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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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Athenian Vase Painting (Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art) Athenian Vase Painting (Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

A Glimpse Into the Long-ago

Two new postdoctoral fellows connect the ancient and modern worlds.
By Coleen L. Geraghty

Visitors to New York, London, Athens and other cities often flock to museums to view their collections of priceless Greek pottery dating from the BCE period. What visitors don’t see are the many other pottery fragments that lie, broken and forlorn, in the museums’ storerooms. Some of these fragments are the work of unscrupulous art dealers, who deliberately shattered small vases and urns and used the sherds to repair larger, more valuable pieces.

Danielle Smotherman Bennett has ambitions to bring those pottery shards into the light with a digital archive that would eventually contain tens of thousands of 3-D models of sherds from museums around the world. Together with existing digital information on intact Greek pottery, such an archive could expand our knowledge of the ancient world, Bennett said.  

An expert on Greek vase painting, Bennett joined San Diego State University this fall. She is the first to be appointed to the Friends of Classics and Barbara Schuch Endowed Postdoctoral Fellowship in Classics and Digital Humanities. 

Bennett’s office in the Arts and Letters Building is decorated with reproductions of Greek pottery from the seventh to fourth centuries BCE. Most are the work of artisans from Corinth, Greece, where Bennett was field director for excavations directed by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in the 2016 season while finishing up her Ph.D. in Classical and Near Eastern archaeology from Bryn Mawr College. 

One of the less elaborately decorated pieces in her office is Bennett’s own work—an attempt to replicate an olpe jug. Her interest in ancient Greek pottery extends to the manufacturing techniques that gave these pieces unusual endurance. 

“These objects are beautiful but also functional,” Bennett said. “We can appreciate them now, centuries later, because they are more durable than baskets of wood and even metal. The plain ones were, to the Greeks, similar to what Tupperware is to us. I like that tangible aspect.”

Dec. 5 lecture

Bennett’s research also charts the changes in Greek vase painting over time. Beginning in the  fifth century BCE, she said, there is a dramatic increase in women as subjects. Most are depicted performing daily tasks such as food preparation. The shift could reflect a change in the target market, as many men were absent from Athens while fighting wars.

Currently leading a seminar on how to use technology and digital resources to research the ancient world, Bennett will teach World Mythology with an emphasis on mythological imagery in spring 2019. 

Bennett is also scheduled to present the 49th Annual Gail Burnett Lecture in the Classics at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 5, in room 201 of the Arts and Letters Building. Her lecture will examine three Athenian vase paintings dating between 525-460 BCE that feature the mythological sisters Philomela and Procne best known from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.”

New Stepsay postdoctoral fellow

Joining Bennett as a postdoctoral fellow this year is Andrew McClellan. His is the second appointment to the Stepsay Family Endowed Postdoctoral Fellowship in Classics, following John McDonald. Both positions are supported by Jack McGrory (’76) and Jeanette Rigopoulos (’57). 

McClellan’s research explores the intersection of war, violence and death in Greco-Roman epic poetry and society. He received a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia and is working on two book projects. In spring 2019, he will teach Reading Latin Poetry.