Most recent update:3/1/2004; 6:12:09 AM

 Tuesday, February 24, 2004

NUNTII: Parthenon Marbles

This is the sort of thing that makes me suspicious. First I read a piece via the Athens News Agency's email dispatches:

The exhibit titled, ''Reuniting the Parthenon Marbles - A Cultural
Order,'' which portrays the Parthenon marbles as they would be as a
whole, was inaugurated on Tuesday evening at the Athens Concert
Hall-Megaron Mousikis by President of the Republic Kostis

Also present were Parliament Speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis, Cultural
Minister Evangelos Venizelos, and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Marianna Vardinoyianni, among others.

Venizelos described the event as ''a small exhibit with great symbolic
meaning.'' He also explained that the exhibit had already been held in
Paris with Vardinoyianni's initiative under the auspices of UNESCO and
in cooperation with the Greek Ministry of Culture, since in light of
the upcoming Olympic Games the time is right.

Okay ... so it's basically "Marbles Reunited" Lite (less filling, great taste, less filling, great taste). Anyhoo ... then I read from the email dispatch of the Macedonian Press Agency:

The return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum to Greece
sounded like a utopia 20 years ago but today it gains ground and it is
seen by the international public opinion as a prospect which, if
materialized, it will satisfy the sense of rightfulness.

It is a cultural call expressed by world heritage, stated Greek Culture
Minister Evangelos Venizelos in a press conference he gave in Athens
today on the occasion of the great photo exhibition on the Parthenon
Marbles held at Megaron Music Building.

The exhibition will be inaugurated this evening by President Kostis
Stephanopoulos and will remain open for the public until March 28.

Mr. Venizelos expressed satisfaction for the results of an opinion poll
according to which, over 70% of the British, who responded to the
questionnaire, are in favor of the Greek proposal for the return of the
Parthenon Marbles.

70%? Interesting. A week ago it was being trumpeted that 81% of the British public and 90% of British Museum employees were in favour. A couple of weeks before that, Athens News told us it was an "overwhelming majority ... that almost reached 80%". Shortly before that, the Scotsman told us rather more clearly, that 73% were in favour of the return, while 81% "supported the new proposals". It seems the numbers are 'okay', but not being used 'honestly'.

So, of course, that sets off all sorts of alarm bells in my head and I hope against hope that I can track down the question(s) asked in the poll itself. Mehercule! Why hasn't the press made a big deal about this poll? The actual questions -- conducted by ICM Research -- are available online. Just in case it disappears, though (that's my Tiberian paranoia kicking in), here's a summary:

1. A random sample of 1002 folks 18+ were polled in December 2003; the results were "weighted to the profile of all 18-24 year olds". Hmmmm ... I wonder why (usually a reason is given, no?).

2. The first question asked "Which, if any, of the following have you heard of?". The list included the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel stuff, Venus di Milo, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, Rodin's Thinker, the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles, Rosetta Stone, Koohinor Diamond, or none of these. Significantly, only 48% of those polled had even heard of the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles.

3. The followup question was: "The Elgin Marbles is the section of the Parthenon Sculptures that was transported from the ancient Parthenon Temple in Athens, Greece in 1801 by the Earl of Elgin to Britain. The Elgin Marbles are currently on display in the British Museum. Do you agree or disagree that the British Museum should allow the Elgin Marbles to be reunited and displayed again in Athens, Greece? " 73% responded affirmatively to this; 18% negatively; and 10% didn't know. (There must be some rounding of numbers, obviously).

4. As if that weren't enough of a killer question to digest over the phone, there then came: "Recently the Greeks proposed that the British Museum provide half of their Elgin Marbles for display in a new purpose built museum in Athens on loan. This would mean that the British Museum retain ownership of the Marbles, the Marbles would be reunited with the rest of the Parthenon Sculptures in a site overlooking the original temple, and in return the Greeks would provide precious artefacts for the British Museum and other regional museums around the UK. "  I note in passing that there is no mention of when the marbles would be returned; I also note that the proposal folks were asked about was in regards to HALF of the Elgin Marbles. This is something new to me ... I have never read anything except that Greece wanted ALL the marbles back.

In any event was followed by: "Now I am going to read out some statements. Please tell me which one best reflects your opinion of the recent Greek proposal?" There then follows the standard 'completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree etc.' set of questions. Perhaps not surprisingly, given that they apparently only wanted half of the marbles, 78% were in the category of completely or mostly agreeing.

5. Those who agreed to any extent (apparently 808) were then asked why they agreed, and there came the usual laundry list ... apparently more than one answer was allowed. Perhaps significantly, only 47% were of the opinion "The Elgin Marbles belong to the Greeks/should be returned to them. " This is a number which should be getting far, far more attention. Only 15% agreed on the basis that the "Greek offer was fair". Only 13% agreed on the basis that "The Elgin Marbles do not belong to the British/were 'stolen' by the British." 11%: "The Marbles should be returned to their historical/original setting." There were other responses that aren't really of interest (to me, anyway).

6. Those who disagreed (122) were similarly asked why. Interestingly, all of the reasons I would use came in rather low: The British Museum will take better care of the Elgin Marbles (12%), Cannot trust the Greeks to give the Marbles back (6%), The long term loan is really a way for the Greeks to take the Marbles back (3%), Would set a precedent/open up many more claims on British Museums and galleries (3%),The Elgin Marbles are more accessible to people from around the world in the British Museum (1%). The big, tantalizing reason for why folks disagreed was "Other" (54%). Heck, even "Don't Know" scored more than what I would have said. (23%)

7. The final question was, "Greece will be hosting the Olympic Games in 2004. Do you agree or disagree that the British Museum should make a commitment during the Olympic Year to display the Elgin Marbles in Greece? " 77% were in the "completely agree" or "mostly agree" categories.

So let's see ... we're going to skew the results to the 18-24 year old age group, arguably the most 'politicized' group in regards to this sort of thing. But even more interestingly, we're going to have a poll of folks, over half of whom do not even know what the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles are. You can figure out the rest for yourself -- journalists should be ashamed for their lack of critical thinking on this one.

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ante diem vi kalendas martias

  • Regifugium -- a festival which didn't really happen on "February
    24" but actually six days before the kalends of March, which was
    usually during a period of intercalation. Roman writers suggested
    this festival was a celebration of the expulsion of the Tarquins,
    although modern scholars have their doubts. Whatever the case,
    on this day the Rex Sacrorum would offer some sort of sacrifice
    in the Comitium and then run away as fast as he could
  • 259 A.D. -- martyrdom of Montanus and several companions at Carthage
  • 303 A.D. -- edict of Galerius officially promoting the persecution of Christians (?)
  • 304 A.D. -- martyrdom of Sergius in Cappadocia
  • 1463 -- birth of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (usually described as a "Neoplatonist")
  • 1999 -- death of David Daube (author of Civil Disobedience in Antiquity, among numerous other works)

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Matthew B. Schwartz, "Greek and Jew: Philo and the Alexandrian Riots of 38-41 CE.", Judaism (Spring, 2000)

Thanks to Torrey Sealand at the Philo of Alexandria blog for the ref ...

5:39:12 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.


Matthias Baltes, Marius Victorinus. Zur Philosophie in seinen theologischen Schriften.

Ingo Gildenhard, Martin Ruehl (edd.), Out of Arcadia: Classics and Politics in Germany in the Age of Burckhardt, Nietzsche and Wilamowitz.

Mario Citroni (ed.), Memoria e Identita. La cultura romana costruisce la sua immagine.

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NUNTII: Catapulting to Fame ...

Dr. Serafina Cuomo's work with catapults has caught the eye of John Noble Wilford in the New York Times. Here's a chunk:

Dr. Cuomo cited several telling examples from Greek and Roman history in which rulers employed scientists for their knowledge of geometry, physics and engineering skills in developing more powerful and reliable catapults. Dionysius, a king of Syracuse in the fourth century B.C., gathered craftsmen "from everywhere into one place," as Diodorus wrote, and rewarded them with high wages, gifts, prizes and, for the best and brightest, places at his table.

Dr. Cuomo called it "an inspiring example of policy-driven research."

Later in the same century, catapult designers working for Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, raised the stakes in the arms race by improving the weapon with twisted sinews and ropes that acted as powerful springs. By 200 B.C., Philo of Byzantium was writing that catapult research had moved beyond trial-and-error methods to the recognition of a principle based on mathematics.

The principle, as Dr. Cuomo pointed out, was that "all parts of a catapult, including the weight or length of the projectile, were proportional to the size of the torsion springs." Mathematicians were then able to draw up precise tables of specifications for easy reference by builders, and also soldiers on the firing line.

The engineer Philo, the earliest direct source on this period of catapult design, reported that the improved weapons were something that ambitious rulers in the Mediterranean region "display the greatest enthusiasm over and would exchange anything for." Scientists and engineers, he said, were paid handsomely to match wits in the catapult competition.

A later king of Syracuse, it is said, persuaded the legendary Archimedes to design advanced catapults for defense against the Romans. In time, the Romans themselves had catapults capable of delivering 60-pound boulders at least 500 feet. A historian in that time described a Roman legion with 160 catapults, some for shooting incendiary missiles and others for rounded stones, lined up in battle alongside archers and slingers.

One aspect of this ancient weaponry that caught Dr. Cuomo's attention was something Hero of Alexander wrote in the first century A.D., which has the ring of the cold war policy of mutual deterrence. [more]

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CHATTER: Passionata

There's a Reuters piece kicking around  in which scholars criticize the historical accuracy of the Passion ... here's an excerpt:

Gibson, a traditionalist Catholic, was so determined to make the $25 million (13 million pounds) film which he funded himself that he had his characters speak in Latin and Aramaic.

Experts say this was his first mistake as Greek was the language spoken in Jerusalem during Jesus's time, along with Aramaic and some Hebrew spoken by Jews.

"Jesus talking to (Pontius) Pilate and Pilate to Jesus in Latin!" exclaimed John Dominic Crossan, a professor of religious studies at the Chicago-based Roman Catholic De Paul University. "I mean in your dreams. It would have been Greek."

Latin was reserved for official decrees or used by the elite. Most Roman centurions in the Holy Land spoke Greek rather than Latin, historians and archaeologists told Reuters.

The mistakes, experts say, didn't stop with the wrong language, which Crossan -- who speaks Latin -- said was so badly pronounced in the film that it was almost incomprehensible.

"He has a long-haired Jesus...Jesus didn't have long hair," said physical anthropologist Joe Zias, who has studied hundreds of skeletons found in archaeological digs in Jerusalem. "Jewish men back in antiquity did not have long hair."

"The Jewish texts ridiculed long hair as something Roman or Greek," said New York University's Lawrence Schiffman.

Along with extensive writings from the period, experts also point to a frieze on Rome's Arch of Titus, erected after Jerusalem was captured in AD 70 to celebrate the victory, which shows Jewish men with short hair taken into captivity.

Erroneous depictions of Jesus in Western art have often misled film makers in their portrayal of Jesus, experts said.

What? You mean that whole Romanes eunt domum thing wasn't taken into account? Seriously, though ... I haven't been able to find any mention of the historical advisers (if any) to this one. I'd be curious to know whether a Classicist was consulted ...

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AWOTV: On TV Today

2.00 p.m. |HISTU| The Search for Atlantis
Ted Danson takes viewers on a spectacular 2-hour search for one of
the greatest civilizations the world has ever known--the fabled Lost
City of Atlantis. The epic journey spans the globe from the volcanoes
of the Azores to the uncharted jungles of South America and even to
the archives of Nazi Germany. This program also brings the glittering
Lost City to life once again, with painstakingly recreated islands,
harbors, palaces, and temples.

4.00 p.m. |HISTU| Seven Wonders of the World
The Great Pyramid of Giza, Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, Statue of
Zeus at Olympia, Colossus of Rhodes, Temple of Artemis, Hanging
Gardens of Babylon, the Pharos of Alexandria. Of the 7 wonders, only
the Great Pyramid remains. Why did ancient scholars select these
sites? What can the crumbled remains say about those who built them?

4.00 p.m. |DCIVC| Byzantium: Heaven on Earth

7.00 p.m. |HISTU| Hadrian's Wall
74-miles long and 2,000 years old, Hadrian's Wall winds over the
hills and valleys of Northern England, marking the northernmost
extent of a long-dead empire. Built of stone and mortar by Roman
soldiers, it is the most significant Roman ruin in England. Ordered
built by the Emperor Hadrian around the time of his visit in 122 AD,
it was more a permanent demarcation and less a defensive barrier.
We'll visit this archaeological treasure, which teaches us much of
what the Roman era was like for Britain.

11.00 p.m. |HINT| The Sunken City
The ancient Roman city of Ostia was once a vital seaport. Yet it
died a slow, painful death. This documentary explores the reasons for
its demise and looks at the abandoned wasteland today.

HINT = History International

DCIVC = Discovery Civilization (Canada)

HISTU = History Channel (US)

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