Tuesday, November 30, 2010
pridie kalendas decembres
- 406 B.C. — death of Euripides (by one reckoning)
- 147 A.D. — birth of Annia Galeria Faustina, the daughter of the emperor-to-be Marcus Aurelius
- 1817 — birth of Theodor Mommsen, Nobel prize winning ancient historian
6p - Reception
6:30p - film
The Nightingale's Prayer stars the first lady of the Arab silver screen, Faten Hamama, in a compelling tale of love and betrayal based upon the novel by Egyptian author Taha Hussein. Directed by Henri Barakar, Egypt, 126min, Arabic w/ English subtitles, not rated.
Julius Caesar. I thought everybody wore nice clean tunics and no rubbish marred the streets. And of course Romans used sponges-on-sticks as toilet paper. The next best thing to puppy-soft Andrex. (read more in my blog So What's with the Sponge-Stick?) What could be more sanitary than a soft sea-sponge on a stick?
The Thieves of Ostia, Vespasian is Emperor.
One ancient Roman described Vespasian's expression as that of a man sitting on the toilet trying to do a poo. Here he is (right) with his son Titus. Both these portraits are upstairs in the British Museum. What do you think? Does Vespasian have a strained expression on his face?
When Vespasian was emperor he did several eccentric things, including putting a tax on pee. The ancient version of dry-cleaners were called fullers and they used urine (or pee) for part of their cleaning process. In fact the Latin word for pee is lotium and is linked to the word for wash. This is because Roman fullers used urine so much. Men would pass by the fullers and relieve themselves in jars set outside. Sometimes they had to pay a coin for the privilege. Could this be the origin of the phrase, 'to spend a penny'? Oh all right: probably not.
second book, about the eruption of Vesuvius, I learned that Romans wrote graffiti on their walls. As well as the Christian graffiti that appears in this book they wrote things like DON'T POO HERE! We also know from inscriptions and graffiti that there were often queues outside the public loos! That meant the public latrines - the foricae - were heavily used and therefore probably quite filthy.
Romans didn't have soap. Instead, they had olive oil. They would go into the baths, strip off and rub scented olive oil all over their bodies. After some exercise and maybe a session in the steam room, they would then scrape it off with a bronze knife thingy called a strigil. Then they flicked this oily mixture of dead skin, oil, sweat and dirt (called gloios) onto the floor by the drains. They did this in the public baths. Imagine if you used your public swimming pool to get clean… along with all the neighbours on your block, young and old, healthy and sick. I used to belong to a health club until I found out people kept getting sick from going in the jacuzzi, the warm tub. If that can happen in today’s world, think how icky it must have been in Roman times!
In The Charioteer of Delphi, my characters Jonathan and Lupus go to the new Baths of Titus near the Circus Maximus in Rome. Jonathan finds something floating in the hot plunge. This probably happened a lot, unless pools were cleaned regularly. In addition to floaters, imagine a thin scum of dead skin, hair and scabs floating on top of the pool. As well as a scum on the water, think of what would cover the floor. Slippery gloios, spilled oil, and also crumbs from snacks, which we know people ate in the baths. It’s no wonder Pliny the Elder tells us that cockroaches loved the warm and steamy Roman Baths.
Because the Romans didn’t really understand about hygiene, there were probably flies everywhere. Vespasian’s younger brother Domitian used to amuse himself by trying to spear lazy summer flies with his stylus (the sharp implement used to write on wax tablets). One day a man went to see Domitian and asked his Greek scribe if there was anyone else in the room with the Emperor's younger brother. “Nobody,” replied the secretary dryly. “Not even a fly.”
The Enemies of Jupiter, has lots of gruesome facts about medicine and doctors. Doctors were called 'dung-eaters' because some of them sipped your pee and tasted your poo to diagnose what was wrong with you. In that book I also tell how one doctor bleached his teeth by drinking his own urine! When I was on Blue Peter a few years ago I convinced presenter Zoe to try some urine teeth-bleaching mouthwash. She didn't like the taste! (Of course she was just pretending.) You can watch the clip on YouTube; the Roman beauty bit starts 4 minutes in.
The Sirens of Surrentum is full of passion and poison. For this book I researched half a dozen deadly plants and their antidotes and learned some more fascinating facts. For example, everybody knows an antidote is something you take to stop poison taking effect. But what most books and TV shows don’t tell you is that an antidote counteracts poison by getting your body to expel it, either by vomiting or pooing! Or both.
The Fugitive from Corinth, a Roman Mystery set on the Greek mainland, somebody accidentally empties a chamberpot out of a tavern window onto somebody down below! What is a chamberpot? It’s a pot you keep underneath your bed or in a corner of your room as a portable toilet. The Latin word for chamberpot is matella. A Roman poet called Martial wrote an epigram about a chamberpot 'peeing from a chip in the side'. (Epigram XII.32) Some scholars think chamberpots might have been more hygienic than toilets over pits or sewers. This is because animals might crawl out of the pit or sewer and track bacteria from poo onto food and bedding.
Demon in the Toilet. You might think the Romans were silly and superstitious to believe there were demons in the loos. But in her forthcoming book, Roman Toilets: their Archaeology and Cultural History, Dr Gemma Jansen, a Dutch archaeologist, suggests that demons were the ancient Roman equivalent of bacteria. I think that is a brilliant idea. Like demons, bacteria are virtually invisible, but frightening because of what they can do to you… If a demon possessed you, he could make you sick or even kill you. Just like bad bacteria, germs or viruses.
P.S. Thanks to everyone at the British Museum, and to all the kids who brought their parents to my talk, and to all of you brave enough to touch my fake dog poo. It was "sticky and stretchy"... Ewww!
Monday, November 29, 2010
Win a copy of Centurion (DVD)
I am excited to announce that UNRV's classics blog is giving away two DVDs of Centurion, all you have to do is to answer the following question:
Please email your answers to email@example.com by Wednesday, December 1, 2010 to qualify and don’t forget to include your shipping address!!
Who would have thought that Latin and rock/metal music would go together? Apparently the two go hand in hand, because there are some bands that record some of their songs in Latin.
In Extremo, which in Latin means “At the Edge” is a German band known to record some of their songs in Latin. One of their songs that were recorded in Latin was “Omnia Sol Temperat”.
They are not the first band to do this and by that I mean give their own rendition of “Ave Maria”. This “Ave Maria” is quite unique in that it uses a bag pipe as one of the instruments to play the song :
Now this song would sound like a typical metal song (it’s called “In Taberna Gloria”), if it wasn’t for the fact that it was in Latin!
November 29th marked the festival of Saturnia
"Juppiter [Zeus] [seduced the Nymphe Io, and] fore-sensing his spouse’s [Hera's] arrival, transformed poor Inachis [Io] into a sleek white heifer (lovely still although a cow). Saturnia [Hera], against her will, admired the creature and asked whose she was, and whence she came and to what herd belonged, pretending not to know the truth. He lied - ‘The earth had brought her forth’ - so to deflect questions about her birth. Then Saturnia [Hera] begged the heifer as a gift. What should he do? Too cruel to give his darling! Not to give - suspicious; shame persuades but love dissuades. Love would have won; but then - if he refused his wife (his sister too) so slight a gift, a cow, it well might seem no cow at all! The goddess won her rival, but distrust lingered and still she feared her husband’s tricks, till, for safe-keeping, she had given the cow to Arestorides [Argos] - Argus of the hundred eyes, all watching and on duty round his head, save two which took in turn their sleep and rest ... Heaven’s master [Zeus] could not endure Phoronis’ [Io’s] distress, and summoned his son [Hermes] ... and charged him to accomplish Argus’ death ... [So Hermes] visited him [Argos], and with many a tale he stayed the passing hours and on his reeds played soft refrains to lull the watching eyes ... [and Hermes] saw all Argus’ eyelids closed and every eye vanquished in sleep. He stopped and with his wand, his magic wand, soothed the tired resting eyes and sealed their slumber; quick then with his sword he struck off the nodding head and from the rock threw it all bloody, spattering the cliff with gore. Argus lay dead; so many eyes, so bright quenched, and all hundred shrouded in one night. Saturnia [Hera] retrieved those eyes to set in place among the feathers of her bird [the peacock] and filled his tail with starry jewels." Source: Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.624
Uyghur boy from Kashgar
For years the residents of the remote north western Chinese village of Liqian have believed they were special.Many of the villagers have Western characteristics including green eyes and blonde hair leading some experts to suggest that they may be the descendants of a lost Roman legion that settled in the area.Now DNA testing of the villagers has shown that almost two thirds of them are of Caucasian origin.The results lend weigh to the theory that the founding of Liqian may be linked to the legend of the missing army of Roman general Marcus Crassus.
EnlargeIn 53BC, after Crassus was defeated by the Parthians and beheaded near what is now Iran, stories persisted that 145 Romans were captured and wandered the region for years.…As part of their strategy Romans also hired troops wherever they had conquered and so many Roman legions were made up not of native Romans, but of conquered men from the local area who were then given training.
But really, do we need the Roman hypothesis? Those big blonde Romans? Here’s one section of the piece: “Archaeologists discovered that one of the tombs was for someone who was around six foot tall.” Because of issues of nutrition the Roman soldiers were notoriously short relative to the Celts and Germans (who had more meat and milk in their diet). Perhaps they had the potential for greater height, which they realized in the nutritional surfeit of…China?
Sunday, November 28, 2010
I first saw this on the Classicists list … I hope it’s making the rounds of other lists; a letter from Dr. Judith Fletcher:
I am writing to you because our new Dean is thinking of eliminating senior Greek courses based on low enrollments. We have a reciprocal agreement with Waterloo that allows our students to take a semester of Greek with them, and then students come down to me. Since I am no longer in the department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, I no longer have any way of intervening in this decision other than pleading with the Dean. It seems that he has been persuaded by arguments that Greek should not continue at the third or fourth year.
I am not sure what constitutes a low enrollment, since last year I taught Homer to 10 students at both the graduate and undergraduate level. This year it looks like I will have 8 students in my Aeschylus course. Next year, given the numbers in second year Greek this year, it looks like a pretty healthy sized course as well.
I am wondering if you would be willing to write to Michael Carroll and advocate for maintaining senior Greek (third and fourth year at Wilfrid Laurier). It would help if you could also copy your letter to the Vice President Academic, Deb MacLatchy.
It doesn’t help that the present chair of Archaeology and Classical Studies is a North American archaeologist and has absolutely no desire to keep senior Greek alive. I don’t know if there is any point in copying him to the letter. I leave that to your discretion.
If I can provide you with any further information, please don’t hesitate to ask. And if you know anyone who could also write on behalf of this issue, please forward this email to them.
The Dean of Arts is Michael Carroll, and his email is mcarroll AT wlu.ca
The Vice President Academic is Deb MacLatchy and her mail is dmaclatchy AT wlu.ca
Professor Alan Sommerstein wrote to the Dean of Arts on the matter and received this reply:
Dear Professor Sommerstein,
I have passed on your comments to John Triggs, Chair of the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, to share with his colleagues.
It would appear, however, that you have been misinformed. I have checked with Professor Triggs and he tells me that no one – and certainly not the Departmental Council in ACS – has suggested that third and fourth year Greek courses be discontinued. And of course, both he and I are mystified over the suggestion that the Dean’s Office has made such a recommendation.
The Department Assembly (note: not the Dean’s Office) has recently recommended that a few courses be taken off the books (mainly because of retirements or because they no longer fit the program), but most of these are archaeology courses. It has also recommended that some low enrollment courses not be offered every year. This is a departmental decision but one that reflects a departmental concern with planning that I would be loath to overrule (and indeed will not be overruling).
… and Dr Fletcher’s gloss on the above:
Thanks Alan. You will get a message from the Dean saying that Greek is not being cut, but that it is just not on offer next year. This is technically speaking not the Dean’s decision, but the decision of the chair of archaeology, John Triggs. The Dean refuses to intervene, and insists that Greek is not being eliminated. My response is “then why is it not being offered?” We have the highest number of junior level students in Greek that we have ever had. We share courses with the university of Waterloo so that if we offer one semester of Greek they offer a corresponding semester.
There is something going on here that has absolutely nothing to do with enrollment, and more to do with politics. This is the first year in my 15 years at Laurier that a senior Greek course has not been offered.
It really is a travesty.
… and, of course, there are all those students who suddenly find themselves without options for senior Greek. What happens to their prospects, especially if they had plans on going to grad school? This goes beyond travesty — it is an incredibly evil strategy because I’m sure as everyone can see, you don’t offer Greek at ‘one end’, so students don’t see it as an option to begin with, don’t take it at all, and essentially the program dies within three years.
The email address which seems to be missing in all this is that of John Triggs: jtriggs AT wlu.ca
Saturday, November 27, 2010
One of the things that was being passed around the past week (during which occurred American Thanksgiving, of course) was this humourous item on Thanksgiving seating arrangements, as interpreted by College Humor:
via College Humor
… which was very interesting from a Classics point of view when one thinks about Roman triclinium seating arrangements. Here’s Pedar Foss’ diagram of same (via uSydney) … AGE, GENDER, AND STATUS DIVISIONS AT MEALTIME IN THE ROMAN HOUSE: a synopsis of the literary evidence is definitely worth a look if you’ve never visited:
Now, given that lectus imus #1 is the place of the host, that would correspond, presumably, with ‘dad’ above, putting grandpa in the locus consularis, which makes sense. Beside grandpa comes grandma, then the tipsy mom, who is pretty much the furthest away from the host (no comment). Beside dad is the creepy uncle, who is presumably only there because he is dad’s brother. The locus summus is presumably reserved for the various kids, legitimate and otherwise … not much has changed!
I don’t think there is any new discovery lurking behind this one, but it’s interesting to bring it up as a reminder that not all gladiators died in the arena:
An ancient site in the southwestern province of Muğla is believed to be the land where gladiators lived after they retired.
Excavations carried out in Muğla’s Yatağan district uncovered the city of Stratoniceia, where the largest gymnasium in Anatolia and a graveyard for gladiators are located. The excavation is expected to shed light on gladiator fights from about 1,800 years ago.
“We believe that gladiators retired and lived in Stratoniceia. As much as it is a city of marble, Stratoniceia is also a city of gladiators,” excavation head Bilal Söğüt, a professor at the department of archeology at Denizli’s Pamukkale University, told the Anatolia news agency.
Söğüt said it has many aspects that distinguish it from other ancient sites, including the gymnasium and the fact that the city was one of gladiators.
A necropolis including tombs of gladiators was uncovered in the northern part of the city. “The gravestones found there are on display at the Muğla Museum. Among them are very famous gladiators, including Droseros, who was killed by Akhilleus, as well as Vitalius, Eumelus, Amaraios, Khrysopteros and Khrysos. Droseros had 17 victories, losing to Akhilleus in the end,” Söğüt explained.
Nowhere else in Anatolia is home to this many gladiator gravestones, he said. More gladiator gravestones are expected to be uncovered during the ongoing excavation. “We hope to discover more gladiator names in the coming years. We will have a clearer picture of the area in the future. We will discover more items here,” Söğüt said.
Muğla Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Kamil Özer said they will carry out a campaign in 2011 to promote the seven gravestones on display at the Muğla Museum. “We first plan to restore the museum building. We aim to promote the building’s gladiator hall, especially at international fairs. [Muğla’s] culture tourism is lucky to have the gravestones of these seven gladiators exhibited at the Muğla Museum,” he said. The gravestones are accompanied by images from the hit movie “Gladiator” on display at the museum.
If you want to get an idea of what’s at the Mugla Museum, damiandude has a nice flickrset …