Most recent update:3/1/2004; 6:11:23 AM

 Thursday, February 19, 2004

REVIEW: Women of Trachis

Not really favourable:

In the fifth century B.C., the Greek playwright Sophocles is believed to have written more than 120 plays of which only seven have survived in their entirety, and UC Santa Cruz student director Lauren Davis has chosen one of these, "Women of Trachis," to explore in an effort to discover any lurking contemporary significance in its "myth and roles."

In the 2,500 years since the play was written, it has no doubt been subject to much interpretation and thoroughly examined for any possible social relevance, so I guess one more time won’t hurt it.

The problem is that the play is less a grandiose Greek tragedy and more a minor Greek melodrama, so there really aren’t a lot of depths to plumb.

Despite its enigmatic title, "Women of Trachis" focuses on only one woman, Deianeira, wife of the legendary Heracles. The short play takes place when, after a 15-month absence, Heracles returns home accompanied by a captured virgin whom he has fallen in love with, and the plot centers on Deianeira’s jealousy and desperate unhappiness. In an effort to regain his love, she unwittingly murders him — after which, of course, she kills herself.

Sophocles weaves jealousy into an inexorable circle of fate and retribution: Heracles killed the Centaur who had "laid violent hands on" Deianeira as a young bride, and then was himself slain by the poison drawn from the Centaur’s wound, cruelly offered to Deianeira by the dying Centaur as a charm against Heracles’ possible future unfaithfulness. For the playwright, there is no escape from the hand of fate.

By contrast, the UCSC production emphasizes the superficial emotions and spectacle and substitutes the fist of rage for the hand of fate. The effect of the drama is also muddied by moaning, whimpering, writhing and assorted other theatrical escapades. [more]

7:13:19 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Ludology

An AP Wire piece keeps showing up in my box and I keep meaning to mention it but keep accidentally deleting it, so before I do that again, here's the version from the Ocala Star Bulletin:

Ever yearn to study "Tetris" as a metaphor for American consumerism? Or write a paper on narrative structure in the horror action game "Silent Hill"? How about ponder "Grand Theft Auto III," infamous for its violent bent, as an examination of the human condition?

Too bad. Someone already has.

Rejecting the stigma that games are only for kids, researchers around the world are making computer games the subject of serious academic pursuit alongside literature, music and art. They are staking out space in universities with Ph.D. programs, research centers and online journals.

Game studies (or "ludology," as it's known, from the Latin for "game") has spawned a new class of academics who devote themselves to analyzing how the wildly popular form of entertainment tells stories and what it reveals about how we express ourselves.


Generally, the field's most abstract and hard-core theorists are coming out of Europe, like Juul and Espen Aarseth, who has been working in the subject for a decade.

In the United States, meanwhile, some of the most influential work is being done by Murray, at Georgia Tech, and by MIT's Jenkins, who works with game producer Electronic Arts Inc. to discuss issues like narrative, dramatic tension and effective music.

Game designers study how Homer told "The Iliad," or ask why violence in "The Odyssey" is more acceptable than violence in "Grand Theft Auto." [more]

Speaking of which ... I wonder whether the film version of Troy will spawn a video game ...

7:10:24 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: What to Do With A Classics Degree

North Gate News has a piece on yet another Classicist with an interesting profession:

The next step for flattened cars like Roth's is a place like Schnitzer Steel, a scrap metal recycling operation in the middle of the Port of Oakland where as many as 1,000 cars are shredded every day, under the direction of Schnitzer General Manager Marc Madden

"There are anywhere from 25 to 35 million cars in California," said Madden. "And we would say about 3 million of those are recycled every year."

At three in the afternoon, Schnitzer's yard is fairly quiet. There is a steady din of cranes and earth movers, but it is a part of the background. Yards like this all over the country are where some of the most successful recycling operations happen.

"We recycled more than the Big Three produced last year, 101 percent," said Dave Keeling of the Steel Recycling Institute. "The automobile is the most recycled consumer product."

Madden, a former classicist and business relations consultant who keeps a copy of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary on his office bookshelf, walks past flattened cars piled 30 feet high, next to a conveyor belt rising just a little higher. Next to the cars is a pile equally as high of other shreddable metallic material.

"You've got bookcases, shelving brackets, sinks, water heaters, maybe a bicycle or two," says Madden. [more]

7:04:13 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Crossing the Rubicon

So ... Jeep has a new vehicle out called the Rubicon (I think we've mentioned this before). Check out this bit from the Albuquerque Tribune:

While Jeep is most associated with wars of the 20th century, one version carries a name that goes farther back to the 40s - BC. The Rubicon, named for a river in Northern Italy that Julius Caesar crossed in 49 B.C. en route to the conquest of Rome, is defined by its creators as "the ultimate off-roader."

If Caesar had crossed the Rubicon in one of these, he would have arrived in Rome much sooner and attained the rank of emperor with less debate.

Well duh. Of course, the same could be said if he had driven a Gremlin ...

6:55:17 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Tecumseh

The Gilroy (California) Dispatch has an interesting column suggesting a day to honour Native Americans which includes this tidbit:

I’d like to cast my vote for the electrifying Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh, whose name means “Shooting Star,” an American Braveheart. He traveled from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, convincing tribe after tribe to set aside their individual differences while uniting them into the Free Indian Confederacy, creating a great coalition of Native Americans larger than the entire Federal Union at the time. A great orator, he negotiated constantly with his white counterparts, driven by a vision of unity and freedom, by diplomacy, if possible-by war, only when necessary.

Now only meriting a small paragraph in “American” history text books, this peacemaker and prophet mastered the tactical strategies of generals of legend, such as Hannibal and Alexander the Great, and was once commissioned a Brigadier General in the British Army.

Interesting stuff ... on this side of the 49th parallel, Tecumseh usually gets more than a paragraph (and the British actions at Moraviantown usually get snide remarks by certain rogueclassicists when they teach Canadian history), but I'd never heard of this knowledge of Hannibal and Alexander before. Did he actually have such knowledge or is this part of the 'noble savage' persona that came to be attached to him?

6:51:27 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

NUNTII: Etruscan Influence Greater Than Previously Thought?

From the University of Chicago Chronicle:

A life-sized statue of a warrior discovered in southern France reflects a stronger cultural influence for the Etruscan civilization throughout the western Mediterranean region than previously appreciated.

Michael Dietler, Associate Professor in Anthropology, and his French colleague Michel Py have published a paper in the British journal Antiquity on the Iron Age statue, found at Lattes, a Celtic seaport Dietler is studying in southern France.

They found the fine-grained limestone statue in the door of a large courtyard-style house they are excavating in the ancient settlement, which is five miles south of the modern day city of Montpellier. The statue dates from the sixth or early fifth century B.C.

“The house is different from any we have seen in the area,” Dietler said. It is much larger than other houses in the settlement and does not follow the traditional indigenous architectural styles, nor is it precisely like those of the Etruscans or Greeks.

The team discovered the statue embedded in a door, indicating it had been reused as part of the structure when the house was built sometime around 250 B.C. It is the only statue found so far at the site.

“One thing that is unusual about the statue is that it was found in a secure archeological context. Most of the other statues we have from this period were discovered in the 19th century, for example, and we don’t know for sure where they came from,” Dietler explained.

The statue, which was damaged while serving as a doorjamb, is unusual in other ways. From what remains of it, largely a torso, scholars have determined the statue is of a kneeling warrior holding a weapon, such as a bow or a spear. Most other statues from the era are of warriors seated in cross-legged positions.

Body armor and clothing commonly seen in Italy and Spain decorate the statue. Previously, scholars have thought that the objects represented on statues found in the region demonstrated that northeastern Spain influenced their design. But Dietler’s work suggests there has been some confusion about these cultural influences, and that some likely originated in Eturia, with a complex circulation of metal objects throughout the western Mediterranean.

Dietler’s statue has two round discs that are carved in relief on the chest and back of the warrior. Also carved on the statue are four smooth cords superimposed over a ridged strap that passes over the top of the shoulders and along the middle of the torso, encircling the arms. On the back disc is the effaced tail of a crest of a helmet.

The warrior is dressed in a finely grooved pleated skirt, which is encircled with a wide belt. The belt buckle on the Lattes warrior is one of the strongest clues of the statue’s creation date, as examples of this type from graves in Spain and Italy are no longer found on statues dated after the early fifth century B.C.

Etruscans may have lived at Lattes at one time as part of a trade enclave. They were still apparent in about 475 B.C., when the settlement became part of the Masaliote sphere of trade, based in a larger community of Greek colonists nearby where modern Marseilles is now located. [more ... including a photo of the torso]

6:34:58 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.


ante diem xi kalendas martias

  • Parentalia (Day 7)

5:39:50 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Greek Tragedy, Paul Martin Style

Clearly the Toronto Star has taken to heart my constant rants about the state of Classics in Canada ... today, one of their columnists has gone to great lengths to try and make the governing Liberals' latest scandal into a Greek tragedy:

I was going to explain something to you that is vitally important — how it could be that the Prime Minister was the only person in Quebec who didn't know the federal sponsorship boondoggle was going on — when my friend Yankel rushed in.

"Enough with your two-bit political science," he shouted. "We have much greater matters to deal with. We have noble themes, irreconcilable fates, sorrowful and terrible events. We have tragedy!"


"A Greek tragedy," said Yankel.

Who's got time for a Greek tragedy? The government is falling apart.

"A Greek tragedy Canadian-style!"

Anybody who thinks a Greek tragedy Canadian-style is a souvlaki covered with maple syrup doesn't know my friend Yankel. Yankel is a classics maven.

"I can't believe it," he shouts. "I can not believe it!"

What he can't believe is the fix Paul Martin is in.

"The fix he is in?" shouts Yankel. "It's the fix he got himself into! He did it to himself. Can you believe it? He brought it all on himself!"

Does this make the Prime Minister some kind of tragic hero?

"Tragic doofus. That's how tragic heroes always end up anyway, tragic doofuses. It's because they have a tragic flaw."

Paul Martin has a tragic flaw?

"Does Paul Martin have a tragic flaw?'' I was beginning to worry about Yankel having a tragic flaw himself, such as a blood vessel that was about to burst.

What is it?

"What is it? If you'll shut up, I'll tell you what it is! That's the trouble with you. How am I supposed to tell you why what happened to Paul Martin is a Greek tragedy if you don't shut up?"

I shut up.

"Ambition," said Yankel.

I stayed shut up. Although I wondered what use a Greek chorus was who didn't say anything. Maybe I could do hand signals.

"And stop with the hand signals! That's what it is: ambition. That is his tragic flaw. Naked ambition. Overweening ambition. A flaw doesn't get more Greek and tragic than that.''

Yankel filled in the dramatic background. Here was Paul Martin, born to position and privilege, son of one of the most powerful politicians in the land. He rises to vast power and wealth in the corporate realm. He goes into politics to fulfill the oracle's prophecy that one day a Martin, his father having been screwed out of the opportunity, would become prime minister.

Yet he is thwarted. On every hand, that's all he encounters: thwarting, thwarting, thwarting. Then finally he gets his chance to do a little screwing himself and screws the Prime Minister. Paul Martin's hour at last approacheth.

"You following this? A lot is going on between the lines."

I was.

"Shut up. Now Jean Chrétien wishes to take his time leaving. He wants to stick around until February. But will Paul Martin let him? No! Fifteen years Paul Martin has been striving to topple Jean Chrétien, and he finally does. Fifteen years! But can he wait a couple more months before he takes over?

"So think about this. There's a big fiddle going on regarding Quebec. The auditor-general investigates. Her report is an atomic bombshell. But she holds off dropping it because there's this flap over Martin hurrying Chrétien out. Martin can't wait! Ambition has turned his mind into two scoops of Haagen-Dazs sherbet. He has to take over right now or it will melt out his ears!

"And what happens? I'll tell you what would've happened. What would've happened is the auditor-general would've brought her report out when she planned to, with Chrétien still in office. At the very least it would have come out before February, which was when Chrétien wanted to leave. And it would have blown up all over Chrétien. And Martin could have come to power smelling like a can of garden-spice Florient.

"Instead, because he's so ambitious — he's like a little kid: gimme, gimme, gimme, it's mine — when the report finally does come down and turns Ottawa into a five-alarm nuclear disaster, who is sitting there at Ground Zero that it lands on? Guess!"


"Hold on! I haven't got to my punchline."

Who knew Greek tragedies had punchlines?

"The punchline is, whom the gods would destroy they first make ambitious."

That's not a very funny punchline.

"What did you expect? It's a Canadian Greek tragedy. You want a Canadian Greek comedy, stick around. I have a feeling that's going to be the sequel.''

Typical that the Star wouldn't recognize hubris ...

Just a bit of a gloss for our non-Canadian friends in case this comes up again: Paul Martin was recently anointed as Liberal tyrant -- er -- prime minister of Canada, taking over from Jean Chretien a few months ago. Just as Parliament was sitting for the first time under his (Martin's) leadership, there broke the story about the government's 'sponsorship program', which had as its origins the last threat of referendum from Quebec. This program funnelled a quarter of a billion dollars into various programs in Quebec, one hundred million of which went to Liberal cronies and which didn't actually result in say, advertising or any other 'product'. The erstwhile PM apparently knew about this and left office a little early so as to have the auditor-general's report come to light under his successor's watch. Oh ... and just for the record, Paul Martin was the heir/owner of Canada Steamship Lines ... a major shipping magnate (he transferred ownership to his kids just before taking over) ... of course, CSL is based in Barbados and flies various flags of convenience to avoid paying Canadian taxes.

The scandal continues ... right wing gun nights like myself are besides themselves in Schadenfreude ...

5:36:43 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.


Eric Csapo, Margaret Miller, Poetry, Theory, Praxis: The Social Life of Myth, Word and Image in Ancient Greece. Essays in Honour of William J. Slater.

Jeri Blair DeBrohun, Roman Propertius and the Reinvention of Elegy.

Gregor Maurach, Horaz - Werk und Leben.

5:09:09 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

NUNTII: Antonine Wall Features

The Herald has an interesting report about some recently-discovered defensive/offensive features built alongside the Antonine Wall:

Excavations of the 38-mile Antonine wall at Mumrills Fort, near Falkirk, have revealed evidence of the Romans' defensive structures, which were designed to cause the maximum damage to attackers, and even the daily cooking routines of foot-soldiers.

Archaeologists have discovered that the frontier, which briefly supplanted Hadrian's wall in the second century AD, was lined with pits filled with stakes which may have been dotted with sharp objects such as glass.

Similar fortifications, known as lilia because they apparently reminded Romans of lilies, are shown on Trajan's column in Rome and were described by Julius Caesar in the Gallic Wars, his description of one of his own campaigns.

Geoff Bailey, keeper of archaeology and local history at Falkirk Museum, said: "We have now found these lilia on eight separate occasions and it looks like they will have gone along the whole 38 miles of the wall. They are another part of the defensive system which had never been discovered before. The Romans would have had the ditch, the wall and these lilia, which you could call the ancient Roman equivalent of the minefield.

"The Germans had similar structures called wolf pits in the first world war, and they were used relatively recently in the Vietnam war where they were smeared with animal fat, so that any injury inflicted would become infected.

"We just don't know if the Romans did something similar here, but they provided an extra obstacle for people moving north to south and channelled people into the heavily guarded gateways where they could be easily controlled."

He added: "Forget the textbooks, this is how they really lived." [more]

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The freebie side of Hollywood Reporter drops some details about who will be starring in their upcoming miniseries about Rome:

Hail Ciaran Hinds. HBO has tapped the British actor to play Gaius Julius Caesar in the HBO/BBC epic drama series "Rome." [...]  Also cast in "Rome," which chronicles the tumultuous last years of Caesar's reign and marked Rome's transition from a republic to an empire, is Tony winner Lindsay Duncan. She will play Servilia, Caesar's longtime mistress and mother of Brutus.

I guess HBO will continue the tradition of portraying Romans as having British accents ...

4:58:44 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

AWOTV: On TV Today

9.00 p.m. |HISTC| Line of Fire Conquerors: The Sparan Wars
[I assume that is supposed to be Spartan] This series examines the
great conquerors of the world and provides new insights into their
most compelling military achievements. Each episode combines graphics
with recreations to analyze every facet of their famous battles and
conquests. Some of the conquerors profiled include Genghis Khan,
Hannibal, Ramses, Alexander, Cortez, the Spartans and the Romans.

HISTC = History Television (Canada)

4:34:47 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

Click for Athens, Greece Forecast

Click for Rome, Italy Forecast

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