~ This Day in Ancient History
ante diem x kalendas januarias
- Saturnalia continues (day 7)
- Larentalia -- a funerary ritual at the purported tomb of Acca Larentia, who was the wife of the shepherd who found Romulus and Remus being suckled by the she-wolf.
- rites in honour of the Tempestates, which seems to be a Latin translation of the Punic divinity 'Ba'al of the skies' (i.e. this was a divinity taken over by the Romans, probably during the Punic Wars)
- 179 B.C. -- dedication of a Temple of Diana and A Temple of Juno Regina in the Campus Martius by M. Aemilius Lepidus
::Thursday, December 23, 2004 8:44:38 AM::
~ Quirinus' Census @ Hypotyposeis
One of the big questions that always pops up this time of year is that of the census mentioned in Luke 2.2, which is not attested in a non-Biblical source. That doesn't mean it didn't happen, of course, but the Lukan passage also has a problematical bit of syntax revolving around the use of the word ðñώôç [I doubt that will show up properly ... please see the line at Hypotyposeis for the line from Luke rendered properly]. In any event, Stephen Carlson over at Hypotyposeis considers the question and suggests what appears to me to be a plausible interpretation.
::Thursday, December 23, 2004 8:28:54 AM::
~ Spartan Women and Palestine
The Jewish Press begins a piece on the meaning of "Islamic sacrifice" thusly:
Volume III of Plutarch`s "Sayings of Spartain Mothers" reveals the Spartan mother as one who rears her sons for sacrifice on the altar of civic necessity. Such a mother was altogether pleased to learn that her son had died "in a manner worthy of his self, his country, and his ancestors." Spartan sons who failed to live up to this particular standard of sacrifice were reviled.
One woman, whose son was the sole survivor of a disastrous military engagement, killed him with a tile — the correct punishment for his apparent cowardice. The 18th century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, citing Plutarch, described a certain citizen-mother as follows: "A Spartan woman had five sons in the army and was awaiting news of the battle. A Helot (slave) arrived trembling. She asked him for the news.
"`Your five sons were killed.`
" `Base slave, did I ask you that?` The slave responded: `We won the victory.` The mother ran to the temple and gave thanks to the gods."
Why recount these tales from ancient Sparta about sacrifice? What have they to do with the current Islamic threat of war and terrorism to Israel? Today, the threat to Israel originates, at least in part, from cultures that embrace similar views of sacrifice. In these cultures, however, the purpose of sacrifice goes well beyond civic necessity. In these cultures, it is an expression of religion and the presumptively "sacred." Here it goes to the point of personal death, to realizing the otherwise terrifyingly elusive promise of immortality.
I don't think I've ever read this chunk of the Moralia ... I'll have to track it down.
::Thursday, December 23, 2004 7:29:08 AM::
~ JCL Success for Hayfield
Hayfield Secondary School and their success at a recent JCL convention get coverage in The Connection (another newspaper which chooses not to clearly connect it to the city/town it hails from):
Ancient Roman culture is alive and well in the hallways of Hayfield Secondary School.
A team of 12 students from the school recently made a splash at the state convention of the Virginia Junior Classical League, reflecting a growing love for the ways of the Romans on the part of middle- and high-school students at Hayfield.
“I like the mythology and the history, learning about Roman life,” said eighth-grade student Justin Kirkland. At the Nov. 21-22 convention, Kirkland was one of 13 award-winners from Hayfield, taking seventh place in the state on a 100-question test on Latin vocabulary among students in Latin I.
The total of 13 awards is up from four awards earned by Hayfield students at last year’s state convention, and Latin teacher Irina Greenman couldn’t be happier.
“I’m so proud of these kids that I could explode,” said Greenman, who teaches four levels of Latin — Latin I, II, III, and IV/Advanced Placement — at the school. In addition, she sponsors the school’s Junior Classical League (JCL) club. A branch of the American Classical League, the JCL is an organization of junior- and senior-high students that encourages an interest in and appreciation of the language and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. According to the NJCL Web site, over 50,000 students belong to the club in the United States, Canada and Australia.
At Hayfield, membership is currently at 42 students, but a showing like one at last month’s convention may boost enrollment, said Greenman.
“It’s a huge difference in the excitement and enthusiasm this year,” she said.
HAYFIELD STUDENTS Andrew Ofsonka and Ben Henkel were both first-place winners at the convention, with Ofsonka winning in the Level II academic quiz competition, and Henkel taking first in Level III and placing in four other awards in the categories of Classical Geography, Roman life, Latin literature, and Roman history. Also winning awards were Andrew Roth, Esther Rhee and Leanne Hanson.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” said sophomore Chris Kenedy, who took fourth in Latin sight-reading, and a pair of 10th places. “There’s no such thing as sleep when you’re at the convention. You don’t want to waste a moment while you’re there. You run around like a maniac trying to get to all the events, to do anything you can to get the most out of the experience.”
Attendance at the convention is open to all students who are in the JCL at Hayfield, and Greenman said that this year many of her students decided to study hard for the tests, which she believed benefited their performance
“You can go and have fun and relax, which is what I recommend for [a student's] first convention. There’s so much going on it can be overwhelming,” she said. “But a couple of the students decided to really go for it this year.”
Greenman encourages all her students to attend the convention for the social benefits, as well as the academic ones.
“Normally, there’s this image that Latin students don’t have a social group,” she said. “If you go to this convention, there are thousands of Latin students there. They have decided to give up a weekend to go do Latin.”
Students had various reasons for taking Latin, which is one of six languages offered at Hayfield, in addition to German, Spanish, French, Japanese and American Sign Language.
“I think Spanish is more popular to study, but I like Latin, because I like the mythology,” said Kirkland.
Greenman, who was a member of the JCL while in high school, said she believes that if more students gave the Latin experience a try, they might find they enjoy it.
“There’s this idea that Latin somehow is really, really hard,” she said. “[Students] come into their first Latin class saying, ‘I’m going to fail this subject.’ And my No. 1 priority is [to say], ‘No you’re not, and it’s not this behemoth of a language.’ That’s not what Latin is. There’s so much more to it than that.”
So what is it, exactly?
“If you think about it, everything in Western civilization is based on Rome,” said Kenedy.
“It teaches you an analytical way of thinking that really can’t be gotten from any other subject. It’s a very technical discipline in many ways,” said Greenman.
::Thursday, December 23, 2004 7:19:21 AM::
~ Mendelsohn on Alexander
Another Classicist -- this time Daniel Mendelsohn -- has reviewed Alexander. This is a huge review from the New York Review of Books (with the first half devoted to an excellent overview of Alexander's life), so I'll just give the last bit:
The void at the center of this biopic must be especially embarrassing to the filmmakers, given how much they made about another aspect of the film's attempts at capturing "historical accuracy": the grueling boot-camp training that Farrell and the actors playing his troops had to go through in order (you assume) to lend his on-screen generalship authenticity. The night before the press screening I attended, the Discovery Channel aired a documentary entitled Becoming Alexander, which showed Farrell jogging under the hot Moroccan sun with the loyal extras and talking about the bond that had grown up between him and the men whom he would be leading into cinematic battle. A military expert hired to advise the filmmaker opined that, as a result of this earnest process, Farrell had been transformed from "an Irish street kid" into a "leader of men."
Whatever else it illuminates, the patent fatuity of this hype—if the actor hadn't attended the boot camp, would the extras have disobeyed his orders at Gaugemela?—suggests that Alexander gets at least one thing across successfully: the vanity of the filmmakers. With its dramatically meaningless detail and almost total failure to convey the central allure of its subject, the film at least betrays its creators' satisfaction with their own effort and expense—with, that is to say, their ability to outdo other classical epics that have sprung up since Gladiator was a hit a few years ago. But the reason Gladiator was successful was not that its characters sported togas and lolled about in Roman orgies, but that it had an irresistible story: forbidden love, jealousy, murder, revenge. For all the talk of authenticity and identification with the ancients on the part of the director and actors responsible for Alexander, no one seems to have paused to wonder, while they spent months and millions on recreating the Battle of Gaugemela with ear-splitting, eye-popping verisi-militude, whether the "accuracy" of such a reconstruction of the classical past actually adds anything to our understanding of that past—whether it helps tell the story or enhances our appreciation of why Alexander may be more worth making a movie about than other ancient conquerors. To my knowledge, there are no medieval romances about Julius Caesar in Armenian.
If the above sounds disappointed, it is. I became a classicist because of Alexander the Great: at thirteen I read Mary Renault's intelligent and artful novels about Alexander, Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy (the latter told from the point of view of Bagoas the eunuch), and I was hooked. Adolescence, after all, is about nothing if not pothos; the combination of great deeds and strange cultures, the romantic blend of the youthful hero, that Odyssean yearning, strange rites, and panoramic moments—all spiced with a dash of polymorphous perversity about which no one seemed to care—were too alluring to resist. From that moment on all I wanted was to know more about these Greeks. Naturally I've learned a great deal since then, and know about, and largely believe, the revisionist views of Alexander, the darker interpretation of the events I read about thirty years ago in fictional form; but I will admit that a little of that allure, that pothos, still clings to the story—and to the Greeks—for me.
Soon after I read Renault's novels (from which, I couldn't help noticing, a good deal in Stone's film is borrowed without credit, not least a Freudian scene illuminating the sources of Alexander's hatred of his father, and perhaps of his indifference to women), I wrote the author a fan letter which I concluded by shyly hoping that she wouldn't reply with a form letter. Her response, which was the beginning of a correspondence that lasted until her death ten years later, and which inspired me to go on and study Classics, came to my mind when I was hearing Colin Farrell described as a leader of men in Becoming Alexander. "I wonder," Miss Renault wrote to me in April 1976,
whoever told you I'd send you a "form letter" if you wrote to me. Are there really writers who do that? I knew film stars do. You can't blame them, really...about half the people who write to them must be morons who think they really are Cleopatra or whoever.... Writers, though, write to communicate; and when someone to whom one has got through takes the trouble to write and tell one so, it would be pretty ungrateful to respond with something off a duplicator.
Because filmmakers are now as addled as fans, this new fictionalized Alexander isn't getting through to many people. I certainly doubt that it will inspire some young bookish boy somewhere to be a classicist, or a writer, or both. [the whole thing]
::Thursday, December 23, 2004 7:12:42 AM::
~ Roman Face Cream Redux
This one keeps popping up and now I'm getting paranoid that I didn't mention it. That tin of Roman face cream that was found in London a couple of years ago, then analyzed a couple of months ago, has apparently been reproduced. From Science Daily:
Cosmetic face cream used by fashionable Roman women has been analysed by scientists at Bristol University, and then reproduced. The results of this unique opportunity to analyse the ingredients of the 'foundation' cream are reported in Nature this week (4 November).
The cream was found to be composed of refined animal fat, starch and tin. The researchers then created their own version, made to the same recipe. When they rubbed the whitish cream into their skin, it produced a white layer with a smooth powdery texture. The latter quality was created by the starch – still used for this purpose in modern cosmetics.
Professor Richard Evershed from Bristol University said: ‘White face paint was fashionable in Roman times and normally derived its colour from a lead compound. A tin compound would have been an acceptable substitute and in good supply from Cornwall.’
As the researchers point out, tin has no medicinal value so they conclude that its function must have been as a pigment. The non-toxic properties of tin would have been a plus, because the health risks of lead were becoming recognized by the second century AD.
The metal container, complete with the lid and contents – the cream – was discovered at an ongoing archaeological dig in London, UK. As far as the researchers are aware it is the only one ever to be found intact and in good condition.
::Thursday, December 23, 2004 7:08:36 AM::
~ Atlantis Stuff Redux
Remember that guy who claims Atlantis was in Florida? If not, here's the beginning of his press release (which has been reissued):
Researcher confirms Plato's assertion that the Florida Plain was once part of Atlantis. Plato not only described Harbor island (in Tampa Bay) as Atlantis, but gave detailed descriptions of the Florida plain as part of the country. His writings have been used to verify the findings that were published earlier. Here is Plato's description with explanatory notes in parentheses:
"The whole country was said by him to be very lofty and precipitous on the side of the sea (ocean), but the country immediately about and surrounding the city was a level plain, itself surrounded by mountains (Appalachian) which descended towards the sea; it was smooth and even, and of an oblong shape, extending in one direction three thousand stadia (330 miles), but across the centre inland it was two thousand stadia (110 miles)...and where falling out of the straight line followed the circular ditch (Indian River). [more]
The reason it was 'rereleased' was because the link which supposedly led to more information (a 48 page pdf 'book'), didn't work (it didn't for me either!). Now that link is apparently working. If you don't feel like working through a 48-page pdf, an excerpt from the intro should give you an idea of this one:
Plato inadvertently repeated some mistakes while describing each aspect of Atlantis. This has led to some confusion because he did not make it clear that the name "Atlantis" applied to a continent, a country, a city, and a small island. Some of the other information he reported was misleading as well. For instance, he called the peninsula (which is the Florida Plain) an island: “This part of the island looked towards the south and was sheltered from the north.” Also, in describing the city, he referred to the waterways and landmasses near the metropolis as zones. By referring to them as zones; giving their distances across the center as diameter, and giving their perimeters as circumferences, he gave the impression that the waterways and landmasses encircled each other.
These mistakes could have been made during translation, or Critias might not have remembered everything exactly as it was passed down to him. For that matter, Critias might not have memorized the correct information when he first heard the story.
::Thursday, December 23, 2004 6:59:43 AM::
~ Guy Rogers
Classicist Guy Rogers is the subject of a profile in the Republican-American (another newspaper which does not make its provenance obvious):
Guy Rogers became fascinated with Alexander the Great almost 40 years ago when he checked out a biography for children about the ancient ruler at a local library.
Now, Rogers, a classical scholar and historian, has been invited back to the Woodbury Public Library to discuss his latest book, "Alexander: The Ambiguity of Greatness."
Rogers, 50, grew up in Woodbury and now lives part time in Roxbury. A classics and history professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Rogers splits his time between here, Roxbury and a home in Wellesley provided by the college.
A 1972 graduate of Nonnewaug High School, Rogers taught a course on King Alexander for 15 years. He says his book is an attempt to explain the life and legacies of a man who was king of ancient Macedonia at age 20, ruler of the known world by age 30 and dead at age 32.
"I argue it is beyond fact that Alexander was a military genius," he said.
Rogers compares Alexander's battles -- he never lost one -- with the war America is currently fighting. The wars Alexander fought took place in areas now known as Afghanistan and Iraq, he said.
He says American troops find themselves fighting against counter insurgency attacks very similar to the ones Alexander defeated.
"Alexander learned that an overwhelming military force isn't necessarily effective against small groups of insurgents," he said.
Rogers says Alexander learned to divide his troops to fight the insurgents, much like American troops are currently doing in Iraq.
Rogers has studied many ancient rulers, but finds Alexander the most compelling. He says his interest in ancient history blossomed in college.
He says he wasn't a great student in high school. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a classics major as well as a member of the varsity soccer team. Upon graduation, Rogers received a fellowship to study at the University of London. He holds a bachelor's degree in classics from both the University of Pennsylvania and the University of London, and a master's and a doctorate in classics from Princeton University.
Rogers was a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religions at the Harvard Divinity School, and chairman of the Department of History at Wellesley College from 1997-2001. He has written and edited eight books.
His first book, "The Sacred Identity of Ephesos: Foundation Myths of a Roman City," won the Routledge Ancient History Prize which is awarded once a year for publications about ancient history.
While his academic life has taken him all over the world, Rogers said there is no place he'd rather be than in Litchfield County. [more]
::Thursday, December 23, 2004 6:50:29 AM::
~ AWOTV: On TV Today
4.00 a.m. |HISTC| Line of Fire: The Spartan Wars
7.00 p.m. |HINT| The First 1000 Years. Part 1
The story begins not with Jesus, but 50 days after his crucifixion, when a rushing wind and tongues of fire descended upon his followers "and all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages." When Saul of Tarsus turns into Paul and travels to preach to the Gentiles, the religion spreads.
7.00 p.m. |HISTU| The History of Christmas
Fascinating story of how the bawdy Roman Saturnalia, a week-long festival of food and drink that culminated on December 25, became the centerpiece of the Christian year, and why the holiday is known as much for shopping as the birth of Christ. Interviews with experts, harried bargain hunters, and excited children round out the program.
8.00 p.m. |DCIVC| Lost Treasures of the Ancient World: Greece
8.00 p.m. |HISTU| Seven Wonders of the World
The Great Pyramid of Giza, Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Colossus of Rhodes, Temple of Artemis, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Pharos of Alexandria. Of the Seven Wonders, only the Great Pyramid remains. Why did ancient scholars select these sites? What can the crumbled remains say about those who built them?
9.00 p.m. |TLC| The Three Kings
The identity of the Magi who visited the Christ child in Bethlehem is a biblical mystery. Trace their journey from Persia to Jerusalem to their confrontation with Herod. Find out why they brought their signature gifts, and how they vanished from history.
::Thursday, December 23, 2004 6:46:52 AM::