Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Anna Calderone (ed.), Cultura e religione delle acque. Atti del Convegno interdisciplinare "Qui fresca l'acqua mormora ... " (S. Quasimodo, Sapph. fr. 2,5), Messina, 29-30 marzo 2011. Archaeologica, 167. Roma: Giorgio Bretschneider editore, 2012. Pp. xvi, 433; 40 p. of plates. ISBN 9788876892721. €170.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Jordan Pickett, University of Pennsylvania and Dumbarton Oaks (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Religione e cultura dell'acqua is the result of a conference held at the University of Messina in March of 2011. It brings together twenty-six essays concerned with cultural and religious attitudes to water in the ancient to the early modern world, especially in Sicily and southern Italy, with a heavy focus on the classical period. Conference proceedings are a notoriously mixed bag, and the editors have done well to assemble this consistently high quality and coherently focused group of essays in an attractively printed book within two years of the date of the conference.

The essays are divided into five groups: 1) texts including poetry and myth, 2) the world of images, 3) places of cult and ritual manifestations, 4) routes of relation and separation, and 5) the social and political dimensions of water management.

Maria Cannatà Fera's essay "Acqua e poesia nella Grecia antica" begins the first section, concerned with water in textual sources. The author considers the qualities ascribed to water by Homer, the Platonic juxtaposition of sweet and brackish water or nectar and salty water in Pindar, and water versus wine as sources of poetic inspiration. The author cites an important Anatolian epigram commemorating the construction of an aqueduct at fifth-century Stratonikeia (AE 2008.1400), in order to highlight the fact that these qualities were also extended to water in late antiquity. Valeria Andò follows with a fascinating chapter on feminine humidity's relationship to sterility and fertility in classical medical texts. Sotera Fornaro's contribution is concerned with the metaphor of the well. She takes her inspiration from verses 98-100 of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, meditating on the well as a sepulcher; a stage for collective memory; a metaphor for stability and certainty: the womb; and the location of truth "nel fondo dal pozzo," a medium for looking into the depths of the hidden past. Concetta Giuffré Scibona offers her observations on water as a boundary both between the three vertical levels of the ancient Greek cosmos (celestial, human, and chthonic), and horizontally as a delineator of space. Just so, okeanos defines land in the oikoumene, and separates the realm of men from the gates of Hades and Chaos. Scibona then considers these themes in several Homeric episodes (e.g. Il. VIII, 479-81 and X, 488-540), before concluding with a more focused analysis of the possibility for mobility across these confines, through iconographic details drawn from the famous fifth-century BCE pinakes votives of Persephone and Demeter from the Locri sanctuary in Calabria. Concetta Masseria discusses a metope from the Heraion at Foce del Sele, which depicts a figure riding a tortoise. Masseria introduces considerable evidence for tortoises and products made from tortoise carapace in literature and votive contexts, and concludes that the metope in question represents Hermes psychopompos riding the tortoise, a product of that god's unique relationship with that creature, as for example in Homeric Hymn 4.

The second grouping, "In the Universe of Images," is introduced by Claudia Lucchese's discussion of boats and the naukraroi on Attic ceramics of the 8th and 7th century BC, especially the famous geometric kraters in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (cat. 34.11.2) and the Louvre (cat. A 516 and A 517). She concludes that, even if it is premature to link the owner of the vessel with the elusive Athenian naukraros, boats and maritime action were nevertheless important in the repertoire of symbols that created and conveyed aristocratic status from an early date. Chiara Pilo offers a survey of the practical use and symbolic value of the hydria. She considers how the hydria was carried and by whom: scenes with hydriai and Aphrodite or women at the fountain, the bath or toilet were not mere tableaux of daily life but should be viewed as downright explicit. Pilo thus points to the hydria as a site for the acquisition of charm, finalized in sexual union and matrimony. She also considers the use of hydriai in agonistic contexts, as prizes for the lampadedromia or torch races, musical competitions, and funerary contexts. Francesca Silvestrelli adds pelikes and krateres to Pilo's hydriai, in another discussion of erotic scenes of women at the toilet and in the bath, with ceramics from Apulia and Lucania, and similar results. Grazia Salamone then considers rivers as iconographic features in coinage of the western Greek colonies, where polis was defined in relation to potamos. The eponymization of rivers with nymphs was a critical component of the geo-politicization and appropriation of space, as settlers constructed the chora for their new cities generally not in opposition to indigenous populations, but rather in competition with other poleis.

The third grouping, on places of cult and ritual manifestations pertaining to water, begins with Monica de Cesare's contribution on nymphs from scenes pertaining to events in the biological and social lives of women. Elisa Chiara Portale follows with more nymphs, this time from the perspective of ritual contexts and the morphology of water installations and votive objects at Sicilian sanctuary sites at Agrigentum and Siracusa. The author points to the historical innovation of Hellenistic hydraulic engineers creating 'modeled' forms that could appropriate the potency of the natural world. Caterina Greco and Valeria Tardo's contribution examines historical change in the course of the ancient Selinous (modern Modione) river near Selinunte and its spatial relation to the "Temple M" fountain at the nearby sanctuary. Anna Calderone follows with the publication of a recently excavated reservoir with descending stairs, excavated at Monte Saraceno (Ravanusa), from the first half of the third century BC, which she suggests may have been connected to fish farming, not for direct consumption but perhaps for cultic activity. Francesca Pizzi takes on a brief analysis of ceramics from the Grotta Caruso at Locri, with finds from the 4th – 2nd century BC, before considering textual evidence for ritual ceremony (entrance across the choros, the offering of gifts and sacrifices, ritual bathing) and the site's local context.

The fourth grouping, "Routes of Relation and Separation" begins with Caterina Ingoglia's work on the valley of the river Patrì in northeast Sicily, where inhabitants still speak a Gallo-Italian dialect dating from Norman rule. Ingoglia explains the river's importance for human movement and communication throughout the valley, and also for its significant mineral resources of gold, silver, iron, and above all alum. She expertly charts the relationship of fortified places, necropolises, and small-scale settlements to these mineral resources – known from late 4th – 3rd millennia metal slag excavated at Fiumedinisi, to galleries produced by ancient tunnel-mining around Fondachelli-Fantina, or Norman grants for mineral rights at Messina (dated 1129). Elisabetta Tramontana considers how the Platani and south Imera riversheds, in the area between Gela and Agrigento, were important factors for settlement there between the 9th – 6th centuries BC. Tramontana draws attention to how waterways carved up a multiplicity of micro-environments, the relief of their valleys contributing to locations of central places, woodlands and minerals, and in turn the inland expansion and locations of poleis, necropoleis, and phrouria after the 6th century BC. Exceptional by way of comparison with the indigenous Sicilian context in this area are the monumental and complex, apparently public, rainwater cisterns on Monte Saraceno, which date between the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Francesca Spatafora follows with a study of the riversheds between Palermo and Cefalù in west-central Sicily: the destruction of Himera during the Sicilian Wars in 409 (Diodorus Siculus 13.59) preceded the foundation of Thermai Himeraiai near hot springs, and a reorganization of dispersed settlement along the east side of the San Leonardo river, followed by "una nuova esplosione dell'abitato rurale" after the Roman annexation in 241 BC (310).

Grazia Spagnolo's study of lakes and marshes at the mouth of the Gelas river introduces the fifth grouping, "Between Use and Management: Social and Political Dimensions". The author relies on classical texts and 17th - 19th century archival maps to reconstruct changes in wetlands and local lakes around the ancient-medieval city, and to show that there was once a west branch of the Gelas river. She also considers the distribution of Archaic-Classical wells and Hellenistic cisterns in the city. One place of interest, Orto Fontanelle, is thought to have been a sanctuary of Hera in the 6th-5th century BC with wells, which was in turn occupied by Hellenistic houses probably still using the wells, but supplementing their supplies with bottle-shaped cisterns. Anna Maria Prestianni Giallombardo uses the fragmentary third or second century BC cadastral inscription, the Tabula Halaesina,1 to consider rivers and aqueducts as organizing and structuring elements in urban and rural settlement around Alesa. She identifies the rhous Alasios not with the region's major river Aleso, but with the torrent today called Tusa to its west. Further, she interprets the 'noses' (pl. rhous) as spout features in the towers of the city's defenses. Giallombardo then relates recent archaeological discoveries to the inscription's aqueduct (oxetos) and bath (balaneion). Adele Coscarella follows with a study of cistern form and typology in a small set of fortified and rock-cut settlement contexts from medieval Calabria. Paola de Sanctis Ricciardone and Gloria di Rosa conclude the volume with two studies of contemporary relationships between urbanism and water on the coast in Calabria.

So, to briefly summarize: the first three sections of the book are concerned very broadly with texts and artifacts pertaining (sometimes rather tangentially) to water in ancient Greek religion and society from a Sicilian and South Italian perspective – under consideration, for instance, are a metope of Hermes riding a tortoise from Foce del Sele, imagery and votive objects related to nymphs and their watery sanctuaries, municipal coin issues featuring local rivers, women at the louterion or well in Apulian vase painting, and so forth, with a strong but not exclusive emphasis on iconography. The last two fifths of the book appear more focused, charting out water histories in South Italy and Sicily on huge time-scales with a wide range of scientific, archaeological, and historical evidence. These chapters deconstruct city/hinterland relationships from Archaic Greek colonies to medieval and early modern riversheds with a familiarity that can come only from long experience in archives and on the ground. The intensely local focus of this volume comes at the expense of some insularity, however: citations are mostly limited to Italian-language work, and do little to engage with recent scholarship or theory from abroad, which might have enlightened sections dealing with gender issues and cultural or political ecology, for instance. On the other hand, the last two sections of this book provide excellent models for how scholars anywhere might engage with medieval and early modern archival sources, in order to reconstruct the changes wrought by more recent centuries on ancient landscapes. Altogether, this is an admirably erudite and wide-ranging book, which not only gives the last word from Italian scholars on any number of important monuments and localities, but also would—perhaps in tandem with the Cura Aquarum in Sicilia 2 for the regrettably underserved Roman and Late Antique periods—provide a good overview of water's cultural history in Southern Italy and Sicily more generally.

Table of Contents

I. Testimoniata dalle fonti, cantata nella poesia, narrata nel mito
1. Maria Cannatà Fera, "Acque e poesia nella Grecia antica" (3-16)
2. Valeria Andò, "Come una spugna. Umidità del femminile nel pensiero medico e biologico della Grecia classica" (17-26)
3. Sotera Fornaro, "Sulla metafora del pozzo (a partire da un Inno omerico)" (27-34)
4. Concetta Giuffrè Scibona, "Osservazioni sul valore liminale dell'acqua nella religione greca" (35-50)
5. Concetta Masseria, "Verso un altro mare, con incerto tragitto. Hera e la metopa con "l'eroe sulla tartaruga" (51-72)
II. Nell'universo delle immagini
6. Claudia Lucchese, "Navi e naukraroi sui vasi attici di VIII e VII secolo a.C." (73-88)
7. Carmela Roscina, "L'acqua e il sacro nella Nekya di Polignoto a Delfi" (89-102)
8. Chiara Pilo, "L' hydria tra uso pratico e valore simbolico. Il contributo della documentazione iconografica" (103-112)
9. Francesca Silvestrelli, "Donne al louterion nella ceramica apula e lucana" (113-124)
10. Grazi Salamone, "Potamos e polis: iconografie monetali dell'Occidente Greco. Alcune riflessioni" (125-140)
III. Tra luoghi di culto e manifestazioni rituali
11. Monica de Cesare, "Le nymphai e l'acqua in Sicilia: l'imagerie vascolare" (141-168)
12. Elisa Chiara Portale, "Le nymphai e l'acqua in Sicilia: contesti rituali e morfologia dei votive" (169-192)
13. Caterina Greco and Valeria Tardo, "A proposito dei santuari lungo' il fiume Modione a Selinunte" (193-206)
14. Anna Calderone, "Una vasca gradinata a Monte Saraceno. Funzione e contesto" (207-220)
15. Francesca Pizzi, "L'acqua delle Ninfe. Il caso 'complesso' di Locri" (221-234)
16. Franca C. Papparella, "Acqua e contenitori: simbologia e significato nella cristianità" (235-246)
IV. Via di Relazione, Via di Separazione
17. Caterina Ingoglia, "La Valle del Patrì un corridoio obbligato tra Tirreno e Ionio?" (247-270)
18. Elisabetta Tramontana, "Fiumi e sorgenti. L'importanza dell'acqua nel sistema insediativo della Sicilia centro-meridionale indigena" (271-300)
19. Francesca Spatafora, "Le vie dell'acqua: città e villaggi nella vallate fluviali della Sicilia centro-occidentale tra età arcaica ed ellenismo" (301-314)
20. Lucia Fernanda Ruffo, "Attraversare l'acqua. Ritualità e manufatti" (315-324)
21. Daniela Scortecci, "Aspetti delle 'culture d'oltre-mare" nell'Italia altomedievale" (325-342)
V. Tra uso e gestione: La dimensione sociale e politica
22. Grazia Spagnolo, "Risorse naturali e approvvigionamento idrico a Gela in età greca" (343-374)
23. Anna Maria Prestianni Giallombardo, "L'acqua come elemento fondamentale nell'organizzazione e nel controllo del territorio e dello spazio urbano. Il caso di Alesa" (375-398)
24. Adele Coscarella, "Insediamenti fortificati e rupestri della Calabria medievale: scelte e gestione delle risorse idriche" (399-412)
25. Paola de Sanctis Ricciardone, "Il mare invisibile. Paesaggio e degrado nell'alto Tirreno cosentino" (413-424)
26. Gloria di Rosa, "Paesaggi costieri: voci, sguardi e cemento" (425-433)


1.   SEG 56.1084; SEG 53.997
2.   G. Jansen (ed.), Cura aquarum in Sicilia. Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress on the History of Water Management and Hydraulic Engineering in the Mediterranean Region, Syracuse May 16-22, 1998 = Babesch Supplement 6 (Leiden: Stichten Babesch, 2000)

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