Category: Pop Culture

If You Study Classics, You May Become the…


Comic Classics & Podcasts

Professor Roberts notes:

The “Zits” this morning actually includes a reference to podcasts on a classical topic!

Copyright 2010 ZITS Partnership. Distributed by King Features Syndicate.

If your tastes are more Mr. D than slacker teen, here’s a selection of some of the Classically-themed Podcasts to which I subscribe:

  • Prof. Francese of Dickinson College runs the Latin Poetry Podcast, in which he reads and interprets short excerpts of Latin poetry.
  • Lars Brownworth’s 12 Byzantine Rulers surveys Byzantine history though the biographies of 12 of its most important rulers.
  • In Hardcore History, Dan Carlin takes an in-depth look at crucial historical moments. Past episodes have addressed Alexander and the Diodochoi, and the Punic Wars.
  • Every week, the BBC’s In Our Times with Melyyn Bragg discusses a work, thinker, or event with a panel of experts. Topics are always compelling and occasionally Classical.

Interpretation of Catullus 16 at Issue in English Lawsuit

The notorious first (and last) line of Catullus 16, inscribed in a sidewalk near UPENN

The notorious first (and last) line of Catullus 16, inscribed in a sidewalk near UPENN

If you’ve taken LATN101, Catullus 16 needs no further introduction. The vulgar yet clever poem is now part of a high-profile lawsuit:

In London, a poem by the first century B.C. poet Catullus has been the focus for lawyers trying to prove that investment banker Mark Lowe illegally dismissed one of his female employees. Mary Beard, the eminent professor of classics at Cambridge University, discusses the story with host Guy Raz.

Check out the NPR story or Mary Beard’s further comments on the poem.

Classics on the Big (and Small) Screen

After the success of “300” it was only a matter of time before more sword-and-sandal picts graced the silver (and small) screen.

First up, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightening Thief, based on the first of the popular series of fantasy books authored by Rick Riordan. The title is a bit of a tongue-twister, but the story seems promising–“Percy”‘s short from Perseus, don’t you know.

Speaking of Perseus… the remake of Clash of the Titans, with Sam Worthington as our intrepid hero and Liam Neeson as Zeus. If you aren’t already familiar with the myth, this effects-heaver trailer does little to enlighten you. That, along with the hackneyed tagline and what I think is a vague reference to the God of War video game franchise in the clip’s only dialogue, provides little to cause to be optimistic.

Then again, even if this movie is bad…it could, like its predecessor the Ray Harryhausen extravaganza, be oh. so. good:

Finally, on the small screen is a new series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

Betrayed by the Romans. Forced into slavery. Reborn as a Gladiator. The classic tale of the Republic’s most infamous rebel comes alive in the graphic and visceral new series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Torn from his homeland and the woman he loves, Spartacus is condemned to the brutal world of the arena where blood and death are primetime entertainment. But not all battles are fought upon the sands. Treachery, corruption, and the allure of sensual pleasures will constantly test Spartacus. To survive, he must become more than a man. More than a gladiator. He must become a legend.

Quick take on the trailer: Spartacus, cool. Lucy Lawless, good. Involvement of Sam Raimi, promising. The brother from the Mummy movies, um… good why not. The “300”-style cinematography, score, sex and gore? I wonder how the gimmick will wear over the course of a whole series. Will this be “Caligula” with better visuals (not a good thing), or “Rome” turned up to 11 (a great thing)? Since the show has already been renewed for a second season, I hope the slave revolt will factor in the story.

Wednesday Awesome: Chiklis goes to “Olympus”

Another actor to tackle the ancient world. This time Michael Chiklis (fresh from completing his spectacular run The Shield) (via Variety)

Thesp Michael Chiklis is launching a new take on Greek gods in the form of a comicbook: He’s partnered with IDW Publishing to create the graphic novel series “Olympus.”
Based on an idea by Anny Simon Beck, series will tell the story of ancient Greek gods who return to a ravaged, chaotic present-day Earth where they battle for the future of mankind against the Titans.

Trambopoline! As Homer would say (no, the other Homer)

Will Brad Pitt really take another stab at Homer…in a movie set in space?

Brad Pitt & George Miller Team on The Odyssey
Source: Variety October 17, 2008

After turning Homer’s epic poem “The Iliad” into the 2004 film Troy, Warner Bros. and Brad Pitt are teaming with George Miller to adapt the Greek poet’s other masterwork, “The Odyssey.”

I can’t tell if I should be excited or horrified, so in honor of the Simpsons neologism in this post’s title, I declare myself exictified at the prospect of this movie.

Their intention is to transfer the tale to a futuristic setting in outer space.

Variety says Warner Bros. has quietly set up The Odyssey, and the early hope is that Pitt will star and Miller will direct, with Pitt’s Plan B producing.

Both Homer poems dealt with the Trojan War; “The Odyssey” focused on the exploits of Odysseus, who hatched the idea to build the Trojan Horse. “The Odyssey” deals with his long journey home after he declines to become a god.

I can’t tell if I’m excited or horrified at the thought of this movie. So, in honor of the Simpsons neologism in the title of this post, I declared myself “excitified”.

Dining like the Romans did

The luxurious Roman cena is alive and well in… Singapore!

A 21st-century twist on the ancient Roman practice of reclining to eat, Supperclub has just opened a branch of its restaurant-cum-club in Singapore.

Setting: A dimly lit bar overlooks the legendary Raffles Hotel through red-tinted windows, contrasting sharply with the modern, all-white dining space, decked out with tables set in raised mattresses and large comfy cushions.

Concept: The three-hour five-course meal starts at about 8:30… [more]

McCaligula? (or Wikipedia-a-go-go)

Like Tacitus (sine ira et studio), I normally strive to keep this blog a partisanship-free zone, but Richard Cohen, in an op-ed about the selection of Sarah Palin, invokes a Classical exemplum worthy of note:

It’s a pity Gingrich was not around when the Roman Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known by his nickname Caligula, reputedly named Incitatus as a consul and a priest. Incitatus was his horse.

Since I’m not a pundit but a professor, I will leave the politics to others and stick to the pedantic. I don’t think there is a “Julius” in Caligula’s nomenclature. As we can see from the coin below, Caligula (“little boots”) was named C(aius) CAES(ar) AUG(ustus) Germanicus. Lesson? If you are criticizing someone, probably best not to use wikipedia as your source…


The vignette about Incitatus appears in two sources: Suetonius’ Life of Caligua and Cassius Dio’s Roman History. In Suetonius, we hear about the desire to make Incitatus a consul:

He used to send his soldiers on the day before the games and order silence in the neighbourhood, to prevent the horse Incitatus101 from being disturbed. Besides a stall of marble, a manger of ivory, purple blankets and a collar of precious stones, he even gave this horse a house, a troop of slaves and furniture, for the more elegant entertainment of the guests invited in his name; and it is also said that he planned to make him consul.

Dio reveals the tidbit about the priesthood:

One of the horses, which he named Incitatus, he used to invite to dinner, where he would offer him golden barley and drink his health in wine from golden goblets; he swore by the animal’s life and fortune and even promised to appoint him consul, a promise that he would certainly have carried out if he had lived longer… He also consecrated himself to his own service and appointed his horse a fellow-priest; and dainty and expensive birds were sacrificed to him daily.

Now Caligula was by all accounts a monster (incest, senseless killings, debauchery–the usual “bad emperor” trifecta), although I always saw him as at least as much a figure of pity as scorn. Imagine you are the son of an incredibly popular political figure and war hero. You are sent to live with your weird, old uncle on a secluded island–by the way, everyone thinks your uncle had your father killed–during which time most of your remaining family are killed in various horrific ways. Then, when you are 25, said uncle dies and, with no experience at all, you are suddenly made the absolute ruler of the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. Not a prescription for administrative success.

Making Myth-istory

According to a new poll, it seems Britons are busy turning their storied history into myth and legend (via AFP):

LONDON (AFP) – Britons are losing their grip on reality, according to a poll out Monday which showed that nearly a quarter think Winston Churchill was a myth while the majority reckon Sherlock Holmes was real. The survey found that 47 percent thought the 12th century English king Richard the Lionheart was a myth.
And 23 percent thought World War II prime minister Churchill was made up. [Read the rest of the story…]

I’m a bit skeptical of the findings, since such polls are susceptible to mischievous pranksters (“sure I believe in Snow White” *snicker snicker*). Nevertheless, the story remind us how we tend to mythologize stories and figures about which we have imprecise knowledge.

Tori Amos, Goddess(es)

For her ninth album, “American Doll Posse”, singer/songwriter Tori Amos sought inspiration from Greek goddesses:

This time Amos has taken a unique approach to her music and has emerged with five alter ego’s – all of whom contribute to the album with their own distinct voices.

The quintet creates a compelling portrait of the role women play in today’s society, expressed on the album both musically and thematically. The five alter ego’s are representations of Tori, incarnating a number of the heroines and goddesses of Greek mythology.

Tori Amos said, “Once music started to dictate to me what the women were going to be I had to go and do the internal work and build their psyches, so I went to the Greek Pantheon because I thought people were more familiar with it, and then started to develop their stories,”

Through her research, Amos looked back to a time when the idea of females in all their different facets, were considered divine. Buried deep in ancient Greek history – she discovered what would become the foundations for her new group of confidants.

Read the rest of the article….

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