From the May 14th New York Times, a guest Op-Ed piece by Christopher Francese, associate professor of classics at Dickinson College, on the practice of granting diplomas in Latin. Click on the image at left to read Chris’s editorial. Click here to read my blog post on Rough Draft.
Today is the 310th birthday of the English scholar and landscape gardener Joseph Spence (1699-1768). Spence served both as Professor of Poetry (1728-37) and Regius Professor of Modern History (1742-68) at Oxford, and was a friend of the poet Alexander Pope. Perhaps his most influential work was Polymetis (1741), a treatise in dialogue form on the connections between ancient Roman poetry and art. The work draws extensively on examples from Latin poetry, and from “antiques” such as sculptures, medals, and cameos. The special collections department of the Carleton College library holds a 1755 edition of the Polymetis, from which the frontispiece and title page above are taken. Continue reading
American Beauty (1999). Directed by Sam Mendes. Screenplay by Alan Ball.
Euripides, Hippolytus (428 BCE). Translated by Anne Carson in Grief Lessons: Four Plays. New York Review Books 2006.
Warning: contains spoilers.
American Beauty begins with a piece of evidence: a teenage girl appears to be recruiting her boyfriend to kill her embarrassing father. We learn soon afterward, from the father’s own voice-over narration, that he will soon be dead. Will the daughter’s boyfriend kill him? Late in the film, Lester’s distraught and unfaithful wife heads home to confront him, packing a loaded gun in her purse. The film, running like a murder mystery in reverse, drops a series of clues, and encourages the viewer to speculate about how Lester Burnham will eventually meet his death. The problem is that most of the clues are false. The film is about, among other things, the difficulty of interpreting the things in front of our eyes. Continue reading
By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr, directed by Wendy Knox. A Frank Theater production at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio. There are three more performances remaining: Friday (4/3) and Saturday (4/4) at 7:30 pm and Sunday (4/5) at 1:00 pm.
Rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno. A good woman, says the Roman poet Juvenal, is a rare bird, like a black swan.
As Marina Carr’s play By the Bog of Cats opens, Hester Swane is dragging the corpse of a black swan across the snow-covered stage, leaving behind a trail of blood. Hetty isn’t quite the rare bird Juvenal had in mind. She’s strong, passionate, tenacious, and she has a streak of terrible darkness in her. She’s a tinker—a gypsy—who grew up in a caravan beside the Bog of Cats in rural Ireland, abandoned there by her mother at the age of seven and waiting there ever since for her mother’s return. In that time she’s had an illegitimate child, a daughter named Josie, by Carthage Kilbride, a farmer who has left her for the daughter of a local landowner. Those attuned to classical resonances will realize that this is an Irish adaptation of the Medea, Euripides’ tragedy of a woman scorned and driven to unspeakable violence. Continue reading
Over on Rough Draft I’ve posted my review of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1929 novel The True Heart, which is based on the story of Eros and Psyche in Apuleius’ The Golden Ass. For the classically-literate, the allusions to Apuleius’s story are clever and amusing. Eros and Psyche are Eric and Sukey. Aprhodite is Eric’s mother, Mrs. Seaborn. Mrs. Seaborn’s husband is the fire-and-brimstone preacher Rev. Smith Seaborn (Hephaistos). Ox-eyed Juno is Mrs. Oxey, the keeper of a “disorderly house” who has a stuffed peacock in her drawing room. Even Lucina, the goddess of childbirth, shows up in the form of Mrs. Lucy, the midwife. And Psyche’s visit to Persephone, the queen of the underworld, is transposed into an audience with Queen Victoria. The True Heart is an odd novel, but also lovely and fascinating, especially for a classicist.
Sylvia Townsend Warner is likely to have read the story of Eros and Pysche in the 1923 translation by the poet and pioneering British gay rights activist Edward Carpenter, who died in 1929, when Warner’s novel was published.
One of my former jobs was researching and writing scripts for Garrison Keillor’s daily radio program, The Writers’ Almanac. What always frustrated me about that gig was that I could never go into much depth, and had to confine myself to anecdotes about famous people. Keillor complained if my scripts sounded too much like “term papers.” Succumbing to that tendency, now that I’m no longer subject to quality control by Mr. Keillor, I’ve posted a birthday appreciation of Victorian poet and friend of the classics, Walter Savage Landor. It can be found over on my personal blog, Rough Draft.
One of the links in the post is to another classics blog out there,
Laudator Temporis Acti, the work of Minnesota-based “antediluvian, bibliomaniac, and curmudgeon,” Michael Gilleland.
Note: According to Wikipedia, one of Landor’s early love interests was a girl named Nancy Evans.
One of my ambitions in college was to write a paper on the influence of classical mythology (specifically, Ovid) on the songwriting of Peter Gabriel. Alas, no such paper was ever written. But here, courtesy of YouTube, is the Gabriel-era Genesis version of “The Fountain of Salmacis” from Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book 4 (filmed live in Belgium in 1972). Continue reading
Note: Over on my personal blog, Rough Draft, I’ve been blogging my way through The Federalist Papers, with a rather loose goal of finishing them by the end of 2009. A list of previous installments is linked in the right sidebar. Because Federalist 18 treats a classical subject, the ancient Amphictyonic and Achaean Leagues, I’ve decided to spin this post off onto EcBlogue.
Part One: Madison’s Books
Thomas Jefferson was in France in the summer of 1785, enjoying the wine, the women, the architecture, and the shopping. He was besotted with the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, which he called “the best morsel of antient architecture now remaining.” He spent hours gazing at it like a lover, and hired architects to make drawings of it to serve as a model for the Virginia State Capitol. He told James Madison, with characteristic confidence, “It will be superior in beauty to any thing in America, and not inferior to any thing in the world.”
The Maison Carrée. Click thumbnails below for larger view.