Classical Beer Review: Triptych Little Secret

This is a post by regular contributor Kimberley, who runs the social media at BCS. Kimberley is currently writing up her PhD in Mediterranean Archaeology and is based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Every once and a while, she will blog at BCS about all things beer and Classical in the Low Countries or – as I’d like to call it – ‘The Nether Regions’.

Label for Triptych’s Little Secret.

Because I am still visiting the other half of team BCS in western Illinois, it felt necessary to review a local brew, #drinklocal. You would think Classically-themed beers might be hard to come by in the Midwest, but nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, we found an entire Classically-themed brewery – Triptych Brewing.

The beer we tried was Little Secret, which is labelled as a Pale Ale on the can but described by the brewers on their website as falling ‘somewhere between Session IPA and American Pale Ale.’ Upon purchase, Little Secret was about a month old – pretty good in terms of freshness. It tasted floral and fruity, with orange and citrus notes dominating. There was also a hint of pineapple and the aftertaste was not too bitter. Whether you call it a Session IPA or a Pale Ale, Little Secret is a very VERY nice beer to drink in my opinion. Apparently the judges of the World Beer Cup agree, since the beer was awarded a gold medal in their 2016 competition. As a Session IPA, that is.

Triptych comes from the ancient Greek for “three-fold”. In art history, the word is used to describe a work of art consisting of three parts, usually referring to panel paintings such as the famous altarpieces of the Middle Ages (see image below for an example). When we consider painting in the Classical world, the Stoa Poikile in Athens may be relevant. The Stoa Poikile was a covered, columned hall built in the 5th century BC, located on the north side of the ancient Agora (central square). It is named after the paintings that it housed; “poikile” means “painted” in ancient Greek, afterall.

‘The Garden of Earthly Delights.’ Triptych, Hieronymus Bosch. Image via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

Excavations by the American School of Classical Studies in Athens suggest that these paintings would have hung on the wall as panels rather than painted directly on the walls of the stoa. The paintings themselves have not been preserved, but they are described by various ancient authors. They are said to have included depictions of ‘The Battle of Oenoe,’ ‘Amazonomachy,’ ‘The taking of Troy’ and ‘The Battle of Marathon.’ Of these, ‘The Battle of Marathon’ is presumed to have been the largest. Several modern scholars argue that this painting was a triptych, based on a description by 2nd century AD author Pausanias that describes three separate scenes:

“At the end of the painting are those who fought at Marathon; the Boeotians of Plataea and the Attic contingent are coming to blows with the foreigners. In this place neither side has the better, but the center of the fighting shows the foreigners in flight and pushing one another into the morass, while at the end of the painting are the Phoenician ships, and the Greeks killing the foreigners who are scrambling into them.”

In the interpretation of these scholars, the ‘at the end of the painting’ in the beginning of the paragraph is better translated as ‘the painting (furthest) towards the end,’ which would refer to the triptych as a whole as opposed to the other paintings in the stoa. The first of the panels would then depict the meeting of the two armies, the center panel the flight of the Persian army and the third panel the ships. Although plausible, in the end we may never truly know whether ‘The Battle of Marathon’ was a triptych or not – due to the fact that Pausanias’ description is not crystal clear on the matter. Perhaps, we just have to accept it will remain his little secret…

16 oz
5.0% ABV
Ingredients: Pale Malt blend, Simcoe, Cascade, Citra
Brewed by: Triptych Brewing, Savoy, IL.

Pausanias. Description of Greece. I.15.3 (English translation, W.H.S. Jones/H.A. Ormerod, 1918, Cambridge/London). 
Massaro, V. 1978, Herodotos’ account of the battle of Marathon and the picture in the stoa poikile,  L’Antiquité classique, vol. 47.2, pp. 461-462.
Stansbury-O’Donnell, M.D. 2005, The Painting Program in the Stoa Poikile, in: J. D. Barringer/J. M. Hurwit (eds.), Periklean Athens and its legacy: problems and perspectives, Austin, pp. 73-88.


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