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  • To Wake the Dead: A Renaissance Merchant and the Birth of Archaeology
  • Sandra Sider
Marina Belozerskaya . To Wake the Dead: A Renaissance Merchant and the Birth of Archaeology. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2009. Pp. 291. $29.95. ISBN 978-0-393-06554-1.

Cyriacus of Ancona died in 1452, his relatively long life ending in the early Renaissance he helped engender. Belozerskaya narrates the story of his life in chronological order, which allows the reader to travel along with him to Venice, Rome, Damascus, Thessalonica, Florence, Delphi, Athens, and numerous other locales. Cyriacus brought back exotic reports and sketches concerning not only [End Page 276] the distant past, but also distant lands. He also brought back antiquities, including manuscripts, to sell. Although Cyriacus advocated the preservation of antiquities, he "preserved" quite a few far away from the sites where he found them.

Modern archaeologists are especially interested in the topographic information recorded by Cyriacus, and by his transcribed inscriptions and descriptions of sites no longer intact, such as Hadrian's temple at Cyzicus (completely destroyed) and the Olympeion in Athens (partially destroyed). To locate such obscure and abandoned ancient sites, Cyriacus consulted ancient texts and explored remote areas. After he found a site, he triangulated the location by its distance from nearby towns. Archaeologists today still find useful information in his notes, most recently in 2005, when a block seen by Cyriacus on the Areopagus was discovered in the structure of the Little Metropolis. This Athenian church, previously dated in the twelfth century, is now assumed to have been constructed after 1436, when Cyriacus documented the Areopagus.

Trained as an accountant and raised to be a merchant, Cyriacus had an eye for detail that he put to good use in his archaeological observations. Creating this new discipline as he traveled in the Mediterranean, Cyriacus used his Venetian commercial contacts to thread his way around the ancient world. Although Venice itself was not an ancient city, Cyriacus had his first taste of exoticism there at the age of nine, when his grandfather took him along on a business trip, where he was impressed by antique treasures in the Basilica of San Marco, most of which had been seized in Constantinople during the sack of 1204. Cyriacus later became interested in iconography and stylistic content. His sketches of ancient monuments have no aesthetic brilliance, but do demonstrate a clear, competent handling of the subject. Unfortunately, they are reproduced rather poorly in the present book.

Cyriacus' imagination soared to creative heights when he stood before an ancient monument. Firmly grounded in classical texts, he was able to see the classical structure encased in a mosque, church, or in medieval walls. To Wake the Dead documents this process best in Cyriacus' description of the Parthenon, in which he completely ignored the apse blocking a portal and windows cut through the frieze. Ironically, Cyriacus' own efforts demanding a crusade against the Turks (to protect antiquities) eventually resulted in the 1687 bombardment of the Parthenon by Venetian forces.

Belozerskaya's imaginative talents flesh out a biography that could have bogged down in minutiae. Liberally (and honestly) lacing her text with qualifiers—probably, likely, apparently, seemingly, may have, might have, must have—the author brings to life a figure whom we now recognize as the father of classical archaeology. Occasionally Belozerskaya might seem to be padding her narrative with digressions on foreign wars and Church councils, but the reader should trust her to return to Cyriacus and his obsession, which he endeavored to pass on to popes, sultans, and emperors. This book is of interest for what he attempted to accomplish as much as for what he did.

To Wake the Dead is also useful to classicists, because the author, a Renaissance scholar, values Cyriacus' contributions from a Renaissance point of view. Belozerskaya is as thorough as Cyriacus himself as she documents the gradual infiltration of classical imagery into Renaissance culture, with significant components originating from Cyriacus. Artists using his material included Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Mantegna, and Raphael. Cyriacus' investigations of the ancient world both informed and enriched the European Renaissance. [End Page 277]

Sandra Sider
Fashion Institute of Technology

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9234
Print ISSN
0009-8418
Pages
pp. 276-277
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-18
Open Access
No
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