Sunday, October 17, 2010


Just terribly busy again.

Haven't forgotten about the blog, will update whenever I have something to say and some time to say it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hedgehogs and Profound Thoughts...

I'm currently reading "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Murial Barbery, which was originally written in French but I'm reading the English translation. Prior to buying the book I read a review that said it doesn't particularly suit British tastes because it has no obvious plot. That's pretty true, and it's rather just a series of musings from two somewhat related but independent commentators.

They comment on a great deal of things and are keen to philosophise. Sometimes I find how it's presented rather distasteful, but it's occasionally beautiful and provoking (although I'm constantly wondering if the turn of phrase really conveys the meaning intended by the original French or if it's a best fit scenario).

One of the "profound thoughts" (the chapter really has this name) is that the world is run by "weak" men. They are the masters of language but they couldn't protect their own garden, kill an animal for food or any other more "primal" activities. This immediately led me to think about Cicero - does he qualify as a "weak" man, insomuch as he was a true master of language but not famed for his warrior spirit (in the primal sense of the word, anyway)? I suppose the answer is - yes.

The book considers this somewhat perverse or contra to something vital. I partially agree, but in the context of Cicero it's worth remembering that he's somewhat of an exception. Most of the figures of the later Republic that Cicero rubbed shoulders with were also experts in the realms of language yet were also great warriors (or Generals, at least). Caesar, for example (as he always is!), displays an amazing ability for clearness in his use of Latin and his warrior attributes are well documented.

Many ancient Romans, then, seem to combine both a mastery of language and primal abilities that is lacking in the brokers of power in modern times. Times have changed. Skill in speaking and sneakiness has outstripped more "honest" and primal ability (this may be the natural order of things, I don't know) but I do hark for what was before. I don't like quite so much talk. In this respect, I think the book has tapped into something interesting.

What is (intrinsically better) power through strength or power through eloquence? The question is then begged, though, can't you have both? I think many ancient Romans did, and accepting one as better than the other (but considering them independent) as Barbery does is missing the point a little.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Just testing from Android!

Caesar on Android.

I recently picked up an HTC smart-phone (life changing, as much as I hate to admit it) and have just found out something pretty cool that it can do.

I have a fair collection of books on classical history in digital format and I've managed to get them onto my phone for portable reading. That in itself is probably not especially interesting to most people, but it's been amazing for me.

I am now reading "Always I am Caesar" by Jeffery Tatum, whenever I have a spare moment and nothing else to do. Flicking through the book using the capacitive touch screen is a really satisfying experience. (The books is pretty good, so far, by the way).

Modern technology has the capacity to really inform and change how ancient history is presented to this and future generations. Stage one was obviously the internet and easy access to information on history, ancient languages and scholarly work. Modern smart-phones now have a wealth of apps (applications) available that facilitate enquiry into the ancient world in a way never before imagined.

It's now possible for the phone to use your location to recommend sites of interest to visit and then to link directly to articles about said sites with info and other recommended reading. Another feature, although still in it's infancy, allows you to take a snapshot of anything unknown (a building, statue, painting etc) and then submit that picture to a database and then get information on what it is etc. This service will get better and better as more people use it and as the database grows.

Eventually you'll be able to visit a remote part of Greece and take a snapshot of a random ruin and have an answer as to what it was and what it's all about. That's a pretty interesting thought. The implications of such technology can be occasionally frightening, but in the realms of ancient history at least, they present a new age of connectivity and the sharing of information that in many cases is quite obscure.

Next step - try to update the blog from Android itself!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Latin Tattoos...

Rogue Classicism has posted a fair bit recently about Latin tattoos (following a news report that tattoos were spurring some kind of renaissance of the Latin language) and as a person who loves tattoos (I have several) I felt like saying something about it!

First off, I'm not necessarily a fan of boneheads emblazoning Latin across their bodies in the hope of seeming erudite, when indeed the classical spirit has seemingly avoided them (although who am I to be the keeper and arbiter of who may have and what indeed really is "classical spirit"), but in some ways it's good to see people respect Latin in some way enough to tattoo themselves with it.

Rogue Classicism has recently posted a bit about classicists with classical tattoos, and I sort of fit into that category. I'm a classics graduate and I'm a bit of an amateur classicist (I don't get paid to "classicise" but I just adore it and it's one of my major hobbies). I've had a classical tattoo in the works for ages, and should be getting it inked later this year.

I've attached an image for the interested:

Essentially it's inspired by Lucan's Bellum Civile, insomuch as he characterises Pompey as an old oak tree and Caesar as a kind of storm, and in my planned tattoo the storm is striking the oak tree with lightning with the Rubicon dividing the two. The plan is for the tattoo to take up the whole of my upper right arm.

I think using an image such as this which is deeply classical in some respects to me but not instantly recognisable is the most classical I would go with a tattoo. I'd hate to get some Latin text just in case someone mistook me for being genuinely erudite or indeed faking it!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Still Alive...

Alive, just busy.

Will hopefully have time for regular posts again come the end of August. I'm simply working too much to really put something down, although I am still reading and keeping up with classical news.

I hope all is well!

Monday, June 21, 2010


I'm off back to Scotland for the summer (two months-ish) where I'll be living and working in Edinburgh (teaching) before buggering off back here to CZ.

I don't know how much I will be able to post (depends on how busy I am - but it's looking hectic now), although I will try to post whenever possible. I doubt I'll be doing many classically related things, sans a visit to my old university (Glasgow) and maybe a quick peek at the numismatic collection (providing my lady isn't too against it!).

I haven't had a great deal of time to read anything new, and much of the classical news kicking around touches on things I've basically written about before - pedestrian finds "sexed up" to get funding, nobody having a genuine clue where Cleopatra's tomb is, but having a damn good time telling everyone they do anyway and other bits and pieces - and so I've found it difficult to write anything about them.

Apart from random ruminations, the only things I've done recently that can be tangibly related to the classics are: read Beard and Henderson's "Classical Art" (although I got sunburnt while doing so, and as a result my feelings for the text have slid down somewhat); I watched the entire first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand - which I totally dug. It was very entertaining and blood thirsty to a fault.

I was surprised how good it was, to be honest. I expected it to be absolutely trash, but Spartacus was well cast and John Hannah was sensational as he practically chomped away at the scenery. Throw in the completely OTT sex scenes intertwined with unbelievable violence (taken so far that it becomes comical, pretty much) and it was a great show. I'm looking forward to the prequel and the eventual sequel very much.

I also (re)watched HBO's Rome for the umpteenth time (I really can't recall, but it's definitely 6 times, minimum) and I enjoyed it as much as I always do. I was a bit cerebral with my attack on the depiction of Agrippa last time I watched it, but he still rankles with me. It's just such a wonderful show. I always have a distinct sadness when it's over, for the protagonists (fictive as some are and a mix of fictive and real as others are) always feel like friends come the end of 22 hours viewing and not only do we depart from listening to their tale, but they are all in fact dead and died some 2000 years ago. I suppose it's a mixture of feeling quite close to them (as bizarre as it sounds) and then immediately realising the distance between us is enormous.

Anyway. I hope the very few that stumble across this post have a wonderful summer.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Old Shoes.

Not especially insightful this one, I imagine. Anyway, here I go.

A news story caught my eye this week - that of the bloody old shoe! (read it here). Essentially, some archaeologists found a 5500 year old leather shoe in a cave in Armenia preserved under heaps of sheep dung (finds don't get much more interesting than that, do they?!).

Anyway, you're perhaps wondering how I'm going to squeeze a classical angle out of this and here it is: finds like this always remind me that the ancient world wasn't that ancient. It's often a bit of a mental challenge for me to remember that very little changed in everyday life for a few millennia (until the 19th and mostly 20th century) and that the ancients lived relatively similar lives to people alive just a few hundred years ago (stress on the "relatively").

I'm always surprised when I see artefacts from ancient homes - shoes, mirrors, hair clasps, cups - the lot. Something in my mind always associates the ancients with being truly ancient. Finds like this remind me that the Romans had shoes quite similar to modern leather shoes and they're really not so distant as they seem.

Perhaps this post betrays my own stupidity, but I always find keeping a firm chronology in my head (and understanding that time matters) can be rather difficult. It's rather easy to clump the whole of antiquity to together, even though there are some 500 years or so between the beginning of the classical period and the death of Augustus, for example. A lot happened, and a lot changed.

Like I mentioned before - everyday life hadn't changed too much during that period, and so perhaps it's unfair to compare that five hundred years to the same period between the 1500s and now, where life has changed significantly, but nevertheless, it's vital to remember that antiquity is not a single period but rather many linked ones.

That's my ramble over for today. It's insanely beautiful weather here in Plzen and I plan to try to enjoy it with several beers from this wonderful place.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lepidus: Unfairly Treated? II

Finished it, then.

Not bad, not bad. I wonder now, having finished, whether the sole aim of the work (as the title utterly gives away) has in some way coloured the worth of the text? It really is a work of history that primarily aims to defend a character and then sets about it.

It's done quite well, for the most part. The Bryn Mawr review (here) has the same misgiving as I had when reading the text - there are just too much usage of "might/must have been" and "it seems quite possible that", which is most certainly a result of the evidence for removing Lepidus' tarnish being not as convincing as it's made out to be.

Like I said in my previous post, I've always thought Lepidus was hard done by, and I always feel for him, in a sense, when I watch HBO's Rome and he's usually ignored or sidelined. That, of course, perhaps puts me at a disadvantage because I want to believe Weigel's book, even if it's slightly lacking in force.

In the end, the overwhelming impression I got of Lepidus after reading the work was that he was an able man, used well by "greater" men and while he's perhaps unfairly treated, there is no hidden Lepidus that is waiting in the shadows that can be used by a modern historian to redeem the tarnished triumvir.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lepidus: Unfairly Treated?

I'm currently reading Lepidus: The Tarnished Triumvir by Richard D. Weigel, and I gotta say, I dig it.

Marcus Aemelius Lepidus has always seemed like a rather fascinating character to me, he's all over accounts of the Late Republic, but he's nearly always given short thrift. He's relegated to the sidelines of the struggle for supremacy that engulfed the Late Republic and nobody really seems to really care what he's up to.

Maybe that's why, then, I kinda looked for a book such as the one I'm reading at the moment. Weigel argues that Lepidus is unfairly treated in most accounts of his life, as well as modern commentaries, owing to two central factors: he irritated Cicero and he challenged Octavian (later Augustus).

I'll put a fuller review up here once I've finished reading the book, but it's certainly an interesting topic. Especially so as I am re-watching HBO's Rome and the somewhat cerebral and "sidelined" Lepidus makes a mandatory appearance (as he does so frequently) but he is ever so slightly mocked, derided and essentially made unimportant.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Ancient Novel.

I've just finished reading (well, two days ago) the English version of Niklas Holzberg's "The Ancient Novel: An Introduction", which I think is a pretty neat little text.

In the final year of my Masters I took a course on the Ancient Novel, and as fun as it was, I now realise how heavily it was based on Holzberg, which is a great compliment to the book - I suppose it forms the basis of all modern introductory courses on the topic.

It's 129 pages, all in - including the author's note, bibliography and index, which is made up of five chunks: the genre; the rise of the genre; the idealistic novel in early Imperial times; the comic-realistic novel and finally the idealistic novel in the age of the second sophistic. A chronological route, then.

The opening two sections set the tone - the first, especially, puts down the thrust of the whole work - that the ancient novel exists as a separate and defined genre, which the second supports by describing it's origins. Both of these are convincing. Holzberg discusses how the novels we have exhibit clearly defined motifs (or inversions of these motifs) throughout, and how the form of the novels, while influenced by other genres, clearly came about from a conscious decision to create a new genre that was separate, unique and different.

Holzberg then goes on to discuss the various novels we have in chronological order, with a large focus on detailing their respective plot lines. This is of the highest importance because by the end of the book one has the overwhelming feeling that the novel exists as a separate and distinct genre, which exhibits clear and unique motifs throughout.

The text, as a whole, is an attempt to justify the study of the novel as a distinct genre and prove not only to posterity but to classical scholars that it's worthy of consideration and that it most certainly exists as single genre with defined parameters. Holzberg is successful in doing this, for sure.

The novel has perhaps been ignored as a genre until modern times, and derided by scholars as insignificant in the classical corpus - wispy sort of stuff not really worth studying. Holzberg organises a defence of it, and it works. I like the ancient novels - they're interesting, fun, escapist but with plenty of depth and worth.

There is nothing essentially wrong with the text at all - it's a fantastic introduction, and therein is perhaps the only qualm I have with it - it does nothing more than establish the novel as a genre, further discussion is not all that frequent. Introductory texts don't usually have to defend the genre they will discuss (too much, anyway) but the novel very much needed the help, and so I can hardy moan about the book being too "introductiony".

Having a more clearly defined conclusion may have helped, and given the reader a chance to have everything summed up, but it was perhaps Holzberg's active decision to not include one, and leave the work very much as a departure point - the very foundations, so to speak, upon which a study of the genre could be built upon. In that respect, it's not such a big loss.

I recommend the book for anyone who hasn't really considered the ancient novel before - it gives a nice overview of the genre and is easy enough to read. It's concise and to the point and should be the starting point for pretty much anyone interested in the novel, but unsure how to approach it or how it fits in with classical studies more generally.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spartacus Blood and Sand: Not so bad after all?

Surprisingly the most recent low budget recreation of the ancient world, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, is actually pretty damn good.

I saw the first season in full a while ago (from U.S TV) and I was surprised how fun and interesting it really this. The teaser trailers made it look ultra low budget, faux stylistic and a little silly, and while that's all pretty much true - they've actually managed to make a pretty decent TV show that gets better as the first season goes on. That seems to be the consensus among many people - it's surprisingly not bad and it gets better episode by episode.

I'm a huge fan of the BBC'S I, Claudius and HBO's Rome, both of which are immensely well done shows that capture the essence of the classical world in different yet interesting ways. I suspected Spartacus would be a cheaply done 300 in episodic form - entertaining enough but missing something. I suppose I was wrong.

The show basically chronicles the rise of Spartacus and his reasons for initiating the servile rebellion. Since we know very little of the real Spartacus (such as one can now exist), most of this element of the show is fictive. The context it's set in (late Republican Rome) is, of course, not fictive, and the show does reasonably well in rendering the period in which Spartacus operated.

It's been remarked that the moral behind Spartacus' rebellion (betrayed by a Roman, his wife in slavery) is quintessentially modern in conception, which is true I think, but it does give some pathos and motivation to the character (despite said motivation being very similar to that of a certain Maximus Decimus Meridius, give or take).

It seems the show has been popular enough to continue, although they are making a prequel (which has to be entirely fictional) owing to the lead actor, Andy Whitfield, developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, as opposed to a sequel.

If the sequel is made, I wonder how they'll characterise the defeat of Spartacus at the hands of Crassus, and if it'll essentially be Kubrick's Spartacus all over again. There is some mileage in romanticising characters who face the nefarious might of the Roman state and are unceremoniously crucified along the Appian Way, but it's curiously modern. I'm supporting the Romans here - and history does too. Despite the several servile wars - they were all crushed - slavery continued for centuries and Spartacus is nothing more now than a figure fit for embellishment in low budget TV shows. Kind of sad, really.

That idea, though, is ever so slightly cerebral, which I can be guilty of, and it really shouldn't take too much away from enjoying this show!

In other business, I'm reading a book about the ancient novel and I'll hopefully put something up about that soon.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Did Marathon Change Everything?

Via rogueclassicism and

Prof. Richard Billows, in the article mentioned above claims, in a lecture aimed at supporting his soon-to-be-published book on the topic, that the Battle of Marathon can be considered one of the pivotal moments of world history.

He argues that had the Athenians lost the battle at Marathon to the Persians, Western Civilisation would be radically different - there would be no democracy, no Socrates or Plato, no Aeschylus or Sophocles. Essentially, he's claiming that the victory at Marathon set the tone for the next two generations - a period of immense intellectual, cultural and political development.

His argument is full of "mays", "maybes" and "mights". I have to say I find it a little bit tiresome. It can be an interesting exercise, but it seems like a stroke of poor imagination to pick an event (even though Marathon is well chosen) and say: "things could maybe possible be much different if that single event had never transpired or ended in a different fashion!".

I think as human beings we like these kind of explanations - they appeal to us and we enjoy the mental exercise of "what if?", but I think "research" and speculation on the topic is mostly a waste of time. I don't think we need a book on it.

Moreover - why choose Marathon? It's a single event that can be easily labelled, I suspect. Why not choose, say, the Persian decision to invade Greece, the weather or any assortment of other factors? I reckon it's because they don't have the same "pull" as the "big" events of history, but they seem to be to be just as equally valid.

Speculative counter-factual history can be interesting or fun (Nazi's hiding on the moon!?) but in the field of classics, and especially when taken seriously, it seems like a colossal waste of time to me. It has a tiny bit of merit insomuch as it may call attention to things we take for granted, but it's a fun mental exercise, nothing more.

It's overly simplistic to choose a single event and say it changed everything. Ignoring the fact that it's built on the idea that ultimately there is a prime mover of some sort in every sequence of events, it just demonstrates a lack of true imagination and demonstrates a fondness for simple or stark explanations. The flourishing of Athens after Marathon was part of a development stretching much further back in time - it was an instance on an enormous time scale which we can't really comprehend. Explanations such as this one are poor attempts at doing so.

I don't have a problem with artistic licence being taken in books, novels or TV shows - in fact, in these cases, reading into historical events can be interesting, it's just the notion of taking counter-factual history as a useful tool in genuine historical discourse that I dislike. Maybe I'm being a stick in the mud, though!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Should the Colosseum Even Be Open?

It was reported this week that some "chunks" have fallen off the Colosseum in Rome (link). As ever, the show continues and the Colosseum remains open.

Should it be? I know there is a feeling that classical sites must be opened so that the millions of tourists that visit each year can spend 15 seconds of confused wonder snapping endless photographs for their Facebook pages (do people only go on holiday now so that they can let other people know about it via social networking?), but I'm not sure I hold to it.

Many classical sites desperately need some repairs (the Italians, especially, care more about marketing and flare than genuine care - although I'm generalising, of course) but they remain open, even when "chunks" are falling off of them.

I believe that the physical remains of the classical world that we have left must be preserved not to merely service the tourist industry, but to remind people of the glory of the classical past, its wonders and what it has given to us. At the moment it seems to be a numbers game, and that's rather sad.

My proposal, then, would be to make sites such as the Colosseum (those which can be damaged by constant visitation, or need repairs due to unavoidable decay) harder to visit. People can mill around outside, but make the process of actually visiting more complicated. Not elite, nor difficult, just harder. My hope would be that then only people who truly wanted to visit and are willing to appreciate what they're looking at would bother sorting it all out.

Visiting Rome now seems like an exercise in ticking things off a list for most tourists. In some ways that is similar to the Romans who simply had to see the wonders of Greece, but I hazard a guess that the modern tourist does it with much less reverence than their Roman predecessor. The process has been cheapened, somewhat, and I wish that rot could be reversed.

Again, I don't want to sound elitist at all - the remains of the classical world are our heritage, but given that we're unable to appreciate that (on the whole) something else needs to be done.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gone missing...

I'm afraid I've pretty much just gone missing these past two months. I suppose, sadly, it's simply a consequence of classics being directly unrelated to my job and so it occasionally gets put on the back burner.

I've still been thinking about them a great deal - I just haven't posted anything. I've been reading up about the genre of the novel, I'm rewatching HBO's Rome and I've been keeping up to date with classical news and blogs, but just while remaining silent.

My hope is to fit the blog into my life somehow and manage a post or so ever week. That's significantly less than before, but better than nothing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nathaniel Fick and Classics.

For the past month I've been on a Generation Kill, Evan Wright Nathaniel Fick binge, so to speak.

I first watched the HBO TV show Generation Kill, an adaptation of Evan Wright's book of the same name, which chronicles a Recon Marine division's invasion of Iraq in 2003. I love both the book and the TV show. Wright developed a lot of respect for the Marines, and I guess I have now too.

They're not mindless, and in many cases they're incredibly bright. They feel drawn towards war because of their need to be a warrior. As a result they eschew the normal things people their ages do and join the Marines. I suppose I admire that in a way.

One of the central characters of both book and TV show is Nathaniel Fick - Lieutenant of the Hitman Platoon that we primarily follow. In both versions of the story he is an incredibly moral and intelligent leader, and it interested me to discover that he had also written a memoir of his time as a Marine in a book entitled "One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer".

Needless to say, I swiftly picked it up. To my surprise Fick is a classics graduate, and the three sections of his book (Peace, War and Aftermath) each begins with a classical quote - Thucydides, Plutarch and St. Augustine, respectively). Once I'd finished the book, it dawned on me that Fick is somewhat of a classical character.

He's immensely reflective and moral, yet overwhelmingly practical. Recalling some of the Roman soldiers of the past. The comparison continues when one considers his remarkably readable and clear writing style - again recalling a certain famous Roman General. It's not lost on him either that he was part of a military force invading a country with a great ancient heritage. The parallels between him and yet another great classical soldier could be drawn here.

All in all, it's a great book and Fick an interesting figure. The power of the text works through it's elegant but simple prose and through the introspective look Fick gives to his role during a crucial time in modern history.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Caesar and the World Beyond.

Recently I've had a rather interesting experience. A friend of mine is married to psychic and is able, my friend says, to commune with the dead. Now, I'm of course rather sceptical about the whole shebang, but I do trust my friend and his intellectual faculties, and so I was open to discussing it at least.

He told me how his wife had spoken to his Grandfather and in a later session Aldous Huxley, and how interesting the experience was. He suggested that perhaps, sometime, his wife may try to speak to Caesar and accordingly he asked me if I had any questions I'd like to ask him.

The first question that sprung to mind was, as you may expect, the truth about Nicomedes and if Caesar had indeed been his lover. Second was if he could explain the manner in which his Gallic War commentaries were released and to which readership he intended them for.

So, my friend's wife put these questions to Caesar and the replies were interesting. The first question put him in an egotistical rage and he was in such a sulk no progress could be made. On the face of it that may feel like a cop out, but I think it could make some sense.

Caesar was extremely touchy about the whole affair (pardon the pun) and for his whole life overreacted to it and, ironically gave credence to the rumour with his passionate denials. So, his response here seems fitting with the attitude of the living Caesar, so to speak.

I found my friends story very interesting, I must say.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Plutarch's Moralia.

As I mentioned below, I've been reading an old Penguin edition of Rex Warner's translation of Plutarch's Moralia.

So far I've just read His Advice On Marriage (I've been busy with work, plus I'm reading Camus, Orwell and a fair few books from Marines who served during the 2003 Iraq invasion), but I think they're just so incredibly interesting.

I suppose On Marriage does not suit well with modern tastes (it's very much of it's time, and could be considered, by modern standards I must stress, wholly misogynistic). That, though, is a great disservice to the work.

In it Plutarch gives advice to a newly married couple of his acquaintance and the majority of it is reassuring words on how a woman should act to keep her husband both happy and their relationship solid. Not only is it a valuable insight into Roman values, it's wonderful as a window into the "ideal" Roman marriage and the relationship between the genders.

If you consider it within the framework of the value system it was written under then it's a very touching, genuine and somewhat lovingly written piece, and it shows a really humane side to Plutarch that is very pleasant to engage with.

One thing that struck me is the expectations put upon a proper Roman wife. It was a difficult life, I have no doubt. She needed to be a master diplomat, and in many respects a servant to her husband. This, of course, may make little sense to modern (Western) readers, but I think it highlights the complex nature of a Roman woman's life and also, by implication, how well educated and able she must be to fulfil such a role - no idiot could be a proper Roman wife, it seems.

Finally, and I'm not fully qualified to comment on this, I wonder to what extent the age of Warner's translation colours how it can be interpreted. There is considerable leeway in the translating of classical texts and the translation can depend not simply on words, but on the age of the translation, the conventions of the time, the translator and many other things. It's an interesting aside.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Some Thoughts On Catherine Steel's "Roman Oratory".

Like I mentioned below, I studied under Prof. Steel during my masters and I always found her to be immensely knowledgeable and a great convenor of seminars, and during my final year of University I picked up her "Roman Oratory" with some excitement (her course on oratory was one of the most stimulating I took during my entire degree).

I recently reread the text and felt like posting about it here.

First off, I think it's a fascinating book. It's made up of four chapters (The Orator in Roman Society, Channels of Communication, The Practising Orator and finally The Orator's Education) which are bookended by a short introduction and conclusion. It lacks a glossary which may have been helpful, but the bibliography is useful and the index too. All in all it comes in at a very readable 87 pages.

The introduction is fine and really just defines the focus of the work, and it's chapter one where things first get interesting. The Orator in Roman Society is not so much a discussion of the individual but rather how an individual orator would have opportunity to use that particular skill in public life. There is considerable focus on real examples of opportunities where oratory was employed (contional meetings being the focus) and the chapter functions mostly as a summary which raises questions over the opportunities and nature of oratory and also it's relation to written forms of the speech.

Channels of Communication, chapter two, is a bit meatier. Steel discusses the way in oratory was manifest, primarily in the speech itself and also in written form. It's an intensely complicated relationship, and she does well to explain it. The point is made that the written forms which we now have that testify to the actual spoken version are, by definition, somewhat secondary and as such some difficult questions are posed about our entire understanding of oratory. Oratory, for Steel, is a phenomenon dominated by actual speeches, when perhaps oratory on the page, so to speak, is as important. Either way, the complex relationship and modes of communication an orator can employ are highlighted with skill and understanding.

Chapter three, The Practising Orator, discusses the behaviour of a Roman orator, the career trajectory of orators (young men would prosecute to attain some status, but it was seen a vulgar pursuit for experienced men, for example), and also how the practising orator could use his skill within public life, both as a tool to support friends but also attack enemies. Overall it's an interesting chapter, but lacks the spark of chapter two (I would suppose that chapter two constitutes the area of Steel's strongest personal interest, but I can't be sure).

The final chapter, The Orator's Education, is perhaps the weakest in the book. It's not poorly constructed, but there is just nothing new here. I do however applaud her decision to put this chapter last rather than earlier, which she explains by saying:

" the wider context of an attempt to understand the nature of oratorical training in the Roman world it makes sense to move from the the practising orator back to the the embryonic form, since the expectations and norms imposed on the full fledged orator are the foundations which support the system of oratorical education",

It may seem like a rather obvious idea once thought about, but it took great consideration to begin with, I'm sure, and it makes much sense to me.

The conclusion sums up a little, explaining the cover illustration (which I always like books to do, if needed) and makes the statement that oratory is a mode by which we can understand the Romans and their relation to their state in a public and private way, and that at it's greatest it allows us to understand, to put it simply, Romans, Rome and the occasions in which men spoke there.

Overall, it's a text I like very much. It's perhaps lacking innovation in some chapters, but it's solid and chapter two is superb. Questions are raised and answered (or at worst discussed in some depth) and it function as a superb post-introductory but perhaps pre-expert text on the topic.

Several things interested me that I should also like to mention. Firstly, the discussion of how Cicero inverts the commonly held belief that looks are related to moral worth in his speech against Piso by saying that he's all the more deplorable because he does look healthy and Roman is immensely interesting. It demonstrates not only Cicero's oratorical skill, but it's a very neat trick.

Secondly, the related discussion of an orator's style being related to his character is fascinating, i.e. that a feeble orator had a feeble character. I suppose it's something which carries on until today, but like the looks/moral worth belief it was much more potent in Rome than today.

Finally, when reading about panegyric, it struck me whether there is any mileage in considering"On The Command of Pompey" by Cicero as a sort of proto-panegyric. It seems to me that several elements are comparable to later panegyric - firstly Cicero is working out a way in which to communicate with his social betters, in a manner which makes them look good but also, by extension, helps his own career. Secondly, "On The Command" chronicles the central importance of Pompey to the state and it's continued prosperity, as does panegyric for the Emperor.

To be the idea seems worth considering at the very least, and it certainly casts an interesting light on the development of oratory from the Republic into the Empire. Some research into the notion leads me to find (unsurprisingly!) that I'm not the first to consider it and this link to Mary Whitby's "The Propaganda of Power" has some interesting points on the idea: here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I'm not dead...

...just busy.

I've been extremely busy recently, but never fear for I've still been musing over ancient history each day (only without boring all and sunder with it).

I'll hopefully get something up in the next few days.

I've just finished reading Catherine Steel's "Roman Oratory", which I think it a compact and great little text and I have several thoughts about it. I studied under Professor Steel in Glasgow and I enjoyed both her lectures and seminars greatly, in fact I'd say he seminars were the best I experienced in my time at University. That aside, she's an authority on Roman oratory, and her work is well worth reading.

I've also just started Plutarch's Moralia in an older Penguin edition by Rex Warner. He's great, so I'm looking forward to it.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Some Thoughts On Tony Perrottet's "Route 66 A.D".

Route 66 A.D is a pop-classical history book that (I must confess) I pretty much adore. I first picked it up when I was studying at University and it set me on a path towards being a classics buff (so to speak) that I've been on ever since.

Loosely, the book is a travel diary that follows Tony Perrottet as he covers the ancient route of the world's first tourists - 1st century A.D Romans - rich, aristocratic, with time to spare following the relegation of the Senate (of sorts) and desperate to see the highlights of their sprawling Empire, from Sparta to Athens, Troy to Egypt.

Intermixed with his anecdotes of Roman travel, he tells wry tales of his own experiences in Rome, Naples, Alexandria and more. This mix makes for some interesting and and funny parallels of the experience gap of two travellers over some 2000 years.

The book opens up with Perrottet describing the revealing of a world map (one of the first!) created under the patronage of Marcus Agrippa, and Perrottet does an excellent job of setting the scene and putting the reader in the sandals of an ancient traveller - the parallel between the two is a central theme of the entire book. Perrottet invests considerable energy drawing it.

He speaks of Roman tourists visiting Troy being like Irish-Americans visiting rural Ireland, The Knidian Aphrodite as the Playboy shoots of Marilyn Monroe that retain special status above all later imitations, the story of the Greeks defeating the Persians retold to Roman children as a proto Star Wars. The list goes on.

The narrative is thick with anecdotes of Roman travellers from nameless aristocrats to famous orators like Aristides and Hellenophiles such as Nero and Hadrian. A significant amount of research want into bringing the story to life - and the central wonder of the book is that one can truly imagine doing the ancient tourist trail in the 1st century A.D, and that functions to the greater good as it helps one get inside the head of an ancient Roman.

The book has a few factual errors, and some problems with generalisations, although I should say that Perrottet admits it's not meant to be a scholarly work. First off, he says that most ancients could be considered generally "bi-sexual" which is a bit of a generalisation - the male/male relationships of Greece are complex and difficult to categorise by modern standards, and the Romans were notoriously against homosexual relationships.

Secondly he has the location of the Subura in Rome to be South of the Aventine Hill, when it's actually located N.E of that Hill and not especially in proximity to it. Thirdly he has Ovid as recommending the Colosseum, when Ovid was in fact dead well before it's construction.

Finally (there are a few more, but I won't mention them) he anachronistically uses the term Viceroy to refer to Roman pro-consuls quite frequently, which perhaps reflects the age and heritage of texts he used for study - viceroy is a misleading term and while one could roughly equate the job description of a pro-consul to a British viceroy, it doesn't quite work.

These can be easily forgiven, though, considering it's a pop-classic history book and not intended as a scholarly work.

Following a Herodotean wonderment of the East, the characters become stranger the further East we go, and to be really quite honest the personal narrative of Perrottet's journey becomes less interesting for me, and I've entertained the possibility that some of it is made up for purpose of the story, or to further the Roman/modern traveller parallels (again that move has a Herodotean flavour to it).

The book ends with a list of short biographies which is useful and and contains a fair number of names. Likewise the bibliography is quite good and contains a list of interesting scholarly texts, although several of them are now quite old.

Overall, it's a great book. It has a lust for anecdotes and colourful history that makes it so highly readable. It's greatest triumph is the establishment of the parallels between ancient travellers and modern ones. The upshot is that it seems the tourist experience has changed little over 2000 years (although that's possibly a result of squeezing the two narratives into parallel stories). I recommend reading the book for it's light hearted approach and thickness of stories.