Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Roman Empire comes to Stratford-On-Avon

I see that our lucky British members or any visitors to Stratford-On-Avon have a chance to enjoy two plays in which the Roman Empire stands in for Jacobean society:

"Sejanus: His Fall [published by Ben Jonson in 1605] really gives you a sense, albeit in metaphor, of what Jacobean London was like," says Doran, "the police state in which they were operating, the severe censorship that was going on and the paranoia in society. Believe What You Will [by Massinger] is about a Middle Eastern leader, who comes out of a hiding to lead his people. The Roman Empire regards him as a terrorist and hounds him from state to state."

Israel Museum Displays Ancient Painted Venus Staue Israel Museum Displays Ancient Venus Staue: "A centuries-old statue of Venus, headless but vibrant with color and detail, went on display Wednesday at the Israel Museum, a decade after it was discovered in northern Israel.

The life-size marble work represents one of the most important discoveries of Roman sculpture in the world, said James Snyder, director of the museum.

The statue was discovered in 1993 in an ancient bathhouse during an archaeological dig in Beit Shean, a small city near the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. The Hebrew University archeologists who excavated the Venus sculpture uncovered several works also intended to decorate the lavish bathing area, including Dionysus, a goddess Athena, a headless emperor and a nymph.

The flesh-toned pink figure of the Venus strikes a sensuous pose against a back wall as the last exhibit in a long hall of archaeological treasures at the museum.

With locks of hair curling around the collarbone of the headless sculpture, the figure is modeled after a stance called the 'timid Venus,' particularly striking because the sculpture's missing hands reveal parts of her female body that the artist intended to partially hide. A winged Eros as a pudgy child riding a dolphin supports her left leg. "

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Scholars to delve into mystery of ?the spirit within,?

The University of Chicago Chronicle"Leading scholars from around the world?from as close as Northwestern University and the University of Michigan to as far away as Royal Holloway University of London and the University of Florence?will come together with an interdisciplinary cross-section of Chicago faculty to grapple with the same question: When and where did the idea of the indwelling demon emerge?

Although the history of the indwelling demon is well documented in the common era?demons appear in the New Testament, when Jesus casts a spirit called Legion out of a mentally deranged man, and in the work of such Roman-era authors as Lucian and Plutarch?its precise origins remain obscure, explained conference organizer Christopher Faraone, Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures and the College.

Since the Greeks in pre-Roman times generally thought demons caused illness by attacking their victims from the outside by striking or strangling a person, and since the first reports of exorcism occur in the Levant and Anatolia, classicists have generally assumed that the idea of an indwelling demon?one blamed for stroke, epilepsy, mental illness and the like?is borrowed from the Near East in the first century. However, Biblical and Near Eastern scholars point out that one cannot trace this idea in the East prior to the late Hellenistic period.

?As a classicist, I?ve always thought the idea comes from the East, but my friends who study the Hebrew Bible say that it doesn?t really appear in the Near East until after the Greeks arrive. So we really have no idea where this comes from,? Faraone said. ?That?s why we?re having this conference, so we can figure it out. As of now, nobody has a good answer.?

Faraone?s own work focuses specifically on a bizarre idea that arose in the Mediterranean under the Roman Empire?that a woman?s womb needed to be exorcized as if it were an indwelling demon. This idea is apparently adapted from an earlier theory, found first and most famously in Plato but also to some degree in the Hippocratic doctors, that the womb could freely wander about the body and cause illness by colliding with other internal organs. In the Roman period, however, women who suffered from stroke or mental illness, Faraone explained, were believed to have a demonic womb that willfully attacked their internal organs. The womb eventually began to be addressed in the same way a demon is with a formula for exorcism. Thus in the Roman period, amulets inscribed with the command ?stay where you belong, womb? began to be used and were said to prevent the demonic womb from moving and attacking the other organs in the body. "

Romans blamed for loss of science during "Dark Ages"

I see that a recent paper by two Coastal Carolina University scholars blames the Romans for a loss of medical knowledge that occurred in the fifth century, pointing out that Romans did not appear to take much interest in wholesale translation of scientific works from Greek to Latin.

HISTORY OF SCIENCE: "It is scarcely true that, in Cisne's words, 'the germ barely made it through the Middle Ages.' On the contrary, from the 12th through 15th centuries, science and scientific medicine constituted two of the most vigorous disciplines pursued in universities across Europe (2). Most Greek scientific and medical literature surviving today from the ancient world was recovered during this period, the texts of Aristotle and Galen [HN7] being the best examples. In addition, new manuscripts were avidly sought and translated--both from Greek and Arabic--and these texts were commented upon in the university system that was itself a forum for discourse and disputation invented by medieval scholars (3). The sorry state of scientific studies at the close of the Roman Empire in the fifth century reflected Roman, not medieval, failures and shortcomings (4). Although the Latin language was capable of communicating scientific ideas, most Romans showed little interest in wholesale scholarly translations from Greek (5). The precipitous decline in Greek literacy among the Latinate population in the Western Empire by the 3rd century created a crisis in the transmission of scientific literature that was only corrected in the 12th century, after the many disruptions of the early Middle Ages had subsided and the secular school had been reborn (6). Cisne correctly guesses that the leap from papyrus to parchment [HN8] in late Antiquity was one crucial element in the survival of texts, but there were many others (7). Finally, high-to-late medieval enthusiasm for science suffered at the close of the Middle Ages, when humanists of the Renaissance turned away from scientific studies (3, 8). Many humanists impugned the scientific tradition derived from Islam, and only came to embrace science in the 16th century after leading theorist-practitioners had adopted the humanists' own classicizing methods."