~ Hic in the Financial Times
Harry Eyres in the Financial Times ponders Virgil's and Horace's use of 'hic':
No insight from Jay Griffiths' Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time (as stimulating and occasionally maddening a book as I've read all year), has given me more food for thought than her few lines on the word "hic" (here) in Virgil's Eclogues and Georgics.
Normally when the word "here" appears in a sentence, you tend to assume that the weight falls elsewhere. When I read, for instance, the touching enumeration of the beauties and glories of Italy in the second Georgic (no romantic Englishman or German ever loved Italy more than Virgil did), I focus on "the noble cities, the achievement of man's toil, all the towns his handiwork has piled high on steepy crags, and the streams that glide beneath those ancient walls".
Alerted by Griffiths, I realise I have overlooked that tiny word "hic" (which with a short "i" means "this") and its relatives "haec" (as in "haec loca", these places) "hinc" (hence) and "nunc" (now). Rereading the Georgics, I see these words everywhere. When Virgil writes "here is eternal spring", speaking of the balmy Italian climate, the "here" is as important as the eternal spring. Here, in this place, this beloved place, and no other.
Virgil was a countryman from near Mantua. Though eventually a great favourite with Augustus, as a young man Virgil suffered the forcible expropriation of his family farm in favour of the legionaries of the ruthless emperor-to-be.
In his first work, the Eclogues, in carefully coded form, Virgil speaks of that trauma and its deep effect. "We are leaving our country's bounds and sweet fields," mourns the shepherd Meliboeus. "We are outcasts from our country."
It was because he had known exile, the fate of the outcast, that Virgil could write so movingly of the cherished "here". That "here", the land of Italy, was a war-zone for 29 of Virgil's 51 years. Thus the Georgics, apparently a didactic work about farming, is a plea for an end to war and a vision of a peaceful world where the cultivator's implements outlast the rusting weapons of mass destruction and murder.
Virgil is not the only Roman poet whose use of the word "hic" repays scrutiny.
Horace is another great one for "here". In one of his most quoted passages he tells us that "those who rush across the seas change only the climate, not their frame of mind. What you seek is here, in Ulubrae, so long as peace of mind does not desert you." Horace was a successful, self-made man (son of a freed slave), who loved nothing more than the modest country retreat his success had earned him, in the Sabine hills, well away from "the smoke and wealth and din of Rome".
The Horatian odes I prefer are not the sycophantic eulogies of Augustus and Maecenas, but the poems in which he describes the simple but intense pleasures of sharing conversation, wine, or a beautiful winter view with an old friend. "Do you see how proud Soracte stands, with the freshly fallen snow on her summit? Let's thaw ourselves inside - pile logs on the fire, broach a jar of four-year-old Sabine wine." Just the trusty local plonk, he means, not a grand Caecuban or Falernian cru.
Virgil and Horace are golden age poets, touched with grandeur. Martial, on the other hand, is distinctly silver age; so much more modern and ironic, despite living less than a century after his two great predecessors. Unlike Virgil and Horace, Martial has no great illusions about poetry conferring immortal glory or lasting longer than bronze. Just managing to survive while you follow your calling as a servant of the muses in a complex, tough, materialistic society is quite a challenge - one that Martial is proud to have negotiated. Perhaps because he seems closer to our time, his insistence on the value of "here", "this wood, these streams, this woven shade of spreading vine" strikes home with special force.
Maybe it's nostalgic to bang on about these Roman poets, maybe not. We live in a society which often seems intent on abolishing the "hereness" of here. Supermarkets, here in England, can magic up apples from New Zealand at the same price as local ones. (The full environmental cost will be borne by future generations). The trouble is, if we go on buying the perfectly regular New Zealand Braeburns, soon there just won't be any of the quirky local Coxes.
The contemporary world of motorways, airports, the internet and shopping malls looks less and less like any specific place. I spent a couple of hours recently in a shopping "village" near Disneyland in Marne-la-Vallee (itself a non-place) outside Paris. I have never felt so disoriented in my life.
I think Martial, who speaks so movingly about the joys of lazy kitchen-gardening in his home village in Spain after 30 stressful years in Rome, would have been even keener than me to get the hell out of that unloveable "anywhere" to a dear, particular "here".
::Friday, December 31, 2004 7:12:45 AM::
~ Strabo and Tsunamis
Yesterday, while poking around looking for more ancient references to tsunamis, I came across this passage in Strabo (1.3.20 via Lacus Curtius) which -- especially towards the end -- seems eerily 'familiar' if you've been watching the news lately:
Demetrius of Calatis, in his account of all the earthquakes that have ever occurred throughout all Greece, says that the greater part of the Lichades Islands and of Cenaeum was engulfed; the hot springs at Aedepsus and Thermopylae, after having ceased to flow for three days, began to flow afresh, and those at Aedepsus broke forth also at another source; at Oreus the wall next to the sea and about seven hundred of the houses collapsed; and as for Echinus and Phalara and Heracleia in Trachis, not only was a considerable portion of them thrown down, but the settlement of Phalara was overturned, ground and all. And, says he, something quite similar happened to the people of Lamia and of Larissa; and Scarphia, also, was flung up, foundations and all, and no fewer than seventeen hundred human beings were engulfed, and over half as many Thronians; again, a triple-headed wave rose up, one part of which was carried in the direction of Tarphe and Thronium, another part to Thermopylae, and the rest into the plain as far as Daphnus in Phocis; fountains of rivers were dried up for a number of days, and the Sphercheius changed its course and made the roadways navigable, and the Boagrius was carried down a different ravine, and also many sections of Alope, Cynus, and Opus were seriously damaged, and Oeum, the castle above Opus, was laid in utter ruin, and a part of the wall of Elateia was broken down, and at Alponus, during the celebration of the Thesmophoria, twenty-five girls ran up into one of the towers at the harbour to get a view, the tower fell, and they themselves fell with it into the sea. And they say, also, of the Atalanta near Euboea that its middle portions, because they had been rent asunder, got a ship-canal through the rent, and that some of the plains were overflowed even as far as twenty stadia, and that a trireme was lifted out of the docks and cast over the wall.
::Friday, December 31, 2004 7:08:58 AM::
~ Alexander Roundup
Well, it looks like we can bring the year to an end (sort of) with an Alexander roundup. First we can gape in awe at the anachronism (also noticed by JD @ Paleojudaica, with a different emphasis) which made its way into a New York Times interview with Dimitrios Pandermalis, who is a professor of Classical Archaeology at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki. Commenting on the Alexander the Great exhibition at the Onassis Center, Professor Pandermailis claimed, inter alia:
Alexander grew up in the Macedonian court, which once welcomed Euripides the playwright and Pindar the poet. There he met visitors from all over the known world: Persia, Egypt, Crete, Sicily and the Dardanelles. Philip II hired Aristotle to tutor Alexander at age 14 in Greek, Hebrew, Babylonian and Latin, rhetoric and justice. From him Alexander probably acquired his lifelong love of learning and openness to foreign cultures.
Okay ... now JD rightly questions, I think, whether Aristotle would have any knowledge of Hebrew or Babylonian (although he might have piced up some Aramaic later); whenever we read of Greek 'inquirer' types dealing with foreign cultures, they always seem to be working through interpreters. But the one that's particularly jarring is the reference to Latin. At the time Alexander was in his learning stage, of course, Rome was just a generation past being sacked by the Gauls. It certainly didn't have control of Italy and wasn't even a naval power yet. What would the impetus for anyone other than a Roman to learn Latin at this point in world history?
[note in passing: as JD has noted, the quotation is not from Professor Pandermalis and seems to be the reportrix's misapprehension]
Turning now to a lengthy piece in the Khaleej Times, the movie hasn't been released in Iran yet, but it's already causing controversy (is this the hype tactic for this part of the world?) ... ecce:
Some Iranians are up in arms again at the United States -- this time because of Hollywood’s version of Alexander the Great’s conquest of ancient Persia.
According to Hassan Moussavi, who teaches history at Shiraz University, Oliver Stone’s latest blockbuster is merely the latest in a long line of affronts to the national esteem of the Persians.
“There is not even any proof that this Alexander even existed,” asserted Moussavi, who said he was “fed up” with history’s ongoing fascination with the Macedonian king, who died in 323 BC at the age of 32 after capturing most of what was then the known world.
“We should be clearer about which Alexander we are talking about. There are 300 of them in our history books, but no archaeological relic proves the existence of this particular one,” said Moussavi.
Grave historical errors
The movie “Alexander” has yet to appear in Iran, but here in Shiraz -- not far from the ancient city of Persepolis that Alexander destroyed along with the Persian empire of Darius III -- it is likely to upset a people who prefer to see their Persian forefathers as the founders of civilisation and a matter of national pride.
Furthermore, Iranians have so far had to make do with a one-sided account of Alexander’s exploits, given that historians say that Darius III -- who while on the throne was proclaimed the “king of kings” -- left little in the way of historical documents.
So viewers will have to make do with watching the Persian king suffering defeat at the hands of the lesser-numbered Macedonian forces, and then flee in his chariot from the young blond-haired conqueror played by Irishman Colin Farrell.
For Moussavi, Oliver Stone’s film “is built on a biased and partisan vision of history, and will only add to centuries of distrust towards the West”.
Another Iranian historian, Kaveh Farrokh, has also complained of ”grave historical errors.”
Rewriting history to entertain
In a report in the Internet site of Iran’s National Heritage Organisation, he compained that “the ancient Iranians are portrayed in a way that is comical, if not insulting.”
Roxana, the Persian wife of Alexander portrayed in the film by African-American actress Rosario Dawson, “was not black just like Alexander was not a Scandinavian”, Farrokh complained over what he sees as the film’s depiction of a Nordic blond defeating dark-skinned people.
Choosing Dawson to play Roxana, he said, “is just like choosing an Asian to portray Queen Victoria”.
“It seems that when it comes to the Iranians and their identity, we are permitted to rewrite history to entertain,” he said, adding he was hoping for the day when a film would tackle the life of Sassanid king Shapour I (241-272 AD) who “defeated three Roman emperors”.
But according to Iranian archaeologist Shahryar Adle, Iranians should stop worrying about Alexander and instead embrace him as a man who came, married and never went back.
“The Europeans and the Greeks have seized on Alexander as a champion of the West against the East,” he said. “But it was not Europe which won, because he was transformed into a Persian prince.”
“Our nation has defeated so many others,” added Mohammad Moghaddam, the maker of a documentary on Alexander’s travels through Iran, “that we should not be weighed down by one or two defeats.”
Meanwhile, it appears Oliver Stone is having a bit of 20-20 hindsight ... From a piece in the Telegraph:
Mr Stone said: "I still think it's a beautiful movie, but Alexander deserves better than I gave him. There was clear resistance to his homosexuality. It became the headline to the movie.
Oliver Stone talks to lead actor Colin Farrell on set
"They called him Alexander the gay. That's horribly discriminatory, but the film simply didn't open in the Bible Belt."
He said that he should have cut it from three hours to two-and-a-half "and taken out the homosexuality for the US market and for countries sensitive to such things, like Korea or Greece".
He added: "Kids weren't comfortable with men who hugged, a king who cries and expresses tenderness."
The director, speaking to Variety and the New York Times, said that he had dreamt of the project since film school. "I really love this subject so much, but perhaps I just failed to communicate that to an American audience and American critics."
Mr Stone said that making the film was like trying to wrap his arms around an elephant. It could have been five hours long, giving him the chance to explain the complicated rivalry among Alexander's mother, wife Roxane, and soul mate Hephiastion.
The director also accepted that he had obscured some symbolic images and foreshadowed plot points. "For example, the young man who kills Philip is shown being humiliated earlier at one of Philip's licentious wedding parties.
"Had I put things in more linear order and shortened everything, maybe more people would get it. There are 100 things like that in the film." [the whole thing]
::Friday, December 31, 2004 6:59:49 AM::
~ Classical Precedent
From Christie Blatchford's column in the Globe and Mail, pondering whether it's 'right' to be enjoying Canada's success at the World Junior Hockey Championship in light of world events, inter alia:
As the rambunctious young Canadians were trouncing the Finns 8-1 at the Ralph Engelstad Arena here yesterday, the book of the dead that is now being written in the Indian Ocean countries was numbering 117,000 victims — about twice the population of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, across the Red River in Minnesota, combined, or, as Mr. Dryden put it, floundering for some comparison that would bring the disaster to understandable scale for him, a city the size of Barrie, Ont.
Another thoughtful Canadian sportsman is Bruce Kidd, the dean of physical education and health at the University of Toronto and a former world-class runner whose Canadian junior 5,000-metre record still stands.
Admitting "it's really hard" to wax philosophical about sport now, he asked the blunt question, "Can you bring back the dead with the dance of life that hockey represents?" and then tried to answer it.
"No," he said, "but you can remember their lives. Our culture, and other cultures, use sport as a way of memorializing the dead, particularly at times of war and great tragedy. One of the classic sources for the ancient Olympic Games were the Funeral Games . . . that's in Homer's Iliad. And in our own time, communities build memorial arenas to remember those who died in war, and there's the Memorial Cup [the trophy emblematic of Canadian junior hockey supremacy, which honours those hockey players who died in the First World War and dates back to 1919]."
::Friday, December 31, 2004 6:31:15 AM::
~ AWOTV: On TV Today
7.00 p.m. |HINT| Augustus: First of the Emperors
Story of the bloodthirsty leader who was also one of the most able statesmen in world history. His rule launched the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) that marked the high point of the empire.
8.00 p.m. |DTC| The Early Years
Explore the strange fables that surround Jesus' birth. Follow the childhood and early adult years of Jesus using a first century living museum newly opened in Nazareth. Find out why Jesus began his mission and why he chose to live his life the way he did.
8.00 p.m. |HISTU| Ancient Civilizations
In this hour, we study sex in the ancient world--from Mesopotamians, who viewed adultery as a crime of theft, to Romans, who believed that squatting and sneezing after sex was a reliable method birth control. We also look at revealing Egyptian and Greek practices--from the origins of dildos, to intimate relations between Egyptian gods and goddesses, to the use of crocodile dung as a contraceptive.
9.00 p.m. |DTC| The Mission
Learn how Jesus carried out his ministry as a healer and exorcist and how his taste for parties with undesirable guests became an attack on religious authorities. Follow him to Jerusalem and see how dangerous it was for him during the Passover Festival.
10.00 p.m. |DTC| The Last Days
Look at the last days of Jesus' life: the Last Supper; the Mount of Olives where he prayed and sweat blood; and the trial where he is condemned for blasphemy. Explore what may have accounted for his resurrection and find out what he may have looked like.
11.00 p.m. |DTC| The Quest for the True Cross
Based on the New York Times best-seller, scholarly detective work and historical adventure draw conclusions about the remains of Christ's actual cross. This comprehensive study could overturn centuries of academic assumptions about the crucifixion.
12.00 midnight |DTC| Spear of Jesus
In the Hofsburg Museum in Vienna, Austria, lies a metal spearhead said to have been used to pierce the side of Christ during his crucifixion. For the first time, scientific testing will establish if this ancient relic really is the Spear of Christ.
::Friday, December 31, 2004 6:25:57 AM::