Sunday, 12 June 2022

you dare ask the proconsul of rome to kneel—i asked it of julius caesar. i demand it of you

Among the most successful sword-and-sandal epics filmed in Cinecittร  and lavished with well-deserved critical acclaim—though not a commercial success and nearly bankrupting the studio, the Joseph L. Mankiewicz adaptation of the 1957 historical novel The Life and Times of Cleopatra by Carlo Maria Franzero (with additional material from Plutarch and Shakespeare) featuring the acting talents of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison and Roddy McDowall opened in US theatres on this day in 1963. After decisively suppressing rebellion in Greece and earning the title of dictator for life, Julius Caesar travels to Egypt as the executor of the late pharaoh’s estate, where Cleopatra successfully petitions Caesar to restore her to the throne and banish her younger brother the usurper. Both with imperial ambitions, they marry and have a child, Caesarion, publicly proclaimed as Caesar’s heir—disquieting for the Senate as the idea of returning Rome to a heredity monarchy is an anathema for democracy. Stemming from this fear, a conspiracy of senators assassinate Caesar, precipitating a revolt, put down by an alliance formed by Octavian (Caesar’s adopted son and to Cleopatra’s betrayal named in the will as opposed to their child), General Mark Antony and Marcus Ameilius Lepidus. Mark Antony, short on funds after the civil war, turns again to Egypt and forges his own personal allegiance with Cleopatra.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

apicius

We quite enjoyed revisiting the topic of a mysterious, most-favoured herb of Antiquity called silphium (previously)—considered a gift from Apollo and used as condiment, perfume, aphrodisiac, and seasoning and with medicinal uses ranging from anti-haemorrhoidal to contraceptive, imported into the Greek and Roman world from a narrow, microclimate in Syria that was resistant to transplantation. Over-harvesting and over-grazing coupled with climate change curried its abrupt disappearance from cupboards and medicine cabinets two millennia hence and serves as a warning best heeded about our own culinary staples and how familiar and enriching flavours and seasoning might meet the same fate. Much more at the links above.

Saturday, 14 May 2022

matthias the apostle

Formerly venerated on the sixth day before the Calends of March but with the calendar revisions of 1969, the commemoration of the Apostle Matthias, nominated by an assembly of disciples rather than chosen by Jesus himself to replace Judas Iscariot, was translated to this day as to take the celebration out of Lent and closer to the historical date (and as patron-protector against smallpox, coincides with the first inoculation administered by Edward Jenner in 1796 on eight-year-old James Phipps, the son of the family gardener). Though there are scant canonical details regarding his life, tradition places Matthias on the Caspian coast and evangelising to the people of the region that is modern day Georgia. Matthias’ patronage also includes tailors, carpenters, Billings Montana, Gary Indiana, Trier and alcoholics.

Thursday, 28 April 2022

hollywood on the tiber

Dedicated on this day in 1937 by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, the sprawling studio complex in Rome, Cinecittร , was built in accordance with the motto ”il cinema รจ l‘arma piรน forte“—that is, movies are the most powerful weapons. Their aims however were not exclusively for propaganda with the primary goal of reviving the country‘s flagging film industry, which had virtually collapsed in the early 1930s. Subject to bombardment during World War II and post-war was host to an encampment for displaced persons. Rebuilt in the early 1950s, the studio site garnered the titular nickname with over three-thousand productions, including Roman Holiday, Quo Vadis, Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, The Agony and the Ecstasy plus numerous films by Franco Zeffirelli and Federico Fellini. More recently the the studios were the set of the BBC/HBO co-production Rome and The Young Pope, a full-scale mock-up of St Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel on site, just a few kilometres away from the actual location.

Sunday, 24 April 2022

never look a gift horse in the mouth

Though this kind of exact date for something semi-legendary, laden with cultural baggage and millennia hence is notoriously hard to pin down, the attestation by among others Eratosthenes, polymath and librarian of Alexandria who calculated the circumference and axial tilt of Earth to a remarkable degree of accuracy (thanks in part to his access to extensive geological data at the library), traditionally places the Fall of Troy, the end of the decade-long siege of the impenetrable city by the Achaean armies when they were let into the gates, hiding inside a wooden horse, a ruse thought up by Odysseus—a creature sacred to the Trojans, on this day in 1183 BCE. Left on the beach as an offering for their return home, the Greeks had apparently decamped. Many were suspicious, including Cassandra and Laocoรถn—with of course no one listening to the former and the latter being devoured by a sea serpent along with his sons sent by Athena to keep the priest’s mouth shut but they ultimately decided to keep the horse and celebrated the end of their long blockade with an evening of drunken revelry. Most of the population was massacred in their sleep as the Greeks sacked the city—save for Aeneas who went on to found Rome in some traditions, with most of the Greeks also denied a safe homecoming by the gods for their atrocious behaviour as victors and for their desecration of temples and holy sites and were doomed to wrack and ruin.

Saturday, 26 March 2022

see something, spray something

 

My workplace located in the extended concrete canvas of The Meeting of the Styles (previously) international street artist collective and noticing some of the murals being given a new layer, I took a stroll around Mainz-Kastel through the train depot and some unwalkable places to document some of the expansive graffiti, especially noting those that referenced the district’s Roman connections and the neo-Classical redoubt / reduit bridgehead fortress that’s just across the tracks on the bank of the Rhein from the station.  We’ll see if we’re host to a whole new gallery of works soon.


 

Tuesday, 15 March 2022

ut annare perannareque commode liceat

Originally corresponding to the first full moon of the New Year, this day, the Ides of March, was marked by the Feast of Anna Perenna, a public holiday with much feasting and sacrifice to secure a propitious and healthy year ahead. Revelers beseeched the deification of the passage of time to grant them as many more fruitful years as cups of wine they could imbibe and observed despite calendar reforms and the pivot away from lunar cycles. Associated with the assassination of Julius Caesar who ignored the warnings of a seer, a practitioner of haruspicy—that is divination through entrails—called Spurinna, the festivities changed and were formalized after the civil war as an imperial procession marking the end of a holy week of sorts in honour of the Cybele, the Magna Mater, and her consort Attis, who represented the cycle of the seasons, and passion plays (performed by tree-bearing priests called dendrophoroi) that marked the birth and death of that figure in anticipation of the vernal equinox.

Saturday, 12 February 2022

7x7

forum gallorum: step into this unassuming salon to inspect a piece of Roman London, reminiscent of discovering this shopping mall in Mainz—via Nag on the Lake  

burds: just a fun little cleanse—cartoony birds hopping about—via Waxy  

shred, white and blue: the totally normal and perfectly legal ways the White House handled official records 

neft daลŸlarฤฑ: a decaying offshore oil platform in the middle of the Caspian Sea  

the thoughtful spot: the Phrontistery (ฯ†ฯฮฟฮฝฯ„ฮนฯƒฯ„ฮฎฯฮนฮฟฮฝ, Greek for the thinking place) catalogues a treasury of rare and obscure words—via Kottke  

gumshoe: the bygone era of the hotel detective—via Strange Company’s Weekend Link Dump  

be mine: the Lupercalia and the origins of Saint Valentine

Friday, 4 February 2022

de finibus bonorum et malorum

Spotted by Super Punch, New York Times sports writer Andrew Keh took note of the inspiring captions on posters for the Winter Games in the hotel he’s based out of. Lorem ipsum is placeholder text used in draft copies before the final version is available (see previously) and is adapted from a passage from the above Socratic dialogue of Roman orator Cicero (meaning on the ends of good and evil, a rather heavy subject for a throw-away endeavour), popularised in typesetting since the 1960s by a Letraset transfer sheets ad campaign, this pictured call-out begins “the pain is important to me” but non-standard, breaks down from there. Traditionally, the passage, which could very much apply to the spirit of competition, continues: “[B]ut occasionally circumstances happen wherein toil and pain can procure some pleasure. To take a trivial example, whom of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with one who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no pleasure?”

Wednesday, 2 February 2022

hypapante

One of the earliest Christian celebrations and pre-dating by centuries the establishment of Christmas and Easter, the Feast of the Presentation, reckoned forty days postpartum when couples (mostly the mother and the separation period was doubled for baby girls) partook in a ritual purification ceremony with burnt offerings to cleanse both infant child and themselves and reintegrate into the community, Candlemas and its later backformations became popular during the fourth century Plague of Justinian and it may be an appropriation of the feriae and fasti of Lupercalia and Ferฤlia that fell later in the month, the former itself a purification festival to promote health and fertility—February itself named after februa, the brooms to sweep away the detritus of the old year. Traditionally in some communities, decorations are finally taken down and candles are brought to local churches for blessing and used throughout the year.

Monday, 31 January 2022

civitas germiniana

Venerated on this day in the occasion of the translation of his body and relics in 1106 to his namesake San Gimignano, Saint Geminianus was a fourth-century deacon and later Bishop of Modena. Rarely referenced outside of the region, his iconography usually depicts him as either a bishop bearing a model of his city or as a man calming the sea and residents credit his intercession to both sparing them from marauding Huns by shrouding the towers with a dense fog and casting out a demon from the daughter of the Emperor Jovian, the exorcism reportedly prompting Jovian to reverse some of the policies of suppression on the exercise of Christianity by his predecessor Julian.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

milia passuum

Usually during lunch, I make a circuit around the neighbourhood of Mainz-Kastell and though I pass it every day, it still strikes me as a marvel and privilege that this ancient Roman milestone—among other archaeological artefacts—from 122 CE is just basically someone’s garden gnome. The highly abbreviated inscription reads as a dedication to “Emperor Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, Son of the deified Traianus Parthicus, Grandson of the deified Nerva, Pontifex Maximus in the sixth year of his tribunician [veto] power, Father of the Fatherland. Six miles (M·P VI) to Aquae Mattiacorum.” A near identical inscription (a decade older) was discovered near the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem during an excavation in 2014, Hadrian being in power during the Revolt of Roman Judea—the rebellion and the effort to suppress it framed as Expeditio—expedition (see also) Judaica by the other side.

Monday, 3 January 2022

daniel of padua

Venerated on the occasion of the translation (repatriation) to the cathedral of Padua on this day in 1064, the sainted deacon under Saint Prosdocimus, the city’s first bishop dispatched by Apostle Peter, Daniel helped win converts to the faith and was later martyred (†168 CE) and is represented with the iconography of a towel and laver to signify the importance of the ritual of feet washing and of cleanliness—in sense of purity, therapy and hygiene—in general. Patron and protector of both Padua and Treviso, Daniel is invoked by army wives to guarantee their husband’s return from war and, like fellow Patavino Anthony, is called upon to find lost articles.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

saint telemachus

An ascetic monk from Asia Minor undertook a spiritual sojourn to Rome and is venerated on this day when, according to near-contemporary Church chronicler Theodoret, for trying to stop a gladiatorial match in the Colosseum. Accounts vary as to whether Telemachus, who so opposed the violence, was stabbed by the competitors or stoned to death by an angry audience but historically the last known spectacle in the city occurred on 1 January 404 CE. Emperor Honorius was reported so moved by the sacrifice and martyrdom as to enact a ban on gladiator fights. In the version of the hagiography told by Ronald Reagan in 1984 addressing the National Prayer Breakfast, he added the embellishment that the crowd was so mortified by its actions that they all departed the stadium in silence.

Friday, 17 December 2021

ante diem xvi kalendas ianuarias

First observed in the Roman Empire on this day in 497 BC and over the centuries expanded into a six-day feast ending on 23 December, Saturnalia was held in honour of the god Saturn with public banquets, role-

reversals, continual revelry and private gift-exchanges⁠—usually in the form of white elephant presents, wax or pottery statuettes (action figures, see also) of the divine called sigillaria. Theologically important for some Romans who saw the festive time as a revival of the Golden Age (just as some classicists and successor nations see the Romans), traditions heavily references its Athenian equivalent, called Kronia (ฮšฯฯŒฮฝฮนฮฑ—for Chronos), when the gods ruled the world and toil and class was unknown, though not anticipating the solstice and the gradual return of the sun after a break, dark winter, Kronia was held ahead of the first harvest in July, August during the first month of the Greek calendar beginning in the summer, Hekatombaiลn. Rumours of human sacrifice to appease Saturn were greatly exaggerated and like spread by Christian apologist (see above).

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

7x7

the hallmark channel: a treasury of classic festive films from Eastern Europe  

savage garden: the ruins of Rome’s Colosseum was once a wild green oasis full of exotic plants—via Messy Nessy Chic 

touching the sun: the Parker Solar Probe enters and safely exits the corona  

barcode architects: a new triangular high-rise for Rotterdam’s maritime district  

smart tweed: artificial intelligence predicts the next holiday, must-have gifts  

็‚ฌ็‡ต: Japanese in-situ heating solutions called kotatsu (see previously) have been around for a long time  

what day is it boy: the labour shortage hits Scrooge & Marley

Friday, 26 November 2021

7x7

limerent limerick: help in recognising unhealthy obsessions and how to work one’s way out of intrusive think—hopefully through bawdy rhymes 

there and back again: Gene Deitch’s animated short The Hobbit—the first such adaptation  

roll for perception: a collection of resources, a florilegium from a Society for Creative Anachronism member for the LARP community—via Mx van Hoorn’s cabinet of hypertext curiosities  

avenue of the sphinxes: a restored promenade between Luxor and Karnak opened with fanfare  

opiate for the masses: drug use in Antiquity 

mlhavรฝ: Martin Rak’s fog-draped forests in Saxon-Bohemia—see previously 

here’s mud in your eye: a select glossary of beer and imbibing terminology—via Strange Company’s Weekend Link Dump


 

Thursday, 25 November 2021

saint catherine of alexandria

Counted among the Fourteen Holy Helpers, one of the counsellors who appeared to Joan of Arc and whose cult according to some academics was cover for sympathies for the murder and defamation of Greek philosopher Hypatia with a broad patronage that includes potters, millers, milliners and spinners for her tortured martyrdom on the breaking-wheel, scholars, scribes, secretaries, stenographers, etc. was a late third century daughter of the governor of the Egyptian centre of learning who converted to Christianity, aged fourteen, and evangelised to many with her winning eloquence and persuasive reasoning—and is venerated on this day. Once persecutions of Christians resumed under the reign of Maxentius, Catherine embarked to Rome and rebuked the emperor. Rather than dispatching with her instantly, the emperor instead assembled a retinue of fifty of his most skilled and pagan orators to challenge Catherine to a debate and refute her arguments. Not only did Catherine roundly carry the day, her words also managed to garner some new converts to the faith, all of whom were summarily put to death with Catherine confined in a dungeon and made to endure terrible tortures daily. A dove and a host angels healed her wounds nightly and Catherine survived her torment for twelve days, persuading the emperor to ultimately proposing marriage to her. Refusing to yield to Maxentius’ overtures, Catherine said she was happily taken by her spouse, Jesus Christ. Enraged, the emperor first had her bound to a spiked breaking wheel (now also known as a Catherine Wheel) and then beheaded for good measure.

Saturday, 20 November 2021

acta dasii

Fรชted on this day on the occasion of his martyrdom by beheading by fellow soldiers in 303 after Diocletian’s Edicts, Dasius of Durostorum (in the Roman province of Moesia Inferior, near the modern day city of Silistra in Bulgaria) was reportedly put to death for refusing to take part in the next month’s celebrations of Saturnalia, nominated to be the festival’s “king.” Though one of the better attested ancient traditions, most of what is known about the holiday is drawn from the above hagiography—which is suspect as pious propaganda—and suggests after a month of revelry and debauchery and satisfying every carnal pleasure, the chosen one, lord of misrule (rex sacorum) dressed as the personification of the pagan god would slit his throat and sacrifice himself to Saturn. Dasius was having none of this and would rather face capital punishment than end his days in debauchery.

Sunday, 7 November 2021

facce di bronzo

Via the always superb Everlasting Blรถrt, we are not only introduced to the sensational discovery of the so-called Riace bronzes in the early 1970s but how the Italian mayor of the namesake town is planning a museum and further excavations on the fiftieth anniversary of their recovery from the waves off the Calabrian coast to see if there are more Greek warrior statues yet to be uncovered. Made in the fifth century BCE using the lost wax casting technique are among the few surviving examples of Greek artistry, most being melted down, and were found by accident by a snooping chemist called Stefano Mariottini in 1972 and are conjectured to be either anonymous Delphic soldiers as part of an ensemble monument to the Battle of Marathon or possibly as depictions of Erechtheus, foster son of Athena and legendary king of Athens, and Eumolpus, son of Poseidon and inventor of viticulture.