Gladiators Get the Boot ~ Followup

A few hours ago we posted about plans to evict all those heavy-handed gladiatorial types who pose for pictures outside the Colosseum … early coverage seems rather tame, now … Check out this bit from Adnkronos:

Rome says they have until April 6 to leave. Centurions at the Roman Colosseum say they’ll stay put and promise blood – or at least a fight.

A plan by the Eternal City to clear Rome’s most popular tourist attraction of the unauthorized vendors that clutter the area surrounding the 2,000 year-old Flavian Amphitheatre raised the hackles of the gladiators and centurions.

Legions of Roman legionaries donning chest plates, tunics, and military sandals draw their weapons for a price. With one hand resting on a tourist’s shoulder and another gripping a sword, the armed centurion says ‘’cheese,” or growls in a gruff pose. Click. “Ten euros, grazie.”. Disoriented foreigners at times cough up 20 or 30 euros. Detecting a scam, a tourist is periodically beaten up for not paying, but centurions are generally gregarious. They need to work and have been earning a tax-free living working off the tourist trade in plain view for decades. Now the city says “basta.”

“This will end badly. We’ll wage a revolution. We’ll burn down the Colosseum rather than move from here,” a 21st century centurion told reporters.

There’s a potential fortune to be made from the 6 million people who visit the Colosseum every year. An entrenched illegal industry revolves around Rome’s attractions. Artists painting caricatures in Piazza Navona crowd out Gian Lorenzo Berninis’ 17th century Fountain of the Four Rivers, unregistered tour guides pace outside the Vatican Museums in search of customers, and touts invite diners to sit at tables placed illegally in some of the world’s most breathtaking squares.

But everything pales in comparison to the Colosseum where dozens of tour buses line the street to give passengers an hour to visit the same site where Russel Crowe battled for revenge in the 2000 epic blockbuster “Gladiator.”

“Every last one” of the Colosseum’s sword-and-sandals set are ex-convicts, a recent report in the La Repubblica newspaper said, citing a policeman who regularly patrols the area that includes the Roman Forum. Some have been posing for pictures for 10 years, long enough to have seen film go the way of the horse-and-carriage. At least one has been doing the job for almost 20 years.

In an effort to keep the centurions working, a self-styled leader tried to meet with city officials in a bid to legalize his trade and create a fixed 10-euro-per-photo rate. His efforts were met with silence.

Depending on who you talk to, Italian law enforcement is either lazy or lenient. Traffic police regularly ignore cars parked on the sidewalk. Non-violent convicts over seventy years old are permitted to serve jail time in the comfort of their homes. Tax cheats are granted amnesties. The name of Italy’s Justice Ministry is the Ministry of Justice and Pardons.

Wars on Rome’s quality-of-life crimes are periodically launched in television cameras. Illegal billboards are torn down. Tables are cleared from piazzas. Cars are towed and ticketed. But the campaigns are fleeting and like water rising in a tub vacated by a bather, the petty crimes and criminals return as soon as the police leave the scene.

In what could be called “The Clash of the Centurions” officials from the Ministry of Culture and City of Rome are defending Rome the living museum from an image akin to theme parks where visitors are feed on fast food and ham it up for the camera with fairytale characters.

But the enterprising Centurions don’t lack for customers so there is a demand for their services. And with Italy in deep recession, the country’s bureaucrats may want to reconsider a plan that puts ex-cons out of work.

Catching Up with A.E. Stallings

Last fall we mentioned A.E. Stallings and her receiving of a MacArthur Grant:MacArthur Genius: A.E. StallingsOnlineAthens (Georgia) has a bit of info on her:

Noted poet A.E. Stallings traveled from Athens, Greece to Athens, Ga. this weekend for readings and other events in town and on the University of Georgia campus.

Stallings, who studied classics at UGA, now lives in Athens, Greece, and last year was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, the genius award that carries it with an unrestricted grant of half a million dollars.

The public part of Stallings’ visit begins today at 7:30 p.m. with a poetry reading at Ciné, 234 West Hancock Ave.

She will be joined by two other poets with Athens connections — retired UGA English professor Coleman Barks, who’s known around the world for his translations of the Persian poet Rumi, and UGA doctoral student Ida Stewart, whose book “GLOSS” won last year’s Perugia Press Prize for the first or second book by a woman.

On Monday, Stallings will be on the UGA campus for a series of events. At 11 a.m. she will be in Room 214 of the Miller Learning Center for a roundtable discussion on the poetics of translation; at noon in the Miller Learning Center reading room, Stallings will be the guest of honor at a lunch that is open to the public.

At 2:30 p.m., she will give a presentation in the UGA Chapel, also open to the public, and will be honored again with a reception in nearby Demosthenian Hall.

A native of Decatur, Stallings got an undergraduate degree in classics at UGA in 1990 and later a master’s degree at Oxford University. She is now director of the poetry program at the Athens Centre in Greece.

Stallings’ many awards include the James Dickey Award and the Puschcart Prize. Last year she won a Guggenheim Fellowship, in addition to the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

“A.E. Stallings is a poet and translator mining the classical world and traditional poetic techniques to craft works that evoke startling insights about contemporary life,” according to the MacArthur Foundation’s biographical information on Stallings. “In both her original poetry and translations, Stallings exhibits a mastery of highly structured forms (such as sonnets, couplets, quatrains, and sapphics) and consummate skill in creating new combinations of meter, rhyme, and syntax into distinctive, emotionally compelling verse.”

JOB: Chair of Latin at Bristol

Seen on various lists:

The University of Bristol is seeking to appoint to its Chair of Latin
Language and Literature. This Chair offers a rare opportunity for a person
with vision and energy to provide leadership in the Department of Classics
and Ancient History and more widely in the School of Humanities and
Faculty of Arts.

We invite applications from researchers with an international reputation
in the broad field of Latin Language and Literature, and with strong
leadership skills. You will have an excellent record in research and
teaching, and a broad vision of the place of the discipline and the
humanities in the modern world. It is expected that you will take up
appointment from 1 September 2012 or as soon as possible thereafter.

Informal enquiries are encouraged and may be made to Professor Robert
Fowler, Academic Secretary (robert.fowler AT bristol.ac.uk).

Further particulars may be found at
<http://www.bris.ac.uk/boris/jobs/feeds/ads?ID=108951>. The closing date
for applications is 12 April 2012. The final selection process for short-
listed candidates will be held in June 2012.

CJ Online Review: Leonard, Derrida and Antiquity

posted with permission:

Miriam Leonard, ed., Derrida and Antiquity. Classical Presences Series. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. x + 406. £79.00/$130.00. ISBN 978-0-19-954554-4.

Reviewed by Holly Haynes, College of New Jersey

Thank God for Derrida and Antiquity, which does an immense amount of work in bringing together two great forces in the history of ideas. It is tiring even to think about how much one has to know in order to evaluate Derrida’s encounter with antiquity, which is perhaps one of the reasons that Classicists have rarely had much truck with it, but with the essays in this volume we gain an interesting and knowledgeable perspective on the subject. Together they provide the reader with a broad but also deep overview of the relationship of Derridean thought to ancient philosophy and literature; its genealogy; and its implications for the way we think about contemporary philosophical, political and ethical problems.

Miriam Leonard’s introduction deftly sketches the major issues that Derrida addresses in “We Other Greeks,” the previously untranslated essay with which the collection begins. This is useful, because the essay constitutes Derrida’s response to the question of his affinities with several other philosophers on the subject of their relationship to ancient Greek thought. It therefore incorporates not only Derrida’s own complex thoughts but others’ as well, and Derrida’s complex responses to their thoughts. While important as an introduction to the other essays in the volume, without Leonard’s road map it would obfuscate as much as it illuminates—particularly as the other essays seldom refer to it. With her guidance, Derrida’s essay becomes an invaluable synopsis of the genealogy of philosophical attitudes toward Greece and Rome.

The book categorizes its contributions by major themes that pertain to Derrida’s engagement with Greece: first, his direct confrontation with ancient philosophy; second, the way in which the conception of antiquity shapes that of modernity in Derrida’s thinking; third, the political aspect of Derrida’s philosophy as shaped by his encounter with the Greek and Roman political landscape; fourth, his interventions into the ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy; fifth, his reading of the age-old problem of Platonic idealism and materialism. The essays vary widely in focus. For a synopsis of each I direct the reader to Leonard’s introduction; here, I will sketch some of the volume’s representative moments and speak briefly about my own reactions to its main attitudes.

Many of the essays delineate major Derridean concepts such as pharmakon, différance, khora, and the neighbor/stranger, before undertaking their own evaluation of them. Michael Naas’ “Earmarks,” the first contribution to follow Derrida’s own, takes us through the behemoth “Plato’s Pharmacy” in a series of steps that (apologetically) make its main points much more accessible. The essay also acts as an apologia for what many take to be Derrida’s opacity and deliberate linguistic contortion. Naas argues through his exposition of “Plato’s Pharmacy” that the message is in the medium. There could be no other way for Derrida to write, given the contours of his thought. Reversing the direction, Andrew Benjamin’s essay follows Derridean style but takes issue with Derrida’s ideas about hospitality and the notion of the foreigner. These two essays together raise the question of framing the engagement with Derrida: in his language, or one’s own? Benjamin’s essay, while it makes an interesting critique of Derrida’s position, does not argue well for the attempt to speak his language. His final footnote, a citation from Hannah Arendt, makes the point more lucidly than the body of the essay.

Erin O’Connell’s “Derrida and Pre-Socratic Philosophy” and Rachel Bowlby’s “Derrida’s Dying Oedipus” both illustrate the enormous debt that Derrida owes ancient Greek thought. O’Connell succinctly explains some of the major tenets of Pre-Socratic thought, particularly those of Heraclitus, that prompted the Derridean concept of différance. Through her exposition, however—in which Derrida doesn’t make much of an appearance—Derrida comes across more as a careful and perceptive commentator on the Pre-Socratics than an innovative thinker in his own right. Perhaps that is an evaluation that he himself would not mind, given that he often stressed his debt to antiquity. O’Connell gives a new dimension to Derrida’s insistence on our own “Greekness”: why not go back to the source and study Heraclitus more carefully for ourselves? Bowlby similarly gives Oedipus at Colonus a good reading with an eye on Derrida’s, but Derrida again rather disappears against the backdrop of Sophocles’ themes and language.

While acknowledging my gratitude to the contributors for the glaring gap in intellectual history that they fill, as well as for the amount of learning this volume represents, I will take issue with its mostly uncritical stance toward Derrida. Ironically for a reader who was all about interrogating the boundaries of language, Derrida takes Plato remarkably straight. As a result he dubs Plato the father of Western logocentrism, but it seems to me a gesture of remarkable arrogance not to proceed instead from the assumption that Plato himself was interrogating the notion of logocentrism—particularly given Socrates’ account in the Phaedo of his “second sailing,” in which he explicitly describes his turn away from searching for final causes and toward the speeches of men. In this volume, Paul Allen Miller (“The Platonic Remainder: Derrida’s Khora and the Corpus Platonicum”) is the only contributor to underline Plato’s own sense of différance, of the unnamed leftover after language. His essay demonstrates not just the anticipation of Derridean philosophy in Plato, but a whole philosophical universe in which Derrida’s perceptive and provocative commentaries uncover a few—important—planets.

CJ Online Review: Lallot, et al., The Historical Present in Thucydides

posted with permission:

Jean Lallot, Albert Rijksbaron, Bernard Jacquinod, and Michel Buijs, eds., The Historical Present in Thucydides: Semantics and Narrative Function. Le présent historique chez Thucydide: Sémantique et function narrative. Amsterdam Studies in Classical Philology. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011. Pp. xi + 327. €108.00/$148.00. ISBN 978-90-04-20118-7.

Reviewed by Edith Foster, University of Ashland

The following is a brief example of Thucydides’ use the historical present tense, followed by two translations.

καὶ μελλόντων αὐτῶν, ἐπειδὴ ἑτοῖμα ἦν, ἀποπλεῖν ἡ σελήνη ἐκλείπει: ἐτύγχανε γὰρ πασσέληνος οὖσα. (Thuc. 7.50.4)

But when they were about it and everything was ready, the moon happened to be eclipsed; for it was full moon. (Hobbes translation)

The preparations were made and they were on the point of sailing, when the moon, being just then at the full, was eclipsed. (Jowett translation)

As the example demonstrates, the historical present tense (ἐκλείπει), which marks “events that the narrator considers crucial or decisive for the development of the … plot” (Rijksbaron 5), is generally invisible in translation. It is all the more important for those who read Thucydides in Greek to grapple with this usage. This efficient volume is a mine of information and thoughtful interpretations, and is moreover furnished with indispensible aids. In particular, three full glossaries follow the papers: an annotated glossary of all 164 Thucydidean verbs used in the historic present, a glossary of Thucydidean verbs not used in the historical present, and a further glossary providing Thucydidean verbs in the historical present tense together with their furthest and most immediate narrative context. This last glossary is especially useful for distinguishing the kinds of events Thucydides tends to emphasize with the historical present.

Such information has not been easily accessible. For example, Smyth’s entire commentary on the historical present tense (Greek Grammar, §1883) runs as follows: “Historical Present. — In lively or dramatic narration the present may be used to represent a past action as going on at the moment of speaking or writing. This use does not occur in Homer.” These comments are followed by three brief notes, two of which take examples from Thucydides. Smyth’s remarks are barely adequate to a usage that occurs 545 times in Thucydides, and is, as the papers in this volume point out, also significant in authors ranging from Andocides, Euripides, and Xenophon to Polybius. (Somewhat to my despair, Herodotus is rarely mentioned in this volume; cf. only Rijksbaron 5–6, 9–10).

To mention a few of the important arguments in this book: Albert Rijksbaron (1–17) and Jean Lallot (19–35) provide excellent general introductions to Thucydides’ use of the historical present and the information contained in the glossaries. Both essays present striking and basic information, for instance, that historical presents are almost always in the third person, and almost never passive, subordinated, or negativized. The vocabulary of these verbs is also limited; 13 verbs (several of which are analyzed by other authors in this volume) account for 255 of the 545 occurrences of the historical present tense in Thucydides (22–3).

Rutger Allan’s introduction of the term “epistemic immediacy” (38) to describe the effect of the historical present tense is echoed in other papers, especially that of Louis Basset (174–5); Allan binds this useful idea to the suggestion that the narrator “remains covert” or “makes himself absent” from the narrative in the use of the historical present tense (39), an idea I found harder to accept. For me, Frédéric Lambert’s argument that the historical present signals the narrator’s evaluations to the reader was more convincing, probably because it was more coherent with my own reading experience: “Le présent historique sert alors de signal intersubjectif, c’est-à-dire destiné au lecteur, et il souligne un élément essentiel à l’évaluation du protagoniste et de ses décisions” (211; cf. also Mortier-Waldschmidt, 86–7).

Bernard Jacquinod reveals impressive evidence pertaining to the verb πείθω in Thucydides: one quarter of all indicative occurrences of this verb in Thucydides are historical presents (89). Interestingly, whenever Thucydides uses an historical present to say that someone persuaded someone else, he provides no direct speech (98), so that the historical present stands for the decisive moment of persuasion. Jacquinod’s evidence dovetails nicely with Coulter George’s argument that the use of the historical present speeds the pace of the narrative (228); the historical present tends to lend punctuality (239), an aspect that goes hand in hand with its “vividness.”

In addition to the four scholars mentioned above, several others show how the use of an historic present signals a decisive event, from the narrator’s or speaker’s point of view (cf. e.g. Rijksbaron on Andocides and Thucydides, 193–4, or Lambert on Polybius and Thucydides, 195–222). It was therefore surprising to me that this volume featured little discussion of the historical present’s potential to create suspense; only Lambert mentions this possibility (221). But surely an occurrence of the historical present encourages the reader to expect the consequences of the event Thucydides chose to emphasize in this way; the sentence cited at the head of this review is one example.

Gladiators Get the Boot

Kind of surprised this isn’t getting more attention … it’ll probably show up in weekend papers or something … from UPI:

Rome city officials said the costumed gladiators and centurions will no longer be allowed to ask for money around the Colosseum.

Davide Bordoni, the city’s councilor for commerce, said a task force will be in effect starting Friday to stop the costumed performers from asking tourists to pay them money to pose for pictures, ANSA reported Thursday.

Archeology Superintendent Maria Rosa Barbera, who ordered the crackdown, also told licensed vendors around the Colosseum to distance themselves from the costumed characters.

Officials said the gladiators and centurions will still be able to work in locations including the road leading to the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Renaissance Piazza Navona.

… this is likely a followup to last summer’s: Gladiator Sting at Colosseum

Other coverage:

Bryn Mawr Reviews

  • 2012.03.56:  Ernst Heitsch, Platon, Größerer Hippias. Platon Werke. Übersetzung und Kommentar, VII 1.
  • 2012.03.55:  Dominique Lenfant, Les Perses vus par les Grecs. Lire les sources classiques sur l’empire achéménide. Collection U – Histoire.
  • 2012.03.54:  Carl Joachim Classen, Herrscher, Bürger und Erzieher. Beobachtungen zu den Reden des Isokrates. Spudasmata, Bd 133.
  • 2012.03.53:  W. R. Paton, Frank W. Walbank, Christian Habicht, Polybius: The Histories. Vol. IV, Books 9-15 (revised edition). Loeb classical library, 159.
    W. R. Paton, Frank W. Walbank, Christian Habicht, Polybius, The Histories. Vol. III, Books 5-8 (revised 2nd edition). Loeb classical library, 138.
  • 2012.03.52:  Nick Fisher, Hans van Wees, Competition in the Ancient World.
  • 2012.03.51:  Eva Mira Grob, Documentary Arabic Private and Business Letters on Papyrus: Form and Function, Content and Context. Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete, Beiheft 29.

Suspect Sarcophagus via Switzerland

Brief item from the Art Media Agency:

Turkey is claiming ownership of a sarcophagus discovered at the end of 2010 in Geneva free port during an inventory check conducted by Swiss customs officials.

The Journal des Arts stated that since the Swiss law on customs was reinforced in 2009 – following the discovery of 200 ancient Egyptian pieces in 2003 and the updated trafficking of diamonds through Geneva free port in 2005 -, port authorities must maintain detailed inventories of deposited goods. This explains why authorities at Geneva free port used by the Geneva gallery Phoenix Ancient Art were searched and how Swiss customs discovered a Roman sarcophagus dating from the second century BC. An investigation began in the summer of 2011.

Customs sequestered the sarcophagus and transferred the file to the public ministry of Geneva. Turkey is demanding its return. Their argument is clear: the excavation made near the southern Turkish province of Antalya was done illegally – which is what the investigation seems to have confirmed.

… no photos, alas, but David Gill has some additional coverage including video: Turkey pursues sarcophagus at Geneva Freeport

Goat Pen Kore?

Plenty of coverage of this one, but most seems to be variations on Nicholas Paphitis’ coverage for AP. Here’s the incipit of the Guardian‘s version:

Greek police have recovered an ancient statue worth €12m (£10m) that was illegally excavated and hidden in a goat pen near Athens, and arrested the goat herder and another man who were allegedly trying to sell the work for €500,000.

The marble sculpture of a young woman dates to about 520BC and belongs to the kore type, a police statement said on Wednesday. The 120cm (4ft) work was largely intact, except for a missing left forearm and plinth.

Although dozens of examples of the kore statue and its male equivalent, the kouros, are displayed in Greek and foreign museums, the type is considered important in the development and understanding of Greek art. New discoveries in good condition are uncommon.

Archaeologists who inspected the find estimated its market value at €12m. A spokesman for Athens police said: “They told us that this is a unique piece.”

Still bearing traces of soil, the statue has the hint of a smile on its lips, elaborately braided hair and an ankle-length gown.

Police said it had been concealed near the village of Fyli, in the foothills of Mount Parnitha on the north-western fringes of Athens. The goat herder, 40, and a 56-year-old man were arrested.

Detectives are seeking to determine where the statue was excavated, which could potentially lead archaeologists to a previously unknown ancient sanctuary or cemetery. [...]

cf:

… et alia.

While the press seems not to be raising questions, various scholarly discussion lists (most notably Classics-l and AegeaNet)  have been questioning the authenticity of the piece, and for good reason. Check out this photo of the piece (tip o’ the pileus to Lampros Kallenos for tracking down the photos from the police press conference on this; the Washington Post piece referenced above also has a few photos):

… and compare it to the famous Peplos Kore in the Acropolis Museum:

via WIkimedia Commons

As Elena Drakaki (and others) astutely noted early on, the Goat Pen Kore is an obvious copy of the Peplos Kore in the Acropolis museum, right down to the ‘damage’ being duplicated (along the bottom and the left arm). As of this a.m., assorted folks are wondering what the thing is made out of, and plaster seems to be the most frequent suggestion. Whatever the case, it probably isn’t worth whatever the goatherders thought they could get for it, much less what the police seem to be valuing it at  …

Dalhousie’s Pythian Games

From a Dalhousie University press release:

If your Friday evening featured apocalyptic ramblings, verbose philosophers and an MC-ing Roman legionary, chances are you were at the Pythian Games.

Not the original Pythian Games – those were an Ancient Greek festival celebrating athleticism and artistic prowess, and they were millennia ago, so you’re a little late to get in on that action. Dalhousie’s Department of Classics, however, has resurrected the Pythian Games as an annual showcase where students of all majors can show off their Greek grammar, recite a favourite poem or otherwise indulge their dramatic side. And on March 16, indulge they did, togas a-flapping and tongues planted in cheek.

The Games were hosted by a Roman legionary who, rumour has it, strongly resembled assistant professor Jack Mitchell. “I’m only a humble legionary,” he introduced himself. “I’ve come here to see whether Apollo still breathes!”

The ancient soldier’s troubled soul was set at ease by the evening’s 17 performers, whose offerings ranged from skits to original translations to dramatic readings.

Standouts including Mr. James Campbell-Prager’s Gilbert and Sullivan send-up “I’ve Got a Little List,” a sung inventory of characters “whose loss would be a distinct gain to society at large” (textbook publishers, “idiot guest lecturers,” Helvetica hipsters, and people who eat chips in the library were all named and shamed); Cat Migliore and Sarah Black’s comedy sketch “An Ancient Squabble”, in which a Greek and Roman soldier bickered in oddly Cockney accents; Emily Varto’s Ever-Victorious Second-Year Greek Class performing their original work “The Dicaeopolidea” (subtitle, “a journey in Greeklish”); and Dominic Lacasse’s concluding Ancient Greek performance from The Book of Revelation (the audience, suitably chastened by Mr. Lacasse’s warning of dire days to come, quietly crept out to hide behind the reception’s chip bowls).
Cultural foundations

“I think [the Pythian Games are] a good chance to show what you’ve worked on… it’s a nice arena to do that,” says Zoe Vatter, secretary of the Classics Society and originator of the role of the woebegone farmer Dicaeopolis in “The Dicaeopolida.” Ms. Vatter has a passion for the Classics that goes way back.

“I have always been obsessed with the Greek gods ever since I was a child,” she says. “Classics kind of ties everything together… it’s a very versatile degree because the foundations of the world, I guess, are in Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece.”

Ms. Vatter was also kind enough to explain the mysterious “Dicaeopolida.” “[Dicaeopolis] was a character in our Ancient Greek textbook. Anybody who’s taken Ancient Greek would get the irony.”

The inside jokes and community spirit that characterized the Pythian Games is also one of the attractions of Dalhousie’s classics department generally. “I know all the professors and they all know me,” says Ms. Vatter. “Everybody who is very involved in the department was at the Pythian Games.” Best of all, this year’s games raised the bar: “Last year was a little crowded. It was nice to have a bigger space… there was a ton more people this year.”

While the contest winners haven’t been announced yet, prizes up to $250 await some lucky Sappho or Orpheus. And if you missed it this time around, keep an eye open (and a lyre tuned) for next year’s third annual Pythian Games.

… can’t believe no one has posted anything on youtube …

M.D. Usher Talks Arab Spring

Interesting talk coming up … via Seven Days:

University of Vermont classics professor M.D. Usher has a way of getting caught up in regime-change protests. During a conference in Cairo last month, he was hustled out of Tahrir Square, a site that struck him as “a kind of Occupy Wall Street space.” A year ago, in the middle of a monthlong teaching stint at the University of Malawi, he witnessed the campus erupting in blockades and overturned cars in reaction to the African country’s latest ruler.

“Without exaggeration, I can say that I saw it first,” Usher declares of the latter instance.

He’ll be showing slides from both experiences at a talk he’s giving at UVM this coming Tuesday evening. Entitled “Agamemnon in Africa, Ulysses in Ulaanbaatar: Classics Gone Global,” the talk is one of this year’s two public Dean’s Lectures — a series awarded to accomplished faculty with a knack for communicating their academic research to students and general audiences.

Why is a classics prof talking about the likes of the Arab Spring? Usher believes emerging democracies such as those in Egypt and Malawi could learn much from Greek literature, particularly Aeschylus’ triad of tragedies known as the Oresteia.

Aeschylus wrote Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides in 458 BC, when “small Athens had just defeated great Persia,” Usher explains. It was the height of Athens’ experiment with democracy, and new ideas of justice and governing were on the rise. Set mostly in a mythical era, the trilogy concerns the case of Orestes, who murders his mother because she murdered his father. Orestes is ultimately tried by a jury of Athenian citizens, who spare him the death sentence. Reason and democratic processes prevail over the old order’s endless cycle of revenge killings.

Usher isn’t the only classical scholar to deem the Oresteia relevant to ongoing struggles to establish democratic states. His talk will address the work of British classicist George Thomson, who developed the first Marxist interpretations of Greek literature. As Usher will show, Thomson’s late-1930s translation of the Aeschylus trilogy inspired filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1970 documentary Notes Toward an African Orestes, filmed in newly postcolonial Africa.

Though Usher will also comment on Greek epic poetry’s fundamental orality and his own encounter with a still-living oral epic tradition in Mongolia, the bulk of his talk will cast the tragedies as touchstones for political struggles around the world.

“The tendency is to see Western literature as insular and imperialist,” Usher observes. “But if you actually look at these texts with fresh eyes, they do speak to emerging democracies. The Greeks invented democracy, more or less, and if democracy is going to be the new paradigm, you need to look back at Greek literature.”

Hellenistic/Roman Cemetery from Thessaloniki

Tip o’ the pileus to Diana Wright for sending in this brief item from Athens News:

Part of an ancient cemetery dating from the Hellenistic and Roman eras was uncovered in Thessaloniki during excavations for the construction of a new metro station.

A total of 75 tombs, 45 of which have already been examined, were unearthed in an area of 500m2 at the site of the Dimokratia station.

Most of the tombs are box shaped, one is circular and others have tiled roofs. A large number of altars used for funerary ceremonies were also found, as well as many funerary offerings dated between the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.

… and it just occurred to me … I wonder if the frequent references to antiquities smuggling arrests in Thessaloniki are connected to the metro construction …