classics news

news archive 2

October 1997 to April 1998

  • Women in Greece - the hidden truth
    A paper delivered by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones at the Classical Association conference this week suggests that women's lot in ancient Greece was even worse than previously supposed. Re-examining the evidence from art and literature, he proposes that women, if they appeared at all, were heavily veiled in public throughout Greek history. In particular, he reckons that the numerous pictures showing a bride being unveiled actually show the reverse. Using analogies from modern veiled cultures, he speculates that the Greeks, too, feared the pollution thought to stream from a woman's hair. (Report in The Times April 10th 1998)

  • The stripping of Albania
    Classical art treasures, vulnerable to thieves and racketeers in that tragic country - once as rich as Greece in terms of its ancient, Roman and medieval heritage - are being sent to Greece for protection. Albanian museums have been looted and are, like most of her churches, desecrated and abandoned. Only the National Museum in Tirana is still trying to operate normally. Treasures from Butrint (Buthrotum) are now safe for the time being in Athens. (Guardian March 27th 1998)

  • Lucky Lords?
    An article in Oxford Today (Hilary Term 1998) suggests that an ideal way of reforming the Second Chamber of the British Parliament, the House of Lords, would be to introduce the ancient Athenian democratic principle of lot. At present their lordships are largely there because of the lottery of birth: this scheme would select the peers by a true lottery - perhaps a draw as part ofthe National Lottery, where an alternative to the standard £1,000,000 or so could be a coronet and an ermine gown.

  • A new Greek bronze from the sea
    Brief news of a new underwater find: a late Hellenistic bronze statue of a man (6 feet tall and 3 feet broad, with no arms and one leg) has been found in the sea 60 miles west of Trapani, Sicily. (The Times 6th March 1998)

  • Sunday Drivers
    Veteran Roman stunt man Sergio Casadei, 72, with the help of ex car park attendant Liberato Mirenna is reviving the chariot race, one of the glories of ancient Rome (or at least of the film Ben Hur, in which he drove one of the chariots built by his father). Now that The Via Appia is closed to traffic on a Sunday, it will be used to stage re-runs of the world's most famous chariot race, to attract Romans and tourists to the area. Signor Casadei reaveals that his dream is to stage races in the Colosseum. This could be a first, as the ancient Romans held theirs in the Circus Maximus. (The Times, March 1998)

  • Ovid wins again
    Ted Hughes' magnificent Tales from Ovid has now won a third award - the £10,000 W H Smith Literarary Award, to add to the two Whitbread Awards (Poetry Award and Book of the Year). Hughes gives the main credit to Ovid, but Professor John Carey (Professor of English at Oxford) says "this is the only translation I have read that turns great poetry into great poetry."(Times 5th March 1998) I can only agree, having read the book non-stop from cover to cover on a recent long-haul flight.

  • Rome from the Air - 64 AD
    Last weekend, archaeologists discovered a fresco on an ancient wall on the Esquiline Hill. The site is close to Nero's Domus Aurea - his architecturally innovative palace built on land "freed up" by the Great Fire of AD 64, and may well have been part of the complex, which included lakes, woods and parkland. The real interest is that the fresco (10ft by 6ft in size) - no cleaning has yet been attempted for fear of damaging it - seems to be a "bird's eye view" of the city before the fire. Temples and other buildings show up red on a bluish background, and there's a bridge across the Tiber with houses on it, like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. (Daily Telegraph 5th March 1998)

  • An Infant Hercules?
    Sorry to mention the H word again - but apparently "Infant Hercules" is a medical term for an abnormally large baby - such as Ethan Gilby of Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire UK. He is one year old, but weighs 32lb and is 3 feet tall. He can already "lift the video recorder" according to his mum. But can he strangle snakes with his bare hands? (Daily Telegraph 5th March 1998)

  • Acropolis Now!  Soon!  Never?
    The last original decorations from the Periclean Acropolis (slabs from Temple of Athena Nike) have been permanently removed to the museum. At the same time it was revealed that the Parthenon (which took 20 years to build) 11th February 1998) will be in restoration for ever. "The time will never come when we can say that the Acropolis works are over" said Athens' culture minister, Evangelos Venizelos. (The Guardian 27th February 1998) . For Marbles latest see below

  • The Ancient Britons had hot baths 1000 years before the Greeks
    Once seen as the unique Greek contibution to human decadence (see Aristophanes, Juvenal, Martial and other great ancient moralists), it can now be revealed that the clean-living Celts invented the sauna around 3500 years ago. Tim Laurie, an archaeologist has indentified 64 heaps of stone scattered over North Yorkshire, England, as proving these primitive Yorkshiremen were as decadent as any Roman emperor. Apparently they heated the rocks up on a fire, chucked them into a cistern of water, and had bathtime fun. Then they chucked the rocks away, where they formed the piles found today. (But why didn't they just recycle the same rock?)(The Guardian 11th February 1998)

  • The Iliad: latest tool in the battle of the sexes.
    A British educationalist, Nick Tate, head of the government funded Qualifications and Curriculum Agency, has recommended some books to get boys to read (we're worried that girls are now leaving boys in their educational wake - 65% of them pass GCSE English as against 43% of boys). Among them is the Iliad: "It's action-packed, it has bounce and rhythm and vitality and excitement and danger. And that is what is going to get a lot of boys interested in reading." But how are they going to make sure the girls don't get hold of it?(The Guardian 11th February 1998)

  • Euripides' study found?
    A Greek archaeologist, Yannis Lolos, claims to have found the cave on Salamis, where Euripides shut himself away to write some of his early plays. The evidence? A fragment of a bowl (of Roman period), inscribed "Euripides" - and a passage in Hippolytus which describes the sea view from the cave. Hmmm. Isn't it just as likely that some enterprising Salaminians "discovered" a suitable cave to fit the tradition, and sold the Roman tourists tacky souvenirs?(The Times 2nd January 1998)

  • Ovid is Book of the Year
    Ted Hughes' Tales from Ovid has deservedly carried off the Whitbread Prize for Book of the Year 1997. Among the chosen tales from the Metamorphoses is one which a British reviewer recommends to Bill Clinton for bedside(?) reading: the story of Atalanta, where Hippomenes seems uncannily to have been where BC did not fear to tread. Luke Harding suggests subsituting Hillary for vengeful Aphrodite and Ms Lewinsky for for Atalanta. As for the temple where the fornication occurred - the Oval Office. See my Atalanta page for details of the story. (Guardian 29th January 1998)

  • More on Atlantis mania
    While Blashers is looking in Bolivia (see below), some equally unblanced Russians are going to be diving off the coast of Cornwall in their own quaint quest for Atlantis. The expedition will cost millions of roubles: where could I get a grant to look for Utopia or Erewhon or (preferably) The Land Where The Bong Tree Grows? (Independent on Sunday 11 January 1998; Sunday Times 28th December 1997)

  • Ancient Dentistry
    A 1900 year old skull from Essone, France has a false tooth neatly implanted in the jawbone. The local dentist had hammmered a wrought iron implant (probably while it was still hot!) into the gap left by extraction of the molar. The bone had then grown round it , and a natural integration of bone and false tooth took place. Such an operation today (hopefully under anaesthetic and using titanium rather than iron) is still controversial, with most dentists preferring to use a "bridge" rather than implant a foreign body and wait for osseointegration.(Guardian 1st January 1998)

  • The Great Athenian Novel
    Newly out in paperback (Warner) is Tom Holt's two-part trilogy The Walled Orchard. The hero is a 5th century comic playwright and arch-rival of a loathsome Aristophanes. He survives the Pelponnesian War, the Plague, the post-war decline of Athens and perversion of her democracy - all with one-liners and wisecracks appropriate to a "fifth-century Hawkeye Pierce". And the details are accurate - the author spent years researching Athenian economics in the hopes that this would explain the development of democracy. He decided it didn't and started writing the novels instead. (Independent on Sunday 21 December 1997)

  • Disney's Hercules: good news or bad news?
    • First the good news. "The much-trailed release of Disney's Hercules has rekindled enthusiasm among adult learners for the Classics. Latin GCSE evening classes at Park Lane College, Leeds, have more than doubled their intake this term, as a result of growing interest - among everyone from recent college graduates to hospital workers - in the animated Roman superhero." (vebatim from FE Now! November 1997)
    • And the bad...Despite renaming the film ("Beyond the myth of Heracles"[sic]), and handing out warning booklets at every screening (outlining the REAL myth), the launch of the Mouse's latest dropping has been a disaster in Greece. In two weeks since it opened in Athens, cinemas have recorded record losses. Permission for an open-air première in the Pnyx was denied, by Director of Antiquities Dr Yiannis Tzedakis."This film is not for Greece. It is not for Athens. We Greeks have a thing about myths. We take them very seriously." So what's wrong with a Herc who only does four labours (including one pinched from Perseus one from Theseus), who's the legitimate son of a lovey-dovey Zeus and doting Hera, and who's best mate is a hairy dwarf - even if he does have the name of Philoctetes (Heracles' final benefactor in the REAL myth, who lit the funeral pyre when no one else dared and received the fatal bow for his pains)? In Greece even six-year-olds know who killed the Minotaur! The verdict? "The film has trivialised and pillaged European culture in the name of profit." (Guardian December 19, 1997)

  • New edition of the Ars Amatoria deperately needed
    Latin lovers, and lovers of Ovid, will be amazed to learn that a School for Seduction has been opened in Udine, Northern Italy. Incompetent lovers, for a fee, will learn the five steps to seduction from Clinical Psychologist Romina Bellandi, 26. Ovid's Art of Love caused a scandal in Augustan Rome for daring to articulate what everybody knew - in modern Italy, it seems, young people are just too busy to master the techniques in the traditional way.(The Times, November 1st 1997)

  • tempus festivum adest
    For those in search of the gift for a sad Classicist in their life, the following are available from Past Times merchandising (many thanks to Richard H):
    • Libens Volens Potens T-shirt (Ready, Willing and able), £9.99
    • Lavator Amphorarum apron (Bottle-washer), £8.9
    • Dux Coquorum hat (head cook), £4.99
    • Maximus pater T-shirt (super dad), £?
    • Maxime Fabulosum T-shirt (absolutely fabulous), £9.99 (shouldn't it be fabulosa?)
    • Emptrix nata sum bag (born to shop), £9.99

  • The Odyssey
    The movie version of the Odyssey was premiered in UK last week. On the Sky Movie Channel. Why? Where are the Telemachus dolls, the Charybdis bubble-bath, Circe's sausages? See the Guardian review (October 18 1997) in Presscuttings.

  • Those Marbles again
    22 of the world's leading architects have collectively registered their total opposition to the Italian design for the new Acropolis museum, which will house the Parthenon marbles currently being "looked after" by the British Museum. As Tony Blair's government (breaking a previous election promise made by his predecessor Neil Kinnock) has already refused to talk about their return (see below), the whole project has an air of unreality. The museum, which from the outside would resemble a vast slice of Feta Cheese, features a huge underground cavern - rather like the setting for the dénoumement of an early Bond movie - with a curving peephole on the north side, from where you could see the actual Acropolis. It stands (or rather does not stand) accused of being too big, too dark and in the wrong place. Maybe Richard Rogers - one of the leading opponents (whose Millenium Dome for London is not without critics) should be asked to redesign it . If the object is to shame Britain into letting the Marbles go home, how could they refuse to send them to somewhere designed by Lord Rogers himself? (see Guardian October 15, 1997)

  • Hercules, ave atque vale
    I'm not sure I can still use the name Hercules without infringing some dire Disney© copyright. If you dare to visit the website, you'll find the threats for infringement of same are far more scary than any of Scarfe's monsters. However, classicists in search of that special present will now be able to choose little plastic images of the Man himself, his bit Megara, and "Philoctetes" - a pot-bellied dwarf with a red nose, horns and hairy legs (particularly fine). I haven't seen the film yet - it opened in UK on 10th October, but it seems certain to take its place among Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts and The Life of Brian - the movies which have changed the public's perception of the Classical world for all time. (Any other contenders?)

  • Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis
    The eagerly awaited new dictionary of the Latin language (or more accurately dictionary of new Latin) is now out. 15,000 new concepts unknown to Livy and Tacitus - from toyboy to sellotape, from voyeur to stripper - can now be discussed in the "decent obscurity of a learned language". It's the work of the Vatican's Father Carlo Egger, who hopes it proves once and for all that Latin is not a "dead language". Details and examples on Varro's Page[UK Press October 6 1997]

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