Wednesday, April 14, 2004
CHATTER: Dido's Desperation
One of those question-and-answer type columns from something called the Hook talks about Dido's foundation of Carthage:
Q. Just how desperate would your territorial predicament be if you were promised only as much land as could be enclosed by the skin of an ox? That was the story of Phoenician Princess Dido, c. 900 B.C.E. -J. Dryden
A. Forced to flee from her ruthless brother, she went by ship to Africa where she tried to buy land from a local ruler, who rendered the strange ox bargain, says John A. Adam in Mathematics in Nature: Modeling Patterns in the Natural World. According to Virgil's Aeneid, Dido understood the "isoperimetric problem"-- that of all perimeters, a circle will enclose maximum area. (From The Parsimonious Universe, by S. Hildebrandt & A. Tromba)
She used a straight part of the Mediterranean as one boundary, then cut the hide into thin strips to form a semicircular enclosure. If she had not used the coastline, then a circular perimeter would have been best. Picture the ox like a big cow, and approximate a big body "box" of 4 ft high x 2 ft wide x 5 ft long, yielding about 80 sq ft of hide.
Assuming she cut strips as thin as 0.1 inch wide, then the combined length of the strips would be about 10,000 ft. With the radius of the semicircle about 3000 ft and the sea boundary about 6000 ft, she managed to capture 0.5 sq mi, or equivalent to a square of land 0.7 mi by 0.7 mi!
Says Adam: "Princess Dido knew what she was doing!"
THIS DAY IN ANCIENT HISTORY
ante diem xviii kalendas maias
- ludi Cereri (day 3) -- games in honour of the grain goddes Ceres,
instituted by/before 202 B.C.
- 69 A.D. -- first battle at Bedriacum; the forces of emperor wannabe Vitellius eventually would defeat the forces of emperor wannabe Otho
- 195 A.D. -- Julia Domna, wife of the emperor Septimius Severus,
is given the title mater castrorum ("mother of the camp")
NUNTII: Another Award for a Classics Prof!
Classicist Peter Struck has won one of UPenn's Lindback awards for outstanding teaching. The UPenn Almanac includes excerpts from students' letters of recommendation for the winners ... here's how Dr. Struck is portrayed:
Dr. Peter Struck received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania in the department of Classical studies in 1999.
He has pioneered in using new technology to teach classics, which a colleague describes as "the most impressive use of technology in teaching that I know of." The students agree noting: "The on-line unit, in combination with lectures and readings, made for an excellent learning environment." Students repeatedly refer to him as "awesome." Another student writes: "Professor Struck possesses a unique ability to captivate his audience while delivering challenging lectures. He even sang If I Were A Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof as the best way to demonstrate the present contra-factual conditional. And there was dancing involved." A colleague who was sitting in on Professor Struck's course describes the class as "perfectly brilliant." "Peter Struck is a wonderful advocate for both the classics department at Penn and for scholars in general because he strives for excellence in his own work and in that of his students. Professor Struck is "one of the professors you remember years later as one who was challenging but fair, charismatic, enthusiastic about his subject. He deserves all the applause we can give him." He is a stellar teacher and truly deserving of the Lindback Award.
NUNTII: Portland Vase Redux
The British Museum's Portland Vase seems to be in the news somewhat frequently of late; this time it's in conjunction with a new theory by Susan Walker (we may have covered this before):
The epic romance between Egyptian queen Cleopatra and the Roman general Marc Antony was immortalized on a Roman vase that is now housed at the British Museum, according to an expert in classical art.
Susan Walker, former deputy keeper of Greek and Roman antiquities at the British Museum who is now the head of a similar department at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, believes the Portland Vase shows Cleopatra seducing Antony, while cupid and Anton, the son of Greek mythological hero Hercules, look on. Marc Antony's family claimed they had descended from Anton.
If Walker's theory is correct, the vase adds to only a handful of known images of Cleopatra from the ancient world. According to Lisa Schwappach-Shirriff, curator of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, Calif., there are seven identified statues of Cleopatra. All were made of stone, not glass.
During a lecture last month at the British Museum, Walker stated her belief that the vase shows "Antony's last chance to recapture his Roman identity," before the charms of the seductive Egyptian queen proved too irresistible for him. [more from Discovery.com]
The British Museum's Portland Vase page (which seems to have changed a bit since we last linked to it)...
CHATTER: What Makes a Great Book?
From the Chicago Maroon:
Students and faculty members alike grappled with the question of what makes a book great at this year’s fundamentals colloquium, “The Power of Books: Some Personal Accounts,” on Monday.
James Redfield, the Edward Olson Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Classical Languages and Literature, spoke first, beginning with anecdotes of his experiences with literature as a youth. His key factor for a truly great book? “It’s silly. Not enough great books are silly,” he said.
“A great book doesn’t necessarily have to be a guide to life, but it makes space. It makes a larger world—kind of like the experience of going to a really good art show,” Redfield said.
After briefly entertaining a mild question-and-answer session, Redfield, with stereotypical U of C eccentricity, said, “Bless you my children,” and stormed from the room. [more]
CHATTER: A Defense of Liberal Education
A piece in the Charleston Gazette takes Plato's Allegory of the Cave as a point of departure for suggesting a liberal education is a good thing:
SOME fellow is complaining that there is a liberal bias in the liberal arts. Now there’s an insight for you. But it is true. Learning is liberating. The goal of liberal education is to free the students from the bondage of ignorance. Hence the word.
In Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” we find one of the finest descriptions of liberal education. Here we witness a group of students chained to the wall inside a cave. They are watching shadow movies. Yes, shadow movies are that old.
A teacher comes in from the out-of-doors, where he has been able to see things as they really are. The teacher invites the students to come out and see the real world, but the students want only to watch the shadows. Which is to say, the task of the teacher is to liberate students from their prison of ignorance. Education is a liberating experience.
The struggle against ignorance is as old as humankind, but the organized struggle — at least in the Western World — can be traced back to the Golden Age of Greece, to a few years before and after the Age of Pericles. The first Greek “university” was established by Pythagoras (of “hypotenuse” fame) in 520 BCE.
A fellow named Isocrates established a second Greek “university” a century and a quarter later, and Plato created his Academy in 386 B.C. That word, by the way, comes from a local god, “Academus,” who held sway over a “suburban recreational grove” (outside the city of Athens), a piece of land purchased for Plato by his friends. Here students entered the sublime worlds of mathematics and philosophy. They were, it has often been noted, young men and women of the leisure class, those who had few worldly cares beyond the search for physical pleasure and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. And yes, there were women as well as men in Plato’s academy.
Half a century later, Aristotle established the Lyceum, a school of science named for Apollo Lyceus, the Greek god of shepherds. The Lyceum was built close to a temple where Apollo Lyceus was venerated. Students here were less contemplative and more empirical in their search for knowledge. Aristotle believed true knowledge came only through the senses. Seeing is believing. Thus, to study politics, Aristotle’s students collected the constitutions of 158 governments in neighboring lands.
In the Lyceum, Aristotle’s students studied plants and animals, meteorology and physics, as well as ethics, metaphysics, rhetoric and logic. Aristotle introduced his students to the logical form we know as the syllogism. Students came to the Lyceum mostly from the middle (business) class, whereas Plato’s “academics” were generally children of the upper classes.
It was Aristotle who first defined the curriculum for those who sought intellectual and moral excellence. But already some practical skills were creeping into the Lyceum. The Roman statesman and scholar Cicero added to the tradition of scholarship when he described the “artes liberales” as the life of joy. [more]
CHATTER: Fagles Gets More Press!
As noted in rogueclassicism, yesterday's New York Times had a lengthy piece on Robert Fagles and his translations; he must be doing something right, publicity-wise because today he's getting more (and not just reprinted) coverage in the Record-Journal (another paper which annoyingly does not obviously say what city it hails from ... somewhere in Connecticut):
Ask Princeton University Professor Robert Fagles why we should care about Homer and his works, "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," which may be as much as 2,700 years old, and he offers an observation by Virginia Woolf, that Homer was "alive to every tremor and gleam of existence."
Homer, says Fagles, "is somebody who said our lives count, that's common for all of us, that each life counts."
Fagles is among the world's premier authorities on the subject, having translated both of Homer's epic poems to great acclaim.
Fagles read passages from his translation of "The Odyssey" and offered insights during a lecture at the Paul Mellon Arts Center Tuesday evening. With the exception of a few students spending the term abroad in Spain, the entire student body of Choate Rosemary Hall was in attendance.
Fagles was the second to deliver the Krause Fellowship Lecture, established by Choate alumnus Charles Krause to help continue the school's tradition in public speaking and academic distinction, explained Zachary Goodyear, a history and political science teacher. The first Krause Fellow was Richard Brodhead, dean of Yale College, in 2002.
Most people get at least some introduction to Homer in school. Choate's ninth-grade classes have been studying Fagles' "Odyssey" translation. "The Iliad" is the story of the 10-year Trojan War. "The Odyssey" is the tale of Odysseus and the 10 years it takes him to return home from the war. That's 20 years of being away on adventure.
Homer's story has the distinction of being both timeless and immediate. Said Fagles, " ‘The Odyssey,' as they say, is a ripping good yarn." [more]
Since I don't cover the USA Network in my AWOTV listings, I guess I can mention here that the four-hour miniseries/remake of Spartacus is on that network this weekend. Here's a sort of preview from the Wichita Eagle:
Director Robert Dornhelm certainly had some large -- and classic -- shoes to fill when he dared to propose remaking 1960's "Spartacus" as a new four-hour miniseries for the USA Network.
There's Kirk Douglas, who is unforgettable in the title role -- arguably his best performance in a career that also includes "Lust for Life," "Champion" and "The Bad and the Beautiful."
But there's also Laurence Olivier as the evil Roman consul Crassus, Jean Simmons as Spartacus' supportive wife Varinia and Peter Ustinov as his pompously paternal patron, not to mention John Gavin, Nina Foche and Woody Strode.
But Dornhelm persevered and came up with a solid international cast that rivals -- although it doesn't surpass -- the original.
Goran Visnjic (pronounced Vizh-niche), the hunky Croatian doc who joined "ER" in 1999, is the new Spartacus, the Thracian slave who was born free and never accepted subservience.
Visnjic has the dark, brooding looks to play a haunted man forced to live within his own thoughts while constantly watching for his opportunity to break free.
He has the muscular grace to look the role of a superstar gladiator. Best of all, he has the sensitivity to play a visionary who looks beyond self and vengeance to see a better world without slaves.
He is a natural, if somewhat reluctant, leader. And Visnjic embodies the strength and dignity to carry it off.
Scottish actor Angus MacFadyen takes over for Olivier as Crassus, a wealthy nobleman with aspirations to become Rome's supreme leader. His wealth breeds boredom, which leads to cruelty, which translates into dangerous ambition.
And MacFadyen is elegantly malevolent as he oils his way around all opposition. He is brutal beyond belief although he never gets his own hands dirty.
British-born Rhona Mitra is lovely and spunky as Spartacus' slave wife, supportive of his dreams of freedom.
And late British veteran Alan Bates, in his final role, plays wily Roman senator Lentalus Agrippa, who tries to frustrate MacFadyen's Crassus at every turn. Bates is eloquent, majestic and mischievous, stealing every scene he's in.
The story, taken from the Howard Fast novel, revolves around a foreign slave who becomes a superstar gladiator in Roman arenas and then leads a slave revolt for freedom and equality that shook the very foundations of Imperial Rome.
The screenplay by Robert Schenkken has a lyrical beat and a philosophical tone with memorable turns of phrase.
"It is important that you live to tell the story of this new thing we have created, no matter how briefly, of a world without slaves," Spartacus tells his wife before a final, crucial battle with Roman soldiers.
"When I was alone, I had to worry only about my own life. Now, I am responsible for thousands," says the reluctant but determined leader.
"We made Rome tremble. Who else can say that?"
If there is one quibble, it's that filmmakers concentrate too much on repetitious -- albeit spectacular -- cast-of-thousands battle scenes. The action is so pervasive that it tends to distract from the important reasons behind it.
Still, this is a worthy homage.
CHATTER: Rome and the U.S. Redux
Another piece on the similarities and differences between the U.S. and Rome, this time from something called Up and Coming magazine. Inter alia is one history professor's list of the similarities:
But the comparison between Rome and America is an intriguing one. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill history professor Lloyd Cramer has been thinking about some of the parallels and discussed them at a church school class on a recent Sunday morning. Here are some of the similarities between Rome and America.
1. Both began as small republics without much influence. Then they expanded "to the sea," by conquering or coercing the peoples who occupied the heartlands. Both continued that expansion beyond the seas. The Romans spread throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. The U.S. took over Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines and parts of the Caribbean.
2. Both claimed important political traditions such as the rule of law and fair government. Both believe that they were providing a much better government to those they conquered.
3. Both established transnational trading systems. In the areas of the Roman imposed peace, they established road networks, a postal system, and commercial stability. Similarly, the U.S. has led the way in bringing about a global system of commerce and trade.
4. Both had long conflicts with major rivals, ending in triumph and unrivaled power. Rome won its long war with Carthage; the U.S. over Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R..
5. Both borrowed their basic culture from predecessors. Rome from Greece. The U.S. from Britain and Western Europe.
6. Both dominated the rest of the world with military superiority.
7. Both took advantage of advanced technology to improve the lives of their peoples.
8. Both attracted substantial numbers of immigrants from other parts of the world.
9. Rome often used local leaders to manage the local populations. The U.S. does the same.
10. Both are responsible for a "transnational language." Latin in the case of Rome. English in the case of the U.S.
11. Both experienced a movement to centralize political power. This centralization has been accompanied by a decline in the politics of participation and an increase in the politics of the spectacle. Games and pleasure took the place of a civic life. A few elite families tended to dominate the national political life.
12. Both developed an increased reliance on a professional military, depending less and less upon the citizen soldier.
13. Finally, both experienced growing opposition at the boundaries. The resulting conflicts increased dependence on the military. The costs of military preparedness and defense strained the basic economic systems. [more]
And let's not forget ... both had problems conquering those barbarians to the north!
AWOTV: On TV Today
5.30 p.m. |DCIVC| Archaeology: Secrets of the Red City
8.00 p.m. |DCIVC| Secrets of Ancient Empires: First Merchants
10.00 p.m. |HINT| Time Team: Turkdean, Gloucestershire
Tony Robinson (Baldrick on "Blackadder) and Time Team break their
golden rule for the first time and return to the huge Roman villa in
the Cotswolds that they discovered in 1998. The first excavation
unearthed buildings, including a bathhouse, and evidence of metal
working, plastered walls, jewelry, and coins. The second visit turns
out to be even more rewarding when they discover that the site dates
back to the early days of Roman occupation. In three days, they
unlock the secrets of Turkdean.