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Archive for the ‘classics’ Category

The ancient Greeks lived and warred and died so they could know things for us.

Before the war, there was Aristophanes. After the war, there is Sophocles. On March 3, 2003, activists Kathryn Blume and Sharon Bower organized 1,029 simultaneous performances and dramatic readings of Lysistrata – coordinating over 225,000 people in all 50 states and 59 foreign countries – as a protest against the Iraq War, a grand fugue of Aristophanes’ bawdy comedy known as The Lysistrata Project.

Now, the BBC and NPR report on a new directive, the brainchild of director and translator Brian Doerries: The Philoctetes Project, to raise awareness and support for returning soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which has performed Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes for the Warrior Resilience Conference. The project features “John Adams” star Paul Giamatti as Odysseus.

“It’s an amazing thing that the military is so interested in these [plays],” says Giamatti, who points out that from one perspective, both Philoctetes and Ajax can seem anti-military. The title characters, he explains, essentially rail at their superior officers: “‘How could you have done this to me? I gave you my loyalty and strength and you turned me into a monster.'”

The NPR article is a great primer to this most impressive project.

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Now, as you survey the ruins of ancient Rome on our voyage from Rome to Athens, GoogleEarth has added the ultimate of historical modelings – an entire virtual representation of ancient Rome circa 320 A.D. More than 6,700 buildings are represented on this 3-D survey, through which you can zoom and pivot and fly through the Forum, the Colosseum, and other iconic sites. The effort also involved the contribution of Past Perfect Productions, which creates virtual reproductions of cultural heritage sites around the world.

If you’ve ever dreamed of being a time traveler, I highly recommend reading the BBC article, downloading Google Earth, and booking a cabin on one of our historically-oriented Mediterranean cruises.

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And it looked so innocent.

And it looked so innocent.

(ANSAmed) – BERLIN, AUGUST 21 – Troy was much bigger than what was believed until now, Ernst Pernicka, professor of Archeometry at the University of Tuebingen and in charge of the excavations under way in Turkey, affirms. While the scholars believed for long time that the legendary city spans on a surface of at most 27 hectares, in fact Troy was located on a surface of 35 hectares, Pernicka told the German media. The continuation of a defensive trench from the Bronze Age was recently discovered by the archaeologists and it allowed evaluating unequivocally the real expansion of Troy. (ANSAmed).

See the newly uncovered trench and affirm all your Brad Pitt-related fantasies on the Journey of Odysseus next autumn.

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From the esteemed Mediterranean Archaeology blog of Ioannis Georganas, and immediately following our previous discussion of Queen Zenobia and powerful women of antiquity, we learn that:

University of Manchester researchers have revealed how women, as well as men, held positions of power in ancient Greece by right of birth.

Women were thought to have had little power in ancient Greece, unless they married a powerful man and were able to influence him. But a team of researchers testing ancient DNA from a high status, male-dominated cemetery at Mycenae in Greece believe they have identified a brother and sister buried together in a richly endowed grave, suggesting that she had as much power as him.

Professor Brown recalled: We were surprised to discover what appears to be a sister buried beside her brother in the high status, male-dominated grave circle. The implication is that she was buried in Grave Circle B not because of a marital connection but because she held a position of authority by right of birth.

DNA analysis has therefore enabled us to glimpse the factors contributing to the organisation of the higher echelons of society at the beginning of the Mycenaean age.

Read more here.

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In October, Travel Dynamics International retraces The Aeneid in the Mediterranean. Today, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, we learn about a new approach to Virgil’s epic:

For more than 2,500 years, classical epic has been the province of men: written by, for, and about them, and passed down through the centuries by male translators. One could certainly describe Virgil’s Aeneid as a manly poem. From its arms-and-the-man opening to its climactic blood bath on the battlefield, the Latin epic tells a tale of exile, combat, and slaughter, with a body count rivaling that of Homer’s Iliad. Women figure mostly as collateral damage.Aeneas\' Flight from Troy, detail -- Federico Barrocci, 1598

In what appears to be a first, however, a woman has finally tried her hand at bringing Virgil’s dactylic hexameters to a modern, English-speaking public. This month Yale University Press publishes a blank-verse translation by the poet and classicist Sarah Ruden…..

[The Aeneid] raises an urgent question — What price empire? — even as it creates a foundational myth of how a great empire came to be. In an age that has had its fill of war and foreign adventures, Virgil’s epic, written 2,000 years ago, still speaks volumes…..

Our own recent, bloody history makes it easy to hear echoes in Virgil’s tragedy. That has made the Aeneid even more appealing to a post-Vietnam generation of translators.

“Particularly when you get meaningless wars like World War I, Vietnam, and Iraq, the legitimacy of death gets questioned,” says Richard F. Thomas, a professor of Greek and Latin and director of graduate studies in the classics department at Harvard University. “This is a poem that activates that question pretty well: Is Rome worth it?”

After completing her doctorate, Ruden found her first teaching job at the University of Cape Town. Living in South Africa, a country still gripped by turmoil at the end of apartheid, she says she came to understand how Virgil felt about the brutality of civil war….

“How imperial conflict works itself out isn’t an academic matter for me,” she explains. “The Aeneid isn’t a stiff antiquarian pageant. It’s immediate and primal. ‘They’re taking our stuff! They want all of it! They’re killing us for it! Let’s kill them first!'”

“I don’t believe I put the slightest strain on the Latin in trying to echo Virgil’s defensiveness and helpless grief,” she says, “but first I had to understand it, and Africa gave me that gift.”

Read the whole article here, and learn more about Virgil’s epic on TDI’s fascinating voyage — an epic of its own — here.

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TDI’s textual archaeologists have been digging, and they have unearthed a rare find: an epistle by the writer Mary Lee Settle on the lure of ancient cities. We think it captures the essence of where we travel, why we travel, and how we travel, and it bears quoting in full. She writes:

How many miles to Babylon
Three score and ten
Can I get there by candlelight?
Aye, and back again.

FROM THE NURSERY RHYMES THROUGH the fairy tales and into the yearning to travel that comes after – the city is there, the one that has caught the rhythms of dreams and silence. I can go. I can find it – Baghdad, Ecbatana, the Cities of the Plain, Troy and Carthage and Trebizond and Petra and Lhasa -whatever legendary city has been in my mind and sometimes in my dreams since childhood. I must unearth it, or crawl through labyrinths, or dive, or go by donkey, or simply sit and dream.

A legend is a story that no one can take away from you. It is secret. It must be as far away in place as Shangri-La, as deep in time past as the dreams of Miniver Cheevy and in time future as adolescent hopes – neither mundane here nor mundane now. It is a place to be discovered on one’s own, whether in reality, as Heinrich Schliemann did when he followed his own dream to the Troad, or in poetry. (more…)

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They went to Delphi, the Earth’s center, to visit Phoebus’ Oracle, and prayed to him to grant them his aid in their misery, to give them some oracle that would restore their health and put an end to the evils of their great city. The ground, the laurel tree and the quivers which the god himself carries, all trembled together and, from the depths of the shrine, the sacred tripod uttered words, making the listeners’ hearts quake with fear… (Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XV)

Up on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, in the time before Time, the young god Apollo slew the monster Python and founded a shrine commemorating the event. It was the omphalos, the navel or center of the world, and Pegasus swooped in and stamped his hoof and cracked the ground from which came forth the Castalian Spring, pluming underground waters bearing a sweet perfume. (Of the last, so said Plutarch.) Down in an enclosed subterranean chamber, the Pythian Sibyl sat on a three-legged stool, breathed in the vapors surrounding her, swooned into a trance, and uttered delirious visions that would be translated, by the Pythian Priestesses, into prophesies that would command the fortunes of the kings of the world.

The Sibyl was a huffer.

In 2001, geologists discovered that two geologic faults intersected directly beneath the ruins of the Delphic Shrine. About every hundred years, earthquakes rattle the faults, heating the adjacent rocks and vaporizing the hydrocarbon deposits stored in them. The result: ethylene vapors, which, inhaled in concentration, produce a sense of disembodied euphoria. It is no longer a myth or a tall tale: that’s how the Pythian Sibyl received her visions from Apollo. Read more about the Delphic Oracle’s drug use here and here.

See Delphi and get a whiff of myth on Travel Dynamics International’s Landmark Sites of the Mediterranean: Greece, Sicily, North Africa, and Spain from November 9-28, 2008.

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