BMCR 2022.08.17

Thronos: historical grammar of furniture in Mycenaean and beyond

, , , Thronos: historical grammar of furniture in Mycenaean and beyond. Eikasmos, 32. Bologna: Pàtron editore, 2021. Pp. 264. ISBN 9788855534673 €32.00.

This interesting and innovative volume deriving from a Bologna workshop of the same name in 2014[1] presents us with a collection of twenty-one papers discussing aspects of Mycenaean and later Greek furniture, primarily exploring textual perspectives. Its conception is more adventurous than a mere glance at the table of contents would suggest. Rachele Pierini offers an analogy between the work of the designer and the work of the classicist, both viewed as experts in inferring the core patterns of things and words respectively as objects of close study, as the volume’s underlying concept.

The twenty-one papers, written mainly in English (the four exceptions in Italian, and one in Spanish, are provided with English abstracts) are organized in three sections. The first two (entitled “Prototypes” and “Materials”) focus on textual evidence extant on administrative documents inscribed in the Linear B script and recovered from burnt destruction layers of palace complexes dated roughly c.1400-1200 BCE in the Aegean, while the third deals with later Greek sources.

Section I on “Prototypes” deals with the main furniture types that appear on the group of thirteen tablets (classified as Ta) from the so-called ‘Palace of Nestor’ at Pylos, and comprises a very well thought-out core of discussions on key aspects of Mycenaean furniture vocabulary viewed from a variety of perspectives. Francisco Aura Jorro (pp.7-26) gives a superb overview of the interpretation of these tablets throughout the history of Mycenaean studies. Well placed at the beginning of the section, his chapter is essential for understanding the more focused studies of specific furniture types in the following chapters. Giulio Scozzari gives a brief survey emphasizing the different meanings of the Pylian term e-ka-ra(pp.27-30). Juan Piquero surveys the evidence for to-pe-za ‘tablets’ in the Ta tablets especially in the context of their possible sacrificial associations. Alberto Bernabé has produced a pioneering comparison between the descriptions of tables in the Ta series and the 2012 catalogue of the Italian design company MAGIS (whose “Chair_One-MAGIS” is featured on the dust cover of the book), focusing on the different intentions behind the composition of these documents. Paolo Sabattini (pp.65-74) provocatively puts forward the etymology *tr̥-ped-yh2 ‘three-footed’ behind /tórpedza/, later τράπεζα ‘table’, against the more orthodox ‘four-footed’ etymology. Sabbattini’s proposal finds support in iconographic and archaeological evidence. Fátima Díez Platas discusses Mycenaean chairs to-no /thórnoi/ in the Mycenaean texts and as miniature terracotta models, exploring how the latter (either with figure models attached on them or empty) might represent easy-chairs or basket-seats for infants or young children. Carlos Varias reviews the interpretation of the Pylian festival name to-no-e-ke-te-ri-jo, which has received many diverse interpretations. Varias maintains that the first component is /thorno-/ ‘throne’ and concludes that Bennett’s original */thornohelktḗrion/ ‘drawing of the throne’ or the alternative */thornoegkhetḗrion/ ‘pouring libations in association with the throne vel sim.’ are to be preferred. Finally, Massimo Perna and Raimondo Zucca discuss ta-ra-nu-we /thrā́nuwes/ ‘(foot)stools’, focusing on the occurrences in the Pylos Ta tablets in the context of references to Homeric θρῆνυες and briefly considering iconographic and archaeological evidence for the use of footstools with thrones from 3rd millennium BC Mesopotamia to Etruscan Italy. In line with the focus on the Pylos Ta tablets throughout these papers, Ambra Russotti discusses items that are not furniture sensu stricto (such as ti-ri-po ‘tripod’, three-footed [bronze] cauldrons’).[2]

The three papers of the second section focus on “Materials”. Rachele Pierini masterfully considers the association between the wooden furniture mentioned in the Ta tablets in the context of the ritual event they accompanied and other finds from the ‘Archives Complex’ where they were found. Among the many detailed observations and useful suggestions made in this contribution, we may highlight her proposal to associate we-a2-re-jo/ we-a-re-jo with later Greek ἔαρ(pp.118-124, 130). Eugenio Luján (pp.137-146) compares the vocabulary related to ivory and ivory-work (e-re-pa /eléphas/ derivatives and other technical terminology) in Mycenaean and 1st millennium BC Greek, concluding unsurprisingly that most technical terms did not survive the collapse of the Mycenaean palaces. Elena Romani discusses the problematic term a2ro[ ]u-do-pi (PY Ta 642.1) and stresses etymological, semantic and syntactic problems that hinder further understanding, while allowing that some association with the sea can be maintained (a2ro[ being perhaps /halós/ ‘of the sea’).

The third section takes us “Beyond” Mycenaean into later Greek and Latin sources, and appears quite varied compared to the tight focus of the previous papers on the Pylos Ta series. Despite the lack of coherence, its nine papers are all interesting contributions. Marco Ercoles discusses the verbal and visual imagery of the seated stringed-instrument-bearing ‘songster’ bridging 2nd and 1st millennium BC Aegean art. Although the focus is on Archaic/Classical imagery, Ercoles exposes interesting threads of continuity from the Mycenaean palatial period. The next two papers focus strictly on Homer. Ana Isabel Jiménez San Cristóbal surveys the Homeric evidence for θρόνοι, and Simonetta Nannini discusses the properties of the domestic environment of the Odyssey as a poetic constructed setting with limited historical specificity.

Moving us to the Classical period, Emilio Rosamilia discusses epigraphic sources for θρόνοι in  the Acropolis treasuries of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. He stresses the luxury of the Acropolis items compared with the more modest furniture deposited in Delos and Epidauros.[3] Still within the same period, two papers discuss images of furniture in Old Comedy. Leonardo Fiorentini discusses the image of Lycurgus carrying a δίφρος ‘stool’ in a Cratinus fragment (numbered 32 in Kassel and Austin’s Poetae Comici Graeci). Stefano Amendola turns to Aristophanes’ Frogs and the role of the θρόνος τραγῳδικός, i.e. the (quasi-regal) throne intended for the metaphorical ‘king of the τραγῳδοί’ in the underworld contest between Aeschylus and Euripides.

Renzo Tosi explores examples of furniture in later Greek and Latin proverbs, while Camillo Neri focuses on the concrete as well as the metaphorical significance of seats in the Old Testament book of Proverbs (translated once as δίφρος and thrice as θρόνος in the Septuagint). Finally, Patrizia Nava presents us with the metaphorical significance of celestial images of thrones and footstools used as part of predictive techniques in Hellenistic astrology.

Overall, this highly stimulating volume offers an overview of Mycenaean furniture, where the focus on the Pylos Ta tablets is understandable, as these documents provide the most eloquent and elaborate references to furniture from this era. Set within a macroscopic overview of the administrative context of these records by Aura Jorro, (pp.7-26), the papers of the first two sections offer a considerable advance in our understanding of a highly complex group of Linear B documents. Although the section on later Greek is considerably more selective, it provides us with a series of interesting studies devoted to more neglected aspects of Greek furniture, beyond typological surveys.

Complaints—if they may be called such—are minor. The abstracts could have been more extensive and informative, with certain of them (pp. 104, 230) being elliptical sentences, no more than extended titles. Articles making use of iconographic evidence (e.g. by Ercoles) could have benefited considerably from illustrations, which are restricted to papers in Section I. One may note also the disproportion between the focus on a specific group of Mycenaean Greek documents for two thirds of the book and the selective nature of the treatments of all other sources.

In the last few years, the appearance of two publications, an edited volume on ancient thrones,[4] and a five-volume series on furniture,[5] has indicated a revival of scholarly interest in ancient furniture in general and thrones in particular. The scope of these recent works is only partly overlapping with that of the volume under review, being specifically focused on ancient elaborate seats and being a cross-cultural survey of all types and uses of ancient furniture intended for a broader learned audience, respectively. Thronos, in its more advanced, specialized focus on Mycenaean furniture, enhanced by its selective take on later Greek textual references to various furniture types, now joins them as a significant addition, especially as the Mycenaean Greek evidence is concerned.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements (v)
Preface (vii-viii)
Abbreviations (1-5)

I – Prototypes
F. Aura Jorro, Las interpretaciones de la serie Ta de Pilo en su contexto (7-26)
G. Scozzari, Ritual use of e-ka-ra (27-30)
A. Russotti, ti-ri-po: unusual description for an every-day object (31-42)
J. Piquero, The tables of the Pylos Ta series: text and context (43-53)
A. Bernabé, How to describe things? Depictions of tables on Mycenaean tablets and in a present-day furniture catalogue (55-64)
P. Sabattini, Were Mycenaean tables three-footed? Etymological, iconographical, archaeological, and contextual remarks (65-74)
F. Díez Platas, Imagining chairs: models and representations of Mycenaean thronoi (75-88)
C. Varias, La fiesta religiosa micénica to-no-e-ke-te-ri-jo: ¿fiesta ‘del arrastre del trono’ o fiesta ‘del agarre de las flores’? (89-95)
M. Perna-R. Zucca, Il ta-ra-nu nel Mediterraneo antico (97-104)

II – Materials
R. Pierini, Mycenaean wood: re-thinking the function of furniture in the Pylos Ta tablets within Bronze Age sacrificial practices (107-135)
E.R. Luján, The vocabulary of ivory in Mycenaean Greek (137-146)
E. Romani, “The odd couple”: morpho-syntactic analysis of a-ja-me-na a2ro[ ]u-do-pi (147-154)

III – Functions
M. Ercoles, A chair for singing: the imagery of the aoidos from Mycenaean to Classical Age (157-172)
A.I. Jiménez San Cristóbal, Θρόνος tra poemi e inni omerici (173-184)
S. Nannini, Le abitazioni dell’Odissea (185-198)
R. Tosi, Furniture and proverbs: some examples (199-206)
E. Rosamilia, Thronoi from the Athenian acropolis (2017-218)
C. Neri, Tre θρόνοι e un δίφρος: mancate corrispondenze אֵ סִ כ/θρόνος nel libro dei Proverbi (219-226)
l. Fiorentini, Una possibile funzione dello sgabello in Cratin. fr. 32 K.-A. (227-230)
S. Amendola, Aeschylus, Euripides and the conquest of a re[g]al throne: reflections on the staging of Aristophanes’ Frogs (231-240)
P. Nava, The celestial footstool: the metaphor of the throne and the stool in Classical astrology (241-250)

Indexes
1. Index of Linear B tablets (251-252)
2. Index of Linear B abbreviations and logograms (252)
3. Index of Linear B words (252-255)
4. Index locorum (255-259)
5. Index of alphabetic Greek words (259-262)
6. Index of Latin words (262)

Notes

[1] The programme can be accessed here: http://www.astrologiaoraria.com/THRONOS.pdf.

[2] Passing references to de-mi-ni-ja ‘beds/bedsteads’ are made (pp.12, 17).

[3] One might also wish to consult D. Andrianou, The Furniture and Furnishings of Ancient Greek Houses and Tombs (2009), 107-122, 131-152.

[4] L. Naeh, D. Brostowky Gilboa (eds.), The Ancient Throne: The Mediterranean, Near East, and Beyond, from the 3rd Millennium BCE to the 14th Century CE. Proceedings of the Workshop held at the 10th ICAANE in Vienna, April 2016 (2020).

[5] A Cultural History of Furniture, general ed. C.M. Anderson (2022). Volume 1 of the series is devoted to antiquity (D. Andrianou, ed.).