The Naked Past

george in a bathtowelIn making a comparison in how the ancients see the world when matched up with modern views – nudity would certainly make the list.  We (modern folk) are basically uncomfortable with it.  Nudity for the ancients was a depiction of heroism.  No where is this seen more than a statue that was carved of our founding father George Washington.  He was shown nude, depicted like the ancient hero, and its reception was anything but gracious.  I saw this statue at the Smithsonian years ago.  The original viewers (back in the 1880s) sarcastically dubbed it:  “Washington in the bath.” It isn’t hard to see a certain deification in how Washington is depicted – however one can see why.  He laid down his power much like the ancient Cinncinatus who went back to his plow.   Note *  King George III met an American living in London.  He was supposed to have asked what Washington’s intentions were now the war was over.  The American said that he had heard Washington planned on retiring back to his farm. George said “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”  The Horatio Greenough’s 1840 statue (which certainly has classical influence) had some issues in finding a home.  It got moved about in various parks and finally made it inside out of the cold.  The curators probably thought ‘old George’ needed a certain amount of privacy, and were concerned that he might catch a cold (joke).  Anyway, school children were known to ask embarrassing questions.  “Why is Washington naked, Daddy?” 

01-29-statuesNudity in government has always been a touchy subject.  Former Attorney General John Ashcroft (though sources denied it) got fed up giving his briefings in front of the naked breast of The Spirit of Liberty.  Curtains were eventually added, hiding the naked goddess.  I am not sure if it was to protect the propriety of the Goddess Liberty or to save the attorney general from embarrassment.

I came across the following video on YouTube.  The title “None of That” depicts an over zealous nun protecting the ‘public morals.’  It comes from the Ringling College of Art and Design.  Watch the film, it is a marvelous film…however, reality is far more interesting – watch the film and afterwards let me tell you about Sister Wendy.

Sister WendySister Wendy has produced a series of documentaries for the BBC on the History of Art.  For someone who is on record as a hermit and ‘consecrated virgin’   (yes an official designation) she would be the first to say that she has no issues with the nude form.  One can imagine that she was a great believer in the adage:  “…as God made us.”  The cartoon None of That does not depict the very real intellectual appreciation of this nun and noted art historian.  Sister Wendy who earned top honors at Oxford University is nothing like the nun depicted in the animated cartoon.  You are more likely to find Sister Wendy leading a tour through the museum, rather than covering exposed ‘naughty bits’. She would smile and explain every detail, unfazed by naked breast or buttock, totally at peace that those depicted in their nakedness is truly “…as God made us.”  If by chance she caught the nun adding the black censored panels (as in the cartoon) I am sure a fight would have ensued.

Nudity is part of western culture.  I don’t mean to say we don’t have our limits.  We still mark off where and when it should be displayed, but the nude form has its roots in our classical past.  I still remember driving down Wisconsin Avenue in D.C. to see a man being led away in cuffs by the cops.  He was nude and his only article of clothing was his protest sign.  Our boundaries are tested in protest, in fashion, and sometimes for the only purpose of shock (remember ‘streaking’ at football games?).  At  risk of sounding like a puritan “There is a place for everything, and everything in its place.”  However, when I start to cringe is when we cover up who we are, or what we were for the sensibilities of others.  Nudity is a fact, it is inescapable part of our classical and religious past.   Are we so separated from our naked ‘classical’ past that we must do the following?  Note the photo below.

boxed nudesThis is what Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saw when he met with the Prime Minister of Italy.  Venus was boxed away, and maybe a bit of who and what we are as a culture was boxed away as well.



Adventure for any time period

It’s not Greece or Rome that this delightful graphic novel takes place in, but the Ottomon Empire (? -pretty sure).  It’s so well told that you won’t care.  It has all the facets of good story telling:  reluctant hero, a dashing female character, evil baddies that won’t stop chasing the heroes.  The story:  a Turkish Lieutenant meets an woman adventurer named Delilah Dirk. She manages to always get into trouble (on a constant basis) and though he starts out her jailor he eventually winds up as her companion as they flee from assorted dangers. She is a fantastic sword fighter, a thief and always one step away from death. If you like madcap adventure, Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is worth your time. If I was to pick an actor for the role of the Turkish Lieutenant it would be Brad Pitt.  For the role of Delilah Dirk?  The Chicago Actress Lorrisa Julianus – trust me.


Sometimes Mythology catches up.

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The Sphinx in black and white

This is reported as the first film of the Sphinx in 1897.  This is many years removed from today’s bustling Cairo that is now just feet away.  I remember my first time seeing the site I was amazed at the desert park that surrounded it.  I had only seen photos of this site where the background was always shot towards the desert.  Seeing Cairo so close was a surprise to me…well Tourist.  I always imagined it far away in the desert.  Forgive the dreamer who spends too much time in the past.

Sometimes Mythology catches up.


A hero of Palmyra

Khaled-al-Asaad - Hero of Palmyra

Khaled-al-Asaad – Hero of Palmyra

I have to bring your attention to an article in Minerva Magazine. The headline reads: ‘Tribute to Palmyra. This is not the first time this city has been attacked.”

Minerva Magazine is the type of publication where it smells like it came fresh off the presses by the smell of printer’s ink. To me, a former graphic arts guy in college, the smell is heavenly.  The magazine has large beautiful photographs of ancient artifacts, great articles and reeks of another smell: class. 

If you get a chance, check out the NOV/DEC issue. As you know ISIL, a 14th century cabal composed of thugs and psychopaths, took explosives to the city and hammers to various antiquities.  And according to recent reports, ISIL is collecting and selling whatever they can loot.  The magazine article provides a look at a city before it was destroyed. There are 17 Century woodcuts, photographs of edifices and various funeral busts.

What has gone on in Syria and Iraq under ISIL’s ‘benevolent’ (sarcasm!) regime has a chilling comparison to a quote by Emperor Aurelian:

“The Palmyrans have been sufficiently slaughtered and cut to pieces. What have not spared the women; we have slain the children, we have strangled the old men, we have destroyed the husbandmen. To whom then shall we leave the land? To whom shall we leave the city?”

A couple of paragraphs in the article pays homage to a man that should be called a hero of that ancient city.   We can remember Palmyra from its buildings, sculptures and art, but Kahled al Assad should be remembered with respect.  This 80 plus year old man (with emphasize on the word MAN) was an archeologist that studied the ancient world of Palmyra. Most of us when given the opportunity to flee from approaching ‘barbarians’ would have gladly fled, but Kahled al-Asadd chose to stay and try to save the treasures and antiquities of an ancient people which he dedicated most of his life studying. He refused to reveal where he hid the artifacts. For that he was beheaded.  There is no better illustration of Kahled al-Asaad’s bravery than Thomas Babington Macaulay’s poem titled Horatius:

“Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?”

I stand in awe of this man’s bravery. I have met heroes in my life;  I have the unique ability to recognize them.  This man I gladly place him on my list.

I hope that with all my heart that the children of Kahled al-Asadd are alive. It should interest you to note that one of his daughters is named Zenobia.

Are you surprised?

I’m not.

Remember Palmyra.  Remember Kahled al-Asaad. 

My favorite movie lines

The Movie ‘Troy’ with Brad Pitt

Context – King Prim tells Hector that Helen can stay because Troy is the favorite of Apollo.

Hector (played by Eric Bana) replies:  “How many battalions does the sun god command?”

The Movie ‘Gods of Egypt’ with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Remember Game of Thrones?). 

Context – ‘Set’ an Egyptian God, sends minions riding giant worms.

Bek (Handsome young hero):  “We should run.”

Horus (A god played by Coster-Waldau) :  “Run?”

Bek (he is running away before he even finishes the sentence):  “We humans do it all the time!”

Paper Towns

U3 heroes I just got finished watching the movie Paper Towns. The movie is based on a John Green book. It was recommended by a check-out clerk (who looked like the late River Phoenix).  My wife and I were trying to decide our next Redbox pick.  You may remember John Green from his major bestseller: The Fault in Our Stars. The reason I am promoting the movie  is that I was overcome with an overwhelming feeling that I had seen this before.  It had an incredible classical feeling to it. Other films popped into my head. Star Wars The Odyssey The 13th Warrior The reason I found the film familiar was that it reminded me of another book titled: THE HEROES JOURNEY by Joseph Campbell. I don’t have to go too far into the movie for if you saw Star Wars – you are already familiar with the journey. Joseph Campbell is an American scholar who went far into the study of mythos. George Lucas (a creator of his own mythos) sat in one of his classes and melded the ‘hero’s journey’ into his script. If you haven’t read Joseph Campbell – do so. Star Wars, The Odyssey and even the Antonio Bandera’s movie The 13th Warrior are prime examples of such a plot line. Catch the scene where the Vikings volunteer for adventure, and the Arab traveler tries to keep quiet only to find himself ‘volunteered’ to accompany the warriors into harm’s way. The reluctant hero is a common theme. Even Luke Sky walker was hesitant to start the journey. Quentin “Q” Jacobsen the hero of Paper Towns is no different. He’s an “A” student, a guy that has never gotten into trouble. He has a crush on Margo Roth Spiegleman, the girl that lives across the street. One day she disappears, and he find that she has left a series of clues behind. “Q” is off on his journey, and every hero must gather companions for his journey. Luke Skywalker had the droids, the princess and the rogue Han Solo, and Chew-bacca. “Q” is no different. He gathers his companions and they volunteer not too dissimilarly from The 13th Warrior scene where the Vikings volunteer for the adventure. A hero must have an adventure. His crush Margo fulfills the role of Obi-Wan. Don’t get me wrong. This is a Young Adult (YA) movie and book (the kind John Green is famous for), and there is no mention of Star Wars or the Odyssey mentioned in this film, but it grabs you with all the elements. A hero must learn something, and what this movie told  me is that THE HERO’S JOURNEY is engrained in our psyche, and in our story telling. Surely, in your youth you must have gone on a road trip? Maybe you’re about to go on one. What shall you bring back from your adventure into the unknown? herosjourney

The Robiad Liber

(The Robiad are the rants of Rob Cain.  You may agree or disagree, but it would be great if you commented.)

I have to share something. I am a total nerd on old books written about Ancient Rome. I know it’s ridiculous to say this…but somehow I feel closer to that time period picking out an old text written pre-1900s.

I visited the Alexandria Library, the Kate Waller Barrett Branch on 717 Queen Street Alexandria, VA twice on two separate years and always managed to score a book that I purchased for mere couple of bucks. The Barret branch has a book sale each year. You may not be surprised by this, the neighborhood still has a strong resemblance of what it might have looked like in the time period of George Washington himself. I am sure there would have been fewer houses, dirt roads, and a distinct aroma of horse manure in that air, but Alexandria (downtown near King and Prince street) still reflect the atmosphere of the late and early 1700 and 1800s. Two years ago I found an old Latin text (did you know that Latin was taught in grammar schools at one time?), which provided totally cool book illustrations of equipment of the legions and what Gauls were presumed to look like. It is hard to find modern texts with such illustrations. Yes, yes, I know…modern texts have something called photographs. I don’t know how I can convey this…but somehow I get a kick of an outstanding woodblock illustration of Caesar crossing the Rubicon, or an illustration of the Forum.  Sometime in the near future if you ever visit me you will see framed woodblock maps of the ancient world. These, I consider…art.

I followed my wife over to the Barrett Branch (built in the 1930s and in Colonial Style) as she searched for what is called YA (Young Adult) books that she wanted to donate to a charity in Seattle that gives books to youth that are incarcerated. I asked the librarian on duty (an orange haired generation X? Y? can anyone tell me what they are called now?), and she guided me over to a section titled…get this…OLD BOOKS. It is there that I found a book titled: Smaller Classical Dictionary by Smith. The publishers are London: J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd. Note* Only that new-fangled technology called photos in this edition by the way.  The book is a 1948 reprint.

Side point – Those of you that consider 1948 an eon ago…pray reconsider. It was in my parent’s youth, and what took place in their lifetimes affect us now in ours. What’s more…here’s a little more to think about…what occurred in B.C. (Before Christ) or what they call now (Before the Common Era) affects us just as much. The argument has been proposed…discuss.

The Smaller Classical Dictionary is exactly what it says it is. A simple dictionary going from ABIA to ZOSIMUS:

ZOZIMUS, Greek historian who lived in the time of the younger Theodosius. He wrote the history of the Roman Empire in 6 books, which is still extant. Zosimus was a pagan, and comments severely upon the faults and crimes of the Christian Emperors.

Those pagans…what can I say.

I have spent a wonderful afternoon, going through this book with my traditional Starbuck’s Hot Tea, and all I can say is the following (many of you know this already): Reading a classical dictionary lets you fully realize that the ancient world was a rich, varied place that was packed full with stories of a colorful people.

So was the world of my parents.

So was my world.

So is yours- girl with orange hair.

Something found

I was watching a cool video on Facebook.  I believe the speaker was a librarian from the new Library of Alexandria in Egypt.   He said the following: “I had a nephew ask me what ‘B.C.’  means.  I told him it stands for ‘Before Computers.'”