Recent links of note:
“The Mountain Jews: an ancient community between the Caucasus and the Caspian”
Felix Light, Standpoint
A ten-minute walk from my apartment through the old town of Tbilisi, Georgia, lies the neighborhood of Betlemi, or Bethlehem, the city’s former Jewish quarter. Nestled on the slopes leading up to the city’s fortified citadel, the quarter still bears faint traces of the Southern Caucasus’s once-numerous Jews, who originally came here as refugees as early as the fifth century B.C, following Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem. At the city’s sole remaining major synagogue, I was approached by an old woman who, upon learning my given name, assumed I was an Israeli tourist on a homecoming visit. Dusting off my high school German, I was somehow able to hold a loose banter with her in broken Yiddish. It was a microcosm of the fragile and endlessly surprising milieu of people and languages that have accumulated in this tidal pool of culture nestled in the mountains.
I was thus understandably intrigued to read Felix Light’s piece on the Mountain Jews, the population of Jews who settled during the days of the Persian Empire in modern-day Dagestan in the North Caucasus, a few hours’ drive north of Tbilisi. After thousands of years of intermittent prosperity and subsistence, the Mountain Jews had an especially terrible go of it in the twentieth century: deportation, social restructuring, and persecution under the Soviet Union, and wholesale societal collapse and civil war after Communism’s retreat in the 1990s. Today, in the city of Derbent, a few hundred Jews persist in an increasingly adverse environment. At least the Jewish community back in Tbilisi has the benefit of living in a reasonably tolerant country whose civil strife is largely in the past; the Mountain Jews are, unfortunately, not as lucky.
“In Images of Ancient Frescoes, Hidden Legacies Are Exposed”
Tony Perrottet, The Wall Street Journal
Greco-Roman archaeology has been on my mind since I revisited Michael Wood’s In Search of the Trojan War for this week’s Critic’s Notebook, so it was a pleasure to discover Robert Polidori’s photographs of Roman frescoes from Pompeii in this piece for TheWall Street Journal. I had encountered some of these frescoes in art books before, but Polidori’s images of the treasures are revelatory, and he brings a number of new finds from the less-studied site of Oplontis. It would be an insult to call them “snapshots”—Polidori generally takes only one or two photos in a single day, taking the time to properly frame his subjects and exposing his film negatives for up to five minutes. “On closer scrutiny, the images have a deeper psychological content,” says Polidori. “That’s what I want to draw out of them.” The results bring to life these masterpieces of ancient painting: lush gardens, false doors and archways, songbirds, and the devotees of a mystery cult all spring forth from their two-dimensional plane.
Anthony Grafton, Lapham’s Quarterly
Having recently assumed the mantle of journeyman editor at The New Criterion, I’ve had ample time to contemplate the art of good editorial work. Reading Anthony Grafton’s article, I was surprised to discover both the differences and the remarkable similarities between modern-day and Renaissance editors. The editor’s early modern forerunner, called a “corrector,” was the general dogsbody of the latter-day print room. The corrector fixed copy, prepared proofs, rooted out typographical mistakes, delineated a book’s sections, and drew up title pages, tables of contents, chapter headings, and indices. The corrector was an essential aspect of a book’s making and marketing—any publisher worth his salt would preface his book with an assurance that it was thoroughly vetted and copyedited, even if it was, in fact, not—and, simultaneously, the scapegoat of the publishing world. Blame for mistakes, typographical or otherwise, was often laid squarely upon the shoulders of the corrector; see, for example, the manifest fury of Copernicus’s followers at Osiander, the over-zealous corrector of the astronomer’s De revolutionibus. Grafton’s piece brought to my mind Robert Herrick’s note of authorial exculpation, a poem introducing the errata list to his Hesperides (1648):
For these Transgressions which thou here dost see.
Condemne the Printer, Reader, and not me;
Who gave him forth good Grain, though he mistook
The Seed; so sow’d these Tares throughout my Book.
From the editors:
“The Staying Inside Guide: Views Into Art History”
Andrew L. Shea, The Wall Street Journal
“Eric Gibson & James Panero discuss sculpture in exile & culture under siege”
A new podcast on the necessity of sculpture.
“The best of Rome’s worst”
Mary Spencer reviews How to Be A Bad Emperor by Suetonius, selected and translated by Josiah Osgood.