The Independent has a review of Tom Payne, Fame: From the Bronze Age to Britney … here are some excerpts:


The teacher’s first book, Fame: From the Bronze Age to Britney, published next week, is set to do for classics what Harry Mount’s much-lauded Amo, Amas, Amat … and All That achieved for Latin in 2006 – the updating of a fusty subject for a modern audience, by forging links between the ancient, classical world and our modern, celebrity-worshipping culture. The book asks what Big Brother tells us about Athenian democracy (the nomination process can be fixed in both cases, he argues), and ponders that ancient poser, beloved of Herodotus and Heat magazine alike: “Why does anyone want to be famous?”


Working on “his hunches”, Payne spent the summer of 2006 reading his way through history books and a stack of celebrity memoirs, including biographies of Daniella Westbrook and Jade Goody. The author soon began to see links between different celebrities’ stories; particularly, he says, the doomed careers of Michael Barrymore, Paul Gascoigne and Leslie Grantham. “I saw this crime, punishment and regeneration pattern,” he adds.

Payne’s book’s title is taken from its first chapter; and it is here where the basest human tendency to criticise and revel in the misfortune of celebrities – particularly in the case of Spears – is explored. Her famous hair-cutting incident, lit by the flashbulbs of the world’s media, is comparable, claims the author, to the tales of human sacrifice as told in Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, in which hair is cut from the victim’s head, symbolising their path to self-destruction.

And the celebrity comparisons continue…. Can we think of anyone who has recently had sex with a celebrity, potentially in order to further their own career (clue: their one-time conquest rhymes with “Rude Bore”)? “There is always a steady spate of these social climbing situations in the British tabloids, and the best equivalent I can think of is in Ovid’s Art of Love,” says Payne. “He discusses how people often try to have sex with people higher up the celebrity ladder than them, or pretend to have done so, to make themselves better than they are.”

He gives another example: “Michael Jackson famously had problems with a lady who claimed to have had his child. It is amazing how ordinary people believe that they get value from sleeping with someone who might be just a little bit more famous than them; it’s almost like a badge of honour to claim you’ve had sex with Wayne Rooney.”

Such thoughts also emerged in Greek myth when Dionysus became angered, after his aunt Agave claimed that his mother Semele had never slept with Zeus. “She taunted her sister by saying Zeus never shagged her,” concludes the author. Gah – it could almost be Chinawhite on a Friday night.

… I think I definitely need to put this one on my “to read” pile; I wonder if it’s being published on this side of the pond?

See also Mary Beard’s review in the Guardian:

… and Christopher Hart in the Times:

CFP: Genre in the Ancient World

Seen on the Classicists list:

Abstract submissions are invited for consideration by the convenors of a
conference titled "Genre in the Ancient World", hosted by the
Department of Classics and Ancient History, at the University of Sydney,

The conference welcomes papers on any topic relating to genre in the
Ancient World. Additionally, there will be panel sessions on particular
topics of interest to genre. Professor John Frow of University of

Melbourne will be keynote speaker.

Abstract Submissions: Please submit an abstract of not more than 200
words and a very brief biography to the convenors by Monday, 30th
November 2009. Email to: genre2010 AT gmail.com.

Presentations: Papers of 30 min. duration followed by 15 min. discussion
time at the conclusion of each session.

Conference Sessions: Thursday 8th to Friday 9th April 2010.
A reception will be held on 8th and conference dinner on 9th.

If you do not wish to present a paper but still want to attend, please
let us know by reply email. Registration forms will be sent through

For further information, please contact:

Frances Muecke and Michelle Borg,
Department of Classics and Ancient History
Email: genre2010 AT gmail.com

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem iii nonas sextiles

ante diem iii nonas sextiles

supplicia canum — a ritual which was the ‘fallout’ from the story of the geese saving Rome from the Gauls; as punishment to the ‘watchdogs’ who didn’t bark, every year the Romans would crucify a dog

8 A.D. — victory of the future emperor Tiberius at Illyricum

178 A.D. — the emperor Marcus Aurelius and Commodus depart on their second campaign against the Germans

1761 — death of Johann Matthias Gesner