Most recent update:6/1/2004; 5:08:51 AM

 Sunday, May 16, 2004

CHATTER: Pondering Empire

... and, of course, wandering into that U.S.-as-Rome thing (but not quite) is an editorial in the Independent (which will expire soon, I suspect):

In Italy, there is a bust of Julius Caesar in Torlonia Museum that scholars have insisted depicts the great conqueror as a Christ-like icon. The resolute warrior's face has been more compassionately composed and the oak wreath of the soter, or saviour, slips low across his brow, hardly distinguishable from a thorny crown. As grand a general as Caesar was, though, he fought with no more moral purpose than to expand the glory of the empire. His deification was about art; not history. Caesar's and, ultimately, even Rome's undoing was that their armies drew blood without a righteous cause. A soldier must fight for something more eternal than the emperor's reputation.

The notion of empire is still as misguided today as it was when the legions of Rome were marching the earth. America and Great Britain, however, have always been able to rationalise their presence in foreign lands with intellectual constructs. We may have been extracting natural resources and other treasure to sustain our own homelands, but we were educating and civilising the natives whose countries we were occupying. We gave them our governmental institutions and our religion and were convinced that we had improved the backward colonies.

We were wrong, of course, and the deadly lesson, whether it was learned by Her Majesty's armies in Africa or American troops in Vietnam, is that the occupied never want to be occupied. They will out-fight us, out-die us, and outlast us because our boots are on their ground. Through loss, Caesar slowly came to understand that the further his armies were from Rome the more difficult it was for them to retain power. Geography may be less of a challenge to the modern military, but the battle still offers the same teachings. And no matter how loudly President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair argue to the contrary, the US and the UK are presently engaged in repeating history's most egregious mistakes with their exploits in Iraq.

Both Bush and Blair have tried to convince the world that Iraq had to be invaded as the first front in the war on terrorism. Stopping al- Qa'ida and ridding Iraq of Saddam and his torture chambers provided the moral justification for rolling our armies across those ancient plains. If the dead are given the truth at the time of redemption, though, our fallen soldiers now know they lost their lives for considerably different reasons than those provided by their leaders. The war in Iraq began with a lie and it has spiralled into an even greater immorality, which is where all lies eventually lead. Our bombs and bullets cannot tell the difference between the innocent and the enemy and in our effort to learn the distinctions we have resorted to immoral tactics. [more]

I can't seem to find an image of this Caesar on the web ...

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REVIEW: From the Guardian

Simon Goodhill, Love, Sex and Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes our Lives

Interesting claim in this review:

Goldhill's introductory claim that we have never been more ignorant of our classical roots is slightly disingenuous. Classics as a school subject has dwindled but films like Gladiator, and now Troy, and the current popularity of documentaries and novels about the ancient world, mean, more accurately, that there is a widening gap between our perceptions and the ancient sources. Goldhill closes that gap with this lively and multi-layered challenge to assumptions embedded in modern life.

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CHATTER: Who Was Homer?

The Guardian has a lengthy piece on what is (and isn't) known about Homer and the history of his texts ... some excerpts:

[...]  Who was Homer? Appropriately, the poet of Troy's fall is himself the stuff of legend, a figure so shadowy that some twentieth-century-scholars refuse to credit him with a serious biography. Even in ancient times Homer is everywhere - and nowhere. He is Macavity, the mystery cat of classical antiquity.

To the Aristotle of the Poetics, Homer is marvellously anonymous. To the emperor Hadrian, who quizzed the Pythian Sybil about the poet's origins, he was the son of Odysseus's son Telemachus, and was born on Ithaca. The Sybil, who knew when to file a good review, called Homer 'the heavenly siren'.

Homer was certainly god-like in his immanence. No fewer than seven classical biographers assign him different birthplaces, from Smyrna to Rhodes. To Herodotus, whose apocryphal life of the poet underpins every subsequent version, his real name was Melesigenes. He came from Aeolia. And he was blind.

It is with the identification of this seer-like attribute, that the 'myth' of Homer takes wing. As a young man, apparently, Melesigenes was a prodigy who dazzled his audiences with his fabled recitations. In due course, he was taken up by rich patrons from the island of Chios and set up a poetry school there, establishing a bardic tradition known as the 'Homeridae'.

As news of his extraordinary genius spread round the Aegean, the invitations flooded in. The blind man ('Homer') went to Athens, then to Argos, where he performed part of the work for which he was renowned, The Iliad, improvising his text to flatter local audiences. Now quite the celebrity, the poet lionised and was given citizenship by several city-states.

Then, after a short illness brought on by a fall, he died on the island of Ios, probably some time between 1100 and 900 BC. With the poet's sharp eye to posterity, he had already composed his own epitaph: 'Here earth covers the sacred head of divine Homer, the glorifier of hero-men'.

As the myth of the poet became a kind of secular cult, so his image sharpened. According to Michael Schmidt, author of an important new study, The First Poets (Weidenfeld), 'the earliest known portrait dates from 460 BC, centuries after his death ... copies of his head, thought to be relatively faithful, survive. Homer is old, blind, head slightly tilted to the left as though listening. His face is lean, long. There is no portrayal of the adolescent Homer. Youth and truth were never complementary.'


Part of the appeal of Homer is that he does not mince words: death is final; love is all-consuming; violence is ever-present. Similarly, his heroes are just that: heroic. They know they will 'live forever', partly because they are already living life at a furious pace, partly because the manner of their death is always utterly singular, and partly because, like the best movie characters, they appear before us with stark simplicity, unmediated by complexity. Like film stars, they are immortal. Achilles is a killing machine. Priam is a victimised old man. Paris is an effeminate creep. Helen is, in her own words, 'a bitch'.

But, as well as the bold and brilliant colours of his imaginative palette, the appeal of Homer is epic, lyric, and also historical. Behind the hypnotic texture and headlong tempo of the verse, with its famous recurrent epithets - 'rosy-fingered dawn', 'grey-eyed Athena', 'wine-dark sea', 'long-haired Achaeans' - there is an account of an event, the siege of Troy whose factual reality emerged from the fog of myth during a century and more of patient archaeological research, notably by Schliemann.

Paradoxically, the more a literal Troy has emerged from the alluvial plain to the south of the Dardanelles, the more Homer the poet-historian has been replaced by 'Homer' the oral tradition.


To the eighteenth century, he represented an ideal of primitive inspiration. To Keats, travelling in 'realms of gold', he was the sightless seer of Chios. To the Tennyson of 'The Lotos-Eaters' he was a source-book. To James Joyce, The Odyssey was 'the most beautiful, all-embracing theme' and its hero Ulysses a pacifist, father, husband, wanderer, and artist. To Auden, Homer is the author of a tragic vision, to Derek Walcott, the inspiration for his narrative poem, 'Omeros'.  [the whole thing]

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CHATTER: Historical Troy

In our latest Explorator (see below) you can get the all the bumpf about the movie. Noteworthy, and not to be missed, is a lengthy piece in U.S. News and World Report on the archaeological evidence for a Trojan War. And just in case I forgot to mention it (or you missed it), the article on the same subject in Archaeology by Manfred Korfman is also worth looking at.

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NEWSLETTER: Explorator

Explorator 7.03 has been posted ... Enjoy!

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AWOTV: On TV Today

9.00 a.m. |HISTU| The Emperor Who Saved Rome
The Emperor Vespasian was a crucially important figure in the Roman
Empire's early history. We follow his life from childhood through to
death in 79 AD, and we investigate the state of the empire in the 1st
century AD and examine its many aspects by following the career of a
countryman from the Sabine Hills who ultimately saved Rome from
disaster. Our 90-minute journey criss-crosses the empire, taking
viewers to the shores of North Africa, the invasion of Britain, and
suppression of revolt in Judea.

12.00 p.m. |HISTU| The Rise and Fall of the Spartans: Code of Honor
Revered and feared in their own time, the ancient warriors from the
Greek city-state Sparta invented the boot camp, frontal assault,
state-sponsored education, and a lifestyle and aesthetic that still
bears their name. Who were these soldiers willing to fight a losing
battle in defense of honor and country? How did they become the
greatest fighting force the world has ever known? What kind of
society produced such men? We explore the cornerstones of life and
death in ancient Sparta. 

2.00 p.m. |HISTU| The Rise and Fall of the Spartans: Tides of War
In the 5th century BC, all of Greece united against Persia. But
after the defeat of the invading Persian army, both Sparta and Athens
became rivals, each expanding in strength and influence. While Athens
ruled the sea, Sparta's celebrated army was unbeatable on land. When
the two Greek giants met on a collision course, the resulting
Peloponnesian War spanned 27 years, engulfed all of Greece, and
changed the nature of democracy. We explore the devastating effects
of the war and demise of Sparta.

4.00 p.m. |HISTU| Barbarians: Vikings/Goths 
From the 9th Century BC through the 14th Century AD, barbarian
hordes on horseback thundered across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Shot
in film on location, we examine their conquests and also their
cultures, leaders, and roles in shaping history. In a 2-hour special,
we shatter myths about the Vikings, and see how they became agents of
social and political change, and the Goths, who sacked Rome itself,
and ironically, maintained Roman art and culture in their Goth
kingdoms as the Empire faded away.
5.00 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

6.00 p.m. |HISTU| Barbarians: Mongols/Huns
In this 2-hour special, shot in film on location, we examine the
barbarian hordes that swept across Europe, Asia, and Africa, from the
9th Century BC through the 14th Century AD. First, we look at "The
Mongol Catastrophe"--the invasion by nomadic warriors that swarmed
out of the east overwhelming the Ottoman Empire. Then, we examine the
mysterious Huns, who fell upon the European continent like the
vengeance of God. Some say the Chinese built the Great Wall to keep
them out. 

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.
8.00 p.m. |DISCC| Carvilius: The Mummy of Rome
The discovery of two Roman-age mummies in a tomb outside Rome was a
shock to the scientific community, since there is no record of
mummification in Rome's annals; trace the ongoing steps being taken
to unravel this mystery.

8.00 p.m. |HISTU| The True Story of Troy 
It's the site of history's most legendary war and the Western
world's oldest adventure story. According to myth, it began with a
rigged beauty contest and ended with a giant wooden horse unleashing
utter destruction. Now, archaeologists, literary detectives, and
military analysts are uncovering evidence suggesting the war was
really waged. From archaeological trenches at ancient Troy and the
citadel fortress of King Agamemnon, from Homer to Hollywood, we
search for the true story of Troy.  [2 hrs?]

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
Arianna Huffington. 

Channel Guide

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