Most recent update:6/1/2004; 5:08:44 AM

 Monday, May 10, 2004
CHATTER: Priam Speaks

The National Post has an interviewish sort of thing with Peter O'Toole, who plays Priam in that flick (and, semi-coincidentally, once played a Rogue of a different sort); inter alia, some interesting comments:

Not really, but being the trouper that he is, O'Toole jumped back into research mode, and since Troy is loosely based on Homer's The Iliad, he checked it out again. And was impressed with it, again.

"I've not read the The Iliad since, blimey, '53," he says. "I read the Chapman version all of those years ago. And as you probably know, not only did Alexander The Great carry a copy under his pillow, but Lawrence of Arabia carried a copy of both The Iliad and of the second part of The Odyssey, and when Lawrence was about to become a writer, he shortened his pen by doing the translation."

In a professorial tone, O'Toole goes on to explain that unlike the film Troy, there's no Trojan Horse in Homer, and at the end of The Iliad, "there's the usual pillage and sacking and stuff like that.

"But the final scene, the climax of The Iliad," says O'Toole, "is the conversation between the old king and Achilles. Scholars, for centuries, have been picking it to pieces, and it is full of amazing conundrums, amongst other things.

"Having said all of that, it boils down to two blokes in a tent looking at each other and talking. Beautiful. And it was such a joy working with young Pitt."


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CHATTER: Trojans

Classics in Contemporary Culture directs us to a piece at Crooked Timber which ponders the age-old question of why anyone would name anything after the Trojans, especially sports teams and well-known prophylactic devices. The answer, of course, is that the ancient Trojans did manage to hold out for TEN YEARS and even then, were only defeated by deception ... an admirable defense by any standards. Even when they were defeated, however, they went on to found bigger and better things (i.e. Rome). 'Nuff said?

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ante diem vi idus maias

  • 214 (?) A.D. -- birth of the future emperor Claudius II Gothicus
  • 251 A.D. -- martyrdom of Alphius, Philadelphus, Cyrinus, and Benedicta at Leontini (?)

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CHATTER: Canadian Politics

Hugh Winsor in the Globe and Mail ponders the predicament of our current Prime Minister, who is pondering when to drop the writ and call an election as memories appear to be fading in regards to the 'sponsorship scandal':

During his long campaign to topple Jean Chrétien and the euphoria surrounding his arrival at the centre of power, Prime Minister Paul Martin promised to change the way things work in Ottawa. And he got a lot of mileage out of his ruminations on the democratic deficit, an important factor in garnering the support of so many Liberal backbenchers.

But the Dauphin promised more. The roles of MPs would be enhanced, Parliament would be made to work again and Aristotle would be smiling in his grave.

Instead of a neo-Athenian democracy, however, the result is more akin to Greek tragedy. It would be simplistic to attribute all of the plot to the deus ex machina in the person of Auditor-General Sheila Fraser and her report on the sponsorship program, although it certainly disrupted the Martin team's best-laid plans. [the Globe and Mail]

Actually, it's interesting that someone has finally brought up Greek Tragedy in the context of Canadian politics. For the past while, the whole Paul Martin story has been reminding me of the Agamemnon for assorted disconnected reasons ... stay tuned as I (and Paul Martin) work this one out a bit more ...

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CHATTER: Lessons in Troy

Of course, folks will be trying to spin modern parallels into the Troy flick. Near the end of a lengthy reviewish sort of thing in the Chicago Tribune, Wolfgang Peterson gives his spin:

Like "Gladiator," Petersen hopes "Troy" can prove relevant to today's audiences, despite the chariots and breastplates. For a movie that has so much bloodshed, "Troy" tries, just as Homer did, not to glamorize combat, suggesting it ultimately yields far more victims than heroes. "That's the interesting thing about `Troy,'" the director says a few hours before he shows his movie to hundreds of movie theater executives on the Warner Bros. lot. "There are a lot of surprises that go against your cliched expectations."

In an era of ambushes, roadside bombs, enemy combatants and collateral damage, the movie is a reminder that we now practice a no less violent but less dignified way of settling disputes.

"People ask us why are these kind of stories being told again, when you go all the way back to when they had some rules of engagement, and they respected them," says Petersen, whose breakthrough film was 1981's World War II submarine drama "Das Boot."

"Conflict is necessary, and will be with us as long as mankind exists. But then there was a special system of morality and ethics and honorable behavior in war. Today, it's more or less gone." [more]

We'll forget about that dragging-the-body-of-Hector thing ... actually, I wish someone would point out that every culture has its own "special system of morality and ethics and honorable behavior in war" and that in every war, that "special system" ends up being tossed out the window at some point; it's one of the nasty features of our species.

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CHATTER: Did I Just Hear That?

As I sit here putting together my morning update, I generally have my little television on with the news set to a local station which, at this early hour of the a.m., also presents news broadcasts from around the world, including DW TV's English language broadcast (among others). DW TV just had a feature on Brad Pitt showing up somewhere for fans in pre-Troy hype and the announcer said that excitement was being built with "the help of the Trojan Horse, which figures so prominently in Homer's tale".

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NUNTII: Alexandria's 'University' Found

This was mentioned in yesterday's Explorator, but I don't think I highlighted it here:

A Polish-Egyptian team has unearthed the site of the fabled University of Alexandria, home of Archimedes, Euclid and a host of other scholars from the era when Alexandria dominated the Mediterranean.

The team has found 13 individual lecture halls, or auditoria, that could have accommodated as many as 5,000 students, according to archaeologist Zahi Hawass, president of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The classrooms are on the eastern edge of a large public square in the the Late Antique section of modern Alexandria and are adjacent to a previously discovered theatre that is now believed to be part of the university complex, Hawass said.

All 13 of the auditoria have similar dimensions and internal arrangements, he added. They feature rows of stepped benches running along the walls on three sides of the rooms, sometimes forming a joined “U” at one end.

The most conspicuous feature of the rooms, he added, is an elevated seat placed in the middle of the “U,” most likely designed for the lecturer.

“It is the first time ever that such a complex of lecture halls has been uncovered on any Greco-Roman site in the whole Mediterranean area,” Hawass said. This is “perhaps the oldest university in the world.” [more from the Calcutta Telegraph]

I hope we'll be hearing more on this one ...

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CHATTER: Another Ancient Precedent

How much do you think folks will read into this claim?

If global fertility rates converge with those seen today in Europe or among native-born Americans, by 2200 world population could shrink to half of what it is today even without any major wars or pandemics, according to U.N. projections. The only precedent we have for such a decline in population is the period of late antiquity, when falling birthrates helped bring about the collapse of the Roman Empire. [Baltimore Sun]

Of course, Late Antiquity provides us with sufficient evidence to make statistically-significant judgements on things like birthrates ... not.

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CHATTER: Trojan Excavations

The Mirror gets highbrow and has a lengthy article on the story of Troy and the history of the excavations to find it. It's all pretty standard stuff, but just in case you've never sat through a first-year Classical Civilization course (vel sim.), here's the skinny on the excavation side of things:


But the arrival of Heinrich Schliemann, an eccentric German who spoke 22 languages and had been fascinated by the story of Troy since the age of eight, changed everything. After making a fortune as a trader, Schliemann became determined to locate the city. In 1870, aged 48, he arrived at Hisarlik Hill, near Truva, with his 17-year-old Greek wife, Sophia - and a copy of The Iliad.

The site had already been tentatively explored by Englishman Frank Calvert but Schliemann was impatient for results and sensed he was on to something.

HE quickly assembled 80 workers and without any training, the team hacked their way underground.

This wasn't quite the noble pursuit it might appear to be. Schliemann was essentially a spiv who paid reviewers to describe his work favourably, fabricated huge chunks of his autobiography and won US citizenship under false pretences.

But Eric Cline of George Washington University who has worked at Troy, says: "To be an archaeologist you have to be both good and lucky. Schliemann wasn't -necessarily that good but he was luckier than almost anybody else that has ever put trowel or spade into the ground."

In 1873, Schliemann reached his treasure. As well as necklaces, rings, bracelets, swords, spearheads, earrings and coins, Schliemann uncovered a copper shield, a gold bottle and a golden cup in the shape of a ship.

He also found mummified bodies with golden death masks. Most impressive of all was a golden headdress made up of 1,353 intricately worked pieces.

Schliemann had no doubt - he had uncovered the Mask of Agamemnon, the treasure of Troy's king, Priam, and the fabled Nestor's Cup.

"I have gazed on the face of Agamemnon," he boldly declared at the site. The artefacts were certainly impressive. But, unfortunately for Schliemann, they were far too old to have come from the Trojan war.

With his blind enthusiasm he had dug too far, missed the period of the siege and arrived at artefacts from around 2,500BC.

He also ended up disgraced. Although the digging site belonged to Calvert, and the German had promised to hand over his find to the Turks, Schliemann stole the jewellery, hiding it in his wife's shawl to smuggle it out of the country.

He even gave the ornate headdress to Sophia. After wary museums refused to buy the cache off him, he donated it to Germany, only for it to be looted by the Red Army at the end of the Second World War. But despite his lack of credibility, Schliemann had, at least, managed to get the location right.

The German died in 1890 and three years later, his assistant, Wilhelm Dorpfeld, went further and uncovered the real Troy.

He found high walls, vast towers and massive gates, dating from the late Bronze Age, the correct period for The Iliad.

What is more, these features matched Homer's story, which told how the warrior Patroclus managed to scale the city's walls because they sloped. The walls Dorpfeld discovered were sloping and so his find was proclaimed the Troy of legend.

But the city he discovered was far too small. It would have contained just a few hundred people - not big enough to withstand a 10-year siege.

Carl Blegen, a US-born archaeologist, was next to unpack his shovels. In the 30s, he extensively photographed the site. He believed the walls had crumbled due to a natural disaster, rather than angry Greeks.

But the big breakthrough came in 1988, when another German, Professor Manfred Korfmann, began an excavation. He discovered that what was believed to have been Troy was, in fact, just an inner sanctum.

A vast ditch stretched around the site - a likely base for the outer walls of the city.

Troy, it appeared, was actually 200,000 square metres, big enough for between 4,000 and 8,000 residents.

Possible evidence of a battle was also uncovered in the form of arrowheads found in layers dated to the early 12th century BC.

And as more was dug up, it became clear the city closely resembled the setting for Homer's epic.

"It was a city which was besieged," says Prof Korfmann. "It was defended but finally lost the war.

"The evidence shows catastrophic fires. Then there are skeletons - we found, for example, a girl of about 16 or 17, half-buried, with her feet burned."

Conclusive proof that the Illiad was based on fact? Sadly not...

EVEN if there was a Bronze Age city on the site and even if that city was ravaged by war at about the same time as the tale described in The Iliad, there is still no evidence that any of the events described by Homer ever took place.

In particular, the name Troy does not appear in any Greek written records.

But what the archaeologists have uncovered would have been a wealthy city, a strategic citadel between two continents. Its inhabitants were certainly sophisticated, taming horses and rearing other mammals for meat long before most other civilisations.

The Mycenaeans, by contrast, were a war-like, more primitive tribe, who would have looked on with envy.

Was it likely, then, that it was Helen who sparked such a bloodthirsty conflict? Was Homer dressing up a brutal war based on greed in the cloak of romance?

Prof Korfmann is dismissive. "We are no longer interested in clarifying whether the Trojan War - and the destruction of Troy - really took place.

"Because of Troy's strategic significance, I think there must have been many Trojan wars which could have served as a basis for Homer's epic."

One of the biggest mysteries remains the Trojan Horse. In more than 130 years of digging, no one has found it.

Nor is there any firm evidence that Helen, Achilles, Hercules, Ulysses, Hector, Priam or any of the others actually existed. [the whole thing]

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AWOTV: On TV Today

6.30 p.m. |DCIVC| Living Stones: Palmyre

7.00 p.m. |HINT| The Ancient Gold of Troy
Since WWII, one of the world's most fantastic fortunes was believed
lost--its priceless heirlooms from the time of the Homeric legends a
casualty of war. But when the cache was found in a secret vault in a
Russian museum, an international uproar ensued over who owned the
ancient treasure. Join us as we follow the journey of Troy's gold.

10.00 p.m. |DCIVC| Alexandria: Discovery a Lost Empire

10.20 p.m. |HISTU| Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are arguably the most important manuscript
discovery in history. Believers hoped they would provide clues about
the origins of Judaism and Christianity and that the name Jesus might
appear in documents written during his life. We follow one scholar in
search of new caves that might contain scrolls. As the dig team works
along a cliff face near Qumran, we trace the history of the Dead Sea
Scroll controversy and the evolving interpretation of what was
written 2,000 years ago. [check the time]

Channel Guide

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Click for Athens, Greece Forecast

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