Overall, this episode is fantastic – as a super fan of Chrissy Teigen, her cookbooks, and her general no-nonsense and carefree approach to life, this should come as no surprise. but when one of my friends told me that the episode featured not only her, but her throwing pottery, I knew I had to see it.
What I love about this episode the most, though, is how it highlights not only the cultural importance of food, but also shows how traditional meals would have been (and continue to be) made.
At one point they come across a local food stall called Chez Lamine who roasts a whole lamb in a pit in the ground (which actually turns out to be a cave of over a dozen roasting lambs!), and are given fresh portions from it to eat shortly thereafter.
This is also shown during and after Chrissy’s brief stint in a traditional pottery workshop in Marrakesh, where she and Dave attempt to throw tagines on the wheel (Dave claims that making a tagine might be her calling after she gets excited about the prospect of making one herself). The tagine is “not a dish, but actually the vessel…it’s a whole genre of cooking.” (in the words of Dave Chang)
For anyone who’s ever been a beginner at throwing pottery on the wheel, the scene is totally relatable – it shows just how difficult the practice is, and also highlights the immense skill that traditional potters of Marrakesh exhibit in their craft – in the show, when they ask a potter about how many they typically make in a day, he replies that the number is around 120-140!
This is why I think it’s important to document and highlight these moments – to show that pottery (and its production) is not unimportant, and that it’s being depicted right under our noses everyday. Perhaps seeing our favorite celebrities engaging with the craft will make pottery more palatable, and potentially more interesting, for our friends, families, and colleagues down the road.
Over the past few weeks, as my feeling of being overwhelmed by stress surrounding COVID-19 and the protests for racial justice mounted, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the state of the fields of Classics and Classical Archaeology in relation to current events.
In not wanting my newly minted pottery blog to fall to the wayside, I have tried to think of ways in which pottery and discussions of race and ethnicity might intersect, and the first thing that came to mind was this vase-type – the ancient Greek plastic vase depicting a “Greek” on one side and a decidedly “non-Greek” on the other. This made me start to wonder about how we talk about (or don’t talk about) race in the Classics classroom, particularly when it comes to images like this one.
The topic of “diversity” in the Graeco-Roman world is not a new one (see here, here, here, and here), and indeed it has been met with a mix of responses over the past few years. The debate needn’t be rehashed here, but I think that this particular moment in time is a good one in which to reflect on our relationship – as art historians, as classicists, as ceramicists – with diverse populations in the ancient world, and how that relationship is translated into the makeup of our departments, our institutions, and our field.
Even the most casual reader of ancient texts will find discussion of what we today call race and ethnicity in a wide range of ancient authors — from Homer and Hesiod to Herodotus and Hippocrates, from Aeschylus to Ctesias, Caesar, Tacitus, Plutarch, Pliny, Livy, Sallust, Horace, Ovid and more. Further, any trip to a museum yields ample images that further display the Greek and Roman interest in and engagement with human diversity. And yet, we still hear the refrain that wanting to study or teach race and ethnicity is a part of a “social justice” political agenda because the ancient Greeks and Romans had no words that are exactly equivalent to our modern concepts of race or ethnicity — which is not, in fact, true.
But where some scholars have made genuine efforts to diversify their lesson plans, departments, and institutions, others have done much less, merely scratching the surface of a problem with a long, racist history. In most cases, the efforts of Classics departments have been focused on how to make classes more diverse by introducing subject matter that might “appeal” to students of color.
But as a woman (and student) of color, I have never been drawn to Classics because of a course on “Slavery in Antiquity” or “Greeks and Barbarians,” two topics that I find more alienating that intriguing. Indeed, as Sarah Derbew has succinctly pointed out, such courses rarely challenge the “preconceived notions of Black people [and other PoC that] are seared into our country’s collective consciousness.”
Potential solutions to this perpetual problem have been suggested in greater numbers over the past few weeks, with this Eidolon article by Pria Jackson gaining the most traction. In her article she advocates for systemic and ongoing change to the discipline, to how we teach and transform our departments. She also insists that we start the conversations about Classics’ long, white supremacist history early because:
It is these students who go out into the world and spread Classics culture. Their half-forgotten memories of lessons from that one Classics course they took back in college which they bring up over drinks with friends, or during a brainstorm session at work, or while watching the latest historical drama on Netflix will quite frankly do far more to change the Classics’ culture than a paywall blocked, 25-page JSTOR article on the reanalysis of Ethiopian motifs in Herodotus.
However, while her calls for mandatory collaborative interdisciplinary “discussions” seems well meaning, it isn’t enough. In recent weeks I have seen and attended too many “conversations” and town halls centered around “discussions” about racial injustice and how to enact change. There hasn’t been enough meaningful work at the departmental or institutional level beyond putting heads together to think about how to lure students of color into their classes (newsflash: you can’t).
I think that the real solution is three-fold.
First, we need to recognize and showcase the work that has been done by scholars of color in the field.
The listof digitalresources surrounding the works of scholars of color has been growing exponentially over the past few weeks, so this is a good place to start for anyone considering how to rethink courses that already exist, or how to create new ones. But these lists are only one part of this initiative.
We should also highlight ongoing work by scholars of color in the subfields of Classics, like archaeology and art history, so that students can “see themselves” in the work they want to do. This, I think, would be an important step in moving away from Classics’ white supremacist history and reputation.
Second, we need to provide students of color with real opportunities and resources to help them get involved.
In a recent tweet, a glaring issue in archaeological field schools was highlighted: they are inherently exclusionary because of the enormous financial burden it places on students wanting (or needing to) participate in field schools.
Believing that you can’t afford to do something like a field school is a surefire way to get students of color – or really anyone – to give up on continuing in the field. I know that I would not have been able to participate in the digs that I did in undergrad if I hadn’t been given scholarships to do so.
Finally, returning to the question of race and ethnicity in the ancient world, particularly in the case of the plastic vases (and other vase paintings) depicting glaringly non-Greek features, we need to think critically and carefully about what we want our students to get out of the experience.
We shouldn’t have students walk away thinking “Oh, the Greeks were racist,” because the choices made by potter and painter may have been influenced by any number of opinions and experiences that we might not be able to access today.
Indeed, Sarah Derbew explains that:
Ancient Greece’s visual heritage included representations of black people that nimbly provoked and cut across hierarchies. Objects like the sixth-century BCE head-shaped pitcher and water jar…above were not part of any chromatic hierarchy because such categories had yet to be codified. Instead, they existed within their own historical and artistic context.
We should have students interrogate these factors, as well as think more broadly about the uniqueness of the object (Why don’t we see these vessels very often? What choices are made in descriptions for these vessels in museums? What assumptions are made about the identities of the faces and the intentions of the makers?) and what sorts of images are more often used in white supremacist propaganda and why.
The possibilities are endless, and I can appreciate that this may be part of the reason why scholars who have been set in their ways for decades are wary about changing along with the times. But this is important work, and it’s work that can’t just be done once and over with.
As Pria Jackson so importantly states,
The first step towards making a qualifiable difference in Classics…would be to yank the chair out from underneath Whiteness. Start teaching an anti-white supremacist, anti-racist Classics curriculum! Today! And tomorrow! And next week. And forever.
Selected Further Reading
Barrett, C.E. Egypt in Roman Visual and Material Culture. Oxford Handbooks Online. 2017.
Battle-Baptiste, Whitney. 2011. Black Feminist Archaeology. Walnut Creek, Calif: Left Coast Press.
Bindman, D., H. Gates Jr, and K. Dalton, eds. 2010. The Image of the Black in Western Art: From the Pharoahs to the Fall of the Roman Empire. Vols. 1 and 2. Harvard University Press.
Gaither, Paula. 2019. Blacks in Context: An Analysis of Aethiopians in Roman Art. MPhil Thesis. https://www.academia.edu/43349980/Blacks_in_Context_An_Analysis_of_Aethiopians_in_Roman_Art
Rankine, Patrice D. “The Classics, Race, and Community-Engaged or Public Scholarship.” American Journal of Philology 140, no. 2 (2019): 345-359. doi:10.1353/ajp.2019.0018.
Salmon, P. 1994 “L’Image du Noir dans l’Antiquité Gréco-Romaine.” In Emmigrazione e Immigrazione nel Mondo Antico, edited by M. Sordi, 283-302. Milano: Pubblicazioni dell’ Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Contributi dell’Instituto di storia antica, vol. 20).
Snowden, Jr., Frank M. (1970), Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Snowden, Jr. Frank M. (1983), Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
If you, like me, watched this video clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live! At Home wanting to know more about Seth Rogen’s not-so-recent hobby, you’ll know just how I disappointed I was by how little time (<5 minutes) was spent discussing it.
The phenomenon of celebrities making ceramics is not a new one – among the other celebrities that have been recognized as pottery enthusiasts are James Franco, Brad Pitt, and Leonardo DiCaprio. However, I don’t think it’s been talked about enough.
Or maybe it has, and I missed it, despite being glued to my computer and phone for the past three months.
Either way, I thought it would be a fun idea to do a roundup of Seth Rogen and his pottery for those of us who haven’t been keeping up with the celebrity news. I am also partially motivated by a need for other people to be as jealous as I am that he has not one but three pottery wheels and a kiln at his house! Oh, to be rich.
Here’s an older video of Rogen talking about his hobby:
And here are some photos of his work taken from his Instagram:
Their kiln is named “Brad Pitt.” No big deal.
Even though there’s nothing especially groundbreaking about a celebrity making pottery, seeing Seth Rogen’s work both warms my heart and breaks it. It warms it because it has a sort of humanizing effect for a celebrity to be doing something that even I could do; it breaks it because I now know that he has been able to dedicate time and energy (and money) into his craft and now he is producing far, far better pots than I ever will. Alas.
This week’s Pot of the Week is yet again not necessarily a single pot, but a collection. However, they all share one characteristic – they are all dinoi, a particular (and peculiar) shape of ancient Greek vase that was popular at symposia, or all-male drinking parties.
The dinos itself was a peculiar shape in the Greek repertoire because it consisted of two parts: a large bowl and a tall moulded foot or stand.
It was particularly designed for use at elaborate banquets and drinking parties, and like the standalone krater, it was used for mixing and serving wine. Wine would be ladled out into individual cups, like the kylix from which the central figure is drinking while reclining on a cushion (above). The use of the dinos in this capacity can be traced as early as the late 6th century.
The dinos above, on which we have the words ‘Sophilos painted me’ inscribed, is significant because it is an excellent example of black-figure, Corinthian style vase painting, and it depicts the wedding procession of Peleus and Thetis, the parents of the hero Achilles.
Evidence for the use of a stand in combination with the large bowl can be seen in the fact that the rounded bottom likely would not have been able to stand on its own. Additionally, one can see that the painter was careful to leave a portion of the bottom of the bowl undecorated, so that it would not be obscured or damaged by the stand.
Few “footed dinoi” have been identified, but it seems like this was a much later innovation.
A further connection to the use of the dinos to serving wine at Greek drinking parties can be found in the choice of decoration, particularly on the inside of the vessel, as can be seen in this black-figure dinos from the Getty.
It has been suggested that the inclusion of the ships on the interior of the rim on this dinos was done with the intention of making the ships appear to be bobbing on a “sea” of wine when the vessel was full. While we may never know if this was the painter’s attempt at a joke or if the owner had it commissioned this way, such visual humor can be found in other media throughout the Greek world.
Perhaps the most obvious place to find a similar analogy is in Homer, where he makes reference to a “wine-dark sea” on more than one occasion.
Another relationship between wine and the sea has been identified by Hallie Franks in the space of the symposium itself – the andron or formal dining room, which was often decorated with painted walls and mosaics. The focus of Franks’ research is the mosaic floors of andrones, which she argues can tell us about how Greeks interacted with one another within the space of the symposium.
The Eretria Nereid, shown without the company of her sisters or the figure of Achilles, presents a “quotation” of the full narrative, introducing to those entering Room 9 the notion of travel over the sea—a theme underlined by the border of waves surrounding her. It is also worth noting that she is also a protector of sailors.
Franks goes on to draw parallels between the experiences of seafarers and symposiasts:
Furthermore, in ancient Greek culture, sea journeys had a deep association with the symposium. Both activities, after all, depend on communal identity: like the crew of a ship, symposiasts are a company of men who are isolated within a contained space and who enter into solidarity with one another. Added to this is the popular appeal of their similar physical effects, which might include swaying, loss of balance, and nausea.
Like the physical effects experienced by seafarers and symposiasts alike, symposiasts who gathered around the dinos depicting the ships on the inside of the rim would likely be reminded of sea journeys by the “swaying” of the ships on the “sea” of wine. And if it wasn’t immediately obvious, it would certainly become more so after a few drinks.
Franks, H. 2014. “Traveling, in Theory: Movement as Metaphor in the Ancient Greek Andron,” The Art Bulletin 96:2.
Franks, H. 2018. The World Underfoot: Mosaics and Metaphor in the Greek Symposium. Oxford.