Latest update: 4/7/2005; 2:14:07 PM
quidquidquid bene dictum est ab ullo, meum est ~ Seneca
~ Ancient v. Modern

An op-ed piece from the Citizen-Times makes the case that all these ancient-themed movies tell us more about the modern world than the ancient [n.b. ... well, yeah ... isn't that the appeal of Classics in general?]:

Who killed Alexander the Great? Did he die from poisoning, from arsenic or strychnine, or from malaria, acute cirrhosis, or encephalitis?

Certainly, he had more enemies than he did troops at the end of his career, including the resourceful Ptolemy in Egypt who clearly wanted to do in his orientalizing master.

For that matter, who really killed President John F. Kennedy? Americans love murder conspiracies, but, in the cases cited above, both were done in by Oliver Stone's movies.

Deadly dull and tendentious, they took all the mystery out of some of the greatest enigmas of history.

What a pity, especially since the ancient world has been on a Hollywood roll lately. Who could forget Russell Crowe in "Gladiator" or Brad Pitt in "Troy"?

How many chances do you get to see Hollywood hunks in skirts shouting and running around slaying all the bad guys in sight?

On the historical accuracy meter, "Gladiator" more or less got it right, while "Troy" murdered poor Homer along with Achilles and a host of other dysfunctional Greek cousins.

How could Stone possibly lay an egg with Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie and Sir Anthony Hopkins in starring roles?

He could have produced a seasonal "Lord of the Rings" - style epic with blood-soaked battlefields, graphic violence, not-so-closeted homosexuality and florid drunkenness.

He also had Alexander the Great, one of history's four- star perverts and pickled psychopaths, at its center.

Yet with pouty 27-year-old Jolie as Olympias, mother of 28- year-old Farrell's "Alexander," all hope for Stone's scruples and accuracy in unraveling one of history's greatest mysteries ended.

Instead, Stone fell back upon his inability to rule out anything and everything that could have or might have happened.

Like most of his movies, Stone's "Alexander" failed at the level of empty entertainment, resorting instead to pretentious pomposity and solemnity.

Still, Val Kilmer, playing Alexander's dad, Philip II of Macedonia, in reality a shuffling, one-eyed hoodlum who behaved more like a Mafia boss than a king, almost stole the show.

Notwithstanding all this, the rash of movies like "Alexander the Great," "Troy" and "Gladiator" tell us more about the modern world than they do the ancient.

At 23, the younger-than-Farrell Alexander invaded Afghanistan, and within a decade, conquered ancient Persia and most of the world known to Westerners, in all some one million square miles and 50 million subjects.

His greatest victory came at Gaugamela in modern-day Iraq, not far from Irbil and Mosul where American soldiers daily fight and die. Even a morbid curiosity about the first western invasion of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan should have helped ticket sales. It didn't.

When faced with uprisings and rebellions in these ancient Persian provinces, Alexander purportedly told the insurgents to "bring it on." They did, and subsequently mass death followed him everywhere.

He leveled the ancient city of Thebes, executed 6,000 of its inhabitants and enslaved 20,000 others.

At Guagamela, near Mosul, and at Tyre and Gaza he dispatched tens of thousands who resisted his encirclement and sieges, all the while leading up to the climax of his "tough guy" persona, the incineration of the ancient capital of Persia in southern Iran, Persepolis, known by its the Greek name, and the cremation of its inhabitants.

Alexander destroyed so many cities that he created others bearing his name all around the known world. Imagine, for example, renaming the capital of Iraq "Bushdad" and having it around for the next 2,300 years.

Alexander did all this for a "good" cause, to create a "Brotherhood of Man," an early version of the United Nations but based upon Greek democratic ideals.

Alexander also wanted to bring about a "peaceful, multi- ethnic coexistence" in the region, albeit with a little touch of cruelty.

Not surprisingly, we love "Gladiator," "Troy" and "Alexander" for equally ambiguous reasons. They all involved the clash of great civilizations, in this case Western and Near Eastern, won by great ideals, terrific technologies, indomitable soldiers in phalanxes or divisions, and visionary leaders.

Of course, today we do this for the preservation of moral values and the extension of democracy, not for any overarching "Brotherhood of Man." Who needs the United Nations or even Napoleon today?

All these classics have other appeals to moderns. For one thing, they occurred before the advent of Christianity or of Islam, thus conveniently leaving religion out of the picture.

Remember Crowe in "Gladiator" grasping clay figurines of his family in his hand even as he died, his last thought that of being reunited with them in a Roman-like heaven?

He had admirable heterosexual, monogamous family values that reinforced his proto-Christian beliefs.

Alexander, the pervert, didn't, but he also came to a bad end in a debauched place called Babylon, not surprisingly located on the Euphrates River in modern Iraq.

Then, too, Alexander might be described as a half-educated youth, equipped with his daddy's army, who conquered and killed with impunity even as he disdained the advice of those around him.

If you disagreed with Alexander, he booted you out of his inner circle, and, in those days, either stabbed you or had you beheaded.

Only the cranky state advisor and philosopher Callisthenes ever wrote a book about Alexander. He paid for that with his life.

I look forward to the next classic making it to the big screen, perhaps a mix between the ecumenical Ben Hur and a nutty Nero and starring Billy Bob Thornton and Britney Spears.

::Sunday, January 09, 2005 12:53:18 PM::
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~ Scorsese's Howard Hughes

Interesting comments inter alia from an interview in the Sunday Herald with Martin Scorsese:

He explains that when he was making The Aviator he thought about Howard Hughes in terms of Greek mythology, particularly the story of Daedalus and Icarus.

Hughes was America’s first billionaire. He inherited vast wealth from his father, who had invented a revolutionary drill bit used in the oil business; from his mother’s side he inherited an obsessive-compulsive disorder which made him terrified of germs. He was 18 when he came into his fortune, and throughout the late Twenties worked relentlessly on the epic Hell’s Angels, the most expensive film ever made when it was released in 1930.

After Hell’s Angels, Hughes became more interested in aviation than filmmaking, took over TWA, and worked on developing planes. He suffered a near-fatal crash in 1946, and throughout the remainder of his life became increasingly reclusive, his obsessive-compulsive disorder taking over his mind, resulting in the popular image we have now of him as a wild man with long fingernails, locked in a dark hotel room, bottling his urine and wearing empty Kleenex boxes on his feet. He died in 1976. “Throughout his whole life he tries to escape from the labyrinth,” says Scorsese. “But he is the labyrinth and the minotaur. He’s his own monster.”

Kind of makes you wish Scorsese had taken on Alexander rather than Oliver Stone ...

::Sunday, January 09, 2005 12:50:53 PM::
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~ Review from Scholia

Judith P. Hallett and Marilyn B. Skinner, Roman Sexualities

::Sunday, January 09, 2005 12:47:15 PM::
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~ Big Nate

Latin teachers, no doubt, will want to clip out the Sunday version of Big Nate ...

::Sunday, January 09, 2005 12:45:57 PM::
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~ Sirens

Over at Laudator, MG has an excerpt from Homer about Odysseus and the Sirens and a poem inspired therefrom. And just to include something that's been lingering in my box for a couple of weeks, there's a piece in Wildlife Conservation magazine about dugongs, which spends a bit of time waxing on the origins of their scientific 'order' (sirenians)

::Sunday, January 09, 2005 12:42:21 PM::
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~ Newsletters.

The weekly version of our Ancient World on Television listings have been posted as has issue 7.37 of Explorator. Enjoy!

::Sunday, January 09, 2005 12:31:42 PM::
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~ AWOTV: On TV Today

9.00 p.m. |HINT| The Roman Conquests
Although Caesar invaded it in 54 BC, Britain wasn't conquered until 43 AD when Claudius established Roman garrisons at Lincoln, York, and Chester. Viewers go inside this savage period in British history and enter the battlefield from an unique perspective--of those who fought and died there. And a bloody period it proved to be for the Romans had not reckoned on the ferocious campaign mounted against the all-powerful Legions under the leadership of the legendary Queen Boudicca.
HINT = History International

::Sunday, January 09, 2005 12:29:04 PM::
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1. n. an abnormal state or condition resulting from the forced migration from a lengthy Classical education into a profoundly unClassical world; 2. n. a blog about Ancient Greece and Rome compiled by one so afflicted (v. "rogueclassicist"); 3. n. a Classics blog.

Publishing schedule:
Rogueclassicism is updated daily, usually before 7.00 a.m. (Eastern) during the week. Give me a couple of hours to work on my sleep deficit on weekends and holidays, but still expect the page to be updated by 10.00 a.m. at the latest.

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