Most recent update:3/1/2004; 6:09:41 AM

 Saturday, February 07, 2004

GOSSIP: More Alexander News

Earlier this a.m. we posted links to a possible spoiler about Oliver Stone's upcoming Alexander flick. Now there arrives in my mailbox (man ... this is a busy Saturday for a change) an interviewish thing with Stone from the Nation ... the author seems to be dying to find something political in it:

Oliver Stone is beaming. He’s a heartbeat from completing “Alexander”, an epic tale of conquest and betrayal filmed in Lop Buri province. And, now he’s being feted by the Bangkok International Film Festival for directing some of the most powerful films in modern cinema.

The beefy, moon-faced man with a perpetual five o’clock shadow flashes a gap-toothed grin as he hugs Colin Farrell, the actor playing Alexander the Great. This is Stone’s moment, his victory.

The three-time Academy Award winner is delighted to be in Thailand, where “Alexander’s” battle scenes are progressing smoothly and where he’s halfway around the world from the controversy that hounds him at home.


With his latest film, “Alexander”, Stone conjures up parallels between Alexander the Great of ancient Macedonia and US President George W Bush.

“The connection is the West moving into the East,” Stone said just before arriving in Thailand. “Alexander did the same journey – he went into Iraq, took Babylon, then went north into Afghanistan.”

Here in Bangkok, where Stone received a lifetime achievement award a week ago, he skirted political issues and discussed how satisfied he was with the footage from Lop Buri, 115 kilometres north of Bangkok, where hundreds of Thai Army soldiers are serving as Macedonian warriors alongside 20 armour-clad elephants. Stone’s US$125 million (Bt5 billion) opus, filmed in just 87 days in Morocco, London and Thailand, stars Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins and Val Kilmer.

It’s the latest of Stone’s mega-budget movies, the product of his moving from outside the Hollywood system as a screenwriter, to film director and now producer, where he raises the money to shoot his films, controls the purse strings and ultimately collects a sizeable share of the profits.


Stone says he’s currently more interested in history than current events, hence his writing and direction of “Alexander”, the tale of the Macedonian warrior king’s conquering of the Persian Empire and his push into India.

Yet Stone remains a political animal. He has been an outspoken critic of Bush since the last presidential campaign, and stated after September 11, 2001, that the attacks were partly due to globalisation and America’s arrogance. He has since condemned the war in Iraq and says he’s shocked that the US public supports Bush when “it was clear he was lying” about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction.


“Platoon” is perhaps the most wrenching, honest movie ever made about Americans fighting the Vietnam War. “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989), which won Stone his second Oscar for film direction, is as much a tale of Stone’s disenchantment with America as it is Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic’s life story. Even in “Nixon” (1995), Stone finds humanity in the dishonoured president, who is one-dimensionally evil in countless portrayals.

Stone says he’s taking the same slant with Alexander, the warrior who conquered much of Asia and the Middle East three centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.

“Alexander the Great is a wonderful, memorable name,” Stone allows. “But the movie takes the approach that the viewer should decide about the quality of Alexander’s character.”

Farrell, his hair dyed blond and at shoulder length for the movie, says Stone didn’t make Alexander great. “He made him flawed. He showed him as a human being who had amazing foresight and a questioning nature – who wanted to know about different cultures.”

“Alexander” was shot in Thailand with Lop Buri doubling as India. “We budgeted shooting ‘Alexander’ in America – in California because the landscapes are great,” Stone says. “But the human resources were so expensive that we couldn’t have made the movie. Morocco, Thailand and London were the answer.”

Stone recognises that his project is a gamble even if Alexander the Great is a hot item in Hollywood these days. (Mel Gibson had been planning a 10-episode mini-series for HBO and producer-director Baz Luhrmann had signed Leonardo DiCaprio and Nichole Kidman for his version.) [...]

Just in passing, we might as well make note of this Mel Gibson reference ... MG is at the centre of two rumours related to Alexander productions ... one is this supposed ten-episode miniseries called Fire from Heaven and another is that he is being touted to play "Alexander the Great's Father" in the Baz Luhrman production.

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CHATTER: Caligulawatch

The references to Caligula continue to turn up in the news scans of late. The first one comes from the Montreal Gazette (cf. the next bit of Chatter) and is actually apropos, given that it is commenting on a sex trade show (no, not necessarily a "sex trade" show) coming up in Montreal:

St. Jacques is a bald-headed fireplug of a man who looks as if he'd be as at home behind the wheel of a long-haul rig as he seems to be beside a table covered with chocolate phalluses. He's going to have 45 people working for him at the Salon, tending to the erotic literature, double-entendre-themed aprons, DVDs with titles we can't repeat in this newspaper and enough massage oil to float Caligula's barge.

But then we get into American Daily's comment on Janet Jackson and the content of MTV in general:

MTV made Pauly Shore, Tom Green, and Johnny Knoxville stars, for God’s sake! And I know for a fact more than a few conservatives have complained about the content on MTV, which lately would make Caligula blush fifty shades of red.

This is followed by a piece from the Tampa Tribune commenting on backlash (expected or otherwise) from the Gasparilla Parade, which sounds rather New Orleansish:

So you can only imagine the annoyance level of some parent who arrived at the parade with little Skippy in tow only to discover they were about to be subjected to Caligula meets Debbie Does Bayshore Boulevard.

And thus if you are one of those parade attendees who have been defiled more often than Madonna, this space has this advice: Shut up!

There's a pattern emerging in many of these Caligula references that I knew I'd seen before and it just hit me: it's the 'rhetorical triangle'. If you can imagine a triangle with one corner labelled "message" (or logos), another labelled  "audience" (or pathos) and the last labelled writer (or ethos), you've got your basic rhetorical triangle. Here's an example from a website. In most of these Caligular references, the writer is using a reference to Caligula -- whether correctly (or perhaps ironically) or not -- to establish his/her credibility on the subject and to serve as shorthand for moral outrage. The audience seems almost always to be parents, for some reason, who, of course, will identify with the author's concern for the moral decline he/she sees all around him every day. The message, however, never seems to be backed up by any real compelling arguments ... it's always one of those res ipsa loquitur situations ... and interestingly, from a rhetorical triangle point of view, the message seems to be the least important of the three! What's important is the author seems to have established some sort of credibility in a hurry and agrees with things people are already predisposed to believe.

Interestingly, this pattern is also prevalent -- but more fully developed --  in most discussions which focus on things like Atlantis or Pyramid(iocy) or Chariots-of-the-gods stuff. Someone is taking on 'the establishment' and establishes their credibility with the appellation "author".

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CHATTER: Classics in Canada ... again

More evidence of the deplorable general knowledge of Classics in the Great White North ... from a theatre reviewish sort of thing in the Montreal Gazette:

She said she sees Albertine, the main character in Past Perfect (played by Catherine Allard, "a wonderful young actress") as someone "who has tragic size and yet she has nowhere to put it. Very large feelings, emotions that just bang against the walls. It doesn't mean she can't be monstrous at times, but you certainly feel for her. At least I do.

"It's a very moving story, watching someone shut down ... it is almost a tragedy in the classic sense, but in Greek tragedy they have the Parthenon. All Albertine has is the American Spaghetti House."

Oh yeah ... I remember that scene where Oedipus dropped his mom off at the Parthenon on the road to Colonus on his way to pick up some donation from Constantine ...

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ante diem vii idus februarias

  • 1845 -- the small glass 'amphora' known as the Portland Vase, while on loan to the British Museum, was smashed by a guy on a drinking binge (it was subsequently restored) [photo]

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GOSSIP: Alexander Movie

RopeofSilicon has a report from the set shooting Oliver Stone's Alexander the Great; inter alia it contains a spoiler about how the movie ends. If you want to know, here's the link (I'm sure Classicists will be outraged or at least miffed; perhaps Oliver Stone is just trying to get some Passion-like controversy going) ...

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CHATTER: Super Bowl 'Classics'

Marty Cheek in the Gilroy Dispatch ponders the appeal of the Super Bowl:

I’ve often wondered about the popular appeal of the Super Bowl. What is it about this epic event on Sunday that will cause more than 40 million households to gather in living rooms and bars across America and witness a series of Budweiser Beer commercials occasionally interrupted by a football game?

The answer, I believe, can be found in Homer. I refer, of course, to the writer Homer of ancient Greece and not to the nuclear reactor safety technician Homer Simpson of Springfield on the Fox Network.

“The Iliad” is Homer’s account of the Trojan War. It details the personality conflicts of warriors during the 10th year of this testosterone-induced clash to take back the beautiful cheerleader Helena. It’s a tale of larger-than-life figures such as Odysseus, Agamemnon, Paris and Ajax (who, for the record, never signed a million-dollar contract to hawk a certain brand of cleansing powder).

Think of these heroes in the same light as the grid-iron warriors of the world of football -- except they didn’t have agents and managers making multi-million dollar deals for them to peddle Lay’s potato chips or Rightguard deodorant.

It’s the fourth quarter. The last seconds tick away. It looks bad for the Greeks. Quarterback Odysseus comes up with an innovative play. Build a big wooden horse and hide inside it.

The Trojans wake up to see no Greeks on the scrimmage line. What they see is the horse. Thinking the war is over, they pull it inside their fortified city and start to party hearty. The Greeks slip out of the horse. Their final slaughter begins.

The crowd goes wild. The Goodyear blimp flies overhead. Television viewers across the ancient world jump and holler at the final moments of the game. The Greeks celebrate their victory by dousing themselves with Gatorade.

One TV announcer shoves a microphone in Odysseus’s face and says, “You’ve just won the Trojan War. What are you gonna do now?” Odysseus smiles at the camera and says, “I’m going to Disneyland!”

Of course, his trip to Disneyland gets sidetracked much like the castaways of “Gilligan’s Island.” He and his fellow conquering hero’s version of a three-hour cruise gets blown off course by a sudden storm.

For years, they voyage around the Mediterranean having adventures with strange creatures who aren’t exactly Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck and Goofy. This, of course, gives Homer plenty of material for his spin-off to “The Iliad,” a terrific tale called “The Odyssey.” [more ... but that's it for ClassCon]

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CHATTER: Classical (sort of) Cometry

Science Blog pointed to this tidbit from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council:

With just 21 days until the launch of the European Space Agencys ESA Rosetta comet mission, the spacecrafts lander has been named Philae by a 15 year-old Italian girl. Rosetta will embark on a 10 year journey to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko from Kourou, French Guiana on 26th February 2004.

Philae is the island in the river Nile on which an obelisk was found that had a bilingual inscription including the names of Cleopatra and Ptolemy in Egyptian hieroglyphs. This provided the French historian Jean-Francois Champollion with the final clues that allowed him to translate the hieroglyphs of the Rosetta Stone and unlock the secrets of the civilisation of ancient Egypt.

Just as the Philae Obelisk and the Rosetta Stone provided the keys to an ancient civilization, the Philae Lander and the Rosetta Orbiter will unlock the mysteries of the oldest building blocks of our Solar System the comets.


The names behind the mission

Rosetta the mission

Rosetta takes its name from the Rosetta Stone, an incomplete stela of black basalt incised with the same priestly decree in three scripts concerning Ptolemy V. Although three scripts are shown (Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Egyptian Demotic and Greek) just two languages are represented. The great significance of the Stone is that it provided the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Philae the lander

Philae is the island in the river Nile on which an obelisk was found that had a bilingual inscription including the names of Cleopatra and Ptolemy in Egyptian hieroglyphs. This provided the French historian Jean-Francois Champollion with the final clues that allowed him to translate the hieroglyphs of the Rosetta Stone and unlock the secrets of the civilisation of ancient Egypt. The Philae Obelisk was discovered by Sir William John Bankes, a British antiquarian. He found it on Philae Island, south of Cairo in 1815. He brought it back to his Dorset Estate, Kingston Lacy in 1821. The Obelisk can still be viewed at this property which is now owned by the National Trust.


The lander instrument, PTOLEMY, which was designed and developed in the UK by the Open University in conjunction with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The size of a shoebox and weighing just 4.5 kg, PTOLEMY will use gas chromatography / mass spectrometry (GCMS) techniques to investigate the comet surface & subsurface. PTOLEMY was the Pharaoh who built the Philae Obelisk.


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CHATTER: The Olympics

Interesting somewhat tongue-in-cheeck opinion piece in the Scotsman by Peter Clarke on the need for the Olympics to get back to its real roots:

DULL-minded sportsmen have captured the Olympic Games bid. We need to revive the religious or poetic context of the original events. Accuracy with the bow, dexterity with the rapier or the swiftness of the race were gestures to Zeus, the Greek god who came down from his Pantheon to become the Roman-Jewish god.

The UK bid for the Olympic Games in 2012 seems to be designed by people with no poetry or historical imagination. They recite a huge number of locations for ever more diverse athletic achievements, but they do not reflect the fun to be added by restoring the divine elements.

Mount Olympus is not a shrine to sweaty sportsmen. It is a tribute to an oracle, the Oracle. This was where the gods spoke to mortals. In fashioning its bid, the British committee needs to re-nourish the true Olympic credentials.

As far as we know, the original games were in the summer of 776BC. The history of the games starts with a squabble. Pindar says they were conceived by Heracles. Others attribute them to Pelops after his victory over Oenomaus. I think both are true. Heracles had the idea. Oenomaus had the cash. Sponsorship is not a modern vulgarity. Commercial interests lubricated the games from the beginning.

One year King Herod sponsored an entire Olympiad to promote the sales of his prized sandalwood.

The Olympic Games leapt beyond being merely limited to Greeks early on. The gymnasium on Olympus was there not to promote press-ups and other muscular skills. It was to nourish thinking on divine themes. The Emperor Theodosus did not ban the games because he thought sports tedious. It was the theological implications of submitting to Zeus or Apollo that he opposed.

By polishing the ancient credentials of the games, the British Olympic Committee could out-punch Paris, Rio or Moscow. We need lots of altars and hosts of vestal virgins, but above all we need oracles.

Our churches are regarded as the lineal descendants of synagogues, but in fact they owe as much to the Pan-Hellenic oracles which also created the Olympiad. The notion that the gods could talk to mortals is the essences of the Olympic ideal. The chariot races and other shows of ability were to please and propitiate the god Zeus or his godling colleagues.

The Greek oracles strike us as a mixture of seedy confidence trick and the most sublime poetry - just like all religion. Communities could consult the oracles for guidance on where to build a house or to learn if your child would be a boy or a girl. Yet at Olympus the games added a unique mixture of pleasure. The gods seem to dance and to applaud the winners of the crown of wild thorns - a metaphor nicked by the Christians for their god.

I’ve only ever been to one Greek oracle. It is of Ammon at Siwa in the dunes of the Sahara. It guided Alexander the Great on his fate. The oracle first told him he was to be great. We know from Virgil that the Sybaline oracle insisted on orgasm as a religious duty. Could ecstasy be an ingredient for the British bid? It would certainly cock a snook, or something, at the credentials of Paris’s bid.

The Olympic Games were suppressed. Then Constantine, after defeating the pagan Romans at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge banned the oracles to Zeus and all the other non-Christian cults. Our modern world needs to restore its oracles. With a range of British oracles up and running by 2012 we are guaranteed to win the Olympic Games. Oracles would displace psychiatrists, priests, gossips, public relations consultants and other fraudsters. Oracles serve the human market in gullibility - a hunger that can never be satiated.

We have no archaeological evidence of there ever having been an oracle in Britannia. We only have a few temples to Mithras and some votive offerings while the aboriginal Britaniculae were busy tossing bronzes and enemies in the bogs of their homes. A poverty of oracles does not mean we need limit the Olympic bid to merely lists of stadia and other facilities. We need some highly placed oracles. Ben Nevis may be too bleak. The Holyrood building strikes me as the nearest sacrificial locus we can offer. Do we have the vestal virgins though? 

Now compare those thoughts with this brief item from Athens News  (the email version) about what the opening and closing ceremonies in Athens will be like:

[...] According to ATHOC, some 6,000 volunteers have already been chosen for the two ceremonies, with another 2,000 expected to be selected by the end of February.

Meanwhile, the artistic director for the two events, noted Greek
choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou, on Thursday offered 'hints' of what the ceremonies will feature, saying the Opening Ceremony will revolve around Apollo, the mythical Olympian god of intellect, the arts, prophecy, healing and, above all, light.

Conversely, Papaioannou said the Closing Ceremony will include a 'bacchic' theme ' a reference to Bacchus, the mythical god of wine and revelry of ancient Greece.

I hope they at least mention Zeus ...

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REVIEW: The Parthenon

The Guardian has an interesting review of Mary Beard, The Parthenon. Here's the incipit:

In September 1886 a recent visitor to Athens penned an outraged letter to The Times, complaining about what archaeologists were doing on the Acropolis. The problem was not the zeal with which they were stripping through thousands of years of buildings, defences, litter and topsoil to reveal the barren bedrock on which the modern visitor to the site must now perilously slip and slide. The complaint was that they were tipping the spoil down the side of the hill. This was more than an unsightly mess. It risked, the correspondent explained, destroying the distinctive profile of one end of the Acropolis: "It may interest your readers to know that the NE angle of the rock... presents a capital profile likeness of Mr Gladstone, which may be obliterated by the casting of rubbish over the walls."

It would be easy to sneer at such a classic piece of cultural imperialism that manages to project the Grand Old Man on to an innocent Greek rock formation. In a sense, this is the visual equivalent of assuming that the natives will eventually understand you if you shout in English. But it also captures the problems of any writer who takes on a monument that has long since transcended its disappointingly ruined reality to become an icon of western culture, a myth embedded in the global unconscious.

How do you get readers to make sense of it afresh? What kind of compromise can you make between the sheer alienness of the monument and its everyday familiarity as symbol and slogan? How do you negotiate the treacherous path between sentimental admiration and the understandable, if slightly unworthy, desire to "take the building down a peg or two" ("the bloody Parthenon", as William Golding dubbed it). These are not questions that apply here alone, of course. It was just these issues that Dalí exposed when he repainted the Mona Lisa with his own features and trademark moustache. But over the last two centuries the Acropolis and the Parthenon have seen more than their fair share of British writers struggling to cope with their mythic fame. [more]

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AWOTV: On TV Today

2.00 p.m. |DTC| The Mystery of the Parthenon
Dominating the skyline of Athens is the ancient Acropolis—once the
center of the Greek civilization. Trace the history of the Temple of
the Parthenon, from its history of design and construction, to the
men involved in its destruction.

DTC = Discovery Times Channel

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