CJ Online Review: Goldhill, Sophocles and the Language of Tragedy

posted with permission:

Simon Goldhill, Sophocles and the Language of Tragedy. Onassis Series in Classical Culture. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. 296. $35.00/£22.50. ISBN: 978-0-199-79627-4.

Reviewed by Michael Shaw, University of Kansas

The title of this book, as befits its interest in the slipperiness of words, uses the word “language” in two senses, as “philology” and as “langue.” The first section contains literary studies, while the second part is concerned with theory, German idealism in particular, but also feminist studies and what Goldhill refers to as the new “orthodoxy.” Somewhat confusingly, the first section’s readings all support this new orthodoxy to a degree. In his “coda,” Goldhill reveals that he wavers between rejecting German Idealism outright and using it for his own purposes.

In his opening chapter, “Undoing: Lusis and the Analysis of Irony,” based in part on his 2009 article in TAPA (much of this book consists of reworked earlier essays), Goldhill looks at Sophoclean examples of the Greek word “release,” in all of which he finds a second ironic sense. This irony creates “edgy, flickering uncertainty” (36) that undercuts the audience’s confidence, unlike conventional Sophoclean irony. One example is Electra’s use of λυτήριον in lines 1489–90, where she urges Orestes to kill Aegisthus immediately, “for this is the only release for me.” She means that she will no longer have to endure seeing him, but it is possible (though not all agree) that the audience will realize there is no “release” in this story. The chapter concludes with several examples of other words that possess this flickering irony.

The third chapter, “Line by Line,” is concerned with stichomythia. In the exchange of Creon and Haemon (Antigone, 726–64), Goldhill observes “the twists of reason into extremism” (58–63). This seems to support the new orthodoxy, but Goldhill’s language reveals a complex view of character: “even if Haemon may seem … to have the moral high ground, his position is also veined with a self-destructive and self-defeating extremism” (63).

In his fourth and fifth chapters, “Choreography” and “The Chorus in Action,” Goldhill examines lyric versus iambic lines in specific contexts, and concludes that the chorus is “more complex and nuanced … and far more dramatically involved than many generalizations about the chorus have allowed …” (131). This is convincingly demonstrated by a discussion of several passages in the Philoctetes.

In the book’s second section Goldhill is mainly concerned with German Idealism, which “takes tragedy from the sphere of literary genre and establishes it as a means to comprehend the self as a political, psychological and religious subject” (149). This has led to simplistic views of “tragedy” itself and of the nature of the chorus. The political plays, such as Suppliants and Herakleidai of Euripides, are not “tragic” in their terms and so have been overlooked. (Hegel’s early interest in Eumenides, observed by Steiner, Antigones [1984], esp. 25–8, is ignored here.)

In his seventh chapter, “Generalizing about the Chorus,” Goldhill states that Schlegel first describes the chorus as the “ideal spectator,” and that little is said by idealist philosophers about “any specific chorus.” (179) Nietzsche and Wagner’s view of music is also limiting; it emphasizes the enthusiastic and leaves no room for the use of lyric in deliberation. Goldhill concludes with accounts of performances of Reinhardt and others where the chorus embodies this enthusiasm to the detriment of its dramatic role.

In his eighth chapter, Goldhill shows that in nineteenth-century England there was “a remarkably uniform picture of Sophocles and his Electra” as being pious, which comes from “the German idealism of Schlegel” (216–7). Then he considers the “dark” reading, in which the Sophoclean hero is extreme and self-destructive, which began with Rohde’s Psyche in the 1890s and was popularized by Hoffmannstahl’s insane Electra of 1903. Sheppard in a 1927 article was one of the first scholars to reflect this view. By the 1960s there was no consensus concerning the two readings but “by the end of the twentieth century … the so-called ‘dark’ reading … has become orthodoxy” (225).

In his final chapter, “Coda: Reading with or without Hegel,” Goldhill clarifies his view of his antithesis between German idealism and the new orthodoxy: “I want to keep both trajectories—the trajectory of value and the trajectory of historical self-consciousness, the trajectory of the general and of the specific—in play, not least because I think it represents most accurately the state of contemporary criticism” (261–2). That is, he does not want to refute German Idealism. Rather, he wants to keep idealist views from obscuring other aspects of tragedy, such as uncertainty, complexity, and verbal play.

Goldhill sometimes criticizes Hegel as one of the German Idealists, but at other times approves of him and even seems to be influenced by him. For instance, consider this passage: “the power and subtlety of this self awareness within tragedy” (has been overlooked), “the dynamic between generalization and the messy, specific, self-interested turmoil of human activity.” Goldhill here is talking about the dialectical structure of the real world, a key Hegelian concept. The Hegelian connection reveals itself in Goldhill’s vocabulary: “self awareness,” “dynamic,” and “activity,” and “self-interested.”

Goldhill’s critical discussion of the historical and philosophical origin of several key concepts of Sophoclean tragedy is of great interest. His presentation of the relationship of ethics and tragedy is somewhat thin, however, and it is in ethics that philosophy concerns itself with the conflict of the ideal and the real and with the self in dialogue with itself. He makes no reference to Steiner’s emphasis on the importance of Hegel’s ethics, especially the Phenomenology, or to contemporary literature on ethics and literature, such as Nussbaum’s linking of ethics and tragedy (although Fragility of Goodness [1986] is in his bibliography, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature [1990] is not, nor is Gill’s Personality in Greek Epic, Tragedy, and Philosophy: The Self in Dialogue [1996]).

First Century Roman Amphora from Vélez-Málaga

… and it has wine in it! From Typically Spanish:

Archaeologists in Vélez-Málaga Town Hall have discovered a Roman Amphora, dating from the first century.

What’s more the experts say it’s still full of wine which they think is in ‘perfect conditions’ because the vessel is hermetically sealed.

The Councillor for Culture and Heritage in Vélez-Málaga, José Antonio Fortes (PP), explain to journalists that the amphora was hermetically ‘sealed with resin and lime, and contains between 25 and 30 litres of a liquid which the municipal technicians think is wine.

Destined to be part of the merchandise going from Hispania to Rome, the Amphora was left forgotten in Vélez-Málaga Town Hall, found in 1960 in the basements of the Beniel Palace, and then forgotten again in the municipal buildings.

The metre-high Amphora will form part of the new museum on Vélez-Málaga History, which will hold Mesopotamian, Greek, Phoenician and Roman items in the old Hospital de San Juan de Dios, which was founded at the end of the 15th century by the Catholic Kings.

The contents are to be analyzed in a few days time, my a specialist laboratory. Seems a bit of a shame, but Cheers!

I’m kind of wondering why they have assumed it must be wine in the amphora … a quick Google search for Vélez-Málaga finds almost everything mentioning the Romans producing garum there, so my money’s on them finding that … As long as we’re at it, maybe I can gripe that we keep reading about shipwrecks with intact cargo (and I’ll probably tell you all about the recently-found one from Genoa tomorrow) but we never seem to read of any analysis of the contents of this intact cargo, other than the brief flurry of excitement from the research of Brendan Foley, which doesn’t seem to have involved ‘intact’ items in many cases (Some Potential Amphora Use Revisionism and Amphora Revisionism Followup). E.g., the shipwreck from Zannone in February … not sure if the ones found off Cape Palinuro were intact in the sense of ‘not broken’ or in the ‘with cargo’ sense.

Cannot Be Unseen: Minerva in Motion

So Diana Spencer was talking about apotheosis of assorted Virgins and emperors on twitter and I was reminded of one of those things which, when it pops into your head, is forever there. Everyone, I’m sure, is familiar with the base of the Column of Antoninus Pius:

wikimedia commons

… so anyway, one day my brain processed the image in a different way and I’m forced to ask: does anyone else see Minerva in a wheelchair (or Roma, if you prefer)?

A Roman Curse Tablet from Kent (and a Phylactery from West Deeping)

This just in from the BBC … the salient bits:

A “curse tablet” made of lead and buried in a Roman farmstead has been unearthed in East Farleigh.

Inscribed in capital letters are the names of 14 people, which experts believe were intended to have bad spells cast upon them.

The tablet is being examined by a specialist from Oxford University.

It was discovered by the Kent Archaeological Society during a dig and has undergone a detailed series of tests.

Measuring 6cm (2.3in) by 10cm (3.9in) and 1mm thick, the tablet is extremely fragile.

Experts believe it would have been used by Romans to cast spells on people accused of theft and other misdeeds.

The tablets, which have been found throughout Europe, were rolled up to conceal their inscriptions, then hidden in places considered to be close to the underworld, such as graves, springs or wells.
‘Suspected of theft’

Dr Roger Tomlin, lecturer in late Roman history at Wolfson College, Oxford, and an authority on Roman inscriptions, spent four days examining the scroll.

He said it is difficult to date the tablet but believes it was made in the third century AD.
Dr Roger Tomlin Dr Roger Tomlin said the tablet is likely to date from the third century AD

“Lists of names are quite often found on lead tablets,” he said. “Sometimes they accompany a complaint of theft addressed to a god, and name persons suspected of the theft.

“In one case, a tablet found in Germany, the names were explicitly those of enemies.”

The tablet’s significance also lies in the fact that Romans were the first inhabitants of Britain who could read or write.

This means the tablet, along with other similar items, are among the earliest written records of British life.
‘Local community’

Only six of the 14 names are legible. The Roman names of Sacratus, Constitutus, Constan and Memorianus can be seen.

There are also two Celtic names – Atrectus and Atidenus – written on the tablet.

Dr Tomlin said the eight other names are incomplete, but further cleaning and testing could lead to them being transcribed.

He added: “If this is a curse tablet, which it seems to be, it is presumably a product of its local community – so it is a reasonable guess that the persons named on it lived there.” [...]

There’s a photo that accompanies the original article; it is a bit too small to be useful alas …

FWIW, Roger Tomlin seems to be quite busy … just the other day he was mentioned in bloggish sort of thing reporting on a phylactery from West Deeping that has just on on display: Unique Roman prayer tablet goes on display

Mystery Mosaic

Last night I was lazily pondering the Cleveland Museum’s recent acquisition (and chatting with David Gill on twitter) and decided to poke around the Phoenix Ancient Art site — something I haven’t done in quite a while. While they do have a lot of interesting items that we will probably be mentioning in a later post, I was particularly struck by a couple of mosaic panels … the first is of an athlete:

click for the Phoenix Ancient Art page

Then there’s a theatre mask:

click for the Phoenix Ancient Art page

At the Swiss site of Phoenix Ancient Art one finds this satyr and maenad (although this particular picture comes from Artfinding, since I can’t seem to grab the original; clicking on it takes you to the Phoenix Art page):

via artfinding.com


What these three panels have in common is that they were all acquired from Asfar and Sarkis in the “early 1960s” (which might suggest a Syrian origin), but beyond that, the borders/frames around them all suggest they were all part of the same floor at some point and there are likely more. If so, it’s truly sad that they’ve been broken up and we can only imagine what the ‘program’ of the floor actually was … we have a theater mask and  a satyr and maenad, then someone identified as an athlete. Maybe the athlete is actually an actor? Sadly, when mosaics are broken up like this and we don’t know where they actually came from, we’ll never know …

Drusus and the Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art has reversed the recent trend (it seems) of museums studiously avoiding acquiring antiquities (whether the provenance is secure or not) and recently announced the acquisition of a head of Drusus (and a Maya piece which is outside of this blog’s purview … fwiw, I’ve never seen a ‘bicultural’ acquisition announcement like this before; is the announcement of the acquisition of one piece meant to distract from some missing details of the acquisition of the other?). Here’s the salient bit from their press release:

The Cleveland Museum of Art is a collecting institution and has been acquiring antiquities since it was founded in 1913. These latest acquisitions highlight an ongoing commitment to enhancing the museum’s permanent holdings across the full scope of its collections with outstanding works of art. The museum studies, preserves and displays great works of art from various cultures, periods and genres while fully respecting appropriate collecting practices. Especially in fields where works are challenging to collect, the museum has built its holdings with an overriding emphasis on the quality and significance of individual acquisitions.

“I am pleased we can add these important works of art to the museum’s Classical and Pre-Columbian holdings and continue our collecting of the finest examples of art from across cultures and time periods,” stated David Franklin, the Sarah S. and Alexander M. Cutler Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “I believe museums play an invaluable role in society as repositories and presenters of the world’s art history, and through responsible collecting, museums make accessible the world’s art objects for the public’s enjoyment and education.”

Portrait Head of Drusus Minor (13 BC–AD 23)
Exquisitely rendered masterpiece from Early Roman Empire becomes a new highlight of renowned antiquities collection

Portrait Head of Drusus Minor (13 BC–AD 23), a large-scale, marble portrait of the son of the Roman Emperor Tiberius that was carved during the early Imperial Period, possibly during the lifetime of Jesus Christ, is one of only approximately 30 large portraits of Drusus Minor to have survived from antiquity. This portrait head stands out among this group, owing to the powerful refinement and sensitivity of its carving, its excellent state of preservation and its monumental scale.

The newly acquired portrait of Drusus Minor was most likely created posthumously. When he died at age 37, the Julio-Claudian prince was next in line to the imperial throne after his father Tiberius. This masterwork was carved during a momentous transitional period in world history, at the intersection of the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions.

The head exhibits traces of original paint used to enhance the illusion of a living person, rendered on a monumental scale—well over life-size. Its distinctive facial features and hairstyle, as compared with other large portrait sculptures and coins, identify the subject as Drusus Minor. Ancient sources indicate that Drusus Minor was prone to fits of rage, made worse by heavy drinking. He relished gladiatorial blood sport and other ritualized killings, which shocked the Roman public and alarmed his father. Although not known for his speaking eloquence, in AD 14 he delivered a funeral oration for Augustus from the rostra in the Roman forum; the next year he was appointed to the high office of Consul. After the death of his adopted brother Germanicus, Drusus was the heir apparent, but he died at age 37, allegedly from poison at the hands of his wife.

The ownership history of the Drusus Minor portrait has been traced to the late 19th century, when it was the property of the Bacri family of Algiers, Algeria. Sometime before 1960, Fernand Sintes inherited the work, and in 1960 transferred it from Algiers to France. In 2004, it was sold at auction in France. [...]

… and here’s a photo of the piece:

The collecting history for the piece (alas) is not as secure as it appears at first blush; one should definitely read David Gill’s growing series of posts on the matter:

cf. in the New York Times:

Roman Bridge from Sostra?

Another tantalizingly brief one from Bulgaria … this time from the Focus news agency:

“An ancient Roman bridge was found over Osam River by the Sostra stronghold near the town of Troyan”, archeologist Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ivan Hristov, deputy-director of the National Historical Museum said for FOCUS News Agency .

The discovery was made today. The ancient Roman bridge over Osam River connects roadside station of Sostra stronghold with a Thracian sanctuary, which is being currently researched.

“Since one week an expedition of the National Historical Museum and the National Archeological Institute and the Museum of Arts in Troyan has been working on exploration of the Thracian sanctuary of the Thracian Horseman dated from the Roman ages”, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ivan Hristov said.

In the past, we’ve heard of a Gallienus Inscription being found in the area … for a sort of overview of what has been found there over the years, here’s an item which I put in Explorator but strangely not in rogueclassicism: “Sostra” Fortress

Riace Bronzes Back from Vacation Soon

Apparently that video of the Riace Bronzes going on vacation last year (The Riace Bronzes Go On Vacation) was in anticipation of them getting some restoration work (perhaps the earthquake stuff mentioned here). Whatever the case, they’re going to be back on display “later this year’, according to ANSA … an excerpt:

Italy’s iconic Riace Bronzes will return to their home at the Reggio Calabria National Museum later this year after lengthy restoration work.

For almost three years the 2,500-year-old ancient Greek statues representing warriors have been in the Calabrian regional government’s headquarters, undergoing a long-awaited restoration. A host of chemical, laser and electromagnetic tests designed to help experts better understand where the statues came from, and who created them, were also carried out.

So now, it’s almost time for them to return to their permanent home.

According to the superintendent for archaeological and cultural heritage of Calabria, Simonetta Bonomi, restoration work should be completed near the end of the year and the two warriors “will be back home again” in time for Christmas.

The celebrated bronzes were found in August 1972 off the coast of Calabria and quickly captured worldwide attention. They were so highly prized that they are rarely allowed to travel from their home, despite repeated requests.

Even former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi was turned down twice after seeking to borrow the statues for Group of Eight summits.

During the current restoration work, the Riace Bronzes, last let out in 1981 for a triumphant round-Italy tour, have been kept inside a purpose-built area with a glass front allowing visitors to watch the delicate restoration work.

Meanwhile, the Reggio Calabria museum has been undergoing restorations itself while the bronzes have been away. Approximately six million euros have been earmarked for that project, and regional authorities have released the final funds need to complete the work before year end.

The Bronzes were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holidaymaker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast and turned out to be one of Italy’s most important archaeological finds in the last 100 years.

The statues are of two virile men, presumably warriors or gods, who possibly held lances and shields at one time. At around two metres, they are larger than life.

The ‘older’ man, known as Riace B, wears a helmet, while the ‘younger’ Riace A has nothing covering his rippling hair. [...]

Punic Amphora from Denia

Brief item from Euroweekly:

AN amphora dating back to the fourth century BC has discovered buried three metres deep in the ground near Denia port. Archaeologist Josep A Santonja Gisbert says the jar is in perfect condition and has identified it as ‘Punic’ a unique type that was produced in Ibiza between the years 400/375 and 300 BC. Linked to other similar discoveries found in settlements and underwater sites around the Iberian lift from Ampurias to Almeria, and the Balearic Islands, is clear evidence of the expansion of Eivissa wine and its consumption by the Iberian tribes. Its presence is particularly relevant as it fills an historical void connecting Iberian culture and settlements existing in the vicinity of Denia. A representative of the the Archaeological Museum of Denia said they were very grateful to Alvaro Gomez Ferrer who discovered the item and the local police for their collaboration in excavating the find. A full report will be compiled by the experts and issued to the Underwater Archaeology Centre of the Generalitat Valenciana.

The original article has a photo of the amphora … this find obviously predates the Roman occupation of the site (we heard of a Roman fish-salting factory there a while ago: Roman Salting Factory from Denia/Dianum) and probably comes from the time the place was a colony of Massilia(Strabo’s: Hemeroscopeium (3.4.6). For a press release (in Spanish) from Denia, which identifies the type more specifically as a PE14 amphora:

A Major Mosaic Museum in Şanlıurfa

Another one from Hurriyet:

Turkey’s largest mosaic museum is being built where a theme park had been planned in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, one of the oldest cities in the world.

A few years ago, during the foundation excavations for a theme park in the Haleplibahçe neighborhood, mosaics featuring hunting and fighting scenes of warrior “Amazon women” from the Roman era in the fifth and sixth centuries were discovered. Experts have classified these mosaics as the world’s most valuable.

The project was then transformed to include an archaeology museum, archaeopark and mosaic museum, as specialists were concerned that the artifacts being excavated could be damaged if transported to another place.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ordered the acceleration of the project, which will cover an area of 200,000 square meters and cost 38 million Turkish Liras.

‘City deserves this museum’

Şanlıurfa Gov. Celalettin Güvenç told Anatolia news agency that cultural centers, museums and big sporting arenas were the leading highlights of cities, adding that Şanlıurfa’s cultural background merited such a museum. “This museum will be a significant cultural tourism destination. Haleplibahçe will attract Western attention to this city as well as Göbeklitepe. We plan to finish construction work here in 500 days.”

Şanlıurfa Culture and Tourism Director Selami Yıldız said the project consisted of the Şanlıurfa Archaeology Museum on 26,000 square meters, the Edessa Mosaic Museum on 4,000 square meters and an archaeopark on a 29,000-square-meter area between the two museums. There will also be an amphitheater, cafes and walking areas as well. “We will have the largest museum complex on a 60,000-square-meter area,” said Yıldız.

The Şanlıurfa Museum currently covers an area of 2,500 square meters, but the new museum will be 10 times larger, Yıldız said. “This new museum will display the world’s oldest artifacts. No museum in the world displays 12,000-year-old works. We will exhibit the artifacts that should be exhibited in a closed area.” Yıldız also said Istanbul, Gaziantep and Hatay had noteworthy mosaics. “Now Şanlıurfa will come to the fore.”

We mentioned the find of mosaics (the Hurriyet piece has a small photo of one) back in 2008: Roman Palace in Turkey. Didn’t know about the ‘theme park’ connection …

Gladiating Returns to Aspendos

From Hurriyet:

Roman era blood sports – or at least a mock dramatization thereof – will return to an ancient arena in the southern province of Antalya tomorrow thanks to an initiative to stage gladiator fights for tourists.

“The performances will start at 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays,” Mehmet Bıcıoğlu, a consultant for the Aspendos Gladiator Arena, recently told Anatolia news agency. “Performed by a group of 80 people, the gladiator fights will be accompanied by Gregorian music, and dance performances will also be presented.”

Gladiator fights were typically staged between slaves, or slaves and ferocious animals, as a form of entertainment in the Roman era. The dramatized fights in Aspendos will be presented with hand-made clothes and weapons before audiences of up to 800 people, Bıcıoğlu said, adding that the arena for the battles has been completed.

Bıcıoğlu said his group would be presenting a type of event that has never been seen in modern Turkey. “I think our organization [will] contribute greatly to cultural tourism in Antalya,” he said.

The group is planning to perform until the end of November, Bıcıoğlu said, adding that tickets for the first performance tomorrow will cost 25 Turkish Liras.

The 12 performers who are set to portray gladiators have been engaged in rigorous training ahead of the first performance, while organizers are working to make the hand-made clothes and weapons, as wells as the sword fights and execution scenes, resemble the original spectacle as closely as possible.

The performers who will act in the swordfight scenes are also training hard to ensure they will not harm each other.

“Our practices are going very well; we would like to see many spectators here,” said İbrahim Caner, one of the gladiators.

This one’s a bit confusing; Aspendos does have one of the best preserved theatres in the area but (as the Wikipedia article on Aspendos notes) it hasn’t been used for performances for a while. They did build something called the ‘Aspendos Arena’ nearby … can we assume that’s where the fighting will take place? I’m still trying to wrap my head around gladiators fighting to ‘Gregorian music’, but it probably doesn’t mean what I think it is.

CFP: Hercules: A Hero for All Ages

seen on the Classicists list:

International Conference, University of Leeds 24-6th June 2013

The conference aims to explore the potential for a large-scale project on
the reception of the ancient Greek hero Herakles in post-classical
culture. The idea arises from the recent monograph Herakles in
Routledge’s Gods and Heroes in the Ancient World series by Emma Stafford
(University of Leeds), the final chapter of which sketches Herakles-
Hercules’ development from late antiquity to the present day.

The conference will make use of the main Leeds campus’ excellent
facilities, including the Yorkshire Bank Lecture Theatre and comfortable
overnight accommodation in Storm Jameson Court. It will bring together
scholars from a wide range of disciplines – including medieval and later
European history, art history, literature, drama and music – with a view
not only to scoping the extent of Hercules’ significance as a cultural
figure, but also to provoking discussion of methodological approaches
which might inform a bigger project.

Speakers already include: Karl Galinsky (Texas), Edith Hall (KCL), Pat
Simons (Michigan), Matt Dillon (New England), Philip Ford (Cambridge),
Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (Edinburgh), Kathleen Riley (Sydney), Paula James
(OU), Kim Shahabudin (Reading), Susan Deacy (Roehampton), Greta Hawes

Contemporary writers and artists: Several practitioners will be talking
about their Hercules-related work, including: Marian Maguire (print-maker,
The Labours of Herakles), Helen Eastman (director Hercules, Chester
20120), George Rodosthenous (director Heracles’ Wife, Leeds 2010).


Proposals for papers on any aspect of the post-classical Herakles-Hercules
are welcome, for example in the following areas:

* Hercules’ appropriation by Christianity
* Hercules’ emergence in Renaissance literature and art as the type of
virtue in general, and eloquence in particular
* Hercules’ role as political emblem from the fourteenth to eighteenth
centuries, especially in various northern Italian city-states and at the
Burgundian court
* Hercules’ particular relevance to France, as supposed forefather of the
French people, role-model for kings from François I to Louis XV, and
paradoxical hero of the Revolution;
* Herculean themes in music from sixteenth-century opera to nineteenth-
century symphonic poems
* the re-working of tragedies by Sophokles and Euripides, especially on
the themes of Herakles’ death at his wife’s hands and of the frenzied
slaying of his own children, for twentieth- and twenty-first-century
* Hercules’ role in film and as a comic-book hero.

If you are interested in offering a paper, you should first e-mail Emma
Stafford (e.j.stafford AT leeds.ac.uk) indicating the general area you might
explore. A title and short abstract (c.250 words) will then be required
by 1st October 2012.

What Greek Myth Can Tell Us

Hypish sort of thing (I think) from Paul OMahoney in the Independent … here’s the end bit:

[...] But the Greek myths don’t just shed light on modern day Greece – they illuminate the whole world. The global financial crisis was created by a brand new banking breed of Midases, all of them hungry for gold. Midas was a king who did one good deed and was rewarded by the god Apollo who told him he would grant him one wish. What would Midas choose: world peace? An end to hunger? An Olympics that was delivered on budget? No. He wished that everything he touched would turn into gold. EVERYTHING. This included his daughter, as well as all the food he tried to eat. Not a smart move. The gods had to step in and revoke his wish, but not before the damage was already done…

There are further warnings from the past. We constantly worry nowadays about conservation – preserving the planet and its natural wonders for future generations. It is unbearably sad to think that our grandchildren may never see a panda bear (although I do think pandas are a bit overrated – how can one animal sleep for so long? They do nothing! And if they don’t want to have sex, well, you just can’t force it can you?), and it is awful to think of young people growing up in this century who may never witness the many beautiful animals this world has to offer. Well, that didn’t bother those ancient Greek heroes much did it? When’s the last time you caught David Attenborough narrating glorious high-definition footage of a Chimaera battling to the death with a Hydra? That’s right, never: because Bellerophon and Heracles got there first. In fact, Heracles must be responsible for the extinction of more species than any man before or since. If Disney’s Hercules had been in Disney’s Lion King then it would have been a very different film (and highly unlikely to get a ‘U’ certificate).

But the Greeks had the right idea. Their heroes had faults – plenty of them – but they didn’t have it all their own way. Yes Heracles was an eco-warrior’s worst nightmare, but he also died in excruciating pain wearing a poisoned cloak given to him by his wife. Odysseus must have sailed further than Dame Ellen MacArthur in his quest to make it home, and Midas ended up hungry and alone, with his ears replaced with those of an ass. If only we could mete out similar punishment to those who were foolish enough to think that everything they touched would turn to gold this time round.

The terrible problems that afflict Western culture today were woven into the myths of the people who gave us that culture in the first place. They really knew what was what those ancient Greeks – so maybe the solutions are in there too.

… personally, I always thought it important to recognize that his labours were a major ‘make work’ project and all those monsters Hercules battled probably would have died anyway … they were the only members of their species and don’t seem to have had any breeding partners …

Siberian Princess and her Tattoos

I was hemming and hawing over this one, but finally I realized that beyond the obvious interest in the tattoos, there’s a claim in all coverage of this which (as often) tends toward the sensational rather than the likely. Here’s the intro from the News.com version:

Natalia Polosmak, the scientist who found the remains of Princess Ukok high in mountains close to Russia’s border with Mongolia and China, said she was struck by how little has changed in the past two millennia.

Tattoos of mythological creatures and complex patterns are believed to have been status symbols for the ancient nomadic Pazyryk people first described by the Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century BC.

A striking tattoo of a deer with a griffon’s beak and Capricorn antlers was found on the left shoulder of the ancient ‘princess’, who died about age 25.

The antlers are decorated with the heads of griffons. And the same griffon’s head is shown on the back of the animal. She also has a dear’s head on her wrist, with big antlers. [...]

via: Amazing tattoos covered ancient Siberian princess (News.com)

… it’s interesting that all the coverage I’ve seen has the same misspelling of “dear” there. What I find particularly silly, though, is this description of something with a ‘griffon’s beak’ and ‘capricorn antlers’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean). Here’s a photo from the Daily Mail of the tat in question:

via the Daily Mail

The DM has other photos as well …  I can see, perhaps, if you desperately want to see something mythical looking there, you might interpret things all griffony and capricorny. But as someone who spent much of their childhood making semi-regular visits to Banff, Alberta to see mountains and, of course the wildlife (which usually stuck their head in the window of your car, or were wandering around the golf course or people’s lawns), it’s pretty easy to see that what is depicted is little more than your basic elk, with the velvet still on the antlers. Here’s a photo for comparison:

Wikimedia Commons

More Olympics Journal Articles

I guess the folks at Cambridge Journals liked the attention given to their freebies (I doubt we were alone in mentioning them) during the Olympics, and now that the Olympics are over, they’ve come out with a pile more, all from the Journal of Hellenic Studies. There is some overlap with the previous list, but there’s some good noggin fodder in general there (e.g. John Boardman’s note on strigils makes passing mention of strigils as prizes for athletic competition, which might have some application to that purported gladiatrix statue claim which we don’t buy into). Also definitely worth browsing through is Mark Golden’s intro to the collection. Check them out here: