Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Wow, it’s June.

I’ve been very bad about updating my blog for a multitude of reasons:

1. I’ve been very busy with my work for my Master’s Degree, which will be completed 2 weeks today (gah!)

2. I haven’t really been reading anything Classical and interesting at the moment, which most people seem to like to read.

3. Honestly, I just haven’t been having many thoughts worth sharing with the Interwebs on almost any subject. I know the Internet is useful because you can speak to people you’ve never met who might be interested in the same things, but whenever I’m on here I feel conflicted about what I want this blog to be.

But enough of that! I’ve been surfing lots of comics sites in my spare time (though calling them ‘comics’ kind of undermines them, I think… comics are Archie and Veronica, not the beautiful images Emily Carroll creates, or the wonderful world of Rice Boy), and I recognised how much I’d love to draw more. I’d especially love to make a full-length graphic novel-style story, with proper drawings, but now is definitely the time for baby steps. And what better time than June? I’ve decided to take part in the Thirty Days Project, which is designed to challenge people to do one creative thing every day this month. I will be doing at least one drawing a day. I would promise to post everything here or on the Thirty Days website, but that’s almost certainly going to be impossible for a variety of reasons. If the drawings aren’t cripplingly incompetent, I’ll post them here in a batch when I can.

That’s me sorted out then. What creative thing are you going to do this month?

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Another Funny

Here’s another great comic for you Classical-minded friends. Have fun!

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Another excellent comic from SMBC. Enjoy!

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I have been reading a terrifying book lately, called ‘The Shallows’, about how the Internet is changing the format of our brains and how we process information. The book reasons that the Internet sprays us with little bits of information which we browse lightly, rather than committing to the sort of “deep reading’ that allows us to follow an argument, that is, the kind of brain we have had since reading and writing were invented.

This book follows swift on the heels of an article I read in The Guardian recently about how e-readers allow a huge number of multimedia features to be incorporated into a book. For example, the e-reader version of ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel includes a discussion between the author and Dr. David Starkey, as well as useful illustrative links and so on. However, ‘The Shallows’ argues that these little gems detract from our focus as we read. I know I’d be on edge if I was looking for Easter eggs and hyperlinks as well as following a complex story line.

I was skeptical about e-readers, I’ll admit it. I thought they’d die the death of the 8-Track and Betamax, truth be told. I can see their advantage if you go travelling and don’t want to bring an entire library with you, but their appeal ended there, for me. I love the heft of a book in my hand, the ability to fold down page corners, the fact that I can (and do) drop it in the bath without worrying about the loss of my entire library. Reading this book, however, has persuaded me never to use an e-reader. The human brain, with its ability to focus deeply on a task (especially when that task is a book), is a triumph of evolution/design/both. Anything that distances my brain from the brain of the ancients is, in my opinion, a bad thing. 

Originally, literary works were written on scrolls, which were a bit cumbersome and hard to use. Wax tablets were used for day-to-day writing, since parchment was expensive. To accommodate longer notes, groups of wax tablets were tied together, making a rather thick book-like object. Early in the Christian Era, some bright spark decided to do the same thing to parchment, and in doing so invented what we call the codex, the book’s most recognizable precursor. From there we move on to monasteries, Gutenberg and other aspects of printing and publishing history, but that’s another story for another blog. It may be that the e-reader is just the next step in books and book-making. However, I feel like I don’t have the same deep engagement with the very substance of the page when I’m holding an e-reader. This might just be the novelty of the device, but reading a book in electronic format leaves me feeling disconnected from the page and ink substance of a real book, the page and ink substance with which the book was originally written. This may not be true of many modern authors, who mostly type their works, but I feel very far from ancient authors, who wrote on parchment, wax, or the versatile substance of their own minds. I feel as though I’m cheating by reading Homer in English, let alone in English on an e-reader.

An e-reader also changes my own reception of a work. When I read electronic type, it’s usually because I am looking for some sort of information- where we’re meeting tomorrow night, a bibliographical reference, the news, the opening times of a shop. Reading an e-book makes me feel like I’m strip-mining the book for information, rather than enjoying a story or speech or history. E-readers are efficient, I suppose, but efficiency isn’t the point. I don’t read just to gain information- I read to read! This ties in with the whole “art for art’s sake” feeling I have about Classics and life in general.

So, Cicero, Homer, and the others- I promise you that I will stay close to you and your bookish, codex-y, waxy roots, and far away from e-readers.

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For whatever reason, most likely an accident of historical recording, people in the ancient world seem to have an incredible proclivity for cruelty, and probably the most famous cruelties were those inflicted by the Romans. So here are my top five worst ways to suffer like a Roman.

5. Skinned alive with your own crab

Source: http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://faculty.ed.umuc.edu/~jmatthew/naples/fishcombo2.jpg&imgrefurl=http://faculty.ed.umuc.edu/~jmatthew/naples/Tiberius.htm&usg=__goDcIROCgREAEF0EuCggzDR-XgA=&h=450&w=346&sz=26&hl=en&start=2&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=GSEIIC7iCyk1yM:&tbnh=127&tbnw=98&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dtiberius%2Bcrab%2Bfisherman%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dsafari%26sa%3DN%26rls%3Den-us%26tbs%3Disch:1

This splendid story comes from my favourite historian Suetonius. Tiberius spent most of his reign on the island of Capri doing all sorts of naughty things. One day, a local fisherman caught a massive mullet, and, thinking that a fish of that size was worthy of the emperor alone, scampered up to the palace to present it to him. Tiberius was a terribly paranoid man, and was terrified at the thought that his palace could be so easily accessed by any local hick who knew to go round the back of the island. In reprisal, he ordered that the man’s face be rubbed raw with the fish. To make matters worse, the fisherman gave thanks that he had not also brought the massive crab he had caught, whereupon Tiberius ordered his guards to fetch the crab also, and used that as well as the fish to skin the man’s face completely. Probably apocryphal, but still very nasty.

4. The petard hoist

Seneca, tutor to Nero, had been a life-long Stoic and borderline ascetic, never eating or drinking too much, writing gory plays. Late in his life he became embroiled in a plot to kill the emperor whom he had once tutored. The plot was discovered and Seneca preferred to commit suicide than be executed. In true Roman style, he thought he would slit his wrists, but his age and the fact that he had been so frugal in his diet had restricted his veins, so he bled very slowly. Wanting to speed things up, he also cut the arteries at the back of his knees, but to no avail. He tried to do a Socrates and drink poison, but again his lean frame failed him. In the end he had to stand in a hot bath and suffocate himself with the steam. The ‘ironic’ thing is that Seneca’s Stoicism both led him to suicide and prevented him from it at the same time.

3. Can you smell roses?

Another rotten emperor was Elagabalus, whom I’ve mentioned before in this blog. He devised a clever scheme for retractable ceiling panels for one of his many dinner parties, which would allow flowers to be sprinkled on his guests as they ate. However, the fatal twist was that the flowers did not stop falling, and the people below were smothered under their weight.

2. The worst tiki torches

Source: Google

The boy emperor Nero is not known for being much of a nice guy. He killed his own mother and anyone else who stood in his way, and allegedly did nothing to stop Rome from burning to a crisp. Notwithstanding all of this, Nero is possibly best known for persecuting the early Christians, blaming them for the Great Fire. Not only did he sew them up in animal skins and set dogs on them, he also dipped them in tar and straw and set them on fire for use as lights in his outdoor banqueting hall.

1. Meddling friends

Cato the Younger was a highly respected Republican senator in the closing days of the Republic before the emperors and rabidly anti-Caesar. During the Civil War, when the tide was clearly turning in Caesar’s favour, Cato decided that it would be better to die than to have Caesar pardon him and spare his life. Not wanting a big fuss, like any modest Roman, he tried to stab himself when everyone had gone out, but his hand was inflamed and he botched it. He struggled and knocked over his bedside table, bringing his friends running. They found a doctor and stitched him up while Cato was still only semi-conscious, but when he came to and saw what had happened, he ripped open his stitches and tore out his own intestines in his bid to die. Not pretty.

And, as a lovely supplement –

Not technically a death, but still… 

Source here: http://www.uoregon.edu/~klio/im/rr/laterep/crassus-death.jpgThe East had always been alluring to the grasping Romans, particularly because it seemed to be full of people who were very hard to conquer. In 53 BC, Marcus Licinius Crassus, a close friend of Julius Caesar and the richest man in Rome at the time, was killed at the Battle of Carrhae (an overwhelming defeat for the Romans) and his body captured by the Parthians. To punish him in a post-mortem way for the greed which had driven him to invade them, they poured molten gold down his throat and preserved his head. Later, the Parthian court saw a performance of Euripides’ ‘Bacchae’, which has as its climax a scene involving a severed head. Guess whose head was used? Yes- that of poor Crassus. As Plutarch points out, it was a fittingly tragic end to a tragic campaign.

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I know it’s tangential to my general theme, but I thought this was quite funny. Enjoy!

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Three posts in three days, not bad!

Basically, I am a massive Doctor Who nerd- I love watching all the excitement and fake science whizzing by at the speed of a witticism. I’ll keep this short so as not to bore you all, but a big part of this series’ plot revolves around a persistent crack in time/space (watch out, the link has spoilers) which consumes anything in its path and does not simply destroy the object/person/race/planet, but also removes it completely from time, so that it never existed in the first place. Unfortunately, and since this has already been out on TV it won’t be a spoiler, one of the main characters in the new series dies and then is devoured by this crack. The Doctor insists that the character will continue to exist if only he can be held in memory, even if that is a sort of vicarious existence.

Since I am a nerd, I also watched the behind-the-scenes ‘Doctor Who Confidential’ for this episode, and the overwhelming impression I got from the interviews of the actors and writers is that it was bad enough for the character to die, but for him to be completely forgotten was “even worse”- as though being remembered would be a consolation for dying.

Whenever I think about death and remembrance, my thoughts go to the works of Homer- The Iliad and The Odyssey. In The Iliad, Achilles tells us that he was given a choice by his divine mother that he could die young but gain eternal glory, or live a long life with no glory at all (terrible translation here). He makes his choice and dies at Troy, remaining the archetypal warrior for centuries, inspiring such leaders as Alexander the Great. We can already see here, in a poem composed sometime in the Bronze Age, that people were already thinking that being remembered after your death was a suitable replacement for continuing to live.

However, in The Odyssey, Odysseus encounters Achilles as he wanders through the Underworld, and tells him that his fame back among the living is alive and well, though Achilles himself is dead. Here we can see quite a change from the Achilles we meet in The Iliad– he says that he would rather be the lowest slave alive on Earth than be king of the whole Underworld. Quite a change!

The question of living on in the remembrance of others probably shifted emphasis even more later when the Christian idea of heaven arrived, where the afterlife was not an aimless darkness, but a glorious space where the love of God is fully present for each individual. Nevertheless, we still persist in feeling, for reasons we can’t quite explain, that to be forgotten after your death is a very sad and serious problem. It’s why we have Memorial Day and Remembrance Day, among other commemorative holidays. Philosophers through time have battled with this issue, and I’d be interested to hear your collective wisdom, O Internet.

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