“Homeric” was once again a popular adjective this week:

A review of Susan Sontag’s diaries (New Statesman) included this:

“It’s time for Homer, I think,” she writes. “The best way to divert these morbid individualised religious fantasies is to overwhelm them by the impersonal Homeric …”

The Yorkshire Post on the challenges facing the new president:

The Homeric cupidity and stupidity of the world’s bankers has brought America, Europe, and the Asian economies to the edge of the abyss.

A review of the bluray disk version of Dr. Strangelove notes in regards to a cut scene:

“Since they were laughing, it was unusable, because instead of having that totally black, which would have been amazing, like, this blizzard, which in a sense is metaphorical for all of the missiles that are coming, as well, you just have these guys having a good old time. So, as Kubrick later said, ‘it was a disaster of Homeric proportions.'”

Matters Inaugurational

A compendium of items relating — more or less — to the big events last week … now that they’ve had time to ‘sink in’. We being with a bit from the Register-Herald, which actually was about the inauguration of the governor of West Virginia, but had some nice ClassCon:

Noting the term “inauguration” is derived from the Latin word “augur,” meaning “omen,” Manchin said ancient Romans installed leaders and awaited for the right omens before plunging ahead.

Of course, I suspect I wasn’t the only Classicist who thought it interesting that Obama and the Chief Justice repeated the taking of the oath of office when it was ‘stumbled’ over at the actual ceremony — in ancient times, such stumbling would have required the repeating of the entire ritual. Then there was this piece in the Times of London, by Natalie Haynes (dubbed a Classicist and standup comedian) who decided that Barack Obama was Titus:

Then I dusted the bookshelves and realised – Barack Obama is the modern incarnation of the Emperor Titus, who ruled the Roman Empire from AD79-81, before death cut his reign tragically short. This is Suetonius: “Titus had such winning ways – perhaps inborn, perhaps cultivated subsequently, or conferred on him by fortune – that he became an object of universal love and adoration.”

That could have been written about Obama pretty much any time in the past year. Perhaps it was because Titus didn’t have time to go mad, like Caligula, or weird, like Tiberius, but he was probably the most adored emperor in Roman history. Then I realised that almost all leading politicians are reworked emperors. You just have to match them up.

Unfortunately, when she matches them all up (she goes through the Julio-Claudians), the explanation doesn’t quite match up (she matches the other emperors to other folks, not necessarily U.S. politicians). If we extend her analogy, we can expect the new president to, er, not complete his term and be succeed by JB who, no doubt, even now is sitting in his closet poking flies with a needle. One of the comments in the Times suggests Hadrian as a better parallel. The German IndyMedia, meanwhile, seemed to try to be making a link to Septimius Severus, concluding a piece on the new president thusly:

Mumia Abu-Jamal sagte in einer Grußbotschaft an die Rosa-Luxemburg Konferenz 2009: “Im Jahr 193 vor unserer Zeitrechnung bestieg ein Afrikaner den römischen Thron: Imperator Septimius Severus weitete Roms Macht aus und stärkte das Imperium. Sein Sohn folgte ihm auf den Thron und übertraf ihn noch an Grausamkeit und Unmenschlichkeit. Diese Herrscher brachten keinen Wechsel, sie sorgten für Kontinuität. Wird das heutige Imperium einen anderen Weg einschlagen?”

There was an interesting anticipatory piece in the Washington Post about the ‘ancient’ qualities of Obama’s oratory which looked more at cadence and rhythm rather than figures (he does have a fondness for tricola, anaphora, and repetition, no?). An excerpt:

This is poetry.

WE are the ONES we’ve been WAITing for.

It’s ancient English metrics: WE are the CHANGE that we SEEK, a chant of dactyls, DA-da-da, DA-da-da, as in Longfellow’s “THIS is the FORest primEVal.”

Rock it, Obama.

This stuff works. Franklin Roosevelt used iambs (da-DA, da-DA) that could have been lifted from Shakespeare (“To BE or NOT to BE”) at the opening of his 1933 inaugural address: “The ONly THING we HAVE to FEAR is FEAR itSELF.” (Though the crowd that day ignored the line — later, newspapers made it the motto of the New Deal.)

Martin Luther King: “I HAVE a DREAM that ONE day DOWN in ALaBAMa . . . ”

Analysts of Obama’s oratory cite the influence of African American preaching tradition, but the influence is older, rooted like a mangrove in the swamp of the nervous system.

“It’s about the tune, not the lyrics, with Obama,” says Philip Collins, who wrote speeches for Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. In a BBC report, Collins cites “the way he slides down some words and hits others — the intonation, the emphasis, the pauses and the silences.”

Winston Churchill rocked it in a chant of anapests (da-da-DA): “We shall FIGHT on the BEACHes . . . we shall FIGHT in the FIELDS . . . we shall FIGHT in the HILLS . . . we shall NEVer surRENDer.”

He knew about the ancient Greeks controlling and defending against the power of oratory by codifying it with labels you heard once in college and forgot: asyndeton, litotes, epistrophe. For instance, here Churchill is using the technique of anaphora, repeating phrases at the beginning of clauses. Note, too, that in defense of England he uses nothing but Old English words except for “surrender,” which comes from the French.

Finally, we mention an interesting reviewish/Obama’s influences sort of piece in the IHT had an interesting bit of ClassCon:

For Obama, whose improbable life story many voters regard as the embodiment of the American Dream, identity and the relationship between the personal and the public remain crucial issues. Indeed, “Dreams From My Father,” written before he entered politics, was both a searching bildungsroman and an autobiographical quest to understand his roots – a quest in which he cast himself as both a Telemachus in search of his father and an Odysseus in search of a home.

@ the Online Auctions

Plenty of stuff from Live Auctions this week, with varying degrees of provenance:

… there are also a number of coins (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a coin auctioned online with a real provenance):

Not sure why there’s such a variation in the detail (or reporting at all) of the provenance.

Matters Theatrical

A flurry of items of theatrical interest this week:

… and of course, it’s always useful to have photos:

CFP: Writing the Self, Writing Lives in Greco-Roman Culture (APA)


The following is a call for papers for the panel ‘Writing the self, Writing lives in Greco-Roman culture’, to be held at the 2010 APA meeting in Orange County, California. Abstracts must reach the APA office by 2 February (further instructions are at the end of this message).  The full ‘annual meeting program guide’ (which includes guidelines for abstracts and ‘Form D’, which must accompany all submissions) is available online:


Writing the self, Writing lives in Greco-Roman culture

Over one hundred years now separate us from the original publication of the monumental overview of ancient and modern autobiography by Georg Misch (Misch, 1907). Meanwhile, the ‘death of the author’ has generated a fundamental critical shift and a variety of productive approaches to first-person narratives. On the one hand, major contributions in different fields have highlighted the performative aspect involved in the display of the self. Moving away from the Romantic notion of authorial sincerity, a new wave of criticism has focused on how the presentation of the authorial self in any given text is intimately connected with wider rhetorical, political and cultural strategies to which the text is bound. On the other hand, recent work has called into question the relevance of the concept of persona for the ancients (Mayer, 2003), arguing that on the whole, ancient readers assigned to the author the views expressed by the persona loquens. Focusing our discussion on ancient conceptions and constructions of autobiographical writing, it is the aim of this panel to bring renewed attention to the importance of the biographical persona as a subject and as a tool of criticism for both ancient and modern audiences.

First, contributors might explore how ancient authors conceived of autobiographical writing in its different forms and functions. What are the different media in which authors write about themselves and how does each genre influence the choice and shaping of autobiographical data that an author decides to share with his readers? What is worthy of memory when it comes to the self? What are the different rubrics under which the ancients discuss their lives? What are the differences and continuities between ancient and modern notions of autobiographical writing? Secondly, papers might examine how ancient readers responded to autobiographical statements. What role does the construction of a biographical persona play in the way the ancients approach literary texts? How are we to interpret the tendency of ancient readers to extract biographical information from first-person narratives eloquently analyzed by Mary Lefkowitz (Lefkowitz, 1981) and others? How do biographies of poets and writers transform and interpret the texts of the master author?

To begin to address these questions, we welcome contributions on different autobiographical genres, such as hypomnemata/ commentarii, apologies, memoirs/ confessions, letters and personal poetry, as well as texts, such as biographies and anecdotes, which illustrate the role of the biographical persona in ancient thought.

Abstracts must be received in the APA office by February 2nd, 2009. Please send two copies of form D and four copies of an abstract (following the instruction given above under ?Responsibilities of Individuals Submitting Abstracts by the February 2nd, 2009 Receipt Deadline?). Anonymous abstracts will be reviewed by the panel organizers.