Why zeugma?

by Paul Maharg on 08/03/2006

Zeugma A while ago I watched a TV documentary (Horizon) about an archaeological dig in Turkey, just behind the Birecik dam on the Euphrates.  The dam was almost complete and the pitifully small archaeological team were given a matter of weeks to excavate an entire Greek & Roman city, which grew up on the Silk Road, on both sides of the river, at a bridge across the river.  It was called Zeugma.  I only knew the word as a rhetorical figure, but here was a city exemplifying the figure.  The archaeologists did what they could in mapping the city walls and so forth, then excavated what they thought might be a villa.  It turned out to be enormous.  And because there had been a landslide covering part of the site, some of the frescoes were intact.  They also recovered 14 quite remarkable late Roman mosaics.  There was a moment when they were uncovering a dusty mosaic of Daedalus, Icarus & Pasiphae, working on Pasiphae, brushing her dusty, outstretched arm.  Then a worker took a damp rag and wiped it clean down her arm, shoulder to finger, and the whole sprang unbearably to life.  The programme later did the usual computer graphics of the interior of the villa, and so on, but nothing matched the beauty and poignancy of that.  Like the moment in Fellini’s Roma, I think, where archaeologists are opening up an underground room: they chink away a hole, peer in, glimpse beautiful frescoes, then the draught of modern air blasts through and strips the walls before their eyes…

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