Thursday, May 20, 2004
CHATTER: Ancient Olympics
I think this is our first (in a while, anyway) piece on the ancient Olympics ... I'm sure we'll be seeing more over the next few months:
Spectacle, violence and myth mingled every fourth summer for more than 1,000 years in the ancient Olympic Games to celebrate the Greek passion for competitive sport.
Controversies and dramas chronicled by the poets and dramatists abounded during that astonishing span of uninterrupted competition starting when Corobeus streaked naked across the line in Olympia in 776 B.C.
The earliest Greek sporting account to survive appears in Homer's Iliad. Achilles organised a series of events including chariot races, a foot race, boxing and wrestling to accompany the burial rites of his comrade Patroclus, killed by Hector before the gates of Troy.
Olympia, a shrine to Zeus in the fertile district of Elis southwest of Athens, was one of hundreds of sites devoted to religious festivals. The stadium was situated near the temple of Zeus, where the gold and ivory statue of the principal god of the Greek pantheon, sculpted by Pheidias, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
According to legend, the greatest of the mythical heroes Hercules, the demigod son of Zeus, made a clearing in the grove and instituted the first Olympic Games to celebrate the success of one of his 12 labours, cleaning the stables of King Augeas of Elis.
Corobeus was the first champion in the only event at the first recorded Games, winning the stadion, the length-of-the-stadium race, over 192.27 metres.
The Roman emperor Nero was the most notorious champion, arranging a special Games in A.D. 67 featuring a 10-horse chariot race and a musical contest. Unsurprisingly he won every event he entered.
After 776, further events were gradually added to the five-day Games, which devoted a substantial part of the programme to religious ceremonies.
The first day was exclusively reserved for ceremony, as was the morning of the third day which culminated in the sacrifice of 100 oxen on the great altar of Zeus.
Contemporary accounts chronicle a riot of colour and confusion in Olympia as touts, gamblers, pimps, pedlars musicians, dancers and flower-sellers gathered from as far away as Libya and Egypt for the Games.
At a loftier level, some of the great philosophers and writers made the pilgrimage to Olympia.
Plato attended the festival when he was 70. Thucydides, the greatest ancient historian, was in the audience when Herodotus, known as the "Father of History", read from his works. [more from Rediff]
CHATTER: Lord Elgin, What About the Children
As a school teacher (and rogueclassicist) I tend to consider the following sort of thing within the realm of 'exploitation' ... I wish teachers would stop doing this sort of thing (especially with children of this age who have yet to develop their own critical thinking abilities):
Hundreds of private school students and teachers gathered this morning outside the British embassy in Athens and the British consulate in Thessaloniki to deliver a total of 95,000 letters addressed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair calling for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.
The mainly elementary school students delivered the letters and both the British ambassador and the British Consul General pledged to bring the messages to the British Prime Minister.
A fourth grade student wrote in his letter, Lord Elgin stole the marbles to decorate his house and destroyed one of the most beautiful monuments. I am certain that Britain has its own civilization and does not need to keep the Parthenon Marbles away from Greece.
A fifth grade student wrote, Can you imagine the Eiffel Tower in America, the Big Ben in Greece and the Statue of Liberty in Italy? The Parthenon Marbles have no place in Britain. [more from MPA]
CHATTER: Trojan Aftermath
Here's some interesting fallout from the Troy flick:
The Ankara government has come under fire from lawmakers for failing to take advantage of the mega-budget Hollywood movie ``Troy,'' starring Brad Pitt, to promote Turkey where the ancient city is located.
Two opposition MPs have filed questions in parliament to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his culture minister, asking why the film was not shot in Turkey and what the government was doing to secure the return of the smuggled Trojan treasures, Anatolia news agency reported Tuesday.
One of the legislators also asked whether the government would try to obtain the Trojan Horse, the costumes and weapons used in the film and put them on display in ancient Troy, located in northwestern Turkey on the shores of the Dardanelles Strait, as an attraction for tourists.
Weeks before ``Troy'' hit the screens Friday, residents of Canakkale, the nearest city to the site of the Troy ruins, launched a campaign - to no avail - to have the world premiere in the city. [more from Utusan Online]
CHATTER: Flames Beat the Sharks
More signs the gods who steer things to rogueclassicism are smiling ... the mighty, mighty Flames make it to the Stanley Cup finals (first time since 1989 ... back when the Stanley Cup was a necessary diversion from my M.A. thesis) and the post-game scene is described thusly -- with suitable ClassCon -- in one of the Sun newspapers:
Last night, the Red Mile seemed more like a procession in ancient Rome than a Calgary street following the big Flames win.
Horns blasted, hundreds of flags flew like ensigns and red became the colour of prestige.
But Calgary's version of the Coliseum -- the Pengrowth Saddledome -- is not big enough to contain the masses' hunger for glory.
Bars, pubs and even sidewalks along the famous strip were packed with Calgary fans cheering their modern-day gladiators on to victory.
Under wet snow and standing shoulder to shoulder, thousands of ecstatic fans spanning the width of the avenue celebrated as police closed off the street for several blocks.
Oh to be in Calgary ...
CHATTER: Allegory of the Cave
A piece in Counterpunch tries -- with varying degrees of success -- to apply Plato's famous allegory to the Abu Ghraib events and their implications, inter alia:
A week before the pictures of Abu Ghraib exploded, killing American credibility with the sudden wonder of a suicide bomb, I picked up a few gems in a talk by Howard Zinn: "Sometimes you know something vaguely, but it's brought home to you powerfully." And, "When you make a war against a tyrant, you kill the victims of the tyrant." And, "If you have the right to overthrow or abolish the government, as our Declaration of Independence asserts you do, you have the right to disobey it." And, finally, something like this: Our form of government can overcome any kind of opposition, except embarrassment.
I thought a long time about that last one. It was like coming out of Plato's cave and seeing the sun for the first time. I thought about it again when the pictures gushed in the national psyche, opening a geyser wound that will not heal.
In a salesman's culture, in a culture based on the pitch, the hype, the image, the sound bite, the celebrity spokesperson, "staying on message," "talking points," pundits, talking heads, revolving doors, mergers-it's all about Hollywood and TV-land and this silly-putty world of cardboard food and tin-star heroes which we sustain like a dream because it is our inheritance, we have banished history, and the dream is all we know.
Plato's allegory of the cave: A tribe born and raised in a cave, see shadows projected on a wall of the cave. Perhaps they are the reflections of themselves. Along the winding trails of the cave, there is enough water and they have scorpions and bugs and vermin to eat. They are satisfied and they love the play of shadows on the wall.
One day, a poet, an adventurer, a crazy person, is born, and as he grows up he questions, he wonders, but everyone says, leave it alone, don't go there. But when he's older, the challenger follows a chink of light to the mouth of the cave, pushes aside a boulder, squeezes through and beholds the sun and everything lit by the sun-valleys, fields, mountains, sky, water, birds, the world. After a dazzled day, he returns to the cave to tell the others. But they don't want to hear. They kill him. They bury the bones deep. [more]
Not quite how I remember the story ...
CHATTER: And the Horse You Rode In On
USA Today has a Troy-inspired piece which, inter alia, ponders the horse thing:
"Even in classical antiquity, the authors of stories regarding the Trojan War had doubts about the original existence of the colossal wooden horse," says Brian Rose of the University of Cincinnati, co-director of Project Troia. No archaeological evidence exists of an oversized wooden horse there. Instead, the horse is seen as an allegory for other, less dramatic endings to the war:
In Homer's time, the Assyrian Empire had mastered the use of siege engines to batter down walls of cities. The Trojan horse may be simply a poet's description of siege warfare, Ratte suggests.
Sieges often bring disease. The Trojan horse story may hide the transmission of a disease from Greek invaders to Trojan defenders that ravaged both sides and left the city defenseless.
Horses were a totem animal of Poseidon, the god of earthquakes. The Trojan horse may be a metaphor for a quake that decimated the wealthy city, leaving it prey for Greek pirates.
CHATTER: Right and Wrong in Troy
The Cincinnati Enquirer seems to be first off the mark (or at least, first in my mailbox this a.m.) with a piece on the historical accuracy of the Troy flick:
[...] To see how well the movie depicted that era, the Enquirer asked University of Cincinnati classics professor C. Brian Rose, an expert on ancient Troy, to share his picks for the top historical hits and misses in the film.
Here is his report card:
The war as described by Homer lasted 10 years; the movie condenses it into three weeks.
The movie has Hector (played in the film by Eric Bana) killing Menelaus (played by Brendan Gleeson) in the middle of the movie; in The Iliad, Menelaus survives the war.
The coins on the eyes of the deceased are a problem; coinage wasn't invented until 600 years after these wars.
The movie shows colossal statues at Troy in gold and stone; such statues did not exist in the late Bronze Age in either Greece or western Asia Minor. The ones they've used were copied from sixth century B.C. Greek statues.
In the Greek story of the Trojan War, Odysseus (played by Sean Bean) and Achilles (played by Brad Pitt) were draft dodgers. To get out of the war, Odysseus pretended to be insane, and Achilles disguised himself as a woman.
There is no evidence that late Bronze Age Greece was ever united under the command of one king. (The movie depicts Agamemnon, played by Brian Cox, as king of most of Greece.)
The walls (surrounding Troy) were quite high (more than 27 feet), and even though the walls in the film were higher than that, they conveyed well the strength of the fortifications.
The coastline would have been about one mile from the citadel in the late Bronze Age, which is the distance they used.
The form of the shields - large and rectangular or figure-eight - coincide more or less with what would have been used by warriors at that time.
Some of the Trojan earrings were relatively close to jewelry actually uncovered at Troy (although dating about 1,000 years earlier than these wars). [more]
In the late Bronze Age, there was a settlement in the Lower City of Troy, outside the main citadel, which is one of the most important discoveries of the new excavations. The movie got that right.