Mycenaean Mementos and the Govs: The Materiality of the Wace-Blegen Friendship

Posted by Jack L. Davis

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here writes the biography of three objects, modern copies of Mycenaean originals, which once belonged to Carl W. Blegen and Alan Wace, the “Govs” of Mycenaean archaeology. These objects were once woven in some way into the personal relationship of these two individuals who shaped the field of Mycenaean studies.


They will honor him in their heart as if he were a god
And send him to his dear homeland in a ship
With gifts of bronze, gold, and fabrics in such abundance
As Odysseus would never had taken from Troy
If he had arrived home unscathed with his share of booty.
(Od. 5.36-40)

Such is Zeus’s prediction of Odysseus’s fate among the Phaeacians.  And guest gifts are a phenomenon not only well-known to Classicists, but a concept that has had an impact on anthropological thought for nearly a century — at least since the publication in L’Année Sociologique of Marcel Mauss’s “Essai sur la donne” in 1925 —  and, through it, on the interpretation of patterning in archaeological data.  Mauss demonstrated that in pre-modern exchange systems there were obligations to give and receive, but especially to reciprocate in the presentation of gifts, practices deeply embedded in social systems.  In the field of archaeology, gift exchange has been seen, prominently since the 1970s, as a mechanism that accounts for distributions of material goods (e.g., T.K. Earle and J.E. Ericson eds., Exchange Systems in Prehistory, New York 1977), and studies of the cultural biographies of exchanged artifacts have been popular (A. Appadurai, The Social Life of Things, Cambridge 2013).

This post is not, however, concerned with archaeological finds, but rather with the histories of a few mementos owned by two of the most famous Greek prehistorians of the 20th century, Alan Wace and Carl Blegen, best friends and colleagues,“the Govs” as they called themselves  (see Y. Fappas, “The ‘Govs’ of Mycenaean Archaeology: The Friendship and Collaboration of Carl W. Blegen and Alan J. B. Wace as Seen through Their Correspondence,” in J.L. Davis and N. Vogeikoff, eds., Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives, Atlanta 2015, pp. 63-84).  The copies of Mycenaean artifacts that I consider here have sometimes been thought to have been material manifestations of their friendships, mutually reciprocated gifts.  But were they really? Read the rest of this entry »