Thursday, June 24, 2004
CHATTER: Russell Meiggs
Since I can't find an online obituary extant for Russell Meiggs (the anniversary of whose death is today), here's a couple of online items which are the sort of thing which makes rogueclassicists a big fan. First we have a portait by Michael Noakes
Then there's this translation (from Dutch) of an excerpt from an interview with Italian archaeologist Alberta Vicari:
And then there was Russell Meiggs. He was a very nice man, an eccentric, with long hair. He would still be wearing shorts in November! He had a blue jumper that his wife had made for him, which featured the Portus lighthouse flanked by two ships, like a mosaic in the Square of the Guilds. I remember a very strange visit to Portus. One day Meiggs arrived riding a motorcycle with a sidecar. "Jump in! We're off to Portus!". "We haven't got a permit", I said, "the ruins are on private land, the Torlonia estate!". Anyway, in the end we went. We got in through a hole in the fence, but we were discovered by the custodians who called the police at Fiumicino. Meiggs explained, long and loud, that he'd entered the grounds because he was finishing a very important book, and he was given a permit on the spot, something the Italians had been asking for in vain for years!"
THIS DAY IN ANCIENT HISTORY
ante diem viii kalendas quinctilias
- under Servius -- dedication of two temples to Fors Fortuna (and associated rites thereafter)
- 1 B.C. -- birth of John the Baptist (traditional date)
- 79 A.D. -- dies imperii of the emperor Titus
- 109 A.D. -- the Aqua Traiana are officially dedicated
- 1989 -- death of Russell Meiggs (author of Roman Ostia, among others)
CHATTER: Nero in Snitch
We've pointed to S.A.L. Dunn's pieces in the Snitch Newsweekly before, but never identified her as the author. Since it's become clear that she regularly writes on matters Classical in a manner which appeals to the rogueclassicist, it's time to identify her formally and point to her latest piece, which is on Nero:
Rome didn’t actually burn while Nero played — that was just wishful thinking. Nero’s literally captive audience would have welcomed any tragedy as a treat compared to the Emp’s disastrous maximus performance in 65 A.D.
Despite the armed guards blocking the exits, several desperate spectators dared to jump from the theater’s upper stories. Suetonius reports that, rather than endure one more note, some men “even shammed dead and got themselves carried away to be buried.”
Even more embarrassing than his scene-chewers were the rumors of Nero’s sexual abominations. Although reportedly squat, smelly, pimply and pot-bellied, the emperor’s potent aphrodisiac of absolute power gave him an absolute edge with the ladies ... and the men, boys, eunuchs and prostitutes of at least two genders.
One royal banquet infamously became a bizarre wedding with a boy-toy bride, Pythagoras, upon whose acute angles Nero squared off in front of his guests.
Born into a spectacularly dysfunctional, high-profile family, Nero suffered a paranoia-packed childhood. Mom Agrippina the Younger, her brother Caligula’s sometime squeeze, had been banished by her sibling/lover before her son’s third birthday, leaving the boy behind with tutors.
Returning years later, after Caligula’s murder, the ambitious Agrippina wriggled into marriage with her uncle Claudius, the current emperor. The devious dame even managed to get her own son, Nero, adopted as the favored heir.
Five years with the aging, alcoholic Claudius set Agrippina searching for a quick fix, so the empress prepared him a special mushroom dish with a secret ingredient: poison.
With her precious progeny safely on the throne, big Mater dug into the empire’s dirty work. She was ably assisted by both Burrus, commander of the praetorian guard, and Seneca, tutor to the teen king. New coins acknowledged her authority, pushing Nero to the back side.
For a few years, Nero relished his mom’s short leash. The first watchword of his reign was “The Best of Mothers.” In his early 20s, though, the Emp got wrapped up in a weird love triangle with pal Marcus Otho and his wife. [more]
CHATTER: The Parthenon Code
I think we've mentioned this one before, but even if so, yikes. From PR Newswire:
[...] According to the book, an authentic ancient Greek artists' code, designed
to portray their religious history simply and clearly, reached its highest and
most straightforward form with the sculptures of the Parthenon, the national
monument of Greece.
The author writes that Greek myth/art tells the same story as Genesis
except from the standpoint that the serpent enlightened Adam and Eve in Eden
rather than deluding them. "Greek art depicts the myth; Greek myth explains
the art. Together, Greek myth/art takes us back through the Flood to a woman,
a serpent, and a tree in an ancient paradise," Mr. Johnson said.
The Parthenon Code reveals that the ancient Greeks rejected the Creator
God of Noah in favor of "man as the measure of all things." Thus, the
Parthenon sculptures celebrated the re-emergence of the way of Kain (Cain)
after the Flood. The Greeks called Noah Nereus, the "Wet One," and dated the
beginning of their religious outlook from the latter years of his life,
depicting the patriarch's image on many vases, seventeen of which appear in
Mr. Johnson's work contradicts the writings of the late popular
mythologist, Joseph Campbell, who wrote that the ancient myths were merely
subjective metaphors and expressions of the unconscious mind. "The Greeks
created the living basis of our culture," Mr. Johnson said. "Let's give them
credit for knowing where they came from and what they believed, and especially
for knowing how to vividly express that crucial historical information to
Reviewer Ron Pramschufer of BooksJustBooks.com puts Mr. Johnson's new book
into a contemporary perspective: "While The DaVinci Code is fictional and The
Bible Code is bogus, The Parthenon Code presents a genuine artists' code which
opens the door to long-hidden truths about the origins of mankind."
CHATTER: Berlusconi as Odysseus
Seen in passing and inter alia in a Reuters piece:
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's wife Veronica sees herself as Penelope to her husband's Ulysses, staying at home with the family as the hero battles storms and monsters on an epic adventure.
Veronica is fierce in defending her husband, the object of a string of corruption investigations and criticism from many in Italy who say he wields too much power through his media empire.
"I'm not sure in which circle my husband would have ended up if Dante had known him, perhaps in some corner of Purgatory," she says. Not in hell then? "No, certainly not."
She compares him to the Greek hero Ulysses -- whom Dante placed in hell -- in another passage. "There is something of the epic in his life, in the sense that like the life of the Homeric hero, it's a tale of grandiose and extraordinary undertakings."
CHATTER: The Real Pontius Pilate
In one of those advertisement-masquerading-as-a-news-article things, we read of a debate over the 'real' Pontius Pilate in Bible Review:
The Gospels' Pilate is no hero, however, considering that he unjustly condemns an innocent man to death. And it's not implausible that a cruel tyrant might have hesitated in one particular case.
The Pilate puzzle was debated in the current Bible Review magazine by Paul L. Maier, who defended the Bible's version, and Stephen J. Patterson, who was critical of the Gospels (and of Pilate and Gibson).
Maier is a professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, author of a work on Pilate and translator of Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian. Patterson is a New Testament professor at the United Church of Christ's Eden Theological Seminary in Missouri.
A typical disagreement concerned the account of Pilate's trial, which Patterson doubted because Jesus' colleagues wouldn't have been present to witness it.
In response, Maier said that's no problem if the Gospels are correct that Jesus rose from the grave and spent weeks with his disciples. He thinks it's natural that Jesus would discuss the Pilate encounter and that such information was passed along to the Gospel writers.
Maier thinks it's also possible that Pilate's guards reported what they heard, particularly since the New Testament says three of them converted to Christianity. There's also an ancient Orthodox church tradition that Pilate's wife converted.
Patterson cited Josephus and his contemporary Philo of Alexandria to portray Pilate's brutality.
Maier notes that the New Testament agrees. Luke 13:1 says that Jesus was told about "the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices." But he thinks Pilate wasn't unusually harsh by first-century standards and that this explains his relatively long rule (A.D. 26 to 36).
Francisco Garcia-Treto of Trinity University in Texas favors that conclusion in the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary and cautiously concludes, "It appears best to withhold judgment on (Pilate's) character."
Whatever the deeds of Pilate and the Temple authorities, what did the Jewish populace think about the Crucifixion? Maier, who loathes past Christian distortions about collective Jewish responsibility, underscores the Bible's report that when Jesus was taken to Golgotha, "there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who bewailed and lamented" (Luke 23:27).
What was Pilate's track record outside the Gospels?
Archaeology corroborates Pilate's biblical name, reign and title in an inscription found at Caesarea in 1961. The only other Roman record that survived was in a mention of the Crucifixion by the historian Tacitus, which makes the Jewish writers Philo and Josephus more important.
Philo recalled that when Pilate installed golden shields with the emperor's name on them in his Jerusalem residence, Jews threatened to send a protest to Rome and Pilate feared this might expose his "senseless injuries" and "executions without trial."
Philo also said Herod Antipas reported Pilate's misdeeds to Rome, which would explain the hostility between the two reported in Luke 23:12.
Josephus recorded another conflict when Pilate used Temple funds to build an aqueduct. Pilate's soldiers broke up protests with clubs, killing and injuring many.
A final outrage occurred in Samaria when a prophet drew a crowd and Pilate's troops killed many and executed the leaders. That cruelty caused Pilate's removal from office by the Roman legate in Syria.
A brief summary of the article, of course, is at the Bible Review site, having mentioned which, of course, makes this post appear to be one of those advertisements-masquerading-as-a-blog-post. Oh well, a day without irony is like a day without Socrates.
CHATTER: Latin in Ireland
Here's a piece from the Irish Independent (in its entirety, since it's one of those free registration things) sent in by an Explorator read (thanks MO'S!):
EXPERTS have called for the return of Latin as a regular school subject.
Their unpublished report says there is a strong case for Latin to be made a standard part of the junior cycle in second level schools and even the primary curriculum.
Latin has fallen in popularity and is now taken by only 450 students at Junior Cert level and 120 at Leaving Cert.
But the report argues that the subject is an excellent medium for improving literacy, understanding grammar and cultural awareness.
"It is precisely in these areas that our education system is failing many students," says the report prepared for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.
"The evidence from studies in the US (much of it carried out in deprived inner city areas) shows that courses in Latin, focusing on vocabulary, significantly improve literacy and all round general knowledge."
The report says that the lack of an understanding of grammar (how language works) has become increasingly a problem.
Without it, there can be no proper analysis of one's own language or of any other language.
"Latin, being an inflected language, is an excellent medium for teaching rules of grammar in an interesting way.
"There is positive 'spin-off' - not only for English but also for the learning of other languages (especially those derived from Latin).
It adds that "our cultural debt to Greece and Rome is something we share with the rest of Europe (Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, for example, give Latin far more prominence than we do)".
The paper also argues that even within our own country, knowledge related to Greece and Rome is part of our 'cultural literacy'.
"This is a knowledge we share with many other parts of the world, not just the rest of Europe."
One way of benefiting from what Latin has to contribute to education, the report suggests, would be to devise a one-year course which uses the language in an entertaining way to improve students' word power - including spelling, punctuation and understanding of grammar.
Schools should also be aiming to establish Latin in Transition Year. A transition unit, suited to 16- 17-year-olds, might be developed and made available to schools.
Modules suitable for students taking the Applied Leaving Certificate should also be developed.
The report says the most pressing need in Latin is for a thorough revision of the existing syllabus for the established Leaving Cert. Classical Studies, which is offered in 65 schools, should also be reformed at this level.
Turning to Greek, the report says that only four schools in the Republic offer this subject, which was taken by 30 students in the Junior Cert and 15 in the Leaving Cert last year.
"It is worth stressing again the importance of the European dimension of the classical subjects.
"Ireland is a member of a union of states where share a Greco-Roman heritage reflected in their languages, their institutions and in their culture.
"It would be a tragedy if Ireland were to cut itself off from that shared classical tradition by its neglect of the classical subjects in our schools," adds the report.
Does anyone know of the American studies mentioned above (specifically, those focussing on "deprived inner city areas"?)
UPDATE: Praxiteles in Cleveland
Yesterday we noted the purchase of a possible work by Praxiteles (the Apollo Sauroktonos) by the Cleveland Museum of Art and I lamented the lack of a decent photo. A rogueclassicism reader (Thanks Darko!) sent me the CMA's page on the sculpture, which has plenty of photos. One of the images is kind of interesting because it looks like the lizard is on Apollo's leg (it isn't ... it's the remains of something that's broken off) ... almost looks like some tattoos I've seen.
UPDATE to the UPDATE ... the link is now fixed and will take you where you were supposed to go (i.e. the CMA ... not Smithsonian Magazine) ... thanks ED!
Smithsonian Magazine has a comparatively lengthy piece on biographies, focussing primarily on comparing Plutarch's way of dealing with such things and the 'modern' way. Here's a bit from the middle:
A Greek from a wealthy family born around a.d. 46 in east-central Greece, Plutarch lived in his own golden age, during the reigns of Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian. The author of more than 200 works, he is known primarily for his Parallel Lives, biographies that over the centuries have heavily shaped popular ideas of Greek and Roman history.
In his design of Parallel Lives, written in Attic Greek—the literary language used by the educated of the Roman Empire—Plutarch paired famous Romans with famous Greeks, presenting them side by side and then comparing them in a short essay. (Twenty-two such pairs survive.) Thus, for example, he contrasts the Greek orator Demosthenes with Rome's Cicero. He fetches far back sometimes into myth. He opens the Lives by comparing the Greek hero Theseus and Rome's co-founder Romulus—among other things indicting Theseus as a rapist (of Ariadne, Antiope, Anaxo the Troezenian and Helen) and giving some space to whether the so-called rape of the Sabines by Romulus was excusable as a kind of aggressive sociobiology.
Down the centuries, the same criticism has been aimed at Parallel Lives that is now directed at our biographical bestsellers: too much history by anecdote. The Victorian scholar Arthur Hugh Clough, who updated the poet John Dryden's superb translation of Plutarch to give us the best available version in English, remarked in an introduction: "It cannot be denied that [Plutarch] is careless about numbers, and occasionally contradicts his own statements. A greater fault, perhaps, is his passion for anecdote; he cannot forbear from repeating stories, the improbability of which he is the first to recognise."
Plutarch admits the impossibility of being accurate, opening his account of Lycurgus, the lawgiver of Sparta, by throwing up his hands: "There is so much uncertainty in the accounts which historians have left us...that scarcely anything is asserted by one of them which is not called into question or contradicted by the rest." Thus, one seeks not so much the historical fact as the exemplary story—the applicable anecdote, the usable history. But if life is anecdote, history is anecdote with life-and-death consequences, gossip enlarged to the scale of epic.
Writers instinctively love Plutarch, as professional ancestor and as resource. The first great modern essayist, Montaigne, remarked: "Those who write biographies, since they spend more time...on what comes from within than what happens without, are most suited to me. That is why, in every way, Plutarch is my man." Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing in his journal, permitted himself a racy metaphor that sounded like Walt Whitman: "Away with your prismatics. I want a spermatic book.... Plato, Plotinus & Plutarch are such.”
Certainly Plutarch's Lives has been seminal; from its raw material, Western dramatists and poets—especially Shakespeare, of course, in Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra—have been extruding (er, stealing) plots and characters for nearly 2,000 years. Shakespeare's Coriolanus is intricately filched from Plutarch, whose Lives were first published in an English translation by Sir Thomas North in 1579. As for Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, here is a line from Plutarch's life of Brutus: "'It is not,' said [Caesar], 'the fat and the long-haired men that I fear, but the pale and the lean,' meaning Brutus and Cassius." Or as Shakespeare put it, "Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much: such men are dangerous."
Plutarch said that he wrote biography as a form of moralism, to "arouse the spirit of emulation." But his Lives were also a warning. Coriolanus, for example, has come down from Plutarch through Shakespeare as a caution against an arrogance so ruthless that it becomes savage narcissism. [more]