Monday, May 07, 2012

Kerameikos 2: The Street of Tombs

This grove marks the bifurcation of ways: the Sacred Way and the Street of Tombs.

Behind it a tumulus of an ancient Athenian clan with burials stretching back to the 8th century BC.

Take the southern route along the Street of Tombs, and the first walled enclosure is a brick funerary structure of the 5th century BC. Here was a found a bronze cauldron filled with the remains of a man, perhaps the famous leader Alkibiades wrapped in silk. This silk was not from China, however, or even the middle east, but probably from the island of Kos in the eastern Mediterranean, and described by Aristotle and mentioned in the New Testament.

Across the way is how it must have been

to walk along a road in Ancient Greece with statues of bulls

(the real one preserved inside the museum

together with the steles of the grandmother Ampherete

the youth Eupheros - their inclined heads the only indication of the grief they feel when contemplating the symbols of what gave them most joy in life)

and finally the sisters Demetria and Pamphile

erected at the end of the South Road - just before Demetrious of Phaleron introduced a sumptuary law which banned such extravagant gestures at the end of the 4th century BC (317 BC).

According to this book I read, Everyday Life in Classical Athens by T.B.L.Webster (a book published in 1969), the 'Free Style' of these plaques lasted from 425-370 BC. He points out is sometimes difficult to tell who has died. The people on these tombs rarely show emotion, and this restraint was rejected by some artists who showed realism of emotion in their painting, for example the works of Zeuxis who is credited with the discovery of using light and shade to give the impression of 3D. The theatre of the time also emphasised character and emotions, with Euripides and Sophocles evoking characters who have terrible experiences, and whose lives change direction after a conversion or vision.

The last decades of the fifth century BC were unsettled times with Greek fighting Greek, Thucydides was writing his history of the Peloponnesian war, and speech writers e.g. Gorgias and Herodes were starting to use psychology to arouse the required reaction from a jury. I suspect that these streets of tombs with their plaques of people quietly accepting their fate must have sometimes seemed a sanctuary from a world seething with so many ideas, images and rhetoric.


Anonymous marly youmans said...

Lovely imaginary walk... Liked the bowed heads, inspecting what gave them joy...

Mon May 07, 11:21:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Marly! (The end of that post seemed to disappear when I posted it last night. I have remedied this now. I'll get used to this computering stuff, one day.)

Tue May 08, 09:35:00 am  

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