Felix Dies Natalis, Roma!

Rome turned 2,765 years young today!

birthday cupcake

Not an authentic Roman birthday treat.


But this is: Ovid describes the Parilia, the festival Romans celebrated to mark the founding of their city. There are cows jumping over fires… and quite possibly fratricide.

Marginalia 4.21.2012

Felix Dies Natalis, Roma!


Marginalia 3.25.2012

An exciting week around and about the World o’ Classics!

  • The Virtual Tour of the Acropolis “is an interactive website that allows various aspects of the historical site to be explored in a unique way. It consists of high-resolution gigapixel images and panoramas of the four main monuments – the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike – as well as a detailed photographic representation of the inner and outer ancient walls surrounding the hill, all accompanied by historical information and a descriptive map.” h/t Austin!
  • Via Boingboing: Lapham’s Quarterly has an interesting (and saucy!) “collection of rude and complaining messages left by monks in the margins of medieval manuscripts… Depictions of sexual consort are frequent, among men and women, among various species of animals, and enough other combinations to make even contemporary readers blush.”

Marginalia 3.18.2012

I thought I might pass along a few of the Classical news, notes, and features that caught my attention this week during my perambulations around the internet (aka the intertextus internationalis instrumentorum computatoriorum (LRL) or interrete, if you prefer).

  • Phone Homer: “Noted video and performing artist Michelle Ellsworth unleashes a one woman, multimedia portrayal of Clytemnestra, the woman left behind as her husband Agamemnon serves as leader of the Greeks in Troy. In Phone Homer she uses series of instructional videos, Skype calls with characters from The Iliad, a kinetic alphabet modeled after the Kinect, hamburger sacrifices, and an entire internet constructed specifically for this show to interpret this mythic character…”
  • Santiago Ortiz visualizes the relationships between characters in the Iliad as a network diagram and a streamgraph (below). Check it out!


Sophocles… that plagiarist!

h/t rogueclassicism

Stolen Valor and the Violation of Themis

As we saw in the clip from Achilles in Vietnam, the improper appropriation of the honor by an undeserving commanding officer is not unique to the culture of Bronze Age Greece.

Achilles is not alone in his rage at the violation of themis. Indeed the phenomenon of “Stolen Valor“, or when someone falsely claims military experience or commendations, is the subject of a case that comes before the Supreme Court today.

At issue is whether the Stolen Valor Act is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. Do Americans have “a free-speech right to make false and outrageous claims about themselves without facing criminal prosecution from a government truth squad”, as the petitioner’s lawyer claims? Or, according to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, does “the aggregate effect of false claims… dilut[e] the medals’ message of prestige and honor”? I think we know what Achilles would say. But then Bronze Age Greece had no first amendment (just ask Thersites).


Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and the “Kalos”

Eris on an Attic plate, ca. 575-525 BC

In class today, I mention that the golden apple thrown among the goddesses at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis was inscribed with a single word: kallistei (????????) or “for the fairest”. Kalos represents a very complex idea in Greek thought, but one that we might render as “sexy nobility”. (or maybe “noble sexiness”… “noblexiness”?) Over lunch I happened to be re-reading what is considered by most to be the greatest piece of short-form sports writing since Pindar, Mark Kram’s account of the third bout between Ali and Joe Frazier, the a.k.a the Thrilla in Manila. In light of today’s class, this paragraph had special force:

“Ali’s version of death began about 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 1 in Manila. Up to then his attitude had been almost frivolous. He would simply not accept Joe Frazier as a man or as a fighter, despite the bitter lesson Frazier had given him in their first savage meeting. Esthetics govern all of Ali’s actions and conclusions; the way a man looks, the way he moves is what interests Ali. By Ali’s standards, Frazier was not pretty as a man and without semblance of style as a fighter. Frazier was an affront to beauty, to Ali’s own beauty as well as to his precious concept of how a good fighter should move. Ali did not hate Frazier, but he viewed him with the contempt of a man who cannot bear anything short of physical and professional perfection.”

Ali, who turns 70 today, understood the kalos.

Muhammad Ali versus Sonny Liston [1965. Photographer: Donald L. Robinson

SNL: Greek Gods on the Greek Economy

In a sketch from a few weeks back, Saturday Night Live imagined the Greek gods trying to devise a plan to overcome the Greek economic crisis. May be worth a few chuckles…

“To Anacreon in Heaven” or a Star-Spangled Hangover

Does this tune sounds familiar? (video is a little lewd but mostly SWF)


“To Anacreon in Heaven” was the official song of the Anacreontic Society, a gentlemanly club of amateur musicians in 18th-century London.

Anacreon, a Greek lyric poet of the 6th century BCE whom Peisistratus brought to Athens with great fanfare, was famous for his poems on love and intoxication. His poetry spawned a slew of imitators in antiquity, who wrote in the voice of Anacreon or claimed they were inspired by his example. After they were rediscovered and published in 1554, these poem, or Anacreontea, inspired numerous imitators from the 16th through 19th century. And among these homages is “To Anacreon in Heaven.”

Here are the saucy lyrics:

To Anacreon in Heav’n, where he sat in full glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a petition;
That he their Inspirer and Patron wou’d be;
When this answer arrived from the Jolly Old Grecian;
“Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
No longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And besides I’ll instruct you like me, to intwine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

The news through Olympus immediately flew;
When Old Thunder pretended to give himself airs.
If these Mortals are suffered their scheme to pursue,
The Devil, a Goddess, will stay above stairs.
“Hark”, Already they cry,
“In transports of joy,
Away to the Sons of Anacreon we’ll fly.
And besides I’ll instruct you like me, to intwine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

“The Yellow-Haired God and his nine lusty Maids,
From Helion’s banks will incontinent flee,
Idalia will boast but of tenantless Shades,
And the bi-forked hill a mere desert will be.
My Thunder no fear on’t,
Shall soon do it’s errand,
And damme I’ll swing the Ringleaders I warrant,
I’ll trim the young dogs, for thus daring to twine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Apollo rose up and said, “Pry’thee ne’er quarrel,
Good sing of the Gods with my Vot’ries below:
Your Thunder is useless”–then showing his laurel,
Cry’d “Sic evitable fulmen’ you know!
Then over each head
My laurels I’ll spread
So my sons from your Crackers no mischief shall dread,
While snug in their clubroom, they jovially twine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Next Momus got up with his risible Phiz
And swore with Apollo he’d cheerfully join-
“The full tide of Harmony still shall be his,
But the Song, and the Catch, and the Laugh, shall be mine.
Then Jove be not jealous
Of these honest fellows,”
Cry’d Jove, “We relent since the truth you now tell us;
And swear by Old Styx, that they long shall intwine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Ye Sons of Anacreon then join hand in hand;
Preserve Unanimity, Friendship, and Love!
‘Tis yours to support what’s so happily plann’d;
You’ve the sanction of Gods, and the Fiat of Jove.
While thus we agree,
Our toast let it be:
“May our Club flourish Happy, United, and Free!
And long may the Sons of Anacreon intwine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Lyrics: Ralph Tomlinson
Music: John Stafford Smith

Tariq Ali rereads Hesiod’s Works and Days

This week in The Guardian, Tariq Ali muses on the wisdom of Hesiod, which ranges from the value of an honest day’s work to the importance of a clean pair of underwear:

As Greek economic problems intensify, it’s worth remembering the first economist, Hesiod, a poet whose Works and Days was written against the backdrop of agrarian crisis…

[Read more…]


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