Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Classics are Australia, too!

Ancients back from the deadFont Size: Decrease Increase Print Page: Print Luke Slattery | September 24, 2008

SIMON Goldhill, the rock star of the classical revival, has the head of the Farnese Hercules -- though not, mercifully, his heft -- and an almost Periclean love of an audience.

Professor of Greek literature and culture at Cambridge, and the author of numerous scholarly and popular books on the classics, including Love, Sex and Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shaped our Lives, and Who Needs Greek?, Goldhill is a powerful communicator. His boosterism for the classics could even be described as evangelical, if that word didn't invite a certain mixing of cultural metaphors.

In Goldhill's view, Roman orator Cicero best explains the danger of ignoring the past.

"If you don't know where you come from you are destined to spend your life as a child, and by being a child, Cicero means being disempowered, ignorant, at sea," Goldhill says. "It is impossible to understand the development of Western thought, religion and culture without engaging with its obsession with ancient Greek and Roman culture."

The HES catches up with Goldhill as he prepares a talk on Sophoclean ironies for the University of Sydney's Nicholson Museum. That night he warns a spellbound crowd never to fall into the trap of imagining the ancients as children in relation to us; as less sophisticated in their appreciation of their texts and, in this case, Sophoclean subtleties.

Julia Kindt, a lecturer in the department of classics and ancient history, remarks afterwards: "Goldhill truly performs his lectures and is not afraid to challenge his audience with those questions that concern the very core of our engagement with the classical past."

Goldhill has no doubt there is a revival under way of interest in the classical world, but he's not entirely sure why.

"Greek tragedy has had a remarkable renaissance, which is hard to explain," he tells the HES. "There have been more productions in the past 50 years than the five centuries before. It's something to do with tragedy's ability to get past the censor: that is, to reach moral and emotional levels that plays apparently more relevant can't reach.

"Also they treat big themes of gender, power, violence, extremism -- themes that are really relevant -- and do so with more intelligence and greater poetry than many modern plays.

"Long may it last."

Classicists such as Goldhill have been cheered by the rising enrolments in ancient history at school and university -- "booming in England and Australia" -- and the public's apparently inexhaustible appetite for books, films and exhibitions on aspects of antiquity. An exhibition on the legacy of Hadrian, for example, is drawing big crowds at the British Museum, while Melbourne's Victoria Museum is preparing a show for 2009 on a day in the life of Pompeii.

The revival has also helped to stir the coals of classical studies at Monash University, the institution sponsoring Goldhill's visit.

Classics was axed from Monash in 1998. Four years later it was revived and placed under the leadership of Jane Griffiths, a self-confessed Goldhillian.

"He taught me as an undergraduate and has been immeasurably influential as a friend and mentor: the sort of man who has the ability to teach you how to think, not what to think," she says. "I've tried to pass on to our students some of the passion, original thinking and intellectual engagement that Simon passed on to me when I was his student. Classics generally owes him a great deal for his ability to engage an audience while forcing them to shake up their preconceptions."

On Saturday night Goldhill delivered the Trendall lecture at Monash, named after the internationally renowned Australasian classicist and expert on the redfigure pottery of Magna Graecia, Dale Trendall.

Classics and ancient history are fizzing at Sydney, in part because of their popularity at school. At Monash, interest in classical antiquity is rebounding from its nadir of 1998: the department now boast about 200 students and 40 majors.

Goldhill is only too well aware that the classical revival comes at the end of a long period of decline; classical languages, once the heart of the liberal arts curriculum, remain a minority interest. And while the bridge between the present and the antique past is being rebuilt, it is only suitable at present for light traffic.

"This is the first generation since the Renaissance where it is somehow thought acceptable for an intelligent and educated person to be ignorant of the ancient world," he says.

"I don't mean just picking up the occasional reference to mythology. I mean what is it like to think about democracy, sexuality and religion without appreciating where these ideas come from and have come about?

"So for me learning seriously about the ancient world is a must."

But Goldhill, a scholarly innovator with a conventional pedigree, envisages any permanent revival of classical literacy in a particularly exacting way.

For him the "royal road" to understanding Greek and Roman antiquity threads through the ancient languages themselves. "Greek and Latin may not regain their position in the curriculum, but to shut them down or make them unavailable to kids who do want them is a real pity and very short-sighted," he says. But he warns of the classical "name dropping, mythology and etymology mongering" that is, and always has been, more about acquiring some prestige from the glamorous past than any nuanced understanding of it.

Despite his injunction against name-dropping, Goldhill is prepared to contemplate an Epicurean version of the desert-island question: Who from the classical world would you invite to a dinner party, or symposium?

"Sappho to sing and play," he shoots back. "Hypatia (late antiquity's first woman of mathematics) to talk shop; Aristophanes to keep it light; Alcibiades (orator, general, and intimate of Socrates), to make sure everyone else hears about it; and Phryne (legendary Athenian courtesan) for Sappho to sing about. That would be more fun than Augustus, Caesar, Jesus, St Paul and Cicero."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Greece's Influence on the Far East in Art

How Greece influenced Chinese art
The Greeks' artistic debts to the East are well documented. But less well known is how pervasively Greek art influenced India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China.
Thursday, August 21, 2008 By John Boardman

The Greeks probably came from the east, Anatolia, in the first place - and they never ignored the other coast of the Aegean Sea, whether you believe there was a Trojan War or not.

Before the end of the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great, with his Macedonian and Greek armies, had overthrown the Persian empire, and he marched on east, through Central Asia even to India, founding new Alexandrias to add to the one he had built in Egypt.

Not all Greek soldiers wanted to go home. One group of Greeks in northern Afghanistan rebelled against Macedonian rule and made a new Greek kingdom in Bactria, on and around the River Oxus. They created what amounted to a whole new Greek state, in touch still with the homeland, building cities which compromised between the east and Greece.

These Indo-Greeks moved on south, even into northwest India, modern Pakistan, which had been becoming Buddhist. One Greek king became a Buddhist sage, and the Indo-Greeks even made one daring raid across north India to the great city of Patna, some 500 miles beyond Delhi.

Greek arts informed the Buddhist arts of the area. A clay figure of an attendant of the Buddha in east Afghanistan is to all intents a pure 4th-century Greek Herakles and only his club has been replaced - by a thunderbolt - for his new function as Vajrapani, the Buddha's guard and attendant. We even find a representation of the Trojan Horse entering Troy, guarded by a highly oriental version of Cassandra. And the first image of the Buddha we have is on a coin of classical type and labelled, in Greek letters, BODDO.

In the 2nd century BC, northern Afghanistan had been taken over by a nomad people, who had been moved west from the borders of China - the Yueh-chi or Ru-zhi.

Once the Chinese Han dynasty got the better of the nomads, they pressed south the Greeks on the Oxus, and the succession of the so-called Indo-Greek kings can be traced mainly through their coinage and art, from the 2nd century BC even into the 1st century AD in north India.

The relics of these Yueh-chi near the Oxus are pieces of relief gold jewellery from six burials excavated by Russian archaeologists in 1978 at the site of Tillya Tepe, which lies just south of the Oxus River in northern Afghanistan, west of the great city of Balkh (Bactra). They date somewhere just before the mid-1st century AD.

The gold and the brilliance is distracting, and I soon found it best to redraw figures from the photographs, thus forcing myself to understand each part and not make assumptions about identity and detail from a quick glance or the descriptions of others.

As time passed and the pencil drawings accumulated, the focus of interest was sometimes shifted away from being purely Greek towards even China and India.

There are interregna of Parthians here and of the Saka (Scythians), all gone by the mid-1st century AD, by which time one of the tribes of the Yueh-chi from Bactria had moved south and, at the time of our gold, were founding the Kushan dynasty. The Kushans were to rule north India (partly Pakistan now) for three centuries.

Back in the 5th century, Euripides knew of the god Dionysos' visit to Bactria, where Greeks deported by the Persian king were living - and no doubt making wine - in an area long associated with festive agriculture and behaviour, remarked even by Indian writers in the Mahabharata. But you will find no exact parallel in Greek art for Dionysos and Ariadne sitting on a lion.

The lion has a leafy beard, a common feature introduced to Central Asian animals by Greek art - call it acanthoid - and a mane like a Greek griffin. The artist of this, or its model, was at home with the Hellenistic iconography of Dionysos and Ariadne and made a confection in keeping with his eastern home, where lion-riders are not uncomm

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New underwater museum to highlight the treasures of Alexandria

The Ptolemies through plexi-glass
The committee to establish Egypt's proposed underwater museum will have its first meeting next month in Alexandria, Nevine El-Aref reports

The history of a city caught in a time-warp when it was submerged by the sea while it was part of a unique civilisation that once held sway over much of the ancient world will, in the near future, be accessible and visible to all visitors to Alexandria. The International Scientific Advisory Committee is meeting in October to discuss plans for Egypt's first offshore underwater museum.

On the seabed of Alexandria's Eastern Harbour lie the royal quarters of the Ptolemaic dynasty complete with temples, palaces and streets. Queen Cleopatra's Palace and Antirhodos Island, now near the centre of the harbour between Qait Bay fortress to the north, Silsila on the east and Mahattat Al-Raml to the south, were in the same position.

These magnificent monuments were hidden beneath the waves after sinking in antiquity until 1996, when a joint mission by the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), with sponsorship from the Hilti Foundation of Liechtenstein, began scientific and archaeological studies in the Eastern Harbour.

Initial discoveries included the remains of the submerged royal quarter, among which were columns, statues, granite blocks, a sphinx, pavements and ceramics. The mission also identified the island of Antirhodos, the site of one of Cleopatra's palaces, the peninsula where Mark Antony's palace stood, the Timonium, was located, the Poseidon sanctuary and the royal harbour of Cape Lochias.

In 1997 the mission continued its underwater excavations and discovered the reefs at the entrance of the Magnus Portus. They also found the ancient coastline with its ruins revealing the inner palace, temples and administrative buildings. Evidence was also discovered suggesting that ships were docking in Antirhodos even before Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great. Archeologists have previously assumed that the whole of the Ptolemaic city of Alexandria, built by Alexander and developed through to the Byzantine era, particularly the fourth century when Constantinople became the capital of the Eastern Roman empire, lay beneath the modern city. Excavations at Kom Al-Dikka and other areas in central Alexandria have thrown up only isolated historical cameos, but these latest discoveries will, one hopes, enable historians and archeologists to trace a continuity from before the settlement of the ancient city, through its growth, development and decline. Further excavations in the harbour uncovered a 2,000 year-old shipwreck, statues, columns, platforms, docks and ruins dating from the time of Cleopatra.

The mission then turned to underwater excavations at Abu Qir Bay, where they found the sunken fleet of Napoleon Bonaparte along with the submerged cities of Heracleion and Canopus. These two cities figure prominently in ancient history and Greek legend, but their discovery cast fresh light on urban areas of the Mediterranean that predated Alexandria.

The discoveries included the ruins of the great temple of Heracleion, dedicated to Amun and Heracles- Khonsu. There were also giant statues of gods, kings and their consorts; as well as stelae, domestic implements, pottery, jewellery, and even the ruins of the wall of the inundated city, not to mention no fewer than the wrecks of nine wooden ships.

These excavations revealed important parts of a lost world, not only the ancient city of Heracleion and the eastern reaches of Canopus but a sunken part of the Great Port of Alexandria and the city's legendary royal quarter. The finds shed new light on the history of those cities and on the history of Egypt as a whole over a period of almost 1,500 years, from the last Pharaonic dynasties in the Canopic region to the rise of the Ptolemies after the death of Alexander the Great, followed by Roman control, the advent of Christianity in Byzantine late antiquity and, finally, the dawn of the Islamic era.

Famed for its temples, especially those of the god-king Osiris, Canopus was the site where the goddess Isis was believed to have found the 14th and final part of Osiris's savaged body. According to Egyptian mythology, Osiris was murdered by his jealous brother Seth, who scattered the dismembered parts of his body all over Egypt. Isis, so legend has it, assembled the scattered pieces and placed them in a vase which was kept at Canopus. Osiris, who also summoned the annual floods, is often represented in the shape of a "canonic" vase with a stopper in the shape of a crowned head.

Following all these discoveries, all that was required was an underwater museum to make these monuments accessible to the public. However, setting up an offshore, submarine archaeological site anywhere is not an easy task, let alone in a city with the water pollution problems of Alexandria. Yet the remarkable discoveries made by underwater archaeologists over the last decade justify further serious efforts for what would be an invaluable cultural exercise.

The site and form gives cause for conjecture. Should it be in Alexandria's Eastern Harbour, the Sisila area or Abu Qir Bay? What will it look like? Should it resemble the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney or the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology at the spectacular Uluburun Wreck in Turkey, or the Musée de Marine in Paris? All these display a collection of sunken ship wrecks, flora and fauna.

These questions and more were raised at an international workshop held in 2006 to discuss the feasibility of constructing such a museum. On the table were a projected ground plan, an architectural design and a programme to study the environmental conditions of the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria and its state of marine pollution, the socio-economic problems related to the success of the underwater archaeological museum project, and its urban impacts. The workshop was held under the umbrella of UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture at the Alexandria Art Creativity Centre, where a multidisciplinary team of 28 international and Egyptian experts were gathered.

During the workshop Culture Minister Farouk Hosni revealed that the aim of the workshop was not only to study the possibility of building the world's first ever underwater archaeological museum in Alexandria, but is also to set up international principles as a model or a pilot project for any country which wanted its own submarine museum. Singapore, China and Greece are on top of the list.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the SCA, described the initiative as a "beautiful dream" for Alexandria. He told the assembled experts that he had decided four years before to stop removing all ancient objects from the seabed with the exception of coins, jewellery and small artefacts that were vulnerable to looting.

"Hence, it is about time to think about an underwater museum to make such magnificent monuments accessible and visible to all," he said.

François Rivier, UNESCO's assistant director, reviewed UNESCO's efforts to protect and preserve the Alexandria monuments, especially the underwater sites. He also referred to previous attempts to establish an underwater museum between 1994 and 2001, the year UNESCO issued its convention on the protection of the underwater cultural heritage.

Rivier outlined the problems surrounding the establishment of a museum. Among the most serious issues was the sewage output into the sea, which obscured underwater visibility and led to a disturbing increase in pollution. Beyali Hosni El-Beyali, a consultant for the water and drainage company, said however that the Alexandria governorate had already closed the three main sewerage tunnels with outlets in the archaeological area. The closure was permanent, and they were only opened upon the governor's direct orders when it was considered necessary to let out rain water on stormy days. "For the last three years the tunnels have not been opened at all," El-Beyali pointed out.

El-Beyali told Al-Ahram Weekly that a new project aimed at upgrading Alexandria's sewage system was now under comprehensive study in order to find a way of separating the rain water drainage system from the city's waste water system, which would be diverted to a sewage station in the desert near king Maryut. "The on- land treated waste water will be used for cultivating woodland areas southwest of Alexandria," he said, adding that this project was scheduled to be implemented in three phases in cooperation with international experts and the International Monetary Fund.

Hosni explained that the projected museum would be one of the world's modern wonders. It would be on three floors, the first one an onshore building exhibiting the previously submerged objects from all over Alexandria -- not only the Eastern Harbour -- as well as any further items that might be discovered in the future and could not be left in situ. The second would contain important items from the sea that might be installed in their original environment and exhibited in aquariums. The third level would be an underwater plexi-glass tunnel providing a unique window on the sunken capital of the Ptolemies.

"This level would stretch only a few kilometres along the seabed, or round one area of the sunken city, in an attempt to provide us with a first experience by which we could judge the success of the technology and, if there are any disadvantages, avoid repeating them in further extensions," Hosni said.

"I would like visitors to be able to view this marvellous discovery in situ," Hawass said. "It would be the first underwater museum of its kind in the world and I'm sure we can meet the challenge."

Greek myth and modern science

Whither Prometheus' Liver? Greek Myth and the Science of Regeneration
Carl Power, PhD, and John E.J. Rasko, MBBS, PhD

16 September 2008 | Volume 149 Issue 6 | Pages 421-426

Stem-cell biologists and those involved in regenerative medicine are fascinated by the story of Prometheus, the Greek god whose immortal liver was feasted on day after day by Zeus' eagle. This myth invariably provokes the question: Did the ancient Greeks know about the liver's amazing capacity for self-repair? The authors address this question by exploring the origins of Greek myth and medicine, adopting a 2-fold strategy. First, the authors consider what opportunities the ancient Greeks had to learn about the liver's structure and function. This involves a discussion of early battlefield surgery, the beginnings of anatomical research, and the ancient art of liver augury. In addition, the authors consider how the Greeks understood Prometheus' immortal liver. Not only do the authors examine the general theme of regeneration in Greek mythology, they survey several scholarly interpretations of Prometheus' torture.

The Roman version of Washington Irving

Mystery of 49 headless Romans who weren't meant to haunt us
By Daya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have unearthed a Roman cemetery in York with the skeletons of 49 beheaded young men.
Experts from the York Archaeological Trust have yet to explain why the men had been decapitated. One of the victims was buried with thick iron rings around his ankles that had been forged on to him while he was alive. Patrick Ottaway, the trust’s head of fieldwork, said: “That really is odd. We’ve never had anything like that before, in Roman Britain or the Roman world.”

There are also skeletons of seven children, though their bodies were not mutilated. Dr Ottaway believes that the men were beheaded as part of a ritual in order to ensure that they could not haunt the living.

The skulls were removed after death and placed in the grave by their feet, legs or pelvis. Analysis of the bones has suggested that all of the adult skeletons were young men under the age of about 45. Dr Ottaway said: “Why were they decapitated? Had they been executed or killed in battle? Was this a military burial site for soldiers of York, or were they foreigners from another part of the Roman Empire with curious customs? The head was considered the seat of the soul in the Roman period, and by removing it it was perhaps thought that the deceased were prevented from coming back to haunt the living.”

It is the first discovery of its kind in Roman Britain. “There are ones and twos of decapitated men in Britain and Europe. To find such a large group is very unusual.”

The skeletons date from about AD200, roughly when Emperor Septimius Severus came to York with an army to fight in Scotland.

A team from the York Archaeological Trust made the discovery in a small plot of land on The Mount in York during a three-month excavation at the site, which is being redeveloped by building contractors.

The trust targeted the area because it lies alongside the main Roman road leading to York from Tadcaster. Burials near settlements were forbidden under Roman rule so most cemeteries were located alongside roads into towns such as York. Roman burial customs were varied; some people were cremated, while others were buried unburnt and usually survive as skeletons.

Now the skeletons, and other remains including pottery found with them, have been taken to be cleaned and analysed by the trust. Another intriguing find was that of a young child buried in a casket.

It was unusual for children of that age to receive elaborate funerals, so this could be a much-loved child, or one from an important family.

Dr Ottaway said he would be liaising with archaeologists abroad to see whether burial rituals from Rhineland, where many soldiers in the army originated, or North Africa, where the emperor was born, fitted the York deaths.

Romans helped the barbarian Scots with prosperity

Why life was sweet for Scots at edge of the Roman empire
Mike Wade
An archaeological dig in North East Scotland has laid bare the quality of the opposition the Romans faced at the very fringes of their empire.

The discovery of a tiny piece of a horse's harness at a site at Birnie near Elgin shows the tribe that lived there had wealth and prestige enough to warrant the attention of the would-be invaders from the south.

The harness, which was found along with a dagger and sheath, was almost certainly part of a fixing from a chariot, “the Ferrari of the Iron Age”, according to Fraser Hunter, the leader of the dig.

“These people were well connected and wealthy. It is no surprise that the Romans should choose to do business with them. It was almost certainly a means of keeping the boundaries of their empire intact,” he said.

Between the first and third centuries AD, the Romans attempted twice to conquer Scotland, but in the intervening years they tried to keep Scots at bay with bribes. Some tribes were sweetened to fight others who were not so favoured - a classic case of divide and rule, a policy beloved of dictators ever since.

Dr Hunter, curator of Iron Age of Roman Collections at the National Museums of Scotland, said it was plain that the Birnie group was favoured by Roman patronage because of the influence it wielded in the area.

“This was essentially a big powerful family group. There would have been others living in the area, but this would have been one of the most important. The range of finds is spectacular,” he said.

The site, which lies on farmland, first came to the attention of archaeologists in 2000 after the discovery of two hoards of Roman coins there. Since then two ancient roundhouses have been found, with a third likely to be uncovered on Monday. Dr Hunter said that aerial photography had shown that 15 roundhouses, each with a diameter of about 16 metres, had been built on the site. Other discoveries include a gold torc, glass beads and quernstones for grinding corn. There is also evidence of smelting, casting and of a blacksmith on the site.

It is probable that the rich farming countryside close by accounted for the wealth of the settlement, which is likely to have remained inhabited for at least 1,000 years from 800BC. “It's not a coincidence that this part of Speyside would eventually become so famous for its barley and its whisky. This was and is good land for growing crops,” Dr Hunter said.

Some of the finds offered new insights into the lives of the inhabitants. The dagger and sword were both found in the roofs of houses, suggesting they might have been left as gifts to the gods when the houses were abandoned. Likewise, broken quernstones had been found that had probably been deliberately destroyed.

One building had been badly damaged in a fire. Dr Hunter speculated that a house might be burnt if it had become associated with bad luck.

The Moray Forth represented the limits of the Roman invasion of Scotland. When the bribes of silver coins proved insufficient to quell powerful groups like those at Birnie, the Emperor Septimius Severus led his troops north in the third century. “There was no climactic battle, but he certainly got to Aberdeen and possibly as far as the Moray Firth. But areas there were never settled; the Romans just campaigned right through,” Dr Hunter said.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Barbarians forced the Romans to build Venice

How the barbarians drove Romans to build Venice

Richard Owen in Rome
The hidden ruins of an ancient lagoon city that was the ancestor of Venice have been unearthed by scientists using satellite imaging. The outlines are clearly visible about three feet below the earth in what is now open countryside.

Venice was a powerful maritime power during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It seemed, however, an unlikely spot to choose for a leading world power, stretching across 118 small islands in the marshy saltwater Venetian lagoon.

Historians agree that the explanation is that Venice was founded on the islands by refugees from Roman cities such as Ravenna, Padua and Aquileia as they fled from invasions, first by Attila the Hun in the 5th century and then, a century later, by the Lombards, as the final remnants of the Roman Empire crumbled.

However, Paolo Mozzi, a researcher at the University of Padua geography department, said high-definition satellite photographs had revealed the ruins of an extensive town much closer to present day Venice at Altino – known in Roman times as Altinum – a little more than seven miles north of the city, close to Marco Polo airport.

“The hypothesis is that as Altinum also succumbed to the Barbarian invasions, the inhabitants fled farther down to the lagoon to build Venice on the islands, using some of the stones from their city,” he said. At its height, he said, Altinum had been an important trading and seafaring centre on the Adriatic, before it was overrun by Attila in the mid-5th century.

The newly identified ruins include streets, palaces, temples, squares and theatres, as well as a large amphitheatre and canals, showing that Altinum was a wealthy and thriving city. By the 10th century, however, it had been abandoned. “The city in which Venice had its origins finally has a face,” said the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Mr Mozzi said that Altinum probably had about 20,000 inhabitants. A plan to excavate the ruins is being drawn up at the universities of Padua and Venice, in collaboration with the Veneto region superintendent of archaeology.

The folk memory of Altinum is preserved in the names of several Venetian islands which are derived from districts of the abandoned Roman town: Torcello (from Torricellum), Murano (Ammurianum) and Burano (Porta Boreana). In the 9th-century the ducal seat of Venice was moved to Rialto island, which is still the city centre, where the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica of St Mark were erected. In 828 the relics of St Mark were taken to Venice from Alexandria and placed in the new basilica. They were later venerated as a symbol of the new Venice as it developed into a mighty naval and commercial power in the Middle Ages.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Will Vesuvius' next eruption be the "big one?"

Mt. Vesuvius has been dormant for a long time. The same volcano which destroyed the towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii, but preserved much of the ruins of that city for historians to study hasn't given an indication of when it will erupt. But after over 1500 years, it is WAY past due. Some believe that, should Vesuvius erupt again, it will be the "big one." Still the people who live around Pompeii and Naples continue to go on and live their lives. Ignorance of history? Too much optimism? Who knows?

Should Naples fear a big bang from Vesuvius?
15 September 2008 news service

RESIDENTS of Naples, take note: the hazard posed by Vesuvius may have to be rethought after the discovery that its magma chamber has been moving upwards towards its mouth.

Bruno Scaillet at the University of Orléans, France, and colleagues studied the proportions and types of crystal in rocks erupted from Vesuvius on four different occasions: 7800 years ago, 3600 years ago, 1929 years ago (Pompeii) and 1536 years ago. This allowed them to estimate the pressure, and hence depth, that each sample crystallised at.

By combining this with results from previous research, they were able to show that Vesuvius's magma chamber has moved upwards by between 9000 and 11,000 metres over the last 22,000 years (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature/07232). It isn't clear why the magma chamber has shifted, but possible reasons include changes in the shape and size of Vesuvius's mouth, a decrease in magma density, and earthquake movements.

Generally, shallower magma chambers present less of a hazard: magma at low pressure erupts less explosively. If the magma density has dropped because it contains extra water, however, it would be highly volatile, making Vesuvius go off with a bang similar to the Pompeii eruption. "No one knows what sort of magma is being stored," says Scaillet.

Worship of Ancient Greek Gods still around

Greece: Pagans call on Athena to protect the AcropolisHelena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Monday September 1 2008

Thrusting their arms skywards and chanting Orphic hymns, Greek pagans yesterday made a comeback at the Acropolis as they added their voices to protests against the imminent inauguration of the New Acropolis Museum.

Ignoring a sudden rainstorm and irate officials, white-clad worshippers gathered before Greece's most sacred site and invoked Athena, the goddess of wisdom, to protect sculptures taken from the temples to the new museum. It was the first time in nearly 2,000 years that pagans had held a religious ceremony on the site.

"Neither the Romans nor the Ottomans or any other occupational force ever took anything from this holy site," said Yannis Kontopidis, one of the high priests who officiated over the affair.

"It's scandalous that antiquities of such value, carved in honour of Athena, should be wrested from their natural environment and moved to a new locale."

Not since Pericles oversaw the construction of the Parthenon had any of its classical artworks been officially removed - until last year, when thousands of items were transferred by crane to the New Acropolis Museum beneath the citadel.

The £94m glass and concrete edifice, designed by the Swiss-American architect Bernard Tschumi in collaboration with Greece's Michalis Photiadis, has divided Greeks.

Supporters praise its cavernous space and have claimed the building will offer better protection of the antiquities and a superior viewing space for spectators, who previously had to negotiate the confines of a tiny museum atop the hill.

Government officials said its opening later this year should end the British Museum's argument that Athens has no place decent enough to house its classical artworks, including the Parthenon sculptures on display in London since Lord Elgin seized them from the temples more than 200 years ago.

An Ipsos-Mori poll, conducted before the new museum's inauguration, recently showed that 69% of Britons believed the marbles should be returned to Greece.

However, opponents, including architectural purists, have argued that the new museum insults Greece's cultural heritage, it being in the wrong location and far too big in grandeur and scale.

Yesterday's ceremony represented a major coup for Greek polytheists whose faith, which is described by the powerful Orthodox church as a "miserable resuscitation of a degenerate dead religion", has long been banned in the country that gave birth to the gods of Mount Olympus.

Elgin Marbles still a controversy

Ancient Greece’s Elgin Marbles Stand at the Centre of a 200-Year Long Great Ado

Text by Ekaterina Petrova

During his term as British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the nineteenth century, Thomas Bruce, Seventh Earl of Elgin, already knew his actions were controversial and that he might go down in history as a “vandal.” But he most likely did not anticipate that, 200 years on, the heated international dispute he caused would continue to rage with full force.

Almost two centuries after the British diplomat controversially acquired and brought to Britain precious pieces of the Acropolis in Athens, the British Museum still refused to return them to Greece. The Elgin Marbles have in the past couple of decades become emblematic for disputes over the ownership of cultural heritage objects between wealthier countries and nations that boast ancient sites on their territory.

As British ambassador and an antiques enthusiast, Elgin obtained an ambiguous permission from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Acropolis in Athens, then under the Ottoman Empire’s rule. According to some accounts, the Earl was also motivated by a desire to preserve the statues from Ottoman neglect and damage.

Between 1801 and 1812, about half of the Parthenon’s surviving sculptures were removed – which damaged not only the Parthenon but also the marbles which had to be cut up in order to be transported to England by sea, at the Earl’s significant expense.

The Elgin Marbles, also known as the Parthenon Marbles, include more than half of the surviving decorative sculptures of the Parthenon and some objects from other Acropolis buildings, such as pediment figures, metope panels depicting battles between the Lapiths and the Centaurs and various friezes.

After a public debate in Britain– in which admiration for the statues was mixed with harsh criticism for Elgin (poet Lord Byron allegedly called him “a dishonest and rapacious vandal”), in 1816 the marbles were purchased by the government and displayed in London’s British Museum where they stand to this day.

Since World War II, subsequent Greek governments have questioned the statues’ ownership, repeatedly insisting for their return to Greece, although it looks like they will remain in Britain for the time being.

Among Britain’s arguments is that keeping them in London makes them part of a world heritage collection, available for the whole world to enjoy. Another point cited often is that the pollution in Athens could damage the marbles if they are returned.

In response to these assertions and in efforts to reclaim the marbles, Greece recently had the New Acropolis Museum built in close vicinity of the Parthenon in Athens. Designed by Swiss-French architect Bernard Tschumi and equipped with state-of-the-art technology for protection and preservation, the institution is intended to house the reunited Parthenon sculptures. Expected to officially open in late 2008 or early 2009, the museum will display plaster copies of the marbles owned by Britain, covered by a veil to make it clear that they are replicas.

The case with the classical Greek marbles, possessed and displayed by the British Museum, is not unique but it is emblematic. There is hardly a great museum in the Western world that does not boast in its collection objects dubiously acquired during colonialism – the Egyptian antiquities in the Louvre in Paris and the Greek and Roman ancient sculptures in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum are just two other examples.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable move towards the restitution of ancient objects to their countries of origin – in 2007, for example, Greece managed to reclaim from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles an ancient gold wreath it claimed was looted from its soil.

In an act of good faith and as part of its broader campaign against the illegal acquisition of antique objects, as reported in February, Greece returned to Albania two ancient marble statues of Artemis and Apollo, stolen in the early 1990s from the ancient city of Butrint, located in the southern part of present-day Albania.

And while, on the one hand, returning cultural heritage objects to the countries they came from seems fair, fulfilling all restitution claims would empty most of the world’s great museum and scatter important artefacts, making them less accessible to the public at large.

Beside the two extreme options of either remaining property of the British Museum or being returned to Greece, other middle-ground alternatives may be feasible. One such alternative may be similar to the pre-World War II partage policy, in which wealthier institutions and countries financed archaeological work in poorer countries and then shared the finds with the host nations. For now, it remains to be seen how, if it all, the dispute over the Elgin Marbles will be settled.

In the meantime, you know where to find them!

Why Learning a Second Language is Important

I will certainly grant that should you learn a lot of Latin you will not be able to use it conversationally. However, if you are successful at learning Latin, it will provide a valuable springboard to the learning of another language. And why is that important? Because the world is shrinking. As we become a global economy, you will meet and interact with people who are not from the same ethnic, national or langauge background as yourself and thus the learning and SPEAKING of another language is vital. Here is an article from CNN about the value of being bilingual.

Eight industries needing bilingual workers Story Highlights
In almost every line of work, speaking a second language makes you valuable

Twenty percent of Americans don't speak English at home

California, New Mexico, have largest percentage of non-English speakers

Spanish is most popular with 34 million speakers nationwide

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey, approximately 80 percent -- or 223.2 million people -- of Americans use only English at home.

The remaining 20 percent -- 55.8 million people -- speak a language other than English. Add the millions of tourists visiting the country each year and you have a huge demand for workers who can communicate in more than one language.

Thankfully, bilingual workers come to the rescue. In almost every line of work the ability to speak a second language makes you a valuable asset.

Any job that requires you to interact with customers -- either in person, on the phone or online -- can use your knowledge of a second (or third) language. Think about it: Every additional customer you can speak with not only improves his or her experience but also brings in revenue to your employer.

The states with the largest percentage of citizens speaking a language other than English at home are California, New Mexico, Texas, New York and Arizona.

Spanish is by far the most popular non-English language spoken at home with roughly 34 million speakers nationwide. Still, there are millions of people speaking other languages -- including French, German, Mandarin, Arabic and lesser known languages -- that also benefit from bilingual workers.

If you speak more than one language or have thought about learning a second one, here are some industries and jobs where your skills will come in handy.

Industry: Health care
Why: Patients visiting emergency rooms and doctor's offices come from all walks of life. In fact, America's reputation as a leader in medicine attracts people from around the world, so you never know what language you'll hear when someone walks through the door.

Jobs: Registered nurse, paramedic, physician's assistant, home health aide

Industry: Hospitality
Why: Spas, resorts and hotels help visitors escape their daily routine and makes them feel like royalty. Creating a little bit of paradise -- for a tourist or a local just trying to get away -- is easier when you can understand what your client is saying to you.

Jobs: Concierge, resort manager, hotel manager, desk clerk

Industry: Education
Why: One of the richer aspects of an American education is the exposure to different cultures. You can walk into most classrooms, from kindergarten through graduate levels, and find students who come from multilingual households or who are studying abroad.

Jobs: Teacher, ESL instructor, guidance counselor

Industry: Law enforcement
Why: Among the many duties of law enforcement personnel is interviewing people, either to solve crimes or to understand what's happening in a conflict. You can save a lot of time (and maybe even a life) if you don't have to wait for an interpreter.

Jobs: Police officer, investigator, security guard, probation officer, corrections officer

Industry: Customer service
Why: Every aspect of customer service involves dealing with people. Depending on where you work, you might have customers who are tourists or who come from households where English isn't spoken. Knowing more than one language means you can communicate to a larger amount of visitors, which both your employer and customers will appreciate.

Jobs: Sales clerk, demonstrator, retail store supervisor, computer support specialist, customer service representative

Industry: Social services
Why: Social service workers meet with families, adoption agencies and schools in order to ensure the well-being of children. The fewer language barriers between the worker, children and important people in their environment, the smoother things can run.

Jobs: Family social worker, substance abuse social worker, social work administration

Industry: Finance
Why: Money doesn't only stay on one continent, so in the world of finance, whether you're a teller or the CEO of an investment bank, you're dealing with euros and yen and the languages that come with them.

Jobs: Teller, financial adviser, investment banker, accountant

Industry: Communication
Why: Whether your job is talking to the media or writing for a publication, words are your livelihood. The more you know, the better you can do your job. Whether it enables you to speak to a reporter or interview a source for a story, being bilingual makes your job easier.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Archaeologists find an early Greek calendar calculator for Olympics

Ancient Computer Helped Greeks Track Olympics
An early mechanical calculator helped the ancient Greeks determine the dates of the Olympics, historians say.

Monday, August 4, 2008; 12:19 AM

LONDON (Reuters) - A mechanical brass calculator used by the ancient Greeks to predict solar and lunar eclipses was probably also used to set the dates for the first Olympic games, researchers say.

The Antikythera Mechanism was retrieved from a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901, an example of the technological prowess of the ancient Greeks.

Researchers reporting in the journal Nature said they had now discovered that the device, made at the end of the 2nd century BC, used an intricate set of bronze gearwheels, dials and inscriptions to set the games' date.

The ancient Olympic Games, which marked the start of a four-year timespan called an Olympiad, began on the full moon closest to the summer solstice, which meant calculating the timing required expertise in astronomy.

Using three-dimensional, X-ray technology, researchers deciphered tiny inscriptions buried inside the device's fragmented brass pieces that pointed to its Olympic role.

The name "Nemea" was found near a small dial on the mechanism, a reference to the site of one of the prominent games in the Olympiad cycle, the researchers said. Locations such as Olympia also appeared.

"It really surprised us to discover that it also showed the four-year cycle of ancient Greek games, including the Olympic Games," said Tony Freeth, a researcher at the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project who worked on the study.

The ancient Olympics were first recorded in 776 BC and continued until they were banned by the Chrstian Roman emperor Theodosius I around 394 AD.

Scientists had thought the device originated in the Eastern Mediterranean because it was found among items from that region, Freeth added in a telephone interview.

But the names of months used were of Corinthian origin, which indicates the mechanism comes from the other side of the Greek world in northwestern Greece, Corfu or Sicily, Freeth said.

Devices of such complexity were not seen in the West again until the appearance of medieval cathedral clocks.

The latest modern-day Olympic Games will open on Aug 8, a date chosen by their Chinese hosts because it is pronounced like the word "fa," part of the expression meaning "to get wealthy."

I Claudius may grace the big screen

‘I, Claudius’ Movie Remake On Way

I, Claudius remains a classic television drama, with the BBC TV version of the book still maintaining its position as one of the best historical dramas ever made for British television. And the story is now being brought to the big screen by acclaimed film-maker Jim Sheridan.

Dark Horizons reports that Relativity Media has acquired rights to the film version of Robert Graves 1934 novel. The book, and consequently the television series, tells the story of how Claudius, the fourth emperor of Rome, came to take power. The novel is considered as one of the best of the twentieth century.

Claudius’ life is a good one to profile as it’s filled with plot and intrigue. Claudius was a stuttering handicapped man who was able to use his cunning an guile to become emperor of Rome between 41 and 54 A.D. The novel tells the story of his accession to the head of the Roman empire, which he took over from Caligula.

The 1976 ten-episode BBC mini-series saw a cast that included Derek Jacobi, John Hurt, Brian Blessed, Patrick Stewart, and John Rhys-Davies. No start date for the new film version has been set, and no cast members are yet known. But if the movie is anywhere near as startling as the television version, this could be brilliant.

I'm not sure about this. I'm glad that there has been such a resurgence in movies about the world of Rome and Greece over the past 10 years (e.g. Gladiator, Troy, Alexander, etc.), but I'm not sure if this can be pulled off for logistic reasons. First of all, the series "I, Claudius" is a combination of two novels, "I, Claudius" and "Claudius the God" both by Robert Graves. And how can you possibly condense a 13 hour miniseries into a two or even three hour movie. Unless they divide it into a trilogy or something. Who knows? But, again, this is just speculative at this point. We'll see what happens.

Searching for Odysseus

Searching for epic hero Odysseus in the winds of history
Special to the Herald

Retracing the route of Odysseus, that cunning and capable mariner immortalized in Homer's epic poems, seemed like a noble quest back at the Flocafe in Piraeus, Athens' port. With one bottle of ouzo behind us and another just arriving, our band of six made the decision to head for Troy on the northwest coast of Turkey. From there we would follow the wake of Odysseus to Ithaca, his home island on the other side of Greece. We would visit lands where historians believe he called and look for evidence of his visit carved in rock.

As sailors, we were also searching for something else, something more elusive: the scent of his unbreakable spirit. That, we knew, we'd find only on the protean surface of the sea.

Chasing history is fraught with risk, especially in the moody Aegean where the sailor's saw, ''there's either no wind or a gale'' is distressingly accurate. Just days into the trip, my 47-foot sailboat, Quetzal, was pinned to a decrepit, pock-marked concrete quay on the island of Andros. Aeolus, the Greek God of Wind and Odysseus' old nemesis, was whooping it up, hurling 50 and 60 knot gusts down the steep slopes rimming the harbor and mocking our tight schedule with each fearful blast.

A few slime-covered inflatable fenders and a spider's web of chafed mooring lines secured to wobbly lampposts were keeping Quetzal from being dashed against the rocks. Feeling kinship with poor Odysseus and lamenting another lost day, I retreated to a nearby taverna to ride out the storm.

You may recall Odysseus, the King of Ithaca, as one of the heros in the Iliad, Homer's poem describing Greece's 10-year siege of Troy around the year 1200 BC. The war began when Helen, wife of the King of Sparta and said to be the most beautiful woman of her time, ran off with the Trojan prince Paris. There is nothing like a jealous husband with good connections for starting a war. During the long fight Odysseus proved brave and crafty, coming up with the idea of the gift horse that eventually led to the fall of Troy.

Unfortunately for our hero, his troubles were just beginning when his small fleet of 12 ships, loaded down with the spoils of victory, turned homeward. The Odyssey, describing his 10-year voyage home, is the best sea story of all time. Wiley Odysseus survives encounters with Polyphemus the Cyclops; Scylla the six-headed sea monster; those tricky Sirens, Circe and Calypso; vengeful Aeolus and a host other mortals and immortals before eventually return home to his devoted wife Penelope.

Scholars debate whether Odysseus was an actual person or a product of the poet's imagination. Most likely, he was both, which makes following his circuitous route from Troy to Ithaca open to interpretation.

Most classicists have Odysseus careening all over the Mediterranean Sea, from Troy to the Pillars of Hercules, to the coast of Tunisia, and onto Sicily. And while I love this fanciful idea of him visiting far-flung lands, it's not practical. Historian and sailor Tim Severin believes that Odysseus' wanderings were modest in miles but no less adventuresome. He built a replica Greek galley and pieced together a logical route that places Odysseus primarily in Greek waters. This was the route we hoped to follow.


My crew assembled at Marina Zea in Piraeus and soon the skyline of Athens retreated into its own smog. Gliding along under spinnaker, I laid out our course. The plan was to sail across the Aegean to Troy, on the Turkish coast just south of the Dardanelles Straits. Then we hoped to sail south to Crete, stopping at several islands along the way before finally turning north into the Ionian Sea and finishing up in Ithaca. We had three weeks to complete this 800 mile ``odyssey.''

As daylight faded, we sighted the Temple of Poseidon standing sentinel over a dramatic headland, Cape Sounion. We anchored in the shadow of the temple and scrambled up the hill. Climbing among ancient columns, we watched the sun melt into the sea and communed with the spirit of Odysseus.

The next morning we ambled east under power, setting a course for the narrow pass between Andros and Evia. Beyond lay the open Aegean. A three-day nonstop passage should bring us to Troy.

Suddenly, the engine overheat alarm sang out. Frantically we shut down the diesel. By the time I replaced the broken belt, we no longer needed the engine. The north wind had begun to howl, and within minutes it had piped up to a full gale.

We set our storm sails, and Quetzal put her shoulder into the building seas like Ricky Williams pounding into a helpless defensive back. Though it was vigorous sailing, the thought of an overnight passage was not appealing, and we headed for Andros instead. We never expected to be there five days.

The storm reached it's peak on Good Friday; the church bells could barely be heard above the shrieking winds. Despite the miserable conditions, hearty locals gathered in the streets. The perifora epitafiou, when a shroud of Christ is carried through the town, is the highlight of the Good Friday celebration, and soon we heard singing as the procession neared. Not hurricane force winds nor icy rains slowed the advance. Candles had given way to flashlights but the men carrying Christ's funeral bier were dressed only in robes.

The next morning we finally muscled ourselves away from the wall. Once we cleared the harbor we realized that the winds were still blowing at gale force from the north; there was no way to head for Troy. We sailed southeast instead, toward the tourist haven of Mykonos, an island Odysseus and his crew would have no doubt sacked.

We limped into the marina just before dark. Normally pulsing, Mykonos was silent, not a disco stirring on Easter Saturday. We were away before daylight.

It was rugged going, but if we weren't headed for Troy, at least we were headed toward Turkey. That night we sought refuge on the impossibly sheer-sided island of Ikaria, which had mysteriously loomed in and out of the mist all day.

The gale persisted as we continued to slog our way east. There was no possibility of reaching Troy, we realized, if we hoped to make it to Ithaca in our allotted time. But we were determined to make landfall in Turkey, and after a brief stop on the handsome island of Samos, we sailed into Kusadasi, a bustling port south of Izmir.

The Aegean coast of Turkey is booming. Aside from the call to prayer five times a day, you wouldn't know you were in an Islamic country. The region is a massive construction site and sadly looks and feels like the Costa del Sol in Spain, with more bikinis than hijabs on display.

We toyed with renting a car and driving 12 hours to Troy but instead were easily talked into visiting the nearby ruins of Ephesus, where muraled terrace houses trickle down the hillside to a city that was once the most elaborate in the Roman world. ''Troy,'' exclaimed our enterprising guide with contempt. ``There is nothing there but a pathetic wooden horse for tourists, nothing. Trust me my friends, Odysseus would never have left Turkey if he had seen Ephesus.''

Feeling guilty, we tarried just two days in Turkey and then put back out to sea.

According to Homer, Odysseus and his crew left Troy and sailed to the land of the Cicones, where they greedily sacked the coastal village. Where was the land the Cicones? Severin, the historian-sailor, believes it was near the present site of Maronia, on the mainland coast of Thrace.

Wherever it lay, Odysseus and his men made a hasty exit as the Cicones called in reinforcements and attacked them as they were dividing their loot. Odysseus lost half his crew. After this incident, Homer says that a terrible gale blew from the north, something we understood perfectly, and sent the fleet scurrying south helplessly pushed before the wind.

When the fierce north wind finally eased after nine days, team Odysseus had fetched up in the land of the Lotus Eaters. And where was that? The lotus plant is a native of north Africa and most historians assume Odysseus was blown south of Crete to Libya. Although conditions are rapidly improving in Libya and it's opening up to Western tourists, I could not secure a visa for entering by boat. Instead, we set our sites on western Crete, one of the suggested homes of the dreaded Cyclops.


The wind was light as we left Kusadasi -- and stayed that way for two days. Then a light southwest breeze emerged, and soon it was blowing 25 to 35 knots, a near gale, and coming from directly where we wanted to go. We needed to seek shelter immediately. The nearest safe harbor was on the bottom of the Peloponnese Peninsula. This would take us around Cape Malea, a windswept headland known as the Cape Horn of the Mediterranean.

We sped west. It was exhilarating sailing but disappointing because it meant that we wouldn't be able to make landfall on Crete. Tracking Odysseus was proving to be far more challenging than I had expected, and I was beginning to think it was I who had loosened the bag of winds igniting the wrath of Aeolus.

The next morning found us in a protected bay near Methoni. We carefully sounded our way into the shallow harbor and dropped anchor; again, we were the only sailboat in sight. Perched at the bottom of the Peloponnese Peninsula, Methoni is a perky seaside resort with a stunning Venetian fort built on a promontory that protects the harbor. It features a massive fortification -- originally, a save haven for merchants and pilgrims heading to the Holy Land.

From here we sailed north with a fair breeze. We were in the Ionian Sea, bound for Ithaca, 200 miles up the coast. Aeolus had finally relented, leaving us with the legacy of Odysseus's adventures with Circe and Calypso, devious lovers who distracted our hero for eight years. Unfortunately -- or not -- we were not delayed by the Sirens, and two days later we spied Ithaca.

Severin believes Odysseus was blown right past his home island to Lefkas where he encountered Scylla, the six-headed monster. Lefkas, or possibly Corfu may have been the island where a shipwrecked Odysseus washed ashore and was taken in by the Phaeacians before his eventual return to Ithaca. We were luckier than our hero; no evil wind arose and we sailed into the wide natural harbor of Vathy on Ithaca, fronted by handsome Venetian mansions and outdoor cafes.

Of course, this sweet bay wasn't Odysseus's home. No, that lay on the other, barren and rocky side of the island.

We piled into a rent a car for a spectacular drive over the spine of Ithaca and descended into the small village of Stavros. From there we hiked down to a pebbly beach and then followed an overgrown path to the Cave of the Nymphs, where Odysseus hid when he first returned to Ithaca. Then, Penelope was under a siege of her own, from a cast of suitors, trying to convince her that Odysseus was dead and that she should marry one them. Steadfastly Penelope refused them all, hopeful even after 20 years that her husband would return.

Ever crafty, Odysseus passed himself off as a beggar before slaying the suitors and reclaiming his wife and kingdom.

Staring out at the sparkling blue Ionian, I thought about sailing on to Lefkas and Corfu to further track the course of Odysseus. But I was already a week overdue, and I still had to find a secure place to leave my boat for the summer. Although our voyage had taken less than a month, I wasn't sure that my wife would be as understanding as Penelope.

Tips to study vocabulary

I know all of you hate to study your vocabulary. I know it is a pain. And I hate to hear how much you hate it! But, shut up and do it. As I have told you many times, your English will improve exponentially if you simply decided to do it and commit it to memory. So, if you're having problems with learning your vocabulary, try these tips.

The last paragrpah in the article is the key. Please read it and agree to it!

Study tips for vocabulary
Bridget Logan - Study Tips Examiner

A vocabulary is a collection of words used by a language. It is also the volume of words retained by an individual. Vocabulary is sometimes referred to as ‘word power’ which could indicate the person with ‘word power’ has a command of the language. Use the following study tips to expand your vocabulary and gain command of your language.

1. In order to maintain a strong vocabulary, use it. If information is not used or referred to often, it is lost and the effort that originally went into learning it is wasted effort. Study words and use them often in your writing and speaking.

2. Arrange words into groups around a central idea. Words that are related can be grouped together. By studying words of similar meaning, you will be more likely to recall those words which were previously unfamiliar.

3. Pay attention to the context of a passage as you read it. The context of a passage may contain important hints about the meaning of unfamiliar words. You just have to put the clues together in order to find that meaning.

4. Understanding both Latin and Anglo-Saxon prefixes will give an immediate insight into the meaning of many words. Once you learn the meaning of a particular prefix, you will have a head start on all of the words beginning with that one prefix. The more prefixes you learn, the easier complex words become.

5. Study and learn important Latin roots. A root is what is left of a word once the prefix and/or suffix is removed. Knowing the meaning of just one root will unlock the meaning to a long list of words.

Work on your vocabulary everyday. The extent of your knowledge will grow along with your confidence in speaking and writing.

New Temple of Athena found in Turkey

Did you know that the best preserved ruins of the ancient Greeks are not in Greece? They are in Italy and in Turkey. The Greeks colonized both areas starting around 1100 B.C. during what is called the "Greek Dark Age" which some people believe corresponds to the aftermath of a Trojan War! Whether that is true or not, the point is that the Greeks colonized these areas and much of it is still in great condidtion.

Now some new ruins, this time a temple of Athena (her most famous temple is, of course, the Parthenon in Athens). Here's the article:

Ruins of Temple of Athena found

Istanbul, Sept 14: A team of archaeologists has found ruins of the Temple of Athena in the popular resort town of Bodrum in western Turkey.

Profesor Adnan Diler, who leads the archaeological excavations in the ancient city of Pedasa, told Turkish Press, “We found the Temple of Athena, one of the most important works of arts in Anatolia, in Konacik hamlet in Bodrum.

“The findings we have unearthed so far showed that we finally found ruins of the temple belonged to the civilization of the Leleges around the 6th century BC,he added.

“We found walls of the temple and an inscription. Our excavations will continue to bring the temple into daylight,� said Diler.

Athena, was the shrewd companion of heroes and the goddess of heroic endeavour in Greek mythology.


Vatican websites

As I have said many times, Latin is STILL the official language of the Roman Catholic Church whose head, the Pope of Rome, resides in the Vatican City, the smallest recognized state on earth. All documents released from the Pope are always in Latin FIRST and then translated into the other languages of the world. I'd invite you to have a look at it and see what you can do.

Also, I have said many times that the Roman Catholic Church is the heir to the pagan Roman Empire. As such, it has collected and amassed a large and very fine collection of both Roman and Greek antiquities. You can see pictures of their collection at their website here:

And, the Vatican has a radio station. You can listen to it on the web in English. Its contents are Roman Catholic in origin and I'm not trying to promote Roman Catholicism (as even I am not Catholic), but I'm just throwing it out there for you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

New developments in France for use of the old Latin Mass

Pope Benedict XVI is in France this week. Last year, about this time, he issued motu proprio which is an edict "of his own accord" which means that it is not dogmatic, but still must be recognized as authoritative, that wherever parishioners or a priest desires to celebrate the Mass according to the Old Tridentine (Latin) Rite, they have that right. Prior to this, Pope John Paul II had decreed that the permission of the local bishop must be first obtained before serving the old Rite. And, since most of the bishops were handpicked by the late Pope John Paul II, most bishops vehemently said no when it was requested.

Now things are changing, not only here in the US, but also abroad in formal Catholic strongholds like France, 95% of whose population is registered Roman Catholic, though very few actually practice.

Most people would look at this article and say "So what?" What difference does it make whether the Mass is celebrated in Latin or not? Well, read and decide for yourself. The language is a big sticking point.

Pope: End divisions over old Latin Mass

LOURDES, France: Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday warned of the danger of a growing split among Catholics over the use of the old, traditional form of Latin Mass.
He told French bishops that faithful should be made to feel at home in their Church, whether they yearn for a return of the ancient tongue or want to stick to modern languages at religious ceremonies.

The controversy is a particularly sensitive one for the Church in France, where there is a strong following for the late French churchman Marcel Lefebvre, a renegade archbishop who rebelled against Vatican modernizing reforms of the 1960s, including replacing Latin with local languages at Mass.

Last year, Benedict issued a document giving parish priests the option of allowing Mass to be celebrated in Latin with decades-old rituals known as the Tridentine Rite if that choice is sought by a "stable group" of parishioners. Previously, only bishops had that discretion.
French bishops had expressed concern that move could be seen as a rolling back of the liberalizing spirit that was unleashed through the Church with the Second Vatican Council.
Benedict expressed concern over the split between pro-Latin and pro-vernacular Catholics as he met with bishops from throughout France during his pilgrimage to Lourdes. He expressed hope that "the necessary pacification of spirits is already taking place

"I am aware of your difficulties," Benedict told the bishops, "but I do not doubt that, within a reasonable time, you can find solutions satisfactory for all, lest the seamless tunic of Christ be further torn."

The pope was referring to the unity of the Church cherished by pontiffs.
"Everybody has a place in the Church," Benedict said. "Every person, without exception, should be able to feel at home, and never rejected."

Benedict told his bishops: "God, who loves all men and women and wishes none to be lost, entrusts us with this mission by appointing us shepherds of his sheep."

The pope exhorted the French churchmen, ranging from the cardinal of Paris to bishops of rural dioceses, to be "servants of unity."

Benedict "doesn't want dissent to crystalize into an insurmountable schism," Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, who heads the French Bishops' Conference, later told a news conference.
Benedict's 2007 document on the use of Latin was widely seen as an attempt to reach out to an ultra-traditionalist and schismatic group, the Society of St. Pius X, and bring it back into the Vatican's fold.

Lefebvre founded the society in 1969 in Switzerland in opposition to Vatican II reforms. The churchman was excommunicated after he consecrated bishops without Rome's consent.
Benedict has been keen to reconcile with the group, which demanded freer use of the old Mass, also known as the Tridentine rite Mass, as a precondition for normalizing relations.
Some cardinals and bishops, particularly in France, where Lefebvre's group is strong, have publicly voiced worry that faithful might interpret the papal directive on Latin as a rejection of Vatican II teachings.

While flying to Paris on Friday at the start of his first trip as pontiff to France, Benedict told reporters that fears of undoing the reforms were "unfounded." The document, Benedict said, represents an "act of tolerance" for those used to the old liturgy.
Besides use of Latin, the Tridentine rite called for the priest to face the altar instead of the people, among other differences with the Mass widely celebrated after the Vatican reforms.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Latin and Greek are too difficult. Thus, get rid of them

Having taught both Latin and Greek, I can say, with authority, that neither is an easy langauge, especially Greek. They both have rules and regulations which baffle speakers of modern language who believe that as long as someone "gets the jist of it" whatever they have said is thus a valid expression of the langauge. Perhaps. Now a University of Cambridge "specialist" (I'm not sure what she specializes in) believes that the jargon of Latin and Greek should be thrown out because it complicates understanding for patients and even doctors.

Let's assume she is correct. Do we then come up with a new universal system? Will there be a committee to evaluate this? Will this be in some new made up language so that a doctor in Singapore and the UK diagnose the same way? Then will patients have to become fluent in that new terminology? The logistics against it just go on and on.

I'll bet good money two to one that this "specialist" flunked Latin and/or Greek sometime in her life and is now trying to get revenge against it. I've had any number of students who have failed Latin and Greek go on to decry it because the languages weren't fair to them and weren't easy enough. Oh, cry me a river! Not everything in this life is easy. If you can't do it, fine. Do what you do well but don't discourage others and insult them by saying the Latin and Greek terminology should be done away with because of your own shortcomings.

This system has been in place for hundreds upon hundreds of years. It's not broke, don't fix it. ANd considering how many of these medical terms also have cognates in our basic vocabulary which we use day to day, this "specialist" is essentially saying that you are too stupid to understand.

Medical terms all Greek to patients
Written by Lautaro Vargas
Friday, 12 September 2008
The abundance of ancient Greek and Latin terms in medicine should be abandoned because it could be harming patients according to a University of Cambridge specialist.
Dr Melinda Lyons of the Department of Engineering’s Engineering Design Centre (EDC) said the “dead language” terminology that underpins the medical jargon that makes up the exclusive language of doctors, dates as far back as the 5th century BC and spreads confusion that could potentially put patients at risk.Unlike previous research, the paper identified the prefixes that pose the greatest risk and Dr Lyons wants to see the language of medicine brought up to date and simplified by removing “archaic risk-prone terms.”Writing in The Lancet medical journal, Dr Lyons listed a wide range of ‘lookalike and soundalike’ prefixes commonly used by doctors which look or sound alike but have completely different meanings. Examples included, “inter” (between) versus “intra” (within), “super” or “supra” (above) versus “sub” or “sur” (below), and “hypo” (low) versus “hyper” (high).The field of healthcare typically manages problems of lookalike/soundalike terms through quick fixes such as coloured packaging and handwriting assessments, as well as encouraging ‘readback’ of terms though radical reforms of the language would rarely be seen as a solution.Dr Lyons said that In many ways the challenge arising from the lookalike/soundalike terms is similar to that addressed by the EDC’s inclusive design team, which seeks to educate designers to consider those with impairments or disabilities in order to ensure products are manufactured with their needs in mind.She said that the definition of an “inclusive language of healthcare” would ensure that the safety of staff and patients alike is not compromised through misreading or mishearing terms.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Roman writers, particularly Horace and Vergil, portrayed Cleopatra as the mos villainous woman in the world, who corrupted both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, leaders of the Roman world. To the Romans, she was a foreigner, a barbarian, a lesser life form. When Julius Caesar not only had an illegitimate son with her, but also decided to create a golen effigy of the Egyptian Queen, the Roman people were astonished and stunned that the man who was supposed to be the epitome of Roman values and traditions could so easily be swayed to the "dark side" so to speak.

In modern cinema, Cleopatra has been portrayed many times on screen, most famously by Elizabeth Taylor in what was, at the time, the most expensive movie ever made and also the greatest box office disater, oweing very much to the fact that Elizabeth Taylor simply was not talented for the role (or any other, for that matter). Despite what Hollywood and ancient Roman writers have done to demonize Cleopatra, a new book has come out to rehabilitate her and possibly give her some redeeming characterisitcs. Whether it is completely accurate or not, I'll leave to individual writers. But here is a synopsis.

Re-examining Cleopatra as a smart ruler, not a vamp
By ALLEN BARRASpecial to the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Sept. 6, 2008

Cleopatra, Last Queen of Egypt. By Joyce Tyldesley. Basic Books. 304 pages. $27.50.
Cleopatra has generated more fame - in the form of poems, paintings, books, plays and films - per known fact than any woman in history.
As Joyce Tyldesley phrases it in her fascinating and irresistible biography, “Cleopatra, Last Queen of Egypt,” “It is clearly never going to be possible to write a conventional biography of Cleopatra.”
So Tyldesley has gone ahead and written one.
An archaeologist, author (“Daughters of Isis”) and popular consultant for TV shows on ancient history, Tyldesley has chosen to re-create her subject by putting together the puzzle pieces of history that surround Cleopatra’s life and legend.
Neither an Egyptian by blood nor an actual Greek — Cleopatra could trace her ancestry on her father’s side to the original Ptolemy, a general of Alexander the Great — she was a fabulous hybrid of those cultures and several others that were native to the Egypt of the first century B.C.
What she was not, Tyldesley argues, was the villainous vamp portrayed in the movies. Played by such actresses as Theda Bara, Claudette Colbert and Elizabeth Taylor, the movie Cleopatra derived from the overheated imaginations of such western writers as Plutarch, whose “Life of Mark Antony” influenced most later writers, including Shakespeare.
Where Tyldesley’s book differs from most modern accounts of Cleopatra’s life and times is that her conclusions stem from an intimate knowledge of Egyptian culture rather than from Greek and Roman historians to whom Cleopatra was a combination of sorceress and seductress. Charm and intelligence were almost certainly her most alluring traits and what first attracted Caesar to her. (Her money didn’t hurt, either; according to Tyldesley “Cleopatra was the wealthiest monarch in the world.”)
Cleopatra was, she concludes, “an intelligent and effective monarch who set realistic goals and who very nearly succeeded in creating a dynasty that would have re-established Egypt as a world super power.”
Roman historians, though, saw only “an unnatural, immodest woman who preyed on other women’s husbands. From this developed the myth of the sexually promiscuous Cleopatra . . . a harsh legacy indeed for a woman who probably had no more than two, consecutive, sexual relationships.”
Readers who enjoy not only history but how it evolves into myth will find a feast in Tyldesley’s book. You may be disappointed to find out that the Queen of Egypt did not first appear to Caesar unwrapped from an Oriental carpet, and it’s unlikely that Cleopatra succumbed to the bite of an asp. Tyldesley’s theories as to what most likely did happen are at least as interesting as the folklore.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Romans now apparently are responsible for the AIDS epidemic

In the 1960s and 1970s during the cultural revolution our nation was going through with the civil rights movement, the hippie movement, etc. it became commonplace for the foundations of western civilization, i.e. the Greeks and the Romans, to be blamed for all of the current problems in the United States. We have racism, thus blame the Romans. We have sexism, thus blame the Greeks. In other words, had we founded our country on other philosophies than that of Greece and Rome, such horrible -isms would never have happened. Such an argument is absolute bunk! If anything the philosophy underlying the civilizations of Greece and Rome gave us the means to get rid of sexism, racism and slavery. Other systems were inherently totatlitarian, based on the whims of individual rulers rather than on the rule of the law, a great gift of the Romans. But it is still fashionable to blame the Romans and Greeks for bad things. Now, apparently, a researcher believes that the AIDS epidemic was caused by the Romans' DNA killing off the DNA of native tribes and thus allowed it to be more susceptible to HIV which causes AIDS. Here is the article. Judge for yourself.

Britons may be more vulnerable to Aids due to Roman invasion
Britons may be more vulnerable to Aids due to the Roman invasion, new findings suggest.

Last Updated: 12:58PM BST 04 Sep 2008

Dr Faure believes the Romans introduced a disease which killed off people with a variant gene that now protects against HIV Photo: TELEVISION STILLS
Researchers found that people who live in lands conquered by the Roman army have less protection against HIV than those in countries they never reached
They say a gene which helps make people less susceptible to HIV occurs in greater frequency in areas of Europe that the Roman Empire did not stretch to.
The gene lacks certain DNA elements, which means HIV cannot bind to it as easily and is less able to infect cells.
People with the mutation have some resistance to HIV infection and also take longer to develop AIDS, reports New Scientist.
A study of almost 19,000 DNA samples from across Europe showed the gene variant seemed to dwindle in regions conquered by the Romans.
Generally only people in Europe and western Asia carry the gene and it becomes much less frequent as you move south.
More than 15 per cent of people in some areas of northern Europe carry it compared with fewer than four per cent of Greeks.
It is not clear why this is so since the spread of HIV - which began in the early 1980s - is too recent to have influenced the distribution of the variant.
The difference in frequency of the key gene mutation reflects the changing boundary of the Roman Empire between 500 BC and AD 500.
But study leader Dr Eric Faure, of Provence University in France, does not believe the Romans spread the regular version of the gene into their colonies by breeding with indigenous people.
Dr Faure, whose findings are published in Infection, Genetics and Evolution, said: "Gene flow between the two was extremely low."
Instead he believes the Romans introduced a disease to which people carrying the gene variant were particularly susceptible. As the Romans moved north this disease killed off people with the variant gene that now protects against HIV.

New Revisions to the Catholic Liturgy

Latin is still the official langauge of the Roman Catholic Church. Whenever changes need to be made, specifically in vernacular langauges, such as German, English, French, Chinese, etc. the original Latin text is always consulted before changes in the vernacular are made. This can be very irritating to those who feel the text is fine and should not be changed and those who feel that the wording does not accurately reflect the original Latin.

A close look at changes to the Catholic liturgy9The latest "Sightings" column explores changes to the Catholic liturgy.

New Revisions to the Catholic Liturgy
-- Heather A. Hartel
The words in the Catholic mass are changing, again. Over the protests of some liberal American prelates, the Vatican and the US Conference of Catholic bishops recently approved changes to the English translation of the central prayers of the liturgy. Granted, these modifications are not as dramatic as when, nearly four decades ago, the Roman Missal of Paul VI replaced the Tridentine Mass and allowed for the use of the vernacular. That transformation, influenced by the Liturgical movement, paved the way for traditionalist schismatic groups like Archbishop Lefebvre's Society of St. Pius X. And while an apostolic letter from last year supported use of the formal 1962 version of the Tridentine Mass upon parishioners' requests, the new English translation mandates the return of formal language by insisting upon better fidelity to the Latin Missal and, in so doing, emphasizes the hierarchal authority the Church and the role of its representatives as mediators between God and the laity.
The reintroduction of formal, elevated language is undoubtedly part of an attempt to follow the instructions of "Liturgiam authenticam," a guideline released by the Vatican in 2001 for how to translate the liturgy into the vernacular. This guideline indicates that translation is not to be a work of "creative innovation," but rather a "rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language." The original must be "translated...without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses."
Some of the new changes are minor, revising only a word or two to closer adhere to the Latin version. For instance, in the Nicene Creed, Catholics will no longer confess that Jesus is "one in Being with the Father." Instead, Jesus is "consubstantial with the Father," a very literal translation of "consubstantialem Patris" which introduces a vocabulary word that might well be found on a Catholic version of the GRE. Additionally, in response to the priest's "The Lord be with you," the people will no longer say, "And also with you" for "Et cum spiritu tuo." They will say, "And with your spirit." This change has larger implications than just the use of advanced vocabulary. First, of modern-language translations, the English is currently the only one that does not translate the word spiritu. Secondly, by recognizing the priest's spirit instead of his ego, the congregation acknowledges that he is the representative of the Church endowed with the Holy Spirit through ordination, and that the Spirit binds the hierarchy and laity, the Church as one, under God.
Other changes involve the reinsertion of entire phrases that were glossed over. In the current Penitential Act, the congregation recites, "I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do." This will change to "I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." The repetition of "my fault" here, which is found in the Latin text, highlights the stereotypical notion of Catholic guilt. And for guilty Catholics with their grievous faults, salvation comes through the Church that mediates for them through the sacraments, especially those of penance and the Eucharist, neither of which can be fully realized without the unique powers of a priest.
From the Catholic point of view, the spirit of aggiornamento (or updating the Church for modern times) transformed the liturgy into a ritual accessible by all believers. Gone were the days of the faithful performing private devotions to their favorite saints or reciting the rosary during Mass because they did not understand Latin. Further developments in the early 80s allowed for lay Eucharistic ministers, lay lectors, and altar girls, all of which helped advance the laity's "full, conscious and active participation" as required by Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. However, when my non-Catholic students attend a Catholic liturgy for their field reports, they often comment on how the ritualized atmosphere makes them feel unconnected, unwelcome, and uninvolved.
Indeed, the Catholic mass is a formal, scripted ritual with little liturgical room for the same kind of spontaneity found in many Protestant gatherings. There is no priesthood of all believers in Catholicism, even as its deaconate grows with the shortage of priests. Traditionally, the Holy Roman Catholic Church and members of its hierarchy mediate for the faithful, and making the language of the Mass even more ceremonial reinforces this arrangement.
The new translation will not be used immediately; the Vatican has instructed the US bishops to begin preparing people for the change and does not expect to complete the full translation until 2010. I can't help but wonder, though, if while learning the new words of the Creed, a Catholic schoolchild somewhere will mishear the word "consubstantial," and recite "Constantinople with the Father."