The disappearance of the mighty West Wing from TV after five series prompted this (among "Ten top political tips from the West Wing")
4. Speak Latin/Win a Nobel Prize
While it was once said that George W Bush thought Latin is what they speak in Latin America, Jeb Bartlet is fluent in the language of the Romans, able to silence aides with throwaway lines such as "post hoc ergo propter hoc" and to rail against God in latin while standing in an empty cathedral after the death of his secretary. Conservatives might like to note that Boris Johnson is the leading Latin-speaking politician in Britain, although he lacks another important elememt of Bartlet's authority: having won a Nobel prize for economics. The message to aspiring politicians is clear: don't think London or Washington, think ancient Rome and Stockholm.
[Guardian 3 February 2006]
Rebecca Front rates Solon in the Guardian 12 Feb 2005
I'll admit that I started reading Plutarch's Rise and Fall of Athens because I wanted to impress people on the bus. I imagined that leaving the book on top of my script in the green room of some studio would suggest that a forceful intellect lay beneath my trivial conversation. What it actually revealed, of course, was that I'd never read it at school. Like most state-school educated people of my generation, my knowledge of the classics is, frankly, pitiful. I never got beyond Latin O-level, and these days I imagine most people don't even get that far.
So, in addition to my pathetic desire to impress, I also started on Plutarch out of a sense of duty. At first, I was mystified and a little put out to find that there was a whole lot of back story that I would need to explore to make sense of it all. I imagine it would be much the same tuning in to a series of Big Brother half way through. It was, to state the obvious, all Greek to me.
I became intrigued by the line "at the Isthmus of Corinth he killed Sinis the pine-bender". Suddenly it sounded like a plot from The Sopranos. But when I read the chapter on Solon the lawmaker, I realised how relevant, how topical even, this stuff was.
The prospect of a general election means it's happy hour in the law and order debate at the moment, and the major parties continue to play at "I'm harder than you are". If you clamp down on early release, we'll restrict access to trial by jury. You say tagging, we say house arrest. You want to deport asylum seekers, we say it's OK to kill burglars.
Now, around 550BC, Solon was given the job of creating a code of laws for Athens. The previous system had been set down by Draco, from whose name the word draconian derives. Solon began by repealing most of Draco's laws because he felt, and you can see his point, that if you used the death penalty on someone for idleness, you didn't leave yourself anywhere to go when you were really cross. Nowadays, of course, Solon would be ridiculed for being soft on crime, but actually he was big on justice. He introduced almost universal trial by jury - which Labour wants to limit. He cancelled debts - keep trying, Gordon. And he encouraged political involvement by disenfranchising anyone who, in the event of a revolution, refused to take sides - who'd advocate a policy like that in an election year?
Much of this seems unthinkably radical now, when so much rhetoric is devoted to winning votes, and so little thought given to a rational overview of the legal system.
The difference is, of course, that Solon and his ilk were in the business of creating a democracy; today's politicians seem intent on destroying one. Politics and law were intertwined then as much as now, but there is something refreshing about the notion of someone codifying a system that he thought was right, rather than one that would make him popular.
And there are some forgotten laws that we might do well to revisit, like the stipulation that a bride and groom should eat a quince on their wedding night.
So what will future Plutarchs write about our generation of lawmakers? "He increased the prison population, allowing more opportunities for minor offenders to become drug-crazed, highly trained criminals." Or: "He wisely introduced a system of identity cards which struck fear into the hearts of would-be terrorists, for though they did not mind blowing themselves up, they were scared of being caught without proper documentation."
Perhaps our politicians should consider Solon's belief that "the law has to take account of what is practicable, if the legislator wishes to punish a few people effectually rather than a large number to no effect whatever".
And perhaps they should make classics a core subject on the national curriculum.
The Guardian, Wednesday 2 June 2004 10.51 BST
At last, it seems as if the cavalry is coming. For years, the subjunctive has been in hiding in the barren hills of What Once Was: unwanted, misunderstood and frequently passed over for the funkier, easier imperfect. But in just a few short months all that will change, because Latin may be coming back on to the school curriculum. And if anything can save the subjunctive, Latin can.
This is fantastically exciting news because Latin is a fabulous language. Sure, it's a dead language and so you can't (easily) use it to text your friends. But learning Latin is a bit like getting x-ray specs, because it shows you the infrastructure of so many things, not least the English language. It can also help you work out some of the answers on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, so it could win you a million quid.
I am always astounded by how little English-speaking people know of their own language. "It's in the genitive, you know 'cause it denotes possession," I explained to someone not so long ago. "The what?" they gasped.
The only reason I know anything at all about English is because I studied Latin, and French; and because English isn't my first language, so I've always needed to approach it from the inside out. Because English grammar, even in the London-based convent school I attended, simply wasn't taught to any great degree. Had I never studied Latin I would have left school never knowing that language is made up of wonderful stuff such as declensions, tenses, moods, cases. And I would never have driven boyfriends to the edge of homicide by saying smart-alec things such as "You didn't ask if I could do so-and-so, you ordered me to; had you asked, you would have used the conditional instead of the imperative."
Latin started becoming unfashionable in 1960, when it stopped being necessary to have a Latin O-level in order to get into the universities of Oxford or Cambridge. Just one year previously 60,000 children had sat their Latin O-level. But by the year 2000 there were fewer than 12,000 pupils taking Latin and only a third of those were at state schools.
The new way of teaching and learning Latin that the Department for Education and Skills is hoping will appeal to 11- to 14-year-olds, involves technology and DVDs which will support a good old-fashioned book: The Cambridge Latin Course. There will be a storytelling approach, with plots that are more contemporary than the tales of war and beasts with seven heads that we had to endure. There's interaction and 360-degree virtual tours of Roman houses. So far, 25 schools have tried it and everybody loves it. Demand for Latin is at a canter; this new course has doubled the uptake of Latin in some of the schools that have tried it (although that may still only be in single figures). If it works out, Latin could soon be on every school curriculum.
It's wonderful that pupils are warming to Latin, but it is a tough choice of subject, which is entirely as it should be. It doesn't understand the 21st century, where everything has to be reduced to the lowest common denominator and be made easy-peasy, and I love it for this. It's uncompromising and fierce. You can singalong to Rosa Rosa Rosam and make it sound jolly, but getting your head round the ablative absolute does hurt, no matter how much fun you try to make it.
But the real beauty of Latin is how you don't even realise you're learning anything of any relevance to everyday life until one glorious day when the world of language opens up to you (in this respect it's like exercise: lots of slog, you think it's not making any difference, then suddenly one day, wham, your trousers fit). It's only when you've torn most of your hair out trying to get your head round the pluperfect that you suddenly realise the meaning of life is "had".
I was just out of school when the "If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen" ad-line was launched. It jarred. Instead of the past subjunctive mood of the verb "to be", ie: were, it used the imperfect: was. This misuse of the poor subjunctive has become so common as to be almost acceptable; I weep every time. So hurrah for Latin, at last, perhaps, we can all learn to speak English again.
· Annalisa Barbieri is a writer and broadcaster; she is currently working on English for the English, to be published in 2006 by Atlantic
"Our Olympic prayer is answered as Brit team wins 4 medals
IT'S Zeus wot done it -thanks to The Sun's prayer to the ancient Greek god yesterday.
Britain's single Olympic silver and bronze medals were boosted by another silver and three more bronzes hours after we printed our plea to the immortal to aid our team.
Our ode also helped to place a further silver in the bag -which could be elevated to a gold today.
On Day Five of the Athens games, the gods' gaffer showered Britain with our biggest medal haul of any single day so far.
Yesterday's silver was won by horserider Leslie Law for the individual award in the three-day eventing.
The UK team won the bronze and our other third places came in archery and kayaking.
The extra silver is winging its way for badminton".
[Sun Newspaper 2004]
Latin Today - Roman Rebound
The Economist (December 2003) on a dead language that refuses to lie down. Includes reference to Mel Gibson's Passion, the Monty Python "Romans Go Home!" sketch, and our favourites, the Finnish "Nuntii Latini", and the Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis. Recommended - read it here.
Valentine Cunningham in the Guardian. 5 January 2002. Finally the real meaning of the Latin bits in Benjamin Britten's Turn of the Screw has been properly deciphered. It's very rude. And its conclusions are hotly disputed by Britten scholars. Article here:
It was business as usual in the Roman Empire on that first Christmas, and it was not a pretty sight
Peter Jones in the Spectator,15 December 2001. If you register with the Spectator, you can read Peter Jones' weekly Ancient & Modern column online (there are about 150 so far - March 2004)
The Christmas story comes as something of a shock to those whose knowledge of the ancient world derives from the Roman historians. The gospel world is one of shepherds, innkeepers and mangers, of carpenters, fishermen and widows with their mites, of the lives and expectations of the lowly and destitute in a difficult Roman province on the edge of a vast empire. But Roman historians like Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny were members of the educated, élite, imperial inner ring. Tacitus had been consul and, like Pliny, governor of a Roman province, Suetonius a bureaucrat in the emperors court in Rome. History for them is power politics played out at the very centre of things, and the plebs feature in it only when their actions have political implications that the imperial court cannot afford to ignore.
But it was one world SPQR, Senatus Populusque Romanus, meant what it said and, by calling on non-literary sources in particular, we can get some sense of the lives, hopes and fears of that c. 95 per cent of the populus who did not form the Roman educated élite.
Graffiti tell us that some things at least do not change: I came here, I had a shag, then I went home, scrawls one of the last great romantics on a wall in Pompeii. Workers in Pompeii formed co-operatives to support political candidates: graffiti record requests from groups like the fruit-sellers, mule-drivers, goldsmiths, carpenters, cloth-dyers, innkeepers, bakers, porters and removers, chicken-sellers, mat-makers, grape-pickers and late drinkers (!) to vote for this or that candidate for office. Indeed, even the humblest citizen could approach the mighty emperor with a request and expect a reply. We hear of one such response (many like it survive) from Antoninus Pius to a lowly worker:
If you approach the relevant authorities, they will give orders that you should receive upkeep from your father, provided that, since you say you are a workman, you are in such ill health that you cannot sustain your work.
An epitaph, popular enough for it to be known in two versions, says of the tomb:
All a person needs. Bones reposing sweetly, I am not anxious about suddenly being short of food. I do not suffer from arthritis, and I am not indebted because of being behind in my rent. In fact my lodgings are permanent and free!
The plight of thousands of back-street Romans is summarised in this ironic little text. Shortage of food was an obvious problem; so was ill health, though Rome was not filled with the sick and starving (they died). But accommodation created problems too. It was rented and expensive; overcrowding and violence were commonplace. The historian Suetonius tells us that Augustus derived special pleasure from watching groups of people brawling in narrow city streets. Legal texts tell us of a shopkeeper putting his lantern out on the pavement. A passer-by grabs it and the shopkeeper gives chase. The thief hits him with a lash, and in the brawl the shopkeeper knocks out one of the thiefs eyes. We hear of runaway wagons and building materials crushing people to death in the crowded streets.
Even when work was obtained, it was often organised on short-term contracts, especially during the harvest and vintage. We hear of a woman who gave birth while working on a day-contract in a digging gang. Fearful of losing her wages, she hid the child and carried on. She was spotted and, against all expectations, paid in full and sent home by a kindly manager.
The stercorarius (or night soil man, as he was known well into the Fifties in Britain) had regular, if rather more disagreeable, work. We can assume that the average Roman generated about 1.5lbs of body-waste a day. Imperial Rome, with a population of one million, would therefore generate more than 650 tons of daily sewage. Though we hear of the need for sewer-cleaners and the risk they ran of choking to death, little of this human waste would disappear down a sewer. Very few Romans were connected up since, in the absence of the S-bend, stench and vermin could find their way from sewer into house and, when the Tiber rose, sewage too (we hear of one house which an octopus nightly entered via the drain to eat the pickled fish stored inside). But, more importantly, Romans regularly used human excrement to supplement animal manure. Where theres muck, theres brass, and it was the job of the stercorarius to empty the cesspits and sell on the contents to farmers on city outskirts. A graffito from Herculaneum records a payment of 11 asses for the removal of ordure (the as being the lowest denomination of coin).
Yet we should not imagine a population permanently struggling for work. One hundred and sixty different types of employment in Rome are attested from epigraphic evidence; and an insulting graffito (from Pompeii) says of its victim, Youve had eight different job opportunities barman, baker, farmer, at the mint, salesman, now youre flogging pots.... Just lick and youll have done the lot.
The point is that the Romans were a nation of shopkeepers. Raw materials poured into the city from the countryside to be processed and turned into goods in the myriad tabernae and officinae that crowded Rome. The historian Livy tells of Camillus visiting Tusculum, where he found doors wide open, shops doing business with all their contents out on display. Each artisan was intent on his work. He could hear the learning games of children, voice against voice. He saw the streets were full of people, women and children wandering at will to do whatever they needed. Rome was full of workers turning wool, leather, metals, clay, timber, straw, oil, wine and grain into what people wanted and many such workers made it very good, as huge tomb monuments like that of Eurysaces the contract-baker record.
At one level, the élite despised the plebs (while, naturally, owning the apartment blocks they rented). Cicero saw workers as liars and slaves liars, because retailers marked up the true value of the produce they received; slaves, because they worked for others for pay and were thus dependent on them for life. The élite, of course, had everything done for them in-house.
At the same time, the élite knew none better than the emperor that they ignored the people at their peril. Bread and circuses (i.e. chariot races) were their answer, not because the people were lazy or feckless but because the culture of benefaction had long been the standard way of harmonising relationships between rich and poor. Races, gladiatorial combat, the theatre and a good, regular grain supply, all paid for by the wealthy or by the wealth that the state generated from its provinces, gave the people a taste of the high life and were seen as the rightful rewards of those who, as farmer-soldiers all those years ago, had made the empire possible.
So when the emperor entered the amphitheatre or circus to watch the games, it was to the cheers, or curses, of the crowd. And he paid attention. He knew which side his bread was buttered. So did the plebs. It was, indeed, one world.
A New Season of Reason by James Rainey on Los Angeles Times' front page on March 11, 1999
[thanks to Bob Fisher for this item]Stoicism, a philosophy devised 300 years
before the birth of Jesus,
is staging an improbable comeback,
perhaps as a rational,
measured counterpoint to turbulent times.
By JAMES RAINEY, Times Staff Writer It has been nearly 2,000 years since the sober men in togas came together in Rome, coaching one another to put aside worldly wants and walk a straight and moral path. But now--in a time of presidential hanky-panky, 24-hour entertainment and murky social values--their ancient creed is being resurrected. Stoicism is back for a small but growing group of adherents, thanks to the unlikely convergence of America's most biting chronicler of pop culture, one of its most celebrated Vietnam War prisoners and, even, a San Diego County probation investigator. The renaissance of the classical philosophy began in earnest last year, when novelist Tom Wolfe made the ancient philosopher Epictetus and his teachings a leitmotif in his best-selling novel, "A Man in Full." From the discourses of the former slave, at least two of Wolfe's characters learned to value personal integrity over material gain. And that philosophy has blossomed in scores of small ways--from the bookstores that now sell Stoic philosophy to businessmen, to the increasing correspondence on the World Wide Web, to reportage by the BBC and a host of American newspapers. "It has been astonishing," said Sharon Lebell, a Marin County writer whose book on the Stoics has been revived of late. "Suddenly, interest in Stoicism has been galvanized." Stoicism was born three centuries before the birth of Jesus, when Zeno of Citium started his own school around a covered colonnade, or stoa, at the central market in Athens. What began as a radical counterpoint to the loose moral temper of the times evolved into a complex doctrine that thrived for at least five centuries and influenced the early Christian patriarchs. Despite apparent chaos, the Stoics believed that the universe is rational, its events predetermined. They did not believe in an afterlife, but thought men could exercise their internal divinity by behaving rationally and controlling their passions. Men could free themselves from preoccupations such as wealth and status, the Stoics said, by following an inner creed. Epictetus (pronounced Eh-pick-tee-tuss) personified the Stoic ideal. Born in the first century as a slave in the eastern reaches of the Roman empire, he nonetheless flourished as one of the philosophy's latest and greatest teachers. "Things themselves don't hurt or hinder us. Nor do other people," Epictetus said. "It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. . . . We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can choose how we respond to them." It has been argued that the Stoics were ahead of their time. An early tract asserted the equality of women. One of Rome's most humane and accomplished emperors, Marcus Aurelius, was guided by the teachings of the Stoics. 'A Bolt Out of the Blue' In an interview, Wolfe said he is tickled by the revival of the Stoics, something he personally credited to a quirk of the creative process. The author was well into a near decade of work on his 742-page novel when he realized that one of his central characters--a young man who lands in jail after many unfair setbacks--lacked a certain gravity. Like "a bolt out of the blue" came the idea of Stoicism, Wolfe said. The young inmate, Conrad Hensley, inadvertently discovers the philosophy when he requests a spy novel called "The Stoics' Game" in jail and is delivered, instead, a collection of teachings by Epictetus. The book helps Hensley survive the tribal brutality of jail life. Wolfe said he had only a passing knowledge of the philosophy from a time, two decades earlier, when he was researching his epic on early U.S. astronauts, "The Right Stuff." Poring over stories about military pilots, Wolfe had read accounts of how James Stockdale, a Navy Air Wing commander, survived a 7 1/2-year ordeal in a North Vietnamese prison by adhering to the teachings of Epictetus (born about AD 55). Wolfe called his recent rediscovery of the Stoics "electrifying." "I think the Stoics are such a wonderful draft of cool air in this hothouse existence we have," he said. "People have begun to feel everything is too materialistic and they're looking for a countervailing weight." [SECOND HALF OF ARTICLE SNIPPED - complete article available at http://www.latimes.com - use search word "stoic]
Icarus flies again (and again)Matthew Norman in the Guardian 20th January 1999:
The very warmest of hats off to Olympic Airways. The national carrier of Greece has just introduced a "frequent fliers" club, and as always in such circumstances, a great deal of time and money was invested in the quest for a perfect name. I think we can safely say that Olympic found it: its frequent fliers club is called Icarus. "Ladies and gentlemen, our cruising altitude today will be 2,400,000 feet..." Rumours that the Greek government plans to rename its child protection agency "Medea" remain unconfirmed.
Why learn Greek?
Michael Bywater in the Independent on Sunday 18th October 1998:
Opened this menu and the cosmos spilled out
The scene: Hydra, Greek holiday island off the Peloponnese. The Cafeteria To Polloi
The Time: October, after all the tourists have gone ... except one
There is a lone pale bespectacled Englishman, peering intently at the menu, his lips moving. Every now and then he bursts into tears. He is shivering in what he believes to be a genuine Greek Fisherman's Jacket (but can't possibly be because Greek Fishermen are too poor, mean or greedy to spend 20,000 drachmas - drachmoides? - on a jacket). This labile spectre is me. The reason my lips are moving is because I am trying to unravel the Greek alphabet. And the reason I burst into tears is because occasionally I succeed, and a word will emerge from the orthographic darkness, and bring with it such a myriad of associations, such a singing, planetary music of connections, like tendrils, like roots, like guy-wires, that bursting into tears seems the only thing to do.
I imagine it must be like this to be adopted and suddenly to find your natural parents; to be exiled and suddenly brought home; to be bisected and suddenly to find your completion. Here on the breakfast-menu is something which must be milk and the stem of it - gala - suddenly bursts into leaf: galactose, Galatea, galaxy: the milkiness of stars: the Milky Way. They must have seen it, two and a half millennia ago, drawn it up milkily in their minds and given it its name, and as the words appear from their unfamiliar script it is indeed like the stars coming out.
No use, of course. Pointless. In a fast-moving modern technological young society like ours, there's no use for knowing Greek, ancient or modern. There'll never come a day when we have an NVQ in sitting-on-the-dockside-weeping-over-a-minority-alphabet. Where's the money in it? Where's the commercial use? What's more, it's disruptive. Anyone who can sit in a cafeteria and work out, letter by letter, that it's called "To Polloi" and start thinking about that a bit is, in a little while, going to start thinking about the demos as well, and how that one was a system of exclusion and disenfranchisement: how if you were of no account, and certainly if you were the owner/operator of a uterus, the demos was not something you were part of ... and next thing you know, that person might start thinking about democracy - the rule of the demos - and the strange absurd Perry 6 and his young, modern "think-tank" Demos, and whether little Mister Blair was all he seemed and whether the tree we were barking up was indeed the right or only one ... and we expect that sort of unhelpful, unmodern thinking to be financed by taxpayers' hard-earned money?
No. It can't be. And when Winston Churchill, in the early Fifties, wrote that "The appetite of adults to be shown the foundations and processes of thought will never be denied by a British administration cherishing the continuity of our island life" he was dearly talking balls, unmodern balls, old man's balls. And yet ... back in London, beneath the in- evitable grey cloudbase, I sat in a cafe eating greasy glaucous eggs and listening to two sleek thugs shouting punitively at each other about money, and wondered what underpinned their lives, or whether they were just utterly adrift in the present. And I thought of a young man I know, 17 years old, with a fine brain and an amiable disposition, whose life is dwindling into a barren waste of drugs and monosyllables; and I wondered whether it is not the very modern, young world so beloved of Mister Blair which is doing him in. Work, get your exams, get your modern job in a modern industry, pay your modern taxes, die. Is thatit? Is there any way in which taking this young man to the harbourside at Hydra and showing him the word for milk would help him? Would his world expand again if he suddenly saw that he carries, in his skull, the most astounding instrument and joy of all, or that if he looked to windward, beyond the Peloponnese, he would see the hill where men invented thinking, brought out of empty air the tongue he now speaks, and named the very thing we still seek to calibrate: the cosmos itself.
Well? What do you think?
Article in Guardian October 18 1997
Odysseus bemoans his treatment by the movie industry: Hercules gets the whole Disney treatment, the Ithacan gets a film shown once on Sky Movie Channel (the Elephants' Graveyard of the film industry)
As soon Dawn appeared, fresh and rosy-fingered, I, much-enduring Odysseus, returned to my ships. My men, having eaten rich supplies of meat and drunk deep of mellow wine the previous evening, were still, like, totally wrecked.
I assembled my company and spoke to them. "Guys, crappy news. I just had a meet with Tiresias."
"That creep?" said Eurylochus.
"Can it, Eurylochus," said Perimedes, my trusted companion, who stood with me shoulder to shoulder when we fought below the walls of proud Priam's Troy, rich in gold, home to the breaker of horses, Hector. And all that stuff.
Perimedes began: "Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus of the nimble wits ---"
"Yadda-da yadda-da --- cut to the chase, man," I interjected.
"Sure. What's the word, chief?"
"Word is they just got off casting the movie. They got the title right --- The Odyssey. Kinda says it, y'know? But they got a cast that says straight-to-video. In fact they got a cast that says straight to The Movie Channel when nobody's watching. Like on a Monday evening. They got a cast says gross, and I ain't talking about the ticket sales. We're talking Isabella Rosellini as a pitifully undercharacterised Athene of the flashing eyes. You guys are mostly Limey character actors. And, like, Armand gets to play me."
"Armand? Like Armand Assante? Jeez," said one of my stout-hearted , much-enduring crew. "That reeks, man."
"The Movie Channel? Like in England? That rain-soaked dime of a country? What's the Nielsen rating on that?" joked nimble-witted Perimedes. My trusty crew laughed lustily.
"What about the love interest?" asked Perimedes of the stout calves.
"Penelope," I, Odysseus of the patient heart, told my men flatly, "is interpreted by Greta Scacchi."
"Yow! It sure wouldn't have taken me 10 years to get back from Troy with that kind of moll waiting for me," said much-irrritating Eurylochus.
Some of the guys looked at him in disbelief. Others shuffled in their sandals and kept their counsel. Opinion about Greta, like Hector's once proud torso, was clearly divided.
"It gets better, guys. Francis --- I'm talking Francis Ford Coppola --- is the executive producer: or at least he's one of them."
"Yeah, but does anyone really know what that means any more?" said wise-counselling Perimedes. "Exec prod. Doesn't that amount to maybe a chop suey with the director maybe, like, two years before filming?"
"Sure. But, hey, they got him Jim Henson's Creature Shop to do the SFX. Scylla looks like a mix between Ridley Scott's Alien and the plant from Little Shop of Horrors. And Charybdis? That ship-devouring whirlpool is a piece of work for sure. It even has underwater jaws that chomp the ship," said I, Odysseus of the smartass retort.
"Cool!" said my Troy-humbling men in unison.
I left my men laughing on the beach. I walked on moodily. Yeah, so I was the sacker of cities, enduring, patient, yadda-da yadda-da, you know the drill. But how could the movie guys screw me over like that? Like, I'm a legend! The venture capital guys thought they could ride the trend into big bucks: Hercules, the live-action TV series; Hercules the cutesy Disney muscle-man; Xena, warrior princess, the broad who kicks ancient butt weekly.
But Armand? That bit-part nobody? That sure stuck in my craw. I raised my well-curved arm to the heavens and shouted: "Father Zeus and you other gods who live for ever! Why do you mock me so? Why?"
Letter in Daily Telegraph 24 June 1997SIR - The Clever Chap prize must surely
go to Caius Julius Caesar (let-
ter, June 23). According to Pliny he
could read write and hear at the
He could also dictate to four copy-
ists at once; or seven if he had noth-
ing else to do.
[Can anyone supply the Pliny reference?]
Independent May 20th 1997 - David Aaronovitch
[British politics illustrates the closeness of farce to tragedy as Junoesque Minister for Prisons in the late Tory government denounces her former boss, Michael Howard in the House of Commons. Non-British readers will be able to get the flavour of Miss Widdecombe by imagining the Syracuse kourotrophos wearing a huge tartan jacket.]
Nemesis waddled into the Chamber and parked her black bag on the floor. There she sat patiently for over an hour, peering inside an orange folder from time to time or consulting her electronic pager. Twice she shifted along the bench, both times ensuring she was sitting directly behind the man she was stalking. Nervous Conservatives poited at her and giggled.
In classical mythology Nemesis (grand-daughter of Chaos, daughter of Night, and sister of Blame, Woe and Fate), was supposed to have had about her a touch of Aphrodite. This one was not so favoured in terms of looks, and would not have suited a wispy bit of gauze at groin level. Instead her unfashionable cross glinted against her white blouse, and her jacket in the violent blue and green tartan of the Clan Widdecombe, clashed horribly with the decor.
But she was about to undergo a transformation, and most people present already knew it.The butt of popular humour was about to become the vehicle of popular retribution.
Hush fell as Nemesis was called. Two rows in front of her the man who had once wielded immense power over prisoner and refugee, sat bolt upright, facing away from her; his lips pursed and his face completely still.
Nemesis had a warning for us all. "It should alarm us," she began, in a voice like a falling guillotine blade, "that the House is now so comprehensively seen as devoid of honour and a sense of service. What ever fun the public make of us, no matter how upset they be by our decisions it is essential for there to be an underlying view that Members of the House are just, honourable and truthful."
But the former Home Secretary (her "Right Honourable and Learned Friend")had misled the House of Commons. Not lied, not fibbed, not told a direct falsehood, but done everything possible to conceal his true intentions in the matter of Mr Derek Lewis [Former head of prison service sacked by Howard]and the governor of Parkhurst prison.
And he had got away with it because he "has an exquisite way with words." The meaning was nothing, the effect everything.
Mr Howard (still staring straight ahead) had beheved this way because his "first reaction to attack is denial and refuge in semantic prestidigitation." Semantic prestidigitation! What an epitaph on a modern political career!
Agamemnon, laid low by an earlier Nemesis, recognised how the Greeks' "arrogant grandeur had made them forgetful of the common cause". Well, tartan will seerve as well as gauze to amke that point. Yesterday something touched Mr Howard - the pudgy but righteous hand of Nemesis, the daughter of Night. And the whole of politics shuddered.
Classic FM Magazine May 1997
Well, Oedipus, our time's up. See you Tuesday. Give my love to your mother. No, not literally. Julie, send in the next.
Ah Miss ... Elektra? Tell me about yourself. Ah-hah, ah-hah. Live in a large palace with your mother, Clytemnestra, and your father, sorry your stepfather, Aegisthus. And you're not getting on with your parents? It's common for children to feel disturbed when their mother remarries after a father's death --- because your Aegisthus and your mother hacked your father, kind Agamemnon, to death in the bath with a meat-axe, chopping, chopping, chopping as you say, like he was fresh chives. Then flushed him down the plughole. Excuse me for a moment. Julie, no calls for the next hour.
Sorry. Where were we? You called the police, right? Social services? ... No, you decide to live with the palace dogs and sporadically perform crazy dances while planning revenge. I se ... And dressed in these wild animal skins? ...Not at all, not at all, I thought you were modelling for Vivienne Westwood.
Was there anyone at home who could help you? One sister, Chrysothemis. How do you get on with her? ...A wimp whose veins run with lukewarm Ovaltine. Why do you say that? ...Because all she wants to do is get married and get the hell out of Mycenae. What would you rather she did? ...Help chop up mother.
Let's talk about Clytemnestra. |When did you last see her? When she came down to te palace courtyard to consult you about the nightmares she'd been having. A good sign---she was reaching out to you. What did you suggest? ...That only a ritually sacrificed victim can assuage her hell-born guilt. Any particular victim in mind? Oh Clytemnestra herself. Yes, that't one cure for insomnia. [The heroine of Strauss's opera is put on the couch]
The ultimate work-out
New Statesman and Society May 18 1996 - Sean French
Are you bored with the routine of your life ? Do you feel that you need some sublimity ? Now you can buy some. Pop down and buy some . Last Friday, for the price of a one-bedroom flat in London, one of Rob Hall's team, 47-year-old Yasuko Namba, became the oldest woman to reach the summit of Everest. Now her brief achievement seems likely to be rewritten in less glorious terms: the oldest woman to die on Everest, or the oldest Japanese woman to die on Everest, or the oldest woman to die on Everest this year.
The argument is that people need challenges, but climbing Everest is a peculiar sort of chal lenge. It is admittedly unpleasant and arguably irresponsible, but it has been done lots of times before and when you get back home your life will be where you left it. Wouldn't it be better to do something interestingly hard. Like Iearning Ancient Greek,for example?
That is bloody difficult, and I have attempted it on occasion and hardly got beyond base camp The advantages are many: you pay just £7.99 for the teach-yourself book instead of
£18,000 or £45,000.And when you get tangled up in all those treacherous Greek inflected verbs which have beginnings as well as endings so you can't even work out which word to look up in yhe dic tionary, you can ask for help without risking innocent lives.
And if you ever get to the summit, you won't just have some snapshots and some anecdotes. You'll be able to read Homer and Plato.
"A traveller!" as Rosalind puts it in As You Like It, a play about the absurdity of travel as an escape from your problems: "By my faith, you have great reason to be sad. I fear you have sold your own land to see other men's; then to have seen much, and to have nothing, is to have rich eyes and poor hands."