On Thursday at the Yale University Art Gallery, Diana Kleiner, a professor of Classics, referenced the iconic line from the critically acclaimed movie “Dirty Dancing.” “Nobody puts baby in a corner,” she said while motioning to a funerary relief in the far corner of the exhibition room.
Kleiner, along with four other classics faculty members, led a tour at the YUAG, titled “Classics at the Gallery.” Focusing on several pieces of ancient art, including ancient Roman busts, funerary inscriptions and vases, the talks discussed artifacts from several thousand years ago, but the faculty members found a way to connect them to modern theories in the realm of Classics.
“Studying the ancient world is often a window into ourselves,” Kleiner said. “There is a connection between antiquity and today.”
“Funerary Relief of Abuna, Daughter of Nabuna”, the piece Kleiner chose to present on, originates from the Temple Bel in Syria. The Temple is famous in the archaeological community, but was destroyed by the Middle East-based extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria no less than a month ago, she added. Kleiner noted that the group has razed the site in order to steal certain sculptures and inscriptions to sell on the black market.
According to Classics professor Andrew Johnston, cultural artifacts should not be separated from the context in which they existed, explaining that modern archaeologists are averse to relocating artifacts from their place of origin.
“When they are removed from their original archaeological context, we lose so much information,” Johnston said.
The speakers went on to debate differing theories pertaining to the origin of several of the artifacts. One funerary inscription features an elite man displaying his prominence in forms of clothing and books. While Classics professor Kirk Freudenberg saw this as a retrospective presentation of the life of an elite, Kleiner suggested that this could be the prospective presentation of a grieving family’s son who they tried to envision as a successful life were he to have lived.
According to Classics Director of Undergraduate Studies Pauline LeVen, some lessons illustrated in ancient cultural artifacts are still applicable today. For her presentation, she focused on an ancient vase depicting the ideals of moderation. According to LeVen, the Romans believed there was a “perfect amount of drink” that would reveal a Roman’s true self, but if a person drank too much they would become another more shameful self, similar to a gorgon. Thus, one side of the vase featured a mask while the other was an image of medusa.
Introducing the event, LeVen said the event is created to introduce the Classics professors to the broader public and foster more intimacy in the already tight-knit community.
Classics major Kate Miller ’16 said that, overall, the event was a “jolly” occasion and she is happy to be part of the intimate community of Classics at Yale.
There are eight Classics majors in the class of 2016. The event culminated with pizza in Phelps Hall.