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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

While there were some things in Meaning and Identity in a Greek Landscape with which I disagreed or thought could be expanded upon – namely, the point the James brought up in his questions regarding the privileging of human actors in the constitution of meaning of landscape – I thought the book sparkled with one very important point for archaeologists, which Forbes stresses in his introduction: incorporating the modern perception of an ancient landscape in a diachronic study. If we are going to look at a landscape and how it has changed through antiquity through a contemporary lens, is it not necessary to take that contemporary lens into account?


A second point following James’ comment: if the point of such an ethnography is to explore “how Methanites have related themselves to each other via their landscapes” (44), then isn’t the landscape assigned a particularly passive role, as simply tool and resource? Or is the book conveying a more subtle sense of how the landscape is not just constituted by the Methanites’ identity, but also one among many facets that shapes said identity? ______________________________________________________________________

In the section ‘Churches’ (257-259) in Chapter 7: The Historical Landscape, attention is drawn briefly to the lack of reverence held on the part of the Methanites towards the “signifiers of antiquity” visible on many of the churches, namely, Byzantine-style roof tiles and wall paintings, which have often been painted over or replaced with “better” materials. In one sense, this recalls the treatment by the Methanites of their houses by totally rebuilding structures that retain their importance – as monuments and memorials – through the site of the structure rather than its particular features, allowing them to “fix where they belonged in space and when in time” (312).

The seeming lack of regard for these particular things (as opposed to structures, “givens” of the landscape) of the past also brings to mind the similarly irreverent tendency to reuse graves, in which disarticulated skeletons of decomposed bodies can be seen in the dirt piles of the newly dug grave, subsequently just shoveled back in over the newest coffin (385). In contrast to the lack of reverence for the things of great antiquity, however, these grave reuse events could take place in as few as two or three years after the preceding burial.

These acts of irreverence for the things of the past – whether within the individual memories of the recent past (with regard to the burials), or in the homogenized time before the grandparental generation – are especially notable as they fit within the discussion of the Methanites’ habit of forgetting particularities beyond the grandparent generation. However, there seems to be something strikingly dissimilar in the act of forgetting – which still retains the connotation of importance and worth of remembering at least a general idea of what came before – and an active destruction of something sacred. Throughout the book, memorialization and monumentalization are important in the daily lives of the Methanites; they do it often and in many ways, from the hanging of framed photographs of ancestors (who may or may not be remembered) in and the inscribing of initials on houses. What does it imply about the Methanites’ ways of dealing with memory that it is enough to preserve the site of a church, such an important institution in the lives of Methanites, without preserving the paintings within it or the tiles that adorn it? Careless destruction – even if not undertaken as a malicious act – of such materials is almost stunning in the context of a society that values icons so highly, especially one that in many ways, at least as it is presented in Meaning and Identity in a Greek Landscape, revolves around the religious institution of Christianity.