Most recent update:2/1/2004; 11:07:26 AM

 Monday, January 12, 2004

NUNTII: Dig That Agora has a nice piece on one resident's experience taking part in the American School of Classical Studies at Athens' dig in the Athenian Agora:

When George Panos was a boy, his family frequently spent summers in Greece, touring historic sites and monuments.

All, he recalls now, to his great dismay.

"I never understood why we would go to these places," he told members of the Randolph-Macon College Panathenaic Society at a recent meeting. "I thought maybe I was being punished."

But after spending last summer in Athens, digging through layers of dirt in the ancient marketplace, Panos said he "gets it" now.

"The sun is hot, the dust and dirt gets in your eyes, in your hair, and embedded in your clothes," he said, describing his two months working on the excavations. "Most people would think it was crazy to be outside, during the middle of summer, digging directly in the sun where there was no shade.

"I tell them it's for the culture, for the satisfaction you get from uncovering a piece of history. And that I am proud to learn more about my ancestry."

A 2002 graduate of R-MC and lifelong Henrico resident, Panos said a turning point occurred in his junior year, when he traveled to Greece for two weeks with a class and learned more about the dig at the Athenian Agora. The great open square where Socrates taught Plato was also the ancient civic center of Athens, and is considered the cradle of democracy.

"It's sort of like digging the Mall in Washington, D.C.," explains Dr. John Camp II, noting that excavations have turned up the senate building, the archives, law courts and the mint. [more]

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NUNTII: Antigone v. McNamara

Peter Jones didn't write for the Spectator this week, but there was a column of interest by one "Taki" which does have an "Ancient and Modern" feel to it:

Defying orders or laws one believes to be wrong is a sign of courage, not insubordination, and those who refuse to obey in the knowledge that it will cost them their careers and perhaps their lives are even greater heroes. That’s what the Nuremberg trials purported to teach us, the trouble with Nuremberg being that it was also victor’s justice. Now we are about to start trying Iraqis, the very same Iraqis we dealt with in the past as friends. It’s gonna be a tricky business, with double- standards galore and victor’s justice yet again rearing its ugly head.

But let’s go back a little. Like a couple of thousand years or so. Let’s start with Antigone, Sophocles’ immortal drama about a young woman who defies orders because she believes them to be wrong. Greek religious custom required that the dead be given a proper burial, and the responsibility lay with the next of kin. Creon, the ruler of Thebes, has ordered that no one give the rites of burial to Antigone’s brother Polynices, because he besieged his own homeland. Antigone ignores her uncle’s orders, buries her brother and suffers the consequences. She believes that she will be reunited with her family after her death in the lower world, which in a repellent way was Wilhelm Keitel’s thinking on the scaffold. (Having been refused the right to be executed by a firing squad, his last words were that he was happy to be reunited with two million German soldiers.)

Is Antigone a protofeminist, a woman who refuses to stay inside the house and do what was then expected of a woman? One thing is for sure. She is prepared to die for what is right rather than play it safe.

What does Sophocles’ drama have to do with Nuremberg or Iraq? Nothing very much, except for the eternal question of the innocent being spared and the pious rewarded. Creon sent Antigone to be buried alive, was warned by the prophet Tiresias that the gods disapproved, changed his mind but it was too late. Antigone had hanged herself.

[more ... potentially offensive language warning, however]

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NUNTII: Sophoclean Anniversary?

The San Francisco Chronicle's Theatre Critic ponders some of the significant anniversaries -- theatrical-wise -- coming up this year and spends half the article giving a nice overview of Greek tragedy, to wit:

But the most significant milestone of 2004 is far older than any centennial, older and grander than even Oscar Wilde's 150th birthday or the 400-year anniversaries of "Othello" and "Measure for Measure," which arguably may be this year. The date is even more uncertain than that of the composition of Shakespeare's plays, but 2004 could well be the year to commemorate the contributions of the man whose influence on the theater was far greater than Shakespeare's for 2,000 years before the Bard first set quill to parchment: Sophocles.

Long proclaimed the greatest dramatist of all time -- author of Aristotle's model for perfection, "Oedipus the King" -- Sophocles just might be 2,500 years old this year. Unless it's next year. Nobody knows exactly when Sophocles was born. His life is dated backward from his reported age at the time of specific achievements and the generally agreed-upon notion that he was 90 when he died in 406 B.C., not long after having dressed his actors in black to mourn the death of his longtime younger rival Euripides.

His birth year is usually given as 496 or 497 B.C., which would make his 2,500th birthday fall right about 2004 or '05. (If you're doing the math, remember that there was no year 0, so 2004 years ago was the year 1 B.C.) Either way, any lack of international efforts to take note of such a momentous milestone would be puzzling.

Perhaps it's Euripides' fault. Edgier, more realistic, more experimental in structure, more cynical in theological matters and at times downright sentimental, the youngest of the three great ancient Greek tragedians always seems to become more popular during times of social uncertainty. With his insightful representations of political sophistry, passionate antiwar tragedies and profound looks at the arrogance of power ("The Trojan Women" is only the most obvious example), Euripides' tragedies seem particularly apt for our era.

Given how many more of his plays survived the ravages of the centuries after Athens' fall -- 19 out of a total 92, compared with only seven of Sophocles' 123 plays -- it's only natural that there would be more productions of Euripides. But that doesn't explain the greater number of high- profile stagings of late of his best-known works over those of Sophocles. Unless, of course, the recent increase in productions of "Medea" over those of "Oedipus" says something about how we view our mothers.

Or, perhaps, it all means that we're overdue for a Sophoclean revival, and his 25th centennial would seem a perfect excuse to begin one. It would be hard to overstate his importance to the development of drama. Born into a society dominated by tragedy as Aeschylus wrote and staged it, it was Sophocles who introduced scene painting and the all-important third actor.

Where Aeschylus added a second actor, inventing dramatic dialogue, Sophocles' third actor allowed much greater dramatic depth and complexity -- making it possible to have two compellingly opposed reactions to a speech. The result can evoke a riveting tension, as in the different reactions to a messenger's news expressed by Oedipus and his mother. Perhaps the greatest master ever of dramatic structure -- the spare, expertly balanced, relentlessly suspenseful structure of "Oedipus" remains a model to this day --

Sophocles excelled in the depth of dramatic moments embodied in solid characters.

He was immensely popular in his day, winning 18 first-place prizes in the annual dramatic competitions (as opposed to the more controversial Euripides' five) and never finishing worse than second. He was also a well-loved and prosperous member of Athenian society, elected to several public offices and serving as a priest of the healing god Asclepius, which doesn't mean he avoided his share of personal trauma.

According to one possibly apocryphal, but at least 2,000-year-old, tale, Sophocles' son sued to have the playwright declared incompetent so he could assume his father's estate. The 90-year-old Sophocles read to the court passages from the play he was writing at the time, "Oedipus at Colonus," and the judge dismissed the case.

Surely someone like that deserves some sort of 2,500th birthday celebration. Not that Sophocles has ever been completely ignored. "Antigone" and "Oedipus the King" ("Oedipus Tyrannus") have always had their share of productions, if not quite as notable ones as "Medea" has had of late. "Oedipus at Colonus" was gloriously revived in Lee Breuer's dynamic gospel version two decades ago, and "Electra" is occasionally staged, though not as often as Euripides' version.

Whether Sophocles' three other extant tragedies -- "Ajax," "Philoctetes" and "Trachiniae" ("Women of Trachis") -- are prime candidates for revival is up to individual artistic directors to decide. All are good reads, given a good translation. Each involves one of Sophocles' trademark intransigent, morally certain characters (think Oedipus, Antigone) wrestling with forces of fate or society. Each should leave the reader energized and intrigued.

Whether or not Sophocles gets his due in some form of worldwide commemoration is irrelevant in the long term. His work has endured more than five times as long as Shakespeare's already, forever ready to emerge from the mists of time like Loewe's "Brigadoon." Like Moss Hart, he didn't take it with him. Compared with Sophocles' ability to resist the ravages of time, Peter Pan is a piker.

And I really hated the movie too ...

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pridie idus januarias

  • 49 B.C. -- Caesar crosses the Rubicon (I have not confirmed this date; any pointers to an ancient source which does give a date for this would be greatly appreciated).
  • c. 230 A.D. -- martyrdom of Tatiana in Rome
  • c. 302 A.D. -- martyrdom of Arcadius in Mauretania

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CHATTER: Jabberwocky Latinus

An Explorator/rogueclassicism reader passed this one along (thanks RCG!) ... someone has put up a website devoted to translations (and other aspects) of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. Latin is blessed with three different versions: Gaberbocchus, Mors Iabrochii, and Gabbrobocchia (the first two appear to be hexameters!). There's also a Koine Greek version.

[corrigenda: Angelo from Caelestis has kindly pointed out the first two are actually elegaic couplets ... figuring out meter was never my strong suit!]

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BLOGWATCH: @ Live Journal

Good to see some blogauthors are taking to heart some of the writing suggestions of Quintilian ....

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AWOTV: On TV Today

6.00 a.m. |HISTU| The Rise and Fall of the Spartans: Code of Honor,
Revered and feared in their own time, the ancient warriors from the
Greek city-state Sparta invented the boot camp, frontal assault,
state-sponsored education, and a lifestyle and aesthetic that still
bears their name. Who were these soldiers willing to fight a losing
battle in defense of honor and country? How did they become the
greatest fighting force the world had ever known? What kind of
society produced such men? We explore the cornerstones of life and
death in ancient Sparta.

8.00 p.m. |DCIVC| Ancient Apocalypse: Mystery of the Minoans

HISTU = History Television

DCIVC = Discovery Civilization

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