Friday, September 10, 2010

2010.09.19

Version at BMCR home site
Yvonne Seidel, Künstliches Licht im individuellen, familiáren und öffentlichen Lebensbereich. Wien: Phoibos Verlag, 2009. Pp. 287; CD-ROM. ISBN 9783851610178. €69.00.
Reviewed by Sara Chiarini, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore - Milano

Table of Contents

Künstliches Licht im individuellen, familiären und öffentlichen Lebensbereich consists primarily of a catalogue of artifacts of artificial illumination arranged in contextual and then chronological order. The title of the book deserves some clarification, however, especially concerning what the reader will not find within this study. Although the initial aim is to cover the whole of antiquity, archaic and classical Greece is scarcely represented. This is surely due to preservation of material from those periods, but it has also perhaps something to do with the more limited familiarity of the author with these periods; she focuses mainly on the late Hellenistic and Roman periods. A second restriction concerns the literary quotations, which run parallel to the archaeological evidence as a complementary source, but Roman texts predominate.

This study does not include any classification of the lighting instruments, which were in use in ancient times. There is no description of their forms, function, or materials.

The scheme according to which the material is organised is complex. The first general division, which produces six main groups, mixes spatial and functional criteria: the first part discusses the illumination of private houses (pp. 19-69); the second one deals instead with the presence and the meaning of artificial light during special moments of people's lives, like birth, marriage and death (pp. 71-90). The third part moves to public places like streets, baths, theatres and other public buildings (pp. 91-164); the fourth part concentrates on the military use of lights (pp. 165-240); the fifth one is dedicated to fishing and mining (pp. 241-246). The last two parts is focus on lighting and the aristocracy (pp. 247-274).

Chapter 1 (pp. 20-32) is the only chapter dedicated exclusively to the Greek world. It analyses the concentration of lamps and other lighting tools found during excavations of private houses and literary quotations with depictions that provide evidence about the domestic usage of artificial light. Chapter 2 (pp. 32-60) covers the Roman world. Sites are mainly situated around Vesuvius, apart from Pergamon. There follows a short excursus on the decorative motifs of Roman standard lamps, candelabra and simple lamps. A couple of pages are devoted to late antiquity, with a synthetic chart of the main technical innovations in the lighting systems of the period, and constitute chapter 3 (pp. 60-61).

Chapter 4 (pp. 62-69) focuses on the social praxis of the symposium (and might have been better placed in the second or third section). Greek depictions of the symposium, together with some Latin texts, demonstrate the frequent use of lamps in this context.

The second section is divided in three chapters, each of them dedicated to events of human life: births (pp. 71-72), marriages (pp. 73-84) and funerals (pp. 84-90). In these situations artificial light not only has a functional role, but obviously also acquires a symbolic one.

The third section is the longest and the most complex. Each chapter is concerned each with a public building or infrastructure of a city: streets (pp. 91-121), baths (pp. 121-139), entertainment spaces, like theatres and amphitheatres (pp. 139-147), inns and other structures for accommodation (pp. 147-152), buildings devoted to political assemblies (pp. 152-157), buildings for educational purposes (pp. 157-160) and night guard systems (pp. 160-164).

The usage of lighting for military purposes is discussed in section IV. Its five chapters focus = transmission of messages through fires (pp. 165-181), illumination of camps (pp. 181-185), strategic employ of light (and obscurity) during army manoeuvres (pp. 185-193), a wide digression about lighthouses (pp. 193-233) and, lastly, navigation (pp. 234-240).

The fifth section covers activities that take place in the darkness and f need artificial light: fishing (pp. 241-242) and mining (pp. 242-246).

The last section of the book covers light as a status symbol for the elite: it studies the role of the lampadarii (pp. 247-254), public ceremonies where powerful individuals were celebrated (pp. 254-261), other public feasts (pp. 261-26) and a brief list of those decorative themes found on lamps and conveying the imperial ideology (pp. 271-274).

A companion CD-ROM contains a pdf document of 228 pages devoted to a catalogue of the 24 archaeological sites mentioned in the study. Each of them is accompanied by plans, diagrams, tables and pictures.

After this brief summary of the contents, it is possible to make some comments. Orthographical mistakes in Greek quotations are frequent. It is quite surprising to note the lack of a fundamental scientific source like the Archaeologia Homerica, with special regard to pages P 83-98, dedicated by U. Jantzen and R. Tolle to Beleuchtungsgerät. It would have been a useful point of departure for a more exhaustive report on the archaic period.

While the research is interesting in its originality, the final results are not particularly innovative: the statements that artificial light was more concentrated in darker rooms or where men carried on nocturnal activities, and that artificial illumination had not only a concrete function, but also a symbolic value in some contexts (e.g., religious or ceremonial), could have been easily achieved without listing the percentages of concentration of lighting tools within each archaeological site.

No comments:

Post a Comment