Monday, September 29, 2003

Virgil Lives!

"EVE ADLER, a classicist at Middlebury College in Vermont, may have just changed all Virgil's post-Renaissance diminished position in literature with her new book, 'Vergil's Empire: Political Thought in the Aeneid.' After this analysis, it will be difficult to think of Virgil merely as a gifted imitator of Homer. If Adler is right, Virgil had ambitions at least as grand as his Greek predecessor--and with good reason."

"'Vergil's Empire' draws heavily on Leo Strauss for the political analysis of the 'Aeneid.' Something of a secret teaching may be glimpsed behind the imperial screen, she argues, which emerges most clearly near the center of the text, where Aeneas' descent into the underworld signals the shift from wandering to battles. But her sensitive and penetrating reading of many passages in the 'Aeneid' does not reduce Virgil to a Procrustean bed of Straussian proportions. This book is stunningly original. Indeed, Adler's account of Virgil's views on universal empire has urgency not only for literary studies but for our reflections on empire in the current global situation.
Adler believes that Virgil is powerfully grappling not only with Homer, but with Lucretius, his Latin predecessor in the first century B.C"

Friday, September 19, 2003

Aram Khachaturian centennial special "Spartacus" presented in Pasadena

I noticed that in honor of the 100th anniversary of Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian’s birth, the Pasadena Civic Auditorium presented his ballet “Spartacus” this week.

In 1968, Grigorovich and the Bolshoi Ballet gave their first performance of "Spartacus,'' a ballet about an uprising of gladiators and slaves under the leadership a courageous Thacian named Spartacus and their defeat by the imperial Roman commander Crassus and his troops. Guided by his intense quest for freedom, Spartacus struggles against the cruel Crassus and his army.

In 1984, a television production captured the ballet's power as Grigorovich's choreography filled the screen with dynamic scenes of tension and conflict, which give full expression to the virility and strength for which Russia's male dancers are renowned. This 1984 performance was directed by Danish director, Preben Montell.

Hear clips from the work:

New software creates faces faster!

"Software that reconstructs faces from skulls has been developed by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Computer Science in Germany. The software starts with a 3D laser scan of a skull, adds markers to indicate tissue depth, then builds layers of muscles and skin.

The method could speed forensic work, and could also be used to reconstruct long-extinct animal species, said Kolja K?hler, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute.

The idea came about when the researchers used an anatomy-based approach for facial modeling and animation. "One of the major problems there was shaping... anatomical structures to fit a given 3D skin model," said K?hler. The researchers later realized that the method could be inverted. "Using just about the same math, it is also possible to start from a virtual skull model and construct the muscle layer and skin on top of that," he said.

I find this development very exciting. I have always been fascinated by the virtual reconstructions of historical figures from skulls that have been found in excavations. This process may make it much less expensive and make it possible to build a database of faces from the past! I only regret that most Romans were cremated so we probably will never know if the sculptures left behind of many famous Romans were truly accurate.

See also:

Sella Curulis Inspired 19th Century American Federal Furniture Designers

"The ways in which ancient Greek and Roman designs served as inspiration for classical revival furniture in early 19th-century America are explored in the Yale University Art Gallery's newest exhibition, 'Curule: Ancient Design in American Federal Furniture' . The sella curulis, one of the principal emblems of political authority in ancient Rome, had two hinged S-shaped legs at each end, with a seat frame created by fitting notched side rails onto the fixed front and back rails, with a leather seat stretched between them.

A 16th-century version of the sella curulis is depicted in a drawing from the gallery's collection by Giulio Romano of a scene in which the stool is transformed into a chair for the Roman general Coriolanus. Also in the exhibition is a group of early 19th-century books of architectural and decorative designs by Thomas Hope, George Smith and Charles Heathcote Tatham, published in England, in which the sella curulis is featured. American craftsmen drew upon these, as well as French publications by Pierre de la Mésangère, and Percier and Fontaine for their versions of curule-based furniture.

See also:

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Actium comes to life on "Moments In Time"

Last week I watched a Discovery Channel series called “Moments in Time” featuring the battle at Actium. I was quite surprised by the scientists’ estimated size of Antony’s war galleys. They said that each one was about the size of a football field and had up to 600 rowers. Apparently, they were able to estimate the size of the galleys from the relative size of the ships’ beaks that once adorned the Augustus' memorial near the site of his victory. Archaeologists have found the stones that were carved out to embed the beaks. The computer-generated recreation was quite vivid as well showing the use of fire bolts and huge round stones launched at the opposing ships. It very much resembled Vergil’s description in the Aeneid:

Across the center of the shield were shown
the ships of brass, the strife of Actium:
you might have seen all of Leucata's bay
teeming with war's array, waves glittering
with gold. On his high stern Augustus Caesar
is leading the Italians to battle,
together with the senate and the people,
the household gods and Great Gods; his bright brows
pour out a twin flame, and upon his head
his father's Julian star is glittering.
Elsewhere Agrippa towers on the stern;
with kindly winds and gods he leads his squadron;
around his temples, glowing bright, he wears
the naval crown, magnificent device,
with its ships' beaks. And facing them, just come
from conquering the peoples of the dawn,
from the red shores of the Erythraean Sea--
together with barbaric riches, varied
arms--is Antonius. He brings with him
Egypt and every power of the East
and farthest Bactria; and--shamefully--
behind him follows his Egyptian wife.
The squadrons close headlong; and all the waters
foam, torn by drawn-back oars and by the prows
with triple prongs. They seek the open seas;
you could believe the Cyclades, uprooted,
now swam upon the waters or steep mountains
had clashed with mountains as the crewmen thrust
in their great galleys at the towering sterns.
Torches of hemp and flying darts of steel
are flung by hand, and Neptune's fields are red
with strange bloodshed. Among all this the queen
calls to her squadrons with their native sistrum;
she has not yet looked back at the twin serpents
that swim behind her. Every kind of monster
god--and the barking god, Anubis, too--
stands ready to cast shafts against Minerva
and Venus and at Neptune. In the middle
of all the struggle, Mars, engraved in steel,
rages beside fierce Furies from the sky;
and Discord, joyous, strides in her rent robe;
Bellona follows with a bloodstained whip.
But Actian Apollo, overhead,
had seen these things; he stretched his bow; and all
of Egypt and of India, and all
the Arabs and Sabaeans, turned their backs
and fled before this terror. The queen herself
was seen to woo the winds, to spread her sails,
and now, yes now, let fall the slackened ropes.
The Lord of Fire had fashioned her within
the slaughter, driven on by wave and west wind,
pale with approaching death; but facing this,
he set the Nile, his giant body mourning,
opening wide his folds and all his robes,
inviting the defeated to his blue-gray
breast and his sheltering streams. But entering
the walls of Rome in triple triumph, Caesar [ Octavian Augustus]
was dedicating his immortal gift
to the Italian gods: three hundred shrines
throughout the city. And the streets reechoed
with gladness, games, applause; in all the temples
were bands of matrons, and in all were altars;
and there, before these altars, slaughtered steers
were scattered on the ground. Caesar himself
is seated at bright Phoebus' snow-white porch,
and he reviews the spoils of nations and
he fastens them upon the proud doorposts.
The conquered nations march in long procession,
as varied in their armor and their dress
as in their languages....

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Supermarket molluscs reveal Roman secret

"John Edmonds, A British amateur chemist, has worked out how the ancient Romans dyed the togas of emperors this deep colour thanks to a bacterium found in cockles from the supermarket Tesco. He explained to the British Association science festival in Salford, Greater Manchester, how he rediscovered the secret of imperial purple after studying the fermentation process of indigo pigments from the woad plant.

With help of researchers in Reading and from Israel he has been able to establish the vital role played by a bacterium in chemically reducing (the addition of electrons) the ancient pigments so that they will dissolve in a dye solution.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Hygiene in Ancient Rome

"'Florence Dupont (Daily Life in Ancient Rome) writes that it was for reasons of ritual that the Romans washed frequently. And she adds that '. . . even in very ancient times and even in the depth of the country, Romans, including women and slaves, would wash every day and would have a thorough bath on every feast day if not more often. At Rome itself, baths were taken daily.
'According to her, the admission fee at public baths was one-quarter as. [Affordable for pretty much everyone.]
'Joachim Marquardt (Das Privatleben der R?mer) writes that fees differed, mentions one-quarter to one as for men, but always one full as for women, and that children got in free. He also writes that life-long free baths might be bequeathed in wills. That in itself seems to stress the importance of bathing. "

Monday, September 08, 2003

A History of Rome, by Robert F. Pennell (1890)

"Fourteen miles from the mouth of the Tiber, the monotonous level of the plain through which the river flows is broken by a cluster of hills [Footnote: The seven hills of historic Rome were the Aventine, Capitoline, Coelian, Esquiline (the highest, 218 feet), Palatine, Quirínal, and Viminal. The Janiculum was on the other side of the Tiber, and was held by the early Romans as a stronghold against the Etruscans. It was connected with Rome by a wooden bridge (_Pons Sublicius_).] rising to a considerable height, around one of which, the PALATINE, first settled a tribe of Latins called RAMNES, -- a name gradually changed to ROMANS.
When this settlement was formed is not known. Tradition says in 753. It may have been much earlier. These first settlers of Rome were possibly a colony from Alba. In the early stages of their history they united themselves with a Sabine colony that had settled north of them on the QUIRÍNAL HILL. The name of TITIES was given to this new tribe. A third tribe, named LUCERES, composed, possibly, of conquered Latins, was afterwards added and settled upon the COELIAN HILL. "

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Art Treasures of the Hittites, Ottomans, and Byzantine Empires Featured in New Exhibit

"Readers of the Bible probably know the Hittites as a people who were a source of land and wives for Old Testament patriarchs--including King David, who ordered the beautiful Bathsheba into his bed and then arranged for the death of Uriah, her inconvenient Hittite husband. But Hittites were not always ill-fated bit players in someone else's story. According to information provided at Three Great Civilizations in Turkey, an art exhibition now at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Hittites had their time in the sun from the 20th to 13th centuries B.C. They were the first people to use iron, and they controlled an area that corresponds with present-day Turkey and Syria. Of the subsequent empires and kingdoms to ebb and flow across what is now Turkey, two more are featured in this show: the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. "

In addition to figurines and statuettes, the exhibition includes ceremonial vessels, official seals and 22 clay writing tablets. They include letters, legal codes and instructions on how to train horses or conduct birth rituals.

The exhibition will be held at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Fukuoka, Oct. 12-Dec. 7 and the Osaka Museum of History in Osaka, Dec. 20-Feb. 16.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

The Achievements of Augustus Caesar

by Ling Ouyang

"The most consummate politician Rome had ever seen”, Augustus 'displayed a consummate ability to utilise people’s services, to play men off against each other, and to maintain a convincing self-righteousness in the most unpromising of situations'. 'He became expert at transferring the blame for any disturbance onto his opponents, while presenting himself as the innocent injured party'. 'Such were the ingredients of charisma in a man who from his earliest years proved himself to be a mature demagogue and a deft manipulator of opinion'. But more importantly, Augustus was a masterly statesman—'He worked ceaselessly to maintain the order thus established, and nearly every part of his great empire had reasons to be grateful for increased security, expanding prosperity, and added amenity of life'. "