classics news

news archive I

April 1996 to October 1997

  • Top Spinners
    In a programme called "A Brief History of Spin" broadcast tonight ,the Oxford Historian Felipe Fernandez Armesto awards the second prize for the greatest spin doctors of all time to Gaius Maecenas, publicist to the emperor Augustus. He manipulated his patron's image so successfully thatfew outside the ranks of ancient historian realise that the man who "found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble" (not a bad sound-bite) began his career as a world class mass-murderer. Forget Ted Sorensen and Pierre Salinger, forget Peter Mandelson or even James Carville - this guy could have made Pol Pot into Mother Theresa (and who did her publicity?). [Leviathan, BBC TV September 25 1997]

  • Blashers goes bonkers in Bolivia
    Colonel John Blashford Snell ("Blashers") is the latest in a long line of the daft and the deluded to go looking for Atlantis. Any classicist could tell hm where to look - it exists - but only in the pages of Plato's Timaeus and Critias. If anyone went to Bolivia (yes, that's where it is, apparently!) looking for Plato's Republic, they would deserve the richest mockery available. Will mad explorers of the future go looking for Utopia, or Middle Earth or Discworld? What is it about Atlantis than no one can accept its fictional status - it is as imaginary as Lear's Land Where the Bong Tree Grows. Watch this space : Plato's Page is coming soon, and will bury this Atlantis nonsense once and for all! [Daily MailSeptember 18 1997]

  • Roman Secret Police HQ
    It was widely reported in the press this week that Israeli archaeologists are interpreting a Latin inscription found in a building in ancient Caesarea as indicating that the building was the HQ of the Roman internal security services. If so, this could be where Paul of Tarsus aka St Paul aka Saul - any many other anti-Roman agitators were "interrogated". [Is it generally known why Saul changed his name to Paul? Paulus = "Tich" ,"Stumpy", "Shorty" from Latin meaning small might seem an undignified nickname, but must have been an improvement on his Jewish name once he started associating with Greeks: in Greek saulos means " wiggling the hips in a sexually provocative manner" - hardly a suitable monicker for the serious evangelist!]
        The Latin mosaic says (quoted inaccurately in most papers - but the Times had a clear photograph):
    BONA SPES ADIVI ORIB(VS) OFFICI CVSTODIAR appearing to mean "Good Hope. I have come to the entrance(jaws) of the office. I shall be looked after."
        Professor Yosef Porath, director of the excavations reckons that he's found the admin centre for the province of Judaea, and the likely site of the trial of St Paul in 45 AD (he successfully appealed to Rome, on the grounds that he was a Roman citizen). Ironically, the current HQ of the Shin Bet, the Israeli secret police is today a mere 30 miles down the road. [Guardian September 10 1997]

  • Olympics are coming home!
    Athenians were dancing in the streets following the announcement that the 2004 Olympics will be held in Athens. Perhaps it would be churlish to point out that Athens had nothing whatever to do with the running and organisation of the ancient Games - which were held in Elis in the north west Peloponnese. The Pan-Athenian Games were not particularly highly regarded - and unlike the "stephanotic" Games at Olympia, Delphi, Nemea and Isthmia - where the prize was a simple garland of vegetation - the Athenians had to offer tempting prizes of olive-oil to attract top competitiors. See Panathenaic Vases. [September 8th 1997]

  • Plato's Socialist Republic?
    Revelations about attempts to purify the race by enforced sterilisations in Scandinavia - a program that endured in Sweden until as recently as 1976 - have prompted research into British socialist thinkers' ideas on Eugenics. Many make Plato's proposals look extremely tame: Shaw favored "selective breeding"; Bertrand Russell suggested the issue of color-coded "procreation tickets" to avoid contamination of the race - anyone breeding with a holder of the wrong-color ticket would face a hefty fine; HG Wells was enthusiastic about the removal of "detrimental types and characteristics". Even many reformers were motivated by Eugenic rather than humanitarian motives: the Webbs wanted free milk for the future working class because of the kicking it had received in the Boer War. Marie Stopes' birth-control was not about female emancipation, but to reduce the numbers of the proletariat. JM Keynes was keen to enforce it on the workers who were "too drunken and ignorant" to control their own numbers. [Guardian 30 August 1997]

  • Mind Sports Olympiad
    The first "Mind Olympiad" took place in Londonn recently, attracting 2000 competitors from 58 countries. But how would present Olympians compete wiith the greats of the past? According to Tony Buzan and Raymond Keene, the organisers, the most intelligent person who ever lived was Leonardo da Vinci, with a storming IQ of 220, with Goethe (215) and Shakespeare (210) in silver and bronze positions. The best Greeks are Archimedes and Aristotle, in equal 8th position on 190. No Romans get as far as 180, which is the score of the top-rated woman (George Eliot). [New Statesman 29 August 1997]

  • Achilles' Heel Kicked Out
    A world conference conference of Anatomists in Sao Paulo, Brazil has agreed on a revised list of standard anatomical terms in Latin and English, which will enable doctors in all countries to know which bit hurts. There are casualties, though. Out go Fallopian tubes, Adam's apple - and the Achilles tendon, which will in future be known as tendo calcaneus.Behind the changes is Dr Di Dio, whose has gained linguistic immortality by being the first to name parts of the body that were previously anonymous - the gap between the breasts, for example, is now officially the "inter-mammary sulcus" (who said cleavage?). [Guardian 29 August 1997]

  • Invitation to Paradise?
    Classics lovers are invited to visit a country with superbly preserved Roman monuments, guaranteed sunshine, no crowds, no package tours, no noisy nightclubs (no nightlife of any kind), no British lager louts (alcohol is banned) - yes, a firm has been hired to promote tourism in - Libya. Form an orderly queue. If you've always wanted to know how many kisses were enough and more than enough for poor Catullus (Poem 7 - see my new version) now's your chance to count the grains of sand between Cyrene and the ancient tomb of Battus.[Guardian 25 August 1997]

  • Gutless Greeks - offal's off
    A European Economic Community directive is threatening a historic part of Greek cuisine. Since the days of Aristophanes (see Knights) Greeks have loved those choice inner organs - but now the offal offends officials of the EEC, and a ban has been proposed. "I am gutted," said an Athenian spokesman. [ UK press August 1997]

  • No more tin
    The worst blow to the Cornish economy since Augustus opened up the Spanish tin-mines has just been announced. The last working tin mine in Cornwall (South West England) will close within six months. Tin has been mined in the region since prehistoric times - and what may be the earliest mention of the British Isles (by Herodotus - of course - book 3.115) calls them the "Tin Islands" (Kassiterides). Certainly by the time of Caesar most of the tin used in Western Europe and the Mediterranean came from Cornwall. (Tin + Copper = Bronze). The industry recovered from competition from Spain - but the falling world price of tin has finally killed this ancient industry. [Guardian August 8 1997]

  • Pythagoras' Chums
    The Ancient World mocked the philosopher Pythagoras, because he (allegedly) believed that the humble bean had a soul, and was thus, like him, eligible for reincarnation. Obviously this was because beans seem, when hosted by a human, to produce their own breath, wind, flatulence - very much a life of their own. Now a British Scientist at Cambridge has genetically engineered the world's first fart-free bean. It has been christened the "prim" bean in token of its guarantee not to cause social embarrassment. Pythagoreans are aghast. Mr Bean intends to sue.[Guardian August 5 1997]

  • The First Concentration Camp?
    A building recently excavated near the Vindolanda fort on Hadrian's Wall may have been a prison-camp for rebel Britons. At any rate the back-to-back hits are unique in the Roman Empire, and it's hard to think of a better explanation. [Guardian August 2 1997]

  • Oldest British Doctor
    Guardian and Daily Telegraph] The grave of a medical man from the middle of the first century AD has been discovered near Colchester, Essex. The occupant, presumably a surgeon from the interesting collection of 13 medical instruments (scalpels, tweezers, retractors and a saw) was also interested in gambling (a spectacular gaming-board was found in the same grave last year)and possibly told fortunes on the side (if this is what two puzzling sets of bronze and copper rods may be for), and good wine (imported from Spain).
    If this medical man was British (why else locally made instruments? A Roman with the army would have brought his with him), he had expensive tastes, and a lifestyle which would have made him a prime target for Boudicca's freedom-fighters. Her "rebellion" was in 61 AD, and began only 50 miles away. Details here[Guardian July 10 1997]

  • Mummy's new face
    The British Museum's Ancient Faces exhibition (on until 20th July 1997) has already been a brilliant success. But it now has something even more remarkable to show. The portraits - anticipating artistic skills of the Renaissance by 1500 years, have been known since they were discovered by the great Victorian archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie at Hawara in Egypt in 1888(although we don't know precisely how their encaustic technique worked). Petrie originally had 60 skulls which matched the portraits - but these were believed lost. When Meredith Thompson went to a lecture last winter, given by Dr Paul Roberts of the British Museum who'd been assembling the exhibition of portraits - she was amazed to discover that she knew where some of the skulls were - on her desk!
       So far so incredible: but it gets better. Two of the skulls were given to John Prag and Richard Neave in Manchester - experts on the reconstruction of faces from bones (Philip of Macedon is their masterpiece - but their expertise has also been used to reconstruct the faces of murder or arson victims). They built up models of the faces using their techniques - they were deliberately not shown the matching portraits. The results - particularly of the woman nicknamed Fatima - are absolutely startling. The match between the head and the portrait is uncanny, especially now she's been given a wig to echo the picture. There's a month left - on no account should you miss this exhibition. It seems to prove that these Romano-Egyptians really did paint portraits from life: and when else has it been possible to check a portrait of a dead person with the real thing? [UK newspapers 26 June 1997 - excellent pictures in Guardian and Daily Telegraph]

  • The Odyssey: Homer
    Robert Fagles' eagerly-awaited new translation of the Odyssey has been published by Viking. I haven't got my copy yet, but reviews in the UK press (eg Guardian 19 June 1997) suggest it's just what's needed to win new fans for a generation who are unaware that anyone called Homer ever said much except "doh!", and would use Ajax to clean their john.

  • Hadrian's Wall
    There is to be a new long distance footpath, helped by cash from the National Lottery, which will follow the route of Hadrian's Wall from Wallsend to Bowness on Solway, about 80 miles. (Independent 19th June 1997)

  • What about the Lion on the Cheesegrater Position?
    A new book by James Davidson called Courtesans and Fishcakes has been published by HarperCollins. It paints a far more attractive view of Athenian sexuality than recent scholarship has suggested (eg Eva Keuls in The Reign of the Phallus). Current orthodoxy has interpreted all sexual encounters as showing male dominance - whether over women, boys or whatever. But Davidson suggests that we put the fun back into our interpretation of the Athenians' sex-life - his theory on why so many acts seem to done standing up is both intriguing and convincing. What's the link with fishcakes? Well. The popularity of fish - an expensive luxury in days before refrigeration - and sex both show the Athenians in transition from citizens for whom only the polis mattered to individuals who could afford to spend money on enjoying themselves, and did so to glorious excess. They knew where you could stuff your meden agan. Excellent review in Times June 5th 1997

  • "I see the Tiber foaming with much soap"
    Filming began last week in Rome of a 13-part soap to be called SPQR. It promises a story of "betrayal, lust, class conflict, corrupt politicians, rigged elections, tax-evasion and unmarried girls becoming pregnant." Rumours that newly-unemployed ex-ministers in the UK Tory Party have been taken on as script consultants have been hotly denied. The show, which will have 168 characters and a budget of $10 million will save on set-construction by using existing locations. The Appian Way, Colosseum and Baths of Caracalla are believed to be conveniently nearby. In a sense this will only be soap returning to its roots: the original 70s BBC series I Claudius was generally admitted to have inspired Dynasty. [report in The Times May 22 1997]

  • Ted Hughes does Ovid
    The Poet Laureate escapes from the duty of providing doggerel for Britain's sad royals and gets his teeth again into some real red meat: the Metamorphoses have been waiting 2000 years for the Hughes treatment. His newly-published "Tales from Ovid" (Faber & Faber) is brilliant: 24 stories of passion, perversion and lust. Perhaps he will be emboldened by his success in this book to forget about his mimsy birthday odes and give us the real Hughes treatment of the royal soap-opera: certainly the possibilities for giving Fergie Charles and Di the full Ovidian monty must be very tempting! [reviews in most papers and magazines weekend of 24-25 May 1997]

  • Duke as doryphoros
    According to Garry Wills' new book (John Wayne, the Politics of Celebrity) the hero aka Marion Morrison modelled his famous stance on Greek sculpture. Imagine Polycleitus' spear-carrier with a cowboy hat - and yes, it's him! [Independent on Sunday Magazine May 11th 1997]

  • Captain's Log: Stardate 4000 BC
    A 6000-year-old piece of shaped timber found by divers in the Solent (Hampshire, England) has been carbon-dated to about 4000 BC. Apparently there's a lot more where it came from, and marine archaeologists are speculating whether it may be part of the oldest known boat. Hopes that it might have been Roman are dashed - but it could turn out to be Egyptian (although it woyld antedate the Pyramids - as well as Stonehenge - by 2000 years) - but some are claiming a southern hemisphere origin for the wood - which is from an unknown species of tree. Gopher wood? [UK Press May 7th 1997. The Daily Mail has a complete Kon-Tiki like reconstruction based on this one piece of wood which may not even be from a ship!]

  • Cicero was right about old age!
    Cicero's recomendations for a long and healthy life have been confirmed in a book published in UK this week. American doctor Dharma Singh Khalsa - without admitting any debt to the first century BC pop philosopher - claims that a simple diet, mental activity (reasoning and memory exercises and no TV), plus regular reading or writing will stave off the dreaded Alzheimer's disease. Cicero in De Senectute recommends mental activity (learn something new - like Greek!), exercise, moderation in diet. In fact his work seems very much in tune with the modern idea of "dying young as late as possible". [Brain Longevity published by Century]

  • Labour keeps Marbles
    Despite an apparent personal pledge made by the previous leader of the UK Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, to Melina Mercouri, then Greek Minister of Culture, that a Labour government would immediaely set about returning the bits of the Parthenon sold to Britain by the Turks in 1803 to Athens,Tony Blair's brand-new Labour government (since May 2nd) has decided that they will stay in the British Museum. Heritage Secretary Chris Smith said on TV that the matter had been considered, but that in the government's view it would make no sense to repatriate them. A major row with Greece is now expected. [UK Press May 5th-6th 1997]

  • Hercules' greatest challenge?
    Hercules, in his latest incarnation as a Disney cartoon character, will have to defeat at least 14 other superstars to make it through this summer. The animated epic (with voices by Danny DeVito - no! - and James Woods) is only one of an unprecedented 15 $100,000,000+ movies to be launched this year (US June 27, UK October 10). Competition includes Speed 2, Alien 4, Volcano, The Lost World, Air Force One - and, worse than any Lernaean Hydra, Batman and Robin.

  • Prometheus, the movie
    Tony Harrison, Yorkshire's greatest poet, is to make a film version of the Prometheus story, with locations ranging from Yorkshire mines to Greece [Independent 24th April 1997]

  • Marcus Aurelius rides again
    The famous 2nd century AD bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on his horse is back in its place on the Capitol in Rome after 16 years - but it's a brilliant copy, the original being in the nearby museum. This is the only equestrian statue to have survived, and in its original location, from the ancient world (probably because they thought the emperor was the Christian Constantine, not Stoic Marcus).It was an inspiration to later sculptors - including Michelangelo. Pictures [Times, 21 April 1997]

  • Hannibalism
    Tunisia has woken up to the tourist potential of Hannibal. Previously the old warrior was ignored by a nation not eager to lay claim to anything before the arrival of Islam. Now, though, a more secular Tunisia is wishing to stress other aspects of her early history - exploring Greek, Roman and Berber connections as well as Punic. The "Hannibal Club" - charged with getting the project off the ground wanted to start by repatriating his bones: but Bithynia was not easy to locate. Nor does anyone know what he looked like - though I'm sure this won't stop him appearing on mugs, teatowels and other essential tourist paraphernalia. And wasn't he actually a bit of a loser?[The Guardian, April 11th 1997]

  • The Masada Myth
    The traditional version of the fall of the stronghold of Masada in Israel in AD 73 is under fire. According to Josephus' story - famously endorsed by the original excavator in the 60s, Professor Yigael Yadin, - the heroic leader of the last Jewish resistance to the Romans, Elezar Ben-Yair, masterminded the suicide of 960 of his followers. But now a new and controversial interpretation of Josephus and the archaeological evidence suggests that the defenders of Masada were not heroic patriots, but a gang of murderers, followers of an illegal cult which had assassinated 700 local people and killed the High Priest in Jerusalem. Much is at stake - as Masada since the dig in the sixties has become a potent national symbol - recruits to the Israeli armoured corps went up there for their annual swearing-in ceremony.[The Independent on Sunday, 30th March 1997]

  • Of Mycenae and Men
    Fragments of skull found at Mycenae - from graves outside the walls of the 17th century BC BC citadel and slightly older - have been used by medical artist Richard Neave to reconstruct faces of Agamemnon's ancestors. Actually the theory is that the bones and skull fragments are from two rival dynasties - one of which would have won out and become the House of Atreus. DNA tests will be enable scientists to discover who of the "nobles outside the walls" were related to those later buried inside - and whether they were genetically more closely related to other mainland Greeks or to Cretans. Many ancient controversies may be solved at last. It will also be interesting to discover whether any modern "Myceneans" exist - as a man living near Cheddar in Somerset UK was recently found to share DNA with a cave-dwelling ancestor who lived locally 7000 years previously. [Report and Picture in Observer, Sunday 30th March 1997]

  • No more Hippocratic Oath
    UK doctors have operated on the 2500 year old Hippocratic Oath and surgically removed it. No longer will initiates into medicine swear by Apollo the Healer, Asclepius, Hygieia and Panacea - but will be asked to subscribe to a new code of ethics described disparagingly by one expert as "in favour of motherhood and apple-pie". Out goes "I will not give a woman a pessary to procure abortion" and in comes "Where abortion is permitted, I agree that it should take place only within an ethical and legal framework." Out goes "I will refrain from the seduction of females or males" and in comes "I will be honest, respectful and compassionate." [UK papers, Friday and Saturday 29th-30th March 1997]. This seems a good time to remember Hippocrates' greatest contribution to the art of medicine - leaving things alone. Hippocrates, unlike the doctors of his time, who favoured intervention in the form of spells, potions, and the deliberate introduction of potentially infectious material into wounds, believed in doing as little as possible. In this way, most patients, left to nature, recovered spontaneously - and Hippocrates' reputation soared.

  • Death by a million rose petals
    The painting The Roses of Heliogabalus is one of many by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema currently on exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK (until 8th June). The fabulously decadent Roman emperor is "relaxed on a couch with his vicious mother, a catamite and four doxies. Time for a spot of cruelty. A minion pulls a cord, and before one can say 'Heliogabalus', a sprawl of courtiers is showered with flowers. This is death by a million rose petals, but the victims haven't yet grasped that the pink and white downpour will continue until they suffocate." (William Feaver - the Observer, 31 March 1997). Alma-Tadema, Victorian bourgeoisie's favourite soft-porn artist was a fellow countryman and older contemporary of Van Gogh (although he outlived him by 20 years). A-T was in his lifetime everything VG wasn't in his - world famous and very very rich.

  • Small Latin and less Greek?
    You won't even need "small Latin" to get into Cambridge University to read Classics, if current proposals for changing the entry qualifications go through. You won't need to know any Latin at all - Cambridge will teach you all you need to know in a summer school before you start. Cambridge is behind Oxford in this (unlike today's University Boat Race ) - they took their first non-linguists in 1995 - and the first candidates have just taken mods. [UK Press Saturday 30th April 1997]

  • Elvis vivit! Vivat Rex!
    Finnish latinomane Jukka ("elvissimus") Ammondt took full advantage of the temporary presence in Finland of the world's two most potent leaders (albeit both symbolically crippled) to plug his latest CD. Apparently Latin is the new rock'n'roll - or is rock'n'roll the new Latin? "Latin used to unite the world - today rock music unites the world" - and the new Ammondt CD unites Latin and Rock. Most of the King's greatest numbers are included : Ne saevias ("Don't be cruel") - Clinton was urged to sing this one to Yeltsin (in Latin, of course); Quate, Crepa, Rota ("Shake, rattle and roll"); Nunc distrahor ("I'm all shook up"); Ai, nunc laudi sis, Claudia ("Lawdy Miss Clawdy") and of course Glauci calcei ("Blue suede shoes").

  • Roman faces
    A superb exhibition of Egyptian portraits from the Roman period is at the British Museum, London, until July (Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt). These are the sloe-eyed young ladies and gentlemen who have found their way on to so many book covers (Penguin Classics Catullus, eg) - but nothing prepares you for the stunning freshness and "modernity" of the originals. There's a superb catalogue to go with the exhibition.[March 16, 1997]

  • Herodotus and the Oscars
    Herodotus is delighted to be told that his work as Father of History has received the ultimate accolade. In Anthony Mingella's film of Michael Ondaatje's novel, the unconscious English Patient (who turns out to be Hungarian) has only one thing to help identify him - a copy of Herodotus in his pocket. Let's hope some of the 13 (I think) nominations for this excellent film turn into the real thing. Herodotus' Histories look set to become hot tie-in merchandise [Reviews in most papers March 1997]

  • Was Cnossos destroyed from Outer Space?
    A suggestion that the simultaneous destruction of Bronze Age civilisations in various parts of the world (first noted by French Archaeologist Claude Schaeffer 50 years ago who postulated volcanic eruptions - now known to be impossible) is to be discussed at a conference in Cambridge in July. There were three destructive episodes over a huge area of the near and Middle East (2300 BC - Mesopotamia, Indus Valley, Egypt, 1650 BC and 1250 BC - Mycenaean cities). The new theory (propounded by Dr Benny Peiser from Liverpool John Moores using evidence from Dr Marie-Agnes Courty, a French soil expert) proposes that the destruction was caused by extra-terrestrial impact, from meteorites or the tail of a comet. Dr Courty has found traces of a calcite material in the soil - unknown on earth, but found in meteorites - along with vast amounts of black carbon, which most probably came from ash deposited from forest fires. [Report in the Times 8th March 1997]

  • A New Athens?
    The most exciting improvements to Athens since Hadrian were announced this weekend. A traffic-free "archaeological corridor" from the Temple of Olympian Zeus to the Academy is planned, taking in all the major sites on the way. The new Lyceum site will not be part of it, however, but it's good news for Platonists that the Academy (which always reminded me of Peter Simple's "lovely, sex-maniac-haunted Sadcake Park" in his Daily Telegraph column) is to be put on the main tourist map at last. Ironically the announcement coincided with another strike of the absurdly underpaid site attendants. [Report in the Guardian 15th February 1997]

  • Amazons - amazin' discoveries
    What we always thought was the ultimate Greek mens' fantasy - a race of warrior women desperate for a scrap with their male counterparts - may after all be based on reality. According to the New Scientist, an American archaeologist, Jeannine Davis-Kimball, has found women's bones together with used weapons (arrowheads, swords and daggers)in 2000 year old burial mounds belonging to a nomadic race in Central Asia (more or less where Herodotus located them). [Independent 6 February 1997]

  • Who killed the 100 babies?
    A mass grave of over 100 infants (all under two days old) dating from 4th century AD has been found in a sewer near a Roman bath house in Israel. Is this evidence for the infanticide method of ancient birth control (but if so why were only about a quarter of them girls)? If the bath house was also a brothel, there is the possibility that the babies were the unplanned and unwanted offspring of the working girls (would explain why there are so many males).
    Exposure of unwanted children was normal practice in the ancient world (not just something that happened to mythological characters like Oedipus).[Guardian 16th Jan 1997]

  • Lyceum found!
    The greatest archaeological discovery since the war, according to press reports. Aristotle's Lyceum has finally been located to the east of the Acropolis. I hope it will not suffer the fate of the Academy in Athens, which must be among the most obscure, unvisited and undocumented sites in the city.[Guardian 15th Jan 1997]

  • Elvis in Latin
    Elvis vivit! All you ever wanted to know about the legendary Finnish recordings of the King in Latin.

  • Acropolis Now?
    Not according to a recent Associated Press Report. The present programme of repairs and restoration is set to last another 35 to 40 years! Perhaps a better bet, then, is to take that virtual tour of the Acropolis - no crowds, no smog. [The Times 17th May 1996]

  • The Olympic Torch
    The dropping of the sacred Olympic Torch by a cyclist and its consequent extinction has led to a questioning of the whole absurd ritual. The torch was apparently immediately relit with an alternative flame also kindled by the sun's rays in the Temple of Zeus Olympios on the morning of March 30th. Memories were recalled of the Tokyo Olympics, where a similar incident was avoided by prompt use of a cigarette lighter. Many Classicists (even) assume the ritual is ancient. There were of course torch races (like the one Socrates had been to at the beginning of Republic) - but they were never part of the Olympics. The Olympic Flame goes back only to Hitler's Games in 1936 - and was possibly one of Leni Riefenstahl's concepts (she wanted the runners naked : the Greek boys involved said no!). The appropriate still from Olympiad her amazing film is available.) [Guardian etc May 8th]

  • Romans in Ireland?
    A recent claim in the London Sunday Times that evidence has been found for existence of a 40 acre Roman fort dating from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD at Drumanagh 15 miles north of Dublin is rubbished in the current issue of Archaeology. Evidence seems to point to Roman trade, rather than occupation - but items which could prove things one way or the other are unavailable to archaeologists. As they were allegedly looted from the site using a metal detector, they are being held by the police as "evidence" in a forthcoming prosecution! [May 3rd 1996]

  • Looted jewels return to Greece
    50 items of Mycenaean jewelry, looted from tombs near Nemea in the Peloponnese in 1978, were restored to Greece recently, after a ceremonial handing over in Washington. The exact history of the items since they left Greece is obscure, but a prominent US Archaeologist hinted at collusion between art dealers, government officials, guards and looters. Full story in May's Archaeology.

  • Homer - a flash in the pan?
    An interesting papyrus fragment, recently deciphered (Romanian Academy Journal of Comparative Papyrology), seemingly describes the first public readings of the Iliad and Odyssey in 5th century Corinth. The upshot appears to be that valuable sheepskin should not be wasted on recopying a story which is too long, too full of repetitions, with far too many "rosy-fingered dawns", too many boring bits, and for the Odyssey, such a crap ending. What is Odysseus going to do next, for god's sake? No: these old fashioned, boring, long-winded epics are not worth the vellum they're written on. There's an excellent article by George Steiner in Prospect (May 1996) - discussing the future of literature using this papyrus as his jumping-off point. See my non-boring version of the Odyssey![27th April 1996]

  • Nude statues: Shock! Horror!!
    The incredible fuss about the nude statues of a male and female athlete on the the route of the Olympic torch to Atlanta has caused world-wide amusement.The Times [third leader 27th April] points out that all original competitors were naked (although they fail to mention one of the important reasons for this: to ensure that no woman could compete) - and even refers to the Mutilation of the Hermae in 415 BC as a precedent for political interference with statuary!

  • Trojan Gold in St Petersburg.

  • Catullus for 60p!
    Sexy new version now published by Phoenix. Will help to keep up Classics' reputation for rudeness. [April 21, 1996 - Guardian printed translation of 'Quintia formosa est ...']

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