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Sunday: January 15, 2006

Spartacus

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:52 PM UTC

You might think that a Latin teacher would have gotten around to seeing Spartacus in his first ten or twelve years of full-time teaching, if he hadn’t seen it before. Not me: I’m not fond of blockbusters and costume dramas, and just got around to watching it earlier today. (My students have all seen it in previous Latin classes, which removes one incentive.) What pushed me to fill this embarrassing gap? I saw most of Quo Vadis Christmas Day, and was pleasantly surprised — either it’s a lot better than I had thought or my standards are slipping. My desultory and no doubt unoriginal thoughts on first viewing Spartacus:

  1. The gladiator-training equipment was very impressive, but I couldn’t tell whether it is authentically ancient or cleverly imagined or some combination of the two. (Maybe I should do some research? No, too much trouble.)
  2. Lots of good lines. When a distinguished guest arrives unexpectedly, the host orders “Second-best wine . . . no, best, but small goblets.”
  3. Were Lentulus the lanista (trainer of gladiators) in Spartacus and Nero in Quo Vadis played by the same man? (Pause to check IMDB.) Yes: Peter Ustinov. A famous name, so why don’t I know his face (and his googly eyes)? I really need to watch more movies.
  4. I try to avoid the usual classicist’s vice of counting up the historical inaccuracies, but I couldn’t help noticing one thing. What made the men look most modern and least Roman was their hairstyles. Also, in general, Rome and Italy and the actors were all far too clean.
  5. The cognomen of Marcus Publius Glabrus, the weenie who lost six cohorts by being too stupid to fortify his camp, includes a cruel joke. Glabrus is not a Latin word, but is obviously related to glaber, which is an adjective meaning “hairless” and a noun referring to a male slave whose body hair has been removed, no doubt at his master’s orders.
  6. Which reminds me: The wickedest Roman, Crassus, is (a) given some conventionally proto-fascist and palaeo-McCarthyite things to say, and (b) a predatory bisexual. The less wicked and less ‘right-wing’ Gracchus is promiscuous, but strictly heterosexual, and Spartacus himself is monogamously heterosexual. Hmmmm . . . .
  7. When Crassus forces Spartacus and Antoninus to fight to the death, with the winning prize crucifixion, why do they do go along? They could have run on each other’s swords simultaneously — some Romans committed suicide that way — or attacked the ring of soldiers surrounding them and taken a few with them as they died. After killing Antoninus, Spartacus has another chance to kill Crassus, who comes up close to taunt him before he has been disarmed. In short, why don’t they do as the Nubian gladiator had done earlier on, when he refused to kill Spartacus in the ring and instead tried twice to kill Crassus, first throwing his trident at him and then climbing the wall for a more personal attack?

Now I suppose I’d better find time to watch Gladiator. But not yet: I have Le Corbeau and The Revenger’s Tragedy out from U.N.C. library, and the combination of a 3-day loan period and a 55-mile round-trip to return them means that they come first.

(Point 7 added at 11:00 am the next day.)

A Squib Fit for a King

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:33 PM UTC

Brutus, quia reges eiecit, consul primus factus est:
hic, quia consules eiecit, rex postremus factus est.

Brutus, because he threw out the kings, became the first consul.
This man, because he threw out the consuls, has become the latest/last king.

These lines of verse (trochaic septenarians) are irretrievably anonymous but securely datable to the first few months of 44 B.C. According to Suetonius in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars (Book I, 80.3), someone wrote them on Caesar’s statue shortly before he was assassinated. The point is that Caesar has added himself to the list of kings of Rome, eighth after – long after – Tarquinius Superbus, deposed by the first Brutus. But there is more to it than that: our anonymous patriot hopes that Caesar will be not only the latest but the last king of Rome because he will soon be assassinated, and no one will dare emulate him. He got half his wish: his target was soon ‘the late’ Julius Caesar, but was of course succeeded by dozens more kings-in-all-but-name.

Where To From Here?

Filed under: — site admin @ 2:44 PM UTC

Now that I have my laptop back and have found a temporary and partial fix for my spam-comment problem (more on that soon), it’s time to start posting more regularly. I will continue posting occasional footnotes on events of the day, but only where I have something original, however trivial, to add. If you want to be informed of every passing event, go to the big dogs such as Instapundit. I will mostly try to cultivate my own little garden: ancient literature, the ancient world, Latin and other languages, and whatever bits of modern culture interest me. In other words, this will be even more of a cultureblog (mostly non-contemporary) than it already is, rather than a ‘warblog’ or politics blog.

On my apolitical non-pseudonymous blog for classicists, I’ve been posting an ‘Ancient Joke of the Day’, in PDF files, since half of the jokes are Greek and I like to include the original text with all the accents. There are 75 so far, covering all of November and December and the first half of January. (I actually started the project in November of 2000, and took it up again on January 2nd after a five-year gap.) I plan to post an ‘Ancient Joke of the Day’ here as well, starting today. These will be ordinary blog-posts, with the translation first and all Greek translated so it will appear in HTML. Anyone who wishes to read the new jokes and skip the rest of this site can link to the category archive (as soon as I create it). Warning: I will recycle some of the PDF jokes on this site.

The second new feature will be a weekly ancient or modern text, to be posted (in English) every Sunday afternoon. The first few will be letters of the younger Pliny, starting today with 3.14, his account of the murder of a cruel master by his own slaves. Like many of Pliny’s letters, it raises numerous issues worth pondering. The comment feature will allow a slow-motion virtual seminar.

Finally, I will be posting miscellaneous notes on whatever I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching (on DVD, since I don’t have a cable).