Latest update: 9/1/2004; 6:23:13 AM
quidquid bene dictum est ab ullo, meum est ~ Seneca
CHATTER: Death Imitates Art?

A feature of many of the small-town rodeos in Western Canada are variations on Roman-style chariot races (which is another reason why I can't understand the state of Classics in Canada ... the interest is clearly there). The CBC reports on a recent fatality in same (note: I am not making light of this in any way):

RCMP in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba are investigating the death of a 70-year old Saskatchewan man.

Thomas Scarrow of Arcola died last Thursday, during a Roman-style chariot race at the Thresherman's Reunion and Stampede in Austin, Man.

The race is known as the Ben Hur contest and it's one of the most popular events at the rodeo.

Witnesses say the man collapsed and fell off his cart, shortly after the race began. Police are trying to determine whether his death was the result of an accident or natural causes, such as a heart attack. [more]

This just in ... the Winnipeg Sun adds some details, inter alia:

The races, held on grounds near the museum, are modelled after ancient Roman chariot races. A recreation of the races is a famous feature of the movie Ben Hur starring Charlton Heston.


Neufeld said four horses are attached to a two-wheeled cart and two competitors at a time race around a track on the north side of the grounds.

The competitors are decked out in Roman costumes complete with headdresses and flowing capes for the popular event.

"They go around the track and just put on a show for the folks," Neufeld said.

Police were trying to determine whether it was an accident or natural causes such as a heart attack. The office of the medical examiner is investigating and will determine whether an autopsy is needed.

Neufeld said there was no collision during the race, Scarrow didn't strike any object, and was travelling in his own lane.

Portage RCMP spokesman Dan Toppings said a witness told police Scarrow just seemed to lean back and fall off the chariot.

Neufeld said there has never been an accident during the Ben Hur event, and this is the first incident of its kind.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 9:09:17 PM

NUNTII: Roman Tile Kiln Saved

I think this report from IC Surrey is about something 'new' (it isn't, e.g., the kiln recently found in Wales that we mentioned a while ago):

A LARGE Roman tile factory uncovered during building work in Reigate has been saved from the bulldozer.

In a massive operation on Tuesday, a crane was used to lift the historic kiln and other parts of the tileworks to safety.

Wray Common Road was shut to traffic as an enormous crane with telescopic lifting gear got to work in the grounds of Sir Peter Masefield's nowdemolished former home, Rosehill, at the corner of Doods Way.

The first stage of the operation was to lift a 12-ton section which had been carefully underpinned with steel bars to give it support.

The crane extended 50ft and the boxed brickwork, mummified in silver foil and sprayed with cushioning foam, was hoisted into the sky watched by a small crowd of archaeologists, neighbours, workmen and councillors.

Experts have dated the factory to between 80 and 150AD. Much of the kiln structure has survived. It is thought the tiles would have been sold for use in London. [more]

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 9:05:05 PM

NUNTII: Work at Pompeii

From AGI:

Wall paintings and electoral writings in stores on the Via dell'Abbondanza (regio IX, insulae 7 and 11), in ancient Pompeii, will be refurbished. THe project, funded by the American Foundation Kacyra and by the Italian company Fassa Bortolo, will be fulfilled by the archaeologic superintendency of Pompeii and by the architecture dept of the University of Ferrara. By using a sophisticated 3D technology, provided by the Americans, a tridimensional databank has been created for the area of Pompeii's civil forums. The refurbishing will begin on the 2nd August and end in January 2005. The three stores involved are some of the most renowned ones. The first one, Bottega dei Feltrai, features the paiting of Venus standing on a quadriga, towed by four elephants, the pictures of Fortuna and Genius, and the ones reproducing an electoral writing. The clothes-cleaner features the paintings of Venus of Pompeii and the painting of Sun, Moon, Jupiter and Mercury, and the procession of Cibele. In the 'thermopolium' of Asellina, one of Pompeii's most famour places, with ceramics and bronze items, the writings "Asellina, Aegle, Maria, Smyrna" will be made clearer. Some say these writings recall the support given by the owner and waiter to election candidates. "This refurbishing - said superintendent Pietro Giovanni Guzzo - represent the role which private institutions must do, to safeguard cultural heritage through research. Fassa Bortolo will also send its staff to analyse and make tests. The project will also feature didactic stages and courses from the university of Ferrara, Roma-Valle Giulia and the specialisation class of the Sapienza university of Rome.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 8:49:15 PM

CHATTER: If It's Wednesday ... Atlantis Must Be In ...

... Ireland, according to the latest threat to our forests. IOL reports thusly:

A new book investigating the myth of Atlantis says that the mythical land was actually the island of Ireland.

The claim is made by geologist Ulf Erlingsson in his book 'Atlantis from a Geographer’s Perspective: Mapping the Fairy Land', who is to visit Ireland on August 11 to 13.

In his book Erlingsson bases his evidence on Plato's desription of Atlantis which, according to Erlinsson, matches Ireland perfectly. Statistically, the scientist claims, the probability is over 99.98% that Plato was describing Ireland.

Erlingsson says: "Just like Atlantis, Ireland is 300 miles long, 200 miles wide, and widest over the middle. They both feature a central plain that is open to the sea, but fringed by mountains. No other island on earth even comes close to this description."

“What has led most students astray is that Atlantis sank in the sea”, says Dr Erlingsson.

“It is an ‘Atlantic myth’ all right – but a myth from, not about, Atlantis”.

"The island that sank was Dogger Bank. It was struck by a disastrous flood-wave around 6,100 BC, and now rests deep under the waves of the North Sea."

In the book, Dr Erlingsson shows how the Atlantic Empire probably can be associated with the megalithic monuments of Europe and Northern Africa. Their geographic distribution matches the extent of the Atlantic Empire as Plato described it.

The Atlantean capital can be connected with Tara, the legendary seat of the high king of Ireland.

The temples of Poseidon and the ancestors match up well with the so-called passage tombs of Newgrange and Knowth, in the Boyne valley.

They are the oldest roofed buildings anywhere in the world.

Ulf Erlingsson has a Ph.D. in Physical Geography from Uppsala University.

Interesting how you never read of Classicists writing a book claiming to know where Atlantis is ...

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 8:09:15 PM

CHATTER: ... et dona ferentes

After reading a zillion versions of articles dealing with a crackdown in Athens on unofficial Olympic merchandise, it was mildly pleasant to read this excerpt from the Post Gazette:

Tchotchkes police.

Apparently no crime is too small as the city tightens up and cracks down in a $1.5 billion security effort involving 70,000 police officers and soldiers.

Olympic organizers say that over the last two months law enforcement agents have checked more than 100 shops for illegal Olympic tchotchkes -- pins, hats, T-shirts and other souvenirs -- and confiscated more than 100,000 trinkets seen as "offending the image of the Games -- ethically, culturally and financially."

Customs authorities also have sealed the borders and seized more than 20,000 imported items. Athens organizing committee lawyers have filed 200 injunctions to stop anyone from selling any cut-rate, faux-Olympics gee-gaws.

With as many as 2 million tourists expected in the city this month, officials apparently have adopted their own version of the warning issued in 19 B.C. by Virgil in the Aeneid: "Beware of Greeks bearing (unofficial) gifts."

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 5:20:14 PM

CHATTER: Fraenkel's Seminars

A (free) piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the utility of the seminar approach to university teaching begins with some reminiscences about seminars conducted by Eduard Fraenkel:

Anyone who has been privileged to sit through first-rate seminars understands their value. The seminar is that midpoint between the lecture and the individual tutorial, that place in the curriculum where students get to test their knowledge of a discipline against a professor's. Seminars can be exacting, exhilarating experiences for the teacher and the student alike, although conducting them is difficult work; it requires a number of skills that can only be acquired through practice and self-discipline.

As college teachers, we usually had no opportunity in graduate school to conduct a seminar and, for the most part, rely on our memory of good seminars to imagine how to lead one ourselves. I had one or two in graduate school that prepared me rather well for thinking about the form, and I often talked with my fellow students about what worked and what didn't. It so happened that several of my former teachers or friends had studied at Oxford with the legendary classicist Eduard Fraenkel, a Berliner who fled the Nazis in 1934, settling into a chair in classical literature at Corpus Christi College, where he became an instant legend, attracting the best young classicists of the era to his seminars.

"I was terrified in those seminars," Iris Murdoch (the novelist and philosopher, who studied with Fraenkel in the late '30s) once said to me. "Fraenkel did not suffer fools gladly." Fraenkel had written landmark studies of Plautus and Horace, and he was later justly famous for an edition of the Agamemnon by Aeschylus that became the standard by which all future editions of classical texts (and commentaries) would be judged. His own commentary was extraordinarily rich and astute, referring to centuries of scholarship with apparent ease, making endless little (but illuminating) judgments along the way: the sort of thing that anyone conducting the Platonic ideal of a seminar might do.

Indeed, Fraenkel reflected on the influence of his Oxford seminars on his later scholarship in his edition of the Agamemnon: "Without the inspiring, and often correcting, co-operation of those young men and women I should not have been able to complete the commentary. If they thought a passage to be particularly difficult, that was sufficient reason for me to examine and discuss it as fully as I could; and more than once it was their careful preparation, their inquisitiveness, and their persistent efforts that made it possible to reach what seemed to us like a satisfactory solution."

Fraenkel's own teaching style was austere. My old friend Gordon Williams, a well-known classics scholar from Yale who had been a student of Fraenkel's, once wrote: "These seminars were occasions of formidable and immediate confrontations with a very great scholar and, as such, terrifying. A victim once laughingly described the scene as a circle of rabbits addressed by a stoat. But most students learnt to forget terror in the sheer interest of learning to express their ideas and of having them tested against Fraenkel's scholarship and in applying some of his techniques themselves."

I doubt that anyone has ever sat in dread in my seminars, and I'm rather glad for that. The old Germanic version of the professor as master of the universe does not wash in the democratic world of American colleges. And it is worth remembering that students do not require a dominating and erudite figure to feel intimidated. It's frightening enough to have to say something, anything, around a seminar table, in front of your peers.

For all his austerity, Fraenkel understood that give-and-take is necessary for good teaching. The seminar demands a fluidity, an ease, wherein the pursuit of truth rises above any ego demands of the teacher. It comes alive in the dialectic, the process of working toward a sense of shared understanding. Fraenkel put his trust in his students, in their ability to listen, to make fine discriminations, and to apply what he later called "the common sense of the young," something that can get lost as one ages. [more]

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 5:02:38 PM

CHATTER: Nunc est Bibendum

A newswire item on some competition to choose the world's favourite advertising icon includes some interesting tidbits on the Michelin Man:

But how did the Michelin Man "come to life?" During a trade show in Lyon, France in 1894, Edouard and Andre Michelin noticed how a stack of their tires resembled a rotund, jolly man.

Sometime later, in 1898, Andre enlisted O'Gallop, a well-known illustrator to bring the tire-man character to life in a now famous poster.

In it, the Michelin Man quotes the Latin poet Horace, saying "Nunc est Bibendum", or "Now is the time to drink", and the tagline "The Michelin tire drinks up obstacles."

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 4:58:01 PM

CHATTER: Ancient Greek Medicine

MSNBC has an interesting (and lengthy) article from WebMD (which I can't find at that particular site) on what modern doctors could learn from reading the likes of Hippocrates and Galen ... here's the incipit: 

But the record does indicate that even 3,000 years ago, medicine was considered to be a good career path: "A physician is worth more than several other men put together, for he can cut out arrows and spread healing herbs," says a character in Homer's Iliad, referring to a battlefield medico who was the Trojan War equivalent of Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H*.

Today's doctors don't spend much time yanking out arrows, and while some still spread healing herbs, we call it "alternative and complementary medicine" and hope that Medicare will cover it.

Still, modern medicine is riddled with relics of ancient Greek science, from versions of the Oath of Hippocrates that some graduating medical students still utter ("I swear by Apollo, the Physician and Asclepius and Hygeia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses ..."), to the techno-jargon that doctors spout. According to Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, nearly 90% of medical terms used today have Greek or Latin roots. So the next time someone tells you you've got hyperkeratosis, you can reply, "I don't know what it is, but it's Greek to me!"

Yet apart from confusing technical terms and solemn oaths, do we really owe the ancients any thanks for modern medical wisdom? It depends on what bits of medical wisdom you value, historians say.

Humor Me

According to legend, the field of medicine was created by the centaur Chiron after he was wounded by Hercules and needed to heal himself. Chiron is also said to have passed on his medical wisdom to the hero Achilles. Whether the centaur invented the waiting room or managed care is unknown.

Greek gods, goddesses, and demigods such as Apollo, Asclepius, Hera, and Hygea were also credited by ancient worshipers with healing power. But it was the revered Greek doctor Hippocrates, who lived around 400 B.C. who is given the nod as history's first medical superstar.

"Hippocrates is generally credited with turning away from divine notions of medicine and using observation of the body as a basis for medical knowledge. Prayers and sacrifices to the gods did not hold a central place in his theories, but changes in diet, beneficial drugs, and keeping the body 'in balance' were the key," notes an article on the National Library of Medicine's History of Medicine division web site.

OK, so the old boy knew a thing or two about maintaining health. But the same source goes on to note that Hippocrates had some ideas that, while all the rage infifth century B.C., aren't given much credence in 21st century A.D.: "Central to his physiology and ideas on illness was the humoral theory of health, whereby the four bodily fluids, or humors, of blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile needed to be kept in balance. Illness was caused when these fluids became out of balance, sometimes requiring the reduction in the body of a humor through bloodletting or purging."

In truth, what Hippocrates and his contemporaries didn't know about medicine could fill a book, but what they thought they knew could also fill a book, or even a whole set of encyclopedias.

Nearly 60 treatises on everything from diagnosis, infectious diseases, pediatrics, and surgery have been attributed to Hippocrates, but these works, known as Hippocrates' "corpus" were probably penned by several different authors spread out over a couple of centuries, and the treatises often contradict one another, according to the NLM.

"If you read through the corpus, what you find is not so much medical knowledge that's of use to us, but you find a way of thinking about medicine -- the obligation of the doctor to his patient and to his fellow doctors and so forth," Ann Ellis Hanson, PhD, senior research scholar and senior lecturer in Classics at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., tells WebMD. [more]

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 4:43:51 PM

GOSSIP: Roma Burns

Another tidbit from the Hollywood Reporter:

Faulty wiring is being cited as the probable cause of a fire that ravaged Roma Studios on Wednesday, but Italian investigators and law enforcement officials said they are continuing their investigation. According to Italian press reports, the fire ravaged 3,000 square meters of sets, including that of ABC's $30 million epic miniseries "Empire," which had been shooting at the studio since April. [more]

No word (yet) on how this will affect production ...

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 4:34:53 PM

AUDIO: Why the Greeks Matter

The folks at NPR's Talk of the Nation recently spent forty minutes or so yakking with Thomas Cahill (popularizer extraordinaire) and Barry Strauss (Professor of Classics at Cornell) about why the Greeks are so darned important. Worth a listen, I suspect (I've only listened to the first ten minutes). Wednesday, August 04, 2004 4:24:28 PM

REVIEW(ish): Milo of Croton

Prior to our hiatus, we were linking to a series of comics in which Alley Oop was wrestling with Milo of Croton ... the Guardian has a review of Nigel Spivey's latest tome on the ancient Olympics and gives some good info on the ancient grappler:

He was not, in fact, a pugilist: but we suspect that neither Ali, Tyson, Louis nor Dempsey would have lasted long with him. He was Milo of Croton: winner of six consecutive Olympic titles before 500 BC, and the outright champion athlete of Classical antiquity. What follows may be taken as pleading the cause for his absolute status. But if that is (as I suppose) a rather futile topic of debate, then here is a more serious proposal: that if we understand who Milo was, and how he gained his reputation once upon a time - then we shall understand the very origins and present function of sport in civilised society.

Milo was a wrestler. That fact will not endear him to modern sensibilities. Wrestling today - though still an Olympic sport - has become a sort of shiny knockabout farce, dubiously magnetic to the bingo crowd. But wrestling was a prime sport in antiquity, the first activity of the Classical palaistra , "wrestling-school", which was an institution that anyone - from Plato to St Paul - would have expected to find in an ancient Greek or Roman city. "Ground wrestling" - probably freestyle grappling and rolling around in the sandpit of the palaistra - was distinguished from the "upright wrestling" often depicted on Greek vases. This upright version was the prestigious event. Combatants circled around, each looking for an initial clutch to the wrists or neck of his opponent; guile and experience could count for more than brute force, in a contest where victory went to whoever got the best of five bouts. There were no timed rounds: a match ended when a throw resulted in its victim prone on the ground. Three throws, then, signified victory (so the term for "three-timer" generically entered Greek parlance as "winner").

Points were not awarded. There was no roped-off enclosure for a bout. At Olympia - always the prime historical and canonical centre of ancient athletics - wrestling probably took place in some open area within the sanctuary precincts, spectators forming a ring. Referees stood by with long flexible rods to enforce the rules by poking or beating miscreants. But what were the rules? We are told about an athlete from Sicily who wrestled successfully at Olympia thanks to the blunt strategy of breaking his opponents' fingers; but fragments of an inscribed bronze plaque from Olympia, datable to Milo's time, contain a regulation explicitly forbidding such deliberate injury.

To judge by numerous ancient literary references, and some surviving excerpts from a wrestling manual, this was a discipline that had a complex science and jargon of its own. Only categories of age, not size, were recognised. As an encounter where throws might be accomplished by grabbing an opponent by the knees, or tripping him at the ankles, wrestling offered some chance for the nimble fighter to bring down a hulk. Celebrity wrestlers, however, tended towards the gigantic. The most notorious example of such colossal domination was Milo.

Victor in the boys' wrestling at Olympia probably in 540 BC, Milo went on to gather multiple accolades from the Panhellenic or "All-Greek" athletic circuit, comprising the regular festivals at Olympia, Delphi, Nemea and Isthmia. His extraordinary tally of victories included five further triumphs at Olympia. Since the ancient Olympics were, like their modern counterparts, celebrated every four years, Milo must have been a successful wrestler into at least his late 30s. He was only thwarted from a seventh Olympic victory, we learn, by a young opponent from his home town who pioneered a technique known as " akrocheirismos " - literally "high-handedness", effectively wrestling at arm's length. Implicitly it is understood that Milo's main tactic was to get close and apply a rib-cracking embrace. There are few varieties of martial arts that can counter such an intimate strategy. Customarily, contestants stripped naked and stood around to be allocated their match by drawing lots. It is likely that some of Milo's allocated opponents simply took one look at him and scratched.

Numerous ancient anecdotes survive, attesting the enormous capacity of both Milo's muscles and Milo's appetite; some also remark on the diminutive size of his brain. He is logged as a close friend of the philosopher Pythagoras, who when not devising mathematical theorems was also the first influential principled vegetarian of Classical antiquity. But Milo was decidedly a carnivore. His daily diet consisted of 20 lbs of meat and 20 lbs of bread, sluiced down with 18 pints of wine. One of his training techniques, it seems, was to hoist a young calf on to his shoulders and walk about with it. The calf matured into an full-sized ox, while Milo practised the same routine. (Ultimately, of course, he eats the beast - in one sitting.) This is the first recorded example of the progressive resistance method, whereby muscles enlarge from being stressed by ever-increasing loads. If that story is too imprecise regarding levels of strength, it is worth mentioning a sandstone boulder excavated from Olympia, dated to around the time of Milo, which is inscribed with the boast that a certain athlete picked it up and threw it over his head with one hand. The block weighs 315 lbs, or 143 kg - a formidable exertion even by by today's chemically enhanced standards.

Allegedly Milo's end came when he was in a forest and came across a tree that woodcutters had tried to split, leaving wedges driven into its trunk. Milo could not resist trying to finish the job with his bare hands. He parted the trunk enough for the wedges to drop out - but then the wood and pith closed in on his fingers, trapping him there; to be gnawed alive by a pack of wolves. Like most Milo stories, this seems like fable. But the Greeks were not antagonised by tensions between fable and reality. They created a statue of Milo at Olympia that took on a life of its own. The statue represented the wrestler standing on a circular pedestal, wearing a victory garland about his brows and extending one arm with the votive gift of a pomegranate. Stories duly proliferated about the statue. Milo, it was said, used to stand upon an oiled discus, and challenge anyone to push him off. Milo, it was said, would put a ribbon on his head and then split it by pumping the blood to his temples. Milo, it was said, used to grip a pomegranate in his fist and challenge all-comers to wrest the fruit from his grasp by any means.

Well - what are we to make of this: a farrago of the plausible and fantastic; and none of it validated by the Guinness Book of Records ?

Milo was a great fighter. That much is clear: and that much immediately made him a likely candidate for heroisation in the ancient world, where the psychosomatic connection between sport and warfare was always more overt than it is today. At Olympia - where control of the sanctuary and its lucrative festival was several times the cause of war, and the precincts became on at least one occasion a battlefield - the whole site, including the stadium, was decked with spoils of armed conflict. Altars by the Temple of Zeus were staffed by specialists in oracular military intelligence. Athletic events were contested to the point of serious injury and fatality. The entire programme of "games" could be rationalised as a set of drills for cavalry and infantry fighting.

The ancient Olympic "games", where Milo excelled, were not "games" in our recreational sense. The Greek word for them was "agones", which indeed leads to our word "agony"; and correspondingly, the cognate Greek term from which we derive "athletics" is all about struggle, suffering, pain - and prizes. At the ancient Olympics, there was no award for second or third place. The winner gained all. Ostensibly, it was not much of a prize - a wreath of wild olive leaves. But the dividends of prestige, plus certain attached benefits, were invaluable. The fabulous reputation of Milo is eloquent enough, but we can imagine the actualities of glory he brought home. A triumphal procession into his home town of Croton, perhaps with the city walls knocked down to receive him. Free meals, at civic expense, for him and his family and all their descendants. Front-row seats at the theatre. Statues made by the finest sculptors; odes commissioned from the greatest poets. Political preferment. Many jars of olive oil. And, above all, semi-divine veneration. He was, after all, an athlete: one who had suffered. He could have died. Anumber of wrestlers, boxers and all-in fighters at Olympia did just that, in their striving for the olive crown. But what had not killed him had made him stronger. So Milo became more than simply famous, a "celebrity". He had supernatural power. People afflicted with illness or deformity would want to touch him, or his statue, to be healed. He was, ultimately, a beautiful man - in the eyes of women and men alike. [the whole thing]

By the way, if you want to continue with Alley Oop and Milo of Croton, it continues beginning with the comic from July 20 ...

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 9:38:55 AM

REVIEW (sort of): Don't Miss the Metro

This is more of a press release than a review, but it's something which will probably prove useful to a pile of rogueclassicism readers:

Karen Knapp, a teacher of Greek and Latin, has been navigating the city of Athens with a trail of students behind her every other year for 25 years. Now she has put her knowledge of the newly renovated Athens Metro System into "Don't Miss the Metro!" - a new guide for English speaking travelers attending the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics.

Don't Miss the Metro! features 4 components: a history of the Athens Metro System, a Metro help guide, 15 ten-minute walking tours, and a detailed outline of the Metro stations. Each walking tour starts at one Metro station and finishes at a second one. Each walk features a detailed walk map, color photographs of sites along the walk, notes of interest along the walk, details pertaining to the length of the walk, reasons one might enjoy it, and a verbal description complementing the map.

The guide also dedicates a page to every Metro station, each of which includes a small map of the area around the station, photographs of the area, and a short description of things to know about the station.

"As a frequent traveler to Greece, the author of Don't Miss the Metro! knows the information available about the Athens Metro System in English is limited and often inconsistent," said Jennifer Delony, publisher of Don't Miss the Metro!. "With the guaranteed influx of travelers to Athens in 2004 for the Olympics, it is the author's desire to introduce English-speaking travelers to the Athens Metro System, including the latest expansions the system has undergone for the 2004 Olympics, in a clear and concise guide book."

Since 1980 Karen Knapp, author of Don't Miss the Metro!, has planned and supervised study in Greece with her Greek Studies and Latin students. For years she has taught these subjects in Stowe, Vt., and briefly in Yorkshire, England, and at the University of Vermont. She worked in Greece for 15 summers, a dozen of those at sites of the American School of Classical Studies in Boeotia and the Corinthia, principally at the Ohio State Excavations at Isthmia.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 9:21:46 AM

CHATTER: Matters More Recently Olympian

An overview piece in the Ithaca Journal on the history of the modern Olympics has some interesting tidbits (besides the usual ancient stuff):

There were games elsewhere in Greece too; in 582 B.C. there were the Pythian Games at Delphi and Isthmian Games in Corinth. There were also the Nemean Games held in 573 B.C. In 393 A.D., however, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I prohibited athletic competitions.

There were some revivals: in the 17th century, Robert Dover's Games were held in the Cotswolds calling themselves Olympic. In 1850 there were games in Shropshire. In Athens there were meets called the Zappas Games in 1859, 1870, 1875, and 1889 named for their organizer. These ended when Mr. Zappas died, although Athens did host a Panhellenic Gymnastic Society competition in 1891.

The modern games were the consequence of a conference held in Paris in 1892, which led to the election of Demetrious Vikelas president of the International Olympic committee. This committee scheduled games for Athens in 1896.

Greece in 1896 was still on the Julian Calendar. To the Greeks, the games were to run from March 25 to April 3, while in the West, the dates were recorded as April 5 through the 12. On both calendars that year, Easter occurred on the same day, March 24 in Greece, April 5 elsewhere. March 25 or "ecosi pendi martiou" marked the anniversary of Greek independence, won in 1821. That was the day the athletic contests were to begin.

The American athletes arrived just in time to get their names on the program. There were four men from Princeton, their expenses paid by the father of one. Five were members of the Boston Athletic Association; a Boston stockbroker and Massachusetts Governor Oliver Ames paid their way to Greece. Harvard refused to allow James Connolly a leave of absence so he dropped out of school to compete. Two others were brothers who had Army experience; they were expert marksmen. Gardiner Williams, a swimmer, paid his own way to Athens.

Gene Andrews had entered Cornell to study engineering but after taking a course with Benjamin Ide Wheeler, professor of Greek and comparative philology, he was in Athens on a scholarship that Wheeler had arranged at the American School of Classical Studies where Wheeler was spending his sabbatical year. Wheeler was to serve as a judge for the games.

Andrews went as an observer and has left one of a very few first-hand accounts of what went on in Athens that Olympic week. [the whole thing]

This is apparently the first part of a two (or more) part series ...


Wednesday, August 04, 2004 9:16:28 AM

CHATTER: Matters Ancient Olympian

The Telegraph has a top ten list thingy on things about the ancient Olympics they feel you should know (or something like that). The article is huge, so I'll just give you the subtitles:

 1 Oil all over
 2 Original stew
 3 Ritual sacrifices
 4 War games
 5 Sex games
 6 Forbidden women
 7 Two jumps ahead
 8 Winning matters
 9 Victory through violence
 10 Olympic whiff-whaff

Read the whole thing ...

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 9:07:00 AM

CHATTER: Elgin/Parthenon Marbles Redux

An excellent piece by Susan Nagel in the Houston Chronicle gives a pile of details about the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles thing which probably aren't widely known, so here's the whole thing:

With the Olympic Games soon to open in Athens, one of the more bitter rivalries in history is set to resume, and it doesn't involve parallel bars or water polo. The Greek government is spending tens of millions of dollars on a museum atop the Acropolis in hopes that Britain will choose this occasion to return the Elgin Marbles, the elaborate sets of sculptures pried off the Parthenon and shipped to London two centuries ago. The British, unsurprisingly, have not complied.

To understand why the sculptures mean so much to both sides and why the dispute is so difficult to resolve, one must look back over the ages, and consider the woman who started it all.

Appointed Great Britain's ambassador extraordinary to Constantinople in 1799, Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine, asked the British government if it would subsidize a project to draw and make molds of antiquities on the Acropolis to help educate artists and the public in England (Greece was then controlled by the Ottoman Empire). The answer was no. He left for the Orient with his brand new, and very rich, bride, Mary Nisbet, whose own money would support the venture.

Elgin hired the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Lusieri to oversee the project, and in Turkey he obtained a "firman," an official document signed by Sultan Selim III, authorizing the work to begin. Removing the sculptures was not Elgin's original plan. But he was occupied with his duties in Constantinople, and delegated the job at the Acropolis to the Rev. Philip Hunt, his chaplain and on-site archaeologist. Hunt, in his enthusiasm to compete on Elgin's behalf with other Europeans dragging home chunks of ruins as souvenirs, went to Constantinople seeking a more generous firman. He got it and, in July 1801, returned to Athens.

Later that summer, the British Army drove the French from Alexandria, recovering Egyptian territory for the Ottomans. The sultan, grateful to the English and wildly attracted to the glamorous Lady Elgin, honored the couple with extravagant trinkets and a permanent embassy at his own expense. Lady Elgin was even invited to Topkapi Palace to meet the power behind the throne -- the sultan's mother, or Valida Sultana -- becoming the first Westerner invited to witness the opulence and mystery of the fabled harem. The Valida Sultana's personal portfolio included the Acropolis -- which, at that time, the Turks considered a slum.

In the spring of 1802, the Elgins finally got to Athens. Lady Elgin, pregnant with her third child, stayed to supervise her husband's project while he went island-hopping. The first two firmans had already been passed on to local authorities, and Lady Elgin had subsequent firmans that authorized the sculptures' removal.

She wrote to her husband that she "told Lusieri of the firmans, he says nothing can be going on better than everything, so for the present I shall lock them up." She even wrapped some of the marbles for shipping herself, and persuaded two British Navy captains to disobey Lord Nelson's orders and transport the cases to England.

Things went sour pretty quickly. In the winter of 1805-06, the British government began a 10-year wrangle over the marbles. Elgin was then a prisoner of war in France and Mary, in London, received a visit from officials who offered to take the marbles off her hands. She wrote him, "I desire them to make their offer, that it is impossible for me to fix any sum -- I shall see what is said, it is always well to have that in one's power."

Two years later, Lord Elgin divorced his wife in two scandalous trials and an act of Parliament, bringing notoriety to them both. Mary lost custody of her children, and Lord Elgin lost access to his wife's fortune, forcing him to sell the marbles. Appraisals ranged from 25,000 pounds from detractors to estimates as high as 100,000 pounds by the papal envoy, the sculptor Antonio Canova. (The average laborer then earned about 7 pounds a year).

Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria was reported to have given Lord Elgin a blank check. He asserted that gathering and shipping home the collection had cost him (or, more accurately, his wife) nearly 75,000 pounds, or what in today's money would be equal to the purchasing power of about $4 million.

In 1816, the British government offered Elgin, then hugely in debt, 35,000 pounds -- 18,000 pounds of it paid directly from the government to a creditor, and the balance earmarked for other creditors. Had he sold the collection abroad, he could have avoided his creditors, but he was intensely patriotic and refused to instigate a bidding war. He received neither profit nor fair value, yet for 200 years he has been denigrated as a crass commercialist.

Elgin's reputation aside, several contemporary legal scholars make a strong argument for the Greek side in the current debate. David Rudenstine, the dean of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, has forcefully argued that the 1816 parliamentary proceedings that affirmed the government's purchase from Lord Elgin were tainted and incomplete.

According to Rudenstine, the July 1801 firman, which was not even produced at those hearings and has been publicly seen only in an Italian translation without the signature or seal of the sultan, did not give Elgin the authority to remove sculptures from the Parthenon walls, only to excavate.

But by 1816, the sale was a foregone conclusion, and both the government and Elgin may well have been sloppy with evidence that wasn't going to change the outcome.

Until international law or diplomacy changes things, that verdict will stand, and the British Museum will keep the marbles.

As for the former Lady Elgin, she didn't even testify in 1816, and the content of the other firmans was never revealed. She was at her castle in Scotland enjoying the ancient gymnasiarch's chair -- the chair Olympic judges sat on during the competition -- which had been presented to her parents by the Greek Orthodox archbishop in her honor.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 8:51:55 AM

CHATTER: Hercules Flick

Hollywood Reporter suggests there's a new Hercules flick in the works:

Sean Astin, Leelee Sobieski and Timothy Dalton are set and Angie Harmon is in negotiations to star in NBC's four-hour miniseries "Hercules," from Hallmark Entertainment.

British newcomer Paul Telfer has been selected from more than 200 candidates to play the title role in the project, which chronicles the life of the Greek hero who, after killing his two sons and two of his brother's sons, performs 12 labors to repent.

Astin will play Linus, Hercules' music teacher. Sobieski will play Hercules' second wife, Deianeira. Harmon will play Hercules' mother, Alcmene, and Dalton will play the hero's stepfather, Amphitryon.

Roger Young is directing the mini, budgeted at more than $20 million, from a script by Charles Pogue.

"Hercules," executive produced by Robert Halmi Sr., is scheduled to begin production Aug. 23 in New Zealand with the premiere eyed for May 2005.

While Telfer has an imposing physique, at 6-foot-2, the project will not follow the Hollywood formula of portraying Hercules as a Schwarzenegger-type muscle man with incredible physical strength.

"His strength comes within," Halmi said. "He grows strong emotionally, mentally and spiritually as he tries to redeem himself." [more]

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 8:43:54 AM

REVIEW: From the Guardian

The Guardian has a review of Paul Cartledge's latest tome on Alexander ... here's the incipit:

The appeal, of course, is infinitely romantic. An amazingly young, amazingly brilliant warrior king conquers the world and, in myth at least, becomes godlike. Mary Renault and Valerio Massimo Manfredi write bestselling novels about him. Leonardo DiCaprio signs up to play him in yet another screen version. His victories are the serious stuff of military history. But the question lingers, sourly insistent among so much sweet adulation: was he Alexander the Great - or Alexander the Rather Appalling?

Professor Cartledge has not set out to write the companion book of the movie. His hunt for the true Alexander comes in essay form, taking the episodes and liaisons that made one great life and using them to pin down a giant shadow. It's a revealing, often enthralling search. You can't travel the globe much without finding the trail of Alexander: from Macedonia to the Hindu Kush, he went where no Greek had ever gone before and, as Cartledge says, created the Hellenised Middle East that essentially thereafter became the Eastern Roman Empire where Christianity first put down roots.

The ironies and complexities proliferate. But the biggest to emerge from Cartledge's analyses seems almost incidental. The governance of this ancient world was not, in any true sense, ancient: indeed, recognition sparks with every comparison. What else was the Macedonian monarchy - first Philip, then his son - but an autocracy, a dictatorship, a military dictatorship? The 'Companionate' (or inner circle) of the army chose him - its commander-in-chief - in secret, the wider army ran his treason trials and could have their 'justice' swayed by his known desires. Think Halliburton plus Guantánamo Bay. And as for Darius III and the Persian Empire, with an honours system to make Buckingham Palace weep and corrupt satrap states supervising the conquests, then parallels abound. This isn't any sort of past. This is politics as usual - so let's judge Alexander by the usual standards.

He was unnaturally ruthless, even psychotic, from the start. He may well have had his father assassinated. He assuredly bumped off a formidable array of erstwhile friends and possible rivals. Brutality marched with him every step of the journey. He could have saved the glory that was Thebes; instead, he burnt it to the ground and slaughtered its inhabitants. There was no mercy on display when he captured fellow Greeks who had fought against him. The Indus was yet another river of blood.

Alexander ruled by fear and intimidation. He may have left a few quasi-democratic satraps behind on his headlong march, but that was realpolitik not conviction. Left to himself he would always put his foes to the sword. Some of his biographers have seen a touch of Napoleon or Hitler in his make-up, but put that the other way round. Add a spoonful of Saddam, a thimbleful of Milosevic, a pinch of George W; let the rancid stew boil merrily. He was an appalling human being. The lust for conquest seemed insatiable. The art of compromise was lost on him. Diplomacy, at best, involved marrying the daughter of some hapless monarch and adding her to his collection. My old chemistry teacher used to lecture us lads about the virtue of having 31 ties, one for every day of the month, so they never wore out. Alexander kept 365 women in his harem but never stood in any danger of wearing any of them out; he preferred boys anyway.

There is, in short, very little to be said for him. Unreasoning ambition drove him on, but he left nothing by way of philosophy behind him. The spread of the Greek way owed nothing to Alexander. He defeated the Athenians and rolled them into his tatty domain. He was a gangster, a hoodlum, a thug: much less creative than his dad. [more]

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 8:31:16 AM

REVIEW (sort of): Greek and Roman Cookery

A round-up of cookbook reviews in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review includes a review of one by Francine Segan entitled The Philosopher's Kitchen: Recipes From Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook:

Among the pleasing insider details revealed in this book are that it was the ancient Egyptians who taught the Greeks how to knead bread with their feet.

We learn that Archestratus, fourth century B.C. bon vivant and early grill maven, declared that steak is best right "off the spit while it is still a bit on the rare side," and Alexander the Great was so convinced of the health benefits of apples that he ate them at every meal. It seems that the ancient Greeks used a disarming phrase, "salt and bean friends," to identify very close pals with whom you were happy to share the most simple food.

Among the recipes that have been updated is Pythagoras' refreshing dish of cucumbers with raisin-coriander vinaigrette; a herbed olive puree from Cato, Roman orator and statesman; and Roman cookbook writer Apicius' veal chops with quince and leeks.

Coincidentally, I just came across a bibliography for Archestratus, although I've never seen a copy of his work. There's also an interesting essay on the web by John Wilkins and Shaun Hill (apparently a student effort, but worth reading).

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 8:28:23 AM

CHATTER: Darius' Horse

We've dealt (with skepticism) with the breed of Alexander's horse in this blog before ... now the Guardian gives us a hint about what might have been pulling Darius' chariot as he bravely turned his tail and fled from Al:

A horse thought to be extinct for 1,000 years is alive and well and living in Rutland.

Celebrated in the ancient world as a chariot horse for racing and in battle, and presented to kings and emperors as a valuable gift, the caspian horse was thought to have disappeared in antiquity.

Drawings of the distinctive horse can be seen on 3,000-year-old terracotta plaques in the British Museum and on the seal of King Darius the Great from Persepolis in ancient Persia. They were probably used to pull chariots in the battle against Alexander the Great.

In 1965, a small but beautiful horse was discovered in a remote village in Iran on the shores of the Caspian Sea, being used to pull carts. Louise Firouz, an American who was married to one of the Shah of Iran's sons, bought it for her children to ride.

She realised the horse belonged to a unique breed with great qualities of speed and temperament. There were still five pure-bred animals in the village and she managed to buy three. Later other horses were found, including some wild ones in the mountains.

Nearly 40 years later, with the help of the latest DNA technology, enough pure-bred horses of different strains have been found to ensure genetic diversity and the survival of the species. [more]

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 8:13:18 AM

CHATTER: Latin Alive and Well

A Reuters piece on the rising popularity of Latin in Rome (dated July 21, so it might expire soon):

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 '60s 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. [more]

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 7:51:53 AM


Judith Lieu, Image and Reality: The Jews in the World of the Christians in the Second Century (.pdf) Wednesday, August 04, 2004 6:41:53 AM

come on ... post! Wednesday, August 04, 2004 6:34:00 AM


We're baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack ... as it turned out (obviously) the only email access I had was at public libraries and 'Capsites' (a Canadian government initiative to ensure that all communities have some way to access the internet ... great idea!) but I had no way to use my laptop except in residence at the University of Ottawa the day before yesterday. [note in passing ... if  you're ever travelling through eastern Canada, staying in residence at various Universities has its ups and downs ... University of Ottawa is definitely worth checking into; Laval University is definitely worth avoiding (yikes ... the rooms are exactly the same as they were when I did a French immersion there almost twenty years ago). Mount Allison in Sackville, New Brunswick is also nice, but there's not a heck of a lot to do there ...].

In any event, I'm wading through 3000+ emails and will be updating rogueclassicism over the next few days as I attempt to recover from my 'vacation', so expect a 'flood' of sorts ...

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 6:22:21 AM

1. n. an abnormal state or condition resulting from the forced migration from a lengthy Classical education into a profoundly unClassical world; 2. n. a blog about Ancient Greece and Rome compiled by one so afflicted (v. "rogueclassicist"); 3. n. a Classics blog.

Valid HTML 4.01!

Valid CSS!

Site Meter

Click to see the XML version of this web page.