Most recent update:2/1/2004; 11:07:55 AM

 Wednesday, January 14, 2004

NUNTII: Frank Snowden

Humanities Magazine has some mini-bios of the recipients of the National Humanities Medals last November. Here's Frank Snowden:

"Nothing comparable to the virulent color prejudice of modern times existed in the ancient world," writes Frank Snowden Jr. "The ancients did not fall into the error of biological racism; black skin color was not a sign of inferiority. Greeks and Romans did not establish color as an obstacle to integration in society. An ancient society was one that for all its faults and failures never made color the basis for judging a man."

One of the world's foremost authorities on blacks in classical antiquity, Snowden exposes racism as a post- classical condition in his book Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience, which received the Charles G. Godwin Award of Merit from the American Philological Association. Drawing on Herodotus and Pliny the Elder, and studying Africans depicted in classical bronzes and terra cotta figurines, Snowden demonstrates that Africans were valued in the Roman Empire as artisans, athletes, scholars, and military leaders.

"The experiences of those Africans who reached the alien shores of Greece and Italy constituted an important chapter in the history of classical antiquity," he writes. He concludes that racism is not universal, and cannot be traced back to antiquity. "The onus of intense color prejudice cannot be placed upon the shoulders of the ancients."

Other publications include Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks and Naples in the Time of Cholera. He is co-author of The Image of the Black in Western Art I: From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire.

A graduate of the Boston Latin School, Snowden earned undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Harvard University. He taught classics at Georgetown University, Vassar College, and Mary Washington College. He was dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Howard University, and was the first honoree in the Howard University Libraries' "Excellence at Howard" program.

In addition to his academic achievements, Snowden served as a cultural attaché to the American Embassy in Rome, and as a lecturer for the U.S. Department of State in West and North Africa, Egypt, Italy, Greece, Austria, India, and Brazil. He was a Fulbright research scholar in Italy, and was decorated with the Medaglia d'Oro for outstanding work in Italian culture and education. He makes his home in Washington, D.C., with his wife of seventy years, Elaine Hill Snowden.

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CHATTER: Er ... Riiiiiiiiiight

This one is hopefully self-explanatory ... I certainly can't explain it:

In the next four-five years, Iranian theatre will surprise the world, just as Iranian cinema has.’’ Theatre director Attila Pessyani sounds confident, even though a moment before he has admitted that ‘‘people don’t know much about the contemporary theatre of our country’’. As head of the Tehran-based Bazi Theatre Group which is known for its experimental performances, Pessyani is in town for the ongoing Ishara International Puppet Festival. Bazi will present Caligula: The Poet of Cruelty, based on the life of the tyrannical Roman emperor.

‘‘It’s the story of a man who wants to be a poet, but is forced to be a king. Power makes him cruel. After death, he realises that he has been violent. We relate the Italian story in a very international form,’’ says Pessyani. The show will be presented by five actors, two puppeteers and eight puppets. ‘‘The puppets are macabre figures, without eyes or mouth, made of cloth stuffed with newspaper,’’ he says. [source]


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CHATTER: Ominous Comparanda

As one pages through Livy (or Julius Obsequens), one inevitably meets up with a list of portents for a particular year. In addition to rains of blood and milk, one of the semi-recurring portents is a "shower of stones", e.g., from Obsequens Liber Prodigiorum we read (via the text at the Latin Library):

In Aventino lapidum pluviae novendiali expiatae (2)

Novemdiale sacrum fuit, quod in Tuscis lapidibus pluerat. (44)

Novemdiale sacrum fuit quod Volsca gente lapidibus pluerat (51)

I would imagine that most scholars would suggest that such showers are volcanic in origin. An interesting item in Ananova today might give one pause, however:

Residents of a town in eastern India have performed Hindu religious rituals to ward off evil spirits which they believe have been raining stones on them.

The Telegraph of Calcutta reports scared residents of Jaiprakash Nagar won't venture out into the streets after sunset as it rains stones for two hours.

One said: "Some of us have performed puja in our houses to ward off the evil spirit, which, we believe, is behind the phenomenon. Some of us are making regular trips to Golpahari temple to offer prayers."

Some of the locals who reported the matter to the police last week suspect anti-social elements could be behind the stone rain, but preliminary investigations by officers have not yielded any leads.

Awadh Bihar Tiwari, a teacher at a local college, said: "I thought this was the work of some mischievous youths trying to take people for a ride. But now, I feel an evil spirit is behind the act. I am planning to consult a witchdoctor." [more]

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ante diem xix kalendas februarias

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AUDIO: Father Foster

Father Foster's subject this week is Tiberius and what he was really like -- a "tough man" not a tyrant. Interesting thoughts about 'render unto Caesar' ... [is anyone else starting to wonder what preparation Veronica does for these things?]

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CHATTER: Roman Cookery

A piece on the release of a cookbook aimed at folks who want to cook food in a Renaissance sort of way mentions this in its denouement:

"Shakespeare's Kitchen" was only the beginning for Segan. She has two other books coming out this year--"Movie Menus: Recipes for Perfect Meals With Your Favorite Films," available in February, and "The Philosopher's Kitchen: Ancient Greek and Roman Recipes for the Modern Cook," that will hit the bookstores in the fall.

Segan said she got interested in the Greeks and Romans through her research for the Shakespeare book. The Renaissance was, after all, a revival of classical art forms.

Food was, to her, a natural extension of that, so she went back to the original sources. Among other things she discovered a cookbook that had been written --in Latin--in A.D. 39.

Well, I'm sure we can assume that Segan "discovered" this book probably in the same sort of way I "discovered" my car keys yesterday, nevertheless this looks like something that might be worth a looksee.

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CHATTER: Classical Inspiration

An apparently-pretentious artist has an interesting exhibition in New York:

In the vaulted space of the Mary Boone Gallery last week, the new exhibition by MARC QUINN, the London-born artist-provocateur, opened. Dressed all in black, he wore a red-and-white-striped skullcap, his glassy eyes darting about.

Mr. Quinn is known for "Self," the 1991 mold of the artist's head made from his own blood and then frozen, like a frightening ice cube.

His latest exhibition is a version of those freeze-frame corpses of Pompei after they have been smothered in volcanic ash. But Mr. Quinn has kicked it up a notch: each of his 11 marble sculptures is of a person with a limb amputated by accident or by birth defect.

It's the Venus de Milo meets thalidomide, a disorientation that some gallerygoers were unprepared to see.

"Let's get out of here," said one man as he hustled his family to the door. "This is truly disgusting."

Others were clearly enthralled. So far, eight of the sculptures have been sold, one for $140,000.

What was Mr. Quinn getting at? The idea came to him, he said, as he strolled among Greek and Roman statues in the British Museum. Some of the most admired were missing body parts.

"If someone who looked like that in real life came in the room," he said, "the same people would kind of pretend not to look or avoid their glance."

Mr. Quinn then compared his limbless sculptures to his earlier work using flowers preserved in liquid silicone. "They relate to the idea of what perfection is," he said. [more]

Interesting concept. I'm sure that I'm like many folks who did not even think of the 'limblessness' of assorted ancient statuary. At the same time, just a few months ago when they were auctioning off the Bill Blass collection at Sotheby's, I was struck by the number of disembodied limbs which hailed from this collection (and were apparently sold). What's the appeal?

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I do not understand why posts don't seem to be making it to the server ...
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REVIEW: Trojan Women

The Oregonian reviews a local production:

"The Trojan Women" Bathed in a warm, ambient glow, a woman sits before a rough altar fingering sacred objects. On the other end of a long, narrow space, several people clad in loose black wraparound robes and head-covers stare at a projection screen, frozen by images of the carnage of modern warfare. Ancient and modern, sacred and profane clash in Theatre of the Invisible's production of Euripides' powerful antiwar play.

Shrieking air raid sirens and roaring jets punctuate this tale of Bronze Age violence. This is not just the Trojan War; it is every war. Yet broadening the perspective may actually have diluted Euripides' unrelenting message. Is it necessary to bandy about playing cards carrying Saddam Hussein's picture to remind us that the horrors experienced by the Trojan women are universal?

Still, director Gwynne Allyn Warner and her company generate some powerful theatrical images. The production's opening moments, representing cosmic creation out of a sea of chaos, are riveting -- although perhaps not as effective or even as haunting as Euripides' prologue, in which the gods warn that the victorious Greeks have overstepped their bounds and will soon suffer hardships of their own. [more]

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NUNTII: Roman Building Materials

A very interesting find of a large quantity of Roman building materials, according to Discovery News:

Italian archaeologists have uncovered startling evidence of ancient Roman building techniques by bringing to light a deposit of white, perfectly-preserved slake lime.

Sealed for almost 2,000 years by the collapse of a floor, the lime occupied an entire room at the ground floor of the huge Villa dei Quintili in Rome, once the residence of the emperor Commodus.

Commodus confiscated the villa in AD 182, after he sent its owners, the wealthy Quintilius brothers, to death for supposedly plotting against him. He then began a renovation plan by adding rooms, baths, a heating system, and a thermal bath complex.

The large quantity of lime, along with other materials such as bricks, sand, and fragments of marble, indicates that this part of the estate was a well-equipped building yard," Rita Paris, the state archaeologist responsible for the excavation, told Discovery News.

The lime deposit was covered with a layer of "opus sectile," a sort of marble marquetry used for luxury floor pavements. Once they removed it, archaeologists found the slaked lime in perfect condition. They decided to use a part of it to restore the marble floor of another room of the villa.

"It is amazing. You just need to add a little water and then it works perfectly," Paris said.

In the past, slake lime had been uncovered in Pompeii and at Hadrian's Villa near Rome, but only in small quantities. The lime discovered at the Villa dei Quintili would have been enough to build a large section of the northern part of Commodus' residence, which has remained unfinished.

"The typical use for slake lime was either as a plaster or as a mortar between bricks. The Romans mixed the lime paste with sand, and applied it to the surface of walls or used it between bricks," David Moore, author of The Roman Pantheon, The Triumph of Concrete, told Discovery News. [more]

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AWOTV: On TV Today

5.30 p.m. |DCIVC| Archaeology: Women of Lesbos

DCIVC = Discovery Civilization (Canada)

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