Report of Manolis Stavrakakis July 2012 as Short Term Scholar in the Classics Department, University of Texas – Austin Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory (PASP)
‘The treasures of PASP’
The title I am giving to this short report, ‘The treasures of PASP’, has a literal and a metaphorical meaning.
Its literal meaning stems from the variety, importance and number of the materials of the PASP Collection and Archives.
Its metaphorical meaning refers to the person who has created it, Professor Tom Palaima, as he is himself one of the ‘treasures’ of PASP and the ‘soul’ of the Program.
There are two themes with which I will refer in my experience as a short-term visiting scholar at the University of Texas in Austin. One is my studying at PASP and the other is the life in Austin.
As a Ph.D. student at the Architectural Association, under Mark Cousins’ supervision – to whom I am indebted for his support to work on this topic, his contribution, as well as his encouragement to go to Austin – I started exploring the connection between Michael Ventris’ architectural education and his decipherment. I received the ‘Michael Ventris Extraordinary Award in Architecture’ in July, 2011 so that I could travel for one week to Austin and work at PASP on the correspondence of Michael Ventris and Emmett Bennett.
It was there that I had the chance to meet for the first time with Professor Tom Palaima and discuss my Thesis with him. Had it not been for Tom Palaima’s enthusiasm and generosity I would not have been able to return to the PASP for a whole month, in July 2012, and I would not have been able to continue with my research. Up to today Tom Palaima’s invitation to work with him has been the most generous gift that this Ph.D. has offered to me.
My studying in PASP can be described within three different themes.
First, the general reading on the literature for the ‘Mycenaean World’, the Script of Linear B, and the story of its decipherment. It is true that there is an extended literature for all the above mentioned themes.
It is also true that for an architecture scholar who has been studying for thirteen years and has no background in linguistics, archaeology or Mycenaean culture it is difficult to start engaging in this material.
Tom Palaima gave me a series of general and more specialized reading about the script, the Mycenaean culture and the story of the decipherment that helped me acquire a basic understanding of the discipline. Among the most fascinating material I was offered to read was Dr. Emmett Jr. Bennett’s Thesis (accomplished at the University of Cincinnati) as well as Tom’s annotated copy of Margalit Fox’s manuscript for her upcoming book The Riddle of the Labyrinth. I would like to thank Tom and Margalit for their generosity in letting me read this now soon-to-be-published book (Ecco May 2013 HarperCollins Books).
The second subject of my work at the PASP was the learning of Linear B. One can easily imagine that my expectations would be limited in terms of how far I could go with the script. Tom Palaima gave me a handbook for Linear B, the so-called ‘Chrestomathy’ that he has composed, based upon an original approach by Emmett L. Bennett, Jr. What is interesting about this series of exercises, with which someone is introduced to the script, is that the student, in this case myself, is following a method, which is based on the analysis of the forms of the symbols.
In this way, one is primarily concerned with the forms of the signs themselves, and after there is a certain familiarity with those forms, (s)he starts to add their phonetic values, up to the point that (s)he is able to transcribe a whole text with easiness.
Tom Palaima sat by my side in order to answer all of my questions that had to do with the script. I am grateful to him for his generous help and especially for explaining to me – in every detail the joint article of Michael Ventris and John Chadwick, “Evidence for Greek Dialect in the Mycenaean Archives.” Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 73 (1953): 84-103. For someone like me whose knowledge on Ancient Greek is not extended at all, this article can be difficult to understand – if not impossible.
The third subject of my work had to do with the materials found on the archives of PASP – and especially the correspondence between Michael Ventris and Emmett Bennett. I sat by Tom Palaima’s side in order to start understanding what the context of the letters was. Together we went through a large amount of the letters. Once again I am so grateful for his contribution as these moments were the most precious of my studying at the PASP. Not only because I was able to go through the most important material of the decipherment, word by word, with a serious scholar of Linear B, but also because I had the privilege to follow Tom Palaima’s analytical and compositional way of thinking.
As the collection of the letters, which Sue Trombley, Christie Costlow, Dygo Tosa and Zachary Fischer have done so much to preserve, organize and digitize, is vast, we were not able to go through all of them but we managed a big amount. I wish that Tom Palaima’s systematic analysis of the data will stay with me in my research. We talked virtually every day about aspects of my work and the true values of humanistic research.
The life in Austin was another ‘treasure’ that PASP offered to me.
Again it was through Tom Palaima’s generosity and kindness that I was
introduced to Austins’ culture. First of all comes the cliché about Austin’s fantastic music scene. I wouldn’t exaggerate if I were to say that the variety of the music sounds in combination with the places I was exposed intrigued me the most. These sounds and venues included the jazz played by Denny Freeman with the Jon Blondell Trio (Carter Arrington guitar, Jon Blondell on bass/trombone, and David Sierra on drums) in the cavern of the famous Elephant Room; John Inmon playing with his group (w/ Bobby Kallus on drums, Gerry Burns on bass and Patterson Barrett on keyboard) at the Saxon Pub;
the sophisticated sounds of the Gallery above Continental Jazz Club, where we heard the Mike Flanigin Trio with Frosty Smith on drums and another time James McMurtry solo on acoustic guitar. The Antone’s anniversary show on July 11 with blues greats like Denny Freeman, Marcia Ball and Derek O’Brien was really supreme.
Austin can be the most charming city of the United States of America. The food was another source of delight. There is a mixture of different styles of food, from the cheapest to the most refined taste: I enjoyed the very well known Canteens’ found on the east part of the city as well as the most refined restaurants in the so-called ‘SoCo’.
Tom Palaima had found me a beautiful room in one of the oldest and prettiest neighborhoods of Austin: The Hyde Park-Hancock area. Only locals and students habituate this historic area and the sensation you get once you are there is that you have become a local yourself. The coffee shops (Quack’s and Dolce Vita) and Mother’s Café could not have been more ideal for making me feel part of the neighborhood. The same goes for the adorable Julie and Stewart who welcomed me into their house.
I was also deeply moved by spending Fourth of July barbecuing and enjoying the gracious hospitality of Tom Palaima and his fiancée Lisa Laky at her beautiful old house in the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association. A closing highlight was a dinner with Tom and Lisa and my uncle, who visited me from New York, at Botticelli’s Italian restaurant in SoCo right by the Continental Club and a stop in Carl’s Corner truck stop to visit the ‘Willie Nelson museum’.
Last but not least, come my thoughts about the campus of the University of Texas. As I have studied in the United States before (Columbia University, MSc. in Advanced Architectural Design, 2009) I have already had a beautiful experience from a U.S. University Campus. And it is true that it would be unfair to compare these two experiences with each other, as each one remains unique. Each school, city and campus has different things to offer. Still the U.T. Campus made me feel as I belonged there. It offered to me not only the hospitality that I was seeking as a short-term scholar but also the beauty each one of us seeks in life. This includes the architectural beauty of the Spanish-style buildings and the great cappuccino in the Café Mozart and the wonderful foods chef Eldon Hart makes in the Blanton Café.
London, October 2012, Emmanouil Stavrakakis