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.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


There is a continuum between “trying to do stuff” on the one hand, and “writing about it” on the other; we’ve not struck a good balance over the past few years. So here I go, trying to revitalize this blog.

Over the next week, I am going to try to build an infrastructure for a project I’m calling Eupatrid. This will be a collection of identified historical figures and geographic places relevant to Classical Athenian Democracy, with citations to Greek texts. It will be based on the CITE Architecture developed for the Homer Multitext. It will also depend heavily on the excellent work of the Pleiades project.

The purpose of this is to explore the relationships among the leading figures in the historical development of classical Athenian democracy, and how those relationships enmeshed the rest of the Greek world. Ideally, this infrastructure will allow my CLS-220 class (“Greek Civilization”) to build a nifty body of data as they read Aristotle, Plutarch, Herodotus, and Thucydides.

Along the way, I want to get good at capturing, analyzing, and displaying graphs of data from CITE services, with an eye toward integrating CITE with the work on Greek syntax going on at the University of Leipzig.

So, away we go…

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Shield of Achilles in Prezi

In Book 18 of the Homeric Iliad, the goddess Thetis asks the artisan-god Hephaestus to create new armor for her son, Achilles. Patroclus, Achilles’ friend, had fallen in battle at the hands of the Trojan Prince Hector, who stripped the fallen hero’s armor as a prize.

As Hephaestus makes the armor, the poem describes in great detail the marvelous shield that Achilles will carry into decisive battle when he goes to face Hector. The shield depicts scenes representing the world of the cosmos, of nature, and of human civilization, in peace and war. It provides context for the upcoming the battle of heroes, and Achilles’ personal battle with grief, rage, and a shattered understanding of right and wrong.

This passage of the Iliad is at 18.474-18.608 [Greek and English].

Sam Hill (Furman Class of 2016), a student in the First Year Seminar “Homer & History” created a visualization of this important and complex passage. He integrated canonical citations to the text of the poem, line-by-line, with an artistic rendition of the shield created by artist Kathleen Vail using the online presentation tool Prezi.

His work is here: http://prezi.com/30xryr7uyii3/achilles-shield/

Kathleen Vail has shown extremely generous appreciation for Mr. Hill’s re-use of her art. This is a model of how art, literature, scholarship, and technology can add to understanding.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Guest Post - Lichfield Biblical Manuscripts

[ This is a guest post from Bonnie Lewis, a researcher at the University of Kentucky’s Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments. Bonnie has been working with the digital imagery of the biblical manuscripts from Lichfield Cathedral, captured in 2010 by a team led by Brent Seales, who was the director of the U.K. Viz Center. I was fortunate enough to get to be present and help with this digitization (the Center for Hellenic Studies donated some equipment from our work on the Homer Multitext). In this post, Bonnie describes the important work being done in Kentucky toward bringing these manuscripts to a scholarly community in useful ways. At Furman, we have been developing editing workflows that we hope will allow us to contribute to Bonnie’s work of capturing the full semantic complexity of the St. Chad Gospels, Lichfield’s Wycliffe New Testament, and other biblical manuscripts. The promise of a fully-integrated publication of these manuscripts is most clear from Bonnie’s description of her treatment of this challenge, a treatment that is both innovative and rigorous. — C. Blackwell ]

The Vis U program at the University of Kentucky has been working on several projects this summer. The one I am involved with is called InfoForest. This project is a system that works through Apps that can display data about ancient manuscripts (images, XML, and media) in a way that enhances the meaning of the documents and makes them available to a wider audience. What is unique about this system is that it has been designed to function on several platforms and to grow as our “Forest” of knowledge grows. It was built with the intention that it will be easily replicable.
Our project really began in 2010 when a research group from the Vis Center traveled to Lichfield Cathedral in England to image the Gospel book. They took Multispectral, 3D, and RGB images of each page. This was a part of a larger project called FoLIO. These images are where we primarily pulled the data for the Chad Gospels to put into the App.
My role in the project, as a History Major and Classics minor, was to assemble the data in a way that was organized and enhanced its meaning. I also saw my unofficial role in the project as trying to figure out what will be meaningful to a wide audience of users.
            What that came down to in the project was that I wrote XML that corresponded to the images of the manuscript. People at Furman University had already done this for Matthew, so I finished out the rest of the manuscript, trying my best to mimic the XML structure they used for the first book. In the XML, I marked the line breaks, page breaks, verses and variations in words in the manuscript. My intent in this process was to create data about the manuscript that was informative organizationally (the Chad Gospels do not mark verses in the text) and easily searchable as many words are misspelled in the Latin and need to be able to be searched in their correct form as well as their incorrect. This process took the better part of 5 months.
I also organized the images of the Chad Gospels in a way that would make it easy for the server to respond to requests from the devices for a certain page of the manuscript. This meant that I, with the help of John Broadbent (another student working on the server side of the project), had to correctly size and name around 20,000 images. This was done through the use of scripts created by John that could rename and modify folders en mass. These scripts can be used on other data sets to resize and rename other images.
The result of this process was that we came up with a method to organize these sets of data in a way that was standardized and replicable for other data sets.  There are still aspects of the project that will not be able to be as easily automatable as other parts were. For example, the transcription and mark up of the documents needs to be done, for the most part, by hand and is a time intensive process. However, in the XML, we were able to follow TEI standards in the mark up and were also able to establish a framework for writing the XML that can be replicated for other data sets.
Throughout the project, our goal was to put all of this information up on a server at the Vis Center. However, about two weeks before our deadline, the University shut down our server. Thankfully, with the help of Dr. Blackwell, we were allowed to put our information on the Furman Server. This whole project has been a collaboration of many minds and resources, but I love how the final weeks highlighted how dependent the project was on collaboration. The devices we are using to show the apps in Kentucky are pulling information from a server in Houston that was modified by Dr. Blackwell in South Carolina. There is still much work to be done, as we were only able to build a proto type this summer, but it is exciting to see it come together. One of the other students working on the project described what we are doing as giving old manuscripts, new life. I think that summarizes what we did and are doing perfectly. It is exciting to see new life breathed into these manuscripts and watch the information the hold begin to come alive to new audiences.

Bonnie Lewis
University of Kentucky
Summer 2012


Monday, July 16, 2012

The British Library Papyrus of the Constitution of the Athenians

Sean Bonawitz, Neel Smith, and Christopher Blackwell are working during the summer of 2012 on the first steps of a comprehensive publication of only surviving witness to the Aristotelian Constitution of the Athenians. The papyrus is B.M. Pap. 131, that is, British Museum Papyrus number 131. Christopher Blackwell and Amy Hackney Blackwell, working with Chris Lee of the British Library, photographed this papyrus in November of 2011. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EAGER–1041949. The images of the papyrus are undergoing automated analysis using new algorithms developed by Dr. Constantin Papaodysseus of the National Technical Institute of Athens. This summer’s work is being supported by the Furman Advantage Program.

The papyrus exists in five fragments. The five fragments show four different manuscript hands. The hands differ in appearance and in their use of abbreviations. According to John Edward Sandy’s 1893 commentary, pp. xxxvi–xxxix,, the first hand “extends over Columns 1–12” the second columns 13 to 20, the third hand runs from 20 to 24 and columns 31–37, while the fourth scribe includes columns from 25 to 30. Hands one and four are most similar to each other, but certainly not identical; Sandy’s came to this conclusion by counting the occurrence of abbreviations. While the first and fourth scribes used a significant amount of short-hand (“tachygraphy”) and abbreviations, the second hand hardly uses any, and in the columns written by the third hand they are scarce. Perhaps the most important thing about the change of hands are the editorial notes that occur throughout the piece. Who was this editor, and why did he make these notes?

Images of the papyrus are here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Athenian Democracy

Students taking Greek 230 in the Spring Semester of 2012 will be reading the essay on the history and workings of Athenian Democracy as described in a text by Aristotle, or a student of Aristotle, the Ἀθηναίων Πολιτεία, The Constitution of the Athenians. In addition to studying the language of this 4th Century BCE text, and the political history it describes, they will be working with a true primary source, reading directly from the papyrus fragments that are the only surviving witnesses to this fundamentally important text.
The papyrus is P. Lond. 131, now at the British Library and formerly in the collection of the British Museum; it was purchased for the Museum in 1888, and F.G. Kenyon identified it as the Ath.Pol. in 1890. He announced his discovery in The Times of London on January 19 of 1891—the announcement ran on page 9. Kenyon published a first edition of the text in 1891.

With funding from the National Science Foundation (Grant  No. EAGER-1041949), we were able to collaborate with the British Library to take new digital photographs of the five  papyrus fragments, which range in length from three feet to five feet long. These photographs will be used as test-data for new methods of automated analysis of Greek scribal hands, using techniques developed at the National Technical University of Athens by Dr. Constantin Papapodysseus and his research team. In addition, they will provide a unique opportunity for Furman undergraduates to create a new digital edition of this priceless text.

The photography took place on November 14, 2011 at the British Library. The images will go into the BL’s digital collection of Greek Manuscript data, but Furman University will enjoy an open-content license to use them freely and to share the fruits of our use with other students and scholars. We are deeply grateful to the entire staff of the British Library, and particularly to the experts in Preservation, Photography, and Curation who worked hard on this project.

Today, November 15, 2011, we are photographing the Bankes Homer, a 9-foot long papyrus fragment of Book 24 of the Iliad. This will become part of the Homer Multitext, Casey Dué and Mary Ebbott, edd.

Further updates on this work will appear here!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hercules Vanquishing the Hydra

The Department of Classics at Furman is deeply honored and grateful to be the caretakers of the painting “Hercules Vanquishing the Hydra”, by Yvonne Arrowood of Greenville, South Carolina. This large oil painting is after a work by Guido Reni (1575–1642), which hangs now in the Louvre. On this painting, Hercules wears his distinctive lion-skin and is brandishing his club at the many-headed serpent. Furman is fortunate to have this striking work in our collection of fine art, and we are delighted that it now lives in our suite!