~ Peter Jones in the Spectator
Peter Jones comments in the Spectator on the Archbishop of Canterbury's comments re: the tsunami:
The Archbeard of Canterbury has proclaimed that the tsunami disaster in Asia justifies people’s doubts about the existence of any God, let alone a good one. If he needs comfort on the matter, Seneca (the millionaire philosopher and adviser to Nero, d. ad 65) will provide it.
Since the world and its gods were formed at the same time — when Uranus (Sky) mated with Gaia (Earth) — the gods and nature were inseparably linked. When nature therefore turned violent, that proved the existence of the god of that particular phenomenon — how else could nature act with such terrifying power? The question then was: why had the god so acted? The answer was usually that (s)he had been worshipped improperly or insulted. One prevented it happening again by correcting the error with a massive sacrifice. Since ancient gods were not thought of as loving, the logic was pretty sound — as far as it went.
Rationalists would have none of this. When in 430 bc a dreadful plague struck Athens, carrying off a third of its population (including Pericles), the historian Thucydides gave a stunning account of the onset and course of the disease in scientific, rational terms, pointing out, tartly, that prayers and oracles were helpless to stop it, and ‘it seemed to be all the same whether you worshipped gods or not, when one saw the good and the bad dying indiscriminately’. The Archbeard would have felt quite at home there.
Seneca took the argument a step further. In his treatise ‘On Earthquakes’, he begins by surveying the damage done to Pompeii and its regions in ad 62, when the town was severely hit by an earthquake which we know presaged the great eruption of Vesuvius in ad 79. First he points out that, since we die anyway, it does not matter that we do so in a natural disaster. What is important is to be ready for death, whenever it comes. Second, he goes on, ‘It will help to keep in mind that gods cause none of these things and that neither heaven nor earth is overturned by the wrath of divinities. These phenomena have causes of their own; they do not rage on command.’ Seneca insists on this because, he says, it is the only way to cure humans of their ignorance about the true nature of the world and thus relieve them of the terrible fear of a capricious deity. Compared with that awful prospect, the knowledge that nature, however occasionally violent, is predictable comes as a tremendous relief.
::Friday, January 07, 2005 5:38:48 AM::
~ Blogging the APA
Folks who can't attend the APA might want to monitor Sauvage Noble and Campus Mawrtius over the next few days ... both blogs are promising coverage. rogueclassicism readers who don't have a blog and would like to contribute a 'report' are, as previously mentioned, welcome to send it in (I guess my previous suggestion to post to Blogographos doesn't apply right now) ...
::Friday, January 07, 2005 5:34:18 AM::
~ Coming to (Study in) America
Over at ARLT they are pondering whether UK Classics students should consider going to "America" to study (by which, presumably, is meant the U.S.) ... we should note, perhaps, that things are different in Canada (including drinking ages) ...
::Friday, January 07, 2005 5:26:01 AM::
~ On the Popularity of Epic Movies
Here's the last bit of a review of Alexander (sort of) from the New Statesman which has some interesting things to say about the popularity of 'epic' films of late:
The last great era of epic cinema was the 1950s and 1960s. Faced with increasing competition from television, movie studios needed something to entice families out of their living rooms and back into the theatres. First they tried colour film, but that was soon replicated by television. Their next innovation was more successful: widescreen CinemaScope. Introduced with Henry Koster's 1953 Roman epic The Robe, this impressed audiences and cast a shadow over television's little square box. Epics with massed armies and chariot races took full advantage of this technology.
Yet economic and technological developments only partly explain the success of the epic. Consumer demand for films such as Ben Hur, El Cid and Cleopatra was rooted in a particular national culture at a particular time. In the 1950s and early 1960s, America was supremely confident. Europe and Japan were only gradually recovering from the destruction of the Second World War and, in its stand-off with the Soviet Union, the US felt endowed with a historic responsibility. Epic films, with their grand theatrics and heroics, reflected and reinforced this mood. Whether done by Jesus Christ or Julius Caesar, great deeds mattered in these films just as they mattered to contemporary Americans, who were exhorted by President Kennedy in his inaugural address to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty".
So economics, technology and politics combined to elevate the epic, but they also brought about its decline. The break-up of the studio system undermined the economics of big-budget films, while Watergate and Vietnam proved that leaders could not always be trusted to do the right thing for their country. This was no time for a cinema of great men doing great deeds.
Instead, at least two new kinds of film emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s. First there were experimental films that found meaning and pathos in the lives of the ungreat: drifters (Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider), hoods (Bonnie and Clyde) and students (The Graduate). Later came a cinema of escapist blockbusters, sparked by the successes of The Exorcist, Star Wars and Jaws. The epic, meanwhile, went underground, embracing the world of the Mafia (Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather), anti-heroic war (Coppola's Apocalypse Now) and narcotics (Brian de Palma's Scarface). The anti-epic has in fact proved more resilient than its celebratory counterpart, particularly through the work of Martin Scorsese, who kept it strong into the 1990s with Goodfellas, and into the 21st century with the violent and unromantic Gangs of New York.
The latter film is a near-perfect example of the anti-epic. The deeds in Gangs of New York do not shape history; they are washed away by it. Bill the Butcher's reign of personal intimidation slips away not because of Amsterdam Vallon's heroic opposition, but because of the unstoppable rise of less violent (but equally corrupt) bureaucratic democracy. As Scorsese's final overlapping montage of New York's ever-heightening skyline implies, the past is buried, unremembered and unremarked, by the future.
The recent resurgence of epic films began in the mid-1990s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, America became an unchallenged superpower and felt more confident than ever. New stars, kinetic cinematography and stunning special effects enhanced the genre, and audiences once again developed an appetite for grand visions of great men doing great deeds. Even though Gladiator acknowledged the deep corruption of the later Roman empire, it managed to justify the hero's death (in man-to-man combat with the emperor himself) by having the emperor's sister and a group of senators declare over his cooling body that the republic would be brought back. Stone's Alexander is equally idealistic, portraying its hero not as a brutal conqueror, but as a starry-eyed unifier of civilisations.
Compared with such films, Petersen's Troy seems positively cynical. Its mammoth war of conquest is triggered by Paris's patently stupid decision to abscond with Helen, prosecuted by King Agamemnon for the most transparently false of reasons, and fought by heroes who are both astonishingly brave and depressingly narrow-minded. Only Hector seems to have any real wisdom, and he is slain by Achilles and dragged around the city for good measure. In this sense, Troy is in fact an anti-epic: a Gangs of the Aegean. On the whole, however, recent epics have been upbeat and idealistic - take, for example, Michael Bay's blatantly patriotic Pearl Harbor and Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, which was at heart a stirring tale of "the good war".
Not all successful epics have been about 20th-century America. Audiences also loved the stoicism of Peter Weir's Master and Commander, which depicted a Nelson-era British warship in its lone struggle against a bigger (and pointedly French) privateer. As the pro-war columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post last year: "We are at war, and this is a film not just about the conduct of war, but about virtue in war. Its depiction of the more ancient notions of duty, honour, patriotism and devotion is reminiscent of what we glimpsed during live coverage of the dash to Baghdad back in April, but is now slipping from memory." Krauthammer particularly liked the setting's lack of ambiguity. "[Combat] on the high seas - ships under unified command meeting in duellistic engagement in open waters - represents a distilled essence of warfare that, in the hands of a morally serious man like Weir, is deeply clarifying."
Clarifying? Misleading more like. As the bloody counter-insurgency in Iraq is proving, there is little clarity or certainty in war off the big screen. This points to the hidden curse of epics, and why their appeal does not last. Their captivating bravado, their tales of duty and responsibility, of great deeds done for great purposes, of ends that justify the costs, can fool audiences only for so long. Now that Americans no longer see Iraq as an unambiguously "good war", and are resigning themselves to a long and thankless engagement there, it is perhaps not surprising that they have found it hard to swallow Stone's latest film. Alexander's empire-building, and its eventual fate, are rather too close for comfort.
::Friday, January 07, 2005 5:18:53 AM::
~ Tacitus Quote?
In the Franklin Country Citizen we read, inter alia:
Roman historian Tacitus said it best, "When men are full of envy, they disparage everything whether it be good or bad."
Now I know Tacitus frequently mentions invidia, but I can't recall anything akin to this particular quotation ... anyone recognize it?
::Friday, January 07, 2005 5:13:31 AM::
~ Atlantis in Ireland Redux
The Atlantis-in-Ireland thing is back in the news ... from a press release we read:
In "Atlantis from a Geographer's Perspective: Mapping the Fairy Land" (Lindorm.com, $16.95 hardcover, ISBN 0975594605), Erlingsson identifies Ireland as the inspiration for Plato's Atlantis. In the book, he erects and tests hypotheses, using methods typically only used in the hard sciences. The author demonstrates - with a probability of 99.98 percent - that Plato described Ireland.
Newgrange and Knowth in the Boyne valley on Ireland were built around 3200 B.C. They are the finest and the oldest monumental constructions anywhere in the world. They are associated with the two temples mentioned by Plato in Atlantis. The King's Tara on Ireland, where the Stone of Destiny stands, is associated with the Atlantean capital.
Erlingsson plans to present the study to peers at an international scientific conference in Greece in July. "I'm very much looking forward to this opportunity to debate the results with some of the world's foremost experts on the Atlantis tale," he said.
There have been an unusual number of Atlantis hypotheses in the media in 2004. Erlingsson does not claim that he has the one and only truth. "One must evaluate each detail by itself," he said. "It may be that others have found other details, so that one day the puzzle may be complete." However, he is certain that his own result will stand up to scrutiny. Recently he has scrutinized his analyses with more detail, showing that - if anything - the certainty that Ireland is the lost Atlantis is even higher than 99.98 percent. A website for the book, www.AtlantisInIreland.com, was launched on the New Year. The detailed study is available at that site. [etc.]
By being available, it seems, it means you can buy it from there. There is nothing really there which adds to anything we haven't already seen (and there's some bad CSS happening too) ... I just wonder what this 'obsession' is with Atlantis researchers and claims of 'percentage accuracy' ...
::Friday, January 07, 2005 5:06:28 AM::
~ Scanning the Obits
Interesting pair of obits (inter alia) in the Charlotte Observer ... first, Guy Davenport:
Guy Davenport, an award-winning author, poet and critic, died Tuesday of cancer. He was 77.
Davenport was recognized nationally and internationally by educational and professional institutions for his academic and intellectual achievements in literature, University of Kentucky Provost Michael Nietzel said.
Davenport quit high school in Anderson, S.C., in 1944 to study art at Duke University in Durham. He majored in classics and English and was selected as a Rhodes Scholar in 1948. As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, he was a member of Merton College, where he wrote the first thesis on James Joyce to be accepted by that university. He received a literature degree in 1950 and returned to the United States.
Davenport won the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation in 1996 as editor and translator of "7 Greeks."
Davenport came to the University of Kentucky as a young English professor in 1963 and stayed for nearly three decades. He retired early after he won a coveted MacArthur Foundation grant in 1990 with a cash prize of $365,000.
Some of Davenport's best-known books were collections of stories, such as "Tatlin!" (1974); "Da Vinci's Bicycle" (1979) and "The Jules Verne Steam Balloon" (1987); and books of essays, such as "The Geography of the Imagination" (1981); "The Hunter Gracchus" (1996); "Objects on a Table: Harmonious Disarray in Art and Literature" (1998); and "The Death of Picasso: New & Selected Writing" (2003).
In 1998, he was elected as a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Science.
... then Antoine Makdessi:
Antoine Makdessi, a writer and critic who was nicknamed the "Sheik of Syrian intellectuals," died of a heart attack on Wednesday. He was 91. He produced a large body of writing and criticism, but never published an anthology. Many of his works were published by his friends. Among the Syrian writers who paid tribute to Makdessi on Thursday was Hanna Abboud, who said Makdessi refused to publish his collected works because he subscribed to the Socratic view that writing freezes ideas, whereas dialogue stimulates them. He taught Greek philosophy at Damascus University for 20 years. From 1965 to 2000, he worked as a writer and translator at the Ministry of Culture in Damascus. He translated a number of classics into Arabic, including works by Plato, Socrates and Karl Marx.
::Friday, January 07, 2005 4:49:54 AM::
~ AWOTV: On TV Today
6.00 p.m. |HINT| The Colosseum
Nothing symbolizes the Roman Empire at its height or Rome in magnificent ruins more than the Colosseum. Built in 70 AD, it seated 80,000 people, boasted a retractable roof, underground staging devices, marble seating, and lavish decorations. It still serves as the prototype for the modern stadium. The complexity of its construction, the beauty of its architecture, and the functionality of its design made it the perfect place for massive crowds to congregate for the bloody spectacles it contained.
7.00 p.m. |HINT| Constantine: The Christian Emperor
Portrait of the ruler who overcame civil war and barbarian invasions to bring Rome a long period of peace. Nevertheless, the city of Rome itself was facing disaster. In response, Constantine founded the new Roman capital, Constantinople, and also converted his empire to Christianity.
9.00 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.
HINT = History International
DISCC = Discovery Channel (Canada)
::Friday, January 07, 2005 4:46:53 AM::