Bibliographies – Familiar and Not So Much

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library.
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Cyrus entering Babylon.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1868-01.

When I read an article on ancient Greece or Rome, I generally understand the footnotes/bibliographies. I know the names of the ancient sources and I’m aware of the traditional scholars. I recognize names and abbreviations for most of the relevant journals and compilations. Although there are lots of Greek and a few ancient Roman authors I’ve never tried to translate, I know who they are and could probably make an educated guess as to their genre and century. I take all this for granted when I read, just as I take for granted that my legs won’t buckle under me when I walk. Sometimes, though, things change. Ligaments tear and I wind up reading a heavily footnoted book on the ancient world, but on a topic about which I know virtually nothing. The topic in question is ancient Mesopotamia, an area that is there in the peripheral vision for most of the history of ancient Greece and Rome.

I really enjoyed Civilizations of Ancient Iraq, by Benjamin R. Foster and Karen Polinger Foster, and hope to re-read portions of it. Karen is an art historian, another area that is always at least peripherally important to the classical world and about which I know too little. With her background, it is perhaps not surprising that there are so many factoids about ancient arts and crafts.

In Ur, elaborate burials for important people might include the ritual suicide of up to another 73 attendants — soldiers, servants. musicians, ox-drivers — and the oxen. Gilgamesh is said to have been buried with his wife, children, concubines, minstrel, cupbearer, barber, courtiers, and attendants. They were buried with gold and lavishly inlaid materials like a famous bull’s head harp which the minstrel would have been expected to use in the afterlife.

The Fosters describe making a chevron pattern on a glass by putting together literally thousands of little bars.
“[G]lasmakers achieved similar designs by arranging thousands of tiny colored glass rods in chevrons, fusing them by firing, then grinding and polishing the surface to create shimmering mosaics.
Faience may have been invented as a cheaper version of Lapis Lazuli and developed into glass.

When I look at the footnote for a reference to the Uruk head, “one of the earliest naturalistic renderings of a face,” possibly Inanna (p.22), the note (#18) says “Frankfort 1970:31-2.” Immediately I fear this is a major piece of research in the field, like CIL, so it is only with trepidation that I look it up in the Bibliography. Sigh of relief. It’s a surname; first name Henri. Probably French, but then why Frankfort? I then see Henri has citations going back to 1939. He must have had at least a moderately long career. The work in question is “The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient.” The Pelican History of Art, Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books. The only part that is familiar there is the Penguin Books. I still have no idea whether this is part of a scholarly multi-volume series for Assyriologist Art Historians or something I might have a prayer of being able to understand.

Fortunately, I located a tool that might allow me to make something of the immense bibliography in this book. The tool is Who’s Who in Cuneiform Studies. About my Frankfort, Henri person it says:
Frankfort, Henri (24 February 1897 – 16 July 1954), Archaeology
which makes the Penguin work posthumous. I still don’t know if I was right about the length of his career, but if I really want to know, there is a hyperlink.


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