Most recent update:2/1/2004; 11:08:24 AM

 Thursday, January 15, 2004

again ... we don't seem to be getting through
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CHATTER: Menelaus and Helen

Rarely does my worklife (I teach grade seven) ever touch upon the ancient world -- as this blog's definition might suggest -- so it's always a treat when it accidentally does. I'm about to teach the kiddies all about sonnets and while looking for some appropriate examples, came across the poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915). And although technically not a sonnet (or if it is, comprises a variation too complex to teach to those on the threshold of teenhood), his Menelaus and Helen did cause a smile to cross my mug:


Hot through Troy's ruin Menelaus broke
   To Priam's palace, sword in hand, to sate
   On that adulterous whore a ten years' hate
And a king's honour. Through red death, and smoke,
And cries, and then by quieter ways he strode,
   Till the still innermost chamber fronted him.
   He swung his sword, and crashed into the dim
Luxurious bower, flaming like a god.

High sat white Helen, lonely and serene.
   He had not remembered that she was so fair,
And that her neck curved down in such a way;
And he felt tired. He flung the sword away,
   And kissed her feet, and knelt before her there,
The perfect Knight before the perfect Queen.


So far the poet. How should he behold
   That journey home, the long connubial years?
   He does not tell you how white Helen bears
Child on legitimate child, becomes a scold,
Haggard with virtue. Menelaus bold
   Waxed garrulous, and sacked a hundred Troys
   'Twixt noon and supper. And her golden voice
Got shrill as he grew deafer. And both were old.

Often he wonders why on earth he went
   Troyward, or why poor Paris ever came.
Oft she weeps, gummy-eyed and impotent;
Her dry shanks twitch at Paris' mumbled name.
   So Menelaus nagged; and Helen cried;
And Paris slept on by Scamander side.

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ante diem xviii kalendas februarias

  • Carmentalia -- day two of a two-day festival (with a three day break
    between the days) in honour of the deity Carmenta, who was
    possibly a goddess of both childbirth and prophecy.
  • 69 A.D. -- murder of Galba and his adopted son Piso; dies
    imperii of yet another emperor-for-a-little-while Otho
  • 250 A.D. -- martyrdom of Secundina

5:33:15 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Miller the Younger?

Not sure what folks think about Dennis Miller's style of humour (personally, I've always put him in the category of folks-who-think-they-know-everything-who-annoy-those-of-us-who-do), but in a recent New York Times interview he mentioned:

 "As soon as Madden left Fox, I pretty much knew I was going to be whacked," he said. "Here was Madden, the Pliny the Elder of football announcers. And they were going to stay with the kid?"

[gloss: the reference is to John Madden, erstwhile colour commentator for Fox TV's football broadcasts]

I wonder how many 'mainstream' folks are aware there was a Pliny the Younger?

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CHATTER: Caligulan Equisition Watch

The latest reference to Caligula's horse comes from Al-Jazeerah:

Constitutional matters are now in the hands of Charlie Falconer, one of Blair’s old flatmates. Caligula made his horse a consul. Tony Blair made his flat mate a minister. The horse did less damage.

5:18:43 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

NUNTII: Elgin/Parthenon Marbles

We mentioned the group "Marbles Reunited" the other day, which, as is hopefully known by now, has as its goal the return of the Elgin Marbles in time for the forthcoming Olympics in Athens -- the latest proposal is that the British Museum will lend them to Athens. This week, they've made a major 'push' by commissioning a poll of British folks and there's a spate of coverage in the various media outlets from the U.K.. While I'll gather all the coverage in this weekend's Explorator, the Scotsman comes through with a nice article on the two sides of the debate, inter alia:

In spite of this, the Marbles Reunited campaign claims the public is behind it. In a specially commissioned poll, 73% of people said they should be returned, while 81% supported the new proposals. With the debate hotting up, here are a few of the arguments for and against handing them back:

FOR: Peter Chegwyn, campaign director for Marbles Reunited, said: “The Parthenon is the most important symbol of Greek cultural heritage and the Greek State has a duty to preserve its cultural heritage in its totality, both for its citizens and for the international community.

AGAINST: Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: “The sculptures are available in the British Museum to the public, free of entry charge, to a world audience of over 4.6 million visitors per year.

“In a new Acropolis Museum they would be part of a local museum with a particular focus on the history of ancient Athens.”

FOR: Chegwyn said: “The display of the sculptures at the British Museum is unsatisfactory because they appear as if they form a whole and they are exhibited on the inside of a wall. The new Acropolis Museum intends to re-house the Marbles and will make sure that these unique objects are seen at their greatest advantage and as close to their original position as possible.”

AGAINST: MacGregor said: “Centuries of damage have meant the Parthenon is a ruin and that only 50% of the original sculptures survive today. The surviving sculptures can never be re-connected to the building because the risk of further damage from weathering, pollution and earthquakes is too great. The best way forward is to employ 3D scanning and computer graphics to gain a more complete sense of how the whole might once have looked. This could also present the different hypothetical (and disputed) reconstructions. The British Museum has proposed such a project to all museums containing Parthenon sculptures in their collections, and a pilot project is under way. The Greeks have still to confirm their willingness to participate.

FOR: Chegwyn said: “The British Museum has always maintain the sculptures have been well cared for, but in the 1930s they were “cleaned” under the instruction of Lord Duveen who had the mistaken belief that they were originally “brilliant white”. The cleaning, which removed traces of colour and was carried out with wire brushes, copper tools and carborundum, caused serious and irretrievable damage that was admitted by the authorities of the Museum.

AGAINST: MacGregor said: “The majority of the sculptures are not on display at the Acropolis Museum, but are either in store and unavailable to the public, or still on the building and at risk from weathering and pollution.”

FOR: Chegwyn said: “The Parthenon Marbles are an integral part of a famous monument celebrating the achievements of free, democratic people and for that reason it is an important symbol to the whole world. That is why it is inconceivable that over half of its celebrated sculptural elements should be exhibited 2000 miles away from the rest and from the actual monument for which they were expressly designed and carved.”

AGAINST: MacGregor said: “The current division of the sculptures between 10 museums allows many different stories to be told and different aspects of the sculptures to be understood, especially the full importance of Greek culture in the widest possible world context.

“In the British Museum the Parthenon Sculptures are part of a world museum in which Greece’s cultural debts to Egypt, Assyria and Persia can be clearly seen, and the contribution of ancient Greece to the development of later cultural achievements in Europe, Asia and Africa can be fully understood”

FOR: Chegwyn said: “These architectural members were hacked off the monument without the consent of the Greek people, who at that time were still under the Ottoman occupation. Moreover, distinguished scholars have challenged the legality of the acquisition in recent years. Other evidence has also come to light showing that even the Ottoman authorities themselves queried Lord Elgin’s right to remove architectural parts from a building and ship them to Britain.”

AGAINST: MacGregor said: “The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum were legally acquired by the British Museum in 1816 with money voted by Parliament. The British Museum Trustees’ title to the objects is entirely secure under any European legal system. The Trustees’ duty is to hold the objects so as to secure maximum public benefit.”  [more]

Folks might also be interested in reading Josie Appleton's column at on the subject ...

5:11:54 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

GOSSIP: Hannibal Movie

Financial Times has some details on the author of the novel on which Vin Diesel's Hannibal movie is to be based. A somewhat longish incipit:

It was late at night when Ross Leckie received the call that has taken him from Holyrood to Hollywood.

At his 18th-century home in Edinburgh, the donnish Scottish author was reading over the drafts of the latest in a series of novels written in his spare time around his job with Edinburgh fund manager Martin Currie.

On the line came Vin Diesel, the pumped-up, action star, seeking to buy the rights to Leckie's bloody biography of the Carthaginian general Hannibal for the latest sword and sandal film epic.

It is now being turned into a £200m film backed by the writer-and-producer team behind Gladiator. Due to start production next month, it will come out in the wake of rival productions Alexander the Great, starring Leonardo di Caprio, and Troy, aversion of the Illiad starring Brad Pitt.

But the film almost foundered on the first improbable contact. "I was just about to go to bed and then I got this call from a disembodied American voice," Leckie says. "The woman said: 'Hi Ross, I am calling from Los Angeles and Mr Vin Diesel would like to speak to you.' I said Vin who? I had no idea."

Eventually the lead of hit films such as XXX and The Fast and the Furious was put through. He explained who he was and that he had been on holiday in the Maldives where he had stumbled across a copy of Hannibal in the hotel book store.

The actor had picked it up and read through the night until he finished it in one go. He now wanted to buy the film rights.

"He said, 'Would you come over to LA and talk about it?' I replied that I absolutely hate flying and I don't know who you are," says Leckie. "He then said: 'Can I talk to your agent?' I said I don't have one. But he then asked me for my email address."

Two days later, Diesel emailed a British Airways e-ticket for a 1st class open return to New York to meet him. "I thought yes this guy does exist and he actually listens. So I took a few days holiday and went over."

There they established an unlikely bond. Leckie, a toweringly tall figure, has had a more colourful history than most, collecting careers like some people collect cars.

After studying classics at Oxford, he became a sheep farmer on his rural Perthshire family property. Tough times saw a switch to become a "roughneck" on an oil rig overseeing drilling. Leckie, who admits he "never really watches movies", then turned his hand to business journalism, writing for the Scotsman.

The author was also a Conservative candidate in four elections. "Thank goodness I did not win," he says.

Since 1995, he has been marketing manager for Martin Currie, a 122-year-old investment house at the heart of Edinburgh's financial establishment.

Through such career changes, writing has been a constant. Leckie's writing career started with Bluff Your Way Through the Classics - published in 1985 to instill "reckless confidence" in the knowledge of ancient history.

A book of poetry followed and then Hannibal, the first of a trilogy based on the history of Carthage. A new book, Aristotle's Alchemy, an exploration of how the philosopher's manuscripts survived over time, is due out soon and a further bio-novel on Genghis Khan is underway. [more]

5:01:33 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

AWOTV: On TV Today

5.00 p.m. |DCIVC| The Emperor of the Steppes

9.00 p.m. |HINT| Foot Soldier: The Barbarians
Profile of the savage fighters who surrounded and then conquered
ancient Rome, ushering in the Dark Ages. Hosted by Richard Karn.

DCIVC = Discovery Civilization (Canada)

HINT = History International

4:50:56 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

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