‘Classical’ Gore Vidal

As we note the obituaries piling up for the acclaimed author, it seems appropriate to note an item in the Guardian which touches upon Vidal’s life in Rome and are within our purview … I was unaware of Vidal’s connection with Ben Hur:

Gore Vidal’s memoir Palimpsest was written mostly in Ravello around 1994. It hasn’t much to say about about Gore’s life in Rome, where he and Howard Austen had moved into a penthouse apartment 30 years earlier, except for the observation: “I had never had a proper human-scale village life anywhere on earth until I settled into that old Roman street.” Rather than the dolce vita crowd, Gore liked to mix with the “villagers”. Among the Italians he enjoyed meeting was Italo Calvino, whom he admired greatly.

When Kenneth Tynan came to Rome, Gore enlisted me to help him and Howard prepare a guest list for a party in his honour. Among the many Italian celebrities who showed up was Federico Fellini, whom Gore had met when they were both working at Cinecittà studios – Gore on Ben-Hur and Fellini (whom Gore called “Fred”) on La Dolce Vita.

Ben-Hur was one of several movie mishaps for Gore in Hollywood-on-the-Tiber. His attempt to hint in the script at a previous gay attachment between Ben (Charlton Heston) and Messala (Stephen Boyd) did not convince the director, William Wyler, or Heston. Years later, after Vidal recounted the story for the gay documentary The Celluloid Closet (1995), Heston wrote an indignant letter saying that Gore’s revision of the script had been rejected by them all. Even so, much of Gore’s uncredited interpretation seeps through into the film.

A more disastrous Roman film adventure for Gore came when Bob Guccione of Penthouse magazine commissioned him to write what was to be called Gore Vidal’s Caligula. Director Tinto Brass turned it into something of a porn movie, and after it had been re-edited it became more “Bob Guccione’s Caligula”, as Vidal and Brass were both unhappy with the outcome.

In 1971, Gore had the satisfaction of contributing to Fellini’s Roma. In the final sequence, dining at a table in a noisy street trattoria with Roman friends, including myself, Gore invited us to toast with him: “What better place than Rome in which to await the end of the world!” Later that year, he flew back from New York to Rome, at his own expense, to personally post-synch his line.

If you want to see Vidal’s cameo in Roma, ecce (starts around the 3.50 mark):

Remains of a Roman Road in Colchester

From the Daily Gazette:

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have unearthed a Roman road beneath a former Colchester pub.

A dig at the site of the Stockwell Arms, in West Stockwell Street, has revealed an unexpected glimpse into our history.

The discovery could mean historians have to revise their drawings of Colchester circa 40AD, after the road was found three metres away from where they thought it would be. The road would have run from north to south, through the ancient settlement of Camulodunum.

It was discovered by the Colchester Archaeological Trust ’s Adam Wightman as he excavated the ground behind the Grade II-listed building ahead of its refurbishment and relaunch as a restaurant and real ale house, called the Stockwell.

Mr Wightman said: “We knew the road would be here, but it has a slightly different alignment than expected.

“The original drawings would have been made after certain discoveries. There could be a number of reasons they were slightly out.

“Now they will have to be altered. The wall is definitely Roman and probably from the later period, but we can’t be more specific.”

The dig has also turned up pottery, plates and a pin believed to be from a piece of Roman jewellery. The artefacts will be placed inside the building when it opens in October.

Philip Crummy, archaeological trust director, said: “It sounds geeky and doesn’t look much, but this is a fundamental piece of archaeology.

“We can trace these roads back to the walls, where there could have been a gate to the town.” Owner Robert Morgan is spending £1million to bring the historic pub back to life. Work started in 2010.

He wants to preserve as much of the historical elements in the building as he can. The archaeological dig is taking place while work continues on an extension at the back of the pub. Mr Morgan said: “It is exciting they have been able to find it.”


Outside of the well-known Circus find from Colchester, there have been quite a few interesting Roman discoveries over the past few years (a selection; I’m sure I’ve missed some):

More from Silchester ~ I’m Confused

I think I’m missing something … the Guardian has another piece on recent finds at Silchester, and besides the hyped olive pit from a couple weeks ago, there is at least one other interesting find, plus a lingering problem for me … here’s an excerpt from this week’s coverage:


They feared gods who demanded sacrifices as startling as anything in a gothic novel. Ravens have been found buried across the site, as well as dozens of dog burials, not just slung into a well or cesspit but carefully buried, often with other objects, one with the body of an infant, one standing up as if on guard for 2,000 years. Another tiny skeleton, no bigger than a celebrity’s handbag dog, was one of a handful ever found in Europe from such an early date: the evidence suggests it lived for up to three years, and was then laid curled as if asleep into the foundations of a house. Only last Friday the skeleton of a cat turned up, carefully packed into a clay jar.

“We are only just beginning to get a handle on all this, as our excavation is really the first ever major modern exposure of a late Iron Age town in Britain, and we still have a long way to go,” says Fulford, who has been digging at Silchester since he was a junior lecturer in the 1970s, and expects the work to continue long after his day.

Fulford spends the winters brooding on each summer’s finds, and has reached the conclusion, startling even to him, that the town was at its height of population and wealth before the Romans arrived.

He believes it was founded around 50BC by Commius, an Atrobates leader once a trusted ally of Julius Caesar, who then joined an unsuccessful rebellion against him and had to leave Gaul sharpish. Whether Commius headed for an existing Atrobates settlement at Silchester, or started to build on a greenfield site, a defensible hill with excellent views, near the navigable Kennet and Thames, is, Fulford suggests, “a million-dollar question – why here?” They have found nothing earlier than 50BC – yet.

Commius’s town flourished, trading across Britain, Ireland and both Roman and Iron Age tribal Europe. The Callevans paid for their luxuries with exports of metalwork, wheat – the site is still surrounded by prime farm land, and there is evidence of grain-drying on an industrial scale – hunting dogs, and, almost certainly, slaves: British slaves and dogs were equally prized in continental Europe. They have also found evidence in little flayed bones for a more exotic craft industry, puppy-fur cloaks.

Commius was succeeded by three quarrelsome sons – significantly dubbing themselves on coins as “rex” or king – who successively deposed one another. The third, Verica, was toppled by local tribes and made a move that would change the course of British history: he fled to Rome and asked for help – and in AD43 the Romans came.

This summer the diggers are right down at the earliest Roman level, which suggests light, short-lived, possibly military buildings, in contrast with substantial pre-invasion structures including one massive rectangular house that may prove to be the largest Iron Age house in Britain. This week they are clearing a cesspit so neatly dug it must be military, so may soon know whether the Romans ate British wheat or Roman fish sauce.

The original article has a tiny photo of the folding knife, which is very interesting and which I hope will be given ‘bigger photo treatment’ somewhere so we can get a better look at it. That said, I think I must have missed something in translation of this story across the pond — twice. We are told of Julius Caesar’s relationship with Commius and know that Commius was there for Caesar’s invasions (both the 55 B.C. one and the ‘real’ one in 54 B.C.) of Britain. But we are continuously being given the impression that nothing before Claudius’ invasion before 43 B.C. ‘counts’. Am I missing something? (I genuinely don’t understand this … it’s almost as if this dig is trying to promote the idea that ‘we were cosmopolitan before the Romans came’, which is likely true, but why write the Romans out of the picture? It’s not as if Commius was originally from the blessed isle …).

By the way, if you’re wondering about the puppy reference: Pre Roman Silchester; and just so y’all know I’m not picking on the Guardian, I griped about the BBC’s coverage of this dig last year as well: Pre-Roman Silchester Town Planning? NOT NEWS!. Clearly they find interesting things every year, but what is being stressed almost comes across as the British equivalent of the ‘flower children’ Minoans which once was popular …

This Day in Ancient History: kalendas augustae

kalendas augustae

¶   rites at the two temples to Victoria on the Palatine

¶  between 264 and 241 — dedication of the Temple of Spes (Hope) in the Forum Holitorium (and associated rites thereafter)

¶  30 B.C. — Octavian captures the city of Alexandria; suicide of Marcus Antonius (source?)

¶  12 B.C. — dedication of the ara Romae et Augusti at Lyons

¶  10 B.C. — birth of the future emperor Claudius

¶  2 B.C. — dedication of the Temple of Mars in the Forum of
Augustus (and associated rituals thereafter)

¶  52 A.D. — dedication of the Aqua Claudia and the Anio Novus

¶  126 A.D. — birth of the future emperor Pertinax

¶  1457 — death of Lorenzo Valla

¶  1840 — death of Karl Otfried Muller