A Sense of History

History (from Greek ἱστορία, historia, meaning inquiry) is the study of the past…

History is asking questions.

?

And answering them.

Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time. May the great and wonderful deeds – some brought forth by the Hellenes, others by the barbarians – not go unsung as well as the causes that led them to make war on each other.

Herodotus: The Histories, 1:1

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Night at the Museum

Many of London’s museums and galleries stay open late into the evening once a week. You might think day or night makes no difference…

But it’s nice to break the daily routine once in a while. Instead of going home after work, I head for Bloomsbury.

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The British Museum after six pm is a different place

The lights are dimmed. The crowds are gone; it’s quiet. I relax in the members’ room with my book and a glass of wine before going for a wander.

I can get up close to the most popular exhibits without an elbow fight. I can contemplate. I can read the labels in peace.

I can take pictures.

Till next Friday.

You might also like:
Made by the Egyptians: A Bust of Amenhotep IIIThe Mausoleum at HalicarnassusThree Hours at the British Museum

The Case for the Elgin Marbles

I was reading Keats last night:

My spirit is too weak – mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
Yet ’tis a gentle luxury to weep
That I have not the cloudy winds to keep
Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
Bring round the heart an undescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time – with a billowy main –
A sun – a shadow of a magnitude.

(On Seeing the Elgin Marbles by John Keats)

I have to say it threw me a bit. Not quite as easy as “Then I felt like some watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken” (On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer also by John Keats). In fact, after much mulling over what some of the phrases actually meant, I had to seek enlightment from Mr Anglo-Saxonist who upon reading it pronounced that it was s**t poem and there was no need to rack my brains about what it meant. (He particularly objected to the sick eagle.) Well, I wouldn’t go quite as far but I have to agree: not one of Keats’s best. Nevertheless I do like the last few lines, in particular:

… mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time…

Which is why today we’re going to talk about some Greek grandeur and the rude wasting of old time.

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Made by the Egyptians: A Bust of Amenhotep III

When I saw Cee’s latest black & white photo challenge, Made by Human Beings, I immediately thought of this statue in the British Museum. Over the years I’ve taken half a dozen photos of it; I just don’t seem to be able to pass it by (and you do have to pass by it on your way from the Great Court to the Parthenon Room) without stopping and taking another photo. Enjoy:

Hecho por los egipcios: un busto de Amenhotep III

Cuando vi el último reto de fotografía en blanco y negro de Cee, Made by Human Beings (Hecho por seres humanos), pensé, inmediatamente, en esta estatua en el Museo Británico. A lo largo de los años sacaba una media docena de fotos de ella; parece que no puedo pasar cerca de ella (y hay que pasar cerca de ella andando de Great Court a la sala de Parthenon) sin sacar otra foto. Disfruta:

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Amun-Ra Sailing Under the Starry Sky

My second favourite profession I would have gone for if I had the choice when I was young? Marine archaeologist.

I just mention this because in the past half-year I was haunting the now closing Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds exhibition of the British Museum which told the story of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, two cities that sank into the Mediterranean Sea (in Aboukir Bay, previously only known to me as the place where Nelson defeated the French). The site is being excavated by the team of Franck Goddio – the marine archaeologist who seems to get to excavate all the best sunken things in the world. (This is envy speaking.)

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The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

Mausolus British Museum
Larger than life statue of Mausolus from the Mausoleum (British Museum)

Halicarnassus, the birth place of Herodotus (nowadays Bodrum, Turkey) was home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the Mausoleum, a colossal tomb of Mausolus, a Persian satrap and a ruler of Caria (377-353 B.C.). The word mausoleum as used today originates precisely in the name of Mausolus and his tomb.

Halicarnassus, the royal residence of the dynasts of Caria,” wrote the Greek geographer Strabo two thousand years ago. “Here is the tomb of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders, a monument erected by Artemisia in honour of her husband.” (Strabo: Geography, XIV.2)

Mausolus made Halicarnassus his capital and spent a huge amount of money on improving the harbour, fortifying the town and embellishing it with temples, palaces and statues.

 About halfway up the curving slope… a broad wide street was laid out, in the middle of which was built the Mausoleum, a work so remarkable that it is classed among the Seven Wonders of the World. (Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture, II.8)

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Oranges Like Blazing Fire

The oranges of the island are like blazing fire among the emerald boughs,
And the lemons are like the pale faces of lovers who have spent the night crying.

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Chinotto oranges. Photo by Nadiatalent via Wikipedia.

Two widely quoted lines from an obscure poet. If you can name the island this quote refers to, I’m impressed. If you can also name the poet, you know far too much about literature and history – would you be interested in writing a guest post for me?

As for the rest of you, the hoi polloi, the mere mortals 🙂 reading this:

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The British Museum Goes B&W (A Different Point of View)

Still on the day 12 assignment… The British Museum goes black & white, part II. Turning another earlier assignment into monochrome:

A Black & White  (Different) Point of View

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And have I learned anything from the exercise?

  1. Not all photos look good in black & white.
  2. There are different black & white filters and not all of them suit all the photos. I used the one my photo program calls noir here – and I think the clouds look nice & dramatic. The same clouds almost didn’t show at all with the other two filters (one called mono, the other tonal)
  3. There was a third point, but I got interrupted and forgot what is was! (I’ll put it here when it comes back to me.)

 

The British Museum Goes B&W (Behind the Bars)

Day 12: the assignment is “to capture the beauty and complexity of architecture” and especially, by looking for elements that would come out well in black & white.

When I read this in the morning, I felt a sense of frustrated achievement. Because for last Friday’s assignment I did happen to take a picture of the back façade of the British Museum shot through some bars… which I duly posted. And when I got bored with admiring my handiwork on Saturday, I decided to turn it into black & white – and pleased with the result I posted it on my brand new Instagram account. (Well, I had to put it somewhere.)

And so now here we are. Today the British Museum goes black & white. Part I.

Behind the Bars in Black & White

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A Different Point of View

Day 7 Assignment: Taking a picture of something ‘big’, using a different point of view

When I read today’s assignment in the morning, I couldn’t help grinning. “Let’s go big,” it said, and it carried on advising that the best angle for shooting skyscapers was achieved by lying down.

I could just see myself lying flat on my back in the City or the Canary Wharf area, or possibly under the Shard, shooting upwards among the wandering legs of business suited men and women!… Well, maybe another time. Today, I’ll give you the British Museum.

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The glass ceiling over the Great Court of the British Museum