Happy 2000th Vespasian

Rome is marking Vespasian’s 2000th birthday with a special exhibition and there’s a pile of news coverage too, of course … I like the conclusion to the Independent’s piece:

To mark Vespasian’s big day, Rome is breathing new life into the ancient city he did so much to change. Busts, bas-reliefs, weapons, coins and paintings are among the 110 archaeological treasures that will be exhibited from today until next January in the Colosseum, the Curia in the centre of the Forum and the Criptoportico, a building on the Palatine Hill that has never before been open to the public. There will also be a new guided route through the Forum, with explanatory panels shedding light on the buildings for which the emperor was responsible.

Filippo Coarelli, the curator of the extravaganza, commented: “The element of chance in Vespasian’s success cannot hide the profound manner in which that success resonates with the whole history of Rome: the mobility which was intrinsic to that society, which allowed it to access the energy of emerging classes.”

Despite these achievements, and despite the Colosseum, which was still under construction when Vespasian died in 79, it was his determination to tax Romans to the hilt for which they most remembered him, the image of the stingy, money-grubbing son of a tax-collector that stuck.

During his elaborate funeral, the procession was led by a popular clown called Favor who mimicked the dead emperor. “How much did this funeral cost?” he demanded of the organisers at one point, according to Suetonius. “A hundred thousand sestertii,” came the reply. To which the Emperor’s caricature retorted: “Give me a hundred and chuck my body in the Tiber!”

from the LA Times
from the LA Times

ANSA gives some more details about the exhibition itself:

The exhibition aims to explain some of the extraordinary architectural innovations introduced under Vespasian. There are also a host of recent archaeological finds, architectural artefacts and busts of the Flavian emperors. Although centred in the Colosseum itself, the exhibition will extend to two other locations. The first of these is the Curia building where the Senate met, which has been reopened to the public for this occasion. The second is the Cryptoporticus of Nero on the Palatine Hill.

En route, visitors are guided to a series of Flavian monuments, including the Arch of Titus, the Flavian Palace, the Temple of Vespasian and the Temple of Peace. The Flavian exhibition runs until January 10, 2010.

Startling Starlings

A while back on the Classics list in a context I can’t recall, I mentioned that the populations of starlings and turkey vultures seemed to be on the increase in the area I live in (Southern Ontario). As it turns out, the starlings are actually declining, according to a piece in the Star, which also drops this little tidbit:

But a range of research and experience suggests the birds’ positive contributions deserve a hearing. Among other things, starlings are legendary songsters. Since the time of the ancient Romans, starlings have been kept as pets, often for their extraordinary singing capabilities. Emperor Nero and Agrippina had pet starlings that had vast singing repertoires and large vocabularies of human words.

Here’s what Pliny the Elder has to say about that:

Agrippina Claudii Caesaris turdum habuit, quod numquam ante, imitantem sermones hominum. cum haec proderem, habebant et Caesares iuvenes sturnum, item luscinias Graeco ac Latino sermone dociles, praeterea meditantes assidue et in diem nova loquentes, longiore etiam contextu. docentur secreto et ubi nulla alia vox misceatur, adsidente qui crebro dicat ea, quae condita velit, ac cibis blandiente.

(NH 10.59 via Lacus Curtius)

Agrippina, the wife of Claudius Caesar, had a thrush that could imitate human speech, a thing that was never known before. At the moment that I am writing this, the young Caesars have a starling and some nightingales that are being taught to talk in Greek and Latin ; besides which, they are studying their task the whole day, continually repeating the new words that they have learnt, and giving utterance to phrases even of considerable length. Birds are taught to talk in a retired spot, and where no other voice can be heard, so as to interfere with their lesson ; a person sits by them, and continually repeats the words he wishes them to learn, while at the same time he encourages them by giving them food.

(Bostock and Riley trans.)

I assume the ‘young Caesars’ are Nero and Brittanicus …