Classic Bleacher Report

I’m sure I’m not the only Classicist who gets some of his sports news from the Bleacher Report, but I might be the only one who caught not one, not two, but three Classical references in Bleacher Report items over the past while. Back on May 21 (sorry … it’s been sitting in my box for a while), Brandan Fahey opened his commentary on the Magic-Cavaliers game thusly:

Orlando just stole our Helen—home-court advantage.

In a stunning loss, the Cavaliers were dominated by a juggernaut. They were beaten and beaten badly.

Shooting 55 percent from the floor? How nasty is that? Not in our house—well, actually it was in our house. Orlando’s young princes Hector and Paris (Howard and Lewis) ran away with the most coveted thing that Cleveland posses—home-court advantage. Its what we played the last 82 games for.  Aaaagh!

Oh well, as Homer put it, a thousand Greek warships descended upon the waiting Trojans. Orlando, unlike the real Trojans, do not have a wall to hide behind. Or at least, I don’t think they do.

However, Cleveland does have and Odysseus—and an Achilles on their side.

On the same day, Greg Caggiano was pondering NHL trade rumours:

One of the greatest thinkers in human history—the historian, the epistemologist, the philosopher. The man known as Socrates. Although he died around four-hundred B.C, I’m pretty sure that he knew what was coming in the later centuries to come even though the sport of hockey wasn’t even an idea until thousands of years later.

Of all his great achievements and works, Socrates is perhaps best known for a quote that said, “All I know is that I know nothing,” and that is how our Greek friend relates directly to not just trade rumors involving the NHL, but for all sports.

More recently, on June 12, Dayne Duranti was pondering the question of why Americans need football, inter alia:

I believe human beings are inherently violent. It’s not anything that we can control. It is subconscious, it is dark, and it is real. Football pleases our subconscious violence in a way that no other sport can quench.

Like the Romans and the Lions, the coliseums are packed every time. No one can (or wants to) really answer why we have this inner need for carnage, to see a grown man unload on another, nor do we care. It is pleasing and soothing during troubled times.

Outside of the cliche involved in the latter reference, I wouldn’t mind seeing more Classical references in the sports pages besides Achilles’ injuries …

Gela Shipwreck?

This is another one from the Italian press which I’ve been hoping would get some notice in the English press, but it doesn’t appear that that will be happening. The Carabinieri have been diving in the sea near Caltanisetta to recover assorted archaeological items which appear to be associated with several periods and several (?) shipwrecks (and, to judge from the divers, a crime of some sort). Artifacts are said to come from Roman, Greco-Hellenistic, and Byzantine periods. The only artifact that is specified as being recovered is an intact Byzantine patera, inscribed with a dove.

CFP: The Alexander Romance in the East

… seen on the Classicists list:

*The Alexander Romance in the East*

July 26-29, 2010

The University of Exeter’s Department of Classics and Ancient History and the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies will be hosting a conference at Exeter which sets out to explore issues and growth points in the study of the Greek Alexander Romance and its transformations in the Persian and Arab traditions, as well as aspects of the Hebrew tradition as it impinges on the Muslim world. For more details see our website,

Over three days we hope to include some twenty contributions on such topics as the following:

The development of the Greek tradition and its texts, from the Hellenistic to the Byzantine period
The historical impact of Alexander on the east and Central Asia
Indian reactions
Mapping Alexander and the east in the medieval west
Alexander in the Qur’an and in the Arabic romances
Persian versions of Alexander
Alexander in the Talmud and its influence
Specific stories – including the Water of Life, the Flying Machine, the Diving Bell, the encounter with the Brahmans

A number of scholars have agreed to speak, but we have room for more. To offer a paper, or for information about attending the conference, please contact:

Richard Stoneman at the Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Exeter, AmoryBuilding, Rennes Drive, Exeter EX4 4RJ, UK: richard14stoneman AT OR R.Stoneman AT

of proposed papers (twenty minutes) should be no more than 250 words long and should be sent to Richard Stoneman by **31st January 2010** for consideration by the conference committee.

UK News

Seems like a good time to catch up with a pile of brief news items from the UK that have accumulated over the past few weeks:

A caesium vapour magnetometer was used at Caistor St Edmund to get a better idea of the layout of Venta Icenorum:

A pair of Roman burials turned up in a Leicestershire garden:

Plans are afoot to reveal more of Wroxeter Roman City (a.k.a. Viroconium):

Digging has resumed at a bath site in Northamptonshire:

Remains of a Roman road at Tesco:

Some letters from the 1940s by the schoolboy who found Bristol Roman Villa were found:

Digging has resumed at Arbeia Roman Fort:

They’re still fighting to preserve the site of Colchester’s Roman circus:

Castleford’s Roman bathhouse is getting some recognition:

A Roman well from Chester:

A metal-detecting group from Bridlington has found a hoard of 75 silver coins and 10 bronzes dating to the mid-fourth century:

There were also a few reenactment events which folks might be interested in reading about … in Carlisle YorkSt Albans (sort of) …

CSI Ancient Greece?

Interesting item from New Scientist which is making the rounds of Slashdot (and I just saw it float past on a couple of Twitter entries too). Here’s the incipit:

You might call it “CSI Ancient Greece”. A computer technique can tell the difference between ancient inscriptions created by different artisans, a feat that ordinarily consumes years of human scholarship.

“This is the first time anything like this had been done on a computer,” says Stephen Tracy, a Greek scholar and epigrapher at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, who challenged a team of computer scientists to attribute 24 ancient Greek inscriptions to their rightful maker. “They knew nothing about inscriptions,” he says.

Tracy has spent his career making such attributions, which help scholars attach firmer dates to the tens of thousands of ancient Athenian and Attican stone inscriptions that have been found.

“Most inscriptions we find are very fragmentary,” Tracy says. “They are very difficult to date and, as is true of all archaeological artefacts, the better the date you can give to an artefact, the more it can tell you.”

Just as English handwriting morphed from ornate script filled with curvy flourishes to the utilitarian penmanship practiced today, Greek marble inscriptions evolved over the course of the civilisation.

“Lettering of the fifth century BC and lettering of the first century BC don’t look very much alike, and even a novice can tell them apart,” Tracy says.

But narrowing inscriptions to a window smaller than 100 years requires a better trained eye, not to mention far more time and effort; Tracy spent 15 years on his first book.

“One iota [a letter of the Greek alphabet] is pretty much like another, but I know one inscriber who makes an iota with a small little stroke at the top of the letter. I don’t know another cutter who does. That becomes, for him, like a signature,” says Tracy, who relies principally on the shape of individual letters to attribute authorship.

However, these signatures aren’t always apparent even after painstaking analysis, and attributions can vary among scholars, says Michail Panagopoulos, a computer scientist at the National Technical University of Athens, who led the project along with colleague Constantin Papaodysseus.

“I could show you two ‘A’s that look exactly the same, and I can tell you they are form different writers,” Panagopoulos says.

Panagopoulos’ team determined what different cutters meant each letter to look like by overlaying digital scans of the same letter in each individual inscription. They call this average a letter’s “platonic realisation”.

After performing this calculation for six Greek letters selected for their distinctness – Α, Ρ, Μ, Ν, Ο and Σ – across all 24 inscriptions, Panagopoulos’ team compared all the scripts that Tracy provided.

The researchers correctly attributed the inscriptions to six different cutters, who worked between 334 BC and 134 BC – a 100-per-cent success rate. “I was both surprised and encouraged,” Tracy says of their success.

“This is a very difficult problem,” agrees Lambert Schomaker, a researcher at University of Groningen, Netherlands, who has developed computational methods to identify the handwriting of mediaeval monks, which is much easier to link to a writer compared with chisel marks on stone.

I wonder, though, if an apprentice would make letters the same way his mentor did …

The New Scientist piece seems based on a couple of papers, one ‘techie’, one ‘arky’: