Most recent update:4/1/2004; 5:09:08 AM

 Saturday, March 27, 2004

CHATTER: Classics Quote

Nice quote from Col. Bogdanos during his talk at Stony Brook:

Since the age of 12, classical history has absolutely mesmerized me, more so because it is not my chosen profession, more so because I'm not talented enough in that field to really have made that a career ... [from Suffolk Life]

7:36:32 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Reflections of ...

The Guardian has a review of  a book called Mirror, Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection by Mark Pendergrast which mentions a couple of interesting things in passing:

In the pre-Christian era, the Etruscan word for soul, hinthial, also meant an image reflected in a mirror.


The ancient Romans used mirrors to spice up their orgies, much to the disgust of the stoical Seneca.

This second thing is a bit of an overstatement. Seneca actually refers to one ancient Roman named Hostius Quadra  who seemed to spice up his sex life with mirrors -- you can read about hit in his Quaestiones Naturales 1.16.1, which you can read here in Latin (scroll down to the appropriate section) or here, in a wonderfully archaic translation. Yet another case of generalizing about the ancient world from a passing mention of an exemplary incident or person.

10:29:33 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

NUNTII: Anne Carson

The New York Times has a very nice piece on Classicist/Poet Anne Carson. Here's a bit from the end:

In "Hekabe," Euripides used the old story about the Trojan War as a way of commenting on the war raging during his own time. When it opens, the Greeks have defeated the Trojans. Hekabe, Queen of Troy, is a slave. She has witnessed the slaughter of her husband, Priam, and of all but one of her sons. Her daughter Polyxena is dragged off to become a human sacrifice; then she discovers the corpse of Polydoros, the one son she thought had survived the war. Polymestor, the friend she had left him with for safekeeping, murdered him for his money. Hekabe persuades the Greek king, Agamemnon, to let her set a trap for Polymestor and blinds him while the Trojan women kill his children.

"Strange how mortal events converge," the chorus sings. "Necessity defines us,/making friends of our worst enemies/and enemies of those who served us well."

Ms. Carson, 53, described the play in her typically elliptical way, "Euripides had his Quentin Tarantino days." She is standing in her austere living room, which has almost no furniture. In one corner is a chair, in the middle of the room, a wooden box. On top of that box is a metal box, wrapped in ribbon, containing a silver ear. "A votive object," she said. Tall, lanky and shy, Ms. Carson seems surrounded by an aura of isolation. "I like being a mode of resistance," she said, explaining why she refuses to drive a car.

She teaches half time here at the University of Michigan and spends the rest of the year in Montreal.

Often called a "poet of heartbreak," her cultural references span the ages and range from scholarly essays on, for example, the Greek concept of women as unclean, to poetic musings on Akhmatova, Tolstoy and Catherine Deneuve in her collection "Men in the Off Hours." She has written an opera, "Decreation," combining a Greek myth of Aphrodite with stories by two French mystics, Marguerite Porete, who was burned at the stake as a heretic during medieval times, and Simone Weil.

Ms. Walker said Ms. Carson was the perfect translator of ancient Greek for modern audiences. "She has this incredibly personal, hip voice," she said. "She's able to bring this into the contemporary world in an unimaginable way."

In "The Autobiography of Red" Ms. Carson transformed the Greek poet Stesichoros' account into a modern tale of a red-winged schoolboy called Geryon who is bullied by classmates because he is different. "This would be hard/for you if you were weak," his mother says, sending him off to school, "but you're not weak, she said and neatened his little red wings and pushed him/out the door."

Ms. Carson's translation of Sappho, "If Not, Winter," is a postmodern tour de force. Sappho's poetry exists mainly in fragments of papyrus, some minuscule. Instead of creating her own linkages where words are missing, as other translators have, Ms. Carson marks them with brackets, and leaves the emptiness to be filled in by the reader's imagination. ". . . if not, winter/] no pain . . ." one line reads.

The Independent in Britain called the translation "heartbreaking and uplifting."

For all this, Ms. Carson said, she is not a poet. "Homer's a poet," she said. "I would say I make things."

Ms. Carson was born in Ontario, and her work evokes a lonely childhood: "My mother's kitchen is dark and small but out the window/there is the moor, paralyzed with ice./It extends as far as the eye can see/over flat miles to a solid unlit white sky."

Her father was a bank manager, her mother a homemaker. The family moved around. Her father eventually developed dementia. "He was standing at the turn of the driveway when I arrived./He had on the blue cardigan with the buttons done up all the way to the top./Not only because it was a hot July afternoon/but the look on his face."

Her older brother, Michael, abused drugs and vanished. He died in 2000. She said her childhood had been redeemed when she discovered the classics and her high school Latin teacher gave her private Greek classes, reading Sappho with her. "She really changed my life," Ms. Carson said.

She had a marriage of eight years to a man she calls only "an entrepreneur." The breakup haunts her work. "I feel so lonely, like childhood again," she writes in one prose poem in her collection "Plainwater."

In another book, "Glass, Irony and God," she writes searingly of sex without love: "Everything I know about love and its necessities/I learned in that one moment/when I found myself/thrusting my little burning red backside like a baboon/at a man who no longer cherished me."

Today Ms. Carson lives by herself most of the time, but says she does not mind loneliness: "Loneliness is not an important form of suffering," Ms. Carson said. "It's undeniable, but it's just not significant." [the whole thing]

Interesting ... I just found that Anne Carson lived for a while in Stoney Creek ... the city formed by synoikia of several towns including the one I'm residing in and which, in turn, was swallowed up by Hamilton, resulting in a huge rise in taxes (but that's a different rant).

10:18:00 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Beyonce as Cleopatra

Okay ... this is like, the one zillionth mention of this that has turned up in my email box:

You'd have to be in denial not to be impressed with her Cleopatra entrance on a flouncy, man-powered litter carried shoulder-high.

The 'her' is Beyonce Knowles and the 'entrance' is part of the "Ladies First" show featuring Knowles, Missy Elliott, and Alicia Keys. What Beyonce was carried in on is variously described as a 'bed', a 'litter', a 'platform', and other things, but she is always described as being 'Cleopatra'. About a month ago, she attended some sort of fashion show and was similarly connected to Cleopatra. Now obviously the Cleopatra refs are a semi-conscious references to the Austin Powers thing, but how long is it going to be before some director says, "Hey ... why don't we make a remake of Cleopatra and put Beyonce in the title role?" You read it here first ...

10:09:24 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us?

Well, not 'us', technically (or at least not me ... directly) ... a piece in the Western Mail mentions, inter alia, the influence the Romans had on Celtic Britain/what would eventually be Wales:

The arrival of the Romans in 43AD exercised a profound influence on the Celtic Britain that preceded the Welsh nation. By the end of their 400-year stay they created a new way of life. Their influence remains in the vocabulary of the Welsh language. It carries many words borrowed from Latin.

The Romans introduced Celtic Britain to the wonders of straight roads, new systems of crop rotation, new fertilisers and better ploughs. They introduced the Celts to the delights of writing and of urban living.

From the Romans, the Celts learned new religions, how to mine gold, how to live in large country villas and to use the improved methods of farming that came with them. Much of that impressive civilisation was buried beneath the chaotic and violent Dark Ages that arrived in the wake of the barbaric Angles, Saxons and Jutes.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the long years of armed struggle against the English, the Welsh never forgot their ties to Roman civilisation. Indeed, one Spanish-born Romano-British general who became Emperor is often credited with being the father of the Welsh Nation.

Many of the most powerful Welsh royal families claimed to be descended from Magnus Maximus, Macsen Wledig, who took control of the Empire through his revolt of 383AD.

10:00:43 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Classical American Idol?

I was wondering if someone would ever try to connect American Idol with the ancient world and lo and behold, a music columnist in the San Francisco Chronicle does exactly that ... here are the relevant excerpts:

Who would've thought that America's premiere sporting event would involve no balls, bats, helmets or sticks, and require no more physical exertion than it takes to belt out a pop song over amplified backup?

Yet every week, television audiences from Maine to Malibu tune in to "American Idol" to watch young singers locked in gladiatorial combat. And no less than the displays of strength and cunning that took center stage in the Roman Colosseum, these televised singathons have all the punch and ferocity of an athletic competition.


Most of all, it has meant trying to outsing, outdance and generally outrazzle-dazzle her opponents.

Yes, singing is now a competitive sport. And why should it be otherwise?

For as long people have been raising their voices, or indeed making art of any kind, there's always been an element of competition in the process. It's not enough -- it's never been enough -- merely to make joyous or sorrowful sounds; those with enough talent and self-confidence to do it well want to be recognized and hailed by those around them for their accomplishments.

The ancients, always well attuned to the most basic tenets of human nature, recognized this imperative.

The tragedies and comedies of ancient Athens that we cherish today weren't produced by some kind of Periclean off-Broadway consortium. They were presented as part of an annual contest in which the year's best plays were acclaimed by the population at large. The glory was enormous, the competition fierce.

Cultural competition has rarely played so central a civic role since then, largely because culture itself has rarely been as integral to a society as it was in the Athens of the fifth century B.C.


Yet what's striking about "American Idol," taking the long view, is the way it returns artistic competition to its democratic roots -- the same roots that first shaped it in the Athenian amphitheater.

In contrast with Cold War Americans -- who may have taken an interest in Cliburn's success but were content (indeed compelled) to leave the judging to experts -- Greek audience members voted the latest offerings from Sophocles and Euripides up or down, on or off the island. And all without recourse to toll-free phone lines.

Just like politicians, the Greek playwrights faced a popular vote, and they had to respond to the popular will if they wanted to triumph over their adversaries. The "American Idol" contestants face the same task.

In life, there are winners and losers, heroes and goats. And since when is music anything but a part of life?

9:56:34 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

REVIEW: From Scholia

Philomen Probert, A New Short Guide to the Accentuation of Ancient Greek

9:50:00 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.


Robert Pogue Harrison, The Dominion of the Dead.

Wilhelm Geerlings, Christian Schulze (edd.), Der Kommentar in Antike und Mittelalter. Beitrage zu seiner Erforschung

C.J. Tuplin, T.E. Rihll (edd.), Science and Mathematics in Ancient Greek Culture.

Gabriele Marasco (ed.), Greek and Roman Historiography in Late Antiquity. Fourth to Sixth Century A.D.

Ulrich Winter (ed.), Iacobus Balde Liber Epodon.

9:48:41 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

NUNTII: Romano-Indian Contact

A sort of 'upcoming digs' piece in the Times of India has this interesting tidbit:

The excavation work at Arckimedu in Pondicherry, were evidence of Indo-Roman contacts have been found, was going on and a 100 acre site had been recently acquired, Superintending Archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India Chennai T Sathyamurthy, said on Friday.

The ASI had made fencing arrangements on the acquired area, he said adding the exercise of excavation was a five year project.

A British archaeologist Dr Wheeler had explored the Arckimedu area in 1946 and had found rare artifacts and other materials, indicating the links the place had with Romans.

Trying (in haste) to find a bit more info on this one -- there's a pile of tourism sites that play this up to wade through -- I found this interesting article from the Hindu last year, all about Roman (and Greek) contacts with India. Still a bit touristy, but it's a start ...

8:57:50 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Ladykillers

I'm waiting to find a lengthy review of this Coen Brothers remake of one I can't recall seeing in the original , which briefly surfaced on the Classics list:

Tom Hanks takes over the Guinness role as the gang's criminal mastermind, the Professor, keeping the former's creepy overbite and adding a more refined identity (as well as a Colonel Sanders sense of fashion). Hanks' Professor is a self-described "classicist," a man who would rather say "heavy volumes of antiquity filled with the glorious knowledge of man's age," than simply "books" and prefers the caper be intellectual as well as profitable. [more]

... I'll keep my eye open

8:49:00 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

holy cats ... wouldn't you know it; I can't get to my email last night and this a.m. there's a flood of stuff ... updates throughout the day; this might take a while.
8:28:38 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

AWOTV: On TV Today

5.00 p.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.

8.00 p.m. |HINT| Slings and Spears
Produced in partnership with England's Royal Armouries located in
the Tower of London, this series action-tests weapons and armor
through the ages. We construct an ancient slingshot and see why it
survives as a street-fighting weapon in the Middle East, and follow
the unbroken history of the spear from mere stick to Roman pilium to

Channel Guide

6:58:00 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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