Wednesday, March 03, 2004
THIS DAY IN ANCIENT HISTORY
ante diem v nonas martias
- Festival of Mars (day 3)
- c. 262 A.D. -- martyrdom of Marinus and Astericus at Caesarea
OBITUARY: Charles Fraser
Some excerpts from an obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald of someone described as "a Jesuit, classicist and billboard Australian.":
Fleming, the playwright, records the story that when Charles Fraser told his hero, Father Paddy Dalton, that he wanted to be a Jesuit, Dalton asked him, "What do you dislike about the Jesuits?" "They're all mad," Fraser replied. "Well, that's true enough," said Dalton, "but once you've been one for a while you don't notice it."
There are men now in their 80s who were taught by him at Riverview. Latin and Greek were his subjects, although he also taught English in earlier years. He was a sedentary teacher, with a dry, rasping voice - hence he was "Chisel" to generations. On the phone this voice could be sharp and matter-of-fact, a perfect firewall.
Irony was a spontaneous manner for him, and pupils never forgot his exasperated rules for translating classical authors. "Rule One. Make up your mind you can't do it. Rule Two, Misread the text. Rule Three, Always take the first word first, and the second word second ..."
He prepared his classes meticulously and controlled them utterly. Yet, with small groups and advanced students he read well beyond the syllabus and even took time out for particular indulgences. As a class sometimes of just one with him, I would find him putting aside Thucydides or Virgil and regaling me with passages from Bruce Marshall's 1946 spoof, George Brown's Schooldays.
He rather identified with "old Rumbold", the classics master, and was charmed by such declarations as "'Oh, that I had wings like a dove, for then would I fly away and be at rest' - the Psalmist said, not 'for then would I bugger off to New York to attend a directors' meeting with Mr J Pierpont Morgan'."
His pedagogic outcome, at least in the short term, was method, care, discipline, precision, rather than enthusiasm for the texts as literature. Yet a striking number of his classics students went on to literary careers - the historian and critic Robert Hughes, the playwrights Nick Enright and Justin Fleming, the poet Peter Boyle. Among the classical authors, the supreme works to him were those of Plato's trilogy on the death of Socrates, Apology, Crito and Phaedo. He regarded Socrates as second only to St Paul as the greatest mere human who had ever lived, and the Apology third after the Bible and Thomas a'Kempis's Imitation of Christ as the greatest books ever written.
There was a tension here at the heart of the man, for his settled outlook was sceptical and sardonic; nothing was for the best in this decidedly inferior world. Socratic doubt was congenial to his temperament. Yet he was naturally conservative and a Jesuit, bound by a vow of obedience. Privately, he could be critical and bleak about some of his colleagues or school authorities, but he would never say so publicly and was hurt if others did. Socrates was so high in Fraser's pantheon partly because of his congenital empathy with the sceptic, but even more because he saw Socrates as a martyr, a proto-Christian in his decisive public stance. [...]
CHATTER: Omar Shariff -- Closet rogueclassicist?
The first movie my parents ever took me to when I was a lad was Dr. Zhivago -- I think I was three years old or so. Because of that movie, though, I early on formed the opinion that Omar Shariff was possibly the coolest guy on the face of the earth (even taking the name 'Omar Shariff' when 'role playing' in kiddies's games ... I thought it was all one name, though -- Omarshariff). Over the past four or so decades, he really has done nothing to change that opinion (his obsession with bridge -- yikes -- is offset by a more sensible obsession with backgammon) and ecce, at one of those post-Oscar parties, he continues to impress:
At a New Line Cinema Oscar party packed with pretty young things -- including Paris Hilton, who wasn't invited, but who would dare turn her away? -- stood Omar Sharif, 71, wearing his white hair and wrinkles with pride. "No plastic surgery for me," he said, grabbing his neck wattle. "I want to show my age." The Lebanese-Egyptian actor, who stars in New Line's "Monsieur Ibrahim," which he calls a "gentle film," mused about his 50-year career: "We try, and we keep on trying, and then we die."
In the Hollywood Hills mansion of New Line Co-Chairman Bob Shaye, Sharif introduced friends to his tall, dark and handsome grandson, Omar Jr., who described himself as an actor, "if someone hires me."
Fluent in several languages, the elder Sharif said he has taken up the study of ancient Greek. "One of two things will happen: I will have died learning something useless but beautiful, or I shall die having read Homer in the original. It may seem stupid but you have to have a beautiful mission in life." [from the Washington Post]
CHATTER: U.S.-as-Rome Redux
We haven't had anyone seriously pushing the U.S.-as-Rome analogy for a couple of months, but Chalmers Johnson does it in a big way in an interview at BuzzFlash. First, from the intro:
At this late date, however, it is difficult to imagine how Congress, much like the Roman senate in the last days of the republic, could be brought back to life and cleansed of its endemic corruption. Failing such a reform, Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and vengeance, the punisher of pride and hubris, waits patiently for her meeting with us."
Then, from the interview with Chalmers himself:
Yes, I think we have. I believe that the 725 military bases that we have all over the world, from Greenland to Latin America, from Australia to Iceland, constitute an empire. The equivalent of what used to be colonies in old empires are now military bases. We have hundreds of thousands of troops, dependents and families, Department of Defense civilians, and contractors, deployed in well over 130 countries.
The Roman Republic, which ended in 27 B.C., was somewhat comparable to ours in that many of the precedents in our government were derived from Rome -- fixed election dates, a balance of power among those branches of the government, term limits of various sorts. You'll remember that Madison and Jay -- and others writing in defense of the Constitution in The Federalist Papers -- always signed them "Publius." Publius Agricola was, of course, the first Roman consul. What happened to the Roman Republic is that it rather inadvertently acquired an empire around the Mediterranean, and then discovered that the inescapable accompaniment of empire is militarism. They then needed a standing army.
And over time the standing army and military of Rome developed interests of its own, grievances against the conservative establishment in Rome, against the Senate, and gave rise to military populism, to figures like Julius Caesar, and ultimately Octavian, who became Augustus Caesar. It seems to me that something comparable is happening to us right now.
Our Senate and House are beginning to look about as bleak as the Roman Senate did when it simply gave up power and established a military dictatorship. To remind you, after the military dictatorship of Augustus Caesar, he was followed by Tiberius, who retreated to an island with a covey of small boys to enjoy himself. He was followed then by Caligula, followed then by Claudius, and finally, of course, by Nero. This is not exactly what you'd call good government. These Roman military dictators were among the most repressive figures on earth -- something that is well known to Christians who remember the history of the martyrdoms of the time.
I'm not saying that the parallels are exact at all, but they are quite suggestive. The further point is to say the empire -- the military dictatorship that was created by Augustus -- lasted some 300 years before it was overwhelmed by a world of enemies against it. But collapses of empire are coming now much, much faster. The thousand-year Reich of the Nazis lasted 12 years, from 1933 to the sack of Berlin by the Red Army in 1945. The Soviet empire collapsed in two years, between 1989 and 1991. And it does seem to me that Americans should be forewarned that our empire right now -- our empire of military bases -- is certainly generating the militarism that the two most famous generals who were ever presidents warned us of in the strongest possible terms. [more]
CHATTER: Disney Grows Up
Someone had their Hyperbole Flakes this morning:
For decades, the Walt Disney Co. has been providing drama and memorable entertainment. Today that tradition will continue, but not on a movie screen.
At the media and entertainment giant's annual meeting, the story line that's keeping millions of investors, employees and fans on the edge of their seats is the fate of Michael Eisner, the chairman and chief executive who has reigned over the Magic Kingdom for two decades.
Rather than a sedate corporate gathering, "this will be more like a Roman circus ... complete with human sacrifice," said Patrick McGurn, senior vice president of Institutional Shareholder Services. [source]
AWOTV: On TV Today
6.00 p.m. |HINT| The Odyssey of Troy
What is it about the legendary city that 3,200 years after its fall,
we still try to unravel Troy's mysteries? Scholars attempt to answer
the question by researching the Greek poet Homer, possibly one of the
greatest poets in Western Europe's history, and his epic tale of love
and war, and comparing his text to archaeological sites.
7.00 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.
8.00 p.m. |HISTU| Plumbing: The Arteries of Civilization
Each day, billions of gallons of water flow through cities into
homes and back out again in a confusing mess of pipes, pumps, and
fixtures. The history of plumbing is a tale crucial to our survival--
supplying ourselves with fresh water and disposing of human waste.
From ancient solutions to the future, we'll plumb plumbing's depths.
9.00 p.m. |HINT| Lost Civilizations: Rome: The Ultimate Empire
Sam Waterston narrates this Emmy Award-winning series that sweeps
through 7,000 years of history--from Ancient Mesopotamia to modern-
day Tibet--and transports viewers across the ages using dramatic
reenactments, location footage from 25 countries, and recent
archaeological discoveries to reconstruct the ancient past. In this
episode, we explore the glory of Rome--from founding to its zenith--
and march along as the Romans conquer the then-known world.
9.00 p.m. |DISCC| Who Built the Catacombs
Host Leonard Nimoy takes viewers on an exploration of the mysterious
catacombs beneath Rome.
10.00 p.m. |HINT| Time Team: Papcastle, Cumbria
When Ray and Helen Buckingham started building work on an extension
to their Cumbrian house in Papcastle, England, they found what looked
like Roman pottery and building stone fragments. Puzzled, they
contacted Time Team--actor Tony Robinson (Baldrick in "Blackadder")
and his team of archaeologists, historians and other experts. Was the
couple's garden part of a Roman settlement or military staging post?
Time Team has just three days to piece together the surprising story.
11.00 p.m. |HINT| How Did They Build That?: Arches
British engineer Scott Steedman views three stunning examples of one
of the most reliable and enduring structural forms--the arch. In
France, he visits the Pont du Gard near Nimes, the highest Roman
aqueduct in the world, with its tiers of round arches. Then in Koln,
Germany, he investigates the largest Gothic cathedral in the world
for which medieval masons used two types of arch--the pointed and
flat. And at the Lufthansa Tecknik Jumbo Hangar in Hamburg, he
examines a modern use of the double arch.
11.30 p.m. |HINT| Living Stones: Palmyre
DISCC = Discovery Channel (Canada)
HISTU = History Channel (US)
HINT = History International