Most recent update:7/1/2004; 5:37:19 AM

 Saturday, June 19, 2004
CHATTER: He Has Seen the Light!!!

From the Financial Times comes word of a somewhat slow 'road to Damascus' process in regards to Classics:

I don't suppose I'll be going to the new film Troy starring Brad Pitt as Achilles. Somehow the idea of an all-American, unironic (for an ironic version, see Shakespeare's marvellously atrabilious Troilus and Cressida), unpoetic version of the battle-drenched Iliad doesn't much appeal.
Nor, despite the heroic efforts of the FT's gardening correspondent leading the galloping Macedonians into battle, will I be trekking off to Oliver Stone's forthcoming biopic about Alexander the Great. All the same, I am rather amazed and generally heartened by the current renaissance in all things Classical.

At this point I have to hang my head in shame. I studied Greek and Latin to A level, and even won a Classics scholarship to university (based mainly on a bizarre ability to translate passages of Shakespeare into Sophoclean iambic pentameters), but was never a fully paid-up Classicist.

At a particularly callow point of youth I wrote a piece in the school magazine arguing that the study of Classics belonged to a bygone age and should be replaced with modern languages.

What I didn't see then was that Classics, which still seemed festooned with a kind of cobwebby orthodoxy, might perform a volte-face and transform itself from an establishment discipline into a potentially subversive, radical one.

Having shaken off every trace of their role in forming imperial administrators and politicians, Classical studies have been able to reinvent themselves as a truly liberal discipline, attracting a wide range of students fired by genuine intellectual curiosity rather than desire for high office.

What you can get from the Classics (though I doubt this holds for Troy or Alexander) is a uniquely illuminating perspective on the world and on yourself - a marvellously valuable way of seeing the wood for the trees. The degree of illumination, for westerners, is different from that gained by studying a completely alien culture because the Classical world or worlds are the western world in embryo. [more]

7:42:15 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: On the Need for Greek Tragedy

Interesting essay in the Guardian:

Where does our theatre instinctively turn in times of crisis? Not to Shakespeare or Shaw but to the Greeks. Iphigenia at Aulis opens next week at the National Theatre. Martin Crimp's updated Sophoclean play, Cruel and Tender, is currently at the Young Vic. Euripides' Ion is playing at Colchester. And no less than two revivals of Hecuba - one at the Donmar this September, the other at Stratford-on-Avon next January - are in the pipeline. What these revivals all have in common is that they are a direct response to the Iraq war.

The critical cliche is that Greek tragedy is "timeless": a permanent part of western culture. The staggering fact is that for centuries the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides went virtually unperformed on the British stage.

It was only with the arrival of playable translations by Gilbert Murray that they infiltrated the repertory a century ago. And even then they were not universally welcomed. Max Beerbohm, writing in 1905 about The Trojan Women, claimed that "an afternoon of wailings that wake no echo in us is an afternoon of boredom".

It is the escalating horrors of the 20th century that explain the passionate renewal of interest in Greek drama. Jean Anouilh's Antigone, first performed in Paris in 1944 during the Occupation, was a landmark in showing how Sophocles could be resonantly updated. Since then writers as varied as Edward Bond, Seamus Heaney and Edna O'Brien have gone back to the Greeks.

Directors too have discovered in these plays a metaphor for our own times. The American Peter Sellars related Ajax and The Persians to the Vietnamese and Gulf wars. And when David Leveaux revived Electra in the 1990s the heroine had the ragged desperation of a Bosnian refugee.

But the current rash of Greek drama is directly attributable to the unfolding tragedy in the Middle East. Katie Mitchell, who directs Iphigenia at Aulis at the National, said: "I was looking for a play that could have a conversation with the audience about the situation in Iraq. This is a play that takes a cynical and satirical look at the actions of public figures and that was written at a time when Euripides was losing faith in political leaders and their inability to extricate themselves from an interminable war.

"Audiences are very clever so you don't need to localise events too much: unlike Euripides' Agamemnon, who sacrifices his daughter, Tony Blair is not actually killing his own children. But what we recognise in this and other Greek plays is the gap between politicians who talk in moral absolutes and our own sense that everything is muddy, complex and confused."  [more]

7:31:28 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Another Anachronistic Claim

From the Tallahassee Democrat:

A watermelon was once thrown at Roman Governor Demosthenes during a political debate. Placing the watermelon upon his head, he thanked the thrower for providing him with a helmet to wear as he fought Philip of Macedonia.

I'm sure he was pretty darned happy to have the Romans behind him too. What is really scary, is that this "Roman Governor Demosthenes" story is all over the web. A google search of watermelon Demosthenes turns up a pile of similarly-worded examples. I tend to agree with this horticulturalist, who notes that there is no Latin or Greek name for watermelon, which suggests they probably did not know of it much before the Christian era.

7:21:26 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Coma Berenices

I notice today that Newsday has a feature on the constellation known as the Coma Berenices ... from a rogueclassicism point of view, however, a much better smattering of info was presented a couple of years ago at

Eratosthenes in the 3rd century BC was among the first to make note of this faint group of stars. It is actually a large, loose galactic star cluster some 250 light years away that appears as a faint shimmering patch of light on clear moonless nights.

As a cluster, Coma Berenices is by far at its best in a pair of good binoculars. If, on the other hand, you attempt observation of it with a high-powered telescope the impression of a cluster will become totally lost because of the telescope’s narrower field of view.

The story goes that Berenice sacrificed her beautiful amber tresses and placed them in the temple of Aphrodite at Zephyrium as she vowed to do if her husband returned victorious from his war against Syria. Shortly after the royal couple’s happy reunion, however, the hair mysteriously vanished, apparently stolen from the temple.

But it was Conon of Samos, a court astronomer and mathematician, who eventually convinced the disconsolate queen that the gods had taken the locks and put them up in the sky.

There is yet another variation of this story, in that Conon first points out the stellar gathering to a very angry Ptolemy, who apparently was very fond of his wife’s beautiful hair!

A bad hair night

The story of Berenice’s hair would have likely remained obscure and unknown were it not for the Greek poet, Callimachus, whose poem The Lock of Berenice formed the basis for our understanding of this constellation’s history. Later, after the fall of Athens, The Lock was thankfully preserved by the Roman lyric poet Catullus, who translated it and added it to his own collection of writings (number 66) in the 1st Century BC.

What makes The Lock strange is its angry narrator: Berenice’s hair itself! Apparently, the queen’s golden tresses were none too happy with their new place among the stars:

"Though placed on high, sad absence I deplore,
Condemned to join my lovely queen no
more . . . .

To heaven the goddess raised me, bathed in

An added splendour to the starry spheres."

Such is the story of how the cluster probably received its moniker, though this region of the sky was not generally recognized as the separate constellation of Coma Berenices until the beginning of the 17th Century. Initially, in fact, many of the star atlases of that era did not depict this star cluster as a celestial hairpiece.

Indeed, in various star maps of the late Middle Ages the cluster was identified as a rose-wreath or ivy-wreath, and occasionally as a Sheaf of Wheat held in the hands of the nearby constellation Virgo. Others saw it as the hair of Sampson, not Berenice, while still others regarded it as a tuft at the end of the tail of Leo, the Lion.

Credit is usually given to the astronomer Tycho Brahe for first cataloguing it officially as Coma Berenices in the year 1602. [more]

I also note I clipped a reference to this BMCR review a few years back:

Theony Condos, Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans: A Sourcebook.


7:11:45 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

evil ... evil ... evil ... Radio just ate my post!
7:05:21 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

AWOTV: On TV Today

Nothing of interest ...
6:51:41 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

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