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Poetics of Place How Ancient Buildings Inspired Great Writing
edited by Elizabeth Riorden
University of Cincinnati To my parents, and to my teachers Contents
Literary Sources...... vii
Chapter 1 Prehistory...... 5
Chapter 2 Empire...... 25
Chapter 3 Transition...... 47
Chapter 4 Faith...... 67
Further Reading...... 97
Index of Names...... 101
Index of Places...... 103 Literary Sources
1. Patrick Lee Fermor, Selection from “Into High Germany,” A Time of Gifts: On foot to Constantinople: from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, pp. 79-81. Copyright © 1977 by Hodder & Stoughton. Reprinted with permission. 2. Jane Jacobs, The Economy of Cities, pp. 19-23. Copyright © 1970 by Random House LLC. Reprinted with permission. 3. Agatha Christie Mallowan, Selection from “The Habur and the Jaghjagha,” Come, Tell Me How You Live, pp. 58-61, 64-65. Copyright © 1984 by HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted with permission. 4. Victor Hugo, Selection from “This Will Kill That”, The Hunchback of Notre- Dame, trans. Catherine Liu, pp. 162-163. Copyright © 2002 by Random House LLC. Reprinted with permission. 5. Pindar, Selection from “Pythian Odes X.31,” Olympian Odes, ed. Diane Arnson Svarlien. Copyright © 1990 by Tufts University. 6. Thomas Hardy, Selection from Tess of the D’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman. 1891. 7. Agatha Christie Mallowan, Selection from Come, Tell Me How You Live, pp. 198-201. Copyright © 1984 by HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted with permission. 8. Karl Kirchwey, “Troia,” Stumbling Blocks: Roman Poems, p. 39. Copyright © 2017 by Northwestern University Press. Previously published in The New Yorker, 2013. Reprinted with permission. 9. C. A. Trypanis, “Achean Queen,” The Cocks of Hades, pp. 20-21. Copyright © 1958 by Faber & Faber Ltd. 10. Patrick Lee Fermor, Selection from “Change and Decay. The Cocks of Matapan,” Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, pp. 138-140. Copy- right © 1958 by Hodder & Stoughton. Reprinted with permission. 11. Edward Dodwell, Selection from “Chapter XI,” A Classical and Topograph- ical Tour through Greece, pp. 294-295. 1891.
ix 12. D.H. Lawrence, Selection from “Cerveteri,” Etruscan Places, pp. 23-28. Copyright © 1932 by Penguin Group USA and Paper Lion. Reprinted with permission. 13. D.H. Lawrence, Selection from “Painted Tombs of Tarquinia,” Etruscan Places, pp. 66-69. Copyright © 1932 by Penguin Group USA and Paper Lion. Reprinted with permission. 14. C. A. Trypanis, “The Painted Bird,”The Cocks of Hades, p. 52. Copyright © 1958 by Faber & Faber Ltd. 15. Lawrence Durrell, Selection from “Livia,” The Avignon Quintet, pp. 551- 559. Copyright © 1992 by Curtis Brown Group Limited. Reprinted with permission. 16. Lawrence Durrell, Selection from “Quinx,” The Avignon Quintet, pp. 1358- 1359. Copyright © 1992 by Curtis Brown Group Limited. Reprinted with permission. 17. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Selection from “A Moonlight Ramble,” The Marble Faun, pp. 115-117. 1860. 18. Thomas Hardy, Selection from The Mayor of Casterbridge: the Story of a Man of Character, pp. 66-68. 1886. 19. Agatha Christie Mallowan, Selection from Come, Tell Me How You Live, pp. 34-35. Copyright © 1984 by HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted with permission. 20. Rebecca West, Selection from “Split I,” Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, pp. 138-139, 143-145. Copyright © 1943 by Penguin Group USA. Reprinted with permission. 21. Rebecca West, Selection from “Split II,” Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, p. 155. Copyright © 1943 by Penguin Group USA. Reprinted with permission. 22. Patrick Lee Fermor, Selection from “The Rock Monasteries of Cappadocia,” A Time to Keep Silence, pp. 79-83. Copyright © 2007 by Hodder & Stoughton. Reprinted with permission. 23. Patrick Lee Fermor, Selection from “Mount Athos,” The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, pp. 280-282. Copyright © 2013 by Hodder & Stoughton. Reprinted with permission. 24. Victor Hugo, Selection from “A Bird’s Eye View of Paris,” The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, trans. Catherine Liu, pp. 120-121. Copyright © 2002 by Random House LLC. Reprinted with permission. 25. Thomas Hardy, Selection from “George Somerset,” A Laodicean: A Story of To-day. 1881. 26. Thomas Hardy, Selection from “Paula,” A Laodicean: A Story of To-day. 1881.
x 27. Victor Hugo, Selection from “Notre-Dame,” The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, trans. Catherine Liu, pp. 101-102. Copyright © 2002 by Random House LLC. Reprinted with permission. 28. Henry Adams, Selection from “Saint Michiel de la Mer del Peril,” Mont-Saint- Michel and Chartres. 1905. 29. Victor Hugo, Selection from “The Danger of Trusting a Goat with a Secret,” The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, trans. Catherine Liu, pp. 219. Copyright © 2002 by Random House LLC. Reprinted with permission. 30. Victor Hugo, Selection from “A Bird’s Eye View of Paris,” The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, trans. Catherine Liu, pp. 104-107. Copyright © 2002 by Random House LLC. Reprinted with permission. 31. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Selection from “Market Day in Perugia,” The Marble Faun. 1860. 32. Washington Irving, Selection from “The Court of Lions,” The Alhambra. 1832. 33. Giorgio Vasari, Selection from “Filippo Brunelleschi,” The Lives of the Artists, trans. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella, pp. 144-145. Copyright © 1991 by Oxford University Press. Reprinted with permission. 34. Mary McCarthy, The Stones of Florence, pp. 69-73. Houghton Mifflin Har- court, 1989. 35. Victor Hugo, Selection from “This Will Kill That,” The Hunchback of Notre- Dame, trans. Catherine Liu, pp. 161-162. Copyright © 2002 by Random House LLC. Reprinted with permission.
his book is intended to supplement a standard textbook assigned for the T architectural history survey course, which covers the story of the human- built environment, from the cave paintings of the Upper Paleolithic Age to the end of the Middle Ages; sometimes this class is known informally as “Caves to Cathedrals.” It is the story of a forty-thousand-year development that hap- pened in Europe—the first act of what architects and architectural historians call the “Western canon.” A little over two thousand years ago, the Roman writer Vitruvius advised the would-be architect to study many different topics, including understanding the history of what had been built before. Ever since, the discipline has considered it important to understand the historic traditions of architecture in a way that is more direct and intentional than it might be for contemporary artists, for example. In the class that I teach in a school of archi- tecture and interior design, we touch upon the architecture of India, Peru, the Islamic World, and the Far East, but “Part One” of the Western canon is the core: Caves to Cathedrals. So what is the supplement about? It is an anthology of writings that talk about or were inspired by the great monuments of the canon. Some of those monuments, such as ancient Troy, lie in ruins but retain a relationship to a landscape; some monuments, such as Notre-Dame of Paris, are still used as intended and are parts of living urban organisms. In either case, they evoke the past and incite a contemplative response when encountered. For some great writers such as Victor Hugo and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the monument is the prompt for establishing a time and place in which to situate a story. For poets, the response is more direct—the poet gazes at the remnants of the past and finds a promise of future salvation or even a brush with amnesia as something almost forgotten echoes faintly in the poet’s head. Some of these great writers are travelers who know how to paint a scene with words. One of them, Thomas Hardy, trained and worked as an architect, but he gave up that career to write, and if that had not happened, would we have a Tess of
xiii the D’Urbervilles in stone instead of print? It is unlikely. No, this anthology is most certainly not the writings of architects, for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that architects are notorious for bad writing. In this regard, I apologize in advance to the reader—I am one of them. In my defense, I will tell you that I am also an avid reader of fiction (always my first choice—both prose and poetry) and of good nonfiction, by which I mean that it is well written and the topic interests me. Since my early teens, I have enjoyed reading and, even more, suffered terribly from wanderlust, which I have been lucky enough to satisfy though frequent travel. As an architect who reads, I respect both visual and verbal language, and so I try my best to bring the two sides together. The second reason why this anthology excludes the writings of architects is because it is an attempt to examine how a wider, non-expert audience received the great monuments. There is also the hope to convey that reception to a broader audience. Nothing must be lost to the narrower, more expert audience of readers; those professionally oriented might instead find new connections and associations for things they think about daily. It is perhaps a reminder that architectural history is a subset of the humanities, not the handmaid of the technician. I must thank all of my teachers who, knowing that I was interested in architectural history, recommended that I read the novels of Hugo, Hardy, and Hawthorne or follow, sketchbook in hand, in the footsteps of Rebecca West, Washington Irving, and other engaging composers of adventurous travelogues. That is the true genesis of this book: to collect all the literary asides made by those mentors who let students know about wonderful books that relate to the subject at hand although not necessarily on the syllabus. My hope is that this book, though designed as a supplement, can also stand alone and might interest the self-taught architectural historian, travel enthusiast, or simply a curious reader. It is arranged in chronological order of the monuments so that it follows the typical organizational principle of the textbook about the history of architecture. However, like a good cookbook, it is also ready for the browser and the sampler. The list of recommended readings at the end is intended as more than just a selected scholarly bibliography. Any books on my list—representing excellent syntheses and up-to-date research and most of which are amply illustrated— will also be enjoyable reads as those so inclined seek out more data on a given topic. This is truly an extra reading list. I also urge you to explore the entire works from which the short excerpts in this book’s collection of readings have been extracted. Of course, my hope for this anthology is that an excerpt
xiv inspires someone to read an entire work or, even better, to start reading the entire corpus of one of the authors. This book is most certainly not intended for the advanced scholar of English, as my choices and approach will certainly annoy and provoke, though not because of any intention on my part. My goal is to collect a sampling of writings that show the impact that our physical world and environment can have on us. How did an educated person in the nineteenth or early twentieth century receive and exploit the shared heritage of architectural monuments? Does this still resonate with us today? Is there any method to the apparent randomness? For anyone using this anthology as a supplement to the standard archi- tectural history survey, any number of exercises—tailored to the class’s composition—could flow from the collection of writings. Creative students? Have them write a villanelle or elegiac stanza (like those of C. A. Trypanis) based on some crumbling old church in your town or an ancient wall painting in your local art museum. Have them go to the highest point in town and, using the buildings they see (and a little historical research) as a prompt, describe the “panorama of history” on display, just like Patrick Leigh Fermor did in Ulm and Victor Hugo did in Paris. Skilled technical students? Have them choose a monument from the book, do some research, and draw an analytique that also picks up the writer’s reception of that building. History students? Have them study the social context surrounding one of the writers and try to explain his or her interest in the thing they chose to write about. There are as many possibilities as the imagination allows.
Writing the Scene: Old Buildings in Enduring Landscapes The study of the history of architecture deals with the why, where, how, when, and who of past building. The social context of the original builders is import- ant, as is understanding the technologies available or under development when the building went up. From the High Renaissance onward, the personalities of individual architects come into play; the monuments discussed in this book were built during a vast period prior to that, a period that often offers scant knowledge about the individual designer but does tell us something about the society that produced it. But that is not the main objective of this book. The goal is to examine the reception of older buildings and monuments by later cultures—specifically, by some great writers. The ancients built some architec- ture to endure: a legacy of the past, sometimes still used as originally intended, sometimes as ruins lying in a landscape. This experience is not exclusive to writers; everyone is on the receiving end because architecture—the most public of all arts—is, in principle, accessible to all. But for writers, the encounter with iconic buildings may inspire them. They write in many different genres, from travelogues to poetry. Novelists use important architecture as backdrops for stories of hopeless love, revenge and retribution, forgiveness and healing. There are several commonalities, no matter what the genre: the dynamic between the human and the natural; the conflict between tradition and modernity; and the search for identity and cohesion. Architecture has a role to play in this constantly retold divine comedy, sometimes in surprising ways. The Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris forms more than the back- drop for the masterwork of Victor Hugo (1802–1885). The story of the doomed gypsy girl, Esmeralda, and the deformed bell ringer, Quasimodo—two social outcasts—is intricately tied to the stage of action in the novel. Hugo makes architecture stand in for an accumulation of human action and knowledge, speaking of life, death, and faith. In his famous description of a rooftop view from the tower of the cathedral, he extends this vision to the city of Paris as
1 it appeared in the late medieval period. The city, like the cathedral, is the repository of human knowledge, but it is more organic and less rationally planned, and it changes over time. Hugo describes the growth of the city up to the time of his grandfathers as an organic process. He takes the position that the information-technology revolution of the Enlightenment stole from buildings and cities a kind of primary essence of human truth, rendering new constructions irrelevant and false. In such a world, Hugo seems to say, Esmeralda and Quasimodo would be more than social outcasts: they would be beyond hope of spiritual redemption. Another writer took a look, on a clear winter day, from a Gothic church spire (this time a very lofty one) and imagined the rich panorama of European history before his eyes. Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915–2011) was no ordinary travel writer. At the age of eighteen, living at loose ends in London, he made the impulsive decision to walk from England all the way to Istanbul, Turkey. Thus began a life adventure. Ultimately, Fermor became a writer, and he told the story of his great trek in several volumes, the last being published after his death in 2011. In the early weeks of 1934, Fermor reached the banks of the Danube River— to be his pathway across six countries to the Black Sea and thence along its shore to Constantinople, as he quaintly called Istanbul. He met the Danube in Ulm, a town in western Bavaria. His first action was to climb the very tall tower of Ulm Minster—a Lutheran church, an island of Protestantism in a Catholic sea. From the tower he imagines the waves of armies crashing to and fro throughout more than two thousand years. He also sees his own recent past and near future, traveling eastward to Vienna and beyond.
As soon as the Minster was open I toiled up the steeple-steps and halted, with heart pounding, above the loft where those bells were hung. Seen through the cusps of a cinque-foil and the flurry of jackdaws and a rook or two that my ascent had dislodged, the foreshortened roofs of the town shrank to a grovelling maze. Ulm is the highest navigable point of the Danube, and lines of barges lay at anchor. I wondered if the ice had crept forward during the night, and where the barges would be hauled to. Water is the one thing that expands when it freezes instead of contracting, and a sudden drop in temperature smashes unwary boats like egg-shells. South of the river, the country retreated in a white expanse which buckled into the Swabian Jura. The eastern rim of the Black Forest blurred them; then
2 Poetics of Place: How Ancient Buildings Inspired Great Writing they rose and merged into the foothills of the Alps and somewhere among them, invisible in a trough with the Rhine flowing into it from the south and out again northwards, Lake Constance lay. Clearly discernible, and rising in peak after peak, the whole upheaval of Switzerland gleamed in the pale sunlight. It was an amazing vision. Few stretches of Central Europe have been the theatre for so much history. Beyond which watershed lay the pass where Hannibal’s elephants had slithered downhill? Only a few miles away, the frontier of the Roman Empire had begun. Deep in those mythical forests that the river reflected for many days’ march, the German tribes, Rome’s Nemesis, had waited for their hour to strike. The Roman limes followed the river’s southern bank all the way to the Black Sea. The same valley, functioning in reverse, funnelled half the barbarians of Asia into Central Europe and just below my eyrie, heading upstream, the Huns entered and left again before swimming their ponies across the Rhine—or trotting them over the ice—until, foiled by a miracle, they drew rein a little short of Paris. Charlemagne stalked across this corner of his empire to destroy the Avars in Pannonia and a few leagues south-west, the ruins of Hohenstaufen, home of the family that plunged Emperors and Popes into centuries of vendetta, crumbled still. Again and again, armies of mercenaries, lugging siege-engines and bristling with scaling ladders, crawled all over this map. The Thirty Years’ War, the worst of them all, was becoming an obsession with me: a lurid, ruinous, doomed conflict of beliefs and dynasties, help- less and hopeless, with principles shifting the whole time and a constant shuffle and re-deal of the actors. For, apart from the events—the defenes- trations and pitched battles and historic sieges, the slaughter and famine and plague—astrological portents and the rumour of cannibalism and witchcraft flitted about the shadows. The polyglot captains of the ruffian multi-lingual hosts hold our gaze willy-nilly with their grave eyes and their Velasquez moustaches and populate half the picture-galleries in Europe. Caracoling in full feather against a background of tents and colliding squadrons, how serenely they point their batons; or, magnanimously bare- headed and on foot in a grove of lances, accept surrendered, keys, or a sword! Curls flow and lace or starched collars break over the black armour and the gold inlay; they glance from their frames with an aloof and highsouled melancholy which is both haunting and enigmatic. Tilly, Wallenstein, Mansfeld, Bethlen, Brunswick, Spmola, Maximilian, Gustavus Adolphus, Bernard of Saxe-Weimar, Piccolomini, Arnim, Konigsmarck, Wrangel,
Introduction 3 Pappenheim, the Cardinal-Infant of the Spanish Netherlands, Le Grand Condé. The destroying banners move about the landscape like flags on a campaign map: the Emperor’s haloed double eagles, the blue-and-white Wittelsbach lozenges for the Palatinate and Bavaria, the rampant Bohemian lion, the black and gold bars of Saxony, the three Vasa crowns of Sweden, the black and white check of Brandenburg, the lions and castles of Castille and Aragon, the blue and gold French lilies. Ever since then, the jigsaw distribution of Catholics and Protestants has remained as it was after the Peace of Westphalia. Each dovetailing enclave depended on the faith of its sovereign, and occasionally, by a quirk of succession, a prince of the alternative faith would reign as peacefully as the Moslem Nizam over his Hindu subjects in Hyderabad. If the landscape were really a map, it would be dotted with those little crossed swords that indicate battles. The village of Blenheim1 was only a day’s march along the same shore, and Napoleon defeated the Austrian army on the bank just beyond the barbican. The cannon sank into the flooded fields while the limbers and gun-teams and gunners were carried away by the current. Looking down, I could see a scarlet banner with the swastika on its white disc fluttering in one of the lanes, hinting that there was still trouble ahead. Seeing it, someone skilled in prophecy and the meaning of symbols could have foretold that three-quarters of the old city below would go up in explosion and flame a few years later; to rise again in a geometry of skyscraping concrete blocks. The first sight of the Danube! It was a tremendous vision. In Europe, only the Volga is longer. If one of the crows that were fidgeting among the crockets below had flown to my next meeting place with the river, it would have alighted two hundred miles east of this steeple.
Patrick Leigh Fermor A Time of Gifts. On Foot to Constantinople from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1977), chapter “Into High Germany”
1 The battle is known as HÖchstädt—after the next village—in Germany and France.
4 Poetics of Place: How Ancient Buildings Inspired Great Writing ONE Prehistory
The Prehistoric World About two hundred years ago, a new scientific mode of inquiry emerged from a loose group of antiquarians, thinkers, and amateur collectors: archaeology. Eventually, their work revealed a human past that up until then had remained hidden in the mists of legend and hearsay. A new vision arose: vivid cave paintings, hunter-gatherers fashioning stone tools and hunting animals that are extinct today, and even large cities with mas- sive fortification walls, towering temples, and hydraulic systems. A vast new world existed long before the time of the ancient Greeks, and it was complex, with striking regional variations in art, architecture, social orga- nization, and technologies. Some of these cultures had iconic buildings, such as the pyramids of Egypt, so massive and relatively indestructible that they were known to ancient writers from Greece and Rome. The Egyptians had a form of writing much older than anything in Athens or Rome, and they also kept chronologies of events that gave ancient people two and a half millennia ago a notion that there were civilizations older than themselves. The ancient Greeks could have had only a vague idea of how old Egypt really was; it was the scientific methods of more recent time that began to establish the true passage of time over the millennia. In the nineteenth century, theories of human “ages” gained general acceptance and under- standing: During the last Ice Age, anatomically modern humans lived by hunting and gathering and made art to express their relationship to their environment. This was the Paleolithic period, also called the Old Stone Age. As the glaciers retreated and the oceans reached a level close to that
5 of today, humans were trading goods, ideas, and beliefs with each other and sometimes living in permanent settlements. This period is called the Mesolithic period, or Middle Stone Age. Then, about eleven thousand years ago, on the hilly flanks of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers (an area of current contention where Turkey, Syria, and Iraq come together), true domesticated grain varieties were deliberately sowed and harvested, and wild versions of sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle were bred for domesticity and for exploitation of their meat, milk, skins, horns, and bone. Farming had arrived. Excess food could be stored in baskets, boxes, and leather bags; after almost a thousand years of new farming techniques, fired clay pottery (an enduring human technology) appears in the archaeological record. The pottery vessels made it even easier to store and trade surplus farm production, especially liquids. The period that begins with the development of farming is called the Neolithic period, or the New Stone Age. In Europe, some proto-farming techniques certainly developed inde- pendently as the hunter-gatherers and fisherfolk found ways to improve their chances of survival. But DNA studies from recent decades offer compelling evidence of successive waves of farmers migrating from the Near East far into Europe, beginning about nine thousand years ago. Archaeology today, with its twenty-first-century methods, tells a story of remarkable complexity that writers, even of the last two hundred years, could only intuit or imagine. Luckily for the curious and occasional reader, some authors had the good fortune to know or read about a few archaeologists, and these authors are a new kind of translator—taking dry, dusty excavation records and giving them an accessible, human face through engaging and observant writing.
How did cities and farming begin? Jane Jacobs (1916–2006) was not an archaeologist or an urban economist. Her imaginative account of how a city might have gotten started through trade (and afterwards creating the circumstances conducive to agriculture) could not have been written by either. Here is a great example of how being on the outside looking in can be liberating and might yield a very perceptive story, free of the mental constraints of established discipline. This is not to say that Jacobs, an activist and journalist who became famous writing about cities (including her beloved Greenwich Village in Manhattan), was an obscure renegade. She was influential in her own time, and her many books are peren- nial favorites with all types of readers. Nonetheless, her accounting for the origin of cities (the next reading in this anthology) is often overlooked by her fans. To write it, she looked at the excavation of a Neolithic town in Turkey
6 Poetics of Place: How Ancient Buildings Inspired Great Writing called Çatal Hüyük, which was excavated and written about at that time by British archaeologist James Mellaart, and she imagined that Çatal Hüyük was the successor to her hypothetical late Mesolithic town of New Obsidian. Remarkably, recent archaeological finds, such as Göbekli Tepe in southeast Turkey, seem to vindicate Jacobs’s idea—the thesis that is the lead-in to her account of New Obsidian: that trade, towns, and religion all emerged before, not after, agriculture. According to Jacobs, the idea that agriculture came first is deeply embedded in our collective received wisdom. But thanks to recent archaeology, we can now legitimately challenge that notion. Jacobs imagined how it might have been.
While the city is imaginary, I shall be strict and unfanciful in describing its economy. I shall allow to New Obsidian only the same economic pro- cesses that I have found operating in cities of our own and historical times. New Obsidian, although it thrives on obsidian trade, is not located at one of the several volcanoes on the Anatolian plateau from which the black glass comes. It is at least a score of miles away from the nearest volcano of the group, and probably farther. This is because the Upper Paleolithic hunting tribes who controlled the volcanoes when the trade began would not permit strangers near the seat of their splendid treasure. In the distant past, they themselves had wrested control of the obsidian-bearing territory from predecessors less wily than they. They did not risk a repetition of this conquest. Thus, since at least 9,000 b.c., and possibly earlier, the trading of the local obsidian had taken place by custom in the territory of a neighbor- ing hunting group who had become regular customers for the obsidian and, subsequently, go-betweens in the trade with more distant hunting peoples. It is the settlement of this group that has become the little city of New Obsidian. In 8,500 B.C., New Obsidian’s population numbers about two thousand persons. It is an amalgam of the original people of the settlement and of the obsidian owning tribes, much of whose population is now settled within the city because of the trade and the various kinds of work con- nected with it. A small outlying population, to be sure, still works at the volcanoes and patrols the territory around them. Every day, parties from New Obsidian traverse the route between, bringing down treasure. The people of the city are wonderfully skilled at crafts and will become still
Prehistory 7 more so because of the opportunity to specialize. The city has a peculiar religion because not one, but several, tribal deities are respected, officially celebrated and depended upon; these deities have become amalgamated like the population itself. The system of trade that prevails runs this way: The initiative is taken by the people who want to buy something. Traveling salesmen have not yet appeared on the scene; the traders, rather, regard themselves, and are regarded as, traveling purchasing agents. Undoubtedly, they take trade goods of their own to the place of purchase, but this is used like money to buy whatever it is they came for. Thus, the traders who come to New Obsidian from greater and greater distances come there purposely to get obsidian, not to get rid of something else. For the most part, the barter goods they bring consist of the ordinary produce of their hunting territories. When the New Obsidian people want special treasures like copper, shells or pigments that they themselves do not find in their territory, parties of their own traders go forth to get these things from other settlements. With them they take obsidian, as if it were money. In this way, settlements that possess unusual treasures—copper, fine shells, pigments—have become minor trading centers for obsidian too. They exchange with nearby hunting tribes some of the obsidian that has been brought to them in barter and are paid in ordinary hunting produce. And New Obsidian, similarly, is a regional trading center for other rare goods besides obsidian. New Obsidian, in this fashion, has become a “depot” settlement as well as a “production” settlement. It has two kinds of major export work, not one. Obsidian, of course, is one export. The other export is a service: the service of obtaining, handling and trading goods that are brought in from outside and are destined for secondary customers who also come from outside. The economy of New Obsidian divides into an export import economy on the one hand, and a local or internal economy on the other. But these two major divisions of the settlement’s economy are not static. As time passes, New Obsidian adds many new exports to those first two, and all the new exports come out of the city’s own local economy. For example, the excellently manufactured hide bags in which obsidian is carried down from its sources are sometimes bartered to hunters or traders from other settlements who have come to purchase obsidian but, after seeing the bags, wish to carry their obsidian back in one. Fine, finished obsidian knives,
8 Poetics of Place: How Ancient Buildings Inspired Great Writing arrowheads, spearheads and mirrors of the kind that the workers in New Obsidian produce for their own people are also coveted by those who come for raw obsidian. The potent religion of prospering New Obsidian becomes an object of trade too; its common local talismans are bought. Trinkets of personal dress also go into the export trade. A lot of copying goes on among the major trading settlements. For a while, New Obsidian sold quite a few of the hide bags, but then craftsmen in the copper- and pigment trading settlements began copying them. Mean- while, in New Obsidian, craftsmen began copying some of the imports that were popular there: strong, elegant little baskets occasionally imported from a settlement that traded red ocher, and carved wooden boxes from a settlement whose major trade was in fossil oyster shells. By the time the minor work of making hide bags for export had somewhat dropped off in New Obsidian, the little city had already developed a small, compensatory export trade in the imitated baskets and boxes. The people of New Obsidian, the people of other major settlements, and the people of all the small and ordinary hunting settlements that lie between the major trade centers fiercely resent and try to repel encroach- ments upon their own hunting territories. Exceptions are made solely for trespass to reach trading centers. Thus the routes to New Obsidian from afar cross the territories of many, many hunting groups. These routes ran, at first, through the territories closest to the city and then extended out- ward as people farther away became customers, and then peoples beyond those. As the range of customers extended outward, so did the routes to New Obsidian. Linked to routes extended from other cities, the paths to New Obsidian help form a network that, by the time of Çatal Hüyük, will stretch almost two thousand miles from east to west. A peace of the routes was early established. This was possible because trespass always ran through the territory of a group that was already being served by the trade. Any people that shut off the routes or that robbed and killed traders was itself denied obsidian, and moreover was fought by a coalition of warriors from the nearest city and from nearby hunting people who used the trade routes. The resting and watering points used by trading parties along the routes have become traditional. They are spots of total sanctuary, protected pow- erfully under the city’s religious code. These places always have a spring or other source of water and it is under the same protection. But there are no hotels. Traders eat sparsely on their journeys and carry their own food.
Prehistory 9 They do not live off the land on which they trespass. They travel swiftly without dawdling, but they are usually hungry when they reach home. In New Obsidian the buildings are made of timber and adobe; later in the millennium there will also be buildings made of shaped mud bricks. The “center” or barter space of the little city is physically on the edge where the routes join and approach the settlement. As the city has grown, this space has been kept clear. To its rear, the city slowly grows larger. On the route side of the barter square, the alien traders make their camps. These have become permanent abodes although their residents are transient. In the barter space, the two worlds meet. The square is thus the only “open space” in the city itself, left open originally because what has since become a busy meeting and trading spot was at first a space of separation, deliberately kept empty. The barter space, or city square as it has become, is on the side of the city that faces toward the volcanoes. The reason for its location is that in the beginning here was where the original New Obsidian people traded with the volcano owners. When neighboring tribes began bartering at the settlement too, they used the already established barter point. For obvious reasons, storehouses of treasure are not at the barter square. But many workshops are squeezed among the buildings around it, especially those using materials of little intrinsic value.
Jane Jacobs The Economy of Cities (Random House, New York, 1970), chapter “Cities First—Rural Development Later”
Discovering Tell Brak Everybody knows Agatha Christie (1890–1976); her mysteries and detective novels have been translated into many languages. Her crime-fiction charac- ters Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are household names. Guinness World Records lists her as the best-selling novelist of all time. But fewer people know about the autobiographical account she wrote about her life exploring in the field with her famous archaeologist husband, Sir Max Mallowan. Max Mallowan was a specialist in Near Eastern prehistory and excavated at several sites in Iraq and Syria. Publishing under her married name (Mallowan was her second husband), Agatha tells the story of several years spent with Max in Syria, first seeking out promising sites to dig and then carrying out the investigation over several seasons. Her gentle humor comes through in her
10 Poetics of Place: How Ancient Buildings Inspired Great Writing telling of the discovery of Tell Brak in the Habur River Valley, a site from the fourth millennium BCE that is of great importance to archaeology, although Christie Mallowan is not bragging: she is always merely the humble spouse, cheerfully putting up with the foibles of her intrepid husband, the project vehicle named “Mary,” and Max’s team of assistants.
These Autumn days are some of the most perfect I have ever known. We get up early, soon after sunrise, drink hot tea, and eat eggs and start off. It is cold then, and I wear two jerseys and a big woolly coat. The light is lovely—a very faint soft rose softens the browns and greys. From the top of a mound one looks out over an apparently deserted world. Mounds rise everywhere—one can see perhaps sixty if one counts. Sixty ancient settlements, that is to say. Here, where nowadays only the tribesmen move with their brown tents, was once a busy part of the world. Here, some five thousand years ago, was the busy part of the world. Here were the beginnings of civilisation, and here, picked up by me, this broken frag- ment of a clay pot, hand-made, with a design of dots and crosshatching in black paint, is the forerunner of the Woolworth cup out of which this very morning I have drunk my tea …. I sort through the collection of sherds which are bulging the pockets of my coat (I have already had to mend the lining twice), throwing away duplicate types, and see what I can offer in competition with Mac and Hamoudi to the Master for judgment. Now then, what have I got? A thickish grey ware, part of the rim of a pot (valuable as showing shape), some coarse red stuff, two fragments of painted pots, hand-made and one with the dot design (the oldest Tell Halaf!), a flint knife, part of the base of a thin grey pot, several other nondescript bits of painted pottery, a little bit of obsidian. Max makes his selection, flinging most pieces ruthlessly away, uttering appreciative grunts at others. Hamoudi has the clay wheel of a chariot, and Mac has a fragment of incised ware and a portion of a figurine. Gathering the united collection together, Max sweeps them into a little linen bag, ties it carefully up, and labels it as usual with the name of the Tell on which it was found. This particular Tell is not marked on the map. It is christened Tell Mak in honour of Macartney, who has had the first find. So far as Mac’s countenance can express anything at all, it seems to express faint gratification.
Prehistory 11 We run down the side of the Tell and climb into the car. I peel off a jersey. The sun is getting hot. We visit two more small Tells, and at the third, which overlooks the Habur, we have lunch—hard-boiled eggs, a tin of bully beef, oranges, and extremely stale bread. Aristide makes tea on the primus. It is very hot now, and the shadows and colours have gone. All is a uniform soft pale buff. Max says it is lucky we are doing the survey now and not in spring. I ask why? And he says, because it would be far more difficult to find sherds when there is vegetation everywhere. All this, he says, will be green in the spring. It is, he says, the fertile Steppe. I say admiringly that that is a very grand way of putting it. Max says, well, it is the fertile Steppe! To-day we take Mary up the right bank of the Habur to Tell Halaf, visiting Tell Ruman (sinister name, but actually not noticeably Roman) and Tell Juma on the way. All the Tells in this region have possibilities, unlike the ones farther south. Sherds of pottery of the second and third millennium are frequent and Roman remains are scanty. There is early prehistoric painted hand- made pottery as well. The difficulty will be to choose between so many Tells. Max repeats again and again with jubilation and a complete lack of originality that this is undoubtedly the place! Our visit to Tell Halaf has something of the reverence of a pilgrimage to a shrine! Tell Halaf is a name that has been so constantly dinned into my ears for the last few years that I can hardly believe I am actually going to see the actual spot. A very lovely spot it is, with the Habur winding round the base of it. [ ... ] Life now becomes hurried and hectic. Examination of Tells is daily more zealous. For the final selection three things are essential. First, it must be sufficiently near a village or villages to get a supply of labour. Secondly, there must be a water supply—that is to say, it must be near the Jaghjagha or the Habur, or else there must be well-water that is not too brackish. Thirdly, it must give indications of having the right stuff in it. All digging is a gamble—among seventy Tells all occupied at the same period, who is to say which one holds a building, or a deposit of tablets, or a collection of objects of special interest? A small Tell offers as good prospects as a large Tell, since the more important towns are the more likely to have been looted and destroyed in the far-distant past. Luck is the predominant factor. How often has a site been painstakingly and correctly dug, season after season, with interesting but not spectacular results, and then a shift of a few feet,
12 Poetics of Place: How Ancient Buildings Inspired Great Writing and suddenly a unique find comes to light. The one real consolation is that whichever Tell we select, we are bound to find something. We have made a day’s excursion on the opposite bank of the Habur to Tell Halaf again, and we have done two days on the Jaghjagha—a much overrated river, from the point of view of appearance—a brown muddy stream between high banks—and have marked down one Tell— Tell Brak—as highly promising. It is a large mound, with traces of several periods of occupation, from early prehistoric to Assyrian times. It is about two miles from the Jaghjagha, where there is an Armenian settlement, and there are other villages scattered around not very far away. It is about an hour’s drive from Hasetshe, which will be convenient for supplies. As a drawback, there is no water at the Tell itself, though possibly a well could be dug there. Tell Brak goes down as a possibility.
Agatha Christie Mallowan Come, Tell Me How You Live, chapter “The Habur and the Jaghjagha” (HarperCollins)
Megalithic Monuments of the New Stone Age During the late fifth through middle third millennia BCE, there arose a pan-European tendency to build ritual structures out of very large stones— giving the phenomenon the name megalithic, or large stone, culture. Tomb structures, stone circles, and single standing stones were all part of megalithic architecture. From Scotland to Corsica, Brittany to the Black Sea, the geo- graphic stretch of where megalithic structures are found could indicate how unexpectedly interconnected were the lives of people in such a long-ago time. Alternatively, widely separate cultures across the world have independently, and during different epochs, set up huge stones for various purposes. Many megaliths long outlived their original uses yet remained features in the landscape, as seemingly indestructible as mountains; thus, folklore explained their existence through tales of monsters and giants, gods and heroes. Victor Hugo (1802–1885) was much savvier about megalithic culture, which he saw correctly as a universal human impulse. He connected the European variety with the Celtic world, probably by association with Brittany, Ireland, and Scotland, where many outstanding megalithic monuments are to be found (for example, Carnac in Brittany, Newgrange Chamber Tomb in Ireland, and the stone circles of Orkney, a Scottish island with stunning Neolithic remains). Hugo saw the panorama of world architecture as akin to an encyclopedia of
Prehistory 13 human culture in stone; he likens the styles and forms of built remains to grammar and syntax. By this argument and analogy, he can claim that the fields of standing stones at Carnac (Karnac) are a complete verse in built form; in common with all their megalithic kin, they are as eternal as the sacred natural landscape that they embellish, imitate, and recall.
In truth, from the creation of things to the fifteenth century of the Christian era, architecture was the great book of humanity, the principal expression of the human being in his various states of development, whether as force or as intelligence. When the memory of the first races grew overburdened, when the baggage of the recollections of the human species became so weighty and unwieldy that the speech, naked and fleeting, ran the risk of losing it on the way, it was transcribed on the ground in the most visible, durable, and natural fashion. Each tradition was sealed with a monument. The first were simple rock quarries that, in the words of Moses, “iron has not touched.” Architecture began like writing. It was at first an alpha- bet. A stone was stood upright and it was a letter; and each letter was a hieroglyphic, and on each of them rested a group of ideas as the capital on a pillar. The first races, everywhere, at the same moment, the whole surface of the earth over did the same thing. The raised stone of the Celts is in Asiatic Siberia as on the American pampas. Later, they made words. They laid stone on stone, linked syllables of granite, the word attempted some combinations. The Celtic cairns and cromlechs, Etruscan tumuli, Hebrew galgal, are words. Some, especially the tumuli, are proper names. Sometimes, when much stone and a broad space was convenient, a phrase would be built up. The immense heap of Karnac is a whole formula. Victor Hugo The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, chapter “This Will Kill That;” translated by Catherine Liu (Random House, New York, 2002)
Perseus, the Gorgon, and the Megaliths The Greek lyric poet Pindar (518–443 BCE) included a snippet of the Perseus legend in one of his odes. Perseus was a hero, famous for slaying the Gorgon
14 Poetics of Place: How Ancient Buildings Inspired Great Writing Medusa and rescuing the princess Andromeda from a sea monster; like many heroes, he was the son of a god, Zeus, and a mortal woman—in his case, Danae, princess of Argos. Cruelly exiled because of the dire prediction of a soothsayer, Danae raises her son on Serifos, an island in the Aegean Sea. How did the Gorgon story come about? There is no sure answer; however, a creature that turns people into stone could be a folk invention used to explain standing megaliths carved with human features. Such stones are known across a long east-west axis stretching from France to central Asia, with a few instances in Greece. Does the Perseus story, as told by Pindar, indicate a connection between related folk memories of the ageless Hyperborean—living far to the north, hidden away from mere mortals—and the Gorgon, a monster whose glance turns people to stone? The understanding from Pindar (and Greek mythology in general) was that the cult of the sun god Apollo was important in Hyperborea and that every year in some long-past era, Hyperborean priestesses traveled to the sanctuary of Apollo and Artemis on the Aegean island of Delos. This mythical fragment later gave rise to the idea that the Apollo-worship- ping center of the Hyperboreans was at Stonehenge in England, because the megalithic temple was thought to be related to a solar cult of some kind. As with many ancient myths, there could always be some grain of truth buried in layers of folklore and fables, impossible to prove or disprove.
Neither by ship nor on foot could you find the marvelous road to the meet- ing-place of the Hyperboreans—Once Perseus, the leader of his people, entered their homes and feasted among them, when he found them sacri- ficing glorious hecatombs of donkeys to the god. In the festivities of those people and in their praises Apollo rejoices most, and he laughs when he sees the erect arrogance of the beasts. The Muse is not absent from their customs; all around swirl the dances of girls, the lyre’s loud chords and the cries of the flutes. They wreathe their hair with golden laurel branches and revel joyfully. No sickness or ruinous old age is mixed into that sacred race; without toil or battles they live without fear of strict Nemesis. Breathing boldness of spirit once the son of Danae went to that gathering of blessed men, and Athena led him there. He killed the Gorgon, and came back bringing stony death to the islanders, the head that shimmered with hair made of serpents. Pindar Pythian Ode X.31