~ This Day in Ancient History
ante diem xiii kalendas decembres
- Mercatus -- the market days continue in the wake of the Plebeian Games
::Friday, November 19, 2004 5:59:00 AM::
~ Alexander: First Review
Liz Smith (via the Baltimore Sun) has the first review of the Alexander flick:
DREAMERS exhaust us ..." So intones Anthony Hopkins near the end of Oliver Stone's Alexander, starring Colin Farrell as antiquity's Alexander the Great.
Well, 2 1/2 -hour movies are pretty exhausting as well, and I fear Stone's kaleidoscopic cinematic excesses slow down his often thrilling epic about ancient ego run amok and mother love gone awry.
Stone does his serious, vivid best to impart - with considerable sweep and quite a bit of psychological gussying-up - the genesis of Alexander's vast vision of himself, as well as his torments and insecurities.
Problems start early: Mom Olympias (Angelina Jolie) is a snake-worshiping high priestess who cares little for her coarse, wine-soaked, one-eyed husband, King Philip (Val Kilmer). Young Alexander sees his share of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? scenes, along with getting to cuddle in bed with Mom and her reptiles. Mother says: "Don't trust anyone. Only I love you." Obviously, the kid's already in way over his tunic.
Kilmer, a good actor whose self-derailed career seems back on track, is excellent as Philip - brutish, but not without heart and love for his son. Jolie is simply great. Obsessed, possessed, ravishing, repugnant, unrepentant, a gorgeous, ambitious praying mantis.
And yes, Alexander's bisexuality is addressed. But no, Farrell and Jared Leto, as Hephaistion, never lip-lock. They talk. They gaze hungrily. They hug, more or less manfully. We're supposed to get it that they're lovers. But somehow the relationship never seems real.
Farrell eventually takes a bride - they bark at each on their honeymoon night, after she pulls a knife on him. Rosario Dawson as Roxanne is a sexy number, and Alexander seems interested at first. But then he also takes another male companion, played with sultry silence by Francisco Bosch. This is whom Farrell kisses on the lips, but not so much as an act of affection, but as a sign of Alexander's unraveling debauchery.
Stone directs two massive screen battles here. The first is one of the most visually exciting (and gory) I have ever seen. The second is in an Indian forest, and not as good, though you can't help but be impressed by the fighting elephants.
Farrell gives his all as Alexander, but the occasions and vistas seem too large for him. Perhaps there's too much movie around him. This is not a bad performance, but it travels under the radar.
There is much in Alexander to relish. Like Troy, its tale of ancient time resonates with our current climate - war, arrogant rulers, Eastern empires, pleas for peace and the need to dominate.
::Friday, November 19, 2004 5:51:51 AM::
~ Teaching Greek at Baylor
The Baylor Lariat has a nice little feature on Kevin Hawthorne:
Tucked away in the hustle and bustle of Cashion Academic Center, Baylor students are getting a dose of classical Greek from one of the classic department's newest faculty additions.
"I like a class to be focused, but also comfortable," Dr. Kevin Hawthorne, assistant professor of classics, said.
In Hawthorne's introductory Greek course, the atmosphere is casual. There's an occasional outburst of muffled laughter resulting from one of his wry remarks. Students are welcome to chime in at any point to ask questions.
"Exactly what part do you not understand about that?" and "What did you not know that you could do?" he asked students in response to their questions.
"He's a great teacher," Jeff Goodman, a San Angelo senior enrolled in the course, said. "He really cares that we understand the material."
Hawthorne moved freely in front of the class and even propped himself on the lectern area desk. His youthful appearance could easily disguise him as an average student. Hawthorne said he considers teaching as a sort of acting, and that is in contrast to his normally introverted personality.
"But it's a good thing," he said. Hawthorne is more concerned with the information he can share than what people think about him personally.
"I don't usually think about what I want people to know about me," he said.
Outside of his research areas, Hawthorne is passionate about music, and said he sometimes shares CDs with his students.
Dustin Straw, Houston sophomore and student of Hawthorne, said Hawthorne sometimes asks the class if they know of any new or good music. Some of Hawthorne's favorite genres are classical, Celtic and Scandinavian, and he said he has an extensive U2 collection.
Straw said Hawthorne doesn't follow a strict schedule during class, and he's always "ready to take the rabbit trail."
"He doesn't mind skipping around," Straw said. "He doesn't mind taking time out of class to go back over old material."
Hawthorne, who also teaches a section in Great Texts of the Honors Program, has an extensive background in classics and Greek drama, according to Dr. Alden Smith, classics department chairman and associate dean of the Honors College.
"He's a good teacher, and definitely beloved by his students," said Smith.
According to Smith, all of Hawthorne's spring classes are full. Smith also said Hawthorne sets high standards for his students.
Hawthorne is a native Texan who hails from Port Arthur - but his accent doesn't show it.
He attributes this to Port Arthur's relative isolation, and he said he has a tendency to use a "Canadian O" he picked up from a friend at the University of Chicago. He began his studies in classics because he wanted to read the original Greek version of the New Testament. He's studied Greek and Latin and is an expert in Sophocles, according to Smith. Hawthorne said he was attracted to Baylor by the 2012 vision, and is happy to be part of the classics department.
And according to Smith, Hawthorne is a great addition to the department.
::Friday, November 19, 2004 5:48:56 AM::
~ Alexander the Macedonian
The conspiracy section of my brain (remember ... I try to suppress that thing) went off the other day when the U.S. officially recognized Macedonia just prior to the release of the Alexander flick. Here's the sort of thing (from the Guardian) that I expected a bit more of:
"We will come and kill you in your beds, cut your throats, and wipe you from the face of the earth ... if Alexander the Great were alive today he would grind you gypsy dogs into the dust, dig your dead from their graves and silence forever your filthy language that insults his name ..."
Internet chatrooms have never been the most decorous of forums but even in the free-for-all that is cyberspace, those dedicated to discussing Oliver Stone's new film, Alexander, are a case apart.
Since the combative director of JFK chose to make his first foray into historical epics with a biopic of the most fought-over figure of the ancient world, rivers of blood have been spilt - figuratively at least - in a propaganda battle between Greek and Macedonian nationalists over who has the right to claim the all-conquering hero as their own.
This very modern ethnic turf war is being fought with tortuously argued historical blogs about which Macedonia Alexander conquered the known world for - a tiny new Balkan republic that has only recently come to see itself as the keeper of his flame, or a province that was officially known as "Northern Greece" until the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia declared itself independent and bagged the name.
But the real blood and guts of the battle, the part Alexander would have so enjoyed, is in the chatrooms, where fanatical foot- soldiers taunt each other with blood-curdling threats heavy with echoes of the short but brutish Balkan wars that carved up ancient land between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria almost a century ago.
Stone has remained uncharacteristically silent, preferring to wrestle on set with war elephants and his leading man, Colin Farrell. Even for such a seasoned controversialist, this is a scrap to stand back from.
For the struggle over who have the right to call themselves descendents of the greatest military commander in history, and the first real western imperialist, is neither pretty nor edifying. In the early 1990s, Greece nearly invaded the newborn Republic of Macedonia for "stealing" Alexander's symbol, the Star of Vergina, for its flag, as well as the White Tower in the Greek Macedonian capital of Thessaloniki for its banknotes, something the millions of ordinary Greeks who took to the streets saw as "blatant acts of aggression".
The flag and the banknotes were hastily withdrawn, but Greek pride was far from restored. To the horror of its European partners, Athens briefly contemplated carving up its defenceless northern neighbour with the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. In the end, Greece stepped back, choosing instead to blockade the tiny republic of barely two million people in an attempt to strangle it at birth. Since then millions have been spent on a war of attrition to claim the name - and Alexander - back.
You cannot walk more than a few hundred metres in any town in northern Greece without tripping over a new statue, bust or monument to Alexander, who extended the Hellenic world as far as India in the fourth century BC with such slaughter that even today in Iran and central Asia his name is used to scare unruly children. You will find the most pointed statue of all at the border with Macedonia at Niki - named after the Greek god of victory - where a giant Alexander angrily brandishes a javelin at the upstart state across the frontier.
All over Greek Macedonia, streets, schools and airports have been hastily renamed, while archaeologists, having all but ignored ancient Macedonia until relatively recently, are digging furiously for its traces. The spectacular tomb of Alexander's father, Phillip, at Vergina near Thessaloniki, and the city's revamped museum, hammer home the kingdom's Greekness.
Still, passions had cooled somewhat after an unhappy compromise over the name that burdened Skopje with the cumbersome temporary moniker of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or "Fyrom" for short. Greek investment also began to build bridges - until Stone and his army of Hollywood stars appeared on the horizon to put nationalists on both sides back on a hair-trigger.
It is into this fraught and febrile atmosphere that George W Bush has now wandered. With the world waiting and wondering where the president will start the next war, Bush chose as his first major foreign-policy decision of his second term to recognise Fyrom by its "proper" name as the Republic of Macedonia, prompting paroxysms of Greeks anger across the globe and Athens to vow to block Macedonia's entry into the EU and Nato.
Even before Bush's intervention, the very mention of the M-word in Greek Macedonia risked a stern lecture on how it has been Greek since antiquity. I nearly lost an ear to a particularly patriotic barber in Thessaloniki last month when I mentioned that I had just arrived from the "other Macedonia".
Those people are not Macedonian, he raged. "That is a Slav lie. We are the real Macedonians. They are prostitutes and Gypsies and worse than Albanians," he declared. His family, it turned out, were recent Greek immigrants from Georgia who, he claimed, went "east with Alexander". He liked to take his son on Sundays to the massive new equestrian statue of Alexander on the city's seafront promenade, where Greek right-wingers gathered after Bush's bombshell to burn American and Macedonian flags. "I tell him to be proud of his ancestors and how lucky he is to have returned to the land of his forefathers."
But ask anyone four hours north in Skopje what Alexander was and they will smile sheepishly and say, "Macedonian, of course!" And when pressed about the obvious absurdity of a country that has a majority Slavic population claiming a man who was born nearly 1,000 years before the first Slav appeared in Macedonia, they answer, "Well, he was certainly not Greek."
If the Macedonians were Greek, why did Alexander have to address his troops in both Greek and ancient Macedonian, they argue. And every dog can quote the Athenian orator Demosthenes' famous condemnation of Alexander's father Philip as "not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honour, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave."
"No one is saying that Alexander spoke modern Macedonian, that is ridiculous, but who is to say that there isn't something of him still floating around in the genome," says Vojislav Sarakinski, a lecturer in ancient history at the city's main Cyril and Methodius university. It is easy to ridicule all this as archetypical Balkan lunacy until you realise how much of the emotional heat of the dispute stems from the insecurity of both countries about their borders, fears fully justified by the region's recent history.
Stone has been well aware of these sensitivities from the start, though initial Greek outrage at his film focused on Alexander's omnivorous sexuality, in particular his fondness for eunuchs. His film, he insists, is purely about the historical "man god", and so has made no secret of showing Alexander's love for his friend Hephaestion. There is, however, none of the lurid decadence promised from Baz Luhrmann's planned film about Alexander, if it ever gets off the blocks.
Evangelos Venizelos, the formidable former Greek culture minister and a Macedonian, attempted to get Stone onside early on, offering him Greek locations and the use of the army for battle scenes, but the director demurred and instead diplomatically chose locations far away from controversy in Morocco and Thailand. Confronted with angry MPs unhappy with what they were hearing about Alexander's bisexuality, Venizelos despaired, "What can I do? It's Hollywood."
Generally, though, most Greeks see the Stone film as a chance to strike a blow against Skopje, given that it is based on the biography by the Oxford academic Robin Lane Fox, whom both sides see as a Hellenist.
None of the previous, deeply disappointing attempts to bring Alexander's extraordinary life to the screen have had to walk the same tightrope because, until Skopje broke away from Belgrade in 1991, Alexander's origins were not in dispute. In fact he barely figured in the old Yugoslav textbooks, and even in Greece he was something of a forgotten figure - relegated to the second and third division of Hellenic heroes behind Pericles, the great philosophers, and warriors such as Leonidas. While the great Greek director Theo Angelopoulos dealt obliquely with him in his film about a 19th-century Macedonian brigand, Megalexandros, there has been no biopic in either country.
"Alexander lived long before nationalism and so is our common hero," says Vasil Tupurkovski, a former deputy president, who has written four popular histories about him. "He would be laughing at us arguing about him now."
Ah, but would he be laughing in Greek or Macedonian? Professor Nade Proeva, the expert on ancient Macedonia in Skopje, thinks both. "Alexander certainly spoke and wrote Greek, but then it was the lingua franca of the time, like English is now. I speak French but that does not make me French."
With such treacherous ground to negotiate, and amid thunderous lobbying from both sides, Stone has chosen a remarkably adroit middle course. His masterstroke has been to give Alexander and the men of the Macedonian phalanxes Irish accents, while the Greeks speak clipped English RP.
Macedonians of all complexions are content with this, each convinced it favours their cause. So in another two millennia when people ponder again the origins of the mysterious Macedonian who emerged from the southern Balkans to rule the world at 25, they will turn their ears to Colin Farrell's guttural brogue and conclude that he was in fact a Dubliner.
::Friday, November 19, 2004 5:43:21 AM::
~ NPR on Atlantis
With all the Atlantis-chatter of late, it's not surprising to see NPR devoting a segment to it. The intro page to the piece also has a link to a similar feature from a year or so ago. Enjoy!
::Friday, November 19, 2004 5:37:43 AM::
~ Parthenon Code
Oh oh ... looks like we're going to be hearing more about this one (from Yahoo's business section!):
Those ancient Greek "myths" we learned about in school, it turns out, weren't myths at all, but rather the history of the human race told from the Greeks' unique religious standpoint. The Parthenon Code: Mankind's History in Marble, by Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr., newly-released from Solving Light Books, decodes Greek myth and deciphers the meaning of the sculptures of Athena's ancient temple, the Parthenon.
The author shows that Greek myth/art tells the same story as Genesis except from the standpoint that the serpent enlightened Adam and Eve in Eden rather than deluding them.
"In their vase-paintings and sculptures, ancient Greek artists take us back through Noah and the Flood to a woman, a serpent, and an apple tree in an ancient paradise," Mr. Johnson said. "Greek art portrays the myth, and Greek myth explains the art. Once you see the Genesis connection, Greek myth/art becomes easy to understand. The Greek artists meant for us to understand it," he added.
Six ancient vase depictions of the Greek version of Eden and five sculptures relating to Eden appear in the book.
According to the author, an authentic ancient Greek artists' code, designed to clearly portray Greek religious history to the masses, first appeared in about 600 BC and reached its highest form with the sculptures of the Parthenon, the national symbol of Greece, completed in 432 BC.
The Parthenon Code reveals that the ancient Greeks rejected the Creator God of Noah in favor of "man as the measure of all things." Thus, Greek myth/art celebrated the re-emergence of the way of Kain (Cain) after the Flood, and the rebirth of the serpent-friendly Eve, whom the Greeks worshipped as Athena. The Greeks called Noah Nereus, the "Wet One," and dated the beginning of their contrary religious outlook from the latter years of his life, depicting the patriarch's image on many vases, seventeen of which appear in the book.
::Friday, November 19, 2004 5:34:33 AM::
~ MTV at the Colosseum?
This one boggles the mind a bit ... from a Reuters wire piece:
Rome's mighty Colosseum risks being damaged and diminished by a major MTV rock concert, traditionalists and conservationists warned on Thursday.
As a prelude to the MTV Europe Music Awards taking place on the outskirts of Rome in the late evening, an array of pop and rock artists were set to play in front of the huge 2000-year-old arena where gladiators fought in ancient times.
The venue was used twice in recent times for rock concerts, by Paul McCartney in 2003 and Simon and Garfunkel in July this year, with thousands of fans packed into a street which cuts through the ruins of the Roman Forum.
But some people fear the noise of amplified rock music -- when goth rockers The Cure top the bill -- could harm the architecture.
"Has anyone considered the impact of rock on the Colosseum?" politician Teodoro Buontempo asked in Italy's parliament.
"Have the authorities ... considered the inevitable damage that will be caused to the monument by the huge noise?"
The head of the government's archaeological heritage department, Adriano La Regina, said even worse than the physical damage would be what he saw as the cheapening of the Colosseum's image as it is used to promote commercial pop music.
"What kind of image is this?" La Regina said in an interview in Corriere della Sera newspaper in which he said the authorities should not have allowed the MTV show.
"It's debased, exploited, commercialized. An image (of Rome) that in the end will have less value because it will have lost its fascination, its integrity, its beauty."
Eminem, OutKast and Franz Ferdinand are among the acts hoping to pick up awards at the main show later on Thursday.
Someone should tell CdS that the Colosseum is already exploited and commercialized; the loss of value will not come from that. I was skeptical about holding shotput events at Olympia and happily was proven wrong. I'm similarly skeptical, though, about this sort of thing (will there be spectators too?).
::Friday, November 19, 2004 5:23:56 AM::
~ Highway Ulysses
A review of a dramatic adaptation of the Odyssey seems to have something Jonathan Shayish about it ... here's an excerpt from the Plain Dealer:
Initially, the play didn't have any connection to war. Eckert was commissioned in 2002, by Boston's American Repertory Theatre, to create a piece based on a song cycle he had written earlier, about a man hitchhiking across the United States.
The travels of his character got Eckert thinking about the "Odyssey," the ancient poet Homer's tale of the warrior Odysseus - or Ulysses - and his long, eventful journey home to Greece from the Trojan War. He reread the poem, and one particular detail grabbed him: Near the end of the story, a nation of good people, called the Phaecians, welcome Odysseus, take care of him, hear his tale and escort him, at last, safely home, where they leave him sleeping on the beach.
That detail was in every version Eckert checked.
Why do they leave him alone, setting sail in their ship again before Odysseus wakes up? Eckert wondered. Why is this important?
And he arrived at a conclusion: The Phaecians, an orderly, comfortable people, don't want to be involved in the slaughter they sense Odysseus will carry out to restore his rightful place in his homeland. They take off, excusing themselves from moral complicity, and leave Odysseus to cope with his situation in the way war has taught him.
So, Eckert said, has the American government left many veterans to fend for themselves, denying them help because their problems shine a discomfiting light on the human cost of war - particularly with Vietnam, whose vets are a reminder of a disastrous political failure.
But Eckert doesn't want to pin the message of "Highway Ulysses" to a particular war.
"That's why the 'Odyssey' was so useful," Eckert said. As an archetypal story with the grandeur of myth, it could represent the psychological fallout of every war, especially society's squeamishness about the consequences of its choices.
After all, confronting the injuries, mental trauma and deaths that result from battles disturbs people both personally and polit ically. No wonder the government doesn't want photos taken of the coffins of the returning dead and citizens object to the list of casualties being read on the evening news.
"Nobody wants to be tainted by this," Eckert said. " 'It's not good for national security!' And, in a way, they're right. The fundamental question of the piece ends up being this: To what de gree is it necessary to protect yourself from your historical violence?"
Or in other words, at what point does our innocence become dangerous and damning ignorance?
In "Highway Ulysses," the main character is an unnamed, modern-day vet. Now back in America, he finds out that his ex- wife - the mother of his young son - has died. He has to get to the boy, somehow, though he has few resources, the obstacles along the path are many and his encounters with other people are disturbing.
Along the way, he meets another vet, a mysterious tattoo artist, a waitress, a desperate librarian and other characters echoing those in the "Odyssey." Whether they hinder or help him, they end up revealing something about this American Ulysses and his struggle.
"In a way, Ulysses is an extreme version of everyone," said Sonya Robbins, who is directing the Dobama production. "His sense of not having found himself is so incredibly universal."
In fact, Robbins said, she cast local actor Paul Floriano in the central role because "he has this kind of Everyman quality."
Eckert's music plays an essential part in conveying the personalities and profound issues in his work.
It contains some modern elements, but it has classical roots and melody, allowing beauty to counter the coldness of the story's themes, Eckert said.
It's no accident that a sense of tragedy drifts through "Highway Ulysses" like a chill. The Greeks understood that a tragic view of life was essential, Eckert said, and the reason for that is a bit of wisdom that forms the core of his play: Experience may corrupt, but without the knowledge it brings, the innocent are defenseless and cannot survive.
Ulysses' son, perhaps like America today, is an innocent shut away from the world, dreaming of a heroic father. But however much well-meaning people try to dissuade the violent Ulysses from trying to reach his son for fear he will hurt the boy, Ulysses still believes his child needs to learn who and what his father is and how he got that way.
Said Eckert, "We can't remain complacent and stay alive." [the whole thing]
::Friday, November 19, 2004 5:18:37 AM::
~ Alexander's Alexandrian Library
An interesting bit of film trivia in-the-making from the Daily Post:
A NORTH Wales cyber-businessman yesterday told how he helped recreate an ancient library for Angelina Jolie ' s latest Hollywood blockbuster.
Kevin Roxburgh, who runs Saltney- based Egyptian Dreams, supplied two and half tonnes of papyrus for epic movie Alexander the Great.
Mogul Oliver Stone produced the film, also starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Colin Farrell.
The sandals and swords epic, just released in America, is expected to hit British screens in January.
Kevin, married to wife Sabine with three step-daughters, was called out of the blue by London's Pinewood film studios looking for authentic Egyptian paper.
Kevin said: "It was unbelievable. The props manager working on the film had been trawling the world looking for someone who could supply, of all things, blank sheets of papyrus.
"It was the very first paper manufactured by mankind made from reeds growing at the side of the River Nile." "He said he needed 200 sheets and could I send him some samples." "A couple of weeks went by and I thought nothing was going to happen. Then the phone rang and they were on ordering 40,000 sheets.
"Because of my contacts I managed to source a supplier who could still produce reed paper in this ancient way and meet their demand."
Kevin's Egyptian-made paper features in scenes set in the Great Library of Alexandria. It was founded by Alexander's general Ptolemy II, who ruled Egypt in the third century BC.
The library was said to hold thousands of scrolls and was often frequented by Aristotle, but was burned to the ground by Julius Caesar in 47 BC.
The film tells the story of Alexander, a Macedonian king who conquered the then known world before his death aged just 33.
The 36-year-old said: "I am just hoping to get an invite to the opening night. Perhaps they will need some more papyrus to put the invites on!"
Actually, the really interesting thing about this post was that it billed Jolie first, then Hopkins, and made CF 'third' ...
::Friday, November 19, 2004 5:12:23 AM::
~ U.S. Election
Interesting bit of synchronicity here as I've temporarily (hopefully) gone from the Classics list to the Mons Sacer due to the apparently incessant discussion of American politics that seems to go on there. An excerpt from a piece in the Columbia Spectator:
Some students said they felt uncomfortable with the way professors dealt with the election in their class.
Lauren Schy, CC ’08, said that in her Literature Humanities class, students have compared overly aggressive characters in Thucydides’ work to Bush. She said she was distressed that either the “professor agreed or allowed the conversation to continue.”
Christine Leddy, CC ’08, agreed. “It’s okay if [professors] have a different point of view but it doesn’t have to be stated in class,” she said. “[Many have been] saying bad things about the President and about Republicans. The elections are over. We need to come together now.”
Other students said that though criticisms of the President were not related to their classes, they were not especially bothered.
Briana Price, CC ’08, said that the elections were discussed in Spanish in her Spanish class. Her professor expressed her hopes that a new president would be elected when the victor was still uncertain the day after Election Day. “It didn’t make me feel uncomfortable at all because I agreed with her,” Price said.
In terms of politics, no one cares if they happen to agree with the view being expressed. What becomes very tiresome in all these things -- especially when the venue is supposedly for the discussion of something else -- is the assumption (apparently) that everyone agrees. Kind of like this post ...
::Friday, November 19, 2004 5:08:31 AM::
~ AWOTV: On TV Today
7.00 p.m. |HINT| Hercules: Power of the Gods
Story of how the mighty son of Zeus became one of the most enduring legends of Greek mythology. Includes the saga of the 12 labors of Hercules, which included battles with the awful 9-headed Hydra serpent and the Ceryneian stag with golden horns.
HINT = History International
::Friday, November 19, 2004 4:34:08 AM::