensive further discussion of the alternatives, cf. Palaima 2011:56–63.

§12.4. Morris Silver shared some excerpts from his book Slave-Wives, Single Women and ‘Bastards’ in the Ancient Greek World: Law and Economics Perspectives, in which further references and details are to be found. In Silver’s view, legitimate marriage or marriage by loan of the bride is made recognizable by a distinctive betrothal terminology cognate to the verb eggmalizein. Pindar Pythian 9.13, however, indicates that pallakia or marriage by sale/self-sale of the bride also relied on a distinctive terminology involving use of the verb harmozein ‘to fit together’ (in gamos ‘marriage’). In addition, Silver highlights that it is not entirely clear whether harmozō refers only to betrothal or to completed marriage but it is clear that the term has no linguistic connection to the loan market. In this respect, he provides the example of the mythical Harmonia, whose name (cognate to harmozein) reveals that she was ‘fitted-together with / joined to’ Cadmus, who became her husband by purchase. Silver also recalls Ilievski’s hypothesis that Cadmus and Harmonia’s wedding represents a union of two cultures, i.e. Mediterranean with Semitic and Indo-European elements, since the name ‘Harmonia’ has an IE etymology (harmozein) whereas the name ‘Cadmus’ is from a Semitic stem qdm, Hebrew qedem, qddim, ‘east,’ qadmeni, ‘men from the east’.

§12.5. Woodard shed light on the hypothesis of the Eastern origin of Cadmus by highlighting that the Semitic root qdm in Hebrew means ‘from the front’. Hence, ‘East’, ‘of old’, ‘beginning’. He also remarks that the idea of a Semitic etymology for the name of Cadmus goes back to at least the 17th century. Again cf. conveniently Palaima 2011:56–63.

§12.6. Nagy drew attention to Classical Greek literature, with particular emphasis on Theognis 15–18 and Pindar F 194 SM. The former, the analysis of which is to be found here (originally published as Nagy 1985), refers to what the Muses and Kharites sang at the wedding of Cadmus and Harmonia. In the latter a chorus of Thebans is represented as if they were rebuilding the walls of Thebes, i.e. they are metaphorically ‘building the walls’ of the kosmos ‘arrangement’ of the words of their song (here the full text, i.e. Chapter 5 in Nagy 1990).

§12.7. Both passages, as Woodard remarks, refer to a Theban chorus re-enacting the musician Amphion’s construction of the walls of Thebes in their performance of sung utterance—and kosmos and harmonia are drawn together by way of the alternative founder of the city. The Amphion & Zethus foundation tradition that Homer knows looks as though it has informed the Cadmus tradition.

§13. Palaima Bibliography

DMic 1 and 2 = Aura Jorro, F. 1985 and 1993. Diccionario micénico. 2 vols. Diccionario Griego-Español Anejos 1–2. Madrid.

García Ramón, J. L. 2010. “Reconstructing IE Lexicon and Phraseology: Inherited Patterns and Lexical Renewal.” In Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, ed. W. Jamison, H. C. Melchert, and B. Vine, 69–106. Bremen.

Ilievski, P. 1993. “The Origin and Semantic Development of the Term Harmony.” Illinois Classical Studies 18:19–29.

Nagy, G. 1985. “Theognis and Megara: A Poet’s Vision of his City.” In Theognis of Megara: Poetry and the Polis, ed. T. Figueira and G. Nagy, 22–81. Baltimore.

Nagy, G. 1990. Pindar’s Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past. Baltimore.

Nagy, G. 2009. Homer the Preclassic. Berkley and Los Angeles.

Palaima, T. G. 1995. “The Nature of the Mycenaean Wanax: Non-Indo-European Origins and Priestly Functions.” In The Role of the Ruler in the Prehistoric Aegean. Proceedings of a Panel Discussion Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, New Orleans, Louisiana, 28 December 1992, with Additions, ed. P. Rehak, 119–139. Aegaeum 11, Liège.

Palaima, T. G. 2006. “Wanaks and Related Power Terms in Mycenaean and Later Greek.” In Ancient Greece: From the Mycenaean Palaces to the Age of Homer, ed. S. Deger-Jalkotzy and I. S. Lemos, 53–71. Edinburgh Leventis Studies 3. Edinburgh.

Palaima, T. G. 2007. “Mycenaean Society and Kingship: Cui Bono? A Counter-Speculative View.” In Epos: Reconsidering Greek Epic and Aegean Bronze Age Archaeology. Proceedings of the 11th International Aegean Conference, Los Angeles, UCLA–The J. Paul Getty Villa, 20–23 April 2006, ed. S. P. Morris and R. Laffineur, 129–140. Aegeaum 28. Liège.

Palaima, T. G. 2011. “Euboea, Athens and Thebes: The Implications of the Linear B References.” In Euboea and Athens: Proceedings of a Colloquium in Memory of Malcolm B. Wallace. Athens, 26-27 June 2009, ed. D. W. Rupp and J. E. Tomlinson, 53–76. Publications of the Canadian Institute in Greece 6. Athens.

Palaima, T. G. 2012a. “Kosmos in the Mycenaean Tablets: The Response of Mycenaean ‘Scribes’ to the Mycenaean Culture of Kosmos.” In Kosmos: Jewellery, Adornment and Textiles in the Aegean Bronze Age. Proceedings of the 13th International Aegean Conference, University of Copenhagen, Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research, 21–26 April 2010, ed. M.-L. Nosch and R. Laffineur, 697–703. Aegaeum 33. Leuven.

Palaima, T. G. 2012b. “Security and Insecurity as Tools of Power in Mycenaean Palatial Kingdoms.” In Études mycéniennes 2010. Actes du XIIIe Colloque international sur les textes égéens, Sèvres, Paris, Nanterre, 20–23 septembre 2010, ed. P. Carlier, C. De Lamberterie, M. Egetmeyer, N. Guilleux, F. Rougemont, and J. Zurbach, 345–356. Biblioteca di “Pasiphae” 10. Pisa.

Palaima, T. G. 2016. “The Ideology of the Ruler in Mycenaean Prehistory: Twenty Years after the Missing Ruler.” In Studies in Aegean Art and Culture: A New York Aegean Bronze Age Colloquium in Memory of Ellen N. Davis, ed. R. Koehl, 133–158. Philadelphia.

Palaima, T. G. 2020. “Basileus and Anax in Homer and Mycenaean Greek Texts.” In Cambridge Guide to Homer, ed. C. Pache, C. Dué, R. Lamberton, and S. Lupack, 300–303. Cambridge, UK.

Silver, M. 2017. Slave-Wives, Single Women and ‘Bastards’ in the Ancient Greek World: Law and Economics Perspectives. Oxford and Philadelphia.

Topic 2: Presenting The Purpled World: Marketing Haute Couture in the Aegean Bronze Age – a dialogue with Morris Silver

Edited by: Rachele Pierini and Tom Palaima

§14. Rachele Pierini introduced the upcoming work by Morris Silver, The Purpled World: Marketing Haute Couture in the Aegean Bronze Age. The monograph covers a large amount of data focusing on purple in the textile industry from an economic perspective and reviews some religious and ritual issues as well. Pierini then provided an example of how relevant the theme of purple-dyed textile still is nowadays in the economic and political scenario by showing the color choice of attires during President Biden’s Inauguration Day (January 20, 2021). Significantly, former and current first ladies as well as the current Vice-President all wore different shades of purple (Figure 1) at this hyper-significant ceremonial event that is ritually crucial to the orderly functioning of American society.

Figure 1. Purple-dyed dresses on Inauguration Day 2021. Center, Vice President Kamala Harris; top right, Michelle Obama; bottom right, Dr. Jill Biden; bottom left, Hillary Clinton; top left, Laura Bush. Photos by the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared via Flickr under a CC BY 2.0 license.

§15. Hedvig Landenius Enegren highlights the perfect correlation of color hues between this image (Figure 1) and the images below (Figures 2a and 2b) of yarn dyed with shellfish purple dye, in this case extracted from Hexaplex Trunculus (for the extraction of dye from this mollusk see Boesken Kanold 2017).

Figures 2a and 2b. Examples of yarn dyed with shellfish purple dye and extracted from Hexaplex Trunculus. Courtesy of Landenius Enegren and Meo 2017.

§16. Back in 1991, Silver worked out a theory about the golden fleece in the myth of the Argonauts, arguing that the so-called golden fleece was actually purple dyed wool or purple-dyed garment, manufactured in Thessaly and transformed by sale into gold in the Black Sea area. The background of this argument is that, in reconstructing the journey of the Argonauts, they seem to have stopped at Lemnos to have their clothes murex-dyed by the Lemnian women, proverbially connected with this activity by their bad odor. On the other hand, there is much evidence of gold possession in the Greek area.

§17. Landenius Enegren here remarks that sea silk derived from the filaments of the Pinna Nobilis mollusk (see the images below of the Pinna Nobilis shell and of prepared sea silk fibers, respectively Figure 3, Figure 4a, and Figure 4b) has also been suggested as fiber for the Golden Fleece (McKinley 1998; Maeder 2017; several articles in Landenius Enegren and Meo 2017, including Meo 2017; Maeder website on sea silk: muschelseide.ch).

Figure 3. The Pinna Nobilis shell. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Figure 4a. Example of prepared sea silk fibers. After Mastrocinque 1928.
Figure 4b. Example of prepared sea silk fibers. Photo by Landenius Enegren.

§18. Coming to the Bronze Age Aegean, Silver argues that garments played a major role in the economy and that Mycenaean Linear B tablets and palatial frescoes provide evidence for this. In his view, the pictorial representations, a main focus of the monograph, show little commitment by the artists to an actual reconstruction of the people portrayed. He proposes that the primary purpose of such representations was not the portrayal of people but rather the display of the garments themselves and the exhibition of their complex weaving techniques and decorative patterns. His interpretation relies on the postures of the depicted characters since the pictorial representations show people enacting unnatural movements. He reads this iconographical peculiarity, commonly understood as explained by the religious purpose that processions and ritual festivals had on Mycenaean frescoes, as evidence for the artists making it a priority to draw attention to the fine garments themselves.

§19. Furthermore, Silver highlights that previous studies have not taken into due account the commercial vocation that these representations had in their context of production, since Mycenaean palaces were also the centers for the production of textiles and, likely, commerce (although the latter is not easily visible in the Linear B records). Hence, Silver argues that Mycenaean palaces had a function similar to that of today’s showrooms for visiting clients. In addition, the prominence of textile production on Linear B tablets reinforces the hypothesis of dresses as a Mycenaean showpiece and, therefore, a commercial motivation for their representations on frescoes. This “economic” argument is at the core of Silver’s approach and the basis of the research he has carried out and presents in The Purpled World: Marketing Haute Couture in the Aegean Bronze Age.

§20. Additional evidence is to be found in the Homeric poems, which serve as historical sources. The preliminary assumption is that the material culture to which the Homeric poems refer must pertain to the Bronze Age, perhaps, in Silver’s opinion, even to an earlier stage than the Linear B tablets. In Silver’s view, arguments for a later dating of the Homeric poems do not seem compelling and can often be challenged. He also is convinced that linguistic considerations allow for an early dating. Building on these conclusions, Silver emphasized as the next point to consider the fact that the Greeks won the Trojan war. As a result, they extended their political and commercial influence to the Troad and likely to the Anatolian area, where they were able to market their luxury garments in return for gold from the Black Sea region.

§21. Silver provides a further example of the relationship between the Homeric poems and Bronze Age material culture by discussing the famous scene in Iliad 6.297–304 in which noble women of Troy on Hector’s advice instruct Theanō, the priestess of Athena, to place a peplos ‘at the knees’ (ἐπὶ γούνασιν) of Athena’s statue and to pray to Athena. Hence, the goddess must have been seated, but there is no indication of the kind of support she was sitting on. This support is commonly understood to be a throne; however, Silver notices that this assumption conflicts with the usual association of the throne with male figures. He also observes that a Mycenaean throne (to-no and also found as to-ro-no- in the compound occupational term to-ro-no-wo-ko /thronoworgos/) is defined as such by having a seatback, while other less prestigious seats were more likely stools (ta-ra-nu). Thus, his conclusion is that the statue of Athena was rather sitting on a stool or a cushion. Furthermore, Silver favors the interpretation of the Mycenaean compound to-no-e-ke-te-ri-jo as ‘festival of the carrying of thrones’. On this basis, he argues three points: (1) that the festival was a Sellisternium taking place at the beginning of the navigation season; (2) that also merchants took part in it; and (3) that, in addition, merchants were honored by being seated on these same stools with textile cushions.

Discussion following Silver’s presentation

§22. Hedvig Landenius Enegren remarked that because ritual garments have always been important in ancient societies, the commercial dimension is likely to have coexisted with the religious aspect. We need only refer to the importance given to present-day priestly attire, in, for instance, the Catholic Church, where colors distinguish the Church year and, not to be forgotten, purple holds a special significance.

§23.1. Tom Palaima emphasized the aesthetic dimension of Mycenaean artworks, in which the personal aesthetic sense of the artist(s) or commissioning patron(s) likely played a role, too. This is a question that Silver’s work raises. Scholars in Aegean, Minoan, Mycenaean, and Homeric studies must take up the challenge of accounting for it.

§23.2. Aesthetic conventions, Landenius Enegren added, may indeed be hard to spot for today’s observers of these artworks, but we should always assume that there were some at work. For example, the aesthetic and symbolic value of colors permeates every artistic production of all time periods.

§23.3. Michele Mitrovich further remarked that color can also be a means of expressing cultural identity, whereby we should apply a multi-layer approach and identify many different strata in figurative representations.

§24.1. Palaima also pointed out in reference to seated figures in Homeric passages that the original passages make us think again about the thorny issue of ‘enthroned figures’. Queen Ἀρήτη in Odyssey 6.304–309 is said to sit at the hearth (6.305) and to lean upon a column (6.307) of the megaron. The thronos is specifically identified by Nausicaa as the thronos ‘of my father’, i.e. king Alcinous. There is no mention of any seating equipment in Iliad 6.303–310. Again, Theanō is said to place a peplos as an offering at the knees of fair-haired Athena (6.304). Given her divine status, the assumption is made by commentators like Kirk (1990:167–168) that the goddess is enthroned.

§24.2. Here evidence provided by Jared Petroll concerning seated female figures—there are no seated male figures—on images preserved on extant Minoan and Mycenaean seals and sealings is particularly relevant. Of 10 seal/sealing images (9 in the CMS; 1 in Hesperia 2016) of sitting women, only 2 are in a backed chair or ‘throne’. Both are identified as deities. Otherwise women are seated on stools (3x) or tiered structures that look like ‘stepped’ altars/shrines (3x), or out in the landscape (2x).

§25.1. Hariclia Brecoulaki highlighted another methodological issue at stake, i.e. that we do not have concrete remnants of these Mycenaean garments, but rather representations of them. Therefore, the distortions that may exist for our eyes might not be so relevant for the Bronze Age observers. The main limit to our understanding is that accuracy in representation cannot be so easily defined and quantified. An example of this is the development of perspective in the history of art. As for the Mycenaean frescoes, we could just assume a different concept of objectiveness in representation, whereby naturalism was not a priority.

§25.2. In this respect, Mitrovich suggested that the Mycenaean painters might want to represent all the elements of their subject in just a single view, thus forcing the naturalism of the representation into unusual poses.

§26.1. Silver proposed a possible relationship between the commercial and religious dimensions of the Mycenaean frescos. The religious patina of these artworks, which was undoubtedly there, could also be connected with commercial purposes. Presenting the garments as bearing a religious significance could also increase their commercial potential. And their being commercial commodities should not automatically imply that they did not have a religious value—naturalism and distortion are seen side by side with the distortions seeming to favor the appearance of the garments.

§26.2. Agata Ulanowska remarked that, although some of the textile patterns on frescoes look indeed “weavable” and there were several experiments to reconstruct them using ancient techniques, there are also complex, interlaced patterns and landscape scenes that seem to be difficult to be woven using techniques known at the time. When we look at the preserved garments in Egypt and Europe, we do not find textiles of quality like those very fine textiles represented in the Minoan frescoes. Therefore, such complex patterns might have been rather artistic creations of fresco painters than Minoan weavers.

§26.3. Rachele Pierini called attention to the changes that occurred between the Minoan and the Mycenaean period, so that we should account for the different technological practices of these two cultures, just as much as we account for the different fashions. In addition, an element to consider in the discussion is the change of economic models that occurred in this span of time and affected also the textile production.

§27. Sarah Morris remarked that the scene in Iliad 6 in which Trojans place clothes on Athena’s statue may echo an Anatolian background. While seated deities in Bronze Age Aegean art are goddesses or priestesses, often recipients of libations and offerings (including textiles), a thorough examination of the Homeric passage brings to light a wide array of elements favoring an Anatolian set for the scene. An in-depth analysis of this comparison, along with further details and references, is to be found in her paper (Morris 2013). Morris has also recalled two further elements. First, the Manapa-Tarhunta letter, in which the Hittite purple-dyers fled to Lazpa as foreign textile workers/dyers in the service of Pylos. Second, the Aeolian elements of epic narrative and Pylian personnel, a topic that Woodard extensively examines in his work Aeolian Origins—a preview of which can be accessed here.

§28.1. Rachele Pierini informed the audience that an upcoming paper by Carlos Varias (Varias forthcoming) supports interpretations of to-no-e-ke-te-ri-jo reading to-no as ‘throne(s)’ by arguing for the interpretation of to-no-e-ke-te-ri-jo as a ritual in which to-no plays a central role and is a symbol of power. He also proposes to translate the compound as ‘the festivity of the drawing of the throne’ or ‘the festivity of pouring libations at/from the throne.’ Varias’s interpretation challenges alternative views that read, as Petrakis does (see below), the first part of the compound (i.e. to-no) as ‘flowers’.

§28.2. Palaima signposted the comprehensive study by Petrakis (2002–2003) for the ingenious case Petrakis makes that to-no-e-ke-te-ri-jo is a festival involving flowers. This is supported by Nagy’s works with relevant passage in Sappho and later Greek literature (see below). Palaima emphasized that Varias forthcoming and Petrakis 2002–2003 should be read carefully together with Nagy 2020, as he has. Perhaps, once Varias’s article is published, we can make room to discuss this topic at a future seminar with all three principal scholars present.

§28.3. More data on the interpretation of the alphabetic Greek throna as ‘flower’ are to be found in two pieces by Gregory Nagy, i.e. About Aphrodite’s birds and her magical flowers in Song 1 of Sappho and elsewhere, which can be accessed here (Nagy 2020) and How the first word in Song 1 of Sappho is relevant to her reception in the ancient world—and to various different ways of thinking about the Greek word hetairā, which can be read here (Nagy 2021).

§28.4. As regards the etymology for throna and the possible linking with anthina/anthei and Silver’s suggestion that the throne of the goddess could be a dyed textile, Hariclia Brecoulaki stressed that the verb ἀνθέω (Xen. Cyrop. 6.4.1), the adjective ἀνθηρός (Eurip. Iphig. in Aulis 73–74), and the word ἄνθος (Plat. Rep. 8, 557c; Arist. Meteor. 375 a, De color. 792, 794 b) are used to indicate textiles dyed with purple and/or bright, expensive colorants (see also Pliny the Elder, HN 35.30).

§29.1. Brecoulaki also emphasized that fashion would by definition change over time, and also had to be affordable in terms of manufacture.

§29.2. Silver suggested that Mycenaeans updated their fashion and the representations of the garments by applying ceramic plaques on the frescoes and displaying additional scenes on pottery. He also remarked that (i) as communication was very slow at the time, so was fashion, and (ii) a hypothesis worthy of consideration is that the Mycenaeans supplanted the Minoans by introducing pictorially decorated garments.

§30. In addition, Brecoulaki recalled the use of purple textiles, skin, and threads in magical practices, often used as φυλακτήρια (PGM IV, 2622–2707; V, 370–446; XCII, 1–6). She also thought of a possible connection with Ariadne’s thread. Finally, Brecoulaki drew attention to some recent works: Florensky 2002 on the development of perspective and ways of representation in art—see the essay on “reverse perspective” in Byzantine painting; Brøns 2017 for interesting parallels with the historical periods on the use of textiles and garments in the sphere of religion and ritual; and, in response to Silver’s request for a garment depicted in wall painting showing a figured scene, Evans PM III (figs. 23–25), Cameron and Hood 1967 (pl. E and IV), and Immerwahr 1990 (Kn n.14) for the textile from Knossos showing bucrania and griffins and other decorative motifs. Further references of general interest that she provided include: Sherratt and Bennet 2017; Günkel-Masckek 2020; Sotiropoulou et al. 2021.

§31. Bibliography (Silver’s presentation and following discussion)

Boesken Kanold, I. 2017. “Dyeing Wool and Sea Silk with Purple Pigment from Hexaplex Trunculus.” In Landenius, Enegren, and Meo 2017:66–72.

Brøns, C. 2017. Gods and Garments. Textiles in Greek Sanctuaries in the 7th to the 1st c. BC. Ancient Textiles Series 28. Oxford.

Cameron, M., and S. Hood. 1967. Sir Arthur Evans: Knossos Fresco Atlas; with Catalogue of Plates by M. Cameron and S. Hood. Farnborough.

Florensky, P. 2002. Beyond Vision: Essays on the Perception of Art. London.

Günkel-Masckek, U. 2020. Minoische Bild-Räume. Heidelberg.

Immerwahr, S. A. 1990. Aegean Painting in the Bronze Age. University Park, PA, and London.

Kirk, G. S. 1990. The Iliad: A Commentary. Vol. 2, Books 5–8. Cambridge.

Landenius Enegren, H., and F. Meo, eds. 2017. Treasures from the Sea. Sea Silk and Shellfish Purple Dye in Antiquity. Ancient Textiles Series 30. Oxford.

Maeder, F. 2017. “Byssus and sea silk: a linguistic problem with consequences.” In Landenius, Enegren, and Meo 2017:4–19.

Mastrocinque, B. 1928. Bisso e porpora—per la rinascita delle grandi industrie. Taranto.

McKinley, D. 1998. “Pinna And Her Silken Beard: A Foray Into Historical Misappropriations.” Ars Textrina 29:9–223.

Meo, F. 2017. “Taras and Sea Silk.” In Landenius, Enegren, and Meo 2017:56–66.

Morris, S. 2013. “From Kizzuwatna to Troy? Puduḫepa, Piyamaradu, and Anatolian Ritual in Homer.” In Proceedings of the 24th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, ed. S. W. Jamison, H. C. Melchert, and B. Vine, 151–167. Bremen.

Nagy, G. 2020.12.31. “About Aphrodite’s birds and her magical flowers in Song 1 of Sappho and elsewhere.” Classical Inquiries.

Nagy, G. 2021.01.15. “How the first word in Song 1 of Sappho is relevant to her reception in the ancient world—and to various different ways of thinking about the Greek word hetairā.” Classical Inquiries.

Petrakis, V. 2002–2003. “to-no-e-ke-te-ri-jo Reconsidered.” Minos 37/38:293–316 and 372.

PM III = Evans, A. 1930. The Palace of Minos: A Comparative Account of the Successive Stages of the Early Cretan Civilization as Illustrated by the Discoveries at Knossos. Vol. 3, The Great Transitional Age in the Northern and Eastern Sections of the Palace. London.

Sherratt, S., and J. Bennet. 2017. Archaeology and Homeric Epic. Sheffield Studies in Aegean Archaeology. Oxford.

Sotiropoulou, S., I. Karapanagiotis, K. S. Andrikopoulos, T. Marketou, K. Birtacha, and M. Marthari. 2021. “Review and New Evidence on the Molluscan Purple Pigment Used in the Early Late Bronze Age Aegean Wall Paintings.” Heritage 4:171–187.

Varias, C. Forthcoming. “La fiesta religiosa micénica to-no-e-ke-te-ri-jo: ¿fiesta ‘del arrastre del trono’ o fiesta ‘del agarre de las flores’?” In Thronos: Historical Grammar of Furniture in Mycenaean and Beyond, ed. R. Pierini, A. Bernabé, and M. Ercoles, 33–39. Bologna.



Annotations loading . . .

We're trying out a new look. 🎉 Let us know what you think! Hide.