Indeed, "Troy" is a film that makes you think about the uses to which an academic grounding in the classics can be put these days. Send the alert to the dead language departments in the Ivy League: You can make a living. In the entertainment business.
Four years ago the Coen brothers adapted "The Odyssey" and turned it into a bluegrass picaresque, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" O.K., it was a pretty loose adaptation - John Goodman in an eye patch as a 20th-century Cyclops is about as parallel as it gets - but somebody had to come up with the idea of John Goodman in an eye patch.
Since then, the trickle of interest in millenniums past has grown from a trickle to a sprinkle: we've had "Gladiator," a television remake of "Spartacus" and that Mel Gibson movie in the original Aramaic. Both Oliver Stone and Baz Luhrmann are directing movies about Alexander the Great.
Of course, you can't really call the new works a trend; the movies have been making tales of togas and chariots for decades, from "Ben-Hur" to "Animal House."
But it is gladdening in more ways than one. At least some of the source material remains beyond reproach. Better "The Aeneid" than "The Flintstones," after all. And it keeps words like coliseum and Caesar from recalling only auto shows and anchovies.
Finally, if the movies and television are going to be mining the great works of antiquity and antiquity itself for story ideas, someone's got to translate them for the consumers of popular culture.
The point is, people who go to movies may be too young or indifferent to be familiar with the classics, but the people who make the movies can't be. They need to know their stuff. They need to know Latin and Greek as well as how to talk to Valley girls.
They need to know, for example, that "Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles " is the opening of "The Iliad," even if they choose to reject it for being too poetic and oblique. In "Troy," the line the screenwriter David Benioff came up with instead - Odysseus, speaking in voice-over: "Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity" - is an exquisite specimen of contemporary popspeak, so overpowering in its empty profundity that virtually everyone can pretend to understand it.
Actually, pop culture offers other opportunities as well, namely for critics; we need writers who can make clear and entertaining the links between these two disparate eras in which the word Trojan has such different connotations. We would benefit from a scholar's take, for example, on those Sunday night HBO series.
What is "Six Feet Under" if not a contemporary study of funerary ritual - an exhumation of the issue that consumed the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, the passage between life and afterlife. And "Sex and the City"? Surely, the decadence in dress and behavior recall Rome under Caligula.
Granted, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" has no classical antecedent. But "The Sopranos" is rooted in "The Oresteia," the progenitor of all family tragedies.
Uncle Junior is Nestor-like, the very embodiment of wisdom, no? The two Tonys have that Agamemnon and Menelaus thing going, sibling loyalty and love tempered by rivalry and frustration. In Paulie Walnuts, the dumb brute warrior, we have a clear descendant of Ajax. And Carmela, betrayed to the breaking point, is Clytemnestra. You think that first initial is coincidence?
No? I go too far? Well, perhaps a tendency to overreach is my Achilles' heel. But I like it that the classics survive, even in movies like "Troy." I like to think they remain the sources of our storytelling. I like to think that the references are everywhere, that the ones I've suggested here are incidental, a drop in the wine-dark sea. [the whole thang]