Friday, June 17, 2005

Introduction to Roman Stagecraft

Didaskalia : "Roman drama has several origins, some native to Italy, some imported. One of the most important influences on Roman Comedy (called the fabula palliata in Latin, after the 'Greek' cloak or pallium worn by the actors) was the Atellan Farce, a non-scripted theatrical form which made use of stock masks (characters) and slapstick gags. It was very similar to the Commedia dell'arte of the Italian Renaissance.

These slapstick characters and pratfalls were welded onto the tradition of Greek New Comedy, which was imported into Rome after its conquest of Greece. New Comedy is the ancestor of sitcoms, with plots focusing on domestic issues, usually involving boy-meets-girl-parents-forbid-marriage and the intervention of a clever slave to save the day. The Greek versions were fairly genteel, but Plautus and the other early Roman comic playwrights added lively action, ferocious puns (in Latin and Greek), rude jokes, and lots and lots of physical comedy."

School Adopts Ancient Trivium Curriculum "For the Ancient Greeks, paideia was the process of educating man into his true form, preparing him to be a competent citizen. But as years passed, these classical methods of education gave way to, and were eventually replaced by, more contemporary teaching methods."

Now a new school in West Knoxville (TN), Paideia Academy, has structured its curriculum around the ancient classical methods.

The heart of the school's curriculum is based on the Trivium, which is an ancient concept involving grammar, logic and rhetoric. A student starts out at the grammar level, which is the most basic, and throughout his education, progresses to the rhetoric level.

'Young children are sponges,' headmaster Scott Taylor said. 'At the grammar stage in the trivium, students memorize fundamental facts, names and dates. As they get older, students stop accepting information, and start questioning it. So we teach them from the logic stage, where there are lots of critical-thinking exercises. In high school, there is an interest in self-expression and communication. So we teach subjects from the rhetoric perspective. They have debates, and papers are graded for logical argumentation.'"

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Musonius Rufus and the rights of Roman women

I was reading through the catalogue of classical courses presently on sale at the Teaching Company ( and noticed that their course on the Greco-Roman moralists mentioned a discussion of Roman philosopher Musonius Rufus. I had never studied his work so I was curious about him and was quite astonished to find that he was a supporter of the right of women to be educated in such manly activities as philosophy:

"Women have received from the gods the same ability to reason that men have. We men employ reasoning in our relations with others and so far as possible in everything we do, whether it is good or bad, or noble or shameful. Likewise women have the same senses as men, sight, hearing, smell, and all the rest. Likewise each has the same parts of the body, and neither sex has more than the other. In addition, it is not men alone who possess eagerness and a natural inclination towards virtue, but women also. Women are pleased no less than men by noble and just deeds, and reject the opposite of such actions. Since that is so, why is it appropriate for men to seek out and examine how they might live well, that is, to practise philosophy, but not women? Is it fitting for men to be good, but not women?

Let us consider in detail the qualities that a woman who seeks to be good must possess, for it will be apparent that she could acquire each of these qualities from the practice of philosophy.

In the first place a woman must run her household and pick out what is beneficial for her home and take charge of the household slaves.

In these activities I claim that philosophy is particularly helpful, since each of these activities is an aspect of life, and philosophy is nothing other than the science of living, and the philosopher, as Socrates says, continually contemplates this, 'what good or evil has been done in his house'. [2] Next, a woman must be chaste, and capable of keeping herself free from illegal love affairs, and pure in respect to the other pleasures of indulgence, and not enjoy quarrels, not be extravagant, or preoccupied with her appearance. [3] Such is the behaviour of a chaste woman. There are still other requirements: she must control anger, and not be overcome by grief, and stronger than every kind of emotion. That is what the philosopher's rationale entails, and the person who knows it and practises it seems to me to be perfectly cont"

Warner Home Video to Release 4-disk Collector's Edition Sept 13

"Warner Home Video has set a Sept. 13 release date for another movie set in ancient Rome, 'Ben-Hur.' The 1959 epic, winner of 11 Academy Awards, will debut as a four-disc collector's edition priced at $39.92.

The William Wyler film has been newly remastered from the original 65mm film elements and comes to DVD with more than 10 hours of bonus materials. The special features include an all-new documentary on the film's influence with such leading filmmakers as Scott and George Lucas, rare screen tests, a making-of documentary hosted by Christopher Plummer and commentary on select scenes by star Charlton Heston."

DreamWorks to unsheath new 'Gladiator' three-disc set August 23

D'Works unsheathes new 'Gladiator' three-disc set: "DreamWorks Home Entertainment is readying an extras-packed 'expanded' edition DVD of 'Gladiator' that will include 17 minutes of additional footage cut back into the film as well as star Russell Crowe's first-ever DVD commentary.

Director Ridley Scott oversaw production of the elaborate three-disc set, which is scheduled to arrive in stores Aug. 23, priced at about $25."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Conference slated to examine classical mythology and history

I see that the Southwest Texas Popular Culture Association/American Culture Associationare soliciting proposals for presentations at their Annual Regional Conference on any aspect of Classical antiquity in popular culture including literature and film. The conference is scheduled for February 8 - 11, 2006 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

ABC Empire Series to air June 28

ABC Empire Series: "The time is 44 B.C. and the Conqueror Julius Caesar (Colm Feore, "Chicago," "And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself") returns from triumphs in Spain to a neglected Republic and a corrupt Senate, drunk with power. Though he's hailed as a hero by the masses, the Senate is wary of Caesar's plans that might place him in a position of ultimate power. Brutus (James Frain, USA Network?s "Spartacus," "Arabian Nights") and Cassius (Michael Maloney, Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet," "Painted Lady") attempt to enlist the assistance of Marc Antony (Vincent Regan, "Troy," "Joan of Arc") in overthrowing Caesar, but Antony is loyal to Caesar and refuses. A terrible conflict looms and the fate of an empire will fall to one man ? a gladiator named Tyrannus.

Tyrannus (Jonathan Cake), Caesar's bodyguard and confidant and Rome's finest warrior, is undefeated in the arena and considered a champion among men. A slave since he was a young man, Tyrannus impresses Caesar with his fighting prowess and his popularity, and with his dedication to Rome. Caesar offers him freedom in return for his service and friendship. However the Senate puts up a vicious fight for power and manages to separate Caesar from Tyrannus' protective grasp by sending the gladiator to one last match to the death. Cassius and Brutus have Tyrannus' son, Piso, kidnapped. Tyrannus rushes to his son's rescue and kills his kidnappers only to realize that the abduction is a diversion. He hurries to Caesar's side, but it is too late. His absence results in Brutus successfully leading a group of conspirators in assassinating the great conqueror. As he is drawing his last breath, Caesar swears Tyrannus to an oath to protect his successor, Octavius (Santiago Cabrera), his 18-year-old nephew."

Friday, June 03, 2005

"Mummy: The Inside Story" a hit at the British Museum

Science: "This short movie includes flying coffins, a morphing skeleton, a mysterious death, magical amulets, and a mistake that was kept secret for close to 3000 years. We are guided by the sonorous intonations of Ian McKellan. But he is no longer Gandalf, and the scene is not Middle Earth. It is Egypt in the middle of the 22nd Dynasty, 2800 years ago. And the story is not fantasy but is factual. Mummy: The Inside Story, currently showing at the British Museum, is about a priest at the Temple of Karnak: how he lived, how he died, and what became of his body. The three-dimensional (3D) film takes the viewer through the mummy's coffin, the layers of linens in which he is wrapped, and the desiccated remains of his skin and soft tissues to his skeleton and resin-soaked internal organs--all without opening his gorgeously decorated wooden case."

Decisive Battles Follows up "The Goths" with "The Lost Eagles of Crassus"

It looks like Decisive Battles will follow up "The Goths" tonight with "The Lost Eagles of Crassus" on Monday:

"Carrhae 53BC: Crassus was the richest man in Rome, but to compete in politics with Pompey and Caesar he needed to equal their military glory. So as Governor of Syria, he raised an army and invaded the empire of Parthia.
He led seven legions - thirty-five thousand Romans - into the desert in 53BC, to become victims of his arrogance and ambition. The Parthian general, Surena, with only ten thousand men, met the Roman invaders at Carrhae, the modern day town of Harran, in southern Turkey.

At Carrhae, they were annihilated by the horse-warriors of the Parthian Empire. The ultimate dishonour for Rome would be the loss of their eagle standards."

Decisive Battles Returns with "The Goths"

I see that the History Channel is going to air a new (I think) Decisive Battles episode tonight, "The Goths":

"Adrianople - 378 AD: The Roman Empire is crumbling. The once-mighty power has now been split in two and the barbarians are at the gates. Literally.
The ravages of the Hunnic hordes behind them means the Visigoths are forced to beg Rome to let them cross the Danube. But this proves to be a bitter and costly mistake, as they are forced into squalid concentration camps along the imperial borders. They are degraded and starved by the Roman officers, their children sold off for slaves or traded for dog-meat.

But the Romans are unaware that the Goths have secretly kept their weapons and as starvation becomes intolerable they explode into rioting and looting against the cities of the Roman provinces. The Romans swiftly send an army under the personal command of the Emperor Valens to crush the unruly Goths.

The Emperor expects a quick and easy victory, but instead, in the famous battle of Adrianople, in modern day Turkey, it is the Roman army that is destroyed, and the Emperor Valens himself is killed. His body is never recovered - an unthinkable catastrophe for Rome.

Rome is now forced into a treaty with the Visigoths, but it is an uneasy and unfair arrangement for the Visigoths. They are quickly absorbed into the Roman army as disposable front-line troops, dying by the thousands as the sons of Rome survive.

After 13 years of this, a young Goth King, Aleric, rises to once again challenge the Empire for better treatment and for a homeland for his people. Denied this by the scheming Romans, Aleric marches on the city of Rome itself, sacking it in three days of brutal looting and murder. Aleric dies shortly afterwards of a fever, but for Rome the end has already begun.

Ironically, it is the Goths who will maintain the fading art and culture of Rome in their new Goth kingdoms as Rome itself fades away."

I really liked the episodes that aired last year. This is a series using game imagery created with the game engine from "Rome: Total War" for illustration.