Most recent update:8/4/2004; 6:26:23 AM

 Thursday, July 15, 2004
LUDI: Alley Oop

Almost forgot ... the Alley Oop v. Milo of Kroton series continues ...
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idus quinctilias

  • Mercatus -- the post-festival shopping spree continues
  • probatio/transvectio equitum Romanorum -- a cavalry parade of sorts established in 304 B.C. to commemorate/celebrate the appearance of the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) at the Battle of Lake Regillus; the practice lapsed over the centuries but was revived by Augustus
  • 1796 -- Birth of Thomas Bullfinch

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CHATTER: Victor Davis Hanson

Interesting couple of questions and responses at Victor Davis Hanson's site:

What nationality were the Trojans and language did they speak?

Hanson: From archaeological and philological evidence, Trojans were probably some sort of early Semitic people and their language akin to Hittite; but as a creative device “they” of course speak Greek in the Iliad to communicate in those wonderful dialogues and recriminations before the opposing warriors square off. There is a large bibliography both on the “real” language of Troy and on Homer’s use of Greek to portray speaking Trojans.

What are your impressions of Mr. Knox and his collected work “The Oldest Dead White European Males”?

Hanson: Bernard Knox is one of the great classicists of our times. Most of our current ideas about Sophocles and his characters—especially the Ajax, Antigone, and Philoctetes—in some ways derive from his criticism. He is one of those now mostly lost who did almost everything—military experience, ran the Hellenic Center in Washington, professor, poet, translator, critic—and is emblematic of the age of serious classics before the wave of postmodernism washed all that away. There is now not one serious critic of the classics in any major university who could write and interpret as he did.

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CHATTER: More Shaquille O'Neal Stuff

The ClassCon keeps trickling in in the wake of the trade of Shaquille O'Neal to Miami ... this time from the Pasadena Star-News, inter alia:

O'Neal, Head Coach Phil Jackson and guard Kobe Bryant, as a triumvirate, achieved glory and infamy for Los Angeles the way the First Triumvirate of Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompey did for Rome. The L.A. trio may not have won the hearts of basketball fans across the country, but they sure earned their respect.

But like the Roman triumvirates, one man ended up with all the power and forced out the other two. Bryant, 25, calling the shots from behind the scenes of the Lake Show, is the last to make a decision on whether to stay after elbowing out Jackson and O'Neal. He's contemplating an offer by the rival Los Angeles Clippers.

Not sure the analogy works, but there you go ...

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CHATTER: Marathon Origins

The Glasgow Herald is first off the mark to deal with the 'myth' of Marathon:

NO event has sparked as much myth and legend as the only one invented for the Olympics: the marathon. It was fabricated by Michel Bréal, a historian friend of the movement's founder, Pierre de Coubertin.

Pheidippides did not run from Marathon's battlefield to Athens, did not say: "Rejoice, We conquer!" and did not die. If he had, the contemporary historian, Herodotus, would undoubtedly have recorded it.

Yet the race is based on an even more remarkable feat. Herodotus does recount how, when Athens was threatened by the Persians, Philippides, a member of the hemerodromoi, a corps of messengers, ran 136 miles to Sparta to enlist help. And then returned. He did not die then, either. [more]

Folks interested in the ancient sources which mention the run on which the Marathon was likely based might want to read a golden thread on the subject.

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NUNTII: Ancient Olympics

Michael B. Poliakoff has a piece in Humanities Magazine all about the ancient Olympics:

The history of combat sports at the Olympics is long and eventful, dating back to 708 B.C.E. How societies organize and pursue such sports--in which some level of violence is simply part of the game--tells us a lot about their values and priorities far beyond the world of sport. These issues are with us today, and we can benefit from the reflections of our forebears.

Modern societies often object strongly to boxing. Critics consider its casualties senseless and the violent spectacle detrimental to the values and mores of the society that tolerates it. In 1970 Sweden made prizefighting (though not amateur boxing) a punishable crime.

"It will be said that if two consenting adults want to batter each other for the amusement of paying adults, the essential niceties have been satisfied, 'consent' being almost the only nicety of a liberal society," columnist George Will wrote two decades ago. "But from Plato on, political philosophers have taken entertainments seriously, and have believed the law should, too. They have because a society is judged by the kind of citizens it produces, and some entertainments are coarsening. Good government and the good life depend on good values and passions, and some entertainments are inimical to these."

Little information exists concerning attitudes toward the hazards of combat sport in the ancient Near East and Egypt, but an abundance of witnesses show that Greek and Roman attitudes could hardly have been further from our own. The nature of these games in the Greco-Roman world must acknowledge a level of officially sanctioned violence and danger that the modern Olympic movement would never tolerate. Roman nonchalance about the behavior and welfare of athletes is, of course, readily predictable--a society used to watching gladiators as well as public executions in the arena would be disinclined to worry about injuries incurred by athletes in combat sport. But Greek society (excepting Sparta) did not encourage gratuitous cruelty, especially toward its own citizens, and it shunned lawlessness. "In regard to education," Thucydides records Pericles as saying, "whereas our rivals from their very cradles by a painful discipline seek manliness, at Athens we live in a milder way, and yet are just as ready to encounter every reasonable hazard." The near absence of what we would call humanitarian anxieties about the perils of its combat sports calls out for an explanation.

Nearly two millennia later, when the boxer Duk Koo Kim died in an American ring, Leigh Montville, sportswriter for the Boston Globe, wrote an imaginary epitaph for him:

Duk Koo Kim (1959-1982). He gave his life to provide some entertainment on a dull Saturday afternoon in November.

Nothing more clearly shows the gulf between classical and modern values than the contrast between this sportswriter's reaction to Kim's death and an epitaph recently discovered at Olympia for a young boxer who met the same fate about eighteen hundred years ago:

Agathos Daimon, nicknamed 'the Camel' from Alexandria, a victor at Nemea. He died here, boxing in the stadium, having prayed to Zeus for victory or death. Age 35. Farewell.

The epitaph celebrates his demise with the phrase "victory or death," which is a point of honor recorded on the tombs of Greek soldiers. The Camel's sentiments were as common in antiquity as condemnations of the hazards of prizefighting are today; as an orator of that era noted, "You know that the Olympic crown is olive, yet many have honored it above life."

The clearest praise for the athlete who scorns death comes in the accounts of Arrichion, who died at the Olympic festival of 564 B.C.E. in the final round of pankration, a combat sport that combined boxing, wrestling, and strangleholds. Arrichion won, since his injured opponent signaled submission before the lifeless Arrichion collapsed. One account, which claims to be a description of a painting of the pankratiast, reflects the popular sentiment that Arrichion's decision was sensible and praiseworthy.

. . . They shout and jump out of their seats and wave their hands and garments. Some spring into the air, others in ecstasy wrestle the man nearby. . . . Though it is indeed a great thing that he already won twice at Olympia, what has just now happened is greater: he has won at the cost of his life and goes to the land of the Blessed with the very dust of the struggle.

Another account tells how Arrichion had been on the point of giving up when his trainer made him actually desire death by shouting, "What a noble epitaph, not to have conceded at Olympia!" The death-scorning perseverance of athletes in combat sport became a byword. Philo the Jewish philosopher wrote, "I know wrestlers and pankratiasts often persevere out of love for honor and zeal for victory to the point of death, when their bodies are giving up and they keep drawing breath and struggling on spirit alone, a spirit which they have accustomed to reject fear scornfully. . . . Among those competitors, death for the sake of an olive or celery crown is glorious."

At the same time as the Greeks cultivated such brutal athletic contests, they abhorred and strictly punished violence in civic life. A man guilty of assault (hybris) commonly faced a serious lawsuit, but it was also possible to summon a jury that had the power to impose any sentence it deemed appropriate, including the death penalty, upon such malefactors. This law, the graphe hybreos, protected slaves as well as free citizens. Any citizen could act on the city's behalf and bring criminal charges against the alleged assailant, as Demosthenes explained: "The lawgiver considered every deed one commits with violence to be a public wrong and directed also against those unconcerned with the affair. . . . For he thought that one who commits hybris wrongs the city, and not only his victim." The Athenians felt that acts of physical violence betrayed attitudes inadmissible in a democracy: it was the tyrannical oligarchs who behaved in such a fashion. [more]

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NUNTII: Theatre of Pompey Project

From Humanities Magazine:

In 55 B.C.E., Romans applauded the debut of the world's first modern entertainment complex, a mammoth structure constructed by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus--better known as Pompey the Great, military conqueror and rival to Julius Caesar. The showy consul named the theater for himself. Today, using archaeology, three-dimensional modeling, virtual reality technology, and digital research, architecture experts are slowly raising the curtain on the Theater of Pompey. "It's shockingly enormous," says James Packer, a Northwestern University professor. "The scale is just astonishing."

Crowds of between twenty-five and forty thousand people flocked to see the latest spectacles played out on the 260-foot-wide stage. Modern sports fans would recognize the curved stadium seating, the barrel vaults, the VIP balconies--everything but the lack of advertising--and feel right at home.

Pompey also had a curia constructed for meetings of the Senate. It was here that Julius Caesar met his death, assassinated before a statue of the theater's namesake.

The Theater of Pompey became the model for all theaters throughout the Roman Empire, says Packer. The plan for its seating areas and façade served as models for the amphitheaters that inspired the design for many contemporary sports venues.

Packer is directing the excavation of the theater as part of a research project begun in 1996 with Richard Beacham of the University of Warwick (U.K.). In 2002 Packer joined with archaeologist Cristina Gagliardo, architect Dario Silenzi, and engineer Massimo Aristide Giannelli to undertake the first excavation of the theater since 1865.

Until the end of the Roman Empire in the West, the Pompey Theater remained the preferred venue for theatrical representations in the capital. Yet, despite its renown and architectural significance, the Theater of Pompey's structure almost completely disappeared through the centuries.

Today, the façade of a movie theater conceals the entrance to a fortress and the piazza known as the Campo dei Fiori subsumes the remains of the theater. The inner curve of the theater's orchestra survives in the Palazzo Pio's curved façade along the Via di Grotta Pinta. Its outer curve can be seen in the Via dei Giubbonari, the Via Della Biscione, and on the Piazza Pollarola. These outlines hint at what the theater once was. Leisure gardens were enclosed within the Porticus Pomeianae, a rectangular colonnade. An elaborate temple honored Venus Victrix, or Venus the Victorious. Galleries displayed rare works of art from throughout the Roman world. A bronze statue of Hercules--now in the Vatican Museum--probably adorned the stage building or the Porticus Pompeianae. The story goes that the statue was struck by lightning, removed from its original position, and buried next to the south foundation walls of the Temple of Venus Victrix, outside the theater, where it was found.

Built on the marshy "Field of Mars" beyond Rome's seven hills, the theater's design took advantage of new techniques in vaulted concrete architecture with sloping barrel vaults, which supported the internal seats and a curved stone façade. Two imitators--the Theater Marcellus and the Theater Balbus--were quickly constructed, and the design was widely copied throughout the Mediterranean basin. The grandeur of the theater and the sumptuous occasions held there astounded contemporary Romans. Dio Cassius reported on the reception Nero gave the Armenian king, Tiridates I:

Not merely the stage but the whole interior of the theater round about had been gilded, and all the properties that were brought in had been adorned with gold, so that the people gave to the day itself the epithet of "golden." The curtains stretched overhead to keep off the sun were of purple and in the center of them was an embroidered figure of Nero driving a chariot with golden stars gleaming all around him.

After the fall of Rome, the Pompey Theater remained in use until medieval times. It was repaired around 500 C.E. by Theodoric, king of Gothic Italy. In the ninth century C.E., it was included in the Einsiedeln itinerary, a document listing the sights of Rome written for Christian pilgrims during the reign .of Charlemagne. By that time, flooding from the Tiber and continuous occupation had taken its toll, but the structure was still recognizable as an ancient theater.

By the year 1100, two Christian churches had been built on the site, and the transformation of the theater into other structures had begun. The church of Santa Maria in Grotta Pinta was built into one of the vaults under the semi-circular seating area called the cavea, and houses were built into the theater. Beginning about 1150, the powerful Orsini family began buying out and combining these houses, creating a powerful fortress from which they controlled the road to Naples.

The assimilation continued. Pompey's masterpiece was built into and buried under the buildings near the Campo dei Fiori. The structure became integrated into the medieval neighborhood. Archaeological excavations by Victoire Baltard, a French architect working in the first decades of the nineteenth century, and Pietro Righetti, then owner of the Palazzo Pio, cleared and reburied only part of the monument. Their reports detailed the plan of the curved lower section of the façade of the seating area and the circular corridor behind it, and Righetti reported fragments from the upper storeys of the Temple of Venus Victrix.

Most medieval and ancient remains from the theater are unaccounted for. The city is awash in archaeological treasures, and fragments uncovered before today's strict accounting methods often were not tagged or labeled as to their origins. "There are storerooms throughout the city filled with piles of capitals, slews of column shafts, fragments of friezes. In earlier times, all these things were put in storerooms," says Packer. "When they were transferred, no information was transferred with them. So we know that there were pieces from Pompey. They are mentioned in earlier records, both published and unpublished. But we haven't been able to find these things. We don't know what's become of them."

Stripped of their archaeological context, the fragments are reduced to pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. From 1996 through 2001, Packer collaborated with Beacham to document the accessible surviving remains of Pompey's theater. [more]

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NUNTII: Constable-Maxwell Bowl Record

The other day we mentioned the then-impending auction of the Constable-Maxwell Roman glass bowl  ... the Scotsman reports on what it met under the hammer (don't you love idioms?):

A stunning Roman glass bowl tonight became the most expensive piece of ancient glass ever sold at auction when it was bought for more than £2.6 million.

The artefact known as the Constable-Maxwell cage-cup dates from the third century AD and went under the hammer at Bonhams where a telephone bidder paid £2,646,650 for the precious item.

Joanna van der Lande, head of antiquities at Bonhams, said the glass bowl is is believed to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean and would probably have been a grave object.

It measures 10in by 8in and is decorated with a delicate lattice design around its base. It has survived virtually intact for 17 centuries.

Ms van der Lande added: “It’s exceptionally fragile and cut from a single block of glass. It’s something that would have been highly important in its day.

“It would have been clear but has become iridescent due to a chemical reaction between the earth and the glass.

“Its probable use was as an oil lamp suspended by a metal collar around the rim and light would have come through the lattice work.

“It’s really a very highly prized piece.”

This is the third time the item has set the record for the highest price paid for a piece of ancient glass.

In 1979, British collector Andrew Constable-Maxwell sold it for a then record price, without buyer’s premium, of £520,000.

Seven years later the cage-cup was auctioned by the British Rail Pension Fund and fetched £2.1 million – the buyer’s premium would have been added later.

Today’s price was more than £600,000 above the estimated sale figure of £2 million.

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CHATTER: Lindsey Davis

The Birmingham Post has a nice feature on Falco-creatrix Lindsey Davis:

Lindsey Davis' novels are awkward things. Not in the reading. Not in the writing. But in the bracketing.

Try as you might, you can't put her books into a genre, or even a sub-genre. You might think you've got it, you might just be on the point of pinning it down, and then she just chucks something else into the mix and off it wriggles again.

You can imagine booksellers running round their shops, puzzling over which shelf to put them on.

They're historical. They're mysteries. They're thrillers. They're romances.

That you can't pin them down is no bad thing. Pigeonholing is so passŽ. Besides which, there are lots more authors following in her footsteps. Steven Saylor, David Wishart, Rosemary Rowe . . . which should make things easier for the booksellers, at least.

Lindsey has written 16 books featuring her hero, Falco, who she describes as "a 40s gumshoe style character living in First Century Rome."

And if you think that sounds quirky now, you should have seen Lindsey trying to get them published 20 years ago. Back then, she was the only one doing this kind of thing.

Which made life considerably more difficult.

"I chose to set my books in the Roman period because no-one else was doing it, basically," she says.

"So yes, because it was so different, publishers saw them as a bit of a risk, and it was hard to persuade them that something that back then seemed so exotic and worryingly new was worth taking a chance on.

"What made it more difficult was that there was noTime Team or any programmes like that then, so it was harder to gauge what the public reaction would be. It was a risk, but luckily neither I nor my readers thought so."

It wasn't the first time Lindsey had taken such a gamble - and had it pay off.

Born in Birmingham - the Loveday Street Maternity Hospital, to be precise - she went from King Edwards' School for Girls to Oxford ("I read English Lang and Lit, although everyone thinks because of the books I did Classics") to a job in the Civil Service.

And then, at 35, she decided she'd had enough.

"I just got fed up. After working for the Civil Service for 13 years I began to see that career progress for women was very, very slow. So in the end, I resigned.

"I'd always wanted to be a writer, and I thought 'if I don't give it a go now I never will'."

She made her first inroads into writing just before leaving her job, winning second place in a competition.

Inspired, she kept on, eventually managing to get romantic serials published in Woman's Realm. Back then, too, she went for the historical, but it was Civil War England as opposed to the Roman Empire.

"The Civil War is a good period for romance fiction because you can have people torn apart by the conflict who are then reunited. I was also interested in the politics of the period, too."

It was romance that got her into the Roman era, too - only this time it was a real one.

The story of the Roman Emperor Vespa-sian and his mistress Antonia Caenis fascinated Lindsey, and, given the lack of information about Antonia, she decided to turn it into a novel. The Roman setting made publishers reluctant to take it on, and it took ten years before it was finally published. Yet writing The Course of Honour inspired Lindsey to begin the Falco novels, the first of which, The Silver Pigs, was published in


"The research I did for The Course of Honour got me interested in the Roman period, and gave me the idea of setting a detective novel in the big, dangerous city that Rome was at that time. Having written romance, I wanted to do something that involved other emotions. But I will always be a romantic writer in a way, because I'm interested in human relationships." [more]

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AWOTV: On TV Today

7.00 p.m. |HINT| The Great Empire: Rome: Building an Empire
Host Joe Mantegna visits the vast territories conquered by the
imperial army--by the 2nd century AD, the empire spanned three
continents. The over 4,000 Roman cities were cultural melting pots,
where diverse customs and beliefs blended. Features life in Pompeii,
the flamboyant Emperor Hadrian, and religious revolts in Judea.

HINT = History International

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