The Ancient World in Streaming Media ~ January 15, 2o17

Preface: years and years ago, my first foray into ‘ancient history newsletters’ was a thing called The Ancient World on Television (AWOTV). It was very popular, but unfortunately over time, the stations which purported to be presenting ‘history’ documentaries (e.g. the History Channel) became more interested in ‘reality’ shows and it became increasingly frustrating trying to find material. Over the past while I’ve been toying with the idea of sort of resurrecting the AWOTV, but this time focusing on things like podcasts (note the list of podcasts on the title bar above this) and a variety of things from Youtube (documentaries, lectures, etc.). The initial idea — I’ll see how long this works — is to present links to podcasts which were updated that week (if possible), some ‘blasts from the past’ which might be of interest, and some video content. It’s not meant to be exhaustive, but should give you enough material to occupy your downtime as needed. Ideally this will be posted on a weekly basis (probably on Sundays). So without further ado, my initial foray into this project:



From Youtube:

Time Commanders: The Battle of Zama (BBC):

The Colosseum before the scaffolding came down (Darius Arya):

Lecture: Cycle céramique. Γιώργος Κυριακόπουλος (Ecole Francaise d’Athenes … lecture in Greek):

Lecture: Arredi di lusso da Ercolano. Maria Paola Guidobaldi (British School at Rome … lecture in Italian; not really video)

Lecture: New Discoveries in Ancient Turkey. C. Brian Rose (Penn Museum):

The Iliad Abides …

Nice little opEd  in the Irish Times by Helen Meany on the enduring appeal of the Iliad … here’s the first bit:

Amid the remembrance of the first World War, a poignant detail emerges. Many soldiers went to the Western Front carrying a copy of Homer’s Iliad. One soldier, Patrick Shaw-Stewart, inscribed a poem of his own on the flyleaf, in which he entreats the warrior Achilles to stand with him in battle, as a protector. “Stand in the trench, Achilles/ Flame-capped and shout for me,” it concludes. He was killed at Gallipoli in 1917.

Stand in The Trench, Achilles is the title of a recent book that traces classical references in the poetry of the war, not only by the celebrated war poets, but by men of all backgrounds, who were steeped in knowledge of Greek and Latin authors. Through close readings, the scholar Elizabeth Vandiver shows the extent to which Homeric ideas and images sustained the soldiers. Or more precisely, Homeric ideals.

Idealism endures, but it also mutates. The English writer and historian Adam Nicholson has Homer written on his heart. His new book, The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters, is a form of pilgrimage, “a passionate pursuit” of the origins of the poems: both a journey undertaken by him around the eastern Mediterranean and beyond, and a vivid history of their interpretation. Reading it, there is a sense of entering into a dialogue with all the commentators and translators of the epics who have gone before, and that those layers of interpretation have become almost as important as the Homeric texts themselves.

We are in an immensely rich period of creative re-workings of the Iliad, from this year’s version for the stage by poet Simon Armitage, The Last Days of Troy, to Christopher Logue’s poem sequence, War Music, and Alice Oswald’s Memorial, with what she calls her “reckless dismissal of seven-eighths of the poem,” omitting Achilles and Agamemnon entirely. Madeline Miller’s best-selling novel The Song of Achilles invented a youthful back-story for Achilles’s beloved companion Patroclus, and cast the two men, unambiguously, as lovers.

Oswald and Miller join other women writers such as Margaret Atwood (The Penelopiad) and Christa Wolf (Cassandra) tilting the perspective on the Homeric texts, extracting the voices of minor characters, or presenting the narrative through the lens of the female characters.

The effect of these imaginative shifts is to create a Homeric world that is more palatable to our contemporary tastes. So, if reading the original Iliad makes us uncomfortable, there are multiple alternative versions, as well as new critical takes on the age-old question: does the Iliad glorify war?

American classicist Caroline Alexander in her recent book, The War That Killed Achilles, highlights the ways in which the Iliad emphasises the pain and destructiveness of war, pointing out that both the Greeks (Achaeans, as they are known in the poem) and the besieged Trojans long for the war to end and to return to their families. […]

… the rest: Standing with Homer in the trenches of the Western Front

Mapping the Odyssey

This past weekend the Journal (Ireland) had a feature on an interactive map of Odysseus’ travels which had just been created by Gisele Mounzer  … I can’t get it to actually come up to test out the interactivity (which is probably a function of our school’s security measures), but you might want to check out the article at least:

… and try out the map (here’s the url in case the article disappears):

Such a map would obviously be useful in many Classical contexts …

Soldiers’ Nostoi and the Odyssey

Excellent extended essay by Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian … here’s the incipit:

Last month, the 7th Armoured Brigade, the “Desert Rats”, arrived at Camp Bastion in Helmand: the last major deployment to Afghanistan before the UK pulls out its combat troops at the end of next year. Britain’s wars, for now, are coming to an end. But what does that ending mean for the soldiers coming home? David Finkel, author of Thank You for Your Service, a new account of the travails of the returning warrior, puts it brutally: it means coming “out of one war into another”.

Homer’s Iliad is the first and greatest poetic account of the first type of war. But it is the Odyssey that takes on the second kind: the war of the homecoming.

The Odyssey is a poem that we tend to remember as the hero’s colourful, salt-caked adventures on the high seas: his encounters with witches, nymphs and cyclopes, his journey to the land of the dead, his shrewd and quick-tongued and fast-witted outsmarting of the terrors in his path as he strives for a decade to reach his home after the sack of Troy. He drags his crew bodily away from the island where the inhabitants gorge themselves on the memory-wiping, pleasure-giving lotus; he withstands the ruinous song of the Sirens, who long to lure him to his death, by having himself lashed to the mast by his crew, whose ears he has stopped with wax; he outwits the glamorous enchantress Circe, who turns his men into pigs; he steers his ship between the maneating, many–headed Scylla and the deadly whirlpool Charybdis. He is the original unlikely survivor, the man who always struggles free of the car crash and walks clear of the wreckage as the flames curl out: the latest iteration of the type, which runs through storytelling from archaic Greece to Hollywood, is Sandra Bullock’s character in Alfonso Cuarón’s blockbuster, Gravity.

But, as Aristotle put it in the Poetics, these are “episodes”. The essence of the story is that of a veteran combatant who, after a long absence, must find his way back into a household he finds threatened by outside forces and dangerously altered.

He is at first unrecognisable to his wife (he has come back “a different person” – literally, in that he has disguised himself and assumed a false name, but military spouses will understand the metaphor of the warrior utterly changed by war). The necessary process of recognition and reintegration is accomplished, but only violently, painfully. And so the Odyssey speaks urgently to our times. It did, too, in the post-Vietnam era, when the psychologist Jonathan Shay, who worked with veterans of the conflict, used the epic in his book Odysseus in America as the overarching metaphor for the postcombat warrior’s psychic traumas.

The Odyssey invites us to ask: can soldiers ever, truly, return home? Will they “recognise” their family, and vice versa? Can they survive not just the war itself, but the war’s aftermath? Will they, in some dread way, bring the war home with them? The Odyssey says: you thought it was tough getting through the war. Now, see if you can get through the nostos – the homecoming. […]

… plenty more follows …