Ancient Near East: "Letter To Oscar"


Oscar White Muscarella
Ancient Near East Department
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, New York

August 22, 2002

Dear Dr. Muscarella,

During my travels this summer, just on an impulse, I flew to Istanbul.

What a wonderful surprise!

Naturally I visited all the mosques and assorted tourist attractions.

But the History 101 class you taught at City College really came alive for me at The Archeology Museums. Imagine seeing Hittite sculptures. Panels from the Ishtar gate. Phrygian jewelry. Cuneiform tablets. The Code of Hammurabi exists!

The Alexander Sarcophagus and the Mourning Women Sarcophagus are exquisite and remarkable works of art. It was worth the trip to Turkey just to see them.

It took me forty years to travel from Convent Avenue in New York to The Sultanahmet in Istanbul, but it was worth the wait. I don't want to get too melodramatic, so let me just say to my "ancient” history professor, "Thank you."

In a way, I am embarrassed writing to you now. I think I should have contacted you when I first decided to go. But you know what? It didn't occur to me that Turkey is also the Ancient Near East. Such a student am I.

When I read the guidebooks, the mention of Hittites and Phrygians hit me like a ton of Tuff. And speaking of tuff, on a second impulse I flew to Cappadocia. Extraordinary. Reminded me of Northern Greece, Meteora, only different and "brilliant" in its own way. And you should see me crawling through the underground cities and riding a camel!

I anticipate a return trip to Turkey. I expect to travel extensively, especially to Ephesus and the Mediterranean areas.

I was a bit disappointed though. I looked all over, in every shop and in every market, but could find not one Phrygian safety pin. Maybe I will have better luck next time. Or should I come visit you at the Met? Any on hand there?


Jan Polatschek

P.S. I think I know where you will be in September. Did I see a poster, announcing a worldwide conference on The Hittites in Corum?


New York, New York

August 25, 2002

Dear Jan,

Turkey is my favourite area. I have been going there since 1957, especially from 1990 till this year.

The people are honest and friendly. Inshallah, I shall return there again.

Thanks for sharing your trip and memories of History 101.


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