Recreating Roman Pantomime

Just a week or so ago we mentioned the Practicing Pantomime Project  … the folks involved should maybe talk to this guy, or he should talk to them … from Pressconnects:

For his final project as a Binghamton University undergraduate, local theater wunderkind Santino DeAngelo has decided to re-create an art form that’s been lost for 2,000 years.

No examples of ancient Roman pantomime — a popular entertainment that incorporated music, dance and storytelling – have survived in written form to the modern day. Scholars debate the reasons for that: Some think it’s because the pantomimes were considered “low” entertainment, while others speculate that many aspects of the performances were constructed through on-the-spot directions to actors and singers that were not preserved.

“It was basically the equivalent of television,” DeAngelo said in a recent interview. “Plays were known by their writers, but these pantomimes were famous for the artists — people would go to see the performer.

“We know that several famous Roman playwrights wrote pantomimes but didn’t attach their names to them because it was considered ‘low art.’ People would go every night to see them, though.”

DeAngelo’s re-creation, “Narcissus,” pulls directly from his undergraduate studies, which include classical civilizations, mythology and performance. He believes this is the first attempt at ancient Roman pantomime in the United States (with the only other effort in England during the 1970s).

Along with a full choral score (which will be performed by community members and BU students), DeAngelo also composed solo parts for local singers Judy Giblin, Jana Kucera and Charlie Hyland. DeAngelo himself will perform all the roles using a variety of masks.

Austin Tooley, a graduate student in BU’s theater department, will direct the production, and it will be recorded at the BTV studios on campus with the hope of broadcast at a later date. (A limited number of audience seats are available.)

DeAngelo said he hopes to capture the flavor of what ancient Roman pantomime would have been to an audience of that era.

“The great thing about reconstructing it is you’re putting yourself in the position of the writer, so I find myself thinking, ‘OK, if this has to be done quickly’ — they didn’t have a lot of time to put these together — ‘then how do I cut corners?’ If I can tell my chorus to do this and this, I don’t have to write it down,” he said. “There are many questions that come up.”

‘Gun Control’ and the Ancient Greeks and Romans

Very interesting post at the New Yorker‘s Culture Desk by Melissa Lane … here’s a bit in medias res:

The pioneers of citizen armies were also pioneers of withdrawing weapons from the places of civilized life. The ancient Greek armies were manned exclusively by citizens who brought their own weapons into battle. Getting to serve in an élite combat unit required being wealthy enough to afford to buy one’s own armor. It was this vision of citizen militias, further developed by the Romans, that went on to inspire the English revolutionaries of the seventeenth century and the American revolutionaries of the eighteenth—so shaping the values expressed in the Second Amendment.

Nevertheless, when one early-nineteenth-century American reflected on what the new American Republic could learn from the ancient Greeks, he drew attention to another feature that was widespread in their politics: refraining from carrying weapons in public spaces. In some cities, this was a matter of custom, in others it was a matter of law. Citizens carried their weapons abroad when serving in the military for public defense. But, even in these cities, it was believed that carrying weapons at home would be tantamount to letting weapons, not laws, rule.

This point is emphasized in a study of ancient-Greek laws attributed to Benjamin Franklin, though apparently composed by the founding editor of the Western Minerva, who published it in 1820. The laws, the author insisted, “apply with peculiar energy and propriety to the circumstances of the United States.” Number fifteen in this collection of a hundred “principles of political wisdom,” drawn from the school of Pythagoras, legislators for Greek settlements on the Italian mainland, was this: “Let the laws rule alone. When weapons rule, they kill the law.”

This is the opposite of the view attributed to the Founding Fathers by the N.R.A.’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, in 2009, when he said that “our founding fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules.” On the contrary, letting the guys with weapons make the rules of ordinary life was the opposite of the classical practices that inspired the American founders. Writing of the evolution of Greek societies in the first book of his “History of the Peloponnesian War,” the Greek historian Thucydides reported that the Athenians were the first to lay aside their weapons. Whereas men in all Greek societies used to carry arms at home, this had been a sign of an uncivilized era of piracy in which the most powerful men could dominate all the rest. Laying aside the everyday wearing of weapons was part of what Thucydides believed had allowed Athens to become fully civilized, developing the commerce and culture that made her the envy of the Greek world. The Romans, too, banned the carrying of weapons within the pomerium, the sacred boundary of the city.

The banning of carrying weapons in public was based on the idea that civilized coexistence could not tolerate public spaces that were dominated by those wearing weapons, on pain of intimidating those around them. Apart from the physical risks posed, such intimidation would inherently undermine civic equality. It is hard for the unarmed to argue with the armed. Key to civil society was that citizen-warriors put their weapons in storage when they returned to everyday social and political life.

… definitely worth reading the whole thing. I suspect this question comes up frequently in Classical Civ type classes …

Roman Wedding at Nicopolis ad Istrum

I really think focus-fen ought to look into a better translation service:

The wedding ritual will start at around 4 p.m. The entire ceremony and the wedding festivities will be held in the spirit of the Ancient Rome. Though the wedding will observe all the Roman traditions and rituals it will be also in line with the legal requirements of the nowadays marriage procedure.

All guests at the wedding will be dressed in Roman tunicas. The wedding will start with the dance of the Vestal Virgins, who symbolically clean the house where the wedding ceremony will be held. The couple, which is to wed, will be brought in by their parents. Mayor of Veliko Tarnovo Municipality Daniel Panov will play the part of a senator, while a young man will be the pontiff, who will addressed a series of prayers to Jupiter, Venus and Diana.

After the wedding ceremony there will be treats for the guests, which will be made under ancient Roman recipes.

Let’s hope they at least consulted Karen Hersch’s recent book and didn’t just take their info from the internet …

On Rome Disarming Her Subjects

In the wake of the evil deeds in Aurora, Colorado last week, I was trying to remember whether the Romans had an ancient equivalent of ‘gun control’ and I seem to recall some prof or another in my distant past suggesting that Rome did, in fact, disarm their subjects. I also recall reading from time to time on the web that the Romans did this sort of thing and I have also wondered if those folks have considered the logistics of it. Whatever the case, the source for this view is likelyRamsey MacMullen’s Roman Social Relations, where it is mentioned sort of in passing (p. 35, with a list of exempla in n. 26). Without coming down on one side or the other of the ‘gun control debate’, I do want to point out that MacMullen’s views need to be tempered with the extensive study by P. A . Brunt in Phoenix 29.3, 260-270, “Did Rome Disarm Her Subjects”, wherein Brunt examines MacMullen’s exempla and counters with several others.  Here’s the opening paragraph:

In his Roman Social Relations 50 B.C.-A.D. 284 New Haven and London 1974) Professor Ramsay Macmullen presents a sombre picture of the condition of the lower orders in the Roman empire, which in general appears to me to represent the truth only too well. But among the many suggestions he throws out which provoke reflection, at least one may challenge dissent. In his sketch of Roman taxation he urges that the resistance movements it caused “reveal in rough outline a common pattern of desperation: first, initial conquest by the Romans; next, the rapid confiscation of all hidden weapons;” and then assessments and “recurrent spasms of protest against the weight of tribute harshly calculated and still more harshly exacted.” His belief that even in the early empire taxation was heavier than is commonly assumed seems to me justifiable, but that is not my subject here. Is it right that disarmament, indeed rapid disarmament, was normally the first act of the conquerors as a prelude to taxation? Macmullen founds this claim on (a) a few texts relating to the disarmament of particular peoples and (b) an interpretation of the law or laws de vi, which in his judgement show that disarmament was universal.’ By implication, it was also permanent. There is perhaps some risk that this view will gain credit, unless rebutted. A fuller survey of the evidence suggests to me that disarmament was far from normal and, where attempted, without lasting effect.

… and the conclusion:

When Roman conquest deprived a people of “liberty,” the loss affected not so much the masses as the old ruling class; we must, however, remember that most of Rome’s subjects had been previously under the control of some other king or hegemon, and that relatively few of the provincial civitates had any real sovereignty to lose. Whatever political loss they did sustain was compensated from the first by the blessings of peace and by Rome’s readiness to uphold their local dominance, and in course of time by an increasing share in the imperial government. The notables were in the best position to discern the difficulty or impossibility of successful revolt, and to enjoy the benefits of order, civilization, and actual participation in Roman power. Without the leadership they alone could give, resistance to Rome could not be effectively organized and had even less chance of success. The rise of provincials in the imperial service and the endless panegyrics they pronounced on Rome’s beneficence alike attest the growth of active consent to Roman rule among the subjects who mattered most, if that rule was to endure. It was by winning over the magnates and not by disarming the masses that the Roman government secured submission and internal peace. Disarmament was neither practicable nor necessary as a systematic rule of policy; it was a mere expedient of no more than temporary utility, to be employed against some peoples at the moment of surrender or when there was some particular reason for apprehending disturbances. The “common pattern” is quite different; the local ruling class is left to control the masses and share in their exploitation, and Rome adapts the warlike proclivities of her subjects by giving them arms to protect and maintain her own empire.

… definitely worth a read if you’re asked “What would the Romans do in this situation? Didn’t they …”

Ancient Roman Cinema Projector? I Hae Me Doots Big Time

This has been an aggravating post to get out … first of all, tip o’ the pileus to Richard Campbell for alerting us to this story early this a.m.; a pox on my slow internet connection which prevented me from writing while it was still fresh in my mind. Now I see the story popping up in my Twitter feed and it’s bugging me even more. The story seems to be breaking in Filmaker Magazine, which is a magazine devoted to independent film, in a blogpost with an extremely provocative title: DO ANCIENT ROMAN ARTIFACTS REVEAL THE WORLD’S FIRST MOTION PICTURE PROJECTOR?

After a brief intro to the thing, folks can watch a youtube video which is designed to promote/drum up funds for a project. Here’s the video (and it really should be watched in its entirety … and listen very carefully!):

If you listened carefully, there is a pile of stunning doublespeak about a ‘multimedia installation’ about a ‘speculative archaeological discovery in Zadar’ which ‘may be’ the world’s first cinema projector. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of the phrase ‘speculative archaeology’ before, so alarm bells should be going off. Immediately after telling us that archaeologists are divided about the Antikythera Mechanism (which suggests this guy doesn’t keep up with research) we are told that a coin found ‘nearby’ supports his claim (shades of some Talpiot Tombs, no?). So here’s the coin, supposedly, with one side which says Inventori Lucis (“to the contriver of light” … all pix can be clicked for larger versions):

Screencap from the video

… then they show a shiny new version:

I have never seen this phrase on a coin (not that that means much) but it’s worth mentioning that even Wikipedia mentions its existence not on a coin, but on a phalera (a ‘medal’, for want of a better term) dating stylistically to the Second Century A.D. (there is a reference there to an article by Guarducci, which I am not in a position to track down). The phrase does, of course, refer to Sol Invictus, who was popular among the military set. The other side of this ‘coin’ is similarly Sol-oriented:

Screencap from the Video

… and the shiny new one:

Screencap from the Video

Here we have a reference to Sol Indiges, whose title is pretty controversial as I mentioned years ago before this blogging thing was even thought of. As far as I know, the Sol Indiges thing was largely Republican and so having the ‘Sol Invictus’ on one side and ‘Sol Indiges’ on the other seems kind of strange. I will happily be disabused of this notion, but this medal doesn’t strike me as genuine.

In a similar category are the supposed painted glass panes which — we are led to believe — are Roman in date. Here’s a photo of one of them:

Screencap from the video

I’m sure I’m not the only person who watched this and said, “Hey, that looks just like that Primavera/Flora thing from Stabiae.” In case you’re wondering what I’m referring you, this should give you an ‘oh yeah’ moment:

The dress-off-the-right-shoulder clearly suggests that the ‘glass slide’ was either inspired by or derived from this one. It’s also salutary to point out that the glass slide seems to have a clear border all arond the outside. That’s a giveaway that it was meant either to go in a frame or some sort or that it actually is a Magic Lantern slide from the 1800s (tons of examples on eBay), if it isn’t actually a modern copy. Why would it be modern? Here’s a little quote from the video:

The installation will feature the original archaeological evidence from Zadar, all of which has been fabricated by me …

There’s more info to be had at the Ancient Cinema Project webpage, including more photos that aren’t screencaps. Of particular importance is a quote there which I don’t think is in the video:

Yet another archaeological mystery was recently discovered at a flea market in Zadar: oxidized piece of metal, a cache of hand-painted glass tablets (mostly shattered), a clay lamp, and an unusual coin with the Latin inscriptions “Sol Indiges” and “Inventori Lvcis”. These artifacts form the basis of the installation “Ancient Cinema,” a meta-historical reflection on archaeology and storytelling.

‘Meta-historical’ and ‘speculative archaeology’ with ‘fabricated evidence’. All based on items found at that place where provenance goes to die known as the flea market. Don’t eat that Elmer … there’s nothing ancient Roman here and the double speak being used to raise funds (after a Canada Council Grant ran out??? That’s my tax money!) borders on dishonesty.

[by the way, I am aware of the possibility of Aristotle knowing how the ‘camera obscura’ worked; this has nothing to do with that]

Rethinking the ‘Domus of the Dancing Cherubs’ at Aquileia

This probably won’t last long at ANSA:

Archaeologists working on the remains of an ancient dwelling in northern Italy have reassessed their ideas about the site after uncovering lavish decorations and imposing architectural features. The building in Aquileia, which previously appeared to be a normal Roman villa, has now emerged as a majestic mansion complex, covering an entire block. Archaeologists say the house, or domus, was the largest building in the Ancient Roman city of Aquileia and was probably the residence of a powerful figure, perhaps an imperial official. The location of the ‘Domus of the Dancing Cherubs’, between the river port and the forum, has long indicated that its owner was an important person.

But a string of recent discoveries have revealed the extent of its inhabitant’s status, said the archaeologist leading the team, Federica Fontana.

“During the latest excavations we have found the eastern entrance to the home,” she explained. “This was preceded by a large, paved piazza with a well in it”.

This is considered an exceptional find, not only for its size, but also because few entrance ways have been identified at the underground site over the years. “We have also found a room, at the same level as the entranceway, which had underground heating and a floor decorated with an exquisite multicoloured mosaic,” she said. “Thanks to these and other discoveries we can conclude that the house probably covered the entire quarter. It was divided into a series of small courtyards with colonnades. “One of these even had a large, limestone canal with drainage for rain water, of a type usually only seen in public buildings”. The team also uncovered a beautifully sculpted woman’s marble bust in the complex’s innermost courtyard that was probably once part of the architectural decoration. “All these elements make it clear just how important this domus was in Aquileia,” said Fontana. Work on Via Gemina, where the Domus of the Dancing Cherubs once stood, has yielded up a number of key discoveries in recent years. In 2005, two coloured mosaics were uncovered in astonishing condition, while 2009 saw the discovery of an extremely rare “cage cup”.

These luxury Roman drinking vessels, only a handful of which have survived the centuries, consist of an inner glass beaker surrounded by an outer decorated cage of metal.

Much of Aquileia, which was once one of the largest and wealthiest cities of the Early Roman Empire, still lies unexcavated beneath fields. Adding the site to its World Heritage List in 1998, UNESCO cited the fact that most of ancient Aquileia survives intact underground, making it the most complete example of an Early Roman city in the Mediterranean world.

I’m pretty sure the mosaic mentioned is not the one which Adrian Murdoch mentioned on Twitter a couple of days ago (which dates from the fourth century) …. that said, here’s a photo from the ANSA coverage in La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno (English edition):

… which I find very interesting as I’ve seen that ‘fishing cupids’ motif at Piazza Armerina (when I find my portable hard drives that disappeared a couple of months ago, I’ll post the photos I took … until then, here’s an example I found at flickr … might have to dig into this motif a bit more).

Previous reports from Aquileia (where a major did has been going on for quite a while) includes the excavation of the public baths (2006) … not sure why we don’t hear more about this dig.