Practice Latin, Feed the World

I first heard of this Free Rice site a year ago when some of my Grade Sevens were playing with it … essentially it’s an online quiz and for every question you get right, they’ll send the equivalent of ten grains of rice to a place/person in need. Well, now they have a Latin-based game and by the looks of it, it would be a great place for students to practice their Latin while providing some service, as it were, to a good cause. Heck, imagine if every Latin class around did this at least once a week … or if Latin teachers had students regularly go here for ‘free time’. Maybe on World Food Day or other appropriate days, Latin teachers could get together and have a Latinathon or something … just sayin’ …

Alexandria’s Canopic Road Aligned to Alexander’s Birthday?

An excerpt from a LiveScience piece:

[…] Ancient Alexandria was planned around a main east-west thoroughfare called Canopic Road, said Giulio Magli, an archaeoastronomer at the Politecnico of Milan. A study of the ancient route reveals it is not laid out according to topography; for example, it doesn’t run quite parallel to the coastline. But on the birthday of Alexander the Great, the rising sun of the fourth century rose “in almost perfect alignment with the road,” Magli said.

The results, he added, could help researchers in the hunt for the elusive tomb of Alexander. Ancient texts hold that the king’s body was placed in a gold casket in a gold sarcophagus, later replaced with glass. The tomb, located somewhere in Alexandria, has been lost for nearly 2,000 years. [8 Grisly Archaeological Discoveries]

Building by the stars

Magli and his colleague Luisa Ferro used computer software to simulate the sun’s position in the fourth century B.C. (Because Earth’s orbit isn’t perfect, there is some variation in the sun’s path through the sky over centuries.) Alexander the Great was born on July 20, 356 B.C. by the Julian calendar, which is slightly different than the modern, Gregorian calendar, because it does not have leap years to account for partial days in the Earth’s orbit around the sun. On that day in the fourth century B.C., the researchers found, the sun rose at a spot less than half a degree off of the road’s route.

“With a slight displacement of the day, the phenomenon is still enjoyable in our times,” Magli told LiveScience.

A second star would have added to the effect, Magli said. The “King’s Star” Regulus, which is found on the head of the lion in the constellation Leo, also rose in near-perfect alignment with Canopic Road and became visible after a period of conjunction with the sun near July 20. Earth’s orbit has changed enough that this Regulus phenomenon no longer happens, Magli said. […]

… I wonder how they account for the half-degree-out-of-alignment; must look into this further …

UPDATE (a few minutes later): this appears to be the original paper the article is based on (pdf) … that link doesn’t appear to want to work, though, so cut and paste this into your address bar: arxiv.org/pdf/1103.0939

Elite Myth Mosaic Use

This seems to be more covert hype for a(n interesting) book than ‘news’ per se (maybe not), but … from a Carlos III University of Madrid press release:

This line of research, coordinated by Luz Neira, who is a professor in the Department of Humanities: History, Geography and Art, as well as a researcher in UC3M’s Institute for Culture and Technology (Instituto de Cultura y Tecnología), continues on the path established by previous studies that examined the images of women and certain legends in Roman mosaics. “We had previously shown the memory and conscious, self-interested reuse of myths, but this new volume also examines the possibility that there is a subliminal message regarding the elites’ fundamental concept of the civilization versus barbarism binomial,” explains the historian, who was in charge of the coordination and publication of ‘Civilización y barbarie: el mito como argumento en los mosaicos romanos’ (‘Civilization and Barbarism: Myths as plots in Roman Mosaics’) (CVG, 2012). A variety of specialists in Roman mosaics also collaborated on this book, which offers a new perspective in the approach to mythology and its reuse throughout history, which was a result of “a conscious and self-interested phenomenon of re-semantization.”

Specifically, there are premeditated and conscious recreations of certain mythological characters and episodes from different areas of the Empire, which were selected and even distorted in order to generate a spirit, deepen principles, or recall the foundations upon which their privileged position within the Roman state had been established, the researchers explain. “They re-used certain Greek myths as symbols that reinforced what Rome stood for,” states Luz Neira, “because they were of transcendental importance, due to the universal values they depicted, and they became champions of civilization”.

The scene of Achilles in Skyros, one of the most frequently depicted among the mosaics of the imperial epoch and which can be found, for example, in the villa of La Olmeda (Palencia), seems to be intended to highlight the archetype of the hero who is capable of giving his life for his country. The legends of divinities such as Dionysius and Aphrodite, the Labors of Hercules, the Journeys of Perseus and the battles between Amazons and centaurs are some of the other mythological episodes that originated in Greece that the Romans appropriated as their own and converted into models to be followed. “The memory of a legendary war and a mythological hero would become with the passing of time, and even up to the present day, the phenomenon with the greatest impact on people and individuals; this is what led us to analyze the myth as the story of the struggle between civilization and barbarism,” concludes the researcher.

Historiography in mosaics

Until now, the concept of the civilization in the Roman Empire had been analyzed using written sources and official images found in public spaces, in sculptures or relieves of certain monuments, such as arcs, steles or commemorative columns. However, very little in-depth research had been done on the representation of these concepts in private spaces, perhaps due to their domestic character, the researchers point out. “We were surprised by the absence of references of this type in the form of mosaics, where due to their unusual circumstances of conservation in situ the mosaic documentation offers an authentic repertoire of tile work, with geometric, plant and human figure decoration, connected to the private domestic contexts that pertained to the most privileged sectors of Roman society in any urban or rural location of the Empire,” comments Professor Neira.

In this respect, according to this historian, it seemed unthinkable, a priori, that members of the elite, who were involved in the government and matters of the Empire, would not have made use of the significant surface area of the mosaics that paved the living spaces of their domus and villae to commemorate their victories and their identification with Rome as a guarantor of civilization as opposed to “barbarism”. “They did it,” states Luz Neira, “by depicting re-used myths that evoked the values that, from an ideological point of view, Rome wished to represent.”

Mosaic from Downtown Sofia

Brief (as always) item from the Sofia News Agency:

Archaeologists have discovered colorful floor mosaic from the Roman era near the so-called West Gate of Serdica in downtown Sofia.

The news was announced Monday by the Mayor of Sofia, Yordanka Fandakova, who visited the archaeological excavations in the company of her Deputy in charge of Culture, Todor Chobanov.

The mosaic has an area of 40 square meters and is located in the ruins of a Roman building discovered for the first time between 1975 and 1980 when archaeologists began exploring the site. The works were later abandoned and remained unfinished.

Serdica’s West Wall followed the current “Washington” and “Lavelle” streets to the Central Court building. Fragments of it can be seen in the yard of the largest catholic cathedral in Bulgaria “Saint Joseph.”

Fandakova said there is likelihood the mosaic is part of a large basilica, which continues under “Washington” street, adding it means archaeologists are to continue their work there to fully uncover “the wealth of Sofia.” She stressed the key importance of preserving this wealth and displaying it in the urban environment in order make the city an even more attractive destination.

“The basilica shows the standing of Serdica during the rule of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (274-337),” the Mayor concluded.

… no photos, alas.

UW-Madison Heads to Troy

From a UW-Madison press release:

The ruins of ancient Troy will be examined by a cross-disciplinary team of scientists in an expedition led by UW-Madison classics professor William Aylward.

Troy, the palatial city of prehistory, sacked by the Greeks through trickery and a fabled wooden horse, will be excavated anew beginning in 2013 by a cross-disciplinary team of archaeologists and other scientists, it was announced today (Monday, Oct. 15).

The new expedition will be led by University of Wisconsin-Madison classics Professor William Aylward, an archaeologist with long experience digging in the ruins of classical antiquity, including Troy itself. The new international project at Troy, to be conducted under the auspices of and in cooperation with Turkey’s Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, will begin a series of summer-time expeditions beginning in 2013.

“Troy is a touchstone of Western civilization,” says Aylward. “Although the site has been excavated in the past, there is much yet to be discovered. Our plan is to extend work to unexplored areas of the site and to systematically employ new technologies to extract even more information about the people who lived here thousands of years ago.”

Troy and the Trojan War were immortalized in Homer’s epic poem the Iliad centuries after the supposed events of the conflict. The site was occupied almost continuously for about 4,500 years, from the beginning of the Bronze Age to the 13th century A.D., when it was abandoned and consigned to myth. It was rediscovered in the 1870s by the wealthy German businessman and pioneering archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann whose work at Troy laid the foundations for modern archaeology.

“Our goal is to add a new layer of information to what we already know about Troy,” says Aylward, who is contributing an international team of archaeologists and scientists to conduct what promises to be the most comprehensive dig since Troy’s discovery over 140 years ago. “The archaeological record is rich. If we take a closer look with new scientific tools for study of ancient biological and cultural environments, there is much to be found for telling the story of this world heritage site.”

The site of Troy is in modern Turkey and is situated on the Dardanelles, a crossroads between East and West and a flashpoint for conflict in both ancient and modern times. The archaeological site is a complex layer cake of history and prehistory, with 10 cities superimposed one atop the other, some with clear evidence for violent destruction.

Following the demise of Troy at the end of the Bronze Age, the site was re-settled by Greeks, Romans and others, who all claimed Homer’s Troy and its cast of characters — Achilles, Helen, Patroclus, Priam and Ajax — as their own cultural heritage. The ancient city was visited by the Persian general Xerxes, Alexander the Great, and Roman emperors, including Augustus and Hadrian. Homer’s epic poems about a lost age of heroes and the legendary Trojan War have endured as sources of inspiration for art and literature ever since.

Although archaeologists have been digging at Troy for almost 140 years, with the exception of a 50-year hiatus between 1938 and 1988, less than one-fifth of the site has been scientifically excavated. With about 4,500 years of nearly uninterrupted settlement at a crossroads between Europe and Asia, Troy is fundamental for questions about the development of civilization in Europe and the Near East. “Troy deserves a world-class archaeological program,” says Aylward.

In its heyday, Troy’s citadel, with walls 12 feet thick and more than 30 feet high, was about 6 acres in size. A walled lower town covered an expanse of 50 acres, much of which is unexplored. Mysteries abound. Ancient Troy’s royal cemetery, for example, has yet to be discovered and archaeologists are eager to add to the single example of prehistoric writing known from Troy, a small bronze seal from the Bronze Age.

“Major gaps in our knowledge involve the identity of the prehistoric Trojans, the location of their principal cemeteries and the nature of their writing system,” says Aylward. “The enduring question of the historicity of the Trojan War is also worthy of further exploration.”

In future work at Troy, Aylward plans an array of collaborations in order to deploy powerful new scientific techniques to reveal the hidden record of the ancient city and its inhabitants. New methods to examine chemical residues on pottery from ancient kitchens and banquet halls, for example, may reveal secrets of ancient Trojan culinary proclivities, and genomic analyses of human and animal remains may shed light on diseases and afflictions at a crossroads of civilization.

Much of the new work in the area of “molecular archaeology,” which includes DNA sequencing and protein analysis, will be conducted in collaboration with the UW-Madison Biotechnology Center, which has become an active partner in the new Troy project. This past summer, researchers from the center participated in reconnaissance for future studies.

The new Wisconsin expedition to Troy builds on years of existing work and international collaboration at the site. The new program to be inaugurated in 2013 will be conducted under the auspices of Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, which is situated near the site of Troy.

Classical Words of the Day

mucro (Dictionary.com)
surfeit (Merriam-Webster)
galericulate (Worthless)
verbarian (Wordnik)

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