Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Eupatrid (Tuesday): Tools and Texts

The Project

I am teaching Greek Civilization this semester. The course is focusing on Athenian Democracy. I don’t think I understand Athenian Democracy very well, despite having spent a lot of time trying to understand the various institutions, offices, laws, assumptions, and rituals by which the free, male Athenian citizens undertook to govern themselves and the other inhabitants of Attica in the 5th and 4th Centuries BCE.

In an effort to take advantage of the 37 Furman students, with many different areas of expertise, who have signed up to look at Athenian Democracy with me, I want to look at the Athenian aristocracy, the “Eupatrids” (“the Well-Born”), who tended to hold high office, and who have (our ancient sources tell us) many connections to city-states outside of Athens. I want to start compiling a collection of data that captures these relationships. It seemed reasonable to call this project Eupatrid

There will be a link to a “Eupatrid” site as soon as it is ready.


Working on long-term projects like the Homer Multitext or the Furman University Manuscripts Club,  we have had great success using Git and GitHub to manage collaborative editing of texts, creation of data collections, and the other scholarly work necessary to document and analyze ancient texts.

For Eupatrid, however, we need to allow 37 people to build a collection of analytical data very quickly. For this, we need a relational database that conforms to the Atomicity. So after a few years away from it, I am back to working in Grails, a framework for quickly creating web-based applications that interact with relational databases. Here's what I have so far:

  • A PostgreSQL database backend.
  • A Grails application that allows users to log in as Editors and create records for…
    • Historical Persons
    • Relationships among Historical Persons
    • Relationships between Persons and Places
    • Citations to texts that document the above.

For historical places, we are infinitely grateful to Pleiades, which is a gazetteer of ancient geography. For this project, we have the always awesome Ryan Baumann to thank for making available tools that allow us to grab the complete Pleiades dataset and translate it into GeoJSON.

So… I think we are in good shape to capture relationships among…

  • Texts
  • Historical Persons
  • Places

My experience with projects like this has taught me that it is a terrible mistake to assume that you can capture data now, and wait until late in the semester to come up with a way of displaying it. The end of term is crazy; there is no time; and once the term is over, you move on to other things. So I think it is important to implement visualization of the data as we go along.

My plan for Wednesday is to get to the point where I can call Pleiades data from the CITE architecture and show it on a map. Later in the week, I'll work on showng graphs of family relations. Over the weekend, perhaps I can show graphs of relations layered atop geography, but that might be crazy-talk.

Before anything else, we don't want to make anything up. So step one is to get our Texts in order.


For every Person, we need at least one citation to an ancient text attesting that person. Likewise, for each relationship of peson <--> person, or person <--> place, we need citations to ancient texts that provide evidence. So we need our evidence to be citable.

From earlier work, we have a good Greek text of Kenyon’s edition of Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians in a CTS service. This lets us add citations to that text, and resolve them simply, like this:

Thanks to the Perseus Project, I have been able to start processing texts for the English translation of that work, as well as Plutarch’s Life of Solon in English and Greek. That should be a start. I hope that my next update will be able to provide links to those texts, online and citable with CTS URNs.