A Palm Tree, a Colour and a Mythical Bird

Robert L. Cioffi

  • In Search of the Phoenicians by Josephine Quinn
    Princeton, 360 pp, £27.00, December 2017, ISBN 978 0 691 17527 0

Certain places capture the imagination; others fade into the background, forgotten and overlooked. Phoenicia is one of the rare places that does both. In 1963, Sabatino Moscati, the founder of modern Phoenician studies, asked the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome: ‘Who were the Phoenicians?’ By 1988, he believed that he had begun to find the answer. With great fanfare, he unveiled the first general exhibition that embraced ‘Phoenicia’ in its totality. Visitors to the Palazzo Grassi in Venice were greeted by an artificial sand dune, in which marble sarcophagi had been artfully arranged as a reminder that many of the artefacts on display had only recently been excavated from sites in Lebanon, Tunisia and Sicily. The show’s location was particularly apt, Moscati told the New York Times, because, as the merchants of the ancient Mediterranean and the conduit between east and west, the Phoenicians were the precursors of their Venetian hosts.

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[*] Sanjay Subrahmanyam reviewed The Art of Not Being Governed in the LRB of 2 December 2010.