This week we had two fascinating papers by Sam Sharma and Francesca Modini, respectively talking about the application of digital technologies to the reconstruction of ancient landscapes and the reception of Greek lyric poetry in Greek imperial rhetoric.
In his presentation “GIS does GIS: the Potential and Pitfalls of Mapping the Past through Geographical Information Systems”, Sam illustrated the process through which, in the past 50 years, the age-old practice of making maps has joined with digital technology to become the great ‘new thing’ in archaeology.
In particular, under the term Geographical Information Systems (GIS), map-based methods of study have transformed our view of ancient landscapes and how people interacted with them. Using examples from the Classical and pre-Classical Mediterranean, Sam has led us through a critical reappraisal of what GIS can reveal about the development of landscapes and societies, explaining how it can illuminate the perceptions and experiences of those who lived in them.
At the same time, Sam’s talk has aimed to highlight the limitations and risks of building our understanding of the past around digital maps. Two questions, in particular, have been addressed in the course of the presentation: Is GIS really the harbinger of a ‘cartographic revolution’ in archaeology? Can this technology – or any technology – be a ‘magic bullet’ to solve all archaeological problems?
In the second section of the seminar, Francesca presented a paper entitled “Where the Eagles Fly: Rethinking Aelius Aristides’ Reception of Pindar”.
Starting point of her reappraisal of the presence of Pindar in the writings of Aelius Aristides, “star sophist” of Roman Greece, is the rhetorician’s fondness for Pindar, held by scholars almost as an axiom. In 1999 a doctoral dissertation set out to collect and analyse the more than fifty Pindaric citations distributed throughout Aristides’ corpus, classifying them (rigidly) according to their rhetorical function. More recently, Ewen Bowie has effectively contrasted Aristides’ preference for Pindar with other sophists’ tendency to quote from a broader canon of lyric poets, raising the “big question […] ‘Why Pindar?'”. In her presentation Francesca has aimed to address this “question” while challenging the ‘quotational approach’ traditionally applied to the matter. She pointed out that Aristides’ engagement with Pindar went far beyond the tight limits of citations, and concerned not just his poems but his poetical figure as a whole. This latter, Francesca has argued, inspired Aristides’ own self-presentation and shaped the way in which the sophist depicted his relation to both divine and human power: ignoring Horace’s warning, Aristides pursued the soaring flight of the ‘Theban eagle’.