Most recent update:8/4/2004; 6:26:29 AM

 Monday, July 19, 2004

Radio's being uppity ...

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The weekly version of our Ancient World on Television listings -- for the period from today until August 9 -- have been posted. Enjoy!
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AWOTV: On TV Today

5.00 p.m. |DCIVC| Ancient Warriors: The Macedonians

6.00 p.m. |HINT| Pompeii: Buried Alive
Exploration of the archaeological site of the city that was
encrusted by incendiary ash when deadly Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79
AD. Archaeological director Baldasarre Conticello takes viewers on a
tour of Pompeii's ruins, and visits Herculaneum, which was destroyed
by Vesuvius at the same time.

9.00 p.m. |DCIVC| Lost City Of Pompeii - Secrets Of The Dead

Channel Guide

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CHATTER: Harry Potter in Greek

Language Hat (and amicus noster J M-Y) draws our attention to a page by Andrew Wilson, who was responsible for translating Harry Potter into ancient Greek. Inter alia:

My intention was to recreate a version of the book which would make sense to a Greek from any era up to the 4th century AD who had managed by some magical process (such as would only be taught only to very advanced students at Hogwarts!) to reach the 21st century. Objects and ideas would be unfamiliar - but once he'd got used to his new surroundings, the book would make complete sense. So I thought it was very important to have this time-travelling Greek in mind at all times, and continually ask myself "would that have any meaning for him? what would he make of that?" In other words a cultural transposition is involved, not just finding the words.

Overall, an interesting page and definitely worth a visit.

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NUNTII: 50 Minoan Tombs Found

Yahoo picks up a brief AFP piece:

Archeologists have discovered 50 tombs dating back to the late Minoan period, around 1,400 BC, and containing a number of artifacts on the Greek island of Crete, ANA news agency reported.

The tombs were part of the once powerful ancient city of Kydonia, which was destroyed at the time but later rebuilt.

The oldest among them contained bronze weapons, jewelry and vases and are similar to the tombs of fallen soldiers of the Mycenaean type from mainland Greece, said the head of the excavations, Maria Vlazaki.

The more recent family tombs are of a more traditional Kydonia type.

Earlier excavations in the area in northwest Crete near the town of Chania had already yielded some 100 burial sites.

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LUDI: Alley Oop

The wrestling match with Milo of Kroton is over ...
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ante diem xiv kalendas sextilias

  • Mercatus
  • Lucaria (day 1) -- a festival held in a grove somewhere between the Via Salaria and the Tiber (few details are known about this one)
  • 37 A.D. -- the emperor Gaius (Caligula) gives the people a congiarium
  • 64 A.D. -- the Great Fire of Rome (day 2)
  • late 3rd century A.D. -- martyrdom of Justa and Rufina

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NUNTII: The Resurgence of Latin

A Reuters article which I seem to only get via Express India for some reason:

Leah Whittington is an evangelist for a language most people consider dead, and she can tell you all about it in Cicero's native tongue.

"I urge all of you to bring the living, true language into your classrooms," she tells a Latin class at a summer school in Rome run by one of the Pope's Latin scribes.

A graduate of Father Reginald Foster's class of 1997, Whittington has come back to encourage the next generation with her tales of chatting in Latin to a class of 10-year-olds in the New York school where she teaches.

She is one of few people in the world who could talk to a class in Latin for 10 minutes and fluently answer questions about why American kids want to learn a language spoken 2,000 years ago on the other side of the world.

Latin teachers say interest in the ancient world is growing, boosted by the success of films such as "The Passion of the Christ", with much of its dialogue in Latin, and "Troy", an epic based on Homer's Iliad.

"What with 'Troy' and 'The Passion' and the Olympic Games in Athens it's been a good year for classics," says Barbara Bell, head of classics at Clifton High School in Bristol, southwest England.

Bell is the author of a Latin text book for 7- to 10-year-olds based on a real family who lived in Roman Britain in AD 100. It is named after the household mouse Minimus.

It has sold over 53,000 copies since it was published in 1999, including 10,000 in the United States, and has been used as far afield as New Zealand, the Bahamas and Germany. An Italian edition is due to be published soon.

"In the sixties there was this great swing away from fundamental grammar," said Bell. "It didn't matter if children could spell or punctuate as long as they could be creative.

"Recently governments have become increasingly concerned that children are not expressing themselves, they don't read much, they just grunt their way through life.

"I got sponsorship for the book from the business community because they were concerned that even graduates couldn't write an application letter for a job," Bell said.


Foster's Latin summer school is aimed at school teachers, though many participants are graduate students and a few are seminarians training for the priesthood.

The 64-year-old Carmelite priest from Milwaukee has been teaching Latin at the Gregorian University in Rome for 27 years, while also working for the Pope translating speeches and letters into Latin.

Foster first encountered Latin at the age of 13 when he entered a U.S. seminary. He is determined to teach it as a spoken language, using texts by authors like Plautus whose raucous comedies feature young men talking to prostitutes and barmen chatting with customers.

He encourages students to translate the day's newspapers into Latin, and uses medieval Church Latin texts written in simpler language than the formal written speeches of Roman orator and politician Cicero.

While lauding Cicero as the greatest master of beautiful Latin, Foster says he would not have spoken using the complicated rules Latin students remember.

"You think Cicero would have spoken in fancy indirect speech -- the accusative and infinitive?" he asks the class. "Cicero's son would have said 'Papa, quiesce' -- 'Cool it'."

Despite his students' enthusiasm Foster is not optimistic about the language's future in the Catholic Church.  [more]

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NUNTII: Roman Bridge Excavated

The BBC reports on the excavation of remains of a Roman bridge which once would have crossed the River Tyne:

The ruins of the bridge, which would have once crossed the River Tyne, have been undisturbed for thousands of years in Corbridge, Northumberland.

The site has been monitored since the 1970s by archaeologists concerned at erosion of the remains by the river.

In 1995 a trial excavation revealed the rapid rate and severity of the damage caused by erosion, which has increased in recent years.

It is thought the bridge probably collapsed because of river erosion during the Anglo-Saxon period.

Tyne and Wear Museums' archaeology team, with the help of volunteers and trainees, started work on the excavation two weeks ago.

The team has already uncovered the spectacular scale and decoration of the bridge, which would have carried the main Roman road from London to Scotland. [more]

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CHATTER: Alexander's Death

This is probably to be classified as pre-movie hype but the Washington Post has a really good overview of currently-competing theories about the death of Alexander. Here's the incipit:

Medical investigators in Virginia and Maryland are engaged in an unusual public tussle over the death of a celebrity patient whose presumed death-by-poisoning has come under growing scrutiny.
It's not often that doctors and medical researchers argue in public over a possible misdiagnosis. But when the patient has been dead for 2,327 years -- and when that patient just happened to have conquered the entire known world by the time he was 25 -- well, the usual courtesies of patient confidentiality can hardly be expected to apply.

So it is that ancient descriptions of Alexander the Great's final days are being scrutinized anew for clues to the Macedonian king's death. Amid a growing consensus that an infectious disease, not poison, was the likely killer, experts have narrowed their focus to typhoid or a brain inflammation caused by West Nile virus -- two competing diagnoses proposed by medical sleuths in Baltimore and Richmond, respectively.

It's a duel of opinions unlikely to be fully resolved. Although historical documents indicate that Ptolemy, the Egyptian general, had Alexander's body preserved in honey and his sarcophagus displayed for many years, the corpse was eventually lost to history. So scientists have no tissues to test for microbial DNA or other clues.

But getting a final answer is not really the point, said John Marr, state epidemiologist for Virginia's Department of Health.

"It's intellectual candy," Marr said of his post-postmortem. "And it's a reminder of how to look at signs and symptoms, which is something that's being lost as the art of medicine is being usurped by electronic messiahs" such as laboratory tests, echocardiograms, scans of various kinds and other modern tools of diagnosis.

The debate began in earnest six years ago when David Oldach and colleagues at the University of Maryland School of Medicine published a report concluding that Alexander had died of typhoid.

The university has a proud history of diagnosing illnesses of the long-dead. A special program there devoted to the practice takes on a new celebrity each year -- concluding in recent years that Beethoven died of cirrhosis and syphilis, and Edgar Allen Poe of rabies.

Oldach's team relied largely on remarkably detailed descriptions of Alexander's death recorded by Plutarch a few centuries after the event. Alexander's medical chart, Oldach determined, would have read something like this: A 32-year-old soldier, widely traveled, with many wives and one son and a history of excessive alcohol consumption, experienced escalating fever, great thirst, profuse sweating and acute abdominal pain soon after returning to Babylon. For two weeks the patient suffered from delirium, loss of voice and increased weakness, gradually progressing to paralysis and death.

In the December 1998 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oldach and his colleagues concluded that Alexander's symptoms pointed to typhoid, a life-threatening bacterial disease, transmitted by contaminated food and water, that causes sustained high fevers, can be accompanied by stomach pains and sometimes affects nerves -- possibly accounting for Alexander's paralysis.

Then, in 2002, a group preparing a documentary about Alexander asked Marr to reconsider the evidence for typhoid. Marr read Oldach's paper and was at first inclined to agree with it. "But then I said, 'What the heck. Let's re-look at this thing from a larger scale,' " he recalled.

That meant going beyond the descriptions of Alexander's symptoms to include questions of what was going on at the time around Babylon (near today's Baghdad), including the kinds of plants and animals there and what the landscape and climate were like.

While Marr was doing so, he got a call from a colleague studying West Nile encephalitis, an unusual complication of West Nile virus infection that can cause a polio-like syndrome called flaccid paralysis. [more]

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NUNTII: Pheidippides Run True?

This is interesting ... from the Guardian:

The battle of Marathon - and the epic 26-mile run from the battlefield to Athens celebrated with every modern marathon - may have been misdated by a month.

A team from Texas State University argues from the evidence of the lunar cycle that the date for the battle of Marathon should be August 12, 490BC, rather than the generally accepted date of September 12 that year.

The change of date might help solve a riddle that has puzzled athletes for a century: why an experienced Greek distance runner collapsed and died at the end of the 26 miles, when millions of relatively unfit modern runners have survived with no more than sore feet and wobbly knees.

On the strength of this, some historians have even pronounced the story a myth. But in Athens in August, temperatures can rise to 39C (102F).

"It is precisely to avoid such hot weather that modern race organisers prefer cooler months, like April for the Boston marathon and November for the New York City marathon," say Donald Olson, Russell Doescher and Marilynn Olson, in the September issue of Sky and Telescope.

"The hot afternoon of August 12, 490 BC could induce the condition that can be fatal to even a trained athlete: heat exhaustion and heatstroke."

They add: "Our astronomical calculation therefore suggests an explanation for the death of the runner and makes the story of the first marathon run more plausible." [more]

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OBITUARY: Michael Comber

From the Telegraph:

Michael Comber, the scholar and teacher who has died aged 59, excited and inspired generations of classicists, particularly in Oxford where his lectures had something of a cult following.

Dark, stocky, stylishly dressed (usually in black with an Armani overcoat) and selectively sporting designer sunglasses, Comber was as un-donnish in appearance as it is possible to be; for years there was a rumour that he doubled as bass guitarist for Dire Straits. Moreover, his knowledge of the ancient world was matched by his love of film and popular culture. Pupils who knew Once Upon a Time in the West or The Wild Bunch would find him discussing these as readily as Virgil or Horace.

In lectures, an audience of undergraduates might temporarily forget their need for examination material, and relish instead the Comber view of Lucan as "spaghetti epic" - with Cato as "the Good", Caesar as "the Bad" and Pompey as "the Ugly". Ten minutes would be given to re-telling a scene from A Fistful of Dollars to explain the way in which subversion and homage could be inextricably related.

Comber's idiosyncratic delivery - his years in academia never tempered his north London accent - was combined with an infectious enthusiasm, and his catchphrases would stick firmly in his students' minds. He was once heard to remark that Aeschylus was "much harder" than Shakespeare (meaning not that his plays were difficult to understand, but that the Greek tragedian was more of a "hard man").

He did not fit the modern academic mould; his energies were channelled into reading, thinking, lecturing and tutoring more than into writing books and articles. Yet this meant that his influence was all the greater, as he would often teach for more than 30 hours a week. When particular students' performances are discussed at examiners' meetings, anyone who has taught them must leave the room; thus, if Comber was examining, he spent a good deal of time in the corridor.

Michael Comber was born on August 3 1944 to Jewish parents who had settled in north London. His father, Monty, was a tailor, while his mother, Lena, was a Lithuanian immigrant who had arrived alone in Britain at the age of 12. They provided their only child with a fine library of classics books. Books figured large in Mick Comber's youth; he would arrive at William Ellis school, Highgate, leaning heavily to one side as he struggled with the bag in which he was carrying every one of his school books.

Academically gifted, with a passion for classics that drove him to get up at five in the morning to read his texts, he was also physically tough; on one occasion, when fielding in the slips at cricket, both he and the wicket-keeper went for the same catch, and the wicket-keeper ended up with a broken leg.

After reading Classics at Clare College, Cambridge, Comber spent a year on a fellowship in Illinois, then returned to Britain to start a doctorate on Tacitus at St Andrews. There he cut an exotic figure with his penchant for tailored suits and his habit of eating every meal in a restaurant.

At St Andrews Comber met Margaret O'Brien, who became his lifelong companion and friend and shared his love of film. He went on to take certificates and diplomas in both film and modern social-cultural studies at London University. He and Margaret O'Brien eventually co-taught an adult education film course, and he regularly reached audiences that most scholars miss. He also taught courses for adults in New Testament Greek, and acquired some unexpected technical advice on safe-cracking techniques when teaching film noir at Oxford prison.

He was also much in demand for school audiences: his lecture "Oedipus Rocks!", which compared Sophocles' play with the way Hitchcock films develop suspense, was regularly the high spot of the Bryanston Greek summer school for sixth-formers.

Comber had an unusual talent for interdisciplinary work, not merely pointing parallels and influences but using them to illuminate complex features of the classical world. That was apparent in his published work as well - for example, a paper on Propertius and Ezra Pound in the Journal of Roman Studies, and one on Oedipus and detective fiction in Omnibus, the magazine aimed at sixth-formers. A trust to establish a graduate classical scholarship in interdisciplinary approaches is to be set up in his memory.

It was in tutorials, though, that Comber's love of his subject and his taste for the epigrammatic catchword were at their most memorable. Horace was a particular favourite: "This is Horace's own book, and he is doing things with it". Lucan was "Virgil on stilts". Students would often be told about a "vertiginous mise-en-abyme" - some reflected that they had faced one themselves when asked in their first week to write on: "Was there a Callimachean aesthetic?"

Years later, pupils would remember every tutorial, and often relive them with the man himself, for he frequently formed deep and lasting friendships with his students. Discussions begun in tutorials continued over decades, preferably in expensive restaurants.

He was invariably generous and encouraging to his students, always assuming that they shared his feel for his subject. When he felt strongly, however, there was little hope of changing his mind. "I disagree with absolutely everything you have written here," he wrote at the end of one undergraduate essay, "but you are, of course, entitled to your opinion."

He had good reason to feel resentment at colleges who exploited his teaching talents and then passed him over for permanent posts. It was even more hurtful when those who respected him, and whom he liked, were implicated in those decisions. But he never bore grudges, nor allowed these slights to harm his friendships. His gravestone will bear the words "classical scholar, teacher, and friend".

Michael Comber, who died on June 29, was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer a year ago, but kept this from all but his closest friends. He continued teaching until a few weeks before his death.

Margaret O'Brien survives him.

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CHATTER: A Chinese Caesar?

Interesting use of Classical comparisons in this editorial from the JoonAng Daily:

Michael Parenti, a liberal American philosopher, wrote a book, "History As Mystery."

He did not see mainstream history as historical truth but rather as a particular interpretation through the censorship of rulers. He emphasized that to get away from the history of the ruling class and write non-mainstream history, historians should dig out the hidden stories, such as farmers' riots, laborers' strife, oppression of liberal politicians, private businesses' plunder and seizure, the United States' imperialism, and the rape, pillage, slaughter and destruction of aboriginals.

He defined true history as the act of constructive destruction of mainstream ideology in an attempt to make a new historical interpretation and challenge fixed ideas. In another book, "The Assassination of Julius Caesar," Parenti traced how non-mainstream reformist Caesar, who sided with the people, was murdered. He interpreted that the aristocrats of the Senate, who were the mainstream forces in Rome with vested interests, like Cicero, collectively assassinated Caesar to resist his land redistribution policy that infringed on their property rights.

We should not conclude that every historical narrative is mainstream history. "Records of History" by a Chinese historian, Samachun, contains a history of success and failure and of mainstream and non-mainstream ideas at the same time. Some historiographers had met with the disaster of having their whole family exterminated for questioning the right and wrong of predecessors' politics amid the ruler-centered record of the dynasty.
But we also need to look at the development of history from the perspective of "the non-mainstream's shift toward the mainstream." Liu Bang, the founder of the Han dynasty, the largest empire in China, was a man about town in bad terms and a man of chivalrous spirit in good terms. When mainstream politics was chaotic and lost morality and the people's livelihood fell into extreme distress, a group of chivalrous persons sharing the same purpose joined together. This group provided a driving force for the birth of Liu Bang and Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming dynasty, as national leaders and became major forces which led the new spirit of the times.

From this viewpoint, I think our society is now entering an age when non-mainstream becomes mainstream. The president and most of his aides took the lead in protesting the military dictatorship of the past and struggled to achieve democracy. An analysis showed that the "386 generation democratic fighters" accounted for 37 percent of the Blue House staff during the early Roh Moo-hyun administration, and after the legislative elections, 55 lawmakers with a democratic movement background in the 1980s advanced into the Assembly. The prime minister and other power holders of the present administration were in and out of prison around the same period. They were, in bad terms, a group of criminals but in good terms, a group of chivalrous persons of the times who dedicated themselves to achieving democracy. Now they have taken their positions at the center of power. The non-mainstream's shift toward the mainstream reached this point.

History is the past which became the present. What is indispensable in the process of non-mainstream's shift toward mainstream is magnanimity and tolerance. Once non-mainstream forces begin to become mainstream, they should no longer instigate division and conflict. Caesar adopted a tolerance policy and Liu Bang used a policy of reconciliation and tolerance. They did not divide the people into enemies and friends. On the contrary, they kept at arm's length and excluded their comrades of national foundation when they caused internal conflict.

The strong point of non-mainstream lies in its freshness, strong driving force, and vitality, which overwhelm old mainstream's inability and immorality. The non-mainstream founders can draw attention from the people with their strong growth engine. Caesar expanded the Roman empire to Egypt and distributed a great deal of land by developing the Tiber River. Liu Bang also built an empire ruled by law by gathering talented people from across the country with his strong attraction. He founded a wealthy country with strong military power. In other words, he achieved a practical result by suggesting a vision to strengthen security and revive the economy.

How about the strategy of our non-mainstream of this age, which has become mainstream? It seems to be close to stirring up division and conflict rather than unity. There may be a strategy of reinforcing the non-mainstream's move toward the mainstream through division and conflict, but this is an idea of the non-mainstream, in which they forget that they are a new mainstream. Regarding the capital move, all power holders come forward to criticize opposition as a non-confidence motion against the president and a movement to remove the political leadership, and the media that oppose the president as old mainstream forces with vested interests, but this is a typical non-mainstream approach of instigating division. [more]

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... will be coming later today, both the weekly version and possibly a daily update (apologies ... allergies caught up with me last night)
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