Sri Lankan National Hero … and Classicist!

Coat of arms of Sri Lanka.
Image via Wikipedia

I love when my spiders bring back things which are completely unexpected, in this case, the text of a speech given last year to mark the 120th anniversary of the birth of Marhoom Al Haj Dr Tuan Branudeen Jayah, whom I confess to have never heard of before, but is clearly a national hero in Sri Lanka. The bit of the oration which is of interest to us:


But, before getting to all that, let us first welcome the 20th century, which dawned when young Branudeen was only 10 years old, and well versed in the Holy Quran, Masha Allah, and very little more.

His first school was the Anglo Vernacular School Kurunegala which he attended only for a few months, as fortunately his father was transferred to Colombo. He was admitted in 1901 to SPG School, Kotahena, which I believe was the name given to St. Paul’s College in Kotahena. He was then eleven years old, and he entered what was called ‘the baby class’ which preceded the lower kindergarten and upper kindergarten after which came the first standard.
Multiple promotions

A boy too old for his class becomes a target for the mischievous. He was fortunate in having understanding school authorities who realized his predicament.

They were impressed by his intelligence. At the end of the year his father was gratified to learn that he had been given multiple promotions to enter the third standard in 1902. This was not the end of his triple jumping, as the very next year, due to his sheer brilliance, he was given a treble promotion from third standard to sixth standard, the equivalent of Year Seven. In 1903, he won a scholarship to enter St Thomas’ College, where Jayah passed the Cambridge Junior Examination in 1906 winning the J A C Mendis Junior Mathematical Prize, a highly commendable performance indeed.

He soon became one of the most brilliant classics pupils of Warden Stone, himself a first-rate classicist who, in his pre-Ceylon period of school-mastering at Bristol Grammar School, had produced a very scholarly edition of Sallust’s Catiline, and under Warden Stone’s watchful eyes, in 1907 he passed the Cambridge Senior Examination winning the Dr Ebell’s Latin prize, showing the shift of his studies towards specialization in the Classics, which was crowned with the annexation of the Christoffer Obeysekera’s first Classical prize. It was a remarkable record for a boy who began his formal studies in the Infants’ class in 1901 to pass the London Matriculation in 1908, completing a course of studies spanning eleven years of the general education course, with distinction in just seven years – a performance that rightly belongs to the realms of the near impossible all through grit, industry and brains.

Intellectual giant

Unfortunately, mere grit, industry and brains are not enough for someone to graduate. He needs money or educational support, which young Jayah did not have. He was compelled by circumstances to seek employment before completing his education and joined Dharmaraja College, Kandy, as an Assistant Teacher in 1910. In the same year, however, he was able to assume duties as Classics master at Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa. It was while he was serving at Prince of Wales College that he passed the Intermediate Examination in Arts of the University of London in 1913 reading English, Greek, Latin, History and curiously enough, Mathematics.

This combination proved what an intellectual giant Jayah was turning out to be, as much as the combination with which he obtained his degree of Bachelor of Arts from the University of London in 1917, which included Latin, Greek, History and Economics, demonstrating his extraordinary versatility of mind, and infinite capacity for acquisition of knowledge of all disciplines.

Branudeen’s specialization in the Classics brought its own reward. In May 1917, he was accepted as a teacher at Ananda College, the heart and core of the Sinhala Buddhist revival in Ceylon. He was chosen for his extensive knowledge of the Classics in the teaching of which he had few rivals. In due course he achieved fame as a Classics Scholar and teacher equalled by few, surpassed by none.

At Ananda he taught Greek, Latin and History in the Upper School. Although these were his specific subjects, he led his pupils effortlessly into other fields of knowledge in which he was equally at home.

This demonstrates the universality of his outlook and the role he cast for himself as a teacher to help in the development of the mind, not fill it with pre-conceived notions, as while being by nature very conservative in political ideology, he produced fiery radical leaders like Philip Gunawardena, father of the left revolution, and Dr N M Perera, who was called the ‘golden brain’.

Both attained Cabinet rank and notwithstanding ideological differences they never failed to express their high regard for Jayah as a teacher.

It was this erudite scholar of classics and wonderful teacher who was doing so well at Ananda, who was invited in 1921 by N M Abdul Cader, on behalf of the Maradana Mosque Committee, to accept the principalship of Zahira College, Colombo. Marhoom Tuan Branudeen Jayah, had by then realized that despite the great debt the Muslim Community owed to its ulemas, the Alims and Moulvis who defended Islam from inroads from the West by moulding the youthful minds of the community, it was necessary to strengthen general educational standards of the community.

Read the whole thing to get a more rounded picture of this very interesting man. An item from last year in the same newspaper provides some more details. I haven’t been able to track down his ‘scholarly edition’ of Sallust’s Catiline …


Mulling Menander and Mosaics

The University of Cincinnati is doing a nice job hyping its AIA/APA powow participants … in addition to the item from yesterday (scroll down a bit), we have a nice feature on Kathryn Gutzwiller’s work with mosaics which appear to depict hitherto unnoticed scenes from Menander. Here’s PhysOrg‘s version:

At the Jan. 6-9 meeting of the American Philological Association, Classics Professor Kathryn Gutzwiller will present her research on recently discovered mosaics depicting lost scenes from four Greek plays popular in Roman antiquity . Her presentation, “New Menander Mosaics and the Papyri,” will introduce previously unknown scenes by Menander, an Athenian comic poet from fourth century BC whose popularity in the Roman empire was only exceeded by Homer.

“Menander, although extremely famous in antiquity, is not so well known in the modern world. I would characterize him as the inventor or most popular writer of the romantic comedy,” Gutzwiller says. “The unfortunate thing about him though is that over the centuries, his manuscripts were completely lost. However, throughout the 20th century, a number of Menander’s plays were recovered from papyri in Egypt.”

Papyri—thick paper-like materials on which texts were written —are just one medium for preserving information about ancient times. Paintings, mosaics, and small-scale replicas also help reconstruct the plots of Menander’s plays .

When Ömer Çelik, a staff archaeologist at the Hatay Archaeological Museum in Antakya, Turkey, discovered four mosaics during an expedition, he asked friend and University of Cincinnati geography graduate student Ezgi Akpinar-Ferrand to help identify their subjects. She immediately contacted the Department of Classics, knowing Gutzwiller’s background in ancient literature.

“The new material gives us significant information,” Gutzwiller says. “Of the four scenes depicted, three of them are from plays that are more or less completely lost. One is from a play that has been substantially recovered, but not the scene represented in the mosaic.”

Mosaics provide missing pieces to popular ancient plays

A mosaic found in modern day Turkey represents Menander’s poem ‘Perikeiromene’ (‘Girl Whose Hair is Shorn’).
The mosaics, which were found in ancient Antioch and date to the third century AD, represent scenes in “Women at Lunch,” “Girl Whose Hair is Shorn,” “Sisters Who Love Brothers” and “Possessed Girl.”

“The importance of these mosaics is two-fold. One, they help us to reconstruct each of the four plays. Two, they illuminate significantly the tradition of illustrating Menander and reveal variations in the illustrations of the plays.”

Akpinar-Ferrand adds, “The findings are further valuable to gather more information about mosaics done in and around the city of Antioch during the Roman period.”

Gutzwiller will be one of four invited speakers featured at the APA presidential panel. Steven Ellis and Kathleen Lynch, also with UC’s classics department, will present their research at the conjoined meeting of the American Institute of Archaeology as well.

The University of Cincinnati’s original press release has a couple of nice photos that appear to be showing up in most of the news items as well.




Road Along Hadrian’s Wall?

Interesting idea from the Hexham Courant:

A CONTROVERSIAL archaeologist has turned received wisdom on its head to explain the purpose of the 112km vallum running the length of Hadrian’s Wall.

The trench – 6m wide and up to 3m deep – is unique in Roman construction and has long been the source of debate.

Located a few metres to the south of Hadrian’s finest achievement, the majority verdict is that it was a barrier providing additional protection for the Wall itself.

Another suggestion is that it helped contain livestock, delineating grazing land at the foot of the wall for the herds kept by the Roman forts.

However, Tynedale-based structural archaeologist Geoff Carter, the man who previously floated the theory the Roman Wall was first constructed in timber, believes differently.

It is, in fact, the construction trench for a road that was abandoned when the scale of the project became unwieldy, he claims.

“The vallum is unique, always a problem to archaeology, where insights so often come from comparing things,” he said.

“However, there is a simple and less ambiguous explanation for the creation of the vallum; it is a construction trench for a road that was never completed.

“The quality of a road, or other civil engineering project, was a reflection of the person who initiated and sponsored it.

“A Roman politician’s prestige and standing was, in part, a reflection of the nature and quality of the engineering ‘good works’ that bore his name.

“In this context, a plan to construct a high quality properly bedded, road along Hadrian’s new frontier is not surprising.”

When it was constructed, the vallum ran in an unbroken line the length of the Wall, so it would have provided a link between each of the forts along the way.

It had often been observed that its construction mirrored that of a Roman road, in that it had long straight stretches linked by gentle bends, and it avoided soft ground and steep gradients.

In the central section, where the Wall ran along the crags of the Whin Sill, the vallum stayed down in the valley.

And the only places where it was interrupted was where the causeways would have been that led into the forts and some of the milecastles.

“Most authors have sought to explain the vallum as a physical boundary that defines some form of military zone, restricting access to or from the Wall,” said Geoff.

“Like the Wall itself, the vallum would have represented a formidable obstacle to north-south movement.

“But the ambiguity of this explanation arises from the observation that a simple bank and ditch could have served this function more efficiently, and might be considered standard practice in the circumstances.”

He was sure the trench had been dug to house a road bed for a central carriageway, and the two parallel lines of spoil heaps – still in evidence today – set back on either side to allow room for the lanes used by riders and pedestrians.

However, the project to build a road linking the forts between the bridgehead at Newcastle and the west coast still had a long way to go.

A huge workforce would have had to be brought in for the more highly skilled construction phase, and around three million tons of aggregate and a mortared stone capping were required to do the job.

Geoff said: “If we accept the vallum was a military road, abandoned during construction, then it adds further weight to the arguments that the building of Hadrian’s Wall was interrupted, and then scaled down when work was resumed.

“The form, layout and route of the vallum all indicate that this earthwork was a road, albeit an unfinished one. This is the only rational engineering explanation.”

The vallum — a.k.a. Agricola’s Ditch — and its purpose are actually the subject of a separate Wikipedia entry which does hint at the controversy about its purpose. This theory is somewhat attractive, but the 3m deep aspect of it seems rather ‘deep’ for road construction, no? See, e.g., the useful info at the Birmingham Roman Roads Project … the  ‘shape’ seems okay, but the depths are a bit extreme … Then again, a map at the same site speculates that a road ran along the wall (and the ‘other’ wall too). I wonder if there’s a handy list of archaeological finds from along/within the vallum …

UPDATE (the next day): It turns out the archaeologist (Geoff Carter) has a blog of his own (very interesting, by the way) and has blogged about this idea in much more detail: Reverse Engineering the Vallum


Remains of a Roman Fort in the Crimea?

From a Polish source:

Roman legionary quarters have been discovered on the Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea by Polish archeologists.

A team of Polish archeologists supervised by Radoslaw Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski

from the Archeology Institute at the University of Warsaw have discovered a house of a Roman legionary consisting of several spacious rooms in Balaklava in the Crimea.

“The discovery suggests that there must have been a Roman fort here. We aren’t sure yet how big it was and where the borders were but we hope to find an answer to these questions,” says Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski.

The archeologists established that in 1 A.D. a settlement on the Crimean peninsula, which was later to become Balaklava, was burnt. In 2 A.D. it was conquered by the Romans who built the fort including legionary quarters.

“The building that we discovered was several times remodeled: old walls were pulled down and new were erected, floors and roofs were repaired. In 3 A.D. the house was destroyed by fire and much later, probably between 15th and 16th centuries a Tatar settlement replaced the Roman fort,” says the archeologist.

Balaklava was the ancient Greek settlement of Symbolon …  alas,I don’t have the time to wade through Russian dating sites to give you much more than that …

This Day in Ancient History: nonae januariae

A lar (household god) from the Muri statuette ...
Image via Wikipedia

nonae januariae

  • ludi compitales — day three of a moveable festival which might occur anytime between Saturnalia and January 5. It was largely a rural occasion involving woollen dolls being made to represent each free member of the household (simple woollen balls would be used to represent slaves) being hung up on the eve of the festival, presumably as offerings to the Lares. There would also follow more formal sacrifices at the compita (places where two farm paths crossed).
  • 1906 — birth of Kathleen Kenyon (excavatrix of Jericho)
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