Friday, June 25, 2004
THIS DAY IN ANCIENT HISTORY
ante diem vii kalendas quinctilias
- ludi Taurei quinquennales (day 1) -- a horse racing festival held in honour of the Di Infernales (the divinities of the underworld)
- 107 A.D. -- the emperor Trajan arrives in Rome and celebrates his second triumph over the Dacians
- 304 A.D. -- martyrdom of Febronia of Nisibis
CHATTER: Troy Flick (Still!)
The Troy flick continues to get press coverage and some of it is actually interesting:
Turkish guide Mustafa Askin stood on top of a crumbling tower of the ancient city of Troy and pointed to a grassy field where he says Achilles and Hector most likely fought to the death.
"The duel took place down there, in front of us," Askin said, pointing to a green field near a small spring outside of the city walls, a field that bears little resemblance to the sandy beach where Brad Pitt and Eric Bana battled it out in the movie "Troy."
Archaeologists are grumbling that the film bears only a partial likeness to the city they have been painstakingly uncovering after decades of research, digs that show a large walled city that grew rich from trade, but was later burned to the ground.
"Why didn't they film it here?" asked Askin, an amateur archaeologist, guide and author of the book "Troy" as he stood atop the limestone city walls. "This is real atmosphere."
In front of Askin was the green field where the two warriors are believed to have battled and a nearby spring where Trojan women are said to have washed their clothes.
Behind him was evidence of war, a layer of charcoal buried in the dirt throughout the city that reaches five feet deep in some areas -- the remains of a city that was burned to the ground.
"I wish they had asked archaeologists for advice," said C. Brian Rose, head of Greek and Roman excavations at the site for the past 15 years.
His digs show a city of about 8,000 people that controlled trade to and from the Black Sea. The population could have tripled in times of war as people fled the countryside, archaeologists said. Experts say there is no definite proof that the city was ancient Troy, but almost all evidence points in that direction.
Standing on top of the ruins of the citadel, the highest point of the ancient city, tourists can still see the Dardanelles, the narrow waterway through which ships have to pass from the Aegean Sea to enter the Black Sea.
"Troy was probably an international trading emporia," said Eric Cline, associate professor of archaeology and ancient history at George Washington University.
The city's markets would have been filled with gold and ivory from Egypt, copper from Cyprus, silver from Anatolia and amber from the Baltic area, Cline said.
An amphitheater near the site of Troy. Historians say the movie is full of inaccuracies, but they're pleased that it's drummed up interest in Troy.
But that wealth also made Troy vulnerable to jealous neighbors.
Troy was across the Aegean Sea from the Greek city-states and on the fringes of Anatolia, where the powerful Hittite Empire ruled.
"Troy is on the outer peripheries of two major empires both of whom wanted it on their own," Cline said.
Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks, said outright in the film that the war was fought for power and wealth and not over a beautiful woman named Helen.
Cline, who took his students to see the movie on opening day, said he was so excited when Agamemnon gave his speech that he stood up in the middle of the theater to cheer.
"The movie was dead on in that respect and I was impressed," Cline said.
A student had to ask him to sit down.
The center of the city, where royalty lived, was surrounded by limestone walls that were 12 feet thick and 27 feet high.
The movie's walls appeared to be much higher and more imposing.
"They might have exaggerated a bit but it was definitely a well-protected city," said Nurten Sevinc, director of the Canakkale Archaeological Museum, where pottery and other relics from the city are kept.
The outer city where the merchants lived was surrounded by a ditch which would likely have had a wooden wall on its interior side. That ditch would have been used to stop soldiers on chariots from approaching the wall and firing arrows.
"This made the city practically impregnable," said Rose, an professor of classical art and archaeology at the University of Cincinnati.
Houses in and near the citadel had clay jars up to 4-feet high buried in the floor, evidence that the Trojans had prepared for a siege, archaeologists said. [more from CNN ... some photos]
CHATTER: Classical Biographies
So ... what's UB Classical archaeologist Stephen Dyson been up to? Ecce:
Classical archaeologist and author Stephen L. Dyson, Park Professor of Classics in the College of Arts and Sciences, has had quite a year, professionally speaking. It has seen the publication of his two important new books and the receipt of a $106,218 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund a five-week seminar for college teachers this summer at the American Academy in Rome.
The seminar, which begins this month, will focus on ways in which the archaeology of classical Rome has been influenced by cultural and intellectual changes in the modern era. Dyson directed the classical summer school of the American Academy in Rome from 1998-2000.
His new books are "The Roman Countryside" (Duckworth, 2003), in which Dyson offers a concise discussion of the many different factors that shaped the ancient Roman countryside, and "Eugenie Sellers Strong: Portrait of an Archaeologist," published in March. The latter is a pioneering biography of one of the most important, celebrated, influential—and neglected—women in the field of classical studies in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Strong may be relatively unknown, but according to Dyson, her ghost is said to still haunt the library of the British School at Rome.
His biography of Strong has been very much welcomed in the classics field. A graduate of Cambridge University, she was among the first women in England to receive a university education, and went on to become a professional archaeologist and a pioneering historian of Roman art. She also served as assistant director of the British School at Rome, where she cut a glittering figure.
A great 19th-century beauty, Strong modeled for the Pre-Raphaelites and was an active presence on the European cultural scene. She enjoyed close friendships with some of the most important writers, artists and intellectuals of her day, among them Edward Burne-Jones, Edmund Goose, Gertrude Bell, Frederick Leighton, Lady Ottoline Morrell and pioneering Greek classical archaeologist Jane Harrison.
Dyson notes that liberal MP and notorious anti-suffragist Herbert Asquith called Strong the most "distinguished woman scholar" in the world, and Prime Minister Gladstone called her his "first and only love."
Her publications include the book "Roman Sculpture From Augustus to Constantine," journal articles and a translation of archaeologist Carl Schuchhardt's discussion of "Schliemann's Excavations" at Troy, Mycenae, Tiryns and other sites. She was one of the first women to become a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, was a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and received the gold medal of the City of Rome. [more from the UB Reporter]
NUNTII: National Archaeological Museum Reopens!
Athens National Archaeological Museum has reopened at last:
Athens' National Archaeological Museum, the world's most important showcase of Greek antiquities, reopened most of its halls Thursday after undergoing 20 months of restorations for the Olympic Games this summer.
Thousands of the precious pieces, from statues to Mycenaean gold vessels, will be on display providing a visual timeline of Greek antiquity.
"Everything has been redone ... I think it was worth the wait. You cannot make changes on this scale and keep the museum open," said the museum's director, Nikolaos Kaltsas.
Thirty-two of 48 exhibition rooms were reopened Thursday. The remaining areas, damaged in a 1999 earthquake, will open before the end of the year and will house pottery and bronze collections, Kaltsas said.
Athens, struggling to finish Olympic sites and transport networks in time for the Aug. 13-29 Summer Games, is keen to show its ancient heritage to hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to visit the halls. Failure to finish the museum would have been a major embarrassment. [more from CJAD]
REVIEW: From NYRB
Roy Strong, Feast: A History of Grand Eating
Ancient Roman plutocrats may have counted their freedom from tyranny back to the expulsion of their Etruscan overlords in 510 BC. But they still played the despot from their dining couches, ordering slaves, chefs, and guests to do their bidding. Nor is it an accident that King Arthur's knights lorded it over a Round Table. Roy Strong devotes a fascinating chapter to the Victorian dining room, showing that it could become ceremonial space as hedged in by rites and rules as Akhenaten's holy city of the sun-disk or the endless dinner party on Mount Olympus. Sadly but inevitably, Strong ends his survey with a despairing look at our own fast food nation, where, in the words of playwright Ken LeZebnik, the feasts of old have been reduced to "sink eating": a standing fuel stop in the kitchen, poised for an instant between the faucet and the refrigerator.
The connection between feasting and power may be as old, and as obvious, as the food chain, but just for that reason the subject has proved endlessly fascinating to the human animals who toil in its thrall. In a comedy of 423 BC, The Knights, the young, angry Athenian playwright Aristophanes tried to expose the machinations of a local demagogue, Kleon, by writing him into the play as a blustering houseboy who grinds, cooks, hoards, and serves food to his crusty old master, Demos—"the People" of democratic Athens—with unctuous hypocrisy. What another of Kleon's enemies, the historian Thucydides, couches in the careful, devastating analysis of power that makes up Books III and IV of The Peloponnesian War, Aristophanes embodies dramatically in one long contest over food, pitting the houseboy Kleon against a sleazy sausage vendor from the Athenian marketplace in a thousand-line contest to curry the favor of Master Demos. (To find a profession as dubious, as involved in mangling and recycling the culture's chief power symbol, we might now have to cast the sausage vendor as a used-car salesman.)
Their obsequious flattery quickly takes tangible form as feeding the fat, grizzled character who literally impersonates the Body Politic, each sycophant serving Demos one delicacy after another in a torrent of revolting blandishments. With a triumphant flourish, the sausage seller finally reveals that Kleon has been hoarding as much as he gives away to his master, whereas the abject vendor has given Demos— the people—his all. And thus, with remarkable subtlety, Aristophanes exposes both Kleon's crude hungers and his essential selfishness. Food, as it turns out, is the ideal metaphor for political power, a concept for which Thucydides himself was only beginning to find the right words. (He came up with two in particular: dynamis, "force," and paraskeue, which means something between "resources" and "preparedness.")
CHATTER: Athens Square Park
The Western Queens Gazette waxes about an Olympic Torch ceremony thing, and inter alia mentions some interesting things about the venue:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg officiated at the ceremonies in Athens Square Park, which provided a perfect backdrop for the festivities.
Besides the statue of Athena, which is an exact copy of one found in Athens in 1956, the park also features a statue of Socrates, noted Athenian philosopher, and the Columns of Delphi.
According to George Delis, Community Board 1 district manager and a member of the park’s founding group, plans are in the works to install a bust of Aristotle, a philosopher of the Fourth Century B.C.E., in the park.
"It’s going to be a gift from the Museum of Thessalonika, the second largest city in Greece," Delis explained, adding proudly that he was born in the Thessalonian region in the northern part of the country.
"We’re waiting now for the paperwork to be completed and then [the statue] will be shipped here and installed in the park," he said. "It’s an original work."
CHATTER: Asterix and Obelix Game
Since it's the last day of school today (for me anyway ... yeeeeehaw!), it seems okay to post a review of a video game which has our favourite Gallic duo as the subject matter. From IGN:
Asterix & Obelix have been running rampant against the Roman Empire in their comic books for the past 40 years. This ever-lasting battle of these Gauls to prevent the gentrification and Romanification of their plot of land has led to numerous fistfights and cunning activities. Apparently, 50 B.C. was a pretty rockem-sockem time and their adventures have proven popular, selling over 300 million copies worldwide. With so much punching and adventuring, a game comes naturally and Asterix & Obelix seeks to bring the action to the screen.
Playing as both Asterix and Obelix, gamers will duke it out in numerous battles with the helmeted Romans and solving puzzles to save the day. Caesar has taken many of the Gauls fellow villagers hostage and bringing them back home will require traveling across six countries and 47 different sites. There will be the fight and puzzles as well as some riding and racing sequences. One of these takes place in a frosty Nordic setting where Asterix jumps on Obelix's belly and they both slide down an icy chute, avoiding spiked ice balls along the way. [more]
CHATTER: Noggin Fodder
Seen in passing in the Charlotte Observer:
If you believe in karma, this can freak you out. You wonder if your grass is turning brown because, in some past life, you gave Julius Caesar a wedgie.
Great ... now I'm going to wonder for the rest of the day how such a thing could be accomplished ...