~ Updates in progress
I think that's it for tonight ... it seems reasonable at this point and I'll deal with white space and the bottom stuff tomorrow. I'll also explain the raison d'etre for the changes and why it was all done 'live' .
Saturday, August 14, 2004 3:27:28 PM
~ Classical Ideal
The Australian concludes one of its Olympics pieces by questioning the perception of the 'Classical Ideal'
Saturday, August 14, 2004 7:32:54 AM
Our relationship with the Greek world is based in part on a process of rediscovery that reached fever pitch during the European Enlightenment. This gave rise to a form of classicism that is highly seductive and narrowly selective: a Hellenic ideal. The classical image of which 19th-century people such as de Coubertin were so fond had its three-dimensional expression in the antiquities then being unearthed and transported back to Paris, Berlin, Rome and London; in the archeological work at sites such as Athens, Pergamum, Delphi, Troy and Olympia. Little or no painted representations survived from the classical Greek world, though some did from the Hellenistic and Roman periods. As a result the fluted Ionic columns and temple friezes -- bone white, ageless and pure -- seemed like a dream of perfection. Here was a culture whose ordure never stank. So when de Coubertin dreamed of a competition that would "adhere to an ideal of a higher life", he was invoking the romantic ideal of ancient Greece then very much in vogue.
The classical ideal, however, was based on a fiction as mythical as anything in Homer. The sun-bleached Attic temples and statues had originally been a rich polychrome. By the canons of classical taste, they were gaudy. The stench of blood would have wafted down from the great religious sanctuaries -- at Delphi, spiritual heart of the Greek world, each suppliant was required to sacrifice a goat. In the supposedly peaceful matriarchal society on Santorini, an offshoot of the celebrated Minoan civilisation excavated by Arthur Evans, archeologists have recently unearthed evidence of primitive human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism. The Olympic Games were never free from professionalism, trickery or violence. In the classical world all is not how it seems from an hour in a museum or a stroll, real or virtual, through the Parthenon; or two weeks in front of the telly watching the Athens Olympics.
~ Ancient Olympics' Ultimate Purpose?
The New Zealand Herald relates a theory about the ancient Olympics that I've never seen or heard of before:
Research suggests that by the 6th or 5th century BC, the Games - held under the divine patronage of Zeus, king of the gods - became a medium for obtaining divine guidance as to who should be granted membership of various ancient Greek elite military units.
"The Games may well have originated as a method of making decisions relating to key military personnel," said Dr Stephen Instone, an authority on the ancient Olympics at the Department of Greek and Latin at University College, London.
In the ancient world, the Olympics wasn't simply a sporting event. It was a major aspect of an important religious festival dedicated to Zeus.
Victory by an athlete in a sporting contest would have been regarded as divinely ordained.
In the 6th/5th century BC - some 200 years after the Games had come into existence - many Greek states began to set up elite units of warriors whose role seemed to be to act as bodyguards for rulers regarded as being appointed or sanctioned by Zeus.
Indeed Elis, the Greek mini-country where the Olympics were held at Olympia, was one of the states with such a unit.
The 2nd-century AD Greek historian Plutarch says that Elis' neighbouring state, Sparta, used Spartan athletes' victories for selecting the Spartan king's 300-strong bodyguards.
Vital evidence from another Greek mini-state, Thebes, suggests these units were regarded as sacred brotherhoods.
Ancient texts reveal that the members of these elite units were expected to practise homosexuality. These brotherhoods were, in ancient Greek terms, the absolute last word in elite masculinity.
There is one more piece of circumstantial evidence which suggests that the Olympics was used as a sacred selection mechanism for these elite units.
Unlike many other aspects of Greek religious festivals, all sexually experienced women were banned from seeing the athletic contests. This information comes from the 2nd-century AD Greek travel writer, Pausanius, who said that, in ancient times, women were forbidden to watch - except for virgins. The sportsmen had to compete naked. [more]
... which kind of puts a different spin on Nero's appearance at the games (or maybe it doesn't).
Saturday, August 14, 2004 7:26:01 AM
~ Classics and the Wooden Spoon
I confess I've never heard of this 'tradition', mentioned in a 'question and answer' column in the Sydney Morning Herald:
From where did the tradition arise to give the last-placed team in a competition the "wooden spoon"?
From Cambridge University in the early 1800s. The results of the final classics exam, which every classics student took, were posted on a board at the end of term. It was decided that a special name should be given to the person who was unfortunate to come last on the list. But what name? History has it that one year the last name on the list was a classicist called Wedgwood. It was agreed that the person coming last from then on would be be called the "wooden wedge". Not long after this, Cambridge University instituted final exams for mathematics students and, presumably not to be outdone by the classicists the maths scholars decided to call the last on their list the wooden spoon. With much pomp and ceremony, the poor student who came last was presented with an old wooden spoon.
... I guess the fact that my mother's discipline method of choice involved a wooden spoon predestined me to become a Classicist?
Saturday, August 14, 2004 7:18:24 AM
Bring Back Chariot Racing!
I think we simply have to acknowledge that Tom Reed, writing in the Akron Beacon Journal, is surely right in his call for a return of chariot racing to the Olympics:
But in an attempt to meld modern Greece with antiquity it forgot one essential element. It's a sport that paid tribute to the gods. One that entertained emperors and peasants alike. One shamelessly excluded from every Olympics since their rebirth in 1896.
We're talking, of course, about chariot racing.
You can keep your rhythmic gymnastics, your beach volleyball, your synchronized commercialism. Just give me four horses pulling gallant men in wooden carts.
That's old school, baby, the true chariots of fire. Action, danger, scandal, a sport for the masses.
Who can forget the Games of A.D. 67?
Emperor Nero entered a chariot with 10 horses, the rest of the field getting the standard four, and he still lost. An upset for the stone ages, right?
In predictable Olympic fashion the judges (you can bet they were French) awarded Nero the wreath of wild olives. The disgraced emperor left the hippodrome without talking to Jim Gray.
Though chariot racing has not been a part of the Games since A.D. 399, its popularity remains preserved at the museum of ancient Olympics in Olympia. Chariot racing artifacts and drawings appear to outnumber other sports.
You didn't see Charlton Heston doing the triple jump in Ben Hur. You didn't see Russell Crowe running the 100 meters in Gladiator.
Hollywood knows what's hip.
So did the celebrities of classic Greece. Plato and Aristotle were regulars at the hippodrome.
Chariot racing inspired remarkable passions. Competitors were not above doping opposing horses. Rabid fans were known to apply hexes to rival charioteers.
Consider the following curse placed on a team of Roman riders:
''Bind every limb, every sinew, the shoulders, the ankles, the elbows of the charioteers of the Red. Torment their minds, their intelligence, their senses so they know not what they are doing. Knock out their eyes so they may not see where they are going.''
You think they're talking that kind of smack over at Equestrian venue?
Those fancy prancers wouldn't last three laps in the Circus Maximus, the Churchill Downs of chariot racing.[more]
Even though the column is written tongue-in-cheek, I have long thought that chariot racing should return to the Olympics ... I'm sure everyone can name at least one Olympic sport they wouldn't mind replacing ...
Saturday, August 14, 2004 7:07:14 AM
The Tenth Muse
Always on the lookout for Classically-inspired comic books (which never seem to make it to my local comic store, alas), I came across a (p)review of something called the Tenth Muse. Here's a bit from the middle:
Saturday, August 14, 2004 7:01:01 AM
The first-act set-up of simply stopping a minor misdemeanour between a couple of black-market operators is swiftly followed up by some wonderfully enjoyable superheroics. Angel Gate’s books have carved out a quite brilliant little niche in the comic book marketplace by taking inspiration from some of the greatest stories the world has ever seen – Greek mythology – and adding a lick of nostalgic four-colour superhero paint to them. The finished product doesn’t try to break any boundaries or marginalise its costume action for the deconstruction of its heroes, as is becoming the norm throughout several of the big-name superhero titles nowadays, and instead revels in both the unique premise afforded to its readers by the mythology aspect, and the all-ages fun that comes from indulging in some Silver Age style storytelling. Put it this way – it can surely be no accident that Judo Girl comes straight from the ‘60s!
As for the rest of the trio, their roots are entrenched in the Greek mythology aspect. Isis’ origins are due to shortly be explored more fully by writer Ryan Scott Ottney in a couple of upcoming books, while the main character, 10th Muse, is the secret tenth daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Each of their children is a Muse charged with protecting a specific art or science. Emma is the Muse of Justice, yet her birthright also leaves her vulnerable to those who know how to exploit it through weaknesses such as the Book of Light. This ties into the resurrection of a classic character from Greek mythology in this issue, and one who is none too pleased to learn of the Muse’s continued existence...