Latest update: 10/1/2004; 5:10:19 AM
quidquid bene dictum est ab ullo, meum est ~ Seneca
~ This Day in Ancient History

ante diem kalendas septembres

Wednesday, September 01, 2004 7:07:28 AM

~ Coin Hoard from the Dead Sea

Ha'aretz makes its way into rogueclassicism with a report on a huge coin hoard found in the Dead Sea with coins dating to the Second Temple Period:

For some years now rumors have been circulating among antiquities afficionados in Israel about a huge coin hoard discovered along the Dead Sea shore. According to Donald Zvi Ariel, head of the coin division at the Israel Antiquities Authority, an acquaintance from Haifa University approached him 15 years ago with an envelope containing 190 ancient coins. The contact recounted visiting the Dead Sea, at a spot somewhere south of Ein Feshkha, sticking his hand down into shallow water and bringing up a handful of coins from the bottom. Since the area where the coins were found is in the West Bank, Ariel refrained from examining them carefully and sent the envelope to the office of archaeological affairs at military government headquarters.
Military officials in charge of archaeological finds looked into the matter, and the story also spread among antiquities thieves, assorted treasure seekers, and the antiquities dealers of East Jerusalem. Word of the discovery of a remarkably large coin hoard even appeared in several scholarly papers, but the affair was not widely publicized. An article by Ariel about the hoard will appear in coming months in a periodical published by the Israel Exploration Society.

Finding ancient coin hoards is something collectors and archaeologists know all about. It's hard to find the hoards because whoever hid them back in the day made sure to bury them and camouflage them well. One of the known coin hoards discovered in Israel is the one found at Mamshit (Kurnub) east of Dimona. There were close to 9,000 silver coins there, worth a bundle. A large hoard of silver Tyrian shekels was discovered 40 years ago in Isfiya on Mount Carmel and most of it wound up in private collections. A long list of other coin hoards come up in stories of antiquities dealers and collectors from Israel and around the world.

Unprecedented numbers

The coin hoard from the Dead Sea didn't inspire great excitement because the bronze coins were very simple; there are plenty like them in Israel and their value is low. For comparison's sake, the market value of ancient silver coins dating from the Second Temple period can reach into the hundreds and thousands of dollars each. Tiny silver coins of the "yahad" type go for thousands of dollars on the antiquities market (the inscription yahad appears on today's shekel in a form copied from the ancient coin). Silver shekels dating from the Great Revolt era and coins minted during the Bar Kochba Revolt also fetch hundreds and thousands of dollars. There have been rare coins sold for tens of thousands of dollars at auctions, and a few coins went for as much as $100,000-200,000.

Archaeologist and antiquities dealer Lenny Wolf of Jerusalem says that until just a few years ago, coins of the sort found at the Dead Sea were valued at between $10-20, depending on the mint condition and the coin's state of preservation (their value dropped to as low as $5 per coin in the past few years because the market was flooded; it has lately rebounded). A few years ago, Wolf also heard about the big hoard found at the Dead Sea. An Arab merchant told him he had purchased many coins from that hoard, and after lengthy negotiations Wolf took tens of thousands of coins off his hands.

What's special about the Dead Sea hoard is the sheer number of coins. Wolf estimates, and several scholars concur, that there are 300,000 coins. That is an unprecedented number by Israeli and perhaps worldwide standards. Another interesting aspect of this hoard is that all of the coins, with a few exceptions, are from a single series: Pruta coins minted in the reign of the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (Yannai), who ruled from 104-76 BCE. [more]

Wednesday, September 01, 2004 6:41:14 AM

~ Alexander the Great Flick -- the Producer

The New York Times gets in on the Alexander flick hype (which is due to become very heavy, I suspect) with an interesting piece on Thomas Schuhly, who produced the thing:

In the fall of 1987 Thomas Schühly found himself in producer's hell, otherwise known as the set of "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen." He was fighting with his director, Terry Gilliam, whose surreal tale of an 18th-century German fabulist had fallen behind schedule, run wildly over budget and was about to be shut down by its Hollywood paymasters.

While Mr. Schühly fought to keep the bondsmen at bay, he quietly tinkered on a proposal for an even bolder project that, given his circumstances, seemed about as rooted in reality as the mad German baron.
Now Mr. Schühly is eagerly awaiting the release of that film, "Alexander," a $150 million historical epic about the Macedonian warrior who conquered nine-tenths of the known world by the age of 25.

Oliver Stone wrote and directed the movie, which stars Colin Farrell as Alexander and is scheduled to open on Nov. 5. Like other Hollywood projects of obscure provenance that are later picked up by a marquee filmmaker, "Alexander" will be known, first and foremost, as Mr. Stone's film.

But it is in many ways Mr. Schühly's baby: a grand dream born in the dark days of "Baron Munchausen" and nurtured over nearly two decades by a proud German producer who was desperate to resuscitate his career.

"I was trying to survive; I was trying to give myself a future," Mr. Schühly, 53, said in a cafe in Munich, not far from where he lives. "A lot of people said I was finished in the industry."

A self-described "crazy German," he spent $500,000 to design costumes, armor and sets for "Alexander" in the early-1990's, before there was even a script. In its sheer audacity, the story of his quest bears an echo of Alexander, who led his armies from the Balkans to the Himalayas in a matchless feat of conquest before he died in 323 B.C., all of 32 years old.

Mr. Schühly, working with Mr. Stone and another German producer, Moritz Borman, is managing to bring his "Alexander" to the screen before competing Alexander projects from an army of screen conquerors: Steven Spielberg, Dino De Laurentiis, Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann.

"He's the godfather of the project," Mr. Stone said in a telephone interview from Paris, where he was working feverishly to finish editing. "Thomas is a unique producer. There's nobody quite like him."

To be sure, Mr. Stone said, he had long thought about making "Alexander," even as a film student at New York University. Mr. Stone wrote the screenplay for a more cartoonlike conqueror in "Conan the Barbarian" (1982), with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In "The Doors" (1991) he infused a dash of Alexander into Jim Morrison, a rock star with visions of grandeur.

Still, he said, it was Mr. Schühly who turned his musings about Alexander into a concrete project. In 1989 he sent Mr. Stone a 170-page pitch, known as a producer's specification, for a biography of Alexander. The only other director Mr. Schühly considered, he said, was Francis Ford Coppola.

Mr. Stone was enthusiastic, but there was no market then for "swords and sandals" films. That changed in 2000 with the box-office success of Ridley Scott's Roman epic, "Gladiator."

Mr. Borman, whose independent, German-owned company, Intermedia, had made "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," was able to line up $150 million-plus in financing in Germany, France and Italy as well as the United States, where Warner Brothers is the distributor.

"I wanted to insulate Oliver from a pure studio picture because I knew this would be an incredibly difficult journey we would take," Mr. Borman said in an interview from his office in Los Angeles. He admired Mr. Schühly's tenacity and made a deal with him. They knew each other from German film circles but had never worked together.

The "Baron Munchausen" debacle had hurt Mr. Schühly, but he bounced back in 1995 to produce "Der Totmacher" ("The Deathmaker"), a well-regarded German film, and was the executive producer of "The Triumph of Love," a period romantic comedy with Mira Sorvino that was released in 2001.

With "Alexander" suddenly bankable, Mr. Schühly began a lively correspondence with Mr. Stone about how to turn a thinly documented historical figure into a character who could carry the weight of a big-budget motion picture. He gave Mr. Stone what amounted to a classics tutorial, referring him to ancient Greek scribes like Plutarch and modern writers like Gore Vidal.

"He was a wonderful teacher," Mr. Stone said. "I was a very willing student and learned a lot from him. For me it was a dose of fresh air, because it was an exposure to classical German education."

Mr. Schühly, a Jesuit-educated lawyer from southern Germany whose father was an industrialist, learned his trade as a producer for Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the groundbreaking German director who died in 1982. He made his reputation outside Germany with "The Name of the Rose," an adaptation of the medieval best seller by Umberto Eco, starring Sean Connery.

Mr. Schühly tried to get Mr. Connery cast in "Baron Munchausen" and pushed his name again for the role of Alexander's father, King Philip, which ended up being played by Val Kilmer. He is the first to admit he has passionate views about people, not least Alexander the Great.

"Oliver once asked me: what is greatness?" he said, contemplating his umpteenth cigarette. "It's not just conquering the world. Genghis Khan conquered the world. Hitler conquered the world." [more]

Wednesday, September 01, 2004 6:36:42 AM

~ Hot Dog! Another Anachronism

A piece at the Major League Baseball site all about consumption of hot dogs this year does the thing which seems to be becoming ever-increasingly-common -- trying to tie whatever it is you are writing about to the ancient world. And, alas, they fall into the ever-increasingly-common trap of being chronologically challenged:

But there is also no question that the hot dog goes much farther back than 100 years. In 850 B.C., the precursor to the modern Dodger Dog and Fenway Frank was mentioned in no less than Homer's Odyssey. Homer may not have been the catalyst for the four-base hit, but he did write, "As when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted... "

Constantine the Great (274-337), the first Christian emperor of Rome, is remembered by historians to have banned sausage consumption. The prohibition remained in force through many emperors' reigns, but Julius Caesar ended it when he celebrated and popularized the consolidation of meat trimmings into a fantastical feast.

Heck, if I came back from the dead, I think I'd celebrate too ...

Wednesday, September 01, 2004 6:30:33 AM

~ Vatican Latin Dictionary in the News

Once again the Vatican Dictionary of neoLatin terms is in the news, this time in the Sydney Morning Herald with some interesting comments from amicus noster DH:

Not to be shackled while the world goes to hell in a handcart, the Vatican is making up new words to hold the line against sin.

As the only body in the world still using Latin, the Vatican has helpfully produced a new lexicon of modern words.

It may help resolve the problem of how to threaten damnation if you dare not speak vice's name.

Words appearing for the first time include hotpants (brevissimae bracae femineae), nightclub (taberna nocturna) and cigarette (fistula nicotiana). Like iuvenis voluptarius (the new Latin playboy), they're unlikely to feature favourably in the next papal encyclical.

Cletus Pavanetto, the president of the Latinitas Foundation, which compiled the dictionary, said: "There are lots of words that classical Latin could not possibly know the meaning of, like 'drugs' or words relating to current affairs.

"We devise new words by going back to their origins and etymology, so that people who use Latin can write about the modern world.

 "It is for theologians who wish to make their writing more relevant to modern issues, but it is also for any Latin enthusiast who wishes to make himself better understood."

A Sydney Latin scholar, Dexter Hoyos, was unimpressed with the Vatican's work.

Rather than slang, which true Latins loved, he termed its words "fairly literal explanations".

Rather than call hotpants "very short trousers", as the Vatican has done, Mr Hoyos, an associate professor at the University of Sydney, recommends combining the word for hot, calidae, with bracae, the trousers, to make calibracae.

"It's easy to pronounce and quite, if I may modestly say so, unique," he said. "I doubt a single Vatican philologist would come up with that one, though."

The church's effort may prove Latin still has a weak pulse but the scholars, at least, are feisty.

"Personally, I consider it a bit of a gimmick," one complained. "But please don't say that, because among my colleagues it could result in a quick lynching."

A Latin student at North Sydney Boys' High, Kevin Wu, was worried that the Vatican - which uses medieval Latin - might pollute the classical version.

"The risk is, classical Latin will be forgotten rather than living in the hearts of academics and being upheld as the pinnacle of literacy as it is now," he said. "It will be degraded."

Er ... does anyone still wear 'hot pants'? I haven't seen them since I was in, well, grade four (i.e. back during the first Canada-Russia hockey series).

Wednesday, September 01, 2004 6:22:58 AM

~ BMCR Reviews

W. Deming, Paul on Marriage and Celibacy. The Hellenistic Background of 1 Corinthians 7.

Richard Ned Lebow, The Tragic Vision of Politics. Ethics, Interests and Orders.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004 6:04:51 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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