Bronze Age Greece: Mycenaeans and the Origins of Western Civilization

A prehistoric culture from mainland Greece, now called the Mycenaeans, inherited the fabulous brilliance of Minoan Crete. When the Bronze Age collapsed, all signs of state-level society disappeared from Greece, and both Minoans and Mycenaeans disappeared from history. Only their oral tales remained, composed half a millennium later by Homer into the Iliad and the Odyssey, and these have stood ever since like colossi dominating Western literature. Yet most scholars came to assume that Homeric tales and even the society they described largely were fiction. Then a few romantically-minded 19th-century amateur archaeologists (most memorably Heinrich Schliemann) took those tales seriously and those brilliant predecessors of the ancient Greeks exploded from obscurity. Humanities West is delighted to bring the Mycenaeans to you, including the archaeologists who uncovered the latest Mycenaean finds (2017), as this still-young archaeological field continues to deepen our understanding of our Western Civilization.

FRIDAY, MAY 3, 2019 | 7:30 – 9:30 pm 

Once Homer Was Enough / Douglas Kenning (Sicily Tour). Western Civilization once knew the Late Bronze Age Aegean only through the Homeric tales. Yet these were stories adrift from history; archaeology caught up with Homer barely a century ago. For twenty-six centuries before that, Homer stood like a colossus over Western culture, even as educated opinion generally denied that the civilization he sang of actually had existed. Let us stand a moment in this beautiful innocence, when myth was our only window on the Late Bronze Age Aegean. We’ll begin with the mythic backstory (e.g. the Judgment of Paris), follow the storyline through the Iliad and Odyssey, and finish with a mention of other Mycenaean-derived myths, those connected to the Iliad story (e.g. Trojan Horse, the Oresteia) and those not (e.g. Perseus, Theseus, Bellerophon and Pegasus). We’ll illustrate the stories as Western civilization always has, with great art, and suggest what they might tell us about the historical Mycenaeans. 

Lecture / Performance / Demonstration: Mycenaean Literature, Music, and Performance Culture – What Do We Know? What Can We Reconstruct? Mark Griffith (Classics, UC Berkeley). No literary or musical texts survive from the Bronze Age Greeks; but our steadily-growing knowledge of several of their neighbors’ literatures and musical performance traditions, along with vital clues preserved within the poems of Homer and Hesiod, enables us to recreate—or to surmise with some degree of confidence—key elements of the song-types, dances, instrumental tunings, and epic stories about gods and heroes that they adopted from and shared with those neighbors. This lecture will explore the rich visual, documentary, and literary evidence recovered from Bronze Age Anatolia (Hittites, Luwians / Trojans, and others), from Crete, and from the Levant (especially Ugarit) that can help us to fill in some of the missing pieces of Mycenaean performance culture.

SATURDAY, MAY 4, 2019 | 10 am – 4 pm

Bronze Age Myth Morphs into History / Ian Morris (Classics, Stanford). Archaeology discovers a people we’ve been reading about for 2,700 years but didn’t know existed. Legend and story become real as archaeology rises to claim authority away from literature in deciding matters of the past, a story that includes Schliemann, Evans, Blegan, and the rest. Standing now on archaeology and history, what do we know about the late Bronze Age context given archeological finds in Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Asia Minor? Who were the Minoans? How and why did they give way to the Mycenaeans? Why and how did the Mycenaeans rise to regional dominance?

The Griffin Warrior of Pylos, Bronze Age Archaeology, and Homer Today / Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker (co-presenting) (Archeology, University of Cincinnati). University of Cincinnati excavations at Pylos resumed in 2015 after Carl Blegen, discoverer of the Palace of Nestor, suspended his campaigns in 1969. Blegen and other 20th-century archaeologists shaped the field of Greek prehistory after Schliemann’s discoveries at Mycenae in the 1880s. Our reexamination of Blegen’s finds produced new results reminiscent of practices described in Homer’s Odyssey, including evidence for burnt animal sacrifice. Finds from new excavations shed light on the 15th century BCE, when the Mycenaean civilization was being created on the Greek mainland. The 2015 discovery of the grave of the so-called “Griffin Warrior,” along with four gold rings, is of great significance for the study of Minoan and Mycenaean ideology. This unique, undisturbed burial affords an unparalleled opportunity to examine Early Mycenaean funerary ritual, gender association with grave goods, and burial structure. Other discoveries from this grave suggest that myths and legends of the sort incorporated in the Homeric poems were already in circulation at the dawn of the Mycenaean civilization.

Daily Life at Mycenae: Work, Worship, and the Wanax / Kim Shelton (Classics, UC Berkeley). This talk explores life at a Mycenaean palatial center during the Late Bronze Age that highlights the everyday experiences of a bustling, energetic world with monumental architecture, large-scale craft production, and religious ritual. What is Mycenaean culture and how is it discovered through archaeological excavation at the site? The Late Helladic culture developed from a combination of traditional Greek characteristics and contact with the Minoan culture on Crete. A complex palatial state formed out of this that is accessed through their settlement and mortuary architecture, their arts and crafts, many of which were traded on an international scale, and through a fragmentary textual record. We will discuss the potential daily activities and responsibilities of the people at Mycenae, whether King Agamemnon or Joe Mycenaean.

Mycenaeans North and South: Beyond the World of the Palaces / Sarah P. Morris (Classics and Archaeology, UCLA). Recent research has greatly enriched the material record of the Bronze Age in northern Greece, especially in Thessaly (once the northern “boundary” of the Mycenaean world) and Macedonia. Greek myth enriches these regions with the story of Jason and the Argonauts in Thessaly, and of the Homeric hero, Philoktetes, associated with a northern kingdom and his exile on the island of Lemnos. A key feature of this Mycenaean “periphery” is the survival of Bronze Age communities long after the southern Greek collapse, perhaps in part as a result of their very distance from palatial powers. Since the Neolithic, northern Greece engaged with networks spanning the Balkans and the Aegean, linking inland resources with maritime trade via powerful riverways, in a lively north-south traffic in precious metals, timber, and amber. This gives the area a head start on the Bronze Age, and the resilience to survive past its end of the second millennium B.C. New excavations trace a growing picture of this trans-Mycenaean Bronze Age in the north Aegean, where signs of contact with southern Greece long outlast the palatial era to shape post-Mycenaean identities and memories.

Panel Discussion with the presenters.

Creating Leonardo: Commemorating 500 Years of Leonardo’s Legacy

In 1519 Leonardo da Vinci died in France and a myth was born. The mythologized Leonardo is the quintessential “Renaissance man” whose paintings and drawings inspire and whose inventions still fascinate us. The historical Leonardo is a uniquely appealing window into the society and culture of Renaissance Italy.

Leonardo da Vinci’s achievements continue to amaze us, even after 500 years: iconic images like the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and the Vitruvian Man; a remarkable range of artistic and scientific drawings; and inventions far ahead of their time. His notebooks go beyond the writings of other artists of his era, in recording his observations on the world of nature and man. His intense curiosity about “how things work” led to ground-breaking creations: from studies of plants and mountains, to comparisons of the motion of hair and water, to renderings of the human form, based on dissections. His innate abilities were shaped by his unusual early self-education, followed by his fortunate apprenticeship to Verrocchio, the most accomplished painter and sculptor in Florence. Leonardo worked for a variety of patrons, each affecting his work by supporting different sides of his talent. Join Humanities West in exploring Leonardo’s vast achievement and his interaction with the world that shaped him.

With support from the Stanford Department of History and the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies; the Stanford Humanities Center; the Italian Cultural Institute; the UC Berkeley Institute of European Studies; and the Leonardo da Vinci Society.

Friday, February 22, 2019 | 7:30 – 9:30 pm

Introduction / Paula Findlen (History, Stanford)

Leonardo and the “Beloved Ladies”: Science and Poetry / Martin Kemp (History of Art, Oxford). Leonardo’s fervent and sometimes spurious arguments against poetry in his “comparison of the arts” indicate how seriously he took poets as direct rivals, not least in a court context. His library was well stocked with poetry. Leonardo’s innovations in the portrayal of women in his paintings of Ginevra de’ Benci, Cecilia Galleranti, Lucrezia Crivelli and Lisa del Giocondo are in profound dialogue with the poetic conventions of the “beloved ladies” —who were the stock subject of Italian poetry from Dante onwards. Leonardo’s accumulative aim was to surpass the poets. The theme will be illustrated by dramatic readings from Italian poetry (in translation), ranging from the giants to lesser known court poets who wrote specifically about Leonardo. Featuring Bay Area actor James Carpenter in a dramatic reading.

Performance: Leonardo-Inspired Music Clerestory, Introduced by Clifford (Kip) Cranna (Dramaturg, San Francisco Opera). The men’s classical vocal ensemble Clerestory performs a program of a cappella music inspired by Leonardo. From masterworks by the great Italian cathedral composers of his time, to meditations on the Last Supper, to inventive tributes like Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine, we’ll hear how Da Vinci inspired—and perhaps was inspired by—the resonant sound of echoing choirs.


Introduction / Paula Findlen (History, Stanford)

Leonardo’s Library:  The World of a Renaissance Reader Paula Findlen (History, Stanford). Leonardo was a lifelong learner, inveterate note-taker, and writer with an uneven and highly self-directed education. He lived in a world in which Gutenberg’s printing press, created shortly before his birth, had begun to transform the nature of the book but manuscripts still mattered a great deal. Early in life, Leonardo owned very few books, but over time his collection grew until he had his own library, in addition to books he borrowed from others. Throughout his life, Leonardo encountered many different kinds of learning; the diversity of his interests led him to read and think broadly. His library is a key to how he interacted with and learned from his world.

Leonardo’s Knot Caroline Cocciardi  (Independent Scholar). Humanities West  gets all tied up in the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death by asking: What do all of da Vinci’s paintings have in common? Caroline Cocciardi answers that question by exploring da Vinci’s passion for knots and mathematics. She traces da Vinci’s evolution from traditional knots (aesthetically appealing and ornamental) to mathematical knots (patterns that tell a story within his art). Da Vinci’s combined expertise in art and mathematics gave him the unique ability to translate these minuscule, interlaced wonderments into the glorious visual beauty found in his masterpieces: Mona LisaLa Bella PrincipessaAnnunciation, The Last SupperSalvator MundiPortrait of Isabella d’Este, and Lady with an Ermine.

Leonardo and the Lure of Machines Pamela O. Long (Independent Scholar and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow [2015-2020]). Leonardo was fascinated by machines and mechanical contrivances. This lecture explores his fascination first by considering the ways in which it was one shared by his culture. The lecture will discuss Leonardo’s machine drawings as part of a growing machine culture in which some of his contemporaries, such as Mariano Taccola and Francesco di Giorgio, also drew and wrote about machines. Others avidly studied and copied their works. It will explore the ways in which Leonardo applied innovative drawing techniques to machines. It will discuss his machines on paper and the extent to which they were his own inventions. Finally, it will discuss his notebook, the Madrid Codex I, with its many wonderful drawings of machines surrounded by extensive texts. Central to the talk is this question: What was central to Leonardo’s interest in machines and what was his investigative approach to the many mechanical devices and machines that he drew? 

Leonardo’s Legacy: Homage and Irony / Deborah Loft (Art HistoryProfessor Emerita, College of Marin). Taking the long view, what is the significance of Leonardo as an artist, over time? What inspired other artists, from his era to ours, and how did their selections reflect their own times? Echoes of his innovative ideas appear in the work of such Renaissance artists as Titian, and the woman artist Sofonisba Anguissola.  His subjects and techniques also informed the work of 17th century artists, including Rubens. In more contemporary work, Leonardo’s art has become a touchstone for the European tradition, as referenced ironically in the work of Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Yasumasa Morimura, , and others. “Leonardo” is even the name of a newly designed software system at SAP (the German rival of Oracle.) What are the current meanings of his iconic status in the artistic and digital worlds?

Panel Discussion with the presenters

Democracy Then and Now: From Ancient Greece to This Week

In Conversation with Josiah Ober (Political Science and Classics, Stanford), and Caroline Winterer (Stanford Humanities Center, Classics, and History); moderated by Tyler Stovall (History, Dean of Humanities at UCSC). Join us for a scintillating conversation on the ancient principles of democracy, oligarchy, and dictatorship; on the Roman Republic experiment and its failure of Empire; on the implications of Ancient Greece and Rome for American intellectual life and its representative democracy; on the contemporary relevance of ancient Greek political thought and practice; on inequality in democratic societies; and more! Rush Rehm (Theater and Classics, Stanford) presents a special performance of Stanford Repertory Theater’s Democratically SpeakingDemocratically Speaking explores the idea and realities of “democracy,” from ancient Greece forward—a powerful smorgasbord of speeches, writings, and rubrics about democracy across 2,500 years. This staged reading with Gianna Clark, Thomas Freeland, and Gabriella Grier features a timely exploration of “people power” (the root meaning of demos + kratos), a compelling challenge to all of us now.

Late Czarist Russian Artistic Brilliance

The phrase “European with Asian characteristics” expresses our fascination with the enduring contribution to world culture of Russian music, art and literature created during the twilight years of Czarist Russia: Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev; Kramskoy, Repin, and Levitan; Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov. What cultural and historical influences helped Russians, and then the rest of the West, to recognize and to reward the gifts of these Russian artists? And how would the trajectory of European arts have been different without the genius of Russia’s contributions?

Friday, November 2, 2018 | 7:30 – 9:30 pm

Introduction / George Hammond, Moderator (Humanities West)

A Russian Success Story Robert Greenberg (Composer, Lecturer, Performer)The emergence of a concert music tradition and infrastructure in 19th-century Russia remains one of the great success stories in the history of European art. Russia began the 19th century with virtually no native tradition of concert, or “literate music.” By the end of the century, Russia was exporting music and musicians across the globe. Russian opera and orchestral music could vie on equal terms with Italian, German, and French music. Russian musicians were coming to dominate the world’s stages. By the end of the 19th century, Russia could boast of having two of the world’s greatest schools of music: the St. Petersburg and Moscow Conservatories, and a number of young Russian composers—among them Alexander Skriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev—were about to change the nature and syntax of European literate music. The emergence of a Russian literate musical culture was a response to Russia’s entry into the larger European community and the concurrent desire, on the part of many Russian musicians, writers, and critics, to defend and promote native Russian art. Taken all together, it is an extraordinary story.

Saturday, November 3, 2018 | 10 am – noon & 1:30 – 4 pm

Introduction / George Hammond, Moderator (Humanities West)

Pushkin or Gogol: Two Blueprints for 19th-Century Russian Literature / Luba Golburt (Slavic Languages and Literatures, UC Berkeley). “Dostoevsky or Tolstoy?” is a question many a student of Russian literature has had to entertain. Yet perhaps a more formative question for the Russian 19th century and beyond is the less frequently posed one, “Pushkin or Gogol.” The contributions and reception of these two writers offer alternative ways to organize our understanding of the myths of Russian literature’s origins, trajectories, and aesthetic and social programs. While Pushkin was celebrated during his lifetime as the codifier of Russian poetic language, an aristocratic voice preternaturally capable of synthesizing, transforming, and ironizing European Romantic culture, Gogol inaugurates an entire tradition of prose at once whimsically grotesque, spiritually earnest, and socially engaged, and stands for a more democratic vision that ranges over the vast Russian territory and considers its no less vast class divides. If Pushkin emerges—in part through his popularization in the operas of Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky’s famous 1880 speech—as a monumental figure who brings forth the entirety of the modern Russian culture, Gogol gives rise to multiple heirs, including Dostoevsky himself, but remains a far less convenient figure for national myths, straddling as he does the uncomfortable divide between his native Ukraine and Russia, and the tenuous boundary between whimsy and madness. Roughly contemporary and well acquainted with each other, the two writers stand for alternative origin myths for Russian literature: one taking root in the golden age; the other, in the age of iron.

Dostoevsky and the Golden Age of Russian Literature / Gary Hamburg (Otho M. Behr Professor of the History of Ideas, Claremont-McKenna College). Major developments of Russia’s “golden age” usually dated from 1820 to 1881. They include the flourishing of Russian poetry, publication of masterly novels by Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Turgenev, Lev Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the appearance of Alexander Herzen’s memoirs, My Past and Thoughts. Dostoevsky’s astonishing prison narrative, Notes from the House of the Dead, and his brilliant rumination on modern consciousness, Notes from the Underground, forcefully defined themes that Dostoevsky explored later in his renowned novels—Crime and PunishmentThe Demons, and Brothers Karamazov. Their themes—the torment of human beings who find modern societies unjust, the need to find dignity and meaning in life when basic moral precepts have fallen under debate, and hope of finding a livable community in one’s country and in the world—were also the major issues then debated by Russian writers. Their brilliant comments on these questions illuminated Russian culture and remain of interest to morally alert people in our own time.

Performance / Eugene Onegin. Introduced by Clifford (Kip) Cranna (San Francisco Opera). Russia’s (arguably) greatest poet was immortalized in music by Russia’s (arguably) greatest composer in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s brilliant and moving operatic setting of Pushkin’s verse novel Eugene Onegin, the tale of an arrogant young nobleman who spurns the naïve young Tatiana’s innocent profession of love, only to realize too late the tragedy of his loss. A performance of excerpts from this operatic masterpiece will include Tatiana’s famous Letter Scene, Onegin’s lyrical but arrogant aria of haughty rejection, and their dramatic and heartbreaking parting duet. Featuring soprano Rhoslyn Jones, baritone Eugene Brancoveanu and pianist Kevin Korth.

Painting the Russian Word / Molly Brunson (Slavic Languages and Literatures and History of Art, Yale University). In the fall of 1873, the painter Ivan Kramskoy arrived at the estate of Lev Tolstoy, who was already widely known for War and Peace and was writing his next masterpiece, Anna Karenina. Kramskoy had been dispatched to paint Tolstoy’s portrait, and the two artists—one busy on a novel, one on a portrait—would spend a month together. How did this encounter with a painter, himself gaining prominence in the art world, impact the renowned novelist? And might we perceive the presence of the written word, of Tolstoy’s novel, in Kramskoy’s painting? Given the celebrated status of literature in Russia and Russian literature around the world, it is perhaps not surprising that Russian painting—and indeed, all the other arts—have tended to disappear in the shadow of the word. But in the 19th century, the cultural sphere was far more dynamic: artists painted writers and authors described painters; music inspired paintings and was inspired by novels. By exploring some of the most dramatic relationships between writers and painters, we see how vibrant and interconnected the Russian arts were. The creative intensity of Kramskoy and Tolstoy’s month-long portrait-sitting, Vasily Perov’s haunting portrait of Dostoevsky as a downtrodden everyman and messianic thinker, the roles of a tortured composer and a tortured writer in Ilya Repin’s bombastic depiction of Ivan the Terrible, and the emotional friendship of Anton Chekhov and the landscape painter, Isaak Levitan. Told through some of Russia’s most famous paintings, this is a story of the rise of a national culture through collaborations and rivalries, creativity and competition—ultimately forming a Russian artistic tradition that had emerged from virtually nothing to become a cornerstone of global culture.

Panel Discussion with the presenters, moderated by George Hammond

Download the program postcard here: Russian Postcard