Pasts Imperfect (12.9.21)
Antiquity in Modern Music and More
This week, Jermaine Bryant and Jeremy Swist look at popular music and the ancient world. Then, Tori Lee presents the holiday gift that is the Eidolon gift guide, a new open access book examines mathematics in the premodern world, a notorious billionaire surrenders his looted ancient art collection, and much more…
As end of the year lists for books, movies, and the all-important “Spotify Wrapped” begin to trickle out, antiquity and music have never been more intertwined. The year showed us that it is a time when both critics—such as Greg Tate, who we lost this week—and historians of music are needed. The biggest song of the year, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and its music video are deeply steeped in images of the classical past and subvert the narratives of orthodoxy and power surrounding them. This was discussed widely by classicists in an article in Time this year. However, “Montero” wasn’t the only hit music video of the year to rely heavily on classical imagery. Cardi B and Lizzo’s “Rumors” also crafts its own world where hip-hop meets the classical, and one where the artists challenge classical ideals of body image, as noted by Vanessa Stovall of Ship of Theses (@postclassics) in her thread on the video.
This year the Fugees’ landmark album The Score, which features their songs “Ready or Not” and “Killing Me Softly,” turned 25. The group reunited to tour once again. The occasion calls to mind Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s brilliant essay in Eidolon: “From Damocles to Socrates: the Classics in and of Hip-Hop,” which uses the Fugees’ song “Zealots” as a jumping off point into one of the most interesting pieces on hip-hop’s reception of the classics, ranging from the Fugees to Jay-Z, to Kanye West.
Ancient influence has not entirely been one directional. In 2017, Colin Cromwell Pang published an article in Arion using hip-hop to unpack the masculinity politics of Catullus. Earlier this year, Vanessa Stovall and Jermaine Bryant gave a talk for the Christian Cole Society for Oxford Classicists of Color where they discussed how hip-hop informs their classics scholarship, as well as sent out a general call for classicists to pay close attention to hip-hop for its own sake, as it is a vibrant artistic form from which scholars can learn much, regardless of connection to Greco-Roman material.
In terms of another music genre, heavy metal, the four-decade-long trend of heavy metal music’s engagement with antiquity continues to evolve in new and nuanced ways in 2021. Egyptologists Leire Olabarria and Hélène Virenque have discussed the fact that metal’s reception of ancient Egypt has long been dominated by Euro-American bands such as Iron Maiden and Nile. As a result, it has largely perpetuated Orientalist tropes. The native Egyptian death metal band Crescent, however, stepped up to the plate this year with their new album Carving the Fires of Akhet and delivered a grand slam of pharaonic metal.
North of the Nile delta, the Cypriot power metal band Dragonbreath also launched themselves into contention for the year’s top 10 lists with their debut full-length The Awakening, which opens with odes to popular heroes not only of their Hellenic heritage, but also of the metal genre at large, the mythic warrior Achilles and the Spartans who fell at Thermopylae. The latter song largely steers clear of the xenophobia, chauvinism, and even far-right propaganda baked into some bands’ eulogies of the 300, treating them instead as inspirations for any cause of the underdog and defense of liberty.
On the other side of the former Roman Empire, the French death metal band Autokrator returned to the imperial themes of their eponymous debut with their latest record Persecution, a hellish whirlwind of death metal whose cover artwork features a zombified equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius transferred from the Campidoglio to in front of the temple of Antoninus & Faustina in the Forum Romanum. Their song “DCLXVI” considers the theory that Domitian, not Nero, was the real Great Beast of “666” fame in the book of Revelation. Unlike many bands enamored of tyrannical emperors’ transgressive charisma, Autokrator’s mastermind Loïc Fontaine is more an heir to Suetonius than Statius in his portrayal of Domitian and his ilk: “I don’t admire rulers I speak about. Most of them are…bastards.”
More critical views of metal’s reception (not just in terms of the ancient Mediterranean, but of the premodern world) are soon to come, when Brandeis University hosts the fully online conference “Heavy Metal & Global Premodernity,'“ organized by Charlotte Naylor Davis and Jeremy Swist, February 24-26, 2022.
From hip-hop to heavy metal, the ancient world continues to influence popular music. We might do well to acknowledge this reception in the classroom, in our scholarship, and in interacting with the public(s) about antiquity.
Seen on the Web
Although Eidolon is no longer in publication, Tori Lee has still put together her much-anticipated edition of their yearly gift guide. We are really into this Grecian bust planter and the Apollo of the Belvedere journal, but there is a lot to love (and to buy) for the antiquity lovers in our lives this year.
In the African Archaeological Review, Keith W. Crawford has an open access article with an important “Critique of the “Black Pharaohs” Theme: Racist Perspectives of Egyptian and Kushite/Nubian Interactions in Popular Media.” He analyzes two recent television documentaries, The Rise of the Black Pharaohs and Lost Kingdom of the Black Pharaohs. Each promote a ‘Black Pharaohs’ theme:
[the documentaries] highlight fascinating archaeological finds in the Nile valley while also resurrecting now-discredited views on race and Egyptian–Kushite interactions arising in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Over at Cambridge University Press, their program on “Diversity and Inclusion in the Latin Classroom” explores the role of DEI in pedagogy. This week, the Asian and Asian American Classical Caucus (AAACC) contributes a piece to the series by Arum Park and Annie Huynh. Park and Huynh address “uses of stealth Latin” in a video about “tactics to bring Latin, and classical material more broadly, to students who would not otherwise have access to it.”
There is a new open access book via SpringerBriefs, Distributivity-like Results in the Medieval Traditions of Euclid's Elements, from historian of mathematics Leo Corry. From a chapter on “Late Antiquity and Islamicate Mathematics” to one on “Hebrew Mathematics”, this is a welcome addition to growing knowledge of science and mathematics in the premodern world.
If you missed the plenary by Morag Kersel at the annual ASOR meeting, you can watch it here. The lecture focuses on “Living with Legacies: ASOR Archaeo-activism and a Future for 21st Century Archaeology.” Prof. Kersel explores the role of everyday activism in the future of archaeology of the Near East and Mediterranean world.
In ancient art news, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office this week announced that billionaire Michael Steinhardt has received an unprecedented lifetime ban from collecting antiquities. The Guardian reports he surrendered 180 “looted and illegally smuggled antiquities” worth $70 million. District attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. noted:
For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artefacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe. His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers and tomb raiders he relied upon to expand his collection.”
Steinhardt was not arrested due to the terms of the deal.
Conferences and Lectures
Upcoming events of note include an SCS-sponsored virtual panel on Monday, December 13, 2021 (2 pm GMT) on “Classics in Africa: The Ways Forward” (register here) and a WCC-sponsored workshop with the editors of Tangent on conceptualizing and pitching your book project at 3 pm EST on Wednesday, 15 December (register here).
New Online Journal Issues curated by @YaleClassicsLib
Archaeological Dialogues Vol. 28, No. 2 (December 2021)
Iraq Vol. 83 (2021) “The Battle of Gaugamela and the Question of Visibility on the Battlefield” by Michał Marciak, et al.
Antiquity Vol. 95, Iss. 384 (December 2021) NB: The mirror, the magus and more: reflections on John Dee's obsidian mirror by Stuart Campbell, et al.
Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 141 (2021)
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society Vol. 87 (2021)
Emerita Vol. 89 No. 2 (2021) #openaccess
Yearbook of Ancient Greek Epic Vol. 5 (2021)
Revista Numismática Hécate Vol. 8 (2021) #openaccess
EuGeStA: Journal of Gender Studies in Antiquity Vol. 11 (2021) #openaccess
Forum Classicum No. 3 (2021) NB: “Lernen von und mit Comenius” by Isabella Walser-Bürgler
Erudition and the Republic of Letters Vol. 6, No. 4 (November 2021) NB: “Bibliographical Scrupulousness and Philological Zeal: Conrad Gessner Working on the editio princeps of ‘Ad se ipsum’” by Mikhail Sergeev
CSAD (Center for the Study of Ancient Documents) Newsletter No. 26 (Autumn 2021)
KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge Vol. 5, No. 2 (Fall 2021) NB: “‘The Political Theory of Aristotle,’ by Liang Qichao", trans. by Henry Zhao
Shedet Vol. 8 (2021) #openaccess NB: “A Ptolemaic Naophorous Statue from The Karnak Cachette (CAIRO JE 36682)” by Nashat Alzohary
European Journal of Archaeology Vol. 24, No. 4 (November 2021) “Forum: Populism, Identity Politics, and the Archaeology of Europe”
Préhistoires méditerranéennes Vol. 9, No. 2 (2021) #openaccess Grottes et dolmens
The Public Books section "Antiquities" continues to take pitches for articles to be published in early 2022. You can also pitch to our “Pasts Imperfect” column at the LA Review of Books using this form. Thanks for reading!