~ Gratuitous Caligulanism
I think I'm going to start keeping track of this sort of thing ... the Buffalo News is the latest media outlet to include a quote attributing general evil/decadence to Caligula in a rather anachronistic and/or rhetorical context. Consider this in a piece on Ecstacy use:
That said, drugs have been a part of the party scene since the days of Caligula in Rome, Goldman added, or at least since the early 1980s heyday of Studio 54 in New York City.
There's usually one or two such references every week ... they are strange on their own, but perhaps represent some 'larger cultural phenomenon'.
::Sunday, December 19, 2004 10:30:30 AM::
A piece on sirens (the noisy kind) in the Boston Globe, inter alia, ponders the the ancient kind:
In ancient Greek mythology, people feared the lesser gods that warned of impending death, lured mariners to destruction, and ripped souls from those killed by deafening. In "The Odyssey," Circe warns Odysseus to block the ears of his crew with wax, and to lash himself to the mast, so he alone could hear the wailing sirens on shore. The stratagem worked. Captain and crew avoided the rocks and the bone heaps of drowned seamen who followed the wailing and drowned. After 1800, artists often rendered the sirens as beautiful women or seductive mermaids, but the ancient Greeks envisioned them as gigantic birds with the heads and chests of women. Prettying-up classical myth nonetheless leaves younger readers wondering why hideous wailing attracted ancient Greeks. Perhaps human nature does not change. People are drawn to trouble, even the sound of it.
So ... how were Sirens different from Harpies?
::Sunday, December 19, 2004 10:24:45 AM::
~ Allegory of the Cave @ UPitt
Check out this description of the subject of a stained-glass installation at the Millstein Library at UPitt-Greensburg (from the Tribune):
The result, "Upward to the Light," is one of the largest displays of secular stained-glass artwork in the region. It is based on "The Republic," written by the Greek philosopher Plato.
In the story, Plato describes a population of human captives chained to the wall of a cave. Unable to move their heads, their only visual knowledge of the world is produced by the shadows of objects and a fire, which provides the single source of light. One captive escapes and finds his way above ground. He returns to those still held captive and shares his knowledge of the beauty of nature and leads them upward to the light.
"In Plato's 'Republic,' he presents the allegory of the cave as a metaphor for education," Bengel said. "It seemed perfect to use it in this metaphorical context."
Alas, none of the photos accompanying the piece really show it (the article seems more concerned with the technical side of stained glass window production) ...
::Sunday, December 19, 2004 10:20:41 AM::
~ Pompeii Exhibition
A very interesting review of a Pompeii exhibit sort of thing in Germany (from FAZ):
There is almost no greater mental anguish than losing a loved one through separation or death. The only greater torment is the fear of dying oneself. Art provides relief from these real-life nightmares. Farewells and death on theater or opera stages, in movies, paintings and songs become a way for our subconscious to relive the object of our fears - an apparent immunization or anticipatory training.
This also makes the ancient ”cities of Vesuvius,” Pompeii and Herculaneum, so fascinating. They had only just been discovered in the mid-18th century and archaeologists had only just discovered the first skeletons of victims of Vesuvius when breathtaking reports began circulating that caused a euphoria that equaled that about the discoveries of ancient artworks.
When the ”House of Diomedes,” a palatial country residence just outside Pompeii's city walls, was dug up in 1772, for example, 18 victims were found in a cryptoporticus. People stared in amazement at the hollow shapes which had remained after the bodies had decomposed in the solidified mud of ash which had suffocated the people. The imprints of preciously embroidered robes and simple linen gowns could be discerned, and cushions that the desperate people had pressed in front of their faces as protection from the poisonous gases.
The intricate plaited hairstyles were still intact on two women, who also wore exquisite jewelry. Among the human remains there was also the skeleton of a goat with a silver bell around its neck. Wine amphorae and bowls with charred bread and fruit were lying on the ground.
All become equal in death
Soon, every educated European knew the victims' fate as it had been reconstructed from this evidence. A prosperous family - the matron, her adolescent daughter, the little son - had sought refuge from the shower of pumice-stones from Vesuvius by taking servants, slaves and provisions with them to the cryptoporticus. There, like most Pompeiians and also the head of the household, who had sought a way to the life-saving coast in the garden of the villa, they had all fallen victim to the first blistering hot and poisonous pyroclastic flow, which the volcano had spewed out in the night of Aug. 25, 79 AD around 12 hours after the eruption began.
In recent years, vulcanologists have calculated all the phases of the three days and nights during which the volcanic eruption raged - and thus also the circumstances of the deaths of all those who did not escape in the first few hours. Anyone who had not already died from collapsing buildings or chunks of the pumice-stones that Vesuvius was constantly centrifuging, perished quickly but nonetheless agonizingly of suffocation in the hurricane-like poisonous clouds. It was a horrendous death for those 300 Herculaneans, comprising men, many women and children, all of whom were very young, who had sought refuge under the covered arcades of the harbor wall because all the boats, most likely hopelessly overcrowded with refugees, had already set sail for Naples. Here, too, the pyroclastic cloud did its work, but more slowly than in Pompeii.
The skeletons of some of these Herculaneans can be seen in the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums in Mannheim, where a large Pompeii exhibition has now just been opened: gruesome shadowy figures, entwined in one another or hunched up in fetal position. The horror scenario is meant to be an extreme case of ”building bridges” to those people who had been the first bearers of our culture and were thus also our forefathers - that is how the exhibition organizers justify and explain the motif and the main topic of this exhibition which carries the subheading ”The Hours of Doom.”
The dead Herculaneans, but particularly the casts - since 1860, plaster has been injected into the spaces left vacant by the flesh as it decomposed - of some Pompeiians form central islands around which furniture, basic commodities, jewelry and works of art which belonged to them while they were alive have been arranged.
Of course, this also panders to the requirements of today's audience, as has been proven by the sensational success of Gunther von Hagen's corpse exhibitions. This gives rise to the suspicion that Mannheim, just like Naples, where the exhibition was shown for the first time, is aiming unscrupulously or out of necessity at record numbers of visitors. However, the visible efforts to at last devote archaeology to its original purpose, that is, to illustrate and explain the destinies, thoughts and feelings of lost generations and cultures to people today - and to supply a yardstick for the state of one's own civilization - is much more significant.
Anyone who stands with a relatively alert intellect in front of the skeletons or the twisted plaster bodies of a young family from Pompeii, who died during the parents' last attempt to protect their children, will abruptly realize what cynical nonsense, that was utterly devoid of all knowledge or instinct for the dignity and neediness of the human being, was proclaimed by Oswald Spengler in 1932 in his ”Man and Technics - A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life,” in which he retells the myth of the Pompeiian sentry. The story had been handed down since 1819 that a legionary had been found at Pompeii's most important city gate, who, resting on his spear, had stood by his post until death. Spengler wrote: ”That is true greatness; that is what a high culture means.”
Primo Levi set down what the dead really tell us about themselves and therefore about us in 1984 in his poem ”Ad ora incerta,” (”At an uncertain hour”), which can be read in the catalog. In this poem, - ”because each person's fear is also our own” - he combines the memory of the cast of a Pompeiian girl with that of Anne Frank and of a burned girl in Hiroshima.
Unintentionally, the Mannheim exhibition also provides an image of such science-fixated blindness that Primo Levi castigated. It is the cast of a young girl that was taken in 1984. She had died in Oplontis, a villa suburb of Pompeii. In order to show the characteristics of her bone structure, but also to make visible any precious objects that might have been pressed against her body, the plaster was replaced by a semi-transparent epoxy resin. The result was a terrifying picture that far surpasses the horror of the grotesque monsters' faces in computer-animated science-fiction movies. The original plaster specimen had shown an unusually pretty young woman with fine-boned hands, instead of the grease-resplendent hands clawed in the grip of death that can now be seen.
That is not the only reason that we seek the consolation of art all around. Many of the artifacts are of a dazzling quality, most of them are on show for the first time or have lain in a repository for decades. The free space in the entrance hall has been dedicated to a life-size marble sculpture of ”Juno Borghese,” which came to light in 1988 in the hitherto unknown lower terrace floor of the famous ”Villa dei Papiri” (Villa of the Papyri) - an outstanding Roman copy of the lost original, which was created around 430 B.C. by Greek sculptor Agorakritos. The marble head of an Amazon, which is a reproduction of the busts of Amazons by Greek sculptors Kresilas or Polykleitos, is of the same quality. Corresponding to the location in which it was found, the head is displayed lying down without the shoulder section, which had broken off - an indication of the fading hopes of archaeologists to be able to resume the excavations of the villa, which have been suspended for years.
Things we have never seen before
An abundance of jewelry is on show in Mannheim: rings, cameos, bangles, earrings and necklaces. Along with these are wallets or parts of magnificent silver dishes, and glass decanters or ampoules which people had grabbed as they fled. Even a leather traveling bag decorated with gold flowers can be seen, and beside it a money chest, elegant despite its martial iron fittings, with a head of a Medusa staring out from the front panel. The reconstructions of two magnificent beds, decorated with figural mountings and intarsia, are captivating, while the tools found alongside fallen farm workers or slaves are moving.
However, apart from the dead, the most moving impressions are conveyed by the frescoes from Pompeii's houses. Having no exhibition room in Pompeii, they have been traveling for years. An Apollo cycle, which was discovered in 2001 in modern-day Murecine, once Pompeii's river port, is of unique uniformity and brilliance of color. Moreover, the three painted walls of the dining room of a country villa, which was excavated between 1993 and 2002 in Terzigno on the slope of Vesuvius, are as enigmatic as they are beautiful. Half life-size, framed by splendid mock architecture, an apparently courtly gathering of people, some in Persian, some in Greek clothing, are busy around men and women who are sitting enthroned. The style and some of the groups of figures are reminiscent of the famous cycle stored in New York from the Pompeiian ”Boscoreale Villa,” which is thought to be a portrayal of the prophecy of the birth of Alexander the Great.
The impression of splendor remains a long time after leaving the exhibition - as does that of the distressing pair of bodies, comprising a matron, who as she died put a comforting arm around a young girl, who had literally hidden herself in the body of the older woman as she suffocated. This pity, which overcomes one's own distress during a pitiful death, is the terrible and yet comforting message that Pompeii has bequeathed to us.
::Sunday, December 19, 2004 10:16:06 AM::
~ Amphora 3.2
The latest issue of the APA's 'outreach' newsletter Amphora has been posted (although how the general public will ever find it remains a mystery to me). Here's the contents:
“THE TIME IS THE PRESENT, THE PLACE IS ANCIENT GREECE”: THE (VERY) CONTEMPORARY COMEDY OF ARISTOPHANES
Boston’s Quincy Market: Classical Style and the Puritan Instinct
The Library of Alexandria Reborn
Book Review: “Julius Caesar: A Beginner’s Guide”
Book Review: “Achilles: A Novel”
Birthplace of Empire: The Legacy of Actium
Medea My Mind
Natty Bumppo Quotes Horace
A History of Alexander on the Big Screen
Ancient Languages in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”
The “Oresteia” Project continues
Audio Review: “Selections from Ovid Read in Classical latin”
“Troy” panel at the Annual Meeting of the American Philological Association
Read it all here (pdf).
::Sunday, December 19, 2004 10:12:02 AM::
~ AWOTV: On TV Today
1.00 p.m. |DISCC| Colosseum: A Gladiator's Story
Revealing the true life of a gladiator in all its grit and glory, this spectacular dramatized documentary reveals the truth about the events that took place inside the arena.
2.00 p.m. |DISCC| Seven Wonders of Ancient Greece
The ancient Greeks built the first theatres, staged the first sports events and worshipped in some of the most spectacular temples ever built; from prehistoric places to bold symbols of victory, explore the wonders of this ancient civilization.
3.00 p.m. |DISCC| Real Jason and the Argonauts
Groundbreaking new discoveries reveal that the myth of the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts may be based on real events.
6.00 p.m. |HINT| Pompeii: Buried Alive
Exploration of the archaeological site of the city that was encrusted by incendiary ash when deadly Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Archaeological director Baldasarre Conticello takes viewers on a tour of Pompeii's ruins, and visits Herculaneum, which was destroyed by Vesuvius at the same time.
DISCC = Discovery Channel (Canada)
HINT = History International
::Sunday, December 19, 2004 10:05:44 AM::