Alexandria’s hidden treasure

I couldn’t resist posting these photos. If you are interested in the underwater archaeology being done off the coast of Alexandria check this book out; Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt. It’s from National Geographic, written by Zahi Hawass and Franck Goddio.

“The place was like  a temple of luxury, the likes of which would be difficult to build even in a more corrupt period; the panelled vaults were laden with riches; thick strips of gold hid the wood pieces…The marble was whole, and made the residence shine…Everywhere in the palace was a profusion of onyx on which people walked.”

–Lucan, Pharsalia (circa a.d. 64)

So where is it now?

Most likely…under the sea.

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How legends start.

How did my Grand Father meet my Grandmother?   There is a family legend.


"Thisbe" by John William Waterhouse (1909 oil on canvass)

Grandma Cain was living in a boarding house in Chicago with her sister Aunt Kate.  Grandfather was ‘courting’ her and sent Grandma Cain a piano.  A piano was quite the gift for its day, even though it was nothing but a small upright.  The landlady who ran the place got the wrong idea: “Any woman that would accept a gift like that must be of a questionable nature.”  Well, what do you want?  It was 1914 at least.   The uptight landlady throws both my grandmother and my aunt out onto the street.   Aunt Kate picks up a phone and calls grandma’s boyfriend, soon to be Grandpa Cain.  She is angry: “What have you done, you dumb mick? Now we are homeless.”   Grandpa Cain meets them on the front stairs of the boarding house and has a solution:

“Well, I guess then Mary will have to marry me.”

He then takes them both to live in his Father’s house until the wedding can be arranged.

Is it true? 

“As true as the strength of the belief and the nerve it hits,” I say in my best Irish brogue.

Two lovers meet on a bridge called the Ponte Milvio.   This bridge attracted lovers in Roman times, documented by Tacitus, visited by Nero to meet nameless lovers.   The hero tells a false legend which lovers wrapped a chin around the third lamp post on the bridge’s northern side, locked it, and threw the key into the Tiber.   He then tells her that they will never leave each other…on the strength of a lock.

Is it true?

 As true as the strength of the belief and the nerve that it hits.

Well, it’s not true.  It’s an invention from a novel by Federico Moccia called in English: “I Want  You.” Since the publication of the story many locks have appeared on the bridge, locked to posts and chains.  Many with the lovers names written on the locks.   It has become an issue in city politics.  One party wants the locks removed, the other accuses the other party of being ‘anti-love’.  What started as a city lore, a ‘Roman’ thing, has now turned into something for the ‘tourist trade’ with locks being sold by road side vendors.  


The question is…what is a legend?  How much of any legend is true?  Are there other stories that grab our imagination?

What of Pyramus and Thisbe?  These were  two lovers separated by a wall built by their families to keep them apart.  One day they agree to meet in a secret hiding place, and Thisbe is frightened away by a lion and drops her cloak.  Pyramus arrives and believes that his lover has been eaten takes his own life.  Later Thisbe finds her boyfriend in the family crypt and takes her life as well.  Both families in one final act have the lovers burned on the same funeral pyre and buried together with their ashes mixed for eternity.

This seems familiar.  Where have I heard this before?  Think, man…THINK!

Got it!

“For never was a story of more woe. Than this of Juliet and her Romeo. …” 

So what about my family legend? 

Is it true? 

“As true as the strength of the belief and the nerve it hits,” I say in my best Irish brogue.

The ebay Museum of the Antiquties

055_ebay2Want to see some Roman Art?  Why wait for a museum to have a showing?  It’s all there on ebay.  Just put the following words into the search engine:  

Roman Antiques.

 This on-line auction house  is truly the ‘peoples museum.’  Where else can such a collection be brought together at a touch of a key?

 Roman marble head of bearded man  Starting bid $700.

Roman Iron Knife with Bronzed handle  Starting bid $24.

 And where else can you find a 3rd Century Phallic Symbol for a starting bid of $1.50?

 It’s like opening up a Roman shopping mall that has been sealed up for thousand of years.  Let’s go deeper…got your explorer’s hat on?

 My favorite items are the fibulas.  These are pins to keep your cloak pinned to your tunic.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  The one I have my eye on and it comes up once in a while is a fibula of a roman galley.   You can also get one in the form of a sea monster, but they also come in various other designs. 

 Looking to worship at the feet of a god or goddess that had actually was part of a Roman’s household gods?  You can get it here…for a price.

 MercuryA bronze Mercury, museum quality $5, 495 starting bid. 

 If you can’t afford the more popular gods, JUNO is a lot cheaper.

 In the ebay museum are rings of all makes and sizes, bronze and gold, amethyst and stones of various hues.  There are rings that are keys, rings for archers that protect the finger that grips the string of the bow.   A Roman gold military carnelian intaglio of a roman eagle design is yours for a mere starting bid of $740.  

 Do you have a thing for an official Roman nail?  This is affordable and certainly doable for most:  A starting bid of $30.

 Looking for coins?  This is the place.  For a reasonable price pick up a cache of coins that looks like they have sat in a hole for the last thousand years.  Starting bid $30 maybe?   This means you can hit the jackpot if you come up with anything that is valuable.  You can guess what goes up in price.  Got something with Brutus on it, with the two daggers on the back with the freeman’s hat?  You are looking at serious money.  If the coin is silver it may be worth $500 to $600, but if its gold then you are looking at a couple of grand. 

 Looking for sewing pins?  Got it.

 Spear and arrow heads can be yours.  And from the more recent roman era…Byzantium crosses can be had. 

Need glass beads, and an oil lamp that sat on a poet’s table?  It’s there.

 You may even find a broach, in the shape of a fish, that may have been an adornment of an early Christian in England?  Maybe.

 This is like exploring an ancient refuse pile.  Or opening up a drawer in a house that has been sealed up for a VERY long time.  The past presented through nibs, nobs, and thingy- ma- bobs.  You have to sort, and judge if you are actually looking at something that has value.  But what does value mean?  Doesn’t gold have a true and intrinsic Augustusvalue or is it something we rate high because of man’s fascination with it?  Once there was a stock market for tulips in Holland.  The value dropped over night.  Sort through the ebay Museum and you’ll have to judge.  What does owning a statue of Mercury mean to you?  What does owning a coin that bears the image of Vespasian say about you, or your interests?  Something that you buy from that period could have sat on a table of a philosopher, an Emperor, or someone that saw the turmoil in the streets during the Sulla proscriptions.  There is no way to prove any of that, but depending on when it was made there is a chance.  A slim chance, but a chance just the same.  Owning such a thing connects you to the past.  

 It is your own personal time machine.

 I own a quarter with the date 1945 on it.  My Father was a veteran of World War II.  It makes me feel good to own it, a year where a horrible war ended and my father returned to the U.S. alive and in one piece.   Others did not, but 1945 was a year of new beginnings for the winners and the losers.

 The value is in my eyes.      

 Warning: If something is classified Roman style its a copy.  That’s OK if you want to own the art or design style and not puncture a hole in your pocketbook.  

 However, what is the owner offering something up as a starting bid?  If its in the hundreds or thousands it seems to speak of authenticity.  But a coin of Augustus with a starting bid of $2.00 makes me wonder if someone is trying to con me.   Coins with the image of Augustus are hot, images of Brutus or Caesar…hotter.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A 'traditional' Museum -- The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The drawer of Roman nibs, nobs, and thinga- ma- bobs seems more true to life than an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.    It reminds me of something, yes…I remember now, its my own personal nibs, nobs, and thinga- ma- bobs drawer.    You have one too, admit it.  It’s the things we keep because we love them, an official boyscout knife, a button from an election, a button from a favorite sweater, a stub from a theater ticket for the movie STAR WARS.  Some may have an action figure, or even a pressed flower in a book. I have a Tibetan ink well, and the god Ganesha dancing through obstacles (who I occasionally display on a shelf at work out of respect).  The ebay museum may remind you of an ancient junk drawer – pins, rings, statues of favorite gods brought together for you to enjoy.  You can see this on ebay, but you have something like this at home.  YOUR junk drawer may make it on ebay when it celebrates its 150th anniversary.  Note* The word ‘junk’ is a bad word to describe what it REALLY is, for they are actually treasuresYou have to believe that their treasures  for why would you hide it away like that?  Why would you save it?  I’ll tell you why.  It’s your personal museum.   I can only show you my museum if you come to visit, but the ebay museum is open daily to the viewing public. 

 No entrance fee is required, but you might be tempted to make a bid.

Imagine this on Ebay 2201.  What curious artifact from that pre-computer civilization.  Some say it is called "The Slide Rule."

Imagine this on ebay 2201. What curious artifact from that pre-computer civilization. Some say it is called "The Slide Rule." Starting bid: $2000

Photos of the Forum

Justin McDonald is a contributor to the blog, and can be found on the Ancient Rome Refocused Facebook Page.  He was kind enough to send us some photos of his travels. 

Do you have any photos of an ancient spot of antiquity that you may have visited? Send Ancient Rome Refocused your photos and tell us what your thoughts were at the time.

Let us see the ancient world through your EYES!


History for the Brave!

(Instructions:  Just send us your digital photos (low resolution) with captions of what we are looking at.  If you want to write a blog post on your journey just send photos and your commentary to: rob@ 


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Movie Review Needed

agora_11Has anyone seen the new movie Agora with Rachel Weisz?  If you have please call our Ancient Rome Refocused Hotline and give us a review.  If you do I’ll put you on the next podcast.  I need someone who can sum up the show, in 4 minutes and 30 seconds.  That is all the time you have on the message machine.   If you need more time call back and I’ll splice the recordings together.

CALL:  206-424-0069

Tell us what you thought of the movie.  Do you think its accurate?  Tell us what it’s about and did it hold your interest?  I need a review that can be used on a future podcast about ‘Women in the Ancient World’.

Clash of the titans

I can’t sleep.  I really can’t sleep.  I just watched the movie CLASH OF THE TITANS and my body is filled with adrenalin. 

Synopsis:  King Acrisius’ wants to rid himself of Perseus, and so he sends him on a quest.  He must slay the gorgon Medusa, whom he thought would kill Perseus. However, not only did he manage to kill the Medusa, he also rescued the princess, Andromeda.  In this story are three old witches who share an eye between them, a horse that can fly, and a monster called the Kraken who is raised by Zeus to destroy mankind.  Interesting stuff…right?

There is something wrong with me.   I come to the computer to muse.   I can’t help to think the world is filled with signs that read:  


 Thousand of years ago there were three warriors around a fire, getting rained on, watching their breath curl in wisps in front of their lips. 

 Lighting struck in the distance. A distant rolling thunder swept across the sky, and each thought the gods were now in the heavens creating mischief. 

 The old man in their group told the story of Perseus and his battle with the Gods and the flying horse Pegasus.  For a moment, it was less cold on that field and in that rain.   In the dark clouds above it was easy to imagine a flying horse with a warrior on its back. 

 “What is that?” the youngest shouted to the others.

 He pointed to a field where it looked like a door opened and shut.  

 In my imagination that is when I came out of the theater.   

  I had just seen Clash of the Titans in 3-D.  Somehow it made me nostalgic.  I had seen the original back in 1981, and I still remembered a lot about the film, including one particular mechanical owl.  The movie…opened not too long after Star Wars, and what better marketing ploy to add a mechanical owl that strangely made hooting and clicking noise not too much different that this future side-kick cousin ARTOO DETOO. 

 That owl made a reappearance in this movie.  Pulled out an old case by the hero Perseus, he stares at it and says: “What’s this?”

 The older warrior says: “Leave it.”

 This was a small tip of the hat to the original movie and may have been saying we are blazing our own telling of the myth.

 I can’t say it was the best movie in the world, but something held me in my seat from beginning to end.   I kept on seeing things familiar, that have been told and retold…the stuff of adventure and legend.

Synopsis:  A young farmer is told that he is related to a great Jedi Warror.  When his family dies (kind of like the family of that Perseus guy) he takes up a quest to save a beautiful princess.  (Hmmm.)  Along the way he meets monsters and fights evil villians (Darth Vader).  OOOHHH so familar…is it not? 

In the movie Perseus is a demigod that denies his heritage.  His mother made love to a god.  

 In another movie a young man hears these words: “Luke, I am your Father.”

In this movie Perseus is presented with a magical sword.

In another movie a young man wields a light saber. 

In this movie an unstoppable monster called ‘the Kraken’ is about to destroy a city.

In another movie the battle star is just about to fire on the rebel base.

In this movie Perseus rides a flying horse. 

 In another movie the hero flying his star fighter must trust the force and fires the shot to destroy the battle star.

 I could take this further.  By the way where do you think Shakespeare got his three witches to tell Macbeth the future?

 “Boil, boil, toil and trouble…”

 The three witches showed up first in Greek legend.  

It wasn’t until I was leaving the film that the trailers before the show struck me as being suspiciosuly similar to the tale I had just witnessed.  The trailers to the movies The Expendables and the movie The A Team seemed perfect for the movie that was the main feature.  Both films were about a group of men that join together for a common cause to defeat a threat, is not too different than the tale of Perseus and his adventurers that travel into Hades to defeat the Medusa, and destroy the Kraken.    Always each character is unique, each man a story unto himself, a story told and retold.  The warriors have the wise one, the handsome one irresistible to women, the one with a special skill with a weapon, the funny one, which each meets a glorious death, or survives depending on the script or the need to have another episode next week. 

This story is told and retold.

Do you think Star Wars was new?  NO WAY.  The story is as old as Perseus himself. 

Our modern adventures are made up from the tales of myth, told and retold down from the ages.   What I am writing should not be news to you.  There are many books written on the subject of myth, and Lucas tied into the power of myth, which just happens to the be title of a Bill Moyers interview with Joseph Campbell.   The book  ‘The Hero of a Thousand faces is Campbell’s work that inspired Lucas.  Some say Lucas revitalized Campbell’s ideas for a new generation.   The question is…are we all hard wired to the idea of — HeroMentorQuest?  Is this Jung?  Every culture understands this, sings this in their tales.     I am not the first to write of this:  The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers is a good resource.

We are all affected by myth, by a promise of adventure.  In 1982 I joined the Army.  I wanted something more out of life,  I remember a conversation I had with a friend. We had just finished watching some adventure movies at his house and I mentioned that I wanted to join the Army.

“Why in the world would you want to do that?”

I answered back: “”Because I want to do more in this world than just watch life in the movies.”

“Oh…” He said before getting in the car.  At the time he worked in the comic book business (a medium with their own ‘hero…mentor…quest’ — like tales.

Campbell: “This first stage of the mythological journey – which we have designated the ‘call to adventure’ – signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight”

On my own…I had my adventures…and saw things that I would not have seen if I had stayed where I was.  Was it equal to Perseus or Luke Skywalker?  No…but there are those serving today that could possibly equal it, and I shall leave it to them to tell their children and their friends around their own campfire. 

I lived my own adventure by joining the Army, and thus acted as my own hero.  I was inspired to seek that “zone unknown” by myth.   In addition, like those warriors around the campfire, I listened to the tales of my own Father of his adventures during World War II.

I did not ride a Pegasus, but I have ridden a Chinook with the doors open at tree top level.

I did not wield a light saber, but I have wielded tracers across the night horizon.  

And I did not challenge the Gods like Perseus, but there were times I had to make hard choices that challenged the fates. 

My friend in the comic book business would have understood.


Egypt, Coffee and Pyramids

PyraspinxIf you talk about Rome you have to talk about Egypt.   

This journey stirred emotions in me I had not felt for a long time.  I grew up in the 60s where every school boy and girl travels to Egypt upon their imagination, as well as  painted pyramids and villages made in papier-mâché.   

That is how kids from the Midwest grew up, they time traveled on the backs of museums and dioramas of the past.  

It was in Egypt that for the first time I laid eyes on the Mediterranean.   It was very blue.  It was so BLUE that it hurt my eyes.  I am serious.  Never had I seen such an intense color of blue.  I stared at it, ate it and drank it.  My eyes were blued in the exposure.   


While I was there I got sick.   The night before I woke up barely able to take a breath.  The sand was so fine it had coated my lungs.  I stood with my head hanging out the window sucking in air.    The doctor gave me some meds, and I spent the rest of the time in Egypt with a scarf around my neck, which easily wrapped my face on occasion to keep out the sand.   

Not Rob of the Sahara, but in truth a  guy with a touch of bronchitis brought on by a sandstorm.

One or two times I closely inspected the sand, and thought it looked like it was mixed with sea life (shells and the like).  Is that possible?  

Sand devoid of water, but not devoid of the remainders of life.  

One day I was assigned to escort some students onto a military base.  They were college kids, wanting to see a bit of the outside world, maybe to see Americans (who knows).  They were out of Cairo, smart, and intelligent and they took in everything.

Papier-mâché villages still sat in my head, and I spoke highly of their history, their ancient history.

“You Americans,” he said, “All you see of Egypt is its ancient past.  We have been around a long time, and have done many things since then.”

And he is right.

I go to Cairo to see the pyramids.  It is a chance I cannot let go, or dare too.  The ride is long, almost death defying through the streets of Cairo.  “Watch out!” We cried out more than once to the amusement of Abu Kareem our Egyptian driver. 


The God RA leading Nefertitia

However…before the pyramids, we shop.  We stop at a papyrus store a place of ancient Egyptian paintings, hieroglyphics and images from the distant past.  Ra in his splendor, gods of snakes and wolf heads, animal heads on human bodies at rest, in chairs, at worship.   The colors are beautiful, a tourist gift no doubt, but hard to resist.  The owner walks up and asks if I would like some coffee.  I don’t drink coffee.  I hate the stuff, but I am in another country, so I accept.  He hands me a glass cup, a glass held in a silver receptacle with handle.  There is a cinnamon stick sticking out like a spoon.    I figure I will just take a sip and walk about the paintings until I make my choice.     Only one painting caught my eye.  It is the God RA leading Nefertitia, both holding hands.    At the time I was single and sentimental. 

“I’ll take that one,” I said imagining it on the wall of a house where the Mrs. and I might someday live.

“Very good, sir.”

I drank the dark coffee expecting not to like it, but instead I find it very sweet, and wonderful.  It is almost candy, liquid black, and I enjoyed the cup surprised not only by the taste but by the fact my heart began to race.  CAFFEINIE HIGH!!!!!!!!!

For now on, I drink Egyptian coffee – nothing else.   

Off to the pyramids.  Finally.

Again I am surprised.  The sizes of the structures are unbelievable.  All the dry dimensions listed in a book can not  prepare you.    

The following is from Wikitravel

§  Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) – the last surviving representative of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, originally 146 m (479 ft) high but now slightly reduced to a still awe-inspiring 137 m (449 ft). Over 2 million blocks of stone were used to construct this edifice, all through manual labour.

§  Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren) – slightly smaller than the Great Pyramid, though appearing from some angles to appear larger owing to a better position on the desert plateau

§  Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus) – the smallest of the Giza Pyramids at 62 m (203 ft) high (originally 66.5 m)

§  Sphinx and the Temple of the Sphinx – the colossal, recumbent human-headed lion was conceived of by the ancient Egyptians as the sun god Re-Horakhty – “Horus of the horizon”. The Egyptians call it Abu el-Hol, the “Father of Terror”, and even the Greek name Sphinx is the less than pleasant “Strangler”. 45 meters long, 22 meters wide, and carved from a single giant block of sandstone, the Sphinx is considerably smaller than the Pyramids around it.

 End of excerpt.

 YOU MUST see it in person to get the idea of how big it is.  Size on the TV does not speak to real size or their real dimensions.  Do you HI-Def on your TV?  No, that won’t even help.  To judge the size, to really judge the size you have to stand there looking at it, and comparing yourself against the size of one block of this immense structure.  

Photos and documentaries on TV always photograph them as if they are sitting isolated in the desert.  It’s like photographing your cousin Betty always from her best side.   Cairo actual comes right up to them. 

This is can be deceiving, and I have made this mistake before.

I visited a friend who lived in Las Vegas for the first time.  I actually thought all those years I was speaking to him on the phone that there was the strip, and everything else was desert.  My conception was 1950s Vegas and not the Vegas that is there now that is surrounded by a booming suburban sprawl (one of the largest growing cities in America by the way).   Cairo was that way for me.  I had expected the pyramids to be isolated, but instead they sat in a huge desert park with Cairo coming up right to it. 

Let’s travel thousands of years into the past (yes, that time machine…again).  Imagine you are a native tribesman living out in a desert, and all you know is the small territory that surrounds you.    Your world is a tree, a river maybe, and the horizon.  To you a tree may be tall, or the height of your camel.  BUT…you one day get taken to the land of the Pharaohs and see these burial crypts.  What do you think? 

The Pharaoh is a god, after all.   There is the proof.  It sits before you.  

It was perfect political and social propaganda at its best.  The pharaoh must be a god to have been buried in this.  Building such a structure was a social and political tool for social dominance.

I don’t accept this they were built by aliens crap.  Man is a smart creature.   Man built them, with intelligence, with ingenuity, and with the sweat on his back.  When I was growing up I was told they were built by slaves, but recent research and some graffiti found on the site says they were built by work teams quite proud of the achievements.   

I spend a lot of time just looking at the sight.  Around me life goes on.  A guy on a camel wants to know if I want to take a ride…a policeman dressed in a white coat, headdress, and small whip chases a boy away.  I am not sure if it is for real, or for show.    A guard prays to Allah facing east on his prayer rug. 

The driver takes us home.  We ride through the streets of Cairo.  I remember glimpses, snap shots in my head.

Snap: Tall young men and woman out for a walk.  The women in beautiful hijabs – covering their heads  — out for a respectable date on a Saturday night.

Snap: Pious men in prayer in road side mosques.

Snap:  A man crossing the street and barely missed being hit by the cab.  Life and death played out like a ballet.  

I got a friend to take a photo of me in front of one of the pyramids.  It’s now on my wall.  I am in shadow, by an entrance next to some lesser structure, with a pyramid rising up and imposing itself across the background.  It is hard to see me, as if I am in hiding, but in truth I am simply in shadow.  I am the only living thing in the photo, the pyramid is the past…I am the present…but its mere presence is overwhelming and makes me…


Emperor 101

Can you learn to be Emperor?  Is it possible to take a class and know how to rule?  Listen to Episode 6 of Ancient Rome Refocused and see if you have what it takes to rule the Roman Empire.   The show will be posted soon.  Please give me a few weeks.

What was the attraction of Nero?  With all his faults, why did some people miss him?  Is it possible to be ‘a nut’ and have the people love you anyway?

After Nero died people put flowers on his grave.

He was missed.  NERO!

Is there something he could have done to prevent his own downfall?

GONE ON TOUR.  THAT’S IT.  NO…no…he did that.  It didn’t help.

Marion Cotillard for Zenobia role

Marion Cotillard in the role of Zenobia?

Marion Cotillard in the role of Zenobia?

Antonio of Lisbon, Portugal, has been watching my posts on Halle Berry and decided to post a comment.  He has volunteered Marion Cottilard in the role of Zenobia.

You may have recently seen her in the movie INCEPTION with Leonardo DiCaprio. 

What talents do actresses have to bring to a part to play such a character out of history?

There are no authentic depictions of this queen, except for what can be gotten from the images of coins from the period.  We can cast a spotlight on her, but the face is left to our imagination, but her intentions, what she wanted to do, we CAN piece together by her actions.

Her name in Arabic was Septimia Bat-Zabai, in Greek she was Septimia Zenobia.  She RULED Palmyra and Syria with what was noted with strength and definite character.   She gathered around her philosophers, and she protected her kingdom from attacks from the Persians and desert nomads that  bordered her kingdom in the desert.

Is Marion Cotillard a contendor for the role?  What do you think?



Ajax carrying 'his best friend' Achilles off the battlefield. AJAX was known as 'The Shield.'


This is a printed excerpt from Episode Five: “The 24th Shitkickers Were Never the Same after the Peloponnese.”  I thought it important enough to put on the blog.   

(Beginning of recorded section.)

I’m visiting Washington, D.C.  I’m told that Sophocles is in town.  He’s at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences on the same ground as the famous Bethesda Naval Hospital.  He’s behind a gate guarded by Marines.  Well, not the real Sophocles, but his play, his words have wound up here close to Washington, D.C.

 The question is, what does Sophocles have to do with a bunch of doctors and psychologists who have gathered here in this medical theater?  Well, we have been invited to the reading of the Sophocles play titled, Ajax.

 It is a workday and many of the audience have left their jobs and offices to take an hour or two to listen.  A reading is where actors sit at a table and say the words from the scripts that lay in front of them.  This is a cheap way to put on a show, no costumes, no staging.  In the audience are doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists from the university and probably from Bethesda Naval Hospital.  There are many different types of uniforms; Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and in the audience are wounded veterans, men and women without arms, legs and service members who have experienced battle firsthand.  They have scars; they’re just scars that cannot be seen.

 This theater is wood paneled and has approximately 300 seats and has hosted more lectures on medicine and more words on symptom, treatment, and result than the words that are about to be spoken here today.  They will talk of ancient heroes, the will of the gods and the state of men. 

What is happening is unique.

Amari Cheatom

Amari Cheatom seemed to play the part of the Greek Chorus -- many voices telling truths and inner thoughts.

 In front of me is a table with four or five seats and the actors are warming up for the performance to come.  They seemed familiar, they should be.  From left to right; Amari Cheathom, Broadway and off Broadway actor starred in a play called, Book of Grace, many other stage roles and recently graduated from the prestigious Julliard School of Acting; Chad Coleman, star of many films and television series, recently shot the Green Hornet which will be out in December; Karen Young from the series, The Sopranos, play the female FBI agent, she was recently in a Sam Shepherd play called, A Lie of the Mind; and finally, we have Reed Birney, New York City actor, recently in a play called, Blasted, a very respected TV and stage actor.


Chad Coleman read the part of AJAX and KING AGAMEMNON. He is powerful. He shouted out, "Athena, Daughter of Zeus!" As if he expected her to show up on the stage itself.

Chad Coleman you may recognize from the HBO hit TV show, The Wire.  Upon entering the theater, I caught him testing his voice.  He kept on shouting out, “Athena, daughter of Zeus,” looking up at the rafters sending his voice out like a ballista sending out a rock against a fortressed wall.  He has a powerful voice and a powerful presence.  In the reading today, he plays two parts; Ajax and King Agamemnon.

In readings, actors usually double up on the roles.  Karen Young plays Athena and Ajax’s wife, Tecmessa. 

I caught Mr. Coleman after the show.


Karen Young played ATHENA AND TECMESSA. She was a goddess and a tragic wife, power and pain from one person.

ROB CAIN: That the words that are spoken are older than me, older than this country, older than many nations that exist today, how does it  feel like to speak the words that have come over thousands of years and they seemed like something that could have been written yesterday.

COLEMAN: It’s a testament to the human experience.  The human experience defies time, you know, there are buildings, there is geography, there is you know the clothes we wear, and all of that, that’s more identifiable with time than human behavior.  Human behavior transcends time, obviously, the same things they experience then we are absolutely experiencing now, which is what makes Sophocles so brilliant.  Can you get to the epicenter, to the core of human behavior because if you can it’s going to be relatable forever.

(End of COLEMAN Interview)

 ROB CAIN: And then there is the director.  Mr. Doerries is a New York based writer, translator, director and educator.  He is the founder of a theatrical organization called Theater of War.  A project that presents readings of ancient Greek plays to service members.  In addition to his work in the theater, Bryan serves as an advisor for the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artist and Writers.  He lectures on his work at colleges and universities.  Over the last couple of years, Mr. Doerries has directed film and stage actors and readings of his translations.


Bryan Doerries, director and Translator of the play AJAX. His work is touring the country telling service members “You are not alone in this room, you are not alone across the country, and you are not alone across time.”

 INTERVIEWEE: My name is Bryan Doerries.  I’m the founder of Theater of War and I started the project in 2008. 

 ROB CAIN: Did I hear you correctly that you say that you translated it?

 DOERRIES: Yes.  I translated the play, Ajax that was performed today, and another, Philoctetes.  My background is in classics, Greek and Latin and I came to theater through classics because I love ancient plays and I came to directing through my desire to make those plays come alive and I came to the military because I wanted to find an audience for those ancient plays.

 ROB CAIN: What made you decide to translate it yourself as oppose to relying on somebody else?

 DOERRIES: There are thousands of translations of every Greek play that exist in every possible language in the Western world.  Unfortunately,

Reed Birney (r.) played XXX.  AJAX's XXX, and an archer deadly accurate in his aim.  His outrage was powerful, and his criticism on target.

Reed Birney (r.) played TEUCER. An archer deadly accurate in his aim. His outrage was powerful, and his criticism on target.

most of them sound like they were written in the 19th century.  I’m interested in creating a translation that speaks to the moment, to now and engages people with idioms that they can relate to.  That’s not in any slight to the original text.  We are always re-inventing the Greeks, the Italians did it in the Renaissance, our founding fathers did it as they built neoclassical architecture throughout this country and our democracy did it, our aesthetics have done it in this country.  We have appropriated many things but always with our American perspective.  This is a new American translation of this ancient Greek play.

 ROB CAIN: When I was listening to Ajax’s wife.  She turned to her husband and she said a word that seemed very military to me.  She said affirmative.  Now, I’m having a hard time understanding the choice of that word.  I can’t believe it was in Greek language but was that chosen or was that actually a word?

 DOERRIES: Actually, it wasn’t Ajax’s wife, it was Athena who is the head of all…she’s the goddess of war.  She is the highest ranking officers of all officers in all armies.  And so for her to say affirmative as a word choice is actually quite natural.  She is the highest ranking person in the entire Greek army.  And to Odysseus, she says affirmative and many other words in the scene to continue to reinforce for Odysseus who is a high ranking officer in the Greek army that she’s in charge.  I’ll also say this, you know, let’s not get hung up on what ancient Greek words would sound like in English because there’s no way to do that.  A translation is a text along side another text.  There is no chemical process by which you distill an ancient word into a modern word.  There is no original into English, that doesn’t exist.  Unfortunately, I think many people are not aware of the role of the translator in making texts vital.  These are performed text.  The only way for them to work is for them to sound natural and spoken and clear coming out of actor’s mouth in front of audiences.  They’re not to be read, they are to be heard and so that’s the aim that I have in mind as a translator writing affirmative.

 ROB CAIN: I read a book, The Last Days of Pompeii, which sounded very much 19th century.  I see what you’re trying to get.

DORRIES: Yeah.  I mean the Greek lexicon, the dictionary from which most classicist work was codified the 19th, so all the translations of what Greek word sound like and what the idiom sound like sound Victorian, well that’s because that’s when the dictionary was written.  The Greeks sounded no more Victorian than the characters in the Hebrew bible, but that’s a choice and we can choose to make them sound like us because in their own time they sounded like them.

 ROB CAIN: In taking this performance around to different places, what has it given you?

 DORRIES: Oh man, it has been a dream come true.  To do something that is meaningful in the theater for an audience that responds the way you heard the audience this morning responds emotionally, presently, as if the place were written for them.  There is no greater gift as an artist than to be given an opportunity to do that and I think that’s why so many great actors have joined me on this journey.  I have about 50 actors have joined me to perform these plays over the last year and a half and many of them are well-known actors who are giving their time to do it, it’s a rare opportunity to be able to do something with your craft that is helpful to others and you could see a meaningful difference being made through it and also what it gives to me.  Well, you know, every week I go up against several hundred military service members in dialogue and conversation.  I try to facilitate conversations everywhere from the Department of Defense to Army bases to the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, and I’ve done more than 60 of them and I’ve gotten really comfortable figuring out what things need to be said or not said in order to get an audience talking and about difficult subject matter and I feel like it’s been kind of a Jedi knight training.  I mean something that you can’t acquire unless you do it 65 times or a hundred times unless you step out and take the risk of people not talking and you try to figure out how to get them to talk.  And so for me, I’ve just grown so much as a human being, as a facilitator over this last two years doing this work.

ROB CAIN: Just one more question, in looking at this ancient text, do you think people really change?

DOERRIES: I think there are elements of the human experience that have not changed for thousands of years and probably will not change and I think what Theater of War points to is the universality of the human experience of war across cultures, across time.  If we had one message, it’s not a negative message that we’re repeating history, it’s a positive message which is, “You are not alone in this room, you are not alone across the country, and you are not alone across time.”  I had a veteran come up to me after one of our performances and say, “Bryan that PTSD is from BC makes me feel less alone in the world.”  It’s precisely that we can relate to ancient stories and see our own experiences reflected in ancient narrative and know that others who have come before us have struggled with the same things we’re feeling that allows us to know that we are not the only ones who have had these experiences and that’s really the aim of Theater of War.

ROB CAIN: Thank you very much.

DOERRIES: Yeah.  Absolutely.  Thanks for coming.

(End of Recording, segment from Episode Five, “The 24th Shitkickers Were Never the Same after the Peloponnese.”)

If you are interested in finding out more about Mr. Bryan Dorries, AJAX and his company THEATER OF WAR go to: