Pondering the Wine Dark Sea

The incipit of a review of Guy Deutscher, Through the Language Glass … looks interesting:

This tale begins with a Liberal leader and his innovative exploration of the colour blue. Not Nick Clegg and the Tories, but William Gladstone and his concern about Homer’s use of colour in The Iliad and The Odyssey. Gladstone was the first prominent intellectual to notice something awry with the Greek poet’s sense of colour. Homer never described the sky as blue. In fact, Homer barely used colour terms at all and when he did they were just peculiar. The sea was “wine-looking”. Oxen were also “wine-looking”. And, to Gladstone, the sea and oxen were never of the same colour. His explanation was that the Ancient Greeks had not developed a colour sense, and instead saw the world in terms of black and white with only a dash of red.

Guy Deutscher’s interest in the Homeric eye is less about evolution or optics than it is linguistic. Can we see something for which we have no word? Yes. The Greeks were able to distinguish shades of blue just as vividly as we can now, despite lacking a specific vocabulary for them. Yet, writes Deutscher, even though Gladstone was wrong about the Greeks’ sense of perception, his hunch about the emergence of colour words was “so sharp and far-sighted that much of what he wrote . . . can hardly be bettered today”.

It turned out that it wasn’t just the Ancient Greeks who never said the sky was blue. None of the ancient languages had a proper word for blue. What we now call blue was once subsumed by older words for black or for green. (In fact, this is why in Japan green lights are actually a bluer shade of green than in the rest of the world. The word used for the green of traffic lights is ao, which used to mean “green and blue” but now means blue. Rather than change the word, they changed the colour.)

… I’m trying to recall ‘wine looking’ oxen … I’m also wondering about that phrase “black and white with only a dash of red” … kind of sounds like ‘300’.

*Sir* Fergus Millar

Brand device of the University of Oxford, inco...
Image via Wikipedia

The incipit of  the BBC’s coverage of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list:

A retired Oxford professor of ancient history is to be awarded a Knighthood in the Birthday Honours List for services to Scholarship.

Fergus Millar, 74, was Camden Professor of Ancient History Emeritus, Oxford University until he retired in 2002.

He received the Kenyon Medal for Classics from the British Academy in 2005.

Professor Millar is credited as being among the most influential ancient historians of the 20th Century.

He is an authority in the field of ancient Roman and Greek history.

His accolades include honorary doctorates from Oxford and Helsinki and elected memberships in foreign academies.

Professor Millar said: “I was surprised, it’s late in life but I’m pleased, it’s recognition of the subject that I do.”

Iran’s Salt Men Saved!

Salt man's head, Iran Bastan Museum
Image via Wikipedia

On the periphery of our purview, sort of, semi- …

The ancient Iranian “salt men” have been saved from decomposition.

“The salt men are currently kept in special showcases under controlled conditions at the Zolfaqari Museum,” the Zanjan Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Department (ZCHTHD) director said in a press conference on Wednesday.

“Without hesitation, I can say that the salt men kept here are in better condition than the one at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran,” Amir Elahi stated.

Three showcases, each at a cost of 250,000,000 rials (about $25,000), have been specially designed for the salt men, he explained.

The showcases have been equipped with devices, which enable experts to monitor conditions inside and keep them under full control, Elahi added.

All six salt men, known as Iranian mummies, were discovered at the Chehrabad Salt Mine in the Hamzehlu region near Zanjan over the past 13 years.

In February 2009, a number of Iranian media reported that four of the salt men kept at the Zolfaqari Museum, were in a critical condition due to loose plexiglass cases that had been designed for storing these mummies.

The media explained that the cases were not hermetically sealed and changes in air temperature and pressure had created cracks in them, allowing bacteria and insects to enter and do damage to the mummies.

Studies on the Fourth Salt Man indicate that the body is 2000 years old and that he was 15 or 16 years old at the time of his death.

It is still not clear when the other salt men lived, but archaeologists estimate that the First Salt Man, kept at the National Museum of Iran, lived about 1700 years ago and died sometime between the ages of 35 and 40.

The Sixth Salt Man was left in-situ due to the dearth of equipment in Iran necessary for its preservation.

We’ve mentioned Iran’s salt men before, and Adrienne Mayor’s interesting idea that they may have been the inspiration for satyrs … (the image from Wikipedia there is not one of the salt men from the article, I don’t think).

CONF: APGRD Conference: ‘Choruses: Ancient and Modern’

The Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama (www.apgrd.ox.ac.uk) is delighted to announce the Annual Conference 2010

Choruses: Ancient and Modern (13-14 September 2010)

University of Oxford

For more information and to register for the conference please contact Naomi Setchell, APGRD Archivist/Administrator (naomi.setchell AT classics.ox.ac.uk). The registration fee is £25. Several student bursaries are available.

The standard view of the ancient chorus as an encumbrance in the modern western world, where the individual rather than the collective is prized, needs serious scrutiny. Not only does this overlook much dramatic theory and practice since the eighteenth century, it also ignores the monarchical contexts in which this intrinsically neo-classical view was developed. At the conference an international and interdisciplinary group of speakers (classicists, theatre historians, anthropologists, musicologists, philosophers as well as contemporary practitioners) will examine the various contexts in the modern world in which ancient choruses have been consciously imitated, shunned and on occasions dangerously travestied in the modern world. The conference will therefore consider not only the aesthetics of the chorus but also the ways in which choruses have interacted (ritually, broadly socially and explicitly politically) with audiences in both antiquity and the modern world.

Confirmed speakers include:

Karen Ahlquist (George Washington) ‘Chorus and Community’

Joshua Billings (Oxford) ‘An Alien Body? Choral questions around 1800′

Claudia Bosse (theatre director) will lead a practical workshop

Laurence Dreyfus (Oxford) ‘Sunken in the “Mystical Abyss”: The ‘choral’ orchestra in Wagner’s Music Dramas’

Zachary Dunbar (Central School of Speech and Drama) ‘The Politics of the Musical Chorus Line’

Simon Goldhill (Cambridge) ‘Choral Lyric(s)’

Erika Fischer-Lichte (Freie-Universität, Berlin) ‘From Reinhardt to Riefenstahl’

Albert Henrichs (Harvard) ‘Chorality and Modern Interpretations: Nietzsche, Benjamin and Burkert’

Sheila Murnaghan (UPenn) ‘The choral plot of Greek tragedy’

Martin Revermann (Toronto) ‘Brechtian Choralities’

Ian Rutherford (Reading) ‘Chorus, Song, Anthropology’

Roger Savage (Edinburgh) ‘Purists and Polymorphs: the Operatic Chorus in Rameau and Gluck’