Thursday, September 14, 2023

Freshwater Crabs Live Beneath the Ruins of Rome

Every so often there appears a news story of classical interest which seems so unusual that you need to check the sources to make sure that the claim is true, and this is one of those:

Click here to get a better view and to read the article.

While the ruins beneath the Forum of Trajan seem to be the most populated, the crabs can be found in the sewers, in particular the remains of the Cloaca Maxima, which still drains this area of the city.

Click on this link to get a good view of Emanuele Biggi's award-winning photograph of the Gladiator Crab.

Many are the wonders of this world!

Friday, August 11, 2023

Evander Mourns the Death of His Son Pallas

Evander Mourning Over the Body of his Son, Pallas, Aeneid: Book XI,
from Les Oeuvres de Virgile, after Charles-Nicolas Cochin, the younge

This is follow-up is a companion piece to the post published on June 18: "Evander Begs Jupiter for his Son's Safe Return".

In Book XI, lines 148-163, of Vergil's Aeneid, Evander mourns his son Pallas killed in combat:

At non Evandrum potis est vis ulla tenere,
sed venit in medios. Feretro Pallante reposto
procubuit super atque haeret lacrimansque gemensque,    150
et via vix tandem voci laxata dolore est:
"Non haec, o Palla, dederas promissa parenti,
cautius ut saevo velles te credere Marti.
Haud ignarus eram quantum nova gloria in armis
et praedulce decus primo certamine posset.                       155
Primitiae iuvenis miserae bellique propinqui
dura rudimenta, et nulli exaudita deorum
vota precesque meae! Tuque, o sanctissima coniunx,
felix morte tua neque in hunc servata dolorem!
Contra ego vivendo vici mea fata, superstes                      160
restarem ut genitor. Troum socia arma secutum
obruerent Rutuli telis! Animam ipse dedissem
atque haec pompa domum me, non Pallanta, referret!"

And my translation:

Yet no force can hold back Evander,
But he comes into their midst. He threw himself
onto Pallas laid out on a litter, crying and groaning he clings,
and after a hard while he finds a way to utter from grief:
“O Pallas, you had not given these promises to your father,
that you would want to entrust yourself more warily to savage Mars,
I was by certainly not ignorant how much new glory there is in arms
and how much very sweet pride there can be in your first fight.
The wretched firsts of youth and the hard first attempts at war nearby,
no gods heard my vows and my prayers!
And you, O most holy wife, were lucky to die
and to have saved yourself from this grief!
As for me I have overcome my fates by stay alive,
so that I might remain a father surviving my son.
The Rutulians with their weapons should have overwhelming me having followed 
the allied arms of the Trojans. I myself should have given my soul
and this procession should be carrying me home, not Pallas!

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Sage Advice for the Traveler

The Villa Vergiliana:

When I was a student in college, I had the privilege, in the fall of 1985, of spending a semester abroad in Rome at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies (ICCS), more affectionately called the Centro. While we were on a two-week excursion to southern Italy and Sicily, we stayed a few nights at the Villa Vergiliana near Pozzuoli and Naples. While there, I found on the bulletin board this practical list, which should be considered by all who set out for vacation:

The Ten Commandments of Travel
  1. Thou shalt not expect to find things as thou hast left them at home - for thou hast left thy home to find things different.

  2. Thou shalt not take things too seriously - for a carefree mind is the beginning of a happy vacation.

  3. Thou shalt not let other tourists get on your nerves - as thou art paying out good money to have a good time.

  4. Remember thy passport where it is at all times - for a man without a passport is a man without a country.

  5. Blessed is the man who can make change in any language - for, lo, he shall not be cheated.

  6. Blessed is the man who can say "Thank You" in any language - it shall be worth more than many tips.

  7. Thou shalt not worry. He that worrieth hath no pleasure - and few things are ever fatal.

  8. Thou shalt not judge a people of a country by one person with whom thou hast had trouble.

  9. Thou shalt not make thyself too obviously American - when in Rome, do somewhat as the Romans do.

  10. Remember thou art a guest in every land - and he that treats his host with respect shall be treated as an honored guest.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Evander Begs Jupiter for his Son's Safe Return

On this Father's Day 2023, a quick look around the internet reveals that the theme of the relationship between fathers and their sons are a ripe topic for exploration in Vergil's Aeneid. As I surveyed the options form this work, one scene stood out as particularly poignant: the passage in Book VIII where Evander bids a sad, foreboding farewell to his son Pallas as he sets out with Aeneas to battle. Evander is too old and infirm to lead and teach his son himself, so he has entrusted this task to the surrogate Aeneas.

In Book VIII, lines 558-584, Evander begs Jupiter for his son's safe return:

tum pater Evandrus dextram complexus euntis
haeret inexpletus lacrimans ac talia fatur:
'o mihi praeteritos referat si Iuppiter annos,                560
qualis eram cum primam aciem Praeneste sub ipsa
stravi scutorumque incendi victor acervos
et regem hac Erulum dextra sub Tartara misi,
nascenti cui tris animas Feronia mater
(horrendum dictu) dederat, terna arma movenda—    565
ter leto sternendus erat; cui tunc tamen omnis
abstulit haec animas dextra et totidem exuit armis:
non ego nunc dulci amplexu divellerer usquam,
nate, tuo, neque finitimo Mezentius umquam
huic capiti insultans tot ferro saeva dedisset               570
funera, tam multis viduasset civibus urbem.
at vos, o superi, et divum tu maxime rector
Iuppiter, Arcadii, quaeso, miserescite regis
et patrias audite preces. si numina vestra
incolumem Pallanta mihi, si fata reservant,                575
si visurus eum vivo et venturus in unum,
vitam oro, patior quemvis durare laborem.
sin aliquem infandum casum, Fortuna, minaris,
nunc, nunc o liceat crudelem abrumpere vitam,
dum curae ambiguae, dum spes incerta futuri,           580
dum te, care puer, mea sola et sera voluptas,
complexu teneo, gravior neu nuntius auris
vulneret.' haec genitor digressu dicta supremo
fundebat; famuli conlapsum in tecta ferebant.

And my translation here:

Then father Evander, having embraced his son, and weeping uncontrollably,
clings to the right hand of the one departing and says such things:
“O, if Jupiter should return to me my past years,
the sort I was when I laid low the front line beneath Praeneste herself
and as victor set fire to the heap of shields
and sent King Erulus beneath Tartarus with this right hand,
to whom at birth his mother Feronia had given three lives
(horrible to say), three arms had to be moved --
three times he had to be laid low by death; then nevertheless
this right hand took away all his lives and stripped just as many arms:
now I should not ever be torn away from from your sweet embrace,
son, and Mezentius, insulting his neighbor’s very existense, would not have given
so many cruel funerals by his sword,
he would not have deprived this city of so many citizens.
But you, gods above, and you especially, Jupiter, the ruler of the gods,
take pity, I beg, on this Arcadian king
and hear this father’s prayers. If your divinities
keep my Pallas safe, if the fates keep him safe,
if I live to see him and to meet him again,
I beg for life, I agree to endure whatever hardship you wish.
But if you, Fortune, threaten some unspeakable disaster,
now, O let it be permitted to destroy this cruel life now,
while cares are uncertain, while hope for the future is unsure,
while I hold you, dear boy, in my embrace, you, my last, lone delight,
and may some too painful message not wound my ears.”
The father poured out these words in his last parting;
and his attendants carried him, having collapsed, home.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Orpheus: "I was thinking about you. And music."

My wife and I took a trip across Afton Mountain to the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA. Performances at the ASC take place in the Blackfriars Theater, billed as the world's only reproduction of the late 16th/early 17th century indoor theater used by Shakespeare to stage many of his performances. Watching a play in this unique venue is an experience not to be missed.

We were not there to take in one of their performances of Shakespeare, which (I must say) are always outstanding, but their production of Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice. This modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth was familiar, interesting, and, at times, a little bizarre.

First, the familiar. All the elements of the ancient myth are there. Without giving anything away, I can reveal that Eurydice dies on her wedding day and ends up in the Underworld. Orpheus, heartbroken, works to find his way back to his bride, only to lose her again when a misstep on their exit nullifies the deal Hades made for her release.

The interesting element comes from the story being told from the point of view of Eurydice. She arrives in the Underworld after a long and tiring journey. After having been bathed in the river (which is obviously the Lethe,  but never mentioned by name), she arrives unable to speak, remember her name, or even recognize anyone or anything. She is greeted by the shade of her father, who takes on the task of teaching her who she is, who they are (and were), and about her love and marriage to the musician Orpheus. It was fascinating, and a little touching, to watch Eurydice learn and grow, until she almost reaches the level of consciousness when she died.

Finally, the bizarre, and again I will try not give too much away about some other characters, namely the chorus and Lord of the Underworld. The chorus is played admirably by three individuals who represent rocks in the Underworld. They do not so much comment on the thoughts and actions of Eurydice as they try to teach her the rules of dead and existing in the Underworld. They are affected by Orpheus' sad music and, at one point, are so overcome that they roll across the stage and exit. They do provide an important part of the story, but I kept thinking that this is what it must have been like to watch a beatnik performance way back in the early 1960s. The Lord of the Underworld was portrayed as a childish, creepy individual "who is starting to grow" and "ready to become a man." It was uncomfortable watching his performance, as (I believe) it should have been. My wife commented on the way home that this whole character could have been removed, and the play would have continued on without him.

In all, this was a great performance, and I was glad to have seen it. This work fits right in with the recent publications of ancient myths and stories from the female perspective, and illustrates well the power of myth to remain timeless and meaningful, not matter the age.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Felicem, Roma, diem natalem!

Ancient and modern Rome has always considered April 21 to be the date of its founding. In honor of this auspicious day, I have read Ovid's version of the founding of this city and provided my own translation.

From Book IV, lines 807-862, of the Fasti:

Urbis origo
     venit; ades factis, magne Quirine, tuis.
iam luerat poenas frater Numitoris, et omne
     pastorum gemino sub duce volgus erat;
contrahere agrestes et moenia ponere utrique
     convenit: ambigitur moenia ponat uter.
'nil opus est' dixit 'certamine' Romulus 'ullo;
     magna fides avium est: experiamur aves.'
res placet: alter init nemorosi saxa Palati;
     alter Aventinum mane cacumen init.
sex Remus, hic volucres bis sex videt ordine; pacto
     statur, et arbitrium Romulus urbis habet.
apta dies legitur qua moenia signet aratro:
     sacra Palis suberant; inde movetur opus.               820
fossa fit ad solidum, fruges iaciuntur in ima
     et de vicino terra petita solo;
fossa repletur humo, plenaeque imponitur ara,
     et novus accenso fungitur igne focus.
inde premens stivam designat moenia sulco;
     alba iugum niveo cum bove vacca tulit.
vox fuit haec regis: 'condenti, Iuppiter, urbem,
     et genitor Mavors Vestaque mater, ades,
quosque pium est adhibere deos, advertite cuncti:
     auspicibus vobis hoc mihi surgat opus.
longa sit huic aetas dominaeque potentia terrae,
     sitque sub hac oriens occiduusque dies.'
ille precabatur, tonitru dedit omina laevo
     Iuppiter, et laevo fulmina missa polo.
augurio laeti iaciunt fundamina cives,
     et novus exiguo tempore murus erat.
hoc Celer urget opus, quem Romulus ipse vocarat,
     'sint' que, 'Celer, curae' dixerat 'ista tuae,
neve quis aut muros aut factam vomere fossam
     transeat; audentem talia dede neci.'
quod Remus ignorans humiles contemnere muros
     coepit, et 'his populus' dicere 'tutus erit?'
nec mora, transiluit: rutro Celer occupat ausum;
     ille premit duram sanguinulentus humum.
haec ubi rex didicit, lacrimas introrsus obortas
     devorat et clausum pectore volnus habet.
flere palam non volt exemplaque fortia servat,
     'sic' que 'meos muros transeat hostis' ait.
dat tamen exsequias; nec iam suspendere fletum
     sustinet, et pietas dissimulata patet;
osculaque adplicuit posito suprema feretro,
     atque ait 'invito frater adempte, vale',
arsurosque artus unxit: fecere, quod ille,
     Faustulus et maestas Acca soluta comas.
tum iuvenem nondum facti flevere Quirites;
     ultima plorato subdita flamma rogo est.
urbs oritur (quis tunc hoc ulli credere posset?)
     victorem terris impositura pedem.
cuncta regas et sis magno sub Caesare semper,
     saepe etiam plures nominis huius habe;
et, quotiens steteris domito sublimis in orbe,
     omnia sint umeris inferiora tuis.

And now my translation, which (I must admit) I have rendered a bit more freely than I have allowed my in the past: 

…The beginning of the City has come;
be present for your deeds, great Quirinus!
The brother of Numitor had paid for his crimes,
and every flock of shepherds was under twin leadership;
each one decided to gather the rustic folk and build walls:
“There is no need for any argument,” said Romulus;
“There is great faith in birds: let’s see what the birds have to say.”
The matter is agreed: one goes to the rocks of the woodsy Palatine;
the other heads to the top of the Aventine in the morning.
Remus sees six birds, this guy twelve in a row;
the agreement stands, and Romulus has control of the city.
A suitable day is chosen to mark the place for the walls with a plow:
the sacred rites of Pales were going on; then they get to work.
A ditch is made in the solid rock. They fill it with fruits
and earth gathered from neighboring territories;
The ditch is filled with dirt, and an altar is placed on the pile,
and a kindled fire burns on the new hearth.
Then, pressing down the handle of his plow, he traces out walls with his furrow;
a white cow with a snow-white bull brought the yoke.
These were the words of the king: “Jupiter and Father Mars
and Mother Vesta, be present for the founding of our city,
and whatever gods it is right to invite, pay attention, everyone:
let me do my work with you as my presiders.
May the age for this city and the power of this land as ruler be long,
and let the rising and setting day be under her power.”
That one was praying, and Jupiter thundered his omens
on the left and sent lightning bolts to the left in the sky.
From this good omen the happy citizens lay the foundations,
and in no time at all there was a new wall.
Celer, whom Romulus himself had summoned, urges on this work,
and he had said, “Celer, may those things be your concerns,
and do not let anyone cross these walls or ditch made from the plow;
kill anyone daring such things.”
Remus, not aware of this, began to despise these lowly walls,
and said, “The people will be safe with these?”
And quickly he leapt over: Celer attacks the offender with a shovel;
Remus bloody falls to the hard ground.
When the king learned of this, he fights back his rising tears
and keeps the pain shut away in his heart.
He does not show his grief openly and feigns strength,
and says, “Likewise to any enemy who crosses my walls.”
However he gives him funeral rites; he is no longer able
to hold back his tears, and his hidden devotion is made obvious;
and he gave kisses to the funeral bier having been set down,
and said, “my brother, unwillingly taken from me, farewell!”
He anointed his limbs about to burn: Faustulus and Acca
having let down her hair in grief, did the same as Romulus.
Then those not yet having been made Quirites wept for the youth;
the last flame was placed beneath the pyre wet with tears.
The city rises (who could have believe any of this then?),
about to place its foot as victor over all the lands.
May you rule the world and may you always be under the power of great Caesar,
and may you often have more of this name name also;
and, as long as you stand high over a conquered world,
may all else be lower than your shoulders.

Monday, April 03, 2023

"Division is Destruction"

The Vatican Museum's decision to return artwork from the Parthenon to Athens unfortunately has not provided any incentive for the British Museum to follow suit.

I remember when I was a student in an art history class way back in the mid-80s, the professor stated one of the primary reasons for the existence museums is to preserve and protect art and artifacts from around the world. The idea was that all of the works of one artist or monument or culture should not be contained in one location, but should be distributed to museums and collections around the world in order to insure their survival. To have all of the works of Monet, for example, in one location made the likelihood of their destruction, by man or natural disaster, possible. This statement does carry some truth, BUT the artifact itself should not be hacked up to be dispersed like pieces of cake.

Catherine Titi argues in her latest article that "to divide is to destroy":

The division of the Parthenon marbles between two museums can only be compared to the fragmentation of a monument. Can we imagine the Sistine Chapel split in two? Michelangelo’s famous fresco The Creation of Adam divided, God’s outstretched hand separated from that of Adam to whom it gives life?

Do read the article and give some thought to the matter. The Parthenon deserves to be made as whole as possible and preserved, not scattered around the museums of the world.