On the Popularity of Sword and Sandal Flicks

Some observations from an item in the Telegraph:

“Clash of the Titans and How to Train Your Dragon represent worlds that are far from our own and an escape from job insecurity, debates about health care and worrying about paying the bills,” he said. “What better way to do this than to take yourself off to a totally different place at the movies?”

But while the themes are escapist, the content is also familiar – Greeks, Romans and Vikings and assorted serpents and dragons.

“That makes for good comfort movies dealing with characters and stories with which they are familiar,” said Mr Contrino. “People want to get away from reality with these movies, but nor do they want to be too challenged.”

That such colourful adventure stories are also particularly well-suited to portrayal in 3D is also no coincidence as Hollywood tries to cash in on the game-changing success of James Cameron’s Avatar blockbuster.

There is an added resonance to Americans flocking to films set during the rise and fall of ancient empires as they contemplate their own long-dominant place in the world amid economic upheavals at home and protracted wars abroad.

via Hollywood turns to ancient warriors and legends to win audiences – Telegraph.

… in case you’re not aware, I’m regularly posting any interesting reviews of sword and sandal flicks on my Twitterfeed … there are links to them in one of the sidebars at the right (near the bottom of the column) …

Bonham’s Upcoming Auction

Bonham’s also has some interesting items in its upcoming antiquities auction … first thing which caught my eye was this portrait bust of Menander:

Bonham's photo

An interesting togatus … clearly not a garment I’d be comfortable wearing:

Bonham's photo

An anadyomene Aphrodite:

Bonham's photo

Not sure how this is identified as a female athlete (4th/3rd century Etruscan):

Bonham's Photo

A Roman Janus head flask (I’ve never seen one of these):

Bonham's photo

Christie’s Upcoming Auction

Some of the interesting items in Christie’s upcoming antiquities auction include this torso of Aphrodite (from a 19th century Swiss collection) (the inline links will take you to the ‘official page’):

Christie's photo

A very interesting ‘young satyr’ with a panther at his feet (acquired pre-1970):

Christies photo

A bone figure of Aphrodite (left) and a doll (right) (acquired in the 1960s):

Christie's photo

There are 80+ other items … an awful lot of ‘satyrs’

Citanda: American Journal of Philology 131.1 (Spring 2010)

  • Middle Comedy and the “Satyric” Style – Carl A. Shaw
  • Menander’s Theophoroumene between Greece and Rome – Sebastiana Nervegna
  • The Tyrant Lists: Tacitus’ Obituary of Petronius – Holly Haynes
  • Unseemly Professions and Recruitment in Late Antiquity: Piscatores and Vegetius Epitoma 1.7.1-2 – Michael B. Charles
  • Reconsidering the History of Latin and Sabellic Adpositional Morphosyntax – Benjamin W. Fortson IV

via Project MUSE – American Journal of Philology – Volume 131, Number 1 (Whole Number 521), Spring 2010.

Some ‘partial access’ available …

CFP: Commentary Writers’ Workshop

Seen on CJ Online (please send any responses to the folks mentioned in the quoted text, not to rogueclassicism!):

Call for Proposals: Classical Commentary Writers’ Workshop Georgetown University, October 14–16, 2010: Latin Texts

Proposals are solicited for participation in the sixth annual Classical Commentary Writers’ Workshop, to be held on October 14–16, 2010 at Georgetown University in Washington DC. The 2009 workshop will be devoted to Latin texts. The deadline for proposals is June 15, 2010.

The workshop will consist of five 3-hour sessions, each devoted to discussion of a single pre-circulated chunk of text and commentary. We work in an intensely practical, hands-on way, asking questions, making suggestions, working out problems, and the like. Our expectation is not that the group will examine the whole of anyone’s primary text, but that all participants will return in the end to their projects with fresh insights, ideas and questions, new bibliographic resources, and a sense of working within a supportive scholarly community.

Workshop sessions are open only to the conveners, S. Douglas Olson and Alex Sens; the five participants; and (by invitation) previous participants and occasional graduate student observers. Participants are expected to arrive late in the day on the 14th, and to stay for the entire proceedings, including a final dinner on Saturday night.

Projects should be well enough advanced to provide a substantial sample of text and commentary, but not so far along that the Workshop will be unlikely to affect the final shape. Proposals should consist of (1) a brief (maximum one-page) description of the project, its intended audience, and the expected publication venue; (2) a 10-page sample of text and commentary. Proposals should be submitted, preferably in PDF form, to the convenors at sdolson AT umn.edu and sensa AT georgetown.edu. Final Workshop samples will be due on Monday September 13, 2010, for pre-circulation to all participants.

Participants are asked to call first on their own research accounts and institutional resources to cover their transportation and housing costs. For those who lack such resources, the Workshop will provide up to $600 for travel and housing. All meals will be provided.

Support for the Workshop has been provided by the Loeb Classical Library Foundation, the Alexander Onassis Foundation, the Georgetown Provost’s Office, and the University of Minnesota’s Imagine Fund.

Roman Temple in Southwell (Iterum)

This one seems to be making the rounds again:

Remains unearthed in Nottinghamshire could be an unknown Roman temple, archaeologists have claimed.

Excavations on the Minster C of E School site in Southwell between September 2008 and May 2009 revealed walls, ditches and ornate stones.

The team analysing the finds said the shape and quality of the remains suggest it could have been an important place of worship.

This could mean Southwell enjoyed a high status Roman Britain, they added.

A wall of large block masonry that was probably plastered and possibly painted, with a ditch that may have contained water, was possibly the boundary of a large temple.

Roman pilgrims

The remains of timber scaffolding for the wall were also uncovered. Radiocarbon dating of this dated it to the first century.

Ursilla Spence from Nottinghamshire County Council, the archaeologist who supervised the work, said a lack of domestic remains, like pots and tools, also indicated a ceremonial use.

“This is a fascinating site,” she said. “But, so far, it has raised more questions than it has answered.

“I hope that future excavation work, when the site is developed, will throw more light on exactly what was going on here 2,000 years ago.

“But, whatever we might find in future, I believe we have already shown that Roman Southwell was a much more significant place than anyone previously thought.”

She added that if the site was a temple, a nearby ‘villa’ with mosaics, excavated in 1959, could actually have been a hotel for pilgrims.

The site is expected to be developed for housing and further excavation would take place during the building work.

via BBC News – Remains in Southwell ‘could be Roman temple’.

We first mentioned this back in December of 2008 (Roman Complex from Notts) and Adrian Murdoch (who mentioned on Twitter this was an “old story” was blogging about that one even before that (Roman temple at Southwell, Notts). It really doesn’t seem like there’s anything new here and it doesn’t appear that the relevant excavators’ website has been updated in a long time either.

The Loss of Classical Literature is Blamed On …

Islam? Here’s an excerpt from the middle of a very long book review of  Holy Warriors: Islam and the Demise of Classical Civilization by John O’Neill at Europe News:

Until the first quarter of the seventh century Classical Civilization was alive and well in the Middle East and North Africa — even more so than in Europe. City life flourished, as did the economy and the arts. Literacy was widespread, and the works of the Classical historians, as well as the philosophers, mathematicians, and physicians, were readily available and discussed in the academies and libraries located throughout the Near East, North Africa, and Europe. In Egypt, during the sixth century, renowned philosophers such as Olympiodorus (died 570) presided over the Alexandrian academy which possessed a well-stocked and funded library packed with probably thousands of volumes. The Alexandrian academy of this time was the most illustrious institute of learning in the known world; and it is beyond doubt that its library matched, if indeed it did not surpass, the original Library founded by Ptolemy II. The writings of Olympiodorus and his contemporaries demonstrate intimate familiarity with the great works of classical antiquity — very often quoting obscure philosophers and historians whose works have long since disappeared. Among the general population of the time literacy was the norm, and the appetite for reading was fed by a large class of professional writers who composed plays, poems and short stories — the latter taking the form of mini-novels. In Egypt, the works of Greek writers such as Herodotus and Diodorus were familiar and widely quoted. Both the latter, as well as native Egyptian writers such as Manetho, had composed extensive histories of Egypt of the time of the pharaohs. These works provided, for the citizens of Egypt and other parts of the Empire, a direct link with the pharaohnic past. Here the educated citizen encountered the name of the pharaoh (Kheops) who built the Great Pyramid, as well as that of his son (Khephren), who built the second pyramid at Giza, and that of his grandson Mykerinos, who raised the third and smallest structure. These Hellenized versions of the names were extremely accurate transcriptions of the actual Egyptian names (Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure). In the history of the country written by Manetho, the educated citizen of the Empire would have had a detailed description of Egypt’s past, complete with an in-depth account of the deeds of the pharaohs as well as descriptions of the various monuments and the kings who built them.

The change that came over Egypt and the other regions of the Middle East following the Arab Conquest can only be described as catastrophic. Almost all knowledge of these countries’ histories disappears, and does so almost overnight. Consider the account of the Giza Pyramids and their construction written by the Arab historian Al Masudi (regarded as the “Arab Herodotus”), apparently in the tenth century:

“Surid, Ben Shaluk, Ben Sermuni, Ben Termidun, Ben Tedresan, Ben Sal, one of the kings of Egypt before the flood, built two great pyramids; and, notwithstanding, they were subsequently named after a person called Shaddad Ben Ad … they were not built by the Adites, who could not conquer Egypt, on account of their powers, which the Egyptians possessed by means of enchantment … the reason for the building of the pyramids was the following dream, which happened to Surid three hundred years previous to the flood. It appeared to him that the earth was overthrown, and that the inhabitants were laid prostrate upon it, that the stars wandered confusedly from their courses, and clashed together with tremendous noise. The king though greatly affected by this vision, did not disclose it to any person, but was conscious that some great event was about to take place.” (From L. Cottrell, The Mountains of Pharaoh (London, 1956)).

This was what passed for “history” in Egypt after the Arab conquest — little more than a collection of Arab fables. Egypt, effectively, had lost her history. Other Arab writers display the same ignorance. Take for example the comments of Ibn Jubayr, who worked as a secretary to the Moorish governor of Granada, and who visited Cairo in 1182. He commented on “the ancient pyramids, of miraculous construction and wonderful to look upon, [which looked] like huge pavilions rearing to the skies; two in particular shock the firmament …” He wondered whether they might be the tombs of early prophets mention in the Koran, or whether they were granaries of the biblical patriarch Joseph, but in the end came to the conclusion, “To be short, none but the Great and Glorious God can know their story.” (Andrew Beattie, Cairo: A Cultural History (Oxford University Press, 2005) p. 50)

via How Islam Destroyed the Literary Inheritance of the Classical World | EuropeNews.

… but are there no writers who get it right? I’m sure every period has their share of shoddy historians (by whatever definition you want to apply to ‘historian’). Whatever the case,  it appears that Mr O’Neill has missed Warwick’s Podcast on Graeco-Arabic Studies (and probably much else). Perhaps it’s not surprising that this book appears to be self-published?

Latin for Volcano?

The eruption of Vesuvius in Discovery Channel'...
Image via Wikipedia

A very interesting series of items from Jonah Goldberg popped up at the National Review Online this week. First:

A slew of readers are outraged, perplexed, confabulated and gobsmacked by the claim made below by another reader that there’s no Latin word for “volcano.”

I agree it is bizarre. After all you would think that after Pompeii was covered in lava and hot ash by Mount Vesuvius, someone would have said “Hey, you know what? We could really use a word for that thing.”

Meanwhile, a friend informs me that Mons ignifer (fire-bearing mountain) is the Latin neologism for volcano.

Better late than never, I suppose.

via: No Latin For Volcano

Followed quickly by:

This is awesome, from a reader:

Hi, Jonah,

I discovered this a few years ago, after I’d read Robert Harris’ excellent novel, _Pompeii_. It’s told from the point of view of a hydraulic engineer in AD 79, sent to figure out why the aqueduct around Pompeii is running dry. I kept wondering why the characters weren’t thinking about the possibility of the volcano erupting, and I finally tried to look up the word in my Latin dictionary, without success. It’s the Chambers & Murray—considered the best 1-volume Latin dictionary out there—so it wouldn’t have accidentally missed the word.

That really surprised me. But I reckon Vesuvius really surprised the Romans, too. I thought this might have been the first eruption of a volcano their civilization had known, but that’s not the case, since even Vergil refers to an eruption of Etna in the Aeneid. So…even weirder they didn’t have a word, since they knew about these things. Huh.

via: No Latin for Volcano Cont’d


The controversy won’t go dormant. From a reader:

Mr. Goldberg,

There may not be a single word for a volcano, but there is a Latin phrase for it:

mons flammas eructans (“mountain belching fire”)



Aren’t you being more than a trifle gullible? The Romans employed ample terminology for volcanoes; even more for the sort of eruptions of stupidity evidenced by your reader. I suggest you consign his email to the mouth of a mons flammas eructans. While you’re at it, utter a prayer to Volcanus.


good heavens — anyone who saw the doctor who episode “the fires of
pompeii” (2008) knows there was no latin word for “volcano.” also,
that as bad as volcanic eruptions are, they prevent the pyrovile rock
people from becoming our new alien overlords. sheesh.


According to the episode “The Fires of Pompeii” they simply didn’t have one.

THE DOCTOR (subdued, to Donna)
They don’t know what it is. Vesuvius is just a mountain to them, the top hasn’t blown off yet. The Romans haven’t even got a word for volcano. Not until tomorrow.


via: More Volcanic Latin

I’m not sure saying “they didn’t have a word for it” gives the right impression. As some of the commentators about are implying, it seems more accurate to say that the Romans didn’t really distinguish between mountains that ‘burned’ and mountains that didn’t ‘burn’ except with the addition of adjectives. Here, e.g., is what Pliny the Elder has in a section describing ‘flagrant mountains’ (2.110 via Lacus Curtius):

verum in montium miraculis ardet Aetna noctibus semper tantoque aevo materia ignium sufficit, nivalis hibernis temporibus egestumque cinerem pruinis operiens. nec in illo tantum natura saevit exustionem terris denuntians: flagrat in Phaselitis mons Chimaera, et quidem inmortali diebus ac noctibus flamma; ignem eius accendi aqua, extingui vero terra aut fimo Cnidius Ctesias tradit. eadem in Lycia Hephaesti montes taeda flammante tacti flagrant, et adeo ut lapides quoque rivorum et harenae in ipsis aquis ardeant, aliturque ignis ille pluviis; baculo si quis ex iis accenso traxerit sulcum, rivos ignium sequi narrant. flagrat in Bactris Cophanti noctibus vertex.

An Epic Battle About Homer’s Home

Photograph taken of the bust of Homer in the B...
Image via Wikipedia

Here’s the incipit … not sure if I blogged this already:

Many historians agree that the world’s most well-known epic poet, Homer, lived in the Aegean city of İzmir, but several mayors are eager to have their towns recognized as his home.

The ancient Greek poet Homer, traditionally considered the author of the epic poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” is believed to have lived in ancient Smyrna, today’s İzmir, in the eighth century B.C. Seven different locations claim to be home to Homer, with Bornova and Gaziemir on the brink of a tough battle.

Gaziemir Mayor Halil İbrahim Şenol, a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, argued that Homer was born in Gaziemir. “The history books say Homer was born where the Meles River starts, and it starts in Gaziemir,” said Şenol. “It is not true that Homer lived in Bornova, and our research will support and reveal the truth.”

Bornova, another town in İzmir, also claims it is the hometown of the Greek poet. Bornova Mayor Kamil Okyay Sındır, also a member of the CHP, earlier said the town should be proud of being Homer’s hometown and cited the Meles River reference to strengthen his argument.

“Homer wrote about the Meles River in his works, which is why it is believed he lived around here,” Sındır said. “All findings indicate Homer lived in Bornova. There are seven locations in the Aegean and the Greek Islands claiming to be Homer’s hometown, but Bornova is the strongest candidate.”

Bornova was quick to take advantage of its links and last year opened the “Homeros Valley,” an attraction center built between the Bornova district center and Kayadibi village by the İzmir Metropolitan Municipality.

Şenol appointed archeologist Ercan Çokbankir as the Gaziemir Municipality Culture Coordinator after last year’s local elections, and he has been focused on the issue ever since.

“It makes more sense that Homer was a Gaziemir local,” said Çokbankir, adding that no argument is 100 percent certain. “Many history books name the river from Çatalkaya as Homer or Homeros. Bornova does not have such a record,”

“The Homeros Valley project has been built in the wrong location,” he said. “The right place would be Gaziemir.”

The Gaziemir mayor noted that the municipality will soon organize an international conference on Homer. “After all, Homer is a world-renowned poet, and the most important thing is that most historians agree he lived in İzmir,” said Şenol. “I’m aware that there is not much point in arguing about whether he lived in Bornova or Gaziemir, but we just want the truth to be known.”

More:  This is Homer’s real home, says mayor | Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review.

Necropolis at Ostia!

The skinny: it dates from the second half of the first century A.D. (based on it apparently demonstrating a transition from cremation to inhumation) and most of the occupants seem to be low-status males (skeletal remains show evidence of a life of ‘hard labour’) …

Resti di una necropoli di epoca romana sono stati scoperti nel Parco dei Ravennati ad Ostia Antica. Il ritrovamento durante il lavori effettuati da Acea in via Gesualdo per la sistemazione di un nuovo impianto di illuminazione.

L’area di necropoli si stendeva lungo un muro ad angolo, di cui è stata rinvenuta soltanto la fondazione. Le tombe ad inumazione ed in limitatissimo numero anche ad incinerazione sono sistemate in modo caotico, con numerose riduzioni volontarie per far posto alle inumazioni più recenti.

La necropoli sembra risalire alla seconda metà del I secolo d.C., in un momento di passaggio tra l’uso del rito ad incinerazione a quello ad inumazione. A comunicarlo la Soprintendenza per i beni archeologici di Roma di Ostia.

«Dall’analisi antropologica preliminare gli inumati, nella maggior parte di sesso maschile, sono apparsi appartenere ad un livello sociale molto basso, per le numerose tracce di alterazioni scheletriche causate da stress biomeccanici, attribuiti ad un’attività lavorativa particolarmente pesante, che prevedeva un forte impegno funzionale degli arti – prosegue la nota – Inoltre, nell’area di cantiere più vicina alla Stazione della Ferrovia Roma-Lido sono state rinvenute alcune strutture murarie, rasate al livello delle fondazioni, riferibili a due ambienti adiacenti pavimentati con mosaici a disegni geometrici in bianco/nero. Queste strutture possono collegarsi alle altre visibili lungo via della Stazione di Ostia Antica ed a quelle scoperte in più punti negli anni passati nei pressi della Stazione e probabilmente riferibili ad ambito commerciale e residenziale. I dati scaturiti da questo intervento si sono rivelati particolarmente interessanti per la ricostruzione delle modalità di utilizzo del territorio immediatamente circostante alla città romana di Ostia Antica».

Lo scavo è stato realizzato su incarico Acea dalla Cooperativa archeologia, sotto la direzione scientifica della Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma – Sede di Ostia, con il supporto di un’antropologa collaboratrice del Servizio di Antropologia della Soprintendenza. E’ stato possibile mettere in luce la continuazione dell’ambito necropolare già evidenziato durante un precedente cantiere Acea, effettuato nel 2006 nell’angolo Sud-occidentale del Parco dei Ravennati.

via Ostia antica, trovati resti di una necropoli – Il Messaggero.