Most recent update:6/1/2004; 5:09:01 AM

 Monday, May 24, 2004
CHATTER? The Rule of Four

The NJ Star-Ledger has a reviewish-interviewish thing about a novel that's hot on the Princeton Campus of late -- primarily because that is where it is set, I suspect. Even so, there is a Classics connection:

Inspiration for the novel's complex plot, Caldwell said, came from a Renaissance studies course he took in his senior year. He and Thomason, best friends since childhood in suburban Virginia, knew they wanted to write a book, but weren't sure where to start.

"Most of all, we wanted to capture a little bit of that last fleeting time of youth, bottle it and keep it in the story," Caldwell said.

"It was a reflective action for us," Thomason said. "We wanted to capture those feelings, and we wanted to do it together, two people who had been best friends for a long time."

The story revolves around a 500-year-old book called the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, an odd stew of ancient languages filled with lurid sexual themes and mysterious word games. After five centuries, scholars are still fighting over who wrote it.

Professor Anthony Grafton, the Princeton classicist who recommended the text to Caldwell as the subject of a senior research paper, said he first heard about "The Rule of Four" a couple of weeks ago, in a note from Caldwell's parents. He read the novel last week in a single sitting.

"It's just a wonderful thing to see someone use their education in such a creative way, and in such a witty, lighthearted way," Grafton said. The author's take on the Hypnerotomachia, he said, is an inspired riff on "an unusual book in which some scholars, like the characters, have become obsessed and lost their way." [the whole thing]

Folks who want to try their hand working through the (Latin) of the Hypnerotomachia can find a very nice edition of it online at MIT. To judge by the web, it is also of interest because of its typography ...

7:31:45 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Troy at the CAC

A week or so ago was the Classical Association of Canada annual meeting ... this year, in Quebec City. To my never-ending surprise, it actually got some press coverage in the National Post (not surprising that the Post specifically covered it, but that it got any coverage at all), mostly due to ... Troy. Excerpts:

During the opening week of the epic film, classics professors from across Canada gathered in Quebec City to discuss Greek and Roman masterpieces.

While the official program was burdened with stuffier subjects like "Libanius' Second Oration and the Sophist's Burden," the hot topic in the hallways was the movie starring the dreamy Pitt.

"It really was all the talk in the corridors," said Jonathan Edmondson, a classics professor from York University in Toronto.

Edmondson and other Canadian classics profs predict the movie will give a big boost to fall enrolment in classes dedicated to the classics, like Homer's Iliad, the inspiration for the movie.


"Someone at the conference said they heard teenagers talking about how they had to go and read the Iliad as they left the movie," Edmondson said. "That's not something you hear everyday."


Sheryl Sullivan, the head of the classics department at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said most of her colleagues are willing to overlook the film's faults for the interest it will spark in the ancient world.

"Anything that broadens the person's perspective, that takes them into the past and makes them see a wider range of history, can't but do good. Even if it's a distortion," she said.

At first glance, it might seem that the movie would insult purists in the field of classical literature. But Sullivan said professors in her field are unfairly imagined to be humourless and stuffy.

"People often think we hare stodgy old things with our hair in buns, locked in a room," Sullivan said. "It's something classicists really have to fight."

Sullivan said other epic movies have boosted the study of the antiquities. Anthropology departments had a spike in interest after Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe, became a hit in 2000. Back into the 1959, Ben Hur also sparked new interest in the ancient world.

Edmondson said Troy is a good example of how an ancient story loses many of its mythical qualities when it is updated for the modern world. He already has plans to capitalize on the newfound popularity of his area of expertise by using the book and the movie.

"I've already decided what my first assignment will be in the fall: it will be to get my students to compare the two. It will be great. This is really good for business." [the whole thing ... it will likely expire very soon]

I'm a big fan of Dr. Edmondson ... he's done extensive work in matters gladiatorial and spectacular; I've never met Dr. Sullivan that I recall, but I do know that her first name is Shirley, not Sheryl.

4:10:36 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

NUNTII: Homer in Messengeric binHexameters

Brief item from Reuters:

Homer's ancient Greek poem "The Iliad", the basis for Hollywood blockbuster "Troy", has been compressed for a new generation too lazy to see the film let alone read the 24-book epic that runs to over 15,000 lines.

The first five books of the centuries-old tale, set in the final year of the Trojan War -- which began when Trojan Paris snatched Helen (the face that launched a thousand ships) from Greece -- are now available in the language people use when sending instant messages, Microsoft said on Monday.

Book Two is reduced to just 24 words of 'messenger speak', losing some of the lyricism of the original. "Agamemnon hd a dream: Troy not defended. Ordered attack! But Trojans knew they were coming n were prepared. Achilles sat sulking in his tent."

The translation, designed to publicise Microsoft's messenger product, is not written in Homer's dactylic hexameters but it does use 'emoticons' -- little faces or images -- to emphasise intense moments.

When I find it, I'll put portions up online ...

10:33:20 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

NUNTII: Homer Copyright Case

Nice bit o' humour from AdAge:

The public's growing infatuation with heroic warfare, anthropomorphic gods, Greeks bearing gifts, overweening hubris and all other things associated with the  new movie Troy have made their way into a battle zone 8,000 miles away from the real Troy: a Manhattan courtroom.

There, attorneys for Homer, his alleged transcriber, several translators and two women who claim to be his muses are arguing over copyright ownership for the Warner Bros. epic, for The Iliad and the Odyssey, and potentially for the literary concept of long, drawn-out battles among sexually ambiguous warriors.

Some intellectual property experts even believe the future of the road movie may be threatened.

Dactylic hexameter
Homer, it turns out, cannot write. He sings his stories, and someone else transcribes them. A Smyrnan chiseler named Piscus has claimed that he hammered out the actual lines of dactylic hexameter, even adding some of the famous epithets -- including both "clear-headed Telemachus" and "rosy-fingered Dawn" -- that today are known generically as "Homeric verse."

Because neither Homer nor Piscus are members of the Screenwriters Guild of America, the Hollywood union has refused to arbitrate the dispute, a Guild spokesman said.

Recent legislative changes have lengthened copyright protection from 95 years to 11,447 years. With such extensive coverage, the stakes in this legal conflict are huge. Some attorneys argue that copyright, patent and trademark laws together encompass not only the period in which Homer composed his poem, but the earlier epoch when Cro Magnon men hit each other repeatedly at short distances with very big rocks.

Especially poignant
With the potential payoff so enormous, three literary estates recently joined the fray. The heirs of Alexander Pope, George Chapman and Richmond Lattimore are all claiming ownership of portions of Homer's oeuvre. Pope's case is especially poignant, his attorneys say, since during his life he frequently was referred to by his own Homeric epithet, "hunchbacked poet."

We'll continue to monitor the case ...

10:24:06 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.


ante diem ix kalendas junias

  • Quando Rex Comitavit Fas -- the rex sacrorum had to perform some sort of ceremony before the day's legal business could be conducted (possibly connected to the idea of Regifugium)
  • 15 B.C. -- birth of the emperor-to-be-who-never-was Germanicus (brother of the emperor Claudius)
  • 299 A.D. -- martyrdom of Donation and Rogatian

7:51:58 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Lost in Translation

Here's an exercise in manuscript transmission. Here's an excerpt from Ananova:

The GeekMan doll is armed with a laptop computer, coffee mug and thick glasses.

It is billed as a superhero for every man who has ever been teased about spending more time on his computer than on his wardrobe.

Standing six inches tall, the toy doll sports jeans, sensible shoes and a black t-shirt.

His super powers, according to his creators, include opposite sex repulsion, analytical reasoning and less than ideal hygiene routine.

Then it makes its way to WebIndia in the following form:

The new Greek Man doll has been designed on the model of the new age weirdo who is definitely tech savvy, but cares a damn about his appearance.

According to Ananova , the new doll is six inches tall wears rough jeans, sensible shoes and comes armed with a laptop computer, coffee mug and thick glasses.

Creators of the doll feel that he symbolises men whose greatest assets are a rational mind , excessive attention towards personal hygiene and a repugnance towards women.

Now if the urtext atAnanova were to be lost, Classicists of the future would be busily writing papers using this as evidence of Indian hostility towards Greece, no doubt lingering from those invasions of Alexander ... of course, if actual archaeological evidence of GeekMan showed up, the philologists and archaeologists would be feuding over whether the text actually did refer to the doll or whether it was just a happy coincidence.

7:39:51 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: The Sword Side of Sword and Sandal Flicks

The Indianapolis Star has a piece on the folks behind sword fights in movies which concludes with this 'graph:

In "Troy," the work has been subtly Orientalized. The sword master for Brad Pitt, who plays Achilles, is Steven Ho, a martial artist and stunt man who has coached him on samurai traditions in swordsmanship. It makes no sense whatsoever in Troy, 1,200 years before Jesus, but it sure looks good!

Although I have yet to see the movie (I almost did a couple of nights ago, but something came up), judging by reviews it seems safe to say that this 'if it looks good' idea has overridden most of the concerns about historical accuracy ... useful to know going into the flick.

7:24:44 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

REVIEWS: From Scholia

Peter Jones, Homer's Iliad: A Commentary On Three Translations.
7:16:05 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

AWOTV: On TV Today

... nothing of interest
7:11:32 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

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