I was just putting a couple of thoughts on facebook regarding HBO’s Rome, noting that I like the first season for the most part, albeit with reservations, such as its allowance for heterosexual desire to blossom into something redemptive, while same-sex desire figures exclusively in predatory relationships, the sexism informing the series’ opportunistic representations of sex, women, etc. I imagine that the idea of a Roman-themed drama appealed especially to the series creators as an opportunity to unshackle themselves from many of the ethical constraints with which they would otherwise have to work. For example, a story thread I ‘liked’: Pullo desires a slave of Vorenus and (if I remember correctly) wants to buy her freedom. The slave, unaware of Pullo’s motives, informs a fellow slave with whom she already has a relationship — something Pullo does not know. A gentle-seeming sort, her lover goes to thank Pullo in humble fashion for his kindness. Enraged that the object of his desire already loves and is loved by another, Pullo promptly beats him to death. Vorenus is extremely upset — not that this gentle member of his house was brutally murdered, but at the disrespect Pullo showed to his house by ransacking its property in such fashion. Eventually, of course, the two main characters made up, Pullo wins over the slave whom he desires, and the story continues. As reprehensible as the conduct was, I thought the episode confronted audiences with an important perspective on how power relations shape perceptions of morality and humanity — a perspective other Roman dramas tend to avoid (Gladiator, etc.). I imagine the Roman scenario offered the series creators not so much the opportunity to educate as a way to explore and exploit the charismatically immoral regions of the modern male adventuring protagonist in ways otherwise unavailable. For example, one episode of the Sopranos features the murder of a 20 year old stripper by Joe Pantaliano’s character. Soprano henchman Paulie classifies it (if I recall) as ‘totally out of line’ — primarily because the act was disrespectful to the syndicate owned strip club, in the parking lot of which the murder occurred. The Roman scenario enables the writers to depict such responses as culturally normative, rather than criminally deviant, and thereby to retain story elements they might otherwise need to forfeit, such as the characters’ capacity to enjoy positively depicted emotional relationships, etc. And now there is Spartacus: Blood and Sand. At times I have the uncomfortable feeling that, in the cause of finding what’s worthwhile about a film/show/etc., I have very nearly extirpated any capacity my senses of aesthetic and moral dislike might have otherwise retained to direct my viewing. Accordingly, I have thus far watched every episode of this show, but I have to say that finding anything redeeming about it has not been easy for me. It seems to have clearly taken Rome (or Capua in this case) in its traditional role as a site for sex and violence spectacle to a new level in which story functions as a gossamer-thin tissue wafting almost invisibly around the horror-porn core of the show. A meaningful advancement of the plot or a new dimension to a character — in this show these seem like the true instances of spectacle flashing up suddenly and unexpectedly against a background drone of sex and slaughter. Then again, maybe I’m missing something?
I’m finally back from an extended trip away from internet access, and sadly behind in my Platonic Diablogging. But I thought you might get a kick out of this story about Rome (Georgia) celebrating its 175th birthday by trying to set a new record for the largest toga party (they need 2167 people in togas in one place for 12 minutes to do this). Toga instructions included.
The new acropolis museum opened in Athens while I was reading Barry Unsworth’s Land of Marvels. (Rob’s fuller review of this novel can be found here.)
Set in 1914 on the eve of the great war, the novel tells the story of John Somerville, an archaeologist excavating what he believes will be an important Assyrian site east of the Euphrates. Continue reading
Keeping in line with recent posts about the intersections of classical myth with American mythic narratives and story patterns…Thanks to my persistent brother-in-law’s recommendation, Sean and I just finished watching the acclaimed HBO show ‘The Wire’ a couple of weeks ago. Each of the five seasons is loosely structured around a single wire-tapping case in Baltimore that sheds light on some aspect of the city’s institutions (drug trade, unions, real estate/politics, education, and journalism). This is what the creator had to say about the way he conceived of his project:
In a few opening remarks, Simon repeatedly cited Greek tragedy’s influence on “The Wire,” explaining that in the place of the meddlesome Greek gods who randomly ruined people’s lives he subbed in modern institutions. In what seemed a preemptive nod toward any outraged […] fans in the audience, Simon also leaned on the same source to explain the fate for some of his show’s most popular characters. “Those who want to know why […] had to die, why […] had to die,” he said, “Strap on a helmet, get in the game and read . Read Medea. It had to happen.”
And to connect back to Clara’s post on myth and the western, there’s a scene toward the end of season 3 depicting a tense stand-off between two charismatic urban gunslingers, if you will, who meet in the shadows of a dark alley rather than at high noon in the town square. The Iliad’s codes of male conduct and the rituals of combat always seem to hover in the background of any form of warfare, whether it takes place in another country, in the Wild West, or in the streets.
Structural resonances aside, there are a couple of sly allusions to the show’s Greek tragic inspiration–a reference to Ares and a mysterious Greek drug smuggler who sends text messages in, not surprisingly, modern Greek.
Also, I wonder if the show’s title, “The Wire” has some significance. As a tool for trying to access the truth, the wiretap kind of functions like the poet, who expresses the engimatic words of the Muses. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the parties on both ends of the wire (the drug dealers and the cops) are to some degree defined by their ignorance because the drug dealers don’t know they’re being tapped, and the cops have to decode and interpret their verbal transmissions. But even when the whole situation comes to light and goes to trial, neither side really knows what will happen and what significance the wire and the communications it records will have for their respective cases.
In any case, stuff to think about. (Click here to see what Obama thinks.)
Not as elaborate as the Facebook Aeneid, but still amusing: http://www.holytaco.com/if-homers-odyssey-was-written-twitter
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
A couple of weeks ago, I saw (via Facebook) an article in the Guardian headlined: “Classic gags discovered in Ancient Roman Jokebook.” The article proved to be about Philogelus (discovered?!); it tried to keep up the pretense that the text had only just been discovered with the formulation: “Celebrated classics professor Mary Beard has brought to light a volume more than 1,600 years old…” Presumably she “brought it to light” for Guardian readers, or the general public, who hadn’t really been thinking about it before. But it seemed to me at the time a pretty misleading headline.
Today, again via Facebook, we are treated to “New Theory Released in Alexander the Great Burial Mystery!” As you can see if you read the story, the “release” of this “new theory” amounts to a story a friend told a friend in random conversation about something that happened decades ago.
Are headlines about recent news in science this ridiculously misleading?
I had the opportunity to hear a paper at the Pacific Ancient and Modern Languages Association meeting last November by Jon Solomon. The paper was “The Book Was Different”: Greek and Latin Inserts in Film Adaptations of Novels.” He had noticed that a number of high profile popular films, adapted from novels, included Greek and (especially) Latin, even though the novels on which they were based had none. A particularly striking example was Girl, Interrupted, in which Vanessa Redgrave, portraying a psychiatrist at a mental institution, quotes a brief passage from Seneca’s Hercules Furens (!) in Latin. Another notable example was Mel Gibson’s Man Without a Face, which involved Gibson reading in Latin, if I recall correctly, the entire proem of the Aeneid, as well as peppering the script with various snippets of conversational Latin. As always, pronunciation was dicey, as was the grammar in those instances where the Latin was composed for the film. Continue reading