Pre-Roman Road from Shropshire?

Very interesting item from the Independent:

Archaeologists have found Britain’s oldest properly engineered road, and the discovery could change the way we look at a key aspect of British history. Now, many of the country’s key A roads – long thought to be Roman in origin – could now turn out to be substantially more British than scholars had thought.

The discoveries, in Shropshire, suggest that ancient Britons were building finely engineered, well-cambered and skilfully metalled roads before the Emperor Claudius’s conquering legions ever set foot in Britain in the middle of the 1st century BC.

“The traditional view has often been that Iron Age Britons were unsophisticated people who needed to be civilised by the Romans,” said Tim Malim, an archaeologist from the UK environmental planning consultancy, SLR, who co-directed the Shropshire excavation. “It’s an attitude that largely has its roots in the late 19th century when Britain saw itself very much as the new Rome, bringing civilisation to the rest of the world.” The Shropshire road was built, the archaeologists believe, up to 100 years before the Romans conquered Britain. The archaeologists suspect that the road may have been 40 miles long.

So far, they have found two sections, totalling 400m, but their alignment suggests that the road connected two key political centres of the Iron Age tribal kingdom of the Cornovii, the Cornovian “capital”, the Wrekin hill-fort near modern Telford, and Old Oswestry hill-fort, near modern Oswestry.

The discovery of the road, revealed in the BBC History Magazine, is for the first time demonstrating the sophistication of British Iron Age cross-country road construction.

First a brushwood foundation (made of elder) was laid down. Then a layer of silt was placed on top of the brushwood, and finally a layer of cobbles was set into the silt to provide a good surface. A kerb system, kept in place by timber uprights, was even constructed to prevent the Iron Age highway slumping. The road was regularly maintained, and resurfaced at least twice during its life.

The excavations, funded by the UK’s largest building materials company, Tarmac, have also provided remarkable information about the wheeled traffic using the Iron Age highway.

Prior to the final phase of use, there is no evidence for heavy wheeled vehicles. But in the very late Iron Age, there seems to have been a dramatic increase in heavy traffic, with evidence of the deep ruts caused by large wheeled vehicles, almost certainly carts carrying agricultural produce. The rut evidence suggests that the vehicles had axle widths of 1.9m and wheels which were 12 to 17cm wide.

The findings are likely to prompt archaeologists in other parts of Britain to re-examine some more straight-as-a-die typically Roman-looking roads to see whether they too were originally British native Iron Age ones.

Translation is Alive and Well at Harvard

A lengthy item in the Harvard Crimson on the challenges of translating various other-language works into English includes this interesting little excerpt:

The tradition of translating ancient texts is still alive and well at Harvard, although it has lost curricular prominence since Harvard’s founding. Undergraduates in the Classics Department are the most active constituents in the niche community of translators at Harvard. The Classical Club, founded in 1885, translates and stages an ancient drama every spring. This year, the club is putting on their new version of Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex,” which opened March 4 and is running through March 12.

The club’s modus operandi is to alternate Latin and Greek plays each year and shop around for interested directors once the translation has been completed. This pattern fell through last year, when the club’s translation never reached the stage. This time around, the creative process was reversed. “We decided to do ‘Oedipus [Rex]’ this year because [Meryl H. Federman ’11, director] was planning to do ‘Oedipus.’ She wasn’t happy with the translation, so we decided to work with her,” says Classical Club co-president Arthur D. Kaynor ’12, who is also working as a producer and ‘Translation Captain’ for the new production.

According to Federman, the initial translations she surveyed were dense and ornate, rendering the play’s drama unintelligible. “I was very excited to find the Classical Club because a lot of the translations [of ‘Oedipus’] are quite old, and the wording is quite highfalutin … it’s very old-school, very poetic, overblown in what it sounds like when you hear it,” she says. “[In those editions] people are trying to approximate what it sounded like back then. They are going off of this style that is ultimately confusing today.” Federman’s task was to ignore rhetorical affectation and streamline “Oedipus” in order to make it relatable to a modern audience. “I wanted to get to the human story of it with a translation that is more accessible to the modern ear,” she says.

Members of the eight-person translation team for “Oedipus” brought home sections of the play for J-Term, each producing a literal, non-interpretive translation of his or her assigned segment. These disparate, individual translations were then joined into a single cohesive document. This draft was further revised by Federman, Kaynor, and Felice S. Ford ’11—the show’s other Producer and ‘Translation Captain’—to include language more stylistically suited to performance.

“My work has mostly been advising with the director and other production staff, especially during casting,” says Ford. She also helps to convey “aspects of the text that aren’t just in the text itself, the nature of Greek tragedy, the culture that produced it. There are still some things in terms of characterizations and staging when it does matter if you want to have an authentic production.” Staging classical texts, then, requires cultural transmission in addition to linguistic translation.

For Federman, the fear associated with translating “Oedipus Rex” has little to do with the work’s canonical status. In fact, directing a classic drama invites creative and original ideas. “You don’t want to do nothing,” says Federman. The anxiety of reinterpreting a text like “Oedipus Rex” lies rather in the multitude of creative options made possible by a new translation. For plays written in English, the range of interpretive possibilities is much narrower: “every line has a binary operation,” says Federman, to cut or not to cut. In translated plays, a director may actually create the text itself.

“It starts out terrifying, and gets really fun, because there are so many choices of what to do,” says Federman. “With something like this … there is an uncountable number of things to do on every single line, and you have to make that decision over and over and over again. It becomes harder to change as you keep going.”

A director, however, must also confront the pressure of accurately conveying another’s work. “You are working with something that is not yours,” says Federman. “This is not an adaptation, it is the play itself. You need to have creative inspiration within a specific, narrow framework. There are times when you get stuck, because it is a creative process.” The central conflict, therefore, is between creativity and loyalty. “I think Sophocles would like this translation,” she adds with a smile.

BEAUTY AND SUBTEXT

Just as Eliot crowned his career with the Wampanoag Bible, a small set of undergraduates culminate their academic careers with a translation thesis. Ford is one such student, currently completing her edition of Euripides’ “The Bacchae,” a Greek tragedy centered on the god Dionysus’ revenge against his mortal family. Although Euripides’ drama is an oft-translated and oft-performed classic, Ford is attempting to contribute something original to her interpretation.

“My goal in the work overall was to be as true to the text as possible, but still produce a comprehensible and somewhat aesthetically pleasing version of the text,” says Ford. Her main goal is to reconsider widely accepted though antiquated translations, which distort the play’s content for a modern audience. “[Translated] texts pre-1950 or -1960 were very Victorian-sounding, [and used] high English,” she says.

Ford aims to make an aesthetic update. “I wanted to make something that could stand as a beautiful composition, but doesn’t do so at the expense of the true meaning of the words or the subtext that underlies them.” Her sentiment reiterates the tension Federman cites between interpretation and authenticity.

The greatest obstacle Ford has confronted so far lies in her efforts to translate the original Greek into verse English, especially the passages for chorus. “It is incredibly difficult to do the poetic sections. It’s hard to write poetry that sounds good in English but incorporates the meanings of the text.” Likewise, she adds, “I haven’t written poetry in a while, so it’s difficult on the personal side.” The process of translation, then, requires playing multiple roles: just as director Federman had to assume the part of translator, translator Ford must act as poet in her own project.

via: Atlas to the Text| The Harvard Crimson.

ASCSA Talk Live @ Noon!

If you’re in the eastern time zone and want to eat lunch while watching a talk, ecce:

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens is pleased to announce a live telecast of the Open Meeting of the School on Friday, March 11. Speakers will be Jack L. Davis on the Work of the School in 2010 and Jeffrey S. Soles, “The Goddess & the Ancestors at Mochlos, Crete.” The meeting will start 7 pm Athens time (Noon EST)

… the same page has a link to archives; presumably this will show up there at some point.

The World of Classical Cricket Grows

Tip o’ the pileus to Lish Monahan, who tweeted this one last night … not being an aficionado of Cricket, I’ll assume this one is tongue-in-cheek:

As long as we’re talking Cricket, folks might want to wander a bit down memory lane, rogueclassicism-style:

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem v idus martias

Elagabalus

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem v idus martias

  • Festival of Mars (day 11)
  • 222 A.D. — murder of the emperor Elagabalus
  • ca. 263 A.D. — martyrdom of Heraclius
  • ca. 300 A.D. — martyrdom of Thalus
  • ca. 300 A.D. — martyrdom of Trophimus
  • 1903 — birth of Ronald Syme (The Roman Revolution, among other seminal works)