The sounds of fountains and running water in the ages before machines and electronics would have been heard I think, quite differently from today. Water sounds the same but our ears and minds are tuned differently now, just as animals have adapted their calls to traffic noises. The photo above is from Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington DC. Through a research grant, I've spent the last month there, combing their library for material on urban water and roadways, primarily in the ancient and Roman periods.
For ecologists, time in a library with a community of scholars may not seem like field work, but for me there is no better place to examine the conditions of knowledge. Well, maybe during stream surveys in the Sierra Nevada, but only by a little. In any case bridges between phenomena, descriptions and ideas are everywhere. As in the Sierra, flowing water also animates the chirping of birds and turning owl in the device above, from Stephen Switzer's 1729 An Introduction to a General System of Hydrostaticks and Hydraulicks, Philosophical and Practical,
In a convergence of words and images, the names of the Kallirhoe spring pour down this pottery sherd to fill painted amphorae. But the lion's head from which the water issues - why a lion? [Reproduced in Renata Tolle-Kastenbein, Antike Wasserkultur]
Lion, bull, snake, young woman, each evokes a facet of flowing water. How do such images communicate and what is gained and lost through today's streamlined faucets and armored infrastructure? And for mythographers and entomologists, what about the bug-like figure below the bull's belly? [Silver stater, c. 5th century BCE, from Rabun Taylor, "River Raptures:Containment and Control of Water in Greek and Roman Constructions of Identity"]
One of four off-line waterspouts greeting me each day along the library path, dryly awaiting the renovation of Dumbarton Oaks' gardens.
Cup hands under a tap, drink from the pool formed by thumbs and palm. Then make a bowl or ewer, extending the hands, and on to dams, canals, water wheels and hydroelectric turbines. Density of phenomena in libraries or mountain ecosystems favors discoveries of unexpected treasures such as this illustration. Searching for a neighboring book, I encountered it in a catalogue from the Raetian Museum, Chur, Switzerland. The form is close to Greek and Roman models but less compressed and exaggerated. It contains, but like a hand or gourd-scoop, has a shape in which water might still feel at home.
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