Tag Archives: Rome

MLB PEDs, A-Rod, and Ancient Cheaters

With all of the talk surrounding baseball, Alex Rodriguez, and the seemingly never ending use of the word “cheating” I thought it would be interesting to discuss what happened to the ancient cheaters. So we know Alex Rodriguez has been suspended for essentially cheating; using performance enhancing drugs, although more of the suspension comes from impeding the MLB’s investigation and simply his obnoxious arrogance. While A-rod is just the most recent cheater to join the ranks of Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and of course Barry Bonds, it is not the first time the question of legacy comes up for a professional athlete. The same questions about remembrance have been brought up about many other athletes such as Tiger Woods, Jim Thorpe, and Lance Armstrong.  We are still waiting to see how most of these will play out (exception being Jim Thorpe, I think he is remembered well, but then his crimes are not considered very serious nor cheating by most people). We can say that McGwire has been passed up multiple times now in Hall of Fame elections and prior to the steroids scandals many were calling him a first ballot Hall of Famer. For the most part, however, it remains to be seen what people will be saying about the steroids era in 10, 20, 50 years.

In the ancient world there were different theories about handling such people. While the Roman example didn’t apply to athletes as much as politicians and traitors, sometimes the same person fit all of those categories I guess, for comparison purpose I will say damnatio memoriae was their method of handling such unwanted stigmas. Damnatio memoriae is a system put in place by the Roman Senate to completely erase someone from history and that was meant in the most literal sense of erase. They would remove inscriptions with his name, remake statues to remove his image, and seize all property. Due to the nature of the practice not a ton of information is known about it, but it was used a few times in the imperial period for emperors who were disliked by the emperor succeeding them or for people who conspired against the emperor.

This is an instance when the Greeks handled things very differently than the Romans. The Greeks would put the story of cheating Olympians everywhere. Yes, cheating happened even in the original Olympic Games. When there are riches to be won and glory to be had, unfortunately if unchecked, cheating will occur; you may say a laurel wreath isn’t exactly riches, but many athletes received rewards either from their home city-state or through other means, but I digress as usual.  The Greeks actually erected statues, using the money of the cheaters, which were to serve as warnings to future athletes. On the statues were elegiac poems, interestingly the same style of poem found on grave markers. These poems extol the values of how the Olympics are to be won, through physical prowess, and criticize other methods of obtaining victory like paying money.

The contrast of the Ancient Roman damnation memoriae and the Ancient Greek example-making tactics are a good chance for history to show us what should be done. Some are saying the MLB should put a steroids era wing on the Hall of Fame to show the history of the game accurately and also to point out the terrible things steroids did to the game of baseball. This is obviously following the Greek example. The voters have consistently left steroid era players out of the Hall, however, maybe preferring the way of the Romans and attempting to erase them from the history of the game. This will definitely be something to watch in the years to come as many steroid era players reach eligibility for the Hall of Fame.

Comment below and tell me if you are for the Roman way or the Greek way? How about outside of athletics like for politicians, celebrities, traitors, etc.?  

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This Is The End: Old Comedy makes its return!

This is the End is closer to an ancient comedy than a modern one.  When I think about Greek and Roman comedy I think of things playing out just like This is the End.  First, let me say this is a hilarious movie and is incredibly well done. There are so many good jokes as well as situational comedy so it doesn’t rely entirely on the jokes. Go see it, especially if you grew up in the 90s with all of the love for 90s things. If you haven’t seen it there are some slight spoilers in this post, so beware moving on.  Anyway, back to the ancients. I hope in this post to spread a little knowledge about ancient comedy while showing how This is the End is very similar to these plays.

There are two categories in which ancient comedies are usually classified. Those are Old Comedy and New Comedy; there is also Middle Comedy, but it is a confusing subject and is really just used to talk about some works which bridge Old and New and therefore are hard to define. Old comedy is mostly talked about with Aristophanes.  Old Comedy is mainly seen as political satire. Aristophanes wrote comedies which were social commentaries on Socrates (The Clouds), war (Lysistrata), overuse of the justice system (The Wasps), etc.  This is the End fits into this style as it discusses some political issues like legalizing marijuana as well as being centered on an apocalyptic event which has been in people’s minds recently with the passing of the year 2012, but I would not consider it a political satire. It does, however, have many of the farcical aspects of Old Comedy.

Another characteristic of Aristophanes’ comedy was the use of the phallus. To put it bluntly there were penises everywhere. Actors wore giant penises, some scholars say it was to be sure that the audience did not mistake the gender of the character, however I think it was more of a comedic device than anything. Watch the scene in HBO’s Rome where there is a play going on in a the background to see this; that’s New Comedy, but that’s okay because this is an aspect they share. This is actually what gave me the idea for this post because as soon as the demon is shown we see that he has been given a giant penis. The idea was probably to be equally scary and hilarious; it succeeded. This immediately struck me as ancient comedy, though.  This movie had more penis jokes than, I think, any other movie I have watched. Craig Robinson trying to pick up the giant penis art is probably my favorite. In this way I say that This is the End was very similar to Aristophanes and Old Comedy.

New Comedy is situational comedy at its earliest beginnings. This comedy is considered shallower and doesn’t take many risks as far as political commentary goes. The best known Ancient Greek writer of New Comedy is Menander. This was also the genre of comedy which was adapted in Rome by playwrights Plautus and Terence.   New Comedy is based more on stock characters and depictions of daily life. In this way it is very much like our modern sitcoms such as Friends, How I Met Your Mother, or Modern Family.  The way This is the End fits into New Comedy is that in the beginning we are getting a glimpse of the daily life of these people we see as actors so often.

I see This is the End as very close to Old Comedy. In fact if Aristophanes were alive today it wouldn’t surprise me to see his name scrolling through the credits as a writer. The penis jokes really stand out to me as a reference to antiquity; they probably did this without even realizing it. There are, of course, many things I didn’t touch on in this post like the religious aspects, the fact that these characters are over-exaggerated versions of themselves, and the use of small role female characters (something that is huge in ancient comedy). Please leave a comment and I will be happy to chat about these things in the comments section.

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This week I would like to talk a little about legal terms, but more so about The Big Bang Theory. I know that this is not a new episode, but I saw it again recently and thought it perfect to write about. In this episode Sheldon must go to traffic court because he was caught on a traffic cam running a red light while driving Penny to the hospital. His first use of Latin as he approaches the judge is to tell him that he is appearing in pro se, or in representation of himself.  Se is the reflexive pronoun referring back to the invisible subject of this sentence, Sheldon.  Continuing his great use of classical rhetoric and a three legged argument, Sheldon states that he will argue the legal doctrine of quod est necessarium est licitum, “That which is necessary is legal.”  The first thing I must do is applaud the pronunciation as he used the hard “c” in both necessarium and licitum. While this defense has in fact worked in certain cases throughout history, it did not work for Sheldon.  An interesting note about this though is that I cannot find an origin for the Latin phrase in Ancient Rome (if someone finds one please let me know). Instead it seems to be one of those things that has come about and translated into Latin to give it more prestige.  I must say I was very disturbed while trying to find an origin by the overwhelming number of Law websites, journals, and other publications which said quad instead of quod, a word which doesn’t even exist in the Latin paradigm of qui, quae, quod.

Sorry for the short post this week, but there was not a lot to say about this since it didn’t in fact have an ancient origin I could find, and I didn’t have a lot of time today. I will be back with a bigger post next week.

Big Bang Theory: Quod Est Necassarium Est Licitum

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Cosmo Magazine and Ovid’s Ars Amatoria: Sex hasn’t changed in 2,000 years

I’m not going to lie, I find Cosmo to be a hilarious magazine and it became even more hilarious the second I realized that Cosmo is just the modern, female, version of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. Ovid’s “Art of Love” is basically a guide to love, sex, adultery, etc. Contrary to popular opinion Ovid didn’t just gear his work towards men, rather, it also includes advice for women. The work is broken into three parts which would be found commonly in a magazine like Cosmo. Book 1 is about how to find a woman, book 2 how to keep her, and book 3 is about how women can obtain and keep a man in love. The book is a bit racy, in fact so racy it got Ovid exiled, or maybe it was just that little thing about Julia’s adultery, whatever it was, the poet calls it “a poem and a mistake.”

Ovid’s book is not just about sex, but also includes little things that can be done to keep someone interested. My favorite piece of advice Ovid gives is one that is also covered very regularly in Cosmo, the waiting game. This is basically how to make someone miss you, but not be gone for too long. In modern Cosmo terms that might be considered the three day rule of calling someone or “do you” which apparently translates to leaving time for yourself and not forgetting your friends. It is incredible to me that nothing really has changed in relationships in two thousand years.

Of course there is always the sex part of Cosmo and Ars Amatoria. Both pieces of literature (I use that term loosely) express advice on the physical nature of the relationship. This can be found in every issue of Cosmo and usually is full of things a lot of men might disagree with, but they’re the experts not me. As I went to the website for “research” for this post I found an article titled “The Sexy Body Parts Your Not Using Enough.” This turned out to be an article on how women should use their legs in bed. This reminded me greatly of a line in the Ars Amatoria where Ovid claims that tall women should not straddle their lovers: “quod erat longissima, numquam Thebais Hectoreo nupta resedit equo” (Book 3, ll 778).  This translates very roughly to “because she was taller, the Theban bride (refers to Andromache) never sat on Hector.” I left out the word equo which just describes Hector as a horse, yes that probably has the same meaning as when Cosmo refers to a man as a horse.

The only thing that might differ between Ovid and Cosmo is that Ovid never wrote a useless article like, “What did his weekend texts really mean.”   Although you can bet if text messages existed, Ovid would’ve written about it. Everything else seems to line up pretty well. I’m sure you’ve read Cosmo so if you don’t believe me that nothing has changed, pick up a copy of Ovid and see for yourself.

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The Walking Dead, Gladiator Games, and Roman Empire Politics

SPOILER ALERT!  Don’t read further if you have not seen at least to the mid-season break of the current Walking Dead season!

I have been dying to find a link between The Walking Dead and the classical world for some time now and this season the creators of the show decided to just lob in a softball for me. In this season with the addition of The Governor of Woodbury, there have been some awesome twists and a couple of potential references to the Classics, but none more obvious than the arena fighting. Depending on the way things turn out I may come back to this season to discuss some similarities to Roman Empire politics, but that will have to wait. For now let’s jump into The Walking Dead’s version of the Colosseum. First some Colosseum facts, this is not Coliseum the punk rock band (I don’t know of them, but MS Word tells me this is the correct spelling, I say it is the rock spelling not the amphitheater spelling, and Colosseum gets an underline even though I know it’s correct, bizarre).  The COLOSSEUM was built in 72AD under the emperor Vespasian and was finished in 80AD. Some scholars say, and I believe it is commonly accepted now, that it was built by four different “architecture firms” and that is why parts are deteriorating at different rates. It is also known as the Flavian Amphitheater in case the whole Colosseum and Coliseum debate bothers you.

The important part of the Colosseum, for this posts purposes, is that gladiatorial games took place there as well as in many smaller amphitheaters throughout Italy. In the most recent season of The Walking Dead, The Governor decided that similar bloodshed was a great way to entertain the people of Woodbury. In Rome the gladiators were often slaves, criminals, or (as seen in the famous Russel Crowe movie) prisoners of war. The Governor makes a similar decision when he places Daryl and Merle in the ring against each other. I think we can call Daryl a prisoner of war now that a true war has broken out between the prison and Woodbury.

The parallels between Woodbury and Ancient Rome after the fall of the republic are quite striking. The people are living in a time of great fear and panic in both situations. A “great” ruler leads them into a peaceful time and earns the respect of the people he governs. Both hold over his people the power of life and death (we’ve seen this a handful of times with the governor). The governor like some emperors of Rome decided the best way to please the people was to hold these bloodbaths. He does add an interesting component by placing the walkers (zombies) in the arena although since the walkers are often seen as animalistic and not human I would say this compares to putting lions and other animals in the Colosseum.  After the scene of the arena style fighting in The Walking Dead it is revealed that the winner of fights was often predetermined. This was known to occur in Ancient Rome as well.  The arena fighting in this show was clearly meant to evoke the gladiatorial games.

During the decline of the Roman Empire Juvenal wrote that the Roman people only wanted two things, “Panem et circenses” or “bread and circuses.” He actually says, “The common people-rather than caring about their freedom-are only interested in bread and circuses” (Satire 10.81). This is also true of the people of Woodbury. They will follow their leader as long as he provides them with the comforts of home, food and entertainment. It is incredible that we continue to show the same scenes of what happens in times of great instability, but in most cases people are put in power who take advantage of that situation. We shall see how The Walking Dead turns out, but I think The Governor is just a serial killer, psychopath who had enough charm and guns to make people follow him. Charm and an Army got Julius Caesar pretty far, and even put his (adopted) son in power for years after his assassination.

Juvenal Book IV Satire X ll 78-81:

nam qui dabat olim
imperium fasces legiones omnia, nunc se
continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,
panem et circenses

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Diana imagery in Grace Potter & The Nocturnals “Never Go Back”

This video provides a stark contrast between the civilized and the barbaric (interesting side note that the word barbarian comes from the Romans who claimed that anyone who couldn’t speak Latin just said bar bar bar bar). Roman writers especially historians and ethnographers, were obsessed with the contrast between their great civilized world and the barbaric tribes around them.  Authors including Caesar, Tacitus, Plutarch, Diodorus and many others wrote at length about the barbarianism of the Gauls and Germans. This video is designed to give a similar perspective.

The girl depicted represents what is pure. She is good and civilized, in her neo-classical home, playing classical music on her cello. Everything she does represents civilization and everything the barbarian children enter the home and do is anti-civilization. At one point a barbarian picks up a wine glass and looks at it in a funny manner then throws it. Tacitus might find this amusing as he described the terrible tribes of Germany drinking unmixed wine. Wine in the ancient days (Greek and Roman) was mixed with water sort of as an additive to water to purify the not so great stagnant drinking water (this is supported by a passage in Homer’s Odyssey but I cannot find the passage, if someone does please post it in the comments). The barbarians of the ancient days could not make music, music was poetry and they couldn’t speak Latin so that wouldn’t work. This is represented in the video by the anti-civilization act of throwing the cello over the balcony.

My favorite classical reference in this video is the girl herself, however.  The moment she pulled out the bow and arrow aiming it at the barbarians and then changing her civilized ways, was the moment I decided this needed to be posted. Whenever I see a woman archer especially one depicted as an innocent young girl I immediately think of the huntress Diana. Diana is virginal and protects children. She is the epitome of the chaste, civilized, innocent lifestyle. This video grabs me though as the image of the archer quickly turns to the means for her lack of civilization. She shoots the flaming arrow into the wall of the house lighting the house on fire and joining the ranks of the barbarian children. She sheds civilization.

Interestingly the song talks about never going back presumably to the man who was barbaric and wrong, but the girl in the video does. It seems to represent the ease with which we can return to dark things, but at the same time extols this lifestyle as a good way of living. The video ends as the girl runs off into the wilderness. This dichotomy is the perfect Diana comparison.

I see the girl in the video as a very Diana type figure. She has the class of a goddess, but the earthiness of the huntress. Diana held reign in the sky and earth. The girl in this music video holds reign over civilization to which she is accustomed, but when the opportunity presents itself she finds her place on earth among nature. More interesting yet is that Diana, according to Frazer’s Golden Bow, is probably one of the oldest deities coming from the Indo-European tradition which means she is present in both the civilized religion of the Romans and the barbaric religion of the rest of Europe.

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