Most recent update:7/1/2004; 5:49:44 AM

 Wednesday, June 30, 2004

... nothing, except commemoration of the "Neronian Martyrs", which is given a date of 64 A.D. and apparently connected to the Great Fire of Rome (which actually happened in  July)
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CHATTER: Olympic Advertising

Folks in the UK can keep their eye open for this (hopefully it will end up on the web somewhere ... hint, hint powers-that-be):

A universal Olympic hero sets out on a journey to the Olympic stadium and is trialled by Hercules, Hermes and Poseidon in the BBC's biggest ad campaign of the year to promote the Athens Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The contemporary take on Greek mythology was created by Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters. A teaser campaign breaks on July 4 in the half-time break of the BBC's Euro 2004 Final and during the Wimbledon Men's Final.

A 60-second and 40-second cut-down version will then follow on July 17.

Under the strapline 'Legends will be rewritten', an Olympic hero sets out on a journey to the Olympic stadium and en route is put to the test by the Gods on Mount Olympus. Only by successfully completing trials against the mythological immortals Hercules, Hermes and Poseidon can the hero enter the stadium and win the adulation of the crowd.

The story, which uses special effects, is designed to mirror those of all of the athletes taking part who have overcome personal demons and incredible obstacles to be at their best to compete, regardless of medal expectations.

The hero athletes are played by Steve Agyei and in the Paralympic version, Khristos Kapelas. The Mount Olympus characters of Zeus and Hera are played by Philip Voss and Tracy Ray, while Hermes is played by Mark Webb.

Passion Pictures has produced the animated creations of Hermes, Herciles and Poseidon.

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CHATTER: Boudicca in the Guardian

In anticipation of the upcoming movie, the Guardian has a lengthy column on what is and isn't known about Boudicca ... here's the incipit:

There are some lines of William Cowper inscribed on the plinth of the bronze statue of Boadicea near Westminster Bridge in central London: "Regions Caesar never knew/Thy posterity shall sway." The words have never been truer. Hollywood has four films in development about the British warrior queen. One of them, Warrior, is being produced by Mel Gibson, partly with money from the proceeds of his film The Passion of The Christ (a rare example of fundamentalist Christian money backing a project with a pagan heroine). Along with a DreamWorks project called Queen Fury, Paramount's Warrior Queen and another called My Country, the race is on to get what Variety magazine called "Braveheart with a bra" to the screen first.

What Hollywood will make of the life and times of the flame-haired, 1,950-year-old rebuffer of Romans is anyone's guess. A Celtic Madonna, perhaps, with great muscle tone and a weirdo religion? A proto-feminist as ballsy as Germaine Greer but handier with spears? A skimpily attired, anti-slavery Xena, Warrior Princess, with cross-demographic appeal to rad-fems and FHM soft-porn fetishists? The legend can flourish so richly because we know so little about the real-life warrior queen. We're not even sure how to spell her name: is it Boadicea, Boudicca or Boudica?

What we know about her is confined to a few pages of triumphalist Roman history by Tacitus and some equally tendentious stuff by another historian, Dio Cassius. But every British schoolchild knows (one might hope) that Boadicea was the warrior queen from present-day East Anglia who rose against her Roman oppressors after they appropriated her Iceni tribe's estates and then flogged her and raped her two daughters for good measure. She mobilised her subjects, galvanised other British tribes in anti-imperialist war, sacked Rome's greatest British city (present-day Colchester), routed a well-trained legion, barrelled down the A12 with a huge army of spear-wielding tribal British toughs and burned London, then laid waste to St Albans before finally being crushed by the Romans in AD62.

Beyond this, however, things get sketchy. How did she die, and where? Did she fight in battle? Was she responsible for war crimes? What were the names of her raped daughters? Was she gay, straight, bi, lusty and/or busty? Did she really wear a bra? These are the questions preoccupying Hollywood.

Boadicea's legend is what Umberto Eco called an "open text": endlessly interpretable. Like that minor sixth-century Romano-British commander who became the chivalric monarch King Arthur, the legend of Boadicea has grown from the life and times of a first-century tribal leader who dared to stick it to the Romans. That legend has been used by imperialists as part of the iconography of the British empire, as well as by those looking for a charis matic anti-imperialist icon. She has been seized on as a proto-feminist lesbian sexpot, an inspirational female martial leader, and an iron (age) lady to whom cartoonists repeatedly made modern allusion when Margaret Thatcher was in her post-Falklands pomp. [more]

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CHATTER: Majority Rule and Canadian Politics has an article/lecture by Egon Flaig on the benefits and detriments of majority rule which pretty much describes the situation in Canada for the past while and, likely, for the forseeable (foreseeable?) future given our recent sortition:

In ancient Athens occasionally the situation arose in which the two most successful orators developed a rivalry that undermined the political process. The rivalry between the two would reach such an intensity that the adversaries tried to defeat each other's motions even when their adoption would have been in the interest of the entire polis - a fact well known to them. In such a case, political rivalry proved dysfunctional and counter-productive.

Among the political leadership there are always rivalries, and Rome took no backseat to Hellas. But these rivalries do not necessarily polarize the political community. That only happens if the best politician is he who 'triumphs' politically most often, i.e. (in the context of the Greek polis) the one most often winning a majority for his proposal in the assembly.

That does not mean, of course, that bi-polarization of the political community was left to self-serving others, but rather that it was at all times a latent possibility. The rivalry did not always have to polarize the polis ; but any bi-polarization was an intrinsic danger as the result of a sharp escalation of political conflict when a majority decision was to be taken.

Alas, in Canada, the bipolarization (or perhaps our situation is more aptly described as tripolarization) isn't latent possibility ... it's a patent reality actively encouraged/promoted by a political party (i.e. the Liberals) who realize they only have to win one province to win power in the country. Time to kiss even more of your hard-earned cash goodbye, by fellow Canucks? My Western kin cannot understand the mentality of the Ontario voter and I can't either ... it's like living in Springfield.

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CHATTER: Kish and Tell

A piece in Mehr News on possibilities of increasing tourism in Iran mentions:

There is no clear information on the history of Kish in the pre-Islamic era. The only reliable source is the memoirs of Greek sailor Niarkus. In 325 B.C., Alexander the Great commissioned Niarkus to set off an expedition voyage into the Sea of Oman and the Persian Gulf. Niarkus's writings indicate that he visited Araracta in the 4th century B.C. His descriptions of Araracta precisely match with the characteristics of Kish.

For those of you whose uncaffeinated brains got snagged on Niarkus (like mine did), he is otherwise known as Niarchus -- the author, it seems, of the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, which you can read in translation at the Ancient History Sourcebook.

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AUDIO: Father Foster

We seem to be back with new programs this week ... Father Foster chats about assorted Latin inscriptions ... not ancient ones, but more modern ones by the likes of Musollini and others. Of course, the conversation wanders into the ancient world every now and then and the impossibility of saying "identity card" in Latin. It ends with a discussion of Roman numerals and FF's amazement that they built the Colosseum using them ...
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CHATTER: West Nile and Alexander

Back in November we mentioned in Explorator a theory stating that Alexander the Great had been a victim of West Nile virus (I can't find whether it was mentioned in these pages; I could have sworn it was) ... in any event, an Explorator reader (and Latin teacher) has sent in a link to a pile of letters from assorted epidemiology types in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases  (thanks MMe!) in response. Here's the first:

Marr and Calisher suggest the cause of Alexander the Great's death in Babylon in 323 B.C. was West Nile encephalitis (1). They were intrigued by the fact that as Alexander entered Babylon, ravens fell dead from the sky. The authors postulated the ravens might have had West Nile encephalitis, and because of the endemicity of mosquitoes in ancient Babylon, Alexander could have died of West Nile encephalitis. The authors are to be complimented on coming up with a novel explanation for his death, but this explanation has several problems (2,3).

Determining the exact cause of Alexander's death is impossible. Classical scholars are hampered by difficulties with translations from ancient Greek texts as well as differences in terms used by Plutarch in his description of Alexander's demise. We are left with a description that is incomplete, but nevertheless contains cardinal features of his terminal illness (4–6). In infectious disease practice, a syndromic diagnosis is the basis of the clinical approach. Astute infectious disease clinicians must discern between consistent and characteristic features in syndromic diagnosis. In addition to characteristic clinical features, syndromic diagnosis also depends on time relationships of clinical features. That splenomegaly is a feature of Epstein-Barr virus infectious mononucleosis is important, but equally as important is the late rather than early appearance of splenomegaly in the illness. A laundry list of features associated with various infectious diseases tells only part of the story and is diagnostically unhelpful unless placed in the proper time sequence.

In the authors' table, the clinical symptoms associated with Alexander's final days are listed (1). In my review of translations of ancient sources, chills are never mentioned as accompanying Alexander's slowly rising fever. After a steadily increasing fever, Alexander first became weak, then lethargic, and finally died after a 2-week febrile illness. These features and time course are inconsistent with various explanations that have been given for Alexander's death, i.e., influenza, poliomyelitis, alcoholic liver disease, malaria, schistosomiasis, leptospirosis, and poisoning (6–8).

The death of Alexander was certainly caused by an infectious disease and not poisoning or alcoholic liver disease. Although Alexander had an appetite for alcohol, his terminal illness is inconsistent with liver failure attributable to alcoholic cirrhosis or delirium tremens. Poisoning, which has been postulated by some, is not a reasonable diagnostic possibility either, since toxins or poisons are not accompanied by fever. Therefore, we are left with an infectious disease that was endemic in ancient Babylon and was fatal after approximately 2 weeks. The infectious disease that resulted in Alexander's demise was characterized by a slow but relentless increase in temperature during 2 weeks, unaccompanied by chills or drenching sweats. While remaining mentally alert, he drifted into an apathetic state, according to Alexander's Royal Diaries. Details of his death do not provide additional details other than he was febrile, weak, and gradually became lethargic, lapsed into coma, and died. Are the features of his illness and temporal sequence of events characteristic of West Nile encephalitis (9)?

West Nile encephalitis is a mosquito-borne infectious disease that may have been endemic in ancient Babylon. Ravens could have had West Nile encephalitis, and if West Nile encephalitis was present at the time, certainly it was transmitted to animals as well as humans. No one would argue with the possibility of West Nile encephalitis in the ancient Middle East; however, proving that West Nile encephalitis explains Alexander's death is more difficult. West Nile encephalitis begins acutely, with initial signs and symptoms of mental confusion and muscle weakness. Fevers are not usually the most conspicuous feature of West Nile encephalitis, and in most cases the fever does not usually increase or last more than a 2-week period. Other forms of viral encephalitis, including West Nile encephalitis, all begin with an abrupt change in mental status, e.g., encephalitis, at the outset of the illness. The patient's mental status may change over time, but encephalitic symptoms are present initially. This symptom is a characteristic feature of viral encephalitis, whether it is due to West Nile encephalitis or western equine encephalitis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, or Japanese encephalitis. Even non–arthropod-borne causes of viral encephalitis, e.g., herpes simplex virus I encephalitis, occurs with encephalitis as an initial, not terminal feature.

Alexander's final illness is more characteristic of typhoid fever than West Nile encephalitis. On Alexander's return to Babylon, he was confronted by many portents and omens and correctly assumed that they were a forewarning of his death. Not only were ravens falling from the sky, but the birds that were sacrificed to foretell the future were devoid of a liver lobe, which was thought by the ancients to be an ominous sign. A docile animal in the royal menagerie, in a violent outburst, kicked the royal lion to death. A mysterious person entered the royal chamber and sat on Alexander's throne bypassing the household guards. He claimed that he was divinely sent. West Nile encephalitis could explain these unusual phenomena.

However, the time course and characteristic clinical features of West Nile encephalitis are inconsistent with the cause of Alexander the Great's death (10). On the basis of characteristic features and time course of the illness, typhoid fever is the most likely explanation for Alexander the Great's death. The ravens in this case were the red herrings. [more]


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Martin Soderlind, Late Etruscan Votive Heads from Tessennano. Production, Distribution, Sociohistorical Context.

Annamaria Comella, Il santuario di Punta della Vipera. I, I materiali votivi. Corpus delle Stipi Votive in Italia XIII; Regio VII, 6.

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AWOTV: On TV Today

7.00 p.m. |HINT| Powerful Gods of Mt. Olympus 
A fascinating exploration of the myths of the 12 great gods who
overlooked classical Greece from atop Mount Olympus. Why did the
people of ancient Greece accept them? Was their power political or

9.00 p.m. |DISCC| The Riddle of Pompeii
Experience life and society in Ancient Rome through recent
archaeological excavations and cutting-edge science.

10.00 p.m. |HINT| Time Team: Malton, North Yorkshire
The intrepid archaeological treasure hunters head for the
picturesque village of Malton in North Yorkshire, England, where a
swathe of nettle-infested jungle conceals 2,000 years of British
history. A Roman fort has already been identified, but our Time Team,
headed by host Tony Robinson (Baldrick in "Blackadder") and
archaeologist Mick Aston, has been asked to find the area's other
secrets--specifically a medieval castle and a Tudor or Jacobean manor

Channel Guide

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Click for Athens, Greece Forecast

Click for Rome, Italy Forecast

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