Wednesday, May 12, 2004
CHATTER: Trojan Roundup
Since the Troy stuff is becoming increasingly frequent, it seems salutary to group the interesting pieces together into one long piece ...
The New York Times starts us out with a suggestion that "Troy Fever" is breaking out, or at least uses that as a point of departure for a review of the two documentaries about Troy that are coming to American television soon. About.com's Action-Adventure movie guide has something parading as an interview with the folks involved. Inter alia, Brad Pitt comments on what he worried about :
“I was [concerned] because of the classical dialects,” Brad Pitt said. “We’ve set more of an English base to them, an English dialect. It’s more difficult for people from the South or the Midwest or the hills, to adopt an English accent. When America was formed, most English ended up in New York or on the East Coast, and the Irish and Scottish went down the coast or had to go to the periphery or spread out into the country.
They went into the country south and west. So it’s very easy for us to do Irish accents. And it’s very easy for New Yorkers or [people from] the upper east to do English accents and vice versa. And it’s very difficult for us to cross over for some reason. So, because it’s so accepted and everyone’s got an ear for it, I had to put a lot of work into it. I didn’t really find it until the second week. I had to loop some of it.”
The same source has a nice quote from Wolfgang Peterson:
Director Wolfgang Petersen recalled his first meeting with The Iliad. “I read it when I was in school,” Petersen said. “In Germany some schools, you learn ancient Greek and Latin and so we read The Iliad in Greek. It was a revelation for me. Imagine that you're 16 years old and you're confronted in a boring world of school, where you learn boring stuff like ancient Greek, and all of a sudden Achilles shows up, or Hector shows up or Agamemnon or Priam and all these battles and these great women and great girls and great love stories. It's so sensual. It's so larger than life. When you're 16 years old, you're very, very impressed by that. Cut. So years later, Warners develops it, so I say, ‘I have to do that. I want to do that, so please give me the script.’ The story of all stories. It is the mother of all stories. And finally it's being done. You can do a film like this these days with the new technical tools that are available, and if you can cast this movie and find a studio willing to put the money up for it, because it will be expensive.”
A review in the (alternative) New York Press makes some interesting observations:
Petersen's clear storytelling recalls the meaning of hegemony (Greek for "the rule of kings") in the way that wars sacrifice soldiers for leaders' whims. It's a forgotten truth that well-practiced genre filmmaking can restore to modern consciousness. To revisit this aspect of the Trojan War—of all wars—is almost radical. But aside from offering currently useful political lessons, there's still hegemony in Troy's capitulation to Western ideology. Pitt heads a cast of mostly British and Australian performers—another example of the Hollywood conventions we take for granted. It's what made the American Civil War story of Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain ridiculous. Co-stars Bloom, Bana, Christie, Peter O'Toole as King Priam, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Cox and the rest are so solid they impart a false legitimacy to Troy. (O'Toole, Gleeson and Cox as the huffing and wheezing old kings all waver between magnificent and hammy. It's too bad O'Toole doesn't howl Priam's great grief to appropriately balance the film's other lusty war cries.)
Caught up in the tradition of implicit cultural supremacy where actors with British accents are accepted as classy and ideal, Petersen pays little attention to Homer's insight on the miasma and weariness of war—which might have helped Troy succeed as a tragedy as well as an action movie. The emphasis on action isn't simply a prerequisite of the genre; it's also a sign of commercial hegemony. That Hollywood continues to take its exploitation cues from Hong Kong is apparent in Achilles' fighting style: He leaps into the air and plunges his sword into his enemies. (Give Petersen credit that this dance of death is curt and avoids the spatial disorientation that is rampant in The Lord of the Rings and Van Helsing.)
Another review can be found in the Village Voice. The Winnipeg Sun looks at the face playing the face that launched a thousand ships, as does Reuters . Another source has put up the semi-obligatory slide show of the modern incarnation of Helen. On the more serious side of things, Up and Coming tries (somewhat awkwardly) to see in the Iliad/Troy an analogy for Iraq (or not):
The duel begins, and Achilles emerges the victor. But his blood thirst hasn't been sated, and instead of returning the body to Hector's family for proper funeral rites, he straps the corpse to his chariot and parades it around the Trojan ramparts. This act is one of the first written portrayals of a war crime, and in the story it angers both gods and men. Though Achilles is the protagonist, his rage and insatiable desire for vengeance cause him to violate all ethical laws of the time.
Though The Iliad was composed nearly 3000 years ago, Achilles' rage is alive and well today on both sides of the war in Iraq. Consider the mutilated bodies of Americans being dragged through Fallujah. Consider the photos of American soldiers torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Not only have combatants on both sides demonstrated a total contempt for the enemy, a rage that manifests in disrespect of prisoners and corpses, but such actions are encouraged by our leaders.
In many Arab countries, the U.S. is called "Great Satan." Here in America, Bush tells us in his October 4, 2001 speech that "This is a war between good and evil." This type of rhetoric not only encourages our rage, it justifies it within the context of a mythic struggle. If the enemy is evil then they are also less than human, and we feel permission to vent our rages upon them. But the Iraq War is not The Iliad, with gods choosing sides and heroes clashing in epic duels. "The enemy" has a human face, and we lose a bit of our own humanity when we forget that.
Far too often I have heard my fellow soldiers say something to the effect of, "We should just nuke the whole country, they are all a bunch of terrorists anyway." I don't necessarily think that my comrades are racists, nor do I think they are advocates of nuclear genocide. I recognize the anger in their voices; it is an anger I myself have felt. But I feel very strongly that it is our responsibility not to let anger guide our actions abroad, and not to let our leaders do the same. Until one side has the courage to break the ongoing cycle of vengeance, terrorism and war will continue, and it is mostly innocent civilians that will suffer.
And last, but not least, the Guardian has a Quizilla-like (or derived) "Which Homeric Hero Are You?" online quiz.
CHATTER: Advice from the Atlantic
I'm not quite sure I understand this one, but the publicity for Classics is still okay. In the "New and Noteworthy" section of the Atlantic Monthly, wherein there are suggestions about what to read this month, one finds:
The Greeks and the Irrational, by E. R. Dodds (California). Among the most influential works of classical scholarship of the past sixty years, Dodds's book, based on his 1949 lectures at Berkeley and just reissued, uses the insights of psychology and anthropology to illuminate the primitive and irrational—and to the modern mind, often repulsive and frightening—aspects of the ancient Greeks' mentality. Admittedly, anachronisms from the age of Freud very occasionally vitiate his analysis (and the book inspired the psychologist Julian Jaynes's highly speculative, sometimes brilliant, but often just wacky The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind), but Dodds's bold approach was grounded in impeccable scholarship (he was the Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford). This book, M. I. Finley's The World of Odysseus, and James Davidson's Courtesans & Fishcakes remain the most penetrating examinations of the Greeks' profoundly alien culture that this layman has encountered. A gracefully written, shimmering work, it will, as Dodds hoped, interest anyone concerned with "the springs of human behavior."
I guess they are "noteworthy" ...
CHATTER: Seen in Passing
Fans of Asterix in English will be happy to learn that six new titles are about to hit the shelves, according to IC Teesdale ...
CHATTER: Olympic Tidbits
Dispersed among a piece on assorted problems with the Olympics in Athens, the Guardian cites a couple of Classical precedents:
Perspective is also in order. It is worth recalling, for instance, that ours is not the first generation to hold the games in troubled times. The ancient Greeks had their world wars too, and the most important rule of the Olympics was the month long ekecheiria, a truce declared to allow athletes pass through enemy territory to get to Olympia. It did not always work. In 420BC the Spartans attacked Fort Phyrcus and sent their hoplites into Lepreum right in the middle of the games. They were fined 200,000 drachmai but refused to pay up; so they were banned from the following year's games. The principle was clear. The athletes arrived not just as heroes but as pilgrims to a religious festival that transcended national interests.
Homer (now better known as the co-writer of the screenplay for the new epic film Troy) provides the first description of organised games in literature: they were held as the final rite of mourning for the death of the warrior Patroclus, close comrade of the fleet-footed Achilles. Homer was roughly contemporaneous with the first Olympic games, staged according to tradition in 776BC, and his account would have been closer to the athletics of his time than to any dim memory of the Trojan war. The final event, as Homer relates it, was a foot-race. Brave Ajax was in the lead until the goddess Athena intervened on the side of her favourite, the wily Odysseus. She had Ajax slip in a pile of cattle dung and he was beaten to the post. No one is going to be fouled in quite the same way this year, but Athens should still pray for the protection of its divine patron.
A touristy thing in Stuff all about a trip up the Nile (supposedly following in Herodotus' footsteps) mentions this in passing:
The most famous of the To-Ken women was Cleopatra, who various sources insist was born near Wadi Halfa , just south of Abu Simbel. Cleopatra's name in Nubian is Kilubaba, or "beautiful woman".
There were actually seven Cleopatras. The Julius Caesar-Mark Anthony version was the last. Our guide took us to a temple overlooking the Nile at Kom Ombo, just north of Aswan where, he said, this last Cleopatra had given birth to her son by Caesar.
It seems the temple was the most advanced hospital in Egypt. One of its walls features drawings of bone saws, suction caps, forceps and drills.
While I don't buy the 'Caesarion was born here' angle, the temple at Kom Ombo does have medical connections (although perhaps not until the times of Domitian). The Egyptian government has a nice page on the temple's history.
AWOTV: On TV Today
5.30 p.m. |DCIVC| Ancient Clues: In Search of Warrior Women
8.00 p.m. |DISCU| Trojan Horse
An ancient story tells us that a mighty Greek armada of a thousand
ships sailed across the Mediterranean Sea to wage war on Troy. Bent
on vengeance for the abduction of the beautiful Helen by the Trojan
prince Paris, the Greeks lay siege to the great city
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.
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
10.00 p.m. |A&E| Troy: The Passion of Helen
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts! Here's the legendary story of the
ancient Greeks' bloody 10-year siege of Troy, which began, according
to Homer, when the Trojan Prince Paris stole Helen--"the face that
launched a thousand ships"--from her Spartan King and husband. Told
from Helen's point of view, we feature footage from the movie "Troy"
and interviews with its stars Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and Diane
Kruger, director Wolfgang Peterson, as well as Camille Paglia and
11.00 p.m. |DCIVC| The Greatest Journeys: Greece: Journeys to the Gods