Sunday 6 July 2014

Black Sea Archaeologists versus Putin and Theresa May

Performers on Greek pot found in Ukraine

Lesson of the week: NEVER GIVE UP. I have finally achieved something I have wanted to do for thirty years, since I first realised that many ancient Greeks lived not round the Mediterranean but behind the (in 1984) Iron Curtain. With help from fantastic colleagues[i] I managed to get archaeologists from Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Georgia and Poland to describe to a lecture theatre at King’s College, London, full of westerners, the thrilling evidence that Black Sea Greeks were just as wine-, song- and theatre-mad as Greeks in the better-researched Med.

Diver Putin 'finds' planted Greek vases
I can hardly believe it has happened. The Cold War made it almost impossible, until 1989, even to communicate with the experts. The project has been rejected by almost every research funding body in existence (Loeb, British Academy etc.). Then Mr Putin, himself a keen investigator of Greek antiquities actually in the Black Sea, ‘annexed’ the place—Crimea—containing some of the most crucial sites.

The last of a thousand obstacles
Next, the incompetence of Theresa May and her Home Office minions meant that two speakers’ visas did not come through until less than 48 hours before the conference was due to open, and then only because of the tenacity of our Events Organiser (the best in the world), Laura Douglas. She should be put in charge of the UK Borders Agency immediately. Even after kick-off, at one tense moment it looked as though the atmosphere might be ruined, when a Pole challenged a Russian to compare historical and contemporary Imperialism.

Fresco from Sevastopol
But everything was perfect. We saw photos of theatre architecture emerging from the soil after centuries of invisibility. We asked why the super-rich of the Taman peninsula liked vases depicting comic actors placed in their tombs. We gasped at staggering Dionysiac scenes on Athenian vases found in Ukraine, Georgian mosaics and at clay marionettes from Kerch.  Mr Staniewski’s dazzling film of Iphigenia in Tauris took us into the heart of human darkness; the most beautiful room in King’s, the chapel, resounded with Ash Mukherjee’s sensational Indian dance interpretation of Medea, and Tony Harrison’s searing live recital of his profound Pontic poetry.

Greek Tragedy for Ukrainian children
In two weeks I am getting a free luxury cruise by lecturing. We were meant to circumnavigate the Black Sea, but Vlad the Annexer has put a stop to that. After Turkey, Georgia and Bulgaria we will now be sailing south-west to the Aegean, Macedonia and Lemnos. Losing the northern Black Sea sites meant that many of those booked on the cruise because they were interested in the Crimean War of the 1850s have pulled out. There are places available at bargain-basement prices. Just in case you’re free and sufficiently solvent, here’s the link: it would be fun to see any humorous Philhellene aboard!

[i] Professor David Braund and Dr Rosie Wyles

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