Most recent update:4/1/2004; 5:05:27 AM

 Saturday, March 06, 2004


pridie nonas martias

  • Festival of Mars (day 6)
  • 12 B.C. -- Augustus becomes pontifex maximus
  • ca. 251 A.D. -- martyrdom of Conon in Pamphylia

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NUNTII: The Cleisthenes Project

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Picture a man famous for being invisible. A nobleman of ancient Greece remembered for being forgotten, for turning the power of antiquity's "beautiful people," the aristocrats, over to the faceless masses.

Now try to sculpt him.

Even for Columbus artist and sculptor Anna Christoforidis, who once conceived the interior design of an entire Greek Orthodox cathedral, the assignment was daunting.

The nebulous quality of the task has made the undercover sound of its name even more appropriate: "The Cleisthenes Project." The goal is for Cleisthenes to look down on state lawmakers from perches in both the Ohio House and Senate.

The undertaking started simply. Aristotle Hutras a proud Greek-American who has spent much of his adult life around the Statehouse was watching public TV. It was a PBS documentary on the early Greeks, and it featured Cleisthenes (pronounced KLICE-thuh- neez).

"He was really the founder of democracy as we know it," said Hutras, executive director of the Ohio Retirement Study Council. "I thought: I've got to get the Greek-American community together and get this guy recognized."

Except recognizable was one thing Cleisthenes was not. The contributions to early democracy of his more famous predecessor, the Greek statesman Solon, often are celebrated. Cleisthenes, sometimes spelled Kleisthenes, mostly has been ignored.

Hutras contacted Christofori dis, a native of Greece, who telephoned Athens. No portraits or busts of Cleisthenes are on record in the ancient collections. She called art historians she knew around the world. No images to be found.

"We're all convinced this will be the first bust of Cleisthenes, after two-and-a-half thousand years," Christoforidis said. "We thought it would be good for him to just have a bust.

The aristocracy was very dissatisfied with him. He was really fighting against all odds and succeeded with the help of the people themselves."

Jim McGlew, a professor of classical studies at Iowa State University and a specialist in ancient Greek democracy, was not surprised to hear Cleisthenes had never been memorialized in art.

"Cleisthenes' fundamental aim was to deny his personal existence. He taught people that through their interconnections and their daily lives, and who they were, that they really were the demos, which is where the word democracy comes from," said McGlew, author of "Tyranny and Political Culture in Ancient Greece."

"The guy is interesting because so little is known about his life," McGlew said. [more]


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Seen in passing:

A new translation of Euripides' Hecuba will be presented March 29 at the 92nd Street Y.

Anne Carson's translation entitled Hekabe will feature the talents of Kathryn Walker as Hekabe, Kate Burton as Polyxena, David Straithairn as Talthybios and Mary Beth Hurt in the Chorus of Trojan Women. James Gale and Maeve Kinkead will also be part of the reading, which will be directed by actress Walker. Although the actors will have scripts, there will be costumes, movement and a set.

Hekabe, a play about the sorrows of war and wrongs done for the sake of politics, concerns the plight of the woman who was once queen of Troy. Now a prisoner of war and a slave to the Greeks, Hekabe is forced to face the ultimate injustice. [Playbill]

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CHATTER: Passion Sequel? Prequel?

Interesting rumours flitting about that Mel Gibson intends to (or it is being suggested to him or something) make a movie about the heroism of ancient Jews, apparently to 'prove' he isn't anti-semitic. From the Orlando Sentinel:

The first rumor flitting through the evangelical world is that the filmmaker intends to plow the profits from The Passion into a movie about the central characters of the holiday of Hanukkah, fighters called the Maccabees. Their story is told in sacred writings of the biblical period, although the two books of the same name are not officially a part of either testament.

Nearly 200 years before Jesus' birth, religious Jews in the land of Israel rose in violent rebellion against pagan occupiers and their Jewish allies.

A political heir of Alexander the Great, the Syrian Greek emperor Antiochus Epiphanes, tried to impose a single faith and culture throughout his Middle Eastern realm. For Jewish subjects, that meant they could no longer practice their faith. Antiochus banned Sabbath observance and circumcision -- on pain of death.

The Maccabean uprising was sparked when a government official compelled a Jew to offer a pagan sacrifice. This sacrilegious act enraged a pious man named Mattathias, who killed the collaborator and the official with his sword, and then shouted to the crowd: "Whoever is for the Lord, follow me!"

Mattathias led his five sons and their followers into the hills, from which they launched a protracted guerrilla war, led by his son Judah, a brilliant military tactician. Bloody battles and torture ensued, as the outnumbered believers wore down their enemies, some of whom rode into the fray on armored elephants.

In the end, after Mattathias died and several of his sons were killed in battle, the orthodox Jewish believers triumphed and the temple in Jerusalem was cleansed and restored to holiness. According to tradition, a remnant of sanctified oil in the temple lamp miraculously burned for eight days, until more could be found.

For Gibson, there are several advantages, apart from a familiar scenario. Having succeeded with subtitles, it should be easy to shift from The Passion's Aramaic and Latin to the earlier period's Hebrew and Greek.

Also, since the Maccabee story takes place only 200 years before The Passion, and peasant fashions probably didn't change much in those days, he could conceivably use many of the same costumes.

A suggested pursuit

Last week, the American-born Israeli educator Yossi Katz suggested that Gibson's next film should be a dramatization of the Bar Kochba Revolt of A.D. 132-135. This rebellion took place a century after Jesus' death, and 60 years after a failed uprising against the Roman occupation that led to half a million Jewish deaths and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

Writing in a column syndicated to Jewish weekly newspapers, Katz recalled that the Roman emperor Hadrian -- like Antiochus Epiphanes before him -- tried to impose paganism on the Jews at sword's point. This time, the revolt was led by a sage named Rabbi Akiba and a younger military protégé, Simon Bar Kochba.

Chafing under oppressive Roman rule, the Jews plotted their revolt for three years. Slaves working in the armories deliberately nicked swords, knowing they would be rejected for use by the Romans. Later, the discarded weapons would be collected and hidden. Miles of underground tunnels and subterranean redoubts were built, Katz wrote, in preparation for the uprising.

At first, the rebellion was a success, with Bar Kochba's army decimating an entire Roman legion. But after 31/2 years, the rebellion was crushed, and the Jewish general was killed in battle. Roman historians estimated that 600,000 Jews died in the revolt.

Ten leading rabbis were captured and executed in the Roman theater in Caesarea. Akiba was tortured and flayed to death with hot metal combs, much like the scourging of Jesus in The Passion and the execution of William Wallace in Braveheart.

Of course, even a sympathetic portrayal of Jewish heroes might not assuage all of Gibson's critics.

Abraham Foxman, executive director of the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League, predicts that if Gibson dramatizes either Jewish rebellion, "we'll lose."

"He'll write his own history," Foxman says. "I would prefer to leave the fate of Jewish history and Hollywood to Steven Spielberg. The Maccabees and Bar Kochba are our sacred history.

"The way he treats history -- with a cherry picker of that which fits his ideology or view -- is not the way I would like the world to learn about the heroism of the Maccabees or Bar Kochba. So, thanks but no thanks."
[the whole thing]

To quote from the Simpsons episode Beyond Blunderdome, "It's hell being Mel."

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NUNTII: Travel to Libya

With restrictions on travel to Libya being lifted for Americans, there is excitement in the travel pages over the possibility of visiting Leptis Magna. From the New York Times:

Now that all the centrifuges used to enrich uranium for Libya's secret nuclear bomb project have been safely stored in American warehouses, and the vats of mustard gas have been neutralized, President Bush has lifted restrictions on travel to Libya.

The great sucking sound that may soon be heard in the Mediterranean will be the influx of oil and other executives and American tourists returning to the most splendid display of Roman civilization that exists outside Italy.

For at their peak, under the Roman Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus, who ruled the empire from 193 to 211 A.D., the three great cities of the Libyan coast, Leptis Magna, Oea and Sabratha, rivaled Rome itself in splendor, architecture and wealth. In fact, the emperor was a native of Leptis Magna.

What Americans are going to discover with amazement is just how much is left standing in Leptis Magna, 75 miles east of Tripoli and in Sabratha, 50 miles to the west of the capital. For what happened on this coast of golden sandstone after Rome collapsed and after Muslim conquerors swept over the region in the seventh century was that nature sealed Leptis Magna and Sabratha under a blanket of sand.

The cities lay there until the Italian conquest of 1911. During two periods of intense excavation, in the 1920's and 1950's, the broad outlines of both places and their stunning architectural relics emerged.

Mustafa Turjman has walked these streets for more than 20 years as a tour guide and historian at Leptis Magna and his eyes still light up as he strolls through Hadrian's Baths and along the colonnaded street to the Forum of Severus, which covers about three acres. Here was the shopping mall for a rich metropolis and later, a grand basilica next door.

"It is still possible to imagine the life that existed here," he says, "because the streets take you to the homes of merchants and from there to the temples, theaters and markets."

After a 90-minute trip by car from Tripoli, the approach to Leptis is through a stand of pine and eucalyptus trees off a parking lot. When you emerge from the trees, the Arch of Septimius rises magnificently over a landscape that is deceptively green because so much vegetation still mixes with the ruins. The Triumphal Arch, probably built for the emperor's visit in A.D. 203, stands there eerily at the head of a broad avenue called Cardo Maximus like a gateway to another era. The mammoth paving stones radiate the brute force of Roman power. [more]

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AWOTV: On TV Today

12.00 p.m. |DTC| Secrets of the Colosseum
Visit the ruins of this massive triumph of Roman building and
engineering for clues to its ingenious design. Built in a remarkably
short span of 10 years, the structure combined travertine stone,
iron, concrete, brick and lava rocks from nearby Vesuvius.

2.00 a.m. |DTC| Lost City of Pompeii: Secrets of the Dead
Journey to the playground of the Roman aristocracy, Herculaneum.
Buried by the same volcanic eruption that leveled Pompeii, this city
of luxurious villas, magnificent arcades and extensive library
collections holds clues to the Roman's riches. [technically
'tomorrow', but if you want to set your vcr ...]

DTC = Discovery Times Channel

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