Monday, March 31, 2003

Ancient swords discovered in southeast Turkey

Apparently, swords dating back to 3000 B.C.E. have been discovered near Arslantepe in the Taurus mountains of the southeast Turkey. They were cast in one piece of a arsenic-copper alloy and three of them were decorated with inlaid silver.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Byron on the Fall of Rome

"The Niobe of nations! There she stands,
Childless and crownless in her voiceless woe;
An empty urn within her withered hands,
Whose holy dust was scattered long ago;
The Scipios' tomb contains no ashes now;
The very sepulchres lie tenantless
Of their heroic dwellers; dost thou flow,
Old Tiber! Through a marble wilderness?
Rise with thy yellow waves, and mantle her distress."
Childe Harold, IV.79

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Gabriele Albarosa translates Gladiator script into Latin

I enjoyed comparing the English script of Gladiator with the Latin translation provided by Gabriele Albarosa. I could even deduce what some of the Latin words meant because they formed the root of their English equivalent.

Glory to the victor not always the result of Roman triumphs.

I was reading an interesting essay about Cleopatra and found descriptions of several Roman triumphs particuarly illluminating.

"Julius Caesar, in his triumph of 46BC, had treated the gawping crowds to a series of pictures of the last moments of his rivals in civil war: Cato disembowelling himself "like a wild beast", Scipio throwing himself into the sea, Petreius stabbing himself at dinner. (It is a striking insight into Roman notions of good taste that one ancient commentator should note that Caesar refrained from displaying the names of these casualties - apparently that would have been too much for the sensibilities of the audience.) "

"In AD118, the Emperor Trajan enjoyed a posthumous triumph for his victories over the Parthians. In its bizarre procession, the part of the triumphant Emperor in his chariot was played by a dummy."

"In 61BC, for example, in the triumph of Pompey the Great - then victorious over King Mithridates, though later defeated by his arch-rival Julius Caesar in the civil wars of the early 40sBC - the extravagance of the artwork proved counterproductive in the eyes of some. In his encyclopedic Natural History, Pliny the Elder gleefully bemoaned the effeminate luxury of one particular portrait of Pompey that was carried in the procession: it was a head made entirely of pearls and was, Pliny crowed, an uncomfortable omen of Pompey's ultimate, undignified fate - to be beheaded by a eunuch on the shores of Egypt.

"In a famous procession in the 2nd century BC, the eyes of the crowd all fell, not on the Roman victor, but on the pathetic infant sons of the defeated Eastern king, who were walking with the captives."

The article goes on to speculate about the problems a triumph including Cleopatra would pose for Octavian:

"Octavian must have known of the impact that Cleopatra's sister, Arsinoe had made when she was displayed in Julius Caesars procession in 46BC: no rejoicing at her well-deserved fate, but pity and sympathy at the sight of an exotic princess in chains, and tears shed by the onlookers as her misfortune reminded them of what they themselves had suffered in the wars."

So, the article points out, Cleopatras last public appearance in the city of Rome was in the form of a wax model, complete with model asp, carried in the victory parade of Octavian in 29BC.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

The development of ritual in late Roman antiquity

My latest audio course is "The World of Byzantium" by Professor Kenneth Harl of Tulane University. Professor Harl pointed out that with the increasing number of soldier-emperors of the late imperial period, ritual was developed to counteract the discrepancy in education between emperors from the army camps and the aristocratic elite. He said that when the emperor Julian tried to dispense with all of the elaborate rituals that had been developed around the emperor and return to a more accessible "princeps" model like Marcus Aurelius, he was criticized by his subjects for not being regal enough. I thought this was very interesting but was a little confused because I thought most Roman commanders were educated aristocrats.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Apuleius and "The Golden Ass"

Dr. Fears also spent an entire lecture on Apuleius and his literary work "The Golden Ass". I had never read this work either so I was researching it and found the following link that is an extensive examination of the novel.

Dr. Fears mentioned that the work influenced such literary classics as "Don Quixote" and "Gullivers Travels". The web page author, Benjamin Slade, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, recognizes its influence in even more modern work:

"In more modern literature, the little known, but very important work of Anglo-Indian novelist G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr also carries on Apuleius's mad, bathetic style of story-weaving. More well-known Booker-Award winning Anglo-Indian author Salman Rushdie too writes very much in the Apuleian style--both in the sense of bathos as well as adapting Apuleius's particular manner of interweaving 'mirroring' stories together (see below). In addition to style, an episode in Rushdie's (in)famous novel, The Satanic Verses, displays a thematic borrowing, in that it involves a transformation of the protagonist into bestial form and his subsequent attempts to regain human form--serving as the central intertext of Satanic Verses, in the words of Dr. Margareta Petersson.

The shape-changing theme also occurs in Kafka's Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis). This theme, while obviously ubiquitous in human imagination, is unusual in Apuleius in that a first-person narrative is provided by the metamorphed man, as in Kafka. Kafkas novel owes something to the Golden Ass in its plot of an ordinary person who one day suddenly finds himself in a shape not his own--a repulsive shape; and in the protagonists struggle to survive with his humanity intact."

The Stoic Philosopher Epictetus

In my study of famous Romans, Dr. Fears spends one entire lecture on the philosopher, Epictetus. I had never heard of him before so I was intrigued. I was also surprised that his teachings appear to parallel teachings and even quotations found in the Bible and was wondering if he had studied the Hebrew Bible in the course of his own education. Since he was born in 55 C.E., it would have been too early to have studied the New Testament. Example:

"What has He given me for my own and subject to my authority, and what has He left for Himself? Everything within the sphere of the moral purpose He has given me, subjected them to my control, unhampered and unhindered. My body that is made of clay, how could He make that unhindered? Accordingly He has made it subject to the revolution of the universe--along with my property, my furniture, my house, my children, my wife. But how should I keep them? In accordance with the terms upon which they have been given, and for as long as they can be given. But He who gave also takes away.
And so, when you have received everything, and your very self, from Another, do you yet complain and blame the Giver, if He take something away from you? (Discourses 4.1.100-3, with omissions, trans. Oldfather)

Another example: "To be instructed is this, to learn to wish that every thing may happen as it does. And how do things happen? As the disposer has disposed them. And he has appointed summer and winter, and abundance and scarcity, and virtue and vice, and all such opposites for the harmony of the whole; and to each of us he has given a body, and parts of the body, and possessions, and companions." (Discourses 1.12.15-17, trans. Long)

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Excavations of ancient Sidon reveal trade links to Crete

A key discovery was a distinctive, finely wrought Minoan cup, the first example of exports to Lebanon from Crete within a closed, dated context. These were highly decorative and probably used at feasts. There are hints at great wealth also in the discoveries of warriors graves. One body wore scarab rings and was buried with an ornamental axe, suggesting ancient Sidon had its share of upper class warlords.

See also: http://ancientneareast.tripod.com/Sidon.html

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Samnite culture distinctly different from Roman society

The Osco-Umbro people, including the Samnites as well as the Sabins, were derived from the fusion of local people with indo-european infiltrations during the iron age. By 600 B.C. they became the well defined Osco-Umbro tribes and in 500 B.C. if not before, the people, now historically known as the Samnites, were clearly identified as having the indisputable control of the Samnium region.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Alexandria Library Scholars Collective hopes to digitize all books

Alexandria Library Scholars Collective is apparently hoping to virtually recreate it's ancient predecessor with the goal of eventually digitizing every book in the world.

"The library has scanned only about 100,000 pages of its own material, mostly medieval Arabic texts, Mr. Serageldin said. But it has embarked on a plan to digitize thousands of books over the next several years, most of them Arabic texts, with French and English translations, he said. Other works are scheduled to be scanned elsewhere in Africa, including a whole library of crumbling medieval manuscripts in a monastery in Timbuktu in Mali, Mr. Serageldin said."
"The library will also have access to one million books that are now being scanned by Carnegie Mellon University, which is creating its own vast digital archive and is one of Alexandrias partners. And the library has a vast trove of Web material already donated by the Internet Archive, a California partner with similar universal ambitions. The collective then plans to begin bargaining for access to digital collections at other libraries and universities around the world, offering access to its own materials and its network of scholars in exchange. The cooperative also plans to begin urging authors to donate their digital rights in the hopes that the courts will let them be used."

See also: http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/010522/2001052239.html