Curtains for Zeus: Mapping a multi-media offering

Annotating the surviving text of the intrepid 2nd century traveler Pausanias is a delicate task: weighing 223,000-odd words in ancient Greek and tagging people, places, events, and their relationships. The overarching goal is using the new and improved Recogito tool to generate from Pausanias a pile of open-access data that any user can use to pry loose fresh insights into ancient Greek society, religion, history, and culture. The fun part, however, is mapping Pausanias’ travels in southern and central Greece as he described them. A temple of Zeus is easy, a dot on the map (soon to be a polygon). Tag it “Paus” to say Pausanias was present at this part of his narration. String those dots together in the right way and we have Pausanias’ travels. But not every place name is a location we should map as if Pausanias were necessarily ever there. The statue of the god is made of stone from Paros or Mt. Pentele, the columns of stone from Phrygia or Libya or the quarries at Krokeai south of Sparta. Or simple “local” (ἐπιχώριον) stone, every instance of the term a different blur on the map. A statue can be, Pausanias opines, of Aiginetan workmanship (ἐργασία), whatever that means. A tune is in the Lydian mode. And let’s leave out for now the question whether a mythical but rapidly moving and dangerous Calydonian boar is usefully represented via the dot on the map our Pleiades/DARE-based gazetteer calls ancient Calydon.

An annotator’s existential crisis of the evening: At the great temple of Zeus at Olympia there is a curtain (object, parapetasma) decorated with Assyrian weaving (ὑφάσμασιν Ἀσσυρίοις) and dyed with Phoenician purple (βαφῇ πορφύρας τῆς Φοινίκων). This curtain, an offering to Zeus by King Antiochos, was (when Pausanias saw it anyway) an object with a location, even vaguely mappable at the front of the temple. Do we map it as three dots: at the temple in Olympia, but also in Assyria (presumably a high-flown Romanism for Syria) and Phoenicia?

We huddled and decided it was time to deploy a new semantic tag, “material,” and Recogito’s relationship annotator that we are all still secretly afraid of.

Thus, four distinct annotations:

                1. The Temple of Zeus: built, naos, Olympian Zeus, Paus, Place: Zeus temple (Olympia)

                2. the curtain itself: object, parapetasma, Olympian Zeus, Paus, Place: ungazetteered;

                3. the weaving: material, ufasma, Place:Syria;

                4. the dye: material, bafê, Place:Phoinike

Then, three relationship annotations:

                2 to 1 “contains”

                3 to 2 “provenance”

                4 to 2 “provenance”

These annotations will result in a relationship tree that shows the temple of Zeus, with the curtain one of its long list of offerings, and Syria and Phoenicia as two of the regions included in Olympia’s religious universe. We are cautiously accumulating enough semantic concepts to do justice to Pausanias’ complex world but not so many as to paralyze our annotation process with delicate ontological/theological distinctions.

Relational annotation in Recogito showing the relationships of materials to a monument

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *