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From Sybaris to Burgundy

From Sybaris to Burgundy

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Published by: clwaei5525 on Mar 20, 2012
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06/07/2014

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From Sybaris to BurgundyBy Terry Stanfill
The idea for a novel about the Krater of Vix actually took root in 1972 with thepublication of
The Search for Sybaris 
by Orville H. Bullitt. Because my heritage issouthern Italian, the exciting rediscovery of fabled Sybaris in Calabria capturedmy imagination and put it to work.In the late 1960s, Froelich Rainey of the University of Pennsylvania, incollaboration with an Italian team, determined the site of ancient Sybaris,legendary for its wealth and luxury. Using the newly developed magnetometer,the archaeologists were able to accurately locate the city buried under fifteen toeighteen meters of mud and sediment.Sybaris, a polis larger than Athens, was defeated in 510 B.C. by its neighbor,Kroton. The mathematician-philosopher, Pythagoras, along with his son-in-law,Milo of Kroton, winner of six medals at Olympia, instigated the disciplined,austere and virtuous Krotoniates to go to war against Sybaris, despised for itsdecadence, excesses and
truphe 
, the softness and self-indulgence of its citizens.After the destruction of Sybaris, the Krotoniates diverted the course of the riverCrathis to flow over and inundate the ravaged city so it could never again beinhabited. Sybaris, the Golden, was no longer.Excavations have been underway since the discovery of Sybaris in 1968. Dr.ssaSilvana Luppino, Director of the Museo Nazionale, Sibari, and Soprintendente ofArchaeology of Calabria, leads the on-going excavations at Sybaris. Dr.ssaLuppino believes that when the level of Sybaris is finally reached--probably notduring our lifetime-- more gold will be found than was unearthed in the ruins ofMycenae or Troy. The city was known for its love of gold. The Greek--Egyptianhistorian Athenaeus writes that gold cups and bowls were presented to guests assymposium favors after the sumptuous banquets for which its citizens werefamous.What, then, does Sybaris have to do with the immense bronze Krater of Vix?It was in 1994 that I came upon an object I would soon learn was one of the bestkept secrets in France. While my husband was at the wheel driving us throughBurgundy, I leafed through the Michelin Green Guide for la Côte d'Or, stoppingshort at the photo of a bronze object, a monumental krater from the GreekArchaic period. The great vessel was discovered in 1953 in a grave on thebanks of the Seine at the foot of Mont Lassois, once Latisco, an outpost of the6th century B.C Hallstatt Celts. From Latisco, their citadel overlooking theSeine, these Celts controlled one of the most important trade routes of the
 
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ancient world. From Cornwall, in Britain, to Mediterranean ports, tin and copperto be smelted into bronze were transported to Etruscans and Greeks, saltexchanged for amphorae of wine and oil, furs and Baltic amber traded for prizedMediterranean coral.How and why, I wondered, did this immense Krater make its way from the southof Italy to a Celtic settlement near Châtillon-sur-Seine, a small town in easternBurgundy? When I read that the Krater was cast in Italy, in Taranto, a Spartan
polis 
, circa 510 B.C., it fired my imagination just as the story of the destruction,demise, and rediscovery of Sybaris had almost twenty years before. Of coursewe made a detour and drove straight to Châtillon. When we beheldthis wondrous object--a masterpiece--we were taken aback by its immensity, itsstance. In 1994 the Krater still stood in the center of a small room so we wereable to get close. And yes--I did reach over the stanchion to gently touch it,although I'm sure this was forbidden.The Krater of Vix is a vessel standing 5' 4" tall, weighing over 450 pounds, with acapacity of 1100 liters of wine. Kraters for mixing wine and water were commonin the Greek world, but they were usually made of clay.What makes this magnificent bronze vessel even more intriguing was itsdiscovery in the tomb of a woman, about thirty years old, laid to rest in herchariot, its wheels removed and propped against a wall. Among her treasures isa ceramic black-figure Attic kylix of Amazons battling Greek hoplites, dating thetomb precisely as late 6th century B.C.Eerily beautiful, the handles of the Krater depict tongue-gaping, sharp-toothed,snake-tailed gorgons, those horrid sisters whose bulging-eyed gaze could turnmen into stone, a familiar subject in archaic period Greek art and a motif oftenfound as the handles of vases. A frieze of helmeted hoplites and horses wrapsaround the rim of the vessel. Found lying nearby were the Krater's strainer andits cover, centered with a statuette of a Kore, the Maiden, wearing a Greekpeplos, a mantle draped over her head. How, I wondered, could I link these twodiscoveries together to tell a story, that of legendary Sybaris together with anobject contemporary to Sybaris, the Krater of Vix in Burgundy, the largest bronzevessel to come down to us from Antiquity. I asked my good friend, Dr AndrewStewart, renowned expert in Ancient Greek Art and Sculpture at Berkeley, if hethought I could describe the Krater as having been cast in Sybaris. SurelySybaris would make more vivid storytelling than Spartan Taranto. His reply,"Why not?” It's close enough to Taranto so you shouldn't have a problem-- goahead--set it in Sybaris." And so the back-story of my novel-to-be would takeplace before and after the fall of Sybaris in 510 B.C., around the time the Kraterwas cast. From Sybaris it would find its way across the Mediterranean, up themighty Rhone to the Seine, finally to arrive at Vix, eventually to the tomb of awoman, obviously someone of great importance.
 
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Six months later, I received an e-mail from Dr. Stewart. "You're going to love this!The world's greatest ancient bronze expert, Claude Rolley, has decided that theKrater of Vix was made in Sybaris." Of course I was astounded that I hadintuited the Krater's place of origin. I began to plan my story even though I was,at that time, working on a first novel.I had become obsessed with the mystery of Le Cratère de Vix. I put my first novelaside to outline a synopsis and a few pages of The Krater (working title)proposing my ideas about the object--what I thought it was and what it meant tothe early Hallstatt Celts of north east Burgundy. Alan Williams, then my editor,liked my premise, but suggested that I write about an imaginary krater, in animaginary place, the better to free my creative faculties to arrive at what Iconsidered the truths of my hypotheses.Not satisfied with this approach and not wanting to write about a fictitious object, Istashed away my research on archaic Greece and the early Celts and finishedThe Blood Remembers, my first novel, also set in southern Italy. Still, mypreoccupation with the Krater remained. Since that first visit in 1994 I've beenback to Châtillon-sur Seine five times.Two years ago I decided to return to work on the story of the real Krater,obviously an object of profound communal ritual. From the very beginning, I'dmade an intuitive leap from the Krater to the 12th century poet, Chrétien deTroyes, the first to write about the Grail in his last, unfinished romance, Perceval,Le Conte du Graal, the Story of the Grail. Troyes, on the Seine, is a long day'sride to Vix, a village on the Seine at the point where the river becomes navigable.There, tolls were collected by the chieftains (or rix) who commanded the fortifiedhilltop overlooking Vix and the river.And Avallon, also mentioned by Chrétien in his Four Romances, was within easydistance as well. With these fragments of historical reality, I began to constructmy novel.From Jean Markdale, the Celtic scholar, I learned that grail is a word derivedfrom the Greek word krater, cratal is in Latin, cratal in Provencal, to arrive at themedieval word, graal- -- in English, grail. "There is nothing at all mysterious aboutthe word, grail," Markdale explains.This great Krater, a vessel for mixing wine in ritual, was a symbol of immortality,the cauldron of abundance for the ancient Celts. How many bards must havesung about it, told stories about it until one day it would become the stuff of mythand legend. I believe that the memory of this massive bronze object brought fromthe south of Italy to a Celtic trading post in Burgundy lingered on in the collectiveimagination of their descendants. Because the Celts had no written language,they had strong motives for keeping alive an active, ancestral memory. As timepassed, the tribal histories, sagas, lays and legends were transmitted through

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