Most recent update:3/1/2004; 6:11:56 AM

 Monday, February 23, 2004

CHATTER: John Keats

Since today marks the anniversary of the death of John Keats, it seems like a good idea to post his Ode On a Grecian Urn ... it's one of those poems (I believe) that everyone nods knowingly about but which not everyone has actually read:

THOU still unravish'd bride of quietness,  
  Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,  
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express  
  A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:  
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape        
  Of deities or mortals, or of both,  
    In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?  
  What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?  
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?  
    What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy? 
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard  
  Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;  
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,  
  Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:  
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave  
  Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;  
    Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,  
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;  
    She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,  
  For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!  

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed  
  Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;  
And, happy melodist, unwearièd,  
  For ever piping songs for ever new;  
More happy love! more happy, happy love!   
  For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,  
    For ever panting, and for ever young;  
All breathing human passion far above,  
  That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,  
    A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.   
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?  
  To what green altar, O mysterious priest,  
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,  
  And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?  
What little town by river or sea-shore,  
  Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,  
    Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?  
And, little town, thy streets for evermore  
  Will silent be; and not a soul, to tell  
    Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.   
O Attic shape! fair attitude! with brede  
  Of marble men and maidens overwrought,  
With forest branches and the trodden weed;  
  Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought  
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!  
  When old age shall this generation waste,  
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe  
  Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,  
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all  
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

The text is from the Oxford Book of English Verse as preserved at One of the inspirations for the poem is said to have been the Townley Vase, now in the British Museum.

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ante diem vii kalendas martias

  • Traditional end of the Roman year (followed by a period of intercalation)
  • Terminalia -- a festival in honour of Terminus, the divinity who
    presided over boundaries. In Rome itself, Terminus had a shrine
    within the Temple of Jupiter beneath an opening in the roof because,
    it is said, when they were building the Temple of Jupiter, Terminus
    refused to move. What happened in the city is unclear, but the
    rustic version of the festival involved. At boundary stones,
    farmer families would gather and build a turf altar; a fire would
    be built and one of the younger members of the family would throw
    grain in the fire three times. Others offered other things like
    honeycombs and wine, then a sheep or pig would be sacrificed and
    a feast would follow.
  • 155 A.D. -- martyrdom of Polycarp at Smyrna
  • 303 A.D. -- "Great Persecution" of Diocletian begins in Nicomedia
  • 303 A.D. -- martyrdom of Serenus the Gardener at Sirmium

5:26:37 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

ARTICLE: From History Today (February, 2004)

Robert Garland, Murder Most Foul

WHAT DID MURDER MEAN in the ancient world? Did it exist? How was it defined? We have no statistical evidence of its incidence within ally population. There is little information about motives or even about methods. We never hear of serial killers, other than the Roman emperors. We know little about the socio-economic inducements to murder. Our evidence from the Greek world is random and largely restricted to Athens. It comes mainly from the orators, whose services as speech-writers were engaged by plaintiffs and defendants who happened to be wealthy enough to pay them. Very rarely, however, do we know the verdict. Our evidence from the Roman world is mainly limited to a handful of high-profile murders of politically prominent individuals. Murder apart, we know next-to-nothing about the general level of violence in ancient society, which makes it virtually impossible to identify continuity or change. And yet such evidence as we have sheds light on a subject of perennial fascination for our understanding of the tensions and conflicts latent in human society.

It is by no means obvious what type of killing properly belongs under the heading of 'murder'. What we would classify as murder today was in some cases justifiable homicide, in others mandatory.

The Law of the Twelve Tables (c.450 BC), the earliest surviving Roman law code, ordered parents 'to kill quickly a deformed infant'. The paterfamilias or head of the family had the right, in theory at least, to execute summarily any member, including in primis his slaves. When the slave of a knight named Publius Vedius Pollio accidentally smashed a precious goblet, Pollio ordered him to be tossed into a pond stocked with man-eating lampreys--a particularly painful and protracted death. As matters turned out his life was spared, but only because he appealed to Pollio's guest, the Emperor Augustus. [more]

n.b. I've been waiting for History Today to update their files at LookSmart ... I'll be regularly posting the beginnings of articles I find as I work my way through them ... stay tuned.

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CHATTER: Matters Calendrical

As might be expected, there has been a spate of articles blabbing about leap years of late ... most have been pretty pedestrian stuff. The Malaysian Daily Star, however, has a nice article on the subject which is just dripping with ClassCon. Here's a bit (I've fixed a couple of spelling errors in the text):

Millions of years ago there were exactly 366 days in one year; in the far future there will be 365 exactly. However, now we have to put up with 365.242199... days per year. 

The second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, who is said to have lived from 715 to 672BC, set up a college of Pontiffs, headed by a Pontifex Maximus. Their duties included supervising the maintenance of the bridges over the river Tiber in Rome (Pontifex means bridge-maker) and advising the king on the calendar. 

Legend has it that Numa added February and January to the year in that order, with 28 days and making a year of 354 days, roughly an Idnar year. There were further reforms in the next 500 years, including those of King Tarquin Priscus (616-579BC) who reversed the order of February and January among other changes, which resulted in a year of 356¼ days, requiring an occasional adjustment at the discretion of the Pontiffs, who kept their methods secret. 

The Roman calendar degenerated and by the time of Julius Caesar (104-44 BC), it was three months out of step with the seasons. With the advice of Greek-Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes, Caesar abandoned any attempt at a lunar calendar and divided the year into 12 solar months. 

Caesar accepted this advice but in order to bring the calendar into line with the seasons, the year 46 BC had to have 445 days known as the “the last year of confusion” which succeeded in ending the difficulties. 

Sosigenes' solution was to follow 3 years of 365 days by one of 366, giving an average of 365¼. This is called the Julian Year; it lasted for more than 1,500 years. 

Sosigenes clearly foresaw that there would be problems with the new calendar, which assumed an average of 365¼ days instead of 365.242199. A difference of just over a day in 128 years. 

Various people from the 8th to the 16th century complained of the discrepancy and suggested corrections, but the matter was delayed by unforeseen distractions such as the Black Death, the Reformation and two and even three Popes at the same time. [more]

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CHATTER: Those Wandering Phoenicians

The Lebanon Daily Star has a piece on how far the Phoenicians actually went (in their travels) ... here's an excerpt:

There’s no doubt that Phoenicians were well established all over the Mediterranean. Archeological remains prove they lived in a vast network of cities at Cyprus, Malta, Sicily, Spain and the African coast, where Carthage became the powerbroker of the western Mediterranean till the rise of Rome.

Archeological finds take us even further, past Gibraltar’s “Pillars of Hercules,” to Phoenician settlements on the Atlantic coast of Morocco and Portugal. But that’s it. So far no physical proof of any further exploits has been found. However, there are some spectacular written sources.

First of all, there are two Latin texts that relate of the journey of Himilco, who in the 5th century BC sailed from Carthage around Iberia (Spain) to northern Europe. According to these sources, Himilco did not go ashore in Brittany to pick up any Celtic warriors, but crossed the Channel to Great Britain.

“It’s a story not that unlikely,” said Helen Sadr, professor of Archeology at the American University of Beirut. “The Phoenicians always had a keen interest in precious metals and Britain was renowned for its tin, which was already traded over land. What’s more, finds in Britain prove close contacts with Iberia, which for centuries was a colony of Carthage. Combine that with the Phoenician settlements found in Portugal and
a journey to England is not that  far-fetched.”

A second story about Phoenician exploits stems from the Greek “father of history” Herodotus. In a chapter on the world’s (three) continents in “Histories,” he writes that “as for Libya (Africa), we know it to be washed on all sides by the sea, except where it’s attached to Egypt. This discovery was made by Necos, the Egyptian king, who … sent to sea a number of ships manned by Phoenicians, with orders to make it to the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) and return to Egypt.”

According to Herodotus the Phoenicians sailed south from the Red Sea. Every autumn they went ashore, sowed corn and waited till it was ripe to set to sail again. It took them three years to get back to Egypt. “On their return,” Herodotus writes, “they declared ­ I for my part do not believe them ­ that in sailing around Libya they had the sun upon their right hand.”
It should be noted that Herodotus, who was born in the 5th century BC, is also known as “the father of lies” and indeed some of his stories, such as on the man-sized desert ants of Persia, are just fables. He himself said that “my business is to record what people say, I’m by no means bound to believe it.” What furthermore speaks in his favor, is that no one believed his accounts of Amazons and a man-made canal between the Nile and the Red Sea, until archeologists proved both actually existed.

To the Greek historian the changed position of the sun in the southern hemisphere was just too much to believe. “It is precisely for that remark,” said Sadr, “that most scholars believe the story is probably true.”

Third, there’s the journey of Hanno, which stems from a Greek text of the 10th century AD. That’s a bit late for a trip that took place some 1,500 years earlier, yet what makes the text plausible are the incredible details described, which were not generally known in 1,000 AD. According to the text, which is said to be a translation from a much older Phoenician tablet, Hanno set sail from Carthage with 60 ships.

After sailing beyond the Pillars of Hercules, Hanno founded several cities on the coast of today’s Morocco. They passed a river called the Lixos, took translators aboard and sailed for days along a large desert coast until they reached a small island called Cerne, which was situated in the mouth of a large river. According to Hanno, Cerne was as far from the Pillars as is Carthage.

Most scholars agree that the description fits Somalia, and several other texts confirm that the Phoenicians used to trade with Cerne. Sailing onto the river, Hanno and his men saw “mountains crowded with savages clad in skins of wild beasts” and reached a second big river “teeming with crocodiles and hippos.”  [more]

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CHATTER: Horses Again ...

This was double take material:

The former Australian pacer Odysseus scored a determined front running victory  ...

You gotta wonder ... who in their right mind would name a horse Odysseus (who, of course, was not known for his speed in getting home)? Still, this nine-year-old gelding was claimed after his victory (another surprise).

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L. Polverini (ed.), Aspetti della storiografia di Ettore Pais. Universita degli Studi di Perugia. Incontri perugini di storia della storiografia antica e sul mondo antico, VII.

Bernard Andreae, Antike Bildmosaiken.

Sophia Aneziri, Die Vereine der Dionysischen Techniten im Kontext der hellenistischen Gesellschaft. Historia Einzelschriften 163.

Keith Sidwell (ed.), Pleiades Setting. Essays for Pat Cronin on his 65th Birthday.

[all BMCR reviews are in English]

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AWOTV: On TV Today

Nothing of interest ....

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