Latest update: 12/2/2004; 4:50:56 AM
quidquid bene dictum est ab ullo, meum est ~ Seneca
~ The Origin of Painting

The Guardian begins an artsy column with a tale from Pliny the Elder:

Art begins with resistance to loss; or so the ancients supposed. In a chapter on sculpture in his Natural History, Pliny the Elder relates the legend of the Corinthian maid Dibutade who, when faced with the departure of her beloved, sat him down in candlelight and traced his profile from the shadow cast against the wall. Her father, the potter Boutades, pressed clay on the outline to make a portrait relief, thereby inaugurating the genre (and wrecking, one imagines, the delicate shadow-play of his daughter's love-souvenir). [the whole thing]

There's an interesting picture of the first part of this story at the Getty:

There's a great article on this 'genre of the image' in an interesting article in the Art Bulletin by Frances Muecke (alas, no images in the version) ... here's a bit just past the introduction:

 The new frontispiece presents, within an oval frame, an image of the origin of drawing (or painting) in the legend of the Corinthian Maid first found in the elder Pliny's Natural History at 35.151. Beneath the frame, at either end of a plinth, rest the emblems of painting and sculpture respectively, while inscribed on the plinth is the Latin title of Dufresnoy's poem on the art of painting. According to the legend, drawing was discovered by the daughter of a Corinthian potter. About to be separated from her lover, she discovered that she could preserve his likeness by tracing the outline of his shadow cast on the wall. The potter's daughter came to be known variously as the Corinthian Maid or Dibutades, her name being confused with that of her father.

The date of the image in the 1716 frontispiece is significant, for the subject of the invention of painting by the Corinthian Maid did not became popular in painting until the later eighteenth century. John Mortimer's Origin of Drawing (ca. 1771), Alexander Runciman's Origin of Painting (1773),(4) David Allan's Invention of Painting (1775), and Joseph Wright's Corinthian Maid (ca. 1782-85) are well-known examples, all produced in a short space of time. In contrast, in the early eighteenth century, artistic representations of the subject matter in any medium were uncommon. The early dating, together with the ubiquity of the edition of De arte graphica that contained the new frontispiece, means that Gribelin's 1716 engraving played an important role in disseminating the legend and its iconography in England.(5)

Here's the tale as told by Pliny hisself (35.151 via Lacus Curtius):

Fingere ex argilla similitudines Butades Sicyonius figulus primus invenit Corinthi filiae opera, quae capta amore iuventis, abeunte illo peregre, umbram ex facie eius ad lucernam in pariete lineis circumscripsit, quibus pater eius inpressa argilla typum fecit et cum ceteris fictilibus induratum igni proposuit, eumque servatum in Nymphaeo, donec Mummius Corinthum everterit, tradunt.

::Saturday, November 06, 2004 8:04:04 AM::

~ Alexander Hype

Nice bit of Alexander-the-movie hype from the Orlando Sentinel, replete with comments from ancient historians we will likely be hearing plenty from in the next few weeks:

 The face of this fall is Greek -- Macedonian, to be exact.

He's young, handsome, maybe even gay. And 2,300 years old.

Blond or brunet, gay or straight, Homeric hero or paranoid genocidal conqueror, Alexander the Great turns up everywhere this month, in bookstores, in games, on video and on cable, where The History Channel and The Discovery Channel will present documentaries.

And on Nov. 24, Oliver Stone's Alexander comes to a cineplex near you.

Alexander was a historic colossus "who aimed for the heights, and reached them, conquering much of the world and spreading the reach of Western civilization," says Robin Lane Fox, historic consultant on Stone's film.

"He was an ambitious leader who met his end in the deserts of Persia," says Paul Cartledge, author of the new biography Alexander the Great: A New Life. "People can't help but see parallels to modern times."

And, let's face it, says Jim Lindsay, writer-producer-director of The History Channel's Alexander the Great, which premieres Sunday: "How many people in history go down with just 'The Great' as their last name?"

Tutored by Aristotle

A king at 20, emperor at 25, with his dominions stretching from Sicily to India, Afghanistan to Egypt, he led an army that was often outnumbered but never defeated.

"In 32 brief years, he set the stage for the modern world, creating the connections that led to the Roman Empire and the later spread of Christianity," says Cartledge.

"A figure truly unequaled in history," declares Fox, who has spent much of his career writing about Alexander. His definitive 1973 biography, Alexander the Great, is now back in bookstores.

But of course Alexander was raised to be "great." He was the product of extraordinary circumstances, says William Murray, professor of history at Tampa's University of South Florida, and one of the experts decoding Alexander's life for The History Channel.

"His father was King Philip of Macedonia, this great warrior who taught him how to wage war," Murray says. "His mother was Olympias, who gave him ambition and this sense that he was chosen by the gods to rule."

And the future emperor had one of the most famous teachers in history.

"You can't overstate the fact that Aristotle was Alexander's teacher," says Cartledge. Philip brought the great thinker in to teach his boy. And the result "was an adult who never ceased being curious about the world, about what was just over that next hill," says Murray.

Lindsay sees Alexander "as the classic product of a liberal arts education, maybe the first liberal arts education. And what did he learn? How to solve problems, to think outside of the box, to improvise."

That served Alexander in good stead in his invasion of the Persian Empire, the siege of Tyre and in combat against creatures he and his army had never seen -- elephants at the Battle of the River Hydaspes.

But more important, says Fox, Alexander's curiosity pushed him to spread Hellenism and to bring knowledge of the wider, unknown world back to the Greek city-states. Alexander wanted "to see the edge of the world," Fox says. He sent back specimens of the animal and plant life he encountered during his thousands of miles of marches. What's more, he seemed to respect and learn from the peoples he conquered, basically leaving existing government and religion and administration intact after crushing the Persians.

"I will believe, to the end of my days, that there is no way that somebody tutored by Aristotle, with a sharp brain and a clear, politically astute mind . . . with the intelligence to win these vast battles, did not have a vision," Fox says. "Did he do what he did because he was like some war-drunk veteran who loved to be drenched in blood? I don't believe it."

A complex man

That view of Alexander -- as "an ancient Greek version of Stalin," as Cartledge puts it -- murdering those in his ranks whom he suspected of conspiring against him, killing as many as 750,000 enemy soldiers and civilians, has been a major bone of contention among modern historians.

Many have taken the view that the conquest was of little consequence, a bloody aberration carried out by a megalomaniac. Fox -- the man who got to sign off on the Hollywood notion that yes, it was possible that Alexander had blondish hair -- has spent much of his career since his biography fighting that perception, "this grinding down of Alexander" by his fellow historians.

"You can say that his whole life was this regrettable, bloodstained event," Fox says. "Or you can see him as I think he saw himself, as the reincarnation of Achilles, the great warrior avenging the Greeks upon the Persians. As a historian, you have to take both views."

Cartledge, who leans more toward the megalomaniac interpretation, agrees.

"You can think, 'He must have had this insatiable blood lust,' " Cartledge says. "On the other hand, can you accept that conquest is what he's about? You can't reduce someone as complex as Alexander to a simple character in black and white."

"Complex" doesn't begin to cover Alexander. There's the matter of his sexuality. Alexander's actions, and oblique historic references, tend to suggest that Alexander's attachment to his lifelong friend and companion Hephaestion was both fraternal and sexual.

Then there was the Persian eunuch to whom Alexander took a shine after crushing the Persian Empire. Alexander has been "out" to historians for decades now.

"The thing you have to remember about Alexander is, sex wasn't what drove him," says Murray, something most historians seem to agree on.

"He was not abnormal at all in his bisexuality," says Fox. "He had concubines, wives. He produced children.

"What he is not is a one-way gay man, standing for gay triumphs as a counterculture against the heterosexual world."

Cartledge seconds that.

"If you're gay, you might want to claim a really powerful figure from history as one of your own," Cartledge says. "But the fact is that he slept with males as well as females. It was treated as a phase young men went through."

Historian gets his chance

To a one, today's historians are eagerly awaiting the Stone film. Colin Farrell plays the blond Alexander. Jared Leto (My So-Called Life) is Hephaestion. Christopher Plummer plays Aristotle, Angelina Jolie is Olympias and Val Kilmer is King Philip in the film. Anthony Hopkins is the aged Ptolemy, Alexander's friend and trusted general who wrote the first "definitive" history of the conqueror.

Though Lindsay notes how important it is, when you do a film for The History Channel, "that you get it right," he looks forward to seeing Stone's treatment: Did Alexander have his father killed? Did he come to believe himself a living god? What caused his death?

Murray has tried to get his students at USF to make and march with "sarissas," the 18-foot-long pikes that Alexander's infantry carried. He's eager to see "just what 40,000 Greeks and 150,000 Persians look like."

Cartledge sees many connections between Alexander's fate in the Middle East and the fate of American and British occupiers of Iraq and Afghanistan. He's curious about what the notoriously political Stone will have to say about that. Alexander "tried to emulate some of the practices of the peoples he conquered, to make himself acceptable to those peoples," something Cartledge says today's political leaders could learn from.

Fox says there isn't much of that in the movie. What there is, he says, is action.

And before he would agree to consult on the $150 million epic, the British historian presented the American filmmaker with one condition.

"Any battle scene, with cavalry in it, I'm in it," Fox told the director. What historian worth his or her degrees, he asks, wouldn't want to know what it was like to be on horseback with no stirrups (they hadn't been invented yet) and charge with Alexander's cavalry?

"I was there, at the Battle of Gaugamela, 400 cavalrymen coming after me, and they couldn't catch me," chuckles Fox, a veteran horseman still giddy at how carried away he was on that day. "I had to be disarmed before I hurt somebody."

Just in passing, we might note that the opening line of this one clicked the 'conspiracy switch' in my skull (a switch I try very hard to suppress, but which every now and then sneaks into the 'on' position). So anyway, the incipient conspiracy goes like this ... Oliver Stone calls in a favour lingering from his movie about JFK so the U.S. would formally recognize "Macedonia", raising the ire of the Greeks who, of course, will be very vociferous in their protests and repeatedly mention Macedonia and Alexander the Great, hot on the heels of an election which nobody in the Hollywood community (save for Arnie) understands so that when it comes Oscar time, voting for Alexander the Great will become a political protest as much as a judgement of a film. Whew! (now you can see why I suppress this thing)

::Saturday, November 06, 2004 7:38:26 AM::

~ Classical Allusions and Arafat

Arab News has a piece about the impending death of Yasser Arafat, interspersed with Classical (and other-cultural) allusions. Snippets:

No one knows when the dreaded “Big D” word would be pronounced for Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who has been fighting for his life at a French military hospital since last week. But the use of politically correct terms, such as “irreversible coma”, “clinically incapacitated”, and “under life support” by his doctors and aides, is paving the way for the moment when the “Big D” is given its inescapable due.

Arafat is not the only political leader to take a long time to take his leave.

Emperor Augustus, having reigned for 70 years, claimed a full year in which to die. Queen Victoria kept her subjects, in all five continents, biting their nails for four months before crossing the Styx. More recently, Josef Stalin, alias “The Red Czar”, kept everyone guessing in his vast empire for 11 weeks before his minion, a certain Gregori Malenkov, could give the signal for the proletarians of the world to unite in weeping.


The great Persian poet Nasser Khosrow asserted that man’s fear of death is cured only by faith. The equally great Latin poet Lucretius, however, would not agree. He insisted that since we know nothing about death we had better ignore it altogether. Epicurus, the father of hedonism, advised the mastering of the gentle art of dying.


One thing is certain: Death is, perhaps, the only event of existence that cannot be kept secret forever. Crafty ladies may keep news of embarrassing births hidden. And unscrupulous gentlemen can keep their marriage a secret. Death, however, announces its every pick-up with Charon’s dog barking, according to Hesiod, or, in our age of the media, with television cameras pointed at a French military hospital. [the whole thing]

Folks monitoring the Arafat situation might also want to check out a piece in Dissident Voice, which has a piece opening with this snippet:

 Aeolus was keeper of the winds. He gave a bag of evil winds to Odysseus, instructing him to keep it closed while a good breeze wafted him home. Within sight of his lovely Ithaca, the great voyager fell asleep. Thinking that there might be treasure in the bag, his men opened it and let loose a hurricane. (Odyssey, Book X ).

::Saturday, November 06, 2004 7:30:20 AM::

~ Taking on the Bunnies

From Strathearn News comes this timely tale:

ONE of Britain's richest businessmen is set to do battle with thousands of rabbits in a bid to protect Scotland's foremost Roman remains.

UK-based billionaire Mohammed Al Tajir is locked in talks with Historic Scotland following damning reports on the deteriorating state of the 2000-year-old Ardoch Fort on his estate at Braco.

Archaeologist Dr David Woolliscroft has worked periodically at the Roman Fort since the 1980s. And he has now warned that unless the rabbits which infest the site are brought under control, their continuing burrowing will see the Roman remains collapse and crumble.

The Roman expert from Liverpool University claims rabbits have already devastated important archaeological relics all across Britain. Now time is running out at Ardoch Fort and the defensive line of the Gask Ridge with rabbits threatening defences that kept hoards of marauding Picts at bay.

"The situation is now very serious indeed," said Dr Woolliscroft.

"Ardoch Fort and the watchtowers and fortifications along the Gask ridge were built in the late first century and pre-date Hadrian's Wall by about 50 years. The frontier was the prototype for all Britain's Roman defensive walls and is an important and precious piece of our history and its importance has been recognised by Historic Scotland's drive to have it designated a World Heritage site.

"We must stabilise what is there and then work to give it the recognition it deserves," he added. "It would be a tragedy to let rabbits destroy thousands of years of history. If these furry creatures are left as custodians of Ardoch Fort it could eventually become virtually useless as an archaeological site."

Yesterday, local MSP Roseanna Cunningham called site owner Al Tajir to task claiming his "cavalier attitude" to Scotland's best preserved Roman fort was placing a national treasure in imminent and irreversible danger.

"There is massive potential for rabbits to cause untold damage to this extremely important historical site and I hope that Mohammed Al Tajir will reach an agreement soon with Historic Scotland about how they can be controlled," said Ms Cunningham. [more]

::Saturday, November 06, 2004 7:21:46 AM::

~ CONF: Classical Language Teaching

Current Issues, Future Strategies: Classical Language Teaching at University
Saturday 15th January 2005, 10:30 – 16:30
CMR15, The Open University, Milton Keynes

Further offers of papers welcome.

This event is being organised by the Classics section of The Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology*.  The conference aims to provide a forum to discuss issues of concern in language learning and teaching in Higher Education, but participation from teachers in schools and colleges is very welcome. Confirmed contributors include Ken Belcher (University of Leeds), Lynette Mithcell (University of Exeter) and Will Griffiths (Cambridge School Classics Project).  There is no registration fee for attending and some lunch will be provided.

For more information, contact:

Dr David Fitzpatrick
The Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology
Department of Classical Studies, The Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA
Tel: 01908 659630, Fax: 01908 653750, E-mail:

... seen on the Classicists list

::Saturday, November 06, 2004 7:17:37 AM::

~ CONF: Spades and Stages

The Corpus Christi Centre for the Study of Greek and Roman Antiquity and the Centre for Roman Provincial Archaeology, University of Durham present

                          Spades and Stages

                        A one-day colloquium
                      Friday 17th December 2004
                   Corpus Christi College, Oxford

The topic is the confrontation between classics, as an area of cultural studies, and material goods, as represented by archaeological and antiquarian discoveries, and the ways that material objects (including archaeological finds) impact upon 'representations' of the classical world. Papers will last thirty minutes.


10.30 Coffee and registration

11.00-12.30 First Session  (chair : Richard Hingley)

Stephen Harrison (Oxford) 'Lytton and Pompeii : Archaeology and Fiction'

Phiroze Vasunia (UNC, Chapel Hill/Oxford) 'Rome in Hindostan: Architecture and the Classical Revival in British India'

12.30-1.30 Lunch

1.30-3.00 Second Session (chair : Stephen Harrison)

Edith Hall (Durham) 'Sophocles and Stonehenge in the 18th century'

Richard Hingley (Durham)
'Influence of antiquarian studies on images of ancient Britons from the C16 to C19/20'

3.00-3.30 Tea

3.30-5.00  Third Session (chair : Edith Hall/Oliver Taplin)

Fiona Macintosh (Oxford) 'Mounet-Sully and the classical ideal'

Debby Challis (Birkbeck) 'The British Museum and Greek theatre in Victorian London'

5.00 Round-up session and close (by 5.30).

Those wishing to attend should book a place with Stephen Harrison at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, OX1 4JF by 1st December 2004, enclosing a conference fee of £10 (cheques payable to ‘Corpus Christi College, Oxford’, please). Any enquiries to

... seen on the Classicists list

::Saturday, November 06, 2004 7:15:00 AM::

~ AWOTV: On TV Today

... nothing of interest

::Saturday, November 06, 2004 7:10:32 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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