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Honoring the late Khaled al-Asaad, pioneer in Syrian archaeology – Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats

Uno stupido che cammina va più lontano di dieci intellettuali seduti (Jacques Séguéla)

Il giornalista è stimolato dalla scadenza. Scrive peggio se ha tempo. (Karl Kraus)

Bust, allegedly of Odenaethus, in Palmyra

Bust, allegedly of Odenaethus, in Palmyra

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
         “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Khaled al-Asaad, was one of the most important pioneers in Syrian archaeology in the 20th century and a man who devoted his life to promoting and protecting his home town of Palmyra. Asaad was involved in early excavations of Palmyra and the restoration of parts of the ancient city. The 82-year-old played a role in evacuating the contents of the city museum ahead of Isis taking control, which, Azm said, meant he faced certain arrest when the militants arrived. The archaeologist and scholar, who held a diploma in history and education from the University of Damascus, published many books and scientific texts. Among his titles are The Palmyra Sculptures and Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra and the Orient. He worked for 40 years as the head of antiquities in Palmyra, which was an important trading hub along the Silk Road 150 miles north-east of Damascus. When he retired in 2003, it was to take up the post of expert with the antiquities and museums department. Syria’s directorate general of antiquities and museums (DGAM) described him as an “inspirational and dedicated professional who was committed to DGAM even after he retired”. In 2003, Asaad was part of a joint Syrian-Polish archaeological team to unearth an intact third century mosaic depicting a battle between a human being and a mythical winged animal, and surrounded by geometric drawings of grapes, figs, deer and horses. At the time, he described the 70 sq m mosaic as “one of the most precious discoveries ever made in Palmyra”. In 2001 he announced the discovery of 700 silver coins, dating back to the seventh century in the town. The coins, stuck together in one lump, bore the pictures of Kings Khosru I and Khosru II, members of the Sassanid dynasty that reigned in Persia before the Arab conquest. (source Wikipedia)

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