As might be expected, Troy stuff is clogging my email, so this a.m.'s update might seem rather narrowly focussed. Whatever the case, here goes:
A reviewish sort of thing from the Journal-News starts us off today, with some useful observations by military folk, Classicists, and a friend of Classics:
"Did you ever read Homer?" Nick Nolte's harsh lieutenant colonel rasps at Elias Koteas' captain in the World War II drama "The Thin Red Line." "We read Homer at the Point."
They still do. Timothy M. Crook, a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, encountered "The Iliad" — Homer's epic poem of the climactic days in the Trojan War — in a freshman English class. "I was very fond of it," he recalls. So much so that he wrote his senior thesis this year in part about Achilles, the ferociously individualistic Greek warrior at the heart of Homer's story.
But while he admires Achilles for his military skill and pursuit of justice, he doesn't think his single-mindedness would pass muster in today's Army. "The warrior role has been so redefined in Iraq," says Crook, who graduates this month as a second lieutenant. "They're handing out food and rebuilding schools, and, in the next moment, they're in a firefight."
"What Agamemnon does is equivalent to a colonel saying to a soldier who has won the Medal of Honor, 'I don't have a medal, so I'll take yours,'" says Dr. Jonathan Shay, whose "Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character" explores "The Iliad" as a metaphor for the experiences of Vietnam vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Achilles' rage, Shay says, is the wrath of the soldier who feels betrayed by manipulative commanders who, like Agamemnon, lead from the rear. It's the wrath of the individual who takes on a corrupt system and pays the price.
But can he afford to act on his anger? Can we?
"All of this resentment of not being appreciated for your true worth backfires," says Mary Lefkowitz, author of "Greek Gods, Human Lives." "Achilles lets his anger drive him to the point where it leads to many deaths." [more]
Meanwhile, the Talahassee Democrat has a list of who the main characters are which concludes with an interesting observation:
Troy - Sometimes referred to as the "World Trade Center" of its day, this city was located on a site overlooking the Aegean Sea in what is now Turkey. Archeological digs have shown that the city was constructed inside a succession of stonewalls to make it impregnable to enemy forces. Indeed, the Greeks in "The Iliad" laid siege to the city for 10 years although the film compresses the siege time to a matter of weeks.
... I wonder if that "World Trade Center" angle is going to be further spun; IAfrica has a similar (though not identical) 'cheat sheet'. From another political angle, the Philadelphia Daily News criticizes the movie for its lack of a "black presence":
But few people today remember another legendary figure associated with the Trojan War. His name was Memnon, an Ethiopian king and warrior who, according to legend, fought on behalf of the Trojans.
Many scholars believe Memnon was black. But there's not one black or dark-skinned person in "Troy" - not even among the computer-generated battlefield soldiers - let alone an Ethiopian king.
Granted, Memnon isn't featured in the movie, based on Homer's "The Iliad." But it's likely Memnon was there, and he figures more prominently in other classical Greek writing on the Trojan War. In "The Odyssey," for example, Homer says "no nobler" hero came to Troy than Memnon.
Virgil's "Aeneid" calls him "swarthy Memnon."
To some, a movie about the Trojan War with no blacks in it is another example of "whitewashing" history.
"It's a political thing," said Dr. Nathaniel Norment Jr., chairman of the African American Studies Department at Temple University. "The messages [of Hollywood movies] are not going to ever edify us [African-Americans] and make us heroes."
"Heroic," he continued, is just not how Hollywood and the media generally portray African people.
Like Achilles, Memnon was supposed to be the son of a mortal and a goddess. Memnon's feats were written about in Ovid's "Metamorphoses," Arctinus' "The Aethiopis," and Virgil's "The Aeneid."
These works relate that Memnon became the best-known Trojan warrior and that he killed Achilles' good friend, Antilochus. Achilles then killed Memnon in revenge.
"The story of Memnon was one of the most widely circulated traditions of a non-Hellenic hero in the ancient world," wrote the late historian William Leo Hansberry in "Africa and Africans as Seen by Classical Writers."
Hansberry conceded that ancient writers used "Ethiopia" to describe parts of Asia as well as a wide area of eastern Africa south of Egypt. He also said "Ethiopia" comes from a Greek word meaning "a man with a [sun] burned or black face."
Legend has it that Memnon and his army of 20,000 troops came to Troy's aid from the east, which seems to indicate Memnon was an "Asian Ethiopian." But there is more to the story.
The ancient writer Pausanias, author of the 10-volume "Pausanias' Guide to Greece," said that Memnon marched to Troy from Susa, a city he founded in Persia. But Pausanias also wrote that Memnon and his soldiers had come to Persia from Ethiopia, conquering lands along the way.
The Star Ledger has a potentially useful list of 'Classic' movies set in the ancient world, just in case Quo Vadis or whatever is 'on the tip of your tongue'. A similar list can be found in the Cincinnati Enquirer . Perhaps even better, though, is a column in The Age (originating from the Guardian) in which Classicist Mary Beard waxes on various movies which have had a Trojan theme (I might post some excerpts from this later).
Outside of those, there's an interviewish thing with Peter O'Toole (Priam) in the Times-Picayune. If you really need to see more reviews from a 'film critic' point of view (they're really getting boring to wade through), I'll be gathering together a representative selection in this weekend's Explorator.