Scylla and Charybdis Origin?

A piece on the discovery of a vast colony of black coral in the Straits of Messina (which will, no doubt, affect Berlusconi’s bridge plans … and also makes me wonder if we’ll soon be hearing of some shipwreck discoveries), has an interesting closing bit:

The town of Scilla, near the site of the coral discovery, was described by the ancient Greek writer Homer, as being home to a six-headed sea monster named Scilla. The monster flashed three rows of sharp teeth in each of its six heads and rumbled along on 12 feet.

Not not far from Scylla’s cave, on the opposite Sicilian shore, lived another sea monster, Charybdis, who sucked passing ships into its vortex along that narrow stretch of water.

Together, Scylla and Charybdis made the Strait of Messina one of the Mediterranean’s most insidious passages: ships sailing there were almost certain to be destroyed by one of the monsters. Could the black coral have contributed to the region’s lore? Perhaps only indirectly, said Salvati.

“Indeed, there are very strong currents right where the black coral was found. I doubt there could be a direct link with the myth since the coral grows too deeply to be seen from the surface. However, many unknown marine species appear to live at that depth,” Salvati said.

Adrienne Mayor, a folklorist who authored “The First Fossil Hunters,” a book which explores the connection between Greek and Roman myths and the fossil beds around the Mediterranean, found the discovery of black coral colonies near the mythical Scylla “intriguing.”

“Ancient authors such as Aristotle, Vergil, Pliny and Pausanias described the Mediterranean as the home to many different species of sea monsters, giant octopus and squid,” Mayor told Discovery News. “Giant eels were reported by tuna fishermen between 1740 and the early 1900s — maybe they live in the deep underwater ravines lined with black coral!”

Mary Beard on Roman Publishing

Our favourite Cambridge Don has a nice piece in the New York Times on getting published in ancient Rome … here’s a tease:

Bookstores in Rome clustered in particular streets. One was the Vicus Sandalarius, or Shoemakers Row, not far from the Colosseum (convenient for post-gladiatorial browsing). Here you would find the outsides of the stores plastered with advertisements and puffs for titles in stock, often adorned with some choice quotes from the books of the moment. Martial, in fact, once told a friend not to bother to venture inside, since you could “read all the poets” on their doorposts.

For those who did go in, there was usually a place to sit and read. With slaves on hand to summon up refreshments, it would have been not unlike the coffee shop in a modern Borders. For collectors, there were occasionally secondhand treasures to be picked up, at a price. One Roman academic reported finding an old copy of the second book of Virgil’s “Aeneid” — not just any old copy but, the bookseller assured him, Virgil’s very own. An unlikely story maybe, but one that persuaded him to part with a small fortune to acquire it (rather more, in fact, than the combined annual wages of two professional soldiers). The risks on cheaper purchases were different. A cut-price book roll would presumably have fallen to pieces as quickly as a modern mass-market paperback. But worse, the pressure to get copies made quickly meant that they were loaded with errors and sometimes uncomfortably different from the authentic words of the author. One list of prices from the third century A.D. implies that the money needed to buy a top-quality copy of 500 lines would be enough to feed a family of four (admittedly, on very basic rations) for a whole year. If you settled for an inferior job, you could get a 20 percent discount.

… we’ll see how many Classicists grumble when they read “millenniums” … personally, I’ve always wondered how many literate Romans actually ‘read’ as opposed to having someone read to them (and not even in a ‘performance’ sense). If I think about it too hard, I start thinking of the ancient literate slave as the Roman equivalent of an iPod Touch, with a longer battery life.

Iliad Reading with a Twist

Here’s a worthy project I could see Latin/Classics clubs adapting and/or emulating … from the Indy Star:

Latin students from North Central High School will use the tale of an ancient war to launch their own modern war on poverty.

From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday at Kids Ink Bookstore, 56th and Illinois streets, Indianapolis, there will be two dozen students taking turns reading Homer’s Greek classic about the Trojan War, “The Iliad.”

Students under the leadership of Latin teacher Steven Perkins have collected pledges of five cents per line of poetry read aloud; there are 700 lines in the English translation by Stanley Lombardo. Readers will wear specially made T-shirts designed by North Central student Zoe Smith.

Kids Ink will extend its hours for the day and will provide a donation box for visitors to contribute, as well. Proceeds will go to the Shepherd Community Center in downtown Indianapolis.

To learn more about Reading the War on Poverty, visit

Roman Bath at Bankso

This one — from FYROM/Macedonia probably has more bona fides lurking in it than claims of Alexander’s tomb … from Balkan Travellers:

Detailed archaeological excavations began at the thermal Roman bath in Bansko near the south-eastern Macedonian town of Strumica.

The site is being studied and analysed so that a project for its complete reconstruction could be made, according to the director of the Strumica Institute and Museum, Slavitsa Taseva.

“I hope that by the end of this year, we’ll have results that we can present to the public,” Taseva told the Dnevnik daily newspaper.

So far, during excavations of the thermal Roman baths, which – according to Taseva, are unique to the Balkans because of the way water was heated from a natural spring, a total of 11 premises were discovered, with an overall area of 623 square metres.

Of them, the most preserved are the sauna and cool-water pool with the half-dome over the bath.

Already unearthed in the locality were a number of artefacts, including a marble statue, bronze figures of the god Mercury, sculpture pedestals, objects of a unique mosaic, ceramic objects and another complex near the thermal baths, Taseva added.

The excavations and the reconstruction will contribute to the complete definition of the site, which dates back to the Late Roman period and was constructed more than 16 centuries ago.

The current excavations at Bansko, funded by the Macedonian government, are carried out by a team of the Institute for the Protection of Monuments of Culture and Museum in Strumica.