A Well-Known Lawrence Alma-Tadema Coming to Auction

The incipit of an item from Art Daily:

Following the record-shattering price of $35,922,500 achieved at Sotheby’s New York in November 2010 by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s The Finding of Moses (est. $3/5 million), Sotheby’s announces that the 5 May 2011 sale of 19th Century European Art in New York will be led by another masterpiece by the artist. In The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, 41 B.C. Alma-Tadema draws inspiration from Shakespeare’s play in depicting the memory of Antony’s first encounter with Cleopatra (est. $3/5 million). Beautifully rendered in the artist’s distinctive style, the image took on an iconic status soon after its completion in 1883, and has since served as inspiration for theatrical and filmed versions of the famed story.

In The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, 41 B.C., Alma-Tadema depicts one of the most storied moments in Roman-Egyptian history. Rather than using translations of ancient texts as source material, the artist instead draws inspiration for his composition from William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, which was regularly staged in London’s theaters at the time. [etc.]

… and is probably the most boring Cleopatra ever painted, and likely my least favourite Alma-Tadema …

d.m. Ian Kidd

From the Scotsman:

Professor Ian Gray Kidd, academic.

Born: 6 March 1922, in Chandernagore, French India.

Died: 20 March, 2011, in Dundee, aged 89.

Ian Kidd, Emeritus Professor of Greek in the University of St Andrews and Fellow of the British Academy, died peacefully in Ninewells Hospital Dundee in the early hours of Sunday, 20 March. He will be remembered by colleagues, students and friends as an accomplished scholar, a fine teacher and a man who gave a lifetime of unstinting service to his university and the wider community.

Ian was born on 6 March, 1922 at Goretty, Chandernagore, in French India, where his father was working for the Angus Jute Company.

At the age of five he was brought to Dundee and looked after by grandparents and maiden aunts; his parents returned to their native city in 1933.

He attended Dundee High School, where his combination of academic excellence (and not only in classics) with sporting prowess (he was captain of rugby and a gifted golfer) led to his being made head boy and Dux of School.

After two years at St Andrews University, he was called up in 1942, was commissioned as lieutenant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (and later the Seaforth Highlanders), and saw service in north Africa and Italy (he led the first British platoon to form part of the Allied crossing from Sicily to the mainland in September 1943), before being captured in January 1944 and spending the rest of the war in various prisoner of war camps.

Liberated in April 1945 and demobilised that September, he returned to his studies at St Andrews.

While he managed to maintain a social life rich in sporting activity and music (he was a very capable pianist and music remained a lifelong passion), his academic talents ensured that he graduated in 1947, in classics, with the highest Honours, winning the Arts Faculty’s Miller Prize for the top first-class degree of the year.

From 1947 to 1949 he took a further classics degree (Greats) at Queen’s College Oxford.

Meanwhile, in 1946, he had met Sheila Dow, a student contemporary of his (she was reading economics).

They married in 1949, settling in St Andrews when Ian was appointed assistant lecturer in Greek at the university, where he was to spend a distinguished career of almost four decades, culminating in a personal chair as Professor of Ancient Philosophy (1973-76) followed by his tenure of the chair of Greek (1976-87) in succession to Kenneth Dover.

Over that whole period, Ian gradually turned himself into a leading expert on Greek philosophy and science, especially the school of Stoicism.

His list of publications includes notable contributions to the study of Plato and Platonism, but his crowning achievement, which made him a world authority on the subject, was a magisterial edition, in four volumes (with commentary and translation),
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of the fragments of the Stoic thinker Posidonius, one of antiquity’s most remarkable polymaths.

To produce this work, the fruit in total of some 30 years’ research, Ian needed to master a body of complex material which ranged across the domains (among others) of ethics, geography, history and physics. The edition is recognised as a major resource by all advanced students of Greek philosophy.

The reputation this edition helped win for Ian was no doubt a prime reason for his Fellowship of the British Academy, awarded in 1993.

But even before the Posidonius project was completed, Ian had achieved an international standing which was acknowledged in various ways, not least by his appointment as Visiting Professor in Classics at the University of Texas at Austin in 1965-6, and his membership of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, on two occasions (1971-2 and 1979-80).

In retirement his achievements were marked by his own university with the award of an honorary D.Litt. (2001).

Ian Kidd belonged to an always rare (but now endangered) species of academics who were committed to combining the highest standards of research with a record of great devotion to teaching and of unselfish service to the governance of their universities.

Ian’s colleagues admired his sterling qualities (Kenneth Dover described him as a person of “absolute integrity”), while his students remember with deep warmth the kindness and helpfulness he unfailingly showed them.

It was a mixture of colleagues, former pupils, and scholarly admirers who came together to produce a volume of essays in his honour in 1995 under the title The Passionate Intellect, a phrase Ian himself had used in his inaugural lecture to sum up what he thought the most important aspect of ancient Greek culture.

Last but not least, the annals of St Andrews University will testify that he found time amid all his other work to serve, inter alia, as the Provost of St Leonard’s College (1978-83), the Chancellor’s Assessor (1989-98), and Vice-President of the University Court (1997-8).

In all respects, Ian Kidd led a life of exemplary dedication to the humane values of scholarship and to the educational ideals of the institution in which he spent his long career.

Sheila Kidd, whom Ian devotedly nursed through illness for several years, predeceased him in 2007. He is survived by his three sons, Anthony, Robin and Simon.

Also Seen: How the Romans Made MSG

From io9 with a tip o’ the pileus to Dorothy King … this is the bit from towards the end:

The process sounds very modern, but MSG has been around for a very long time. It was a common food additive during the time of ancient Rome, added to almost all Roman dishes. The Romans had a lot of technology for their time, but they couldn’t genetically engineer bacteria. So how did they come up with MSG? Believe it or not, they used an even more disgusting process than bacteria excretions. The Romans had a fish paste called garum that they exported everywhere. They made it by filling pots with alternating layers of fish – or just fish guts – and salt and letting those pots lie out in the sun for a while.

As the mixture lay out in the sun, the stomach acids for the fish ate through their bodies. They eventually broke down the entire fish, turning the whole thing into a dark brown oily goo. When protein is broken down, the amino acid chains in the protein are freed up. One of these acid chains contains glutamic acid, which meets up with sodium from the salt and forms MSG. The Romans were such fans of the flavor enhancer that they even put it in sweets like custard. They also died off in droves, so anyone who wishes to recreate garum Roman-style — don’t do it. Try organizing gladiator-style games in the back yard as a safer alternative.

Personally, I’d like to see some definite evidence that the garum process would create the ‘free glutamates’ which are apparently necessary for the MSG ‘effect’ … all I have is the Wikipedia article to go on …

Pondering the Cause(s) of the Fall of Rome

Given the ‘heat’ folks have been putting on news outlets for their apparent lack of critical thinking abilities in regards to such things as those lead codices (and plenty of other things which aren’t in our purview), it’s somewhat refreshing to see the Telegraph apparently trying to ‘look good’. First we read of  a rather startling claim made by the head of Italy’s National Research Council … here’s the incipit:

Roberto De Mattei, 63, the deputy head of the country’s National Research Council, claimed that the empire was fatally weakened after conquering Carthage, which he described as “a paradise for homosexuals”.

The remarks prompted angry calls for his resignation, with critics saying his comments were homophobic, offensive and unbecoming of his position.

The fall of the Roman Empire was a result of “the effeminacy of a few in Carthage, a paradise for homosexuals, who infected the many.

“The abhorrent presence of a few gays infected a good part of the (Roman) people,” Prof Mattei told Radio Maria, a Catholic radio station.

The Roman Republic achieved domination over Carthage, in present-day Tunisia, during the Punic Wars of the third and second centuries BC, during which Hannibal made his ultimately abortive crossing of the Alps with war elephants. [etc.]

A week or so ago, that would be the end of the story and the ‘fall’ reason would be just another ‘fact’.  Now the various newspapers seem to want to made amends and appear legit. The Daily Mail, e.g., has the story and then consults some historians … but then, being the Daily Mail, they disagree … here’s the relevant part:

Historian Emilio Gabba, a leading light in Roman history, said: ‘It is highly improbable homosexuality led to the fall of the Roman Empire.’

Professor Lellia Cracco Ruggini, an expert on Roman history from Turin University, said: ‘There is no proof Rome had a high number of homosexuals. I can safely say Rome did not fall because it was gay.’ However research would seem to suggest homosexuality was rife in ancient Rome.

The 18th century expert Edward Gibbon wrote that ‘of the first 15 emperors, Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct’.

Homosexuality is widely portrayed in ancient Roman art and was seen as acceptable 2,000 years ago.

For its part, the Telegraph has a complete column unto itself (by the same journalist) presenting the standard ‘list’ of possible reasons for the ‘fall’ … it begins thusly:

Scholars point out that it was not a single, dramatic event – the decline of the Empire took place over around 300 years.

Historians have variously dated the final collapse to the sack of Rome in AD410 by the Visigoth king Alaric, the deposing of the last Roman emperor by the German chieftain Odoacer in AD476 and the death of Justinian I, the last Roman emperor to try to reconquer the western half of the empire, in AD565.

The reasons for the fall of the empire include military overreach, invasion by emboldened tribes of Huns and Visigoths from northern and central Europe, inflation, corruption and political incompetence.

While historians have examined dozens of reasons for the decline of the greatest empire the world had ever seen, homosexuality is not one of them. [etc.]

… and there’s also this:

… much better job, on the Telegraph side of things. Daily Mail … well, it’s still the Daily Mail.

ASCSA Videocast: Telltale Depictions: A Contextual View of Mycenaean Wall-Paintings

On February 11, 2011, John Bennett (University of Sheffield) delivered the lecture, “Telltale Depictions: A Contextual View of Mycenaean Wall-Paintings” to lead off the 2-day weekend workshop on the subject.

ASCSA Videocast: Baldness in the Greek and Roman Imagination

Are bald men smarter, more attractive, more accomplished on the battlefield? Some ancient Greeks and Romans certainly thought so! At least sometimes! In a brisk and often humorous overview of ancient texts, Corey Brennan, Mellon Professor at the American Academy of Rome held his audience enthralled in his lecture “Baldness in the Greek and Roman Imagination” on March 1, 2011.

On Climate Change and the Fall of the Roman Empire Redux

A couple of months ago we commented on a study that was making the rounds of assorted news agencies which suggested that there was a connection between climate change (as evidenced from tree ring samples) and barbarian migrations/fall of empires. At the time, the connection wasn’t clear to me and now there’s a followup story — with an actual Classical connection (well, fourth century) — that seems to cloud the issue even more. Here’s the incipit of an item in the Harvard Gazette:

Ancient Roman poetry and climate science may seem to have little in common, but a recent collaboration between a Harvard historian and European climate scientists highlights the potential for the two fields to illuminate each other and deepen the understanding of both nature’s and humankind’s past.

Michael McCormick, the Francis Goelet Professor of Medieval History, has collaborated with climate scientists three times in recent years, searching for witnesses to climate extremes gleaned from tree-ring data during the late Roman Empire and after, investigating the effect of volcanoes on climate and civilization during the time of Charlemagne, and, in an article soon to be published, looking at climate data and historical accounts in the centuries after the Roman Empire fell.

McCormick said he recently brought to class a precipitation chart developed in his work with a European team on the climate of the first millennium, published online by the journal Science in January. The class was studying a Roman poem from the year 371. The work mentions that a region of the Roman Empire was then very dry. McCormick showed students the chart, which has a deep, plunging spike denoting a drop in rainfall in the same region, around the same year.

“If you would have told me 10 years ago that I could walk into an undergraduate seminar, read a poem by one of the Roman Empire’s leading poets which describes a drought that he saw as he rode along a ridge and that literary specialists had dated to 371 — but couldn’t be sure — and then pulled out the chart of rainfall in that part of the Roman empire in 371 — it’s just extraordinary,” McCormick said. “This is a new world of historical investigation.”

This does sound potentially exciting … McCormick is one of a group of folks who were part of the study we previously mentioned. So anyway, yesterday I was wracking my brains for a bit trying to figure out what Roman poet might have written something around 371 which might contain something climate-related. I was thinking Prudentius, but nothing matched, and then Michael Chase came to my rescue (on the Classics list) and suggested they were probably referring to AusoniusMosella. The suggestion makes sense on numerous levels, not least of which is that it is the sort of poem which one might meet in an undergraduate classroom at some point and it is usually dated to around A.D. 371. As might be inferred, it is a poem praising the river Moselle. Here’s the intro (text and translation from the Hugh Evelyn-White Loeb edition at the Internet Archive :

TRANSIERAM celerem nebuloso flumine Navam,
addita miratus veteri nova moenia Vinco,
aequavit Latias ubi quondam Gallia Cannas
infletaeque iacent inopes super arva catervae.
unde iter ingrediens nemorosa per avia solum 5
et nulla human! spectans vestigia cultus
praetereo arentem sitientibus undique terris
Dumnissum riguasque perenni fonte Tabemas
arvaque Sauromatum nuper metata colonis :
et tandem primis Belgarum conspicor oris 10
Noiomagum, divi castra inclita Constantini.
purior hie campis aer Phoebusque sereno
lumine purpureum reserat iam sudus Olympum.
nee iam, coiisertis per mutua vincula ramis,
quaeritur exclusum viridi caligine caelura :

I HAD crossed over swift-flowing Nava’s cloudy
stream, and gazed with awe upon the ramparts lately
thrown round ancient Vincum where Gaul once
matched the Roman rout at Cannae, and where her
slaughtered hordes lay scattered over the countryside
untended and unwept. Thence onward I began
a lonely journey through pathless forest, nor did my
eyes rest on any trace of human inhabitants. I passed
Dumnissus,sweltering amid its parched fields, and
Tabernae, watered by its unfailing spring, and the
lands lately parcelled out to Sarmatian settlers.
And at length on the very verge of Belgic territory
I descry Noiomagus, the famed camp of sainted
Constantine. Clearer the air which here invests
the plains, and Phoebus, cloudless now, discloses
glowing heaven with his untroubled light. No
longer is the sky to seek, shut out by the green
gloom of branches intertwined :

So Ausonius is travelling from Vincum, which is modern-day Bingen (according to the notes in the text; if you track down the text online or ‘live’ there’s a map of the journey on p 222 of volume one), about 20 km through a very thick forest (apparently) until he gets to the ‘parched fields’ of Dumnissus, which is “probably Densen, near Kirchberg” according to the note and also seems to be what is being referred to by McCormick. Then another 20 or so km on to Tabernae (Berncastel), which doesn’t seem to have any water problems and Noiomagus (Neumagen). No indication of dryness here either. As the poem goes on, of course, it gets to the banks of the Moselle, which are verdant, vine-covered and just a joy for Ausonius to behold.

So here’s my problem with all this: clearly any ‘climate marker’ that can be tied to this poem can only be tied to the rather localized area of Dumnissus, which seems to be in between two points which aren’t having any water problems to speak of, nor is there any indication elsewhere in the poem that there are rainfall shortages or the like affecting the region. Would it not be more reasonable to think that the fields of Dumnissus were “parched” because of some incursion of the Alamanni (which Valentinian was dealing with in the late 360s) rather than some tree ring which may or may not come from that exact spot? It would be truly amazing if we could tie tree-ring data to literature, but I don’t think it quite works in this case. What is also interesting, of course, is that if there was this serious decline in rainfall (according to tree ring data), how do we account of the lushness of this region as described by Ausonius?

Catullus on BBC Radio 3

Tip o’ the pileus to Gillian Palmer for sending this one in … seems there’s going to be a dramatization of Catullus’ life on BBC 3 tomorrow; after that, available as a ‘listen again’ thing for a week (YMMV). Here’s the official blurb with a link to the page:

Frederic Raphael’s new play A Thousand Kisses is based on the life and work of the Roman poet Gaius Catullus.

Catullus was one of the the greatest Roman lyric poets – who lived fast and died young. Prized by some for his sincerity and chastised by others for crudeness he has influenced generations of writes and thinkers from Ovid, Horace and Virgil to Thornton Wilder and Louis MacNiece.

In this new play, Catullus’s mysterious world is brought to life, drawing on a series of love poems at the centre of his oeuvre – based on evidence that the woman in the poems (‘Lesbia’) was Claudia Metelli, the sister of the notorious senator Publius Clodius Pulcher, and one of the most notorious and attractive women in Rome.

A Thousand Kisses features Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as the spirited young poet who moves to Rome in search of the high life and falls for the beautiful and sophisticated Clodia (Raquel Cassidy), the wife of a powerful Roman aristocrat.

Narrated by Geoffrey Palmer and weaving Raphael’s own translations of Catullus’s poetry into the drama, A Thousand Kisses imagines the complex love affair and Catullus’s life as a rebellious young  poet in the late Roman Republic of Cicero, Pompey and Caesar (Malcolm Sinclair).