Latest update: 9/1/2004; 6:23:46 AM
quidquid bene dictum est ab ullo, meum est ~ Seneca
~ This Day in Ancient History

ante diem xvi kalendas septembres

  • Portunalia -- a festival in honour of Portunus, the divinity who presided over harbours
  • rites in honour of Janus at the Theatre of Marcellus
  • c. 250 A.D. -- martyrdom of Myron at Cyzicus
  • 275 A.D. -- martyrdom of Mamas in Cappadocia


Tuesday, August 17, 2004 8:29:26 AM

~ ClassCon in the Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail continues to lead Canada's print media with Classical references, this time in a column by Eric Morse pondering whether this might be the beginning of the end for the Olympics. Inter alia:

So far, these Olympics have witnessed seriously declining TV revenue and an 11-per-cent drop in American viewership. Viewers have seen, amid a plethora of sobbing Canadian competitors, a plethora of empty seats at many venues. Athens is saddled with a $10-billion (U.S.) debt, the biggest since it paid off its Peloponnesian War indemnities to Sparta.


Writing shortly after the Roman disaster at Adrianople in 378 AD, the able historian Ammianus recited a similar list of disasters, and summed up by saying that Rome had come back from all of them and, given political will and good fortune, would do so again. Thirty years later, the Visigoths were in Rome. The same could happen to the Olympic Games.

Yet Ammianus wasn't completely wrong. The Roman Empire did not disappear in 410. Half of it was able to adapt and survive and prosper for another thousand years. The new Olympics, one of the few modern secular institutions with Roman pretensions, have recovered from seemingly fatal disaster more than once in their 108-year history.

While searching for Morse's educational background I found something better ... he's participated in some discussions on the board at under the name 'Spurius Rutabaga' (scroll down) ... he's participated in some Villa Vergiliana stuff.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 8:16:04 AM

~ Olympic Punnery

I honestly expected to have rather more examples of this one ... the headline from the Dallas News:

Greeks conquer Troy (and Justin, too)
UT-ex Dumais brothers drop out of second place, lose medal on final dive

... referring, of course, to the Greek victory in the 3m springboard event. We might also note in passing this completely non-Classical content:

As if that wasn't enough, diving was halted briefly early in the fourth round when a prankster clad in a tutu, shoes and knee socks jumped onto one of the boards on the opposite side of the tower and, after amusing the crowd, plopped into the pool.

Alas, I think Troy Dumais is the only name on the US Team which could have presented such a pun. There was an American named Troy Pickford who was on the Greek baseball team, but he appears to have dropped out due to injury. I can't find a list of names of members of the Canadian Olympic team ...

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 8:02:06 AM

~ Shot Put at Olympia

In case you're wondering ... tomorrow is the day when they'll be putting the shot at Olympia. Inter alia from the New York Times:

To recapture a bit of that long-ago flavor, the organizers of this year's Olympics in Athens will stage one sporting event in Olympia. The men's and women's shot-put competition will be held on the old packed-dirt field where the fleet-footed Leonidas of Rhodes wowed audiences in the first century B.C.

The choice of shot put was more about pragmatism than historical accuracy. The sport was not part of the ancient Games and its roots are Celtic, not Mediterranean. It was selected, officials said, as the outdoor sport least likely to damage the protected archaeological site. The field is 631 feet long, while the men's shot-put record is just under 76 feet and the women's record is just over 74 feet.

While the sporting event may not be authentic, the organizers are trying to keep the atmosphere somewhat in the spirit of the Games of antiquity. No bleachers will be provided; spectators are supposed to sit on the grassy slopes around the field. No electrical lines will be put in. There will be no floodlights, no banners and no advertising from sponsors like McDonald's, at least inside the ancient stadium area. [the whole thing]

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 7:48:39 AM

~ Aeolus Defies

Nice to see Aeolus getting some attention in USA Today. Excerpts:

Hold the Olympics here in August? Better make room for an uninvited competitor at the outdoor events: Aeolus, the Greek god of wind.

Olympic rowers, archers, sailors and others learned the hard way Sunday and Monday. Aeolus and his northern posse — Boreas, god of the north wind, and Kaikias, god of the northeast wind — let loose the meltemi. (Related graphic: Why winds hamper rowers)


Meltemi is actually a Turkish word, a commonly used vestige of Turkey's 400-year occupation of Greece. Greek purists prefer to call the winds Etesians. By either name, they are formidable. Last August, they blasted the World Rowing Junior Championships at the same rowing venue. American and British boats were swamped, and the crews actually swam across the finish line, dragging their craft with them.


Could the meltemi be the same winds that waylaid Greece's most famous sailor, Odysseus? Time and myth hold the answer. But in Homer's epic, Aeolus gives Odysseus a leather bag of winds with instructions to keep them bottled up for a safe trip. But his crew lets them out of the bag, sending The Odyssey into more adventures.

No wonder modern Greeks who seek to avoid controversy quote a favorite figure of speech: "Don't open Aeolus' bag."

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 7:37:21 AM

~ It's Always Bean This Way

The Age's food column includes these little tidbits:

The classical world seems to have had more bad food experiences than most. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder bagged the artichoke as "one of life's monstrosities", while Pythagoras so hated fava beans he'd rather have been killed by a pursuing mob rather than flee across a field of them. At least he had the excuse of an allergy.

Aristotle's hatred of fava beans was more reasoned but far less justified. One of the many things he objected to was that they looked like genitals, which poses some interesting questions about ancient Greeks.

While I don't know if we can lend any credence to the food allergy theory, I've always been interested that the ancient Romans had a taboo (there's a word you don't hear much anymore) in regards to their religious functionaries, who had to abstain from beans. Aulus Gellius mentions the taboo specifically in relation to the flamen Dialis (NA 15.2) but Plutarch (in that portion of the Moralia referred to as the Roman Questions) makes the prohibition more general (286 in the Loeb ... I always have problems making references to the Moralia). One of his proposed answers, politely translated, suggests "Or is it rather because one must keep the body clean and light for purposes of holy living and lustration? Now legumes are a flatulent food and provides surplus matter that requires much purgation." More bluntly put, beans are the musical fruit. They potentially interrupt religious rituals and in the Roman world view, if a ritual were interrupted in any way or didn't quite go 'according to the book', it would have to be repeated.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 7:28:50 AM

~ NBC's Olympic Hype

I was wondering how quickly references to ancient history would start to grate on the nerves of assorted journalists ... it appears that the Chicago Tribune is first to start griping (not counting the Opening Ceremonies, of course):

It took only one weekend for NBC to reduce some 2,500 years of Greek culture to a cliche. Aeschylus and pals have withstood everyone from Tyrone Guthrie to Brad Pitt. But by the first Sunday night of the network's Olympic coverage, it already was time for an Olympic moratorium on all references tragic and mythological.

"With the possible exception of Pegasus, the Greeks did not enjoy aerial views," we were told Saturday night, since NBC wanted us to fully appreciate just how lucky we were to be watching the "epic" Olympic road race from, miracle of modern miracles, above. What, no blimp in the Golden Age of Athens?
If that were not enough, we had Bob Costas calling Michael Phelps "a modern sea myth in the making," an oxy-moron on any number of levels, not least of which being that a myth in the making cannot possibly know that it's a myth.

Actually the evocative image of Phelps as sea god immediately was shattered in Saturday night's prime time by an unusually frank and antiheroic little "Meet Michael Phelps" video narrative that revealed Phelps to be not some kind of modern-day Achilles but actually a likable kid who wants to win swimming races so he can then go out and buy things.

His shrewd mother, Diana (Aah! Sounds classical!), we learned, did not approve.


We'll just have to forgive that horrible Saturday night prime-time signoff, when we heard that the early designated villain of the Olympics, Greek sprinter Kostas Kenteris, had skipped out on his drug test and apparently had sustained minor injuries in a deftly timed motorcycle crash.

Kenteris' demise gave Costas the chance to go into faux-classical apoplexy. We heard about hubris, we heard about a king, we heard about a fall from grace. And no, Costas could not resist the obvious. He said it was the stuff of "Greek tragedy."

Nonsense. Kenteris merely was the stuff of timeless melodrama. [the whole thing]

Just a tad Cynical, no?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 7:06:10 AM

~ Preserving Darius' Behistun Inscription

Payvand (which is quickly becoming a major source for Explorator) has a nice feature on the history of the Behistun monument put up by Darius. Excerpts:

Iranian surveyors are giving the finishing touches to the documentation process of Behistun inscription, which is damaged badly over the last decades west of Iran. The Behistun inscription (also Behistun, Bisutun, and Bisistun) is to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs: the document most crucial in the decipherment of a previously lost script.

The inscription is approximately 15 meters high by 25 meters wide, and 100 meters up a cliff from an ancient road connecting the capitals of Babylonia and Media (Babylon and Ecbatana). It is extremely inaccessible as the mountainside was removed to make the inscription more visible after its completion. The text itself is a statement by Darius I of Persia, written three times in three different scripts and languages: two languages side by side, Old Persian and Elamite, and Akkadian above them.

“The documentation process was started in 1999 by a group of Iranian experts, who applied the photogrameteric method. In other words, they took 2 dimensional photos using two cameras and then transmuted them into 3-D pictures,” said Malieh Mehdiabadi, project manager.

The project was scheduled to finish in 2003, but Ms. Mehdiabadi said that lack of funds had postponed the operation, whose ideal time of the year is in spring. “The photogrameteric process, anyways, is coming to an end and we are hopeful it will lead to better preservation of the inscription,” she further added.

King Darius ruled the Persian Empire from 521 to 486 BC. Some time around 515 BC, he arranged for the inscription of a long ode of his accession in the face of the usurper Smerdis of Persia (and Darius' subsequent successful wars and suppressions of rebellion) to be inscribed into a cliff in the Zagros Mountains of Iran, just as one reaches them from the Kermanshah Plain. The inscription was illustrated by a life-sized bas-relief of Darius, two servants, and ten one-meter figures representing conquered peoples; the god Ahura Mazda floats above, giving his blessing to the king. One figure appears to have been added after the others were completed, as was (oddly enough) Darius' beard, which is a separate block of stone attached with iron pins and lead.

The first historical mention of the inscription is by the Greek Ctesias of Cnidus, who noted its existence some time around 400 BC. Also Tacitus mentions it and includes a description of some of the long-lost ancillary monuments at the base of the cliff, where a spring is located. What has been recovered of them is consistent with his description. Diodorus also writes of "Bagistanon" and claims it was inscribed by Queen Semiramis of Babylon.


It is believed that Darius placed the inscription where he did specifically to make it tamper-resistant. Even readability -- the text is completely illegible from ground level -- took second place to this imperative. Unfortunately, the Persian king did not account for the pool at the bottom which first caused to a road to be run through the area; the crack into which the local boy wedged himself is the outlet of a small stream of underground water, non-existent at the time of the inscription and now dry, but perhaps the source of the tale of Fahrad's quest for water. It has caused considerable destruction to some figures. Darius also did not anticipate gunpowder, and his monument suffered some damage due to soldiers taking potshots at it during World War II. [the whole thing]

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 6:58:33 AM

~ Trojan War Symposium @ UWisconsin

The Classics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison announces
a symposium on:

The Trojan War. The Sources Behind the Scenes: Art, Archaeology, Cinema,
Literature, Myth

September 17-18, 2004, on the university campus

Michael J. Anderson, Yale University
William Aylward, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Guy Hedreen, Williams College
Silvia Montiglio, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Barry B. Powell, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Jon Solomon, University of Arizona (keynote)
Hans van Wees, University College London
Susan Woodford, Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, The British Museum

Organized by William Aylward, Assistant Professor of Classics, and Barry
B. Powell, Halls-Bascom Professor of Classics, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Anonymous Fund,
Kemper K. Knapp Bequest and University Lectures Committee

Free and open to the public. No registration required. For details, see
the symposium website: or
contact William Aylward: (608-263-7498)

... from the Romarch list

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 6:50:34 AM

~ Another Google Banner

Google's banner appears to be changing on a daily basis. Today's event is archery; somewhat Diana-like, I suppose. Tuesday, August 17, 2004 6:47:18 AM

~ AWOTV: On TV Today

7.00 p.m. |HISTU| Oracle of Delphi Secrets Revealed
Myth and science meet at Delphi, where the ancient Greeks said the
oracle (always a woman), in a trance and often a frenzy, spoke on
behalf of the gods. Scholarship rejected the claim that vapors rising
from the temple's floor inspired the oracle. But now, a wealth of
evidence compiled by a geologist, archaeologist, chemist, and
toxicologist suggests the ancients were right, and the discovery of
two faults intersecting below the temple indicate the geology could
have released intoxicating fumes.

8.00 p.m. |HISTC| Great Fire of Rome
In the early hours of July 19, 64 A.D, fire broke out in Rome. More
than one million people ran for their lives as flames devoured their
homes. The fire raged for more than a week. For centuries, questions
surrounding the fire have remained unanswered. What – or who –
started this raging inferno? This program takes viewers back to
ancient times in search of definitive explanations. Analyzing burnt
remnants of the fire excavated by Italian archaeologist Clementina
Panella, recreating the fire’s path and impact on Rome’s buildings
and streets, and assessing the validity and accuracy of Roman
documents, this episode tries to identify the real cause of ancient
history’s most infamous fire.

Channel Guide

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 6:45:44 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.

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