Zombie Romans!

Cute item from the Indiana Statesman … I suspect the date is a bit off:

Where only toga-wearing colleagues used to walk into her office, Marilyn Bisch, a professor of Latin, was shocked when three figures floated into her office.

These men happen to be none other than Caesar, Cicero, and Catullus: three of the most famous figures from republican Rome.

“I’ve been staying up late a lot this semester reading about ‘the Big Three’ for my ‘Fall of the Roman Republic’ honors class, and at first I thought I must be dreaming,” Bisch said. “But then I realized that in my dreams my office is always much bigger… A look at my cluttered desk and the fact that the ghosts all began looking for copies of their own works on my bookshelves by [literally] going through them convinced me that I was, in fact, awake and in the presence of the ghosts of some of the greatest men who ever lived.”

Each ghost was famous for different reasons: Caesar for single-handedly planting the foundation of the Roman Empire before his assassination; Cicero for his mastery of rhetoric and philosophy; and Catullus for his love, erotic and hate-filled poetry.

Bisch said meeting these three ghosts has given her a chance to improve her speaking skills with Latin, a language classified as dead by many linguists.

According to Wikipedia, a dead language is one that is not spoken by native speakers as a first, primary language.

“I was especially interested to know if ancient Romans really pronounced their ‘v’ like we do ‘w’ and ‘c’ like ‘k,'” Bisch said. “Caesar advised me to check with my colleagues in Linguistics about ‘v,’ then added that it was Cicero who invented the whole ‘c’ should be pronounced as ‘k’ thing. According to Caesar, Cicero thought people calling him ‘Sisero’ made him ‘sound like a weeny.’ (Caesar’s words, not mine). This caused a bit of a row, ended only by Catullus’ stepping in. If they had been corporeal my office would be a bigger mess than it already is.”

“I think I’ll stick to saying ‘Kikero’ just in case his ghost decides to come back,” she added.

Bisch also said she used the ghosts as an opportunity for her conversational Latin class since no native speakers of Latin exist.

She said the students were most surprised asking the ghosts’ names. The response was, in Latin, “‘Mihi nomen est Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Tullius Cicero, or Catullus.'”

“Catullus told me he prefers to be called by one name like our modern rock stars. He’s a big Usher fan,” Bisch said. “Once students realized they were talking to dead Romans they had a great time, and we parsed some serious Latin. It was awesome.”

Ayrielle Davis, a senior Latin teaching major, said she was amazed at being able to interact with the ghosts, saying that, in particular, “Caesar was an interesting man.”

She said they had conversations about what he would do if he could run for president.

However, Davis told Caesar he probably wouldn’t make it because he would get assassinated again.

Bisch said, despite the fear that the ghosts might attempt to possess her, they did not. But the ghosts left an impression on her.

“I now have an incredible urge to conquer the world, save the republic and write poetry about great passions and lost loves,” she said. “I think this will be helpful to my students, but they should know I am now a bit of an ancient Roman zombie, and they are well advised to keep a close watch on their brains.” 😉

In case you’re wondering, there is a Marilyn Bisch who does Latin at Indiana State … maybe the date isn’t so far off after all …


Speaking of Veneralia …

From an Atlanta publication:

Art patrons, friends and educators are invited to celebrate the unique Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in DeKalb County Saturday at an elegant Veneralia evening of cocktails in the main museum gallery followed by dinner and dancing in a tent on the historic Emory quadrangle. The name “Veneralia” is taken from the ancient Roman springtime festival of Venus. [etc.]

Oldest Writing In Europe – From Iklaina

While most of press seems to be still flopping around on the bottom of the boat trying to extract the hook they fell for in relation to those lead codices, they have — for the most part — ignored a rather more exciting (and real) discovery that was made by the University of Missouri – St. Louis dig at Iklaina last summer. Our twitter friend the vergilophile — who took part in the dig — has been bursting to tell folks about this for ages and finally got to the other day. The coverage from UMSL  itself seems to have the most detail:

A clay tablet discovered in a University of Missouri–St. Louis excavation in Greece changes what is known about the origins of literacy and bureaucracy

Measured at 2 inches by 3 inches, the tablet fragment is thought to be the earliest known written record in Europe – dating back to between 1450 and 1350 B.C. – 100 to 150 years before the tablets from the Petsas House at Mycenae.

“I was in disbelief,” said Michael Cosmopoulos, the Hellenic Government Karakas Family Endowed Professor of Greek Studies at UMSL and director of the Iklaina Archaeological Project, which he has directed for 11 years. “According to what we knew, that tablet should not have been there.”

The rare find was unearthed last summer during the UMSL excavation at the site in Iklaina, which sits in the middle of an olive grove in southwest Greece. It is being published this April in the upcoming issue of “Proceedings of the Athens Archaeological Society” and presented in a formal lecture by Cosmopoulos in the Missouri History Museum on April 12.

Iklaina dates to the Mycenaean period (ca. 1500-1100 B.C.), an era famous for such mythical sagas as the Trojan War. It was one of the capital cities of famed King Nestor, who figures prominently in Homer’s “Iliad.”

“This is a rare case where archaeology meets ancient texts and Greek myths,” Cosmopoulos said.

The Mycenaeans used clay tablets in their palaces to record state property and transactions. These tablets are written in the Linear B system of writing, which is older than the alphabet. It consists of around 87 syllabic signs. These signifying signs stand for objects or commodities and the tablets are mostly lists of property and accounting records. Archaeologists are still studying the Iklaina tablet, but preliminary analysis suggests it may refer to some sort of manufacturing process.

“On the front there is a verb that relates to some sort of manufacturing,” Cosmopoulos said. “On the backside, there is a list of men’s names alongside numbers.”

Tablets like this one were not meant to be kept more than a year and as a result were never sent to a kiln, he said. They are preserved only if accidentally burned, which is the case of the Iklaina tablet.

“This discovery is the biggest surprise in years of excavation. It was found in a burned refuse dump dated to between 1450 and 1350 B.C.,” Cosmopoulos said. “The tablet is only the latest in a series of discoveries at Iklaina. In the last two years, the excavation has brought to light evidence for the existence of an early Mycenaean palace: elaborate architecture, massive ‘Cyclopean’ terrace walls, colorful murals and a drainage system far ahead of its time.”

These pieces are indicative of a major center, potentially an early Mycenaean state capital. Cosmopoulos is cautious, however, and said that it is too soon to tell whether Iklaina was one or not. Currently, there is only a handful of known major state capitals, such as Pylos and Mycenae.

“Iklaina could potentially challenge what we know about the origins of states in ancient Greece,” Cosmopoulos said. “Not only does it push the origins of those states back in time by at least a century and a half, but the tablet shows that literacy and bureaucracy appeared earlier and were more widespread than what we had thought until now. We still have a lot to learn about the ancient world.”

Each summer Cosmopoulos returns to the dig site with a team of about 40-60 students from UMSL and other universities and 25-30 staff and specialists. The land of the excavation was purchased on behalf of the Greek government, and by law all the finds remain in the local museum as property of the Greek state.

The dig is funded with grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Geographic Society, the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, Harvard University, the Pylos Archaeology Foundation, and the Center for International Studies at UMSL.

The only other ‘real’ press coverage of this story so far seems to be:

… I could have sworn Discovery News covered this as well, but I can’t seem to find it. Either the University source or the National Geographic piece can be consulted for a photo of the item. Whatever the case, the contrast between the believability of this discovery — despite the mythical connections to Nestor —  and that of certain other items which are garnering far more press attention, is remarkable.

UPDATE (the next day) : the vergilophile points us to the 2010 annual report of the dig, which includes (obviously) more info. Of particular importance is to note that the photo of the fragment that is currently in the newspapers is just one side of the thing; there’s more on the other side and it will be given full publication later by Cynthia Shelmerdine. The other thing which caught my eye in the annual report were some fresco fragments, including one of a ship of some sort. The Iklaina dig, of course, has a very nice website which is worth poking around.

Lead Codices Followup

More and more folks are commenting on these purportedly ‘discovered’ lead codices which have all sorts of theological implications. In addition to the coverage and the comments in our initial post on the subject, folks might be interested in checking out some more commentary from assorted Bibliobloggers. What is increasingly interesting (to me, at least) is how scholars of various levels are all focussing on the same points of contention. See, e.g.:

… to name but three. Tip o’ the pileus as well to Jim West, who pointed us to Tom Verenna’s ’round up’ post which includes some comments by yours truly and some very useful links to other blogs and photos (which, to me, show that the ‘codices’ are actually cast lead, as opposed to incised … casting would, in my opinion, be a method to hide tool marks which might be used to, er, cast aspersions on the veracity of the claims). Even better, however, Tom Verenna updated his post this a.m. with a link to Daniel McLellan’s blog which has a very important post on this:

… which includes a couple of photos and gives a currently-in-a-museum-source for at least one of the ‘incantations’ (for want of a better word).

I think we can pretty much stick a fork in this one …



Antigone Banned!

Interesting that an adaptation of a 2500 year-old Greek drama could still resonate so powerfully that some folks would ban its presentation (tip o’ the pileus to whoever maintains the CAC’s Facebook page):

An aboriginal adaptation of the Greek tragedy Antigone will be staged Thursday on the Poundmaker Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan, its author insists —even though the production has been banned by the reserve’s council.

The original version was written by Sophocles in 5th century B.C. The title character is a woman who wishes to give her brother a proper burial in defiance of authorities.

The disputed production was written in 1998 by Deanne Kasokeo and is set on a contemporary First Nations reserve led by a corrupt chief.

Kasokeo said it is this character that has led to her play being banned.

“The show will go on no matter what,” she said Wednesday. “I guess the chief feels the play was written about him.

“We got word last night that the chief and two of the councillors passed a motion to ban Antigone.”

The play is scheduled for 7 p.m. on the reserve about 200 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

It is the last show of the current run, which has included a performance on the Sakimay First Nation. It was originally staged at Regina’s Globe Theatre in 1998.

Kasokeo was particularly excited about Thursday’s performance, as both she and director Floyd Favel are from Poundmaker.

Chief Dwayne Antoine and two other Poundmaker council members voted to have the play banned at a closed meeting Tuesday, according to Kasokeo.

Kasokeo denies that the play has anything to do with Antoine or any other real person. “It has nothing to do with politics,” said Kasokeo. “The chiefs and our councillors feel it’s about them. That’s there problem. It’s not our problem.”

They first heard that the band council was concerned about the play about a week ago.

“We sent a letter as well as a script to show the play wasn’t about him,” Kasokeo said. They were not successful, and were informed that the chief would not let them into the hall the night of the performance.

According to Favel, they have contacted the RCMP and been told the council does not have the right to bar them from a community hall. He said they will use a police escort if necessary to gain entry.

Both Favel and Kasokeo stressed that they will not get involved in any physical altercations.

According to Kasokeo, being censored came as a big surprise. The entire company was very disappointed.

“We just think it’s tragic that our freedom of speech is being violated,” she said.

Calls by the Saskatoon StarPhoenix to the Poundmaker band office were not returned.