Saturday, June 05, 2004
Nick Wilshire has embarked upon an ambitious (and useful) project to put up a poem and translation of Martial every day ... what a great idea! Obviously, we'll be linking to 'your daily dose of Martial' at his Martialis blog on a regular basis. Enjoy!
When rogueclassicism converts to Wordpress, we'll be trying to do something similar with Cicero's letters, if someone doesn't beat me to it ...
CHATTER: A Different Spin on that Troy-Iraq Ting
The New York Times has a somewhat different spin on the 'modern message' one can get from Troy and/or the Iliad:
As a result of this conceit, the film, loosely drawn from "The Iliad," often stands the epic on its head; Mr. Petersen was definitely not rooting for the Homer team. Agamemnon can almost be imagined twirling a villain's mustache as he proclaims his imperial enterprise — explicitly stating that he could not care less about Helen but really lusted after power and territory. These Greek heroes may be great fighters, but their talk of honor and immortality wears thin since not many come close to the first or deserve the second. A latent antiwar message also peeks through, here and there, with a directorial wink. "If we leave now," the wise general Nestor says in the film after a few days of fighting, "we lose all credibility."
This is not quite what Homer had in mind. His epic was a founding myth of classical Greece, even hovering in the background of the later tragedies. And these works have a far more intimate connection to contemporary events than Mr. Petersen's political morality tale. The spears, though, are aimed in very different directions.
For Homer knew full well that his heroes were often less than heroic; that motives are mixed; that plunder and pandering are intertwined with nobility and virtue. The gods themselves trick and cajole and interfere, as childish in their boasts and quick to anger as Achilles, as mercurial and uncertain as Agamemnon. As for the Trojan War itself, it is, if anything, even more banal than the movie suggests. In Homer it had gone on for nine years, not a few days.
But for Homer the cause of the Trojan War, its length and its squabbles are not occasions for mockery. People fight for many reasons, the violation of one's home and allegiance not the least of them. But forget cause. Instead, look closely at war itself. Look at the chafing of a chin strap, the way blood spurts from a wound, how a combatant resembles a lion overpowering a boar "on the high places of a mountain over a little spring of water, both wanting to drink there."
Somehow in this demonic explosion of natural force and human cruelty, there is a way to be civilized. In fact it is from such eruptions that a civilization learns; and its notions of order, its constraints on passion and its ideas of propriety shape war in turn. In Homer, war becomes ritual. Duels are arranged. A cease-fire is called to collect and burn the dead. Only in the chaos of battle can blood spurt to its heart's content.
War offers, then, an extreme education in being human, a preview of what must be controlled. And Achilles is its main student. He begins as a god-born lout, angry and petulant. He considers abandoning the war and going home to live a long life. If he fights, he has been told, he is doomed to die. But that's what he chooses to do.
In accepting that distinctively human fate he starts to become human. The gods give him a shield, which portrays nothing less than a cosmic history of humanity; it is forged with images of "cities of mortal men," marriages and marketplaces, arrays of armies, sheep and shambling cattle, tilled land and harvests, vineyards and masters of metalwork. The shield commemorates human civilization — including soldiers — for as Homer knew, civilization cannot survive without them.
Achilles is then forced to learn about death, first by the death of his compatriot Patroclus (who seems an unacknowledged lover), then by accepting his own fate, and finally, by recognizing that even his worst enemy merited respect: Hector's body could no longer be dragged around, tied to Achilles' chariot. In "The Iliad" there is no greater travesty than dishonoring the dead. It may even contain the first examples of rules of war in literature, the first signs of how difficult and unending the climb toward civilization is. "Let shame be in your hearts, and discipline," Ajax cries in the book before a brutal battle, "and have consideration for each other in the strong encounters."
How does this shed light on current conflicts? First, there is no unsoiled terrain. There is no place free of blood and violence, no pristine history. Heroes falter; so do the gods; so must we. The images from Abu Ghraib prison were frightening because they were so casually cruel: submersions into sexuality and shame that took neither war nor humanity seriously. Homer's Fates would have roundly punished the hubris.
Homer would have also recognized Achilles' perversions when Hamas terrorists paraded through Gaza with the body parts of slain Israeli soldiers, some reportedly kicking the remains like soccer balls, as happened last month in Gaza, or when Fallujan mobs publicly celebrated the dismemberment of Americans. But even Achilles at his most callow might have blanched at Islamist terror's ambitions and methods: it does not aspire to Homeric notions of propriety nor does it have a tragic perspective about war. It refuses Achilles' lessons; it rejects his shield. And in fighting in those unbounded realms, the dangers, for all, are legion. [the whole thing]
NUNTII: Roman Remains in Beirut
The Daily Star (Lebanon) has a report on all sorts of finds being made during a construction boom in Beirut and environs, and focuses on a recent Roman find:
On a small side-street parallel to Gouraud Street, across from Saifi Village and behind the new, so-called "feng shui" gas station, Karim Bassil, general manager of the contracting company La Constructa, is building a luxury apartment complex called Convivium 3. Bassil and his team began working on the site in August 2003, but in March of this year, they had to halt their work when they found remnants of a marble column, 1.2 meters in diameter.
La Constructa contacted the DGA, which sent in a team of archaeologists, along with a group headed by the University of Amsterdam's Hans Curvers, to spend nearly six weeks conducting research and excavations on the site.
"We were expecting to more or less define the extension of the Decumanus Maximus - the east-west road," says Assaad Seif, an archaeologist who was educated at the Lebanese University and the Sorbonne in Paris, and has been working with the DGA since 1996.
From previous excavations, archaeologists have determined the general outline of the old Roman city. "It's like a puzzle," says Seif. "We start with a white board and we begin to fill it up. Already we have an interesting picture of the urban setting. Now we are starting to fill in our knowledge of a culture."
Roman cities, suggests Seif, are usually built along two main axes, with walls delineating the city's outer limits. "The Decumanus Maximus is usually well built from the gate inward. But from the gate out, it becomes a normal, narrower road."
On the site in Gemmayzeh, he says they "discovered part of this road, which was robbed in a later period." All that remained were a few large lime stones that indicated the orientation and limits of the road, along with the mechanisms of its drainage system.
"What's important about this discovery," explains Seif, "is that it gives us insight to the extension of the city to the east. Previous discoveries in that area were part of a Hellenistic wall at Chez Paul, which is now reconstructed in the garden (outside the popular bakery). This area is closer to the outer limit of the city."
But what is even more important is what archaeologists found on either side of the road. Previous excavations in Achrafieh and Gemmayzeh had suggested that these neighborhoods were once the site of a Roman necropolis, or city of the dead. This discovery confirms that thesis.
"To the southern end of the road we found remains of funerary buildings from the Roman period," says Seif. "We found pottery (and) some coins that will help us in our study. But the important discovery we made was part of a Hellenistic necropolis." Seif knew he would likely find remnants of the Roman city of the dead, marked by elaborate burial sites. But he didn't know the Hellenistic city of the dead would be there as well, below the Roman necropolis, characterized by simpler and sparer graves.
On the site in Gemmayzeh, DGA archaeologists found the remains of 20 skeletons, buried in sand with funerary deposits consisting of small ceramic perfume bottles.
"This was the ritual at the time," explains Seif. "On the analysis and interpretation level, this is what's interesting. ... The information (we have) comes from Pompeii, from texts. Archaeology helps us in Lebanon to discover the things not written, the traditions with local sub-traditions. Burial customs are not the same everywhere. There are small changes in the mainstream."
In addition to the skeletons, Seif believes that the marble column found on the site belongs to an important structure, perhaps a mausoleum, which has yet to be fully discovered. "Usually in Roman cities," he says, speaking about a pattern of ancient urban development he's witnessed in such Lebanese cities as Tyre, where "the cities of the dead are usually found off the eastern entrance of the city. A necropolis can remain so for thousands of years. When the city grows, it builds over it."
In the end, the DGA excavated all the archaeological remains. They are now being cleaned, stored and set aside for future research. The process set La Constructa back in its building schedule. But as Karim Bassil says: "It's an honor" to have such an important discovery made on one's construction site. [the whole thing]
CHATTER: Turkey Hopes to Cash In
A Reuters piece reports on Turkey's hopes that the movie Troy will boost tourism:
Turks living near the ancient site of Troy are hoping to cash in on the epic Hollywood film of the same name, starring heart-throb Brad Pitt as the Greek warrior Achilles, now showing in cinemas worldwide.
The governor of the province where the ruins of Troy are located said he expected to triple the number of tourists visiting the site where, according to legend, ancient Greeks used a giant wooden horse to destroy their Trojan adversaries after failing to beat them in 10 years of war.
"Our target is not so huge. We plan on a million foreign tourists visiting the city of Troy," Suleyman Kamci, governor of Canakkale, told Reuters Television this week. At present about 300,000 people a year, mainly Turks, visit the site.
Visitors hoping to see Troy's fabled treasures may be disappointed. German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann removed many artefacts after excavating the site beside the Dardanelles straits in 1871, and they are now in museums in Istanbul, Canakkale and elsewhere.
"Of course everybody wants the artefacts and treasures returned here. But there is a question of where to exhibit them," said Veysel Tolu, an archaeologist at Canakkale University. "We are planning to build a museum of Troy."
Troy does have a huge replica of the famous wooden horse along with an array of excavated ruins.
Canakkale governor Kamci is not alone in wanting to tap the surge of interest in Troy.
The ancient Troy exhibition at Istanbul's Archaeology Museum, closed for years for lack of funds, threw open its doors just in time for the film's premiere in May.
American tourist David Robinett said he was excited about treading the same ground as the mythical heroes immortalised by Greek poet Homer in his "Iliad" more than 2,700 years ago.
"Of course it will be very good for tourism. Too bad they didn't actually film it here," Robinett said. [more]
AWOTV: On TV Today
11.00 p.m. |HINT| Foot Soldier: The Romans
Host Richard Karn looks at the Roman legionnaires, who conquered and
dominated most of the known world for 500 years, and left behind a
legacy of language, culture, architecture, and government.