Latest update: 4/4/2005; 5:47:53 AM
rogueclassicism
quidquidquid bene dictum est ab ullo, meum est ~ Seneca
 


CHATTER: What Famous Ancient Historian Are You?

Other blogs seem to revel in presenting quizzes from Quizilla, so since it's the holidays and all that, I decided to play with one or two (quality based on lack of misspellings, mostly). While I was quite surprised when I took the "What Kind of Postmodernist Are You" quiz and turned out to be a "theory slut" (which will cause folks who know my right-wing-gun-nut tendencies to roll on the floor in laughter, no doubt), it wasn't too surprising to find myself identified as Thucydides in the "What  Famous Ancient Historian Are You?" quiz:

Thucydides You're Thucydides!

Semi-surprisingly, though, in the "What Ancient God or Goddess Are You", I turned out to be Athena, even though I sort of skewed my answers to being Zeus. Go figure.

athena
Oooh, you're Athena! Goddess of wisdom. But you
knew that already.

Which Ancient God or Goddess are you?
brought to you by Quizilla


::Thursday, December 25, 2003 9:10:25 PM::
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NUNTII: Skinny Dennis and all that

Townhall.com has a piece on Dionysius Exiguus and his calendar fiddling ... here's the incipit:

In or about the year 1277, as it was then known, a Scythian monk named Dionysius Exiguus was asked by the Pope, for whom he worked in the Roman curia, to calculate the dates of Easter, about which there had always been, and still is, much confusion. (Orthodox and western Christians do it differently to this day.)

In English, Dionysius is known as Denis the Little, but his work resulted in big changes.

The 1277 thing was the year in what scholars call A.U.C., ab urbe condita, i.e. since the founding of Rome. Denis thought it would be better to honor Jesus Christ, as opposed to Romulus and Remus, and so he took the time to calculate the date of the birth of Christ, thereby replacing ab urbe condita with anno domini.

By his calculations, 1277 A.U.C. was 523 A.D., and so it has been ever since. Exactly how Denis came up with his calculations is a subject of much debate, but perhaps he had information about when Quirinius was governor of Syria. However he did it, the problem was that his calculation of the year 1 came four years after the death of King Herod, whom the gospels allege to have been very much alive at the time of Jesus' birth.

So for centuries it's been general although apocryphal to believe that Jesus was actually born in 5 B.C.

Denis set the birth on December 25, 1 B.C., with the year 1 A.D. beginning a week later. Apparently this was the first time December 25th was used as the date of Christmas. The gospels are silent as to the time of year of the Nativity.

All this is the stuff of much debate.

... and the rest


::Thursday, December 25, 2003 7:51:00 PM::
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CHATTER: Say What?

Mohammed al-Rasheed, a columnist at Al-Jazeera, reflects on responses to his changed attitude toward George Bush's motives for invading Iraq:

When I was trashing him, I was getting letters that hailed me as the greatest patriot since Caligula. When I started seeing and weighing the facts without prejudice and pre-ordained dogma, I was called names and threatened. Both appellations negate each other in philosophical terms.

Man ... I would love to have read those letters ...


::Thursday, December 25, 2003 7:47:47 PM::
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CHATTER: A Dilly of a Pickle

Way too much webmeandering going on at rogueclassicism today ... the latest is inspired by this mentioned-in-passing thing from a Baltimore Sun article on the Christmas pickle:

Cucumbers are mentioned at least twice in the Bible (Numbers 11:5 and Isaiah 1:8), and Julius Caesar thought pickles had an energizing effect, so he had them fed to his troops.

The story of Julius Caesar feeding pickles to his troops is omnipresent on the web, and I'm surprised the Sun article doesn't mention Cleopatra's affection for them as well, as stated in most pickle-histories on the web, such as the Wikipedia piece. Indeed, the latter (and numerous other sites) mention Cleopatra's belief that pickles made her beautiful! A trivia site, of dubious authority (judgement based on several egregious spelling mistakes) adds Aristotle and "Roman Tiberius" to the list of picklephiles, although Aristotle is listed by the New York Food Museum amongst those who praised pickles.

Some day I'll track down the ref, if it exists, in Caesar's works (or perhaps in Plutarch or Suetonius), but my meandering mind is interested in the webclaim that Cleopatra thought of pickles as a beauty secret. So, let's see what else is considered by the web to be Cleopatra's secret to her allure (as opposed to products which were made 'with Cleopatra in mind' or as an 'inspiration'):

I dunno ... while it's possible to picture Cleo in a milk bath, it's really, really, really hard to picture her in one of those 'facial masks'. Whatever the case, it seems to me her most effective 'beauty secret' was rolling herself up in a carpet and smuggling herself into the quarters of the most powerful guy at the time.


::Thursday, December 25, 2003 7:38:37 PM::
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CHATTER: Virgin-born Plato

A column in The Age ponders Christmas miracles and in passing notes:

There was, at the time the Gospels were written, a pagan tradition of attributing virgin births to heroes. Plato's biographer, Diogenes Laertius, so Stephen Law notes in his book, "suggested that Plato was both divinely conceived and born of a virgin".

I have oft heard of this claim in passing, but had never actually read it (I'm a Roman  historian, not a philosopher). As fate would have it, though, I just dug out the Loeb Diogenes Laertus the other day (trans. R.D. Hicks) and it was less than a foot from me when I read the above. The relevant passage (3.2) runs thusly:

Speusippus ... Clearchus ... and Anaxilaides ... tell us that there was a story at Athens that Ariston [sc. Plato's father]  made violent love to Perictione [sc. Plato's mother], then in her bloom, and failed to win her; and that, whe he ceased to offer violence, Apollo appeared to him in a dream, whereupon he left her unmolested until her child was born.

I assume the "then in her bloom" is referring to her virginity. The Greek word used is 'Oraios' (that's an omega at the beginning; I'm sure this isn't a standard transliteration), which generally means 'ripe' or 'youthful'. The "made violent love" is presumably "biazesthai", which in context appears to mean "rape". The "failed to win her" is "me tugchanein", which means "to not be successful". It doesn't appear to have been a dream, but more of a vision -- Hicks translation doesn't quite make sense ... did Ariston fall asleep in medias res and fall into rem sleep quickly enough? Anyhoo, it appears that Plato was the spawn of an unsuccessful rape attempt of a girl in the 'bloom of youth' ... I guess you can read into that a virgin birth. I'm not sure you can get "divinely conceived".


::Thursday, December 25, 2003 6:49:44 PM::
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REVIEW: Michael Wood, The Road to Delphi

From the Telegraph:

The yearning to believe in oracles has always been with us, but so too has scepticism. Even in the palmy days of Delphi's greatest fame, there were doubters. When Croesus, the fabulously wealthy king of Lydia, was scouting around for a spot of divine guidance, he worried that he might be stung for dud advice. With the canniness of the world's richest man, he decided to market-test the various alternatives. Messengers were dispatched to the leading oracles, and instructed, on a given day, to ask what their master was doing back in Lydia. Only Delphi gave the right answer: that Croesus was boiling up a lamb and tortoise casserole. The oracle's reputation was duly made.

"I can count the grains of sand, and I can measure the ways of the sea." So spoke Apollo through his priestess, the Pythia, at Delphi. This reassurance, of course, was exactly what Croesus had been looking for. Nowadays, with the oracles long silenced, the idea that absolute infallibility might be possible is one that few of us buy into - and yet, whenever a crisis threatens, the longing for it flits back. If Apollo still spoke from his oracle today, world leaders would no doubt have their own questions to put to him. How best to structure a European constitution, perhaps, or what to do with Saddam Hussein. The more intractable a problem, the greater the longing for certainty.

And it is here, as Michael Wood, in his fascinating and brilliant book, suggests, that menace can creep in. Imponderability is not lightly dissolved. Certainty can delude. A paediatrician, for instance, can accurately give the odds of three cot-deaths occurring in the same family as being many, many thousands to one - and yet an innocent mother, as a consequence of this same statistic, can be condemned for infanticide. In the ancient world too, it could be perilous to rely on an expert witness - even a god. Cruelty, and the hint of cosmic laughter, invariably haunted oracular pronouncements. Croesus, having plied Apollo with gifts, was then famously deceived by the god into disaster. Pondering whether to attack the Persians or not, he consulted Delphi, and was told that if he did launch his invasion a great empire would fall. Croesus duly went to war, and was utterly defeated. The empire that had fallen was his own. Apollo had had his joke.

More ...


::Thursday, December 25, 2003 6:22:18 PM::
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REVIEW: Alan Massie's Caligula

The Telegraph has a review of the aforesaid ... here's the incipit:

My desktop encyclopedia dispatches Caligula in one swift sentence as a "cruel and insane Roman emperor who promoted his horse to the office of consul". History associates him with torture, megalomania and incest. In his fifth imperial chronicle, Allan Massie sides with Camus in positing Caligula as an existentialist who laughed darkly into the bloody void opening up before him and the empire over which he briefly ruled.

Our narrator is a nobleman, Lucius, commissioned to write Caligula's biography by the Empress Agrippina wife of stuttering Claudius, mother of Nero and sister of the late, "by few lamented" Emperor Gaius. Uncertain of Agrippina's spin-doctoring purpose in resurrecting her brother's reputation, Lucius resolves to write a first draft for himself and his heirs, to try to make some sense of Caligula's reign and to assess his own role in it. It is this uncensored draft, with its frank asides and personal digressions, that we read.

It's an uphill march at first. It takes nearly 70 pages for Lucius to remind readers of the tangled Julio-Claudian family tree from which Caligula sprouted. Born under the efficient but unloved Tiberius, he was the son of the hero-general Germanicus, raised in the army camps. Little Gaius was the darling of the troops, who carried him on their shoulders as a moptop mascot and gave him the nickname "Caligula", meaning "little boots", or as Massie translates, "Bootikins". Fearing Germanicus's popularity with the legions and the people, Tiberius may well have ordered Germanicus to be poisoned. Lucius is uncertain. But he accepts that after Germanicus's widow makes public accusations echoed by the mob, Tiberius has little choice but to take most of Gaius's remaining family out of the equation.

... and here's the rest.


::Thursday, December 25, 2003 6:20:10 PM::
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THIS DAY IN ANCIENT HISTORY

ante diem viii kalendas januarias

  • 4 B.C. or 8 B.C.? -- 'scholarly traditional date' for the birth of Jesus
  • c. 258 A.D. -- martyrdom of Eugenia at Rome
  • 274 A.D. (?) -- dedication of a Temple of Sol Invictus (and
    associated rites thereafter)
  • 302 A.D. -- martyrdom of Anastasia of Sirmium

::Thursday, December 25, 2003 6:16:16 PM::
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Rogueclassicism
1. n. an abnormal state or condition resulting from the forced migration from a lengthy Classical education into a profoundly unClassical world; 2. n. a blog about Ancient Greece and Rome compiled by one so afflicted (v. "rogueclassicist"); 3. n. a Classics blog.

Publishing schedule:
Rogueclassicism is updated daily, usually before 7.00 a.m. (Eastern) during the week. Give me a couple of hours to work on my sleep deficit on weekends and holidays, but still expect the page to be updated by 10.00 a.m. at the latest.

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