Favorite Sword and Sandal Movie?

(The Senate convened on Facebook and the subject was YOUR favorite Sword and Sandal movie.  Be part of the Senate and leave a comment here on the blog or go to Facebook.)  

Christopher Ferndedez Packham — Just watching the original BBC I, Claudius for the first time. It is so good. Makes everything done since look like high school project TV in comparison. The portayal of Livia is astonishing, and TIberius is genuine a monster of a man. Grim and brooding.

So what is everyone elses favourite screen (Big or small) depiction of Rome?

Jimbo Bretney likes this.

Richard Combs — Always love HBO’s Rome

Adem Koci — “Rome”, no question. It kindled my whole interest in ancient Rome

William Glover — I found Graves Books before the series, but “Rome” and “I Claudius” make a great pair to watch then it helps put faces to the names in the books (both fiction and non-fiction)

Matt Huxley — Spartacus for it’s realism (including the annoyingly gratuitous sex and violence). I Claudius for pure entertainment (and the book is even better). Rome for it’s attention to visual details although was very hit and miss. Cicero, Cato, Servilia, and Brutus were convincingly portrayed but Ciaran Hinds made an unconvincing Caesar and their portrayal of Cleopatra was criminal.

Christopher Ferndadez Packham — How can sex in Ancient Rome ever be gratuitous? This was before the deadly repressive hand of St Paul. I think HBO Rome suffered from the cancellation in series two.

Jimbo Bretney

Jimbo Bretney http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2LS-dMyJVsI, Claudius and Kirk Douglas inspired me


Universal Empire – Episode1 – My Father’s Legacy: The Story of Creticus http://w…ww.facebook.com/pages/Universal-Empire-Episode-1-My-Fathers-Legacy-The-Story
Christopher Fernandez-Packham — Oh, I love that!  
Matt Huxley — That was a massive disappointment. Series 2 had a lot of promise. It seemed like the producers took note of the shortcomings of the first season only to cut it short. Shame.
 Rob Cain — I have always liked the movie THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964) with Stephen Boyd, Sophia Loren and Alec Guiness. Except only the first part of the movie when they are holded up in a mountain fort in Germania. The rest of the movie was a little disappointing. If anyone looked like Marcus Aurelius it was Alec Guiness. I don’t know what it was, the legion holed up in a mountain redoubt and trying to bring out an attack from the deep woods, seemed oddly familiar with the whole Vietnam thing that was going on. See the scene where Commodus takes a column into the forest while the hero waits to arrive with reinforcements…is great. The score is fantastic, by the way. Dimitri Tiomkin is the composer. Go to itunes to get a copy. It’s worth it.

I am enjoying the book THE ATTACK ON TROY by Rodney Castleden.  One particular paragraph caught my eye.  It was a story about a man who claimed to have lived another life during the time of Troy.

It’s on page 143.

“Pausania emphasized what a great honor it was to the Arcadians, land-locked and shipless, even many centuries after the event, to have taken part.  it was a part of proto-history that gave the kingdom its national identity and was a great source of pride, as well as a rich brew of other emotions.  There is a strange and telling story about Pythagoras staying in Argos in the sixth century BC, and being overwhelmed with emotion when he saw, nailed to the wall of the temple at the Argive Heraion, a shield that had been brought back to Greece as part of the spoils of Troy.  The Argives who were with him at the time asked him why he was weeping, and he said that he himself had carried that shield in the land of Troy, as Euphorbus.  The Argives thought he was mad, but he told them that if they took down the shield from the wall they would find an inscription inside it — ‘of Euphorbus’.  They did, and Pthagoras was right.”

Mr. Castleden attributes it to a form of hysteria.  The type of feeling where you want to be part of a certain event in the past.  I believe Patton himself claimed to have lived past lives, and saw himself at the fall of Carthage.    If we approach this skeptically, we could say that Pthyagoras was tipped on what was on the back of that shield by a goodly bribe to a local.    We could also wonder if the story was true at all.  In other worlds why let the truth stand in the way of a good story?  I refer to the story of the 1945 Avenger Torpedo Bombers that were lost off the coast of Florida.  Much has been made of them being lost to the interference of UFOs.  Supposely there were radio transmissions, but a NOVA documentary interviewed the radio operators who were present that day, and UFOs and “strange lights” never entered the conversation  — the planes were found under the ocean even if they did turned up unexpectedly in the 70s movie E.T.    Thank you ARGOSY Magazine — why let a good story stand in the way of the truth?

Do I think Pthagoras actually took that shield to Troy in another life?  


You weren’t expecting that answer were you?

Well, I do love a good story.

(No one can say that I don’t like a good what-if scenario.  There are a group of people I have named ‘The Senate’ for their contributions to the blog.  On FaceBook Jesse Walker has provided us with a thread of a very interesting perspective.  What if a modern military unit wound up in the time of Augustus?  Is this history?  No.  Is this a good intellectual exercise?  As far as I’m concerned it is.   Why not?  There are a series of books taking history down the what-if scenario.  The question is…are you brave enough to go there.  Real history is scary enough, but what-if…?  Thank you Prufrock451.)

Jesse Walker – Saw this interesting Reddit thread and thought i’d share.

 This is an appeal to James Erwin or Prufrock 451.  I read your story and I think its great.  Please be a guest on Ancient Rome Refocused.  Unfortunately, I have no idea on how to contact you to even ask if you are interested.  I would like to interview you for the show, and I just want to ask you a few questions about how you started on this story idea, and what is your background.  I will even send you the questions a head of time for you to review.   Please contact me at:   rob@ancientromerefocused.org.  I am a big fan of yours,  and will give the work the respect it deserves. 

(My wife and I love to sit in the stacks of Barnes and Noble on weekends.  She takes notes for her psychological thriller, and I hit the Ancient History section.    Vente Green Tea latte, two pumps for her, and for me an Awake hot tea.  This blog entry has notes and interesting things I came across. )

Note*  Looking for a  book on Troy.  I found a B&N employee with a shaved head and big smile.  I will call him Tri-pon.    He looked up several books on the subject on his computer, and asked if I wanted real history or science fiction

“No, real history.  Though the sci-fi writers do a good job with alternate history.”   Why did I say that…true…but why did I say it just the same?

He takes me 3 or four shelves over and can’t seem to find what he was looking for.   “We got a shipment in back…let me check.”

While he is gone, I scan the shelves and find an interesting book.  It is a Time travel…NOT to ancient Troy, but time travel of a different sort.  The title of the book was Q by Evan Mandery.  I am intrigued, the dust jacket tells me it’s about a man who wants to marry a girl named Q and his future self comes back in time to tell him not to do it.  I want to read it, and take a copy.   If anyone wants a review ask me on FACEBOOK.

Tri-pon comes back and hands me a copy of THE GATES OF TROY by Glyn Iliffe.  Nice.    A story told from the perspective of Odysseus.  Looks interesting and I decide to put that on my list as well.

He frowned and said: “Are you interested in a new translation of the Iliad?”

For some reason in a book store, anything NOT on the shelf sounds mysterious and magical. 

“Sure.  That sounds great.”  And then  spouted out such names as: “Is it Fitzgerald?  Fagles?”  I’m not sure if I got the names right, but I remembered these guys translated something…at that particular moment I could not remember and I was never very good with instant recall.  What’s more were any of those guys still alive? 

“I’ll be right back,” he said with a big smile.

Note*  A Google search later that day tells me I was right on the names…25 points and I move on to the bonus round.

Cover of Stephen Mitchell's book

He comes back with a book, The Iliad Translated by Stephen Mitchell.

Now, this is different.  The cover says it’s a NEW translation.  I have to admit something; I have a hard time with reading The Odyssey and the Iliad, especially translations.  No…I am not saying I prefer reading it in the original Greek, for I would fail miserably at it.  I am saying the language (even if it is in English) always seems a little stilted, and I admit my patience has been taxed by making my way through various versions.

You can try Pope:

The man for widom’s various arts renown’d,

Long exercise din woes, O Muse! Resound;

Who, when his arms had wrought the

Destined fall

Of sacred Troy, and razed her heaven-built wall,

You can try Fitzgerald:

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story

Of that man skilled in all ways of contending,

The wanderer, harried for years on end,

After he plundered the strong hold

On the proud height of Troy.


Why couldn't a scene like this have really taken place? A warrior walking with two young people on a spring day. Found this photo on a Chinese web site.

It’s not to say translating something is easy.  In Homer’s time poetry was sung in a dactylic hexameter beat…six beats in every line, each measure a triplet of syllables with the beat on the first line:

For all you drummers out there…




This sounds GREAT in Ancient Greek (which I consider fluid and a beautiful).  What language could have a word meaning… singer of words, a bard, with something that sounds as flowing, as musical, as deep down from legend and myth as the word:


Many English words are barbaric when you compare it to a language that could sing out a word as:  Rhapsodoi.

However, Mitchell decided to take it on, and I admit I had an easier time of it.  It seems he eliminated many of the speed bumps that slowed my reading down like “swift footed” that came up every time Achilles name was mentioned, or “Bright-eyed” upon every mention of the Goddess Athena.    In addition, he added modern words like “sissy” and “son of a bitch.”

Is it the right thing to do?  I don’t know, and I worry about the poetry disappearing from the text, but I never heard the Iliad sung about the campfire like in the days of the rhapsodoi either. 

Note*  Do not read the above paragraph as meaning I do not like the Iliad, for that is not true.  I have read and seen a myriad of books and movies on this subject.  The story of Troy holds a particular fascination for me, and don’t even get me started on the Odyssey.

In the introduction Mitchell brings up some interesting points on how the Iliad still speaks to people – even today.   From an Australian in the outback, a counterman serving lunch who has the first word of the Illiad tattooed on his arm, Rage [Me nin], to the towns people in a Columbian village who refused to give back the Illiad to a traveling library because it reflected their own story.

“It told of a war-torn country in which insane gods mix with men and women who never know exactly what the fighting is all about, or when they will be happy, or why they will be killed,” was the explanation of the theft

It still has the power ‘to move’ people, as if the feelings and words are ‘hard-wired’ into the brain.  Even Alexander slept with it under his pillow.  Note*  It’s not hard to imagine why: 15,600 lines are devoted to graphic descriptions of battle – wonderful bedtime reading for a future conquerer of the known world.

How could one not be moved?  How could one not be taken in by the words, the poetry, no matter the age and the times?

Listen to the following.  Don’t read it.  SPEAK IT!  Speak it out loud to yourself while looking in the mirror.  Play the part of a rhapsodoi and let the words fill the room.

“And as soon as the flush of dawn appeared in the heavens,

They boarded the ship and launched her.  Apollo sent them

A favoring breeze and they raised the mast, and

They hoisted the white sail aloft, as it bellied out with the wind,

And on either side of the ship’s prow, the deep blue water

Sang out as the ship flew over the waves to her goal.”

The words in bold and larger point size were the phrases and words that gave the passage ‘particular’ imagery for me as I read the passage.   

Do we need a new translation?  I don’t know, there’s been 5 or 6 already, and more than likely more.  Why shouldn’t there be, each version readied to speak to a new generation? 


 Tolstoy called the Iliad “a miracle”


Geothe said the Iliad threw him into a state of astonishment. 

Tri-pon, there you are.  What other books do you have hidden in back of the shop?


Did you feel that chill?  I do.  It comes once in a while from the mouth of a politician.  History seems to repeat itself, because those in power are not reading it.  North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue is suggesting that democracy (rather the elections) be suspended so that Congress can focus on jobs.  Somehow this sounds like, “Hey, the Republic is in trouble so let’s set up a dictator to take care of it.  Oh, sure he will give up power at the end of his term.”

What did Churchill say?

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”



Computer Glitch

explosionOuch!  I fried my mother board.  It’s at staples right now, where a brave young tech is trying to save my files.  BACKUP!  BACKUP! BACKUP!   I’m afraid this puts me behind schedule.  If anyone has any suggestions on a good laptop, let me know.

2 Oct 2011 – update.

Purchased gaming computer with video card.  I am on my way back.  A slight problem…the computer ate a computer disk.  I mean it literally at it.  It’s not in the disk reader anymore.  It’s gone, as if pushed inside the computer.  Is that even possible?

3 Oct 2011 — Update.

Took it in to Geek Squad and found out what was wrong.  The disk was not set properly in the tray, and it traveled inside and UP and OVER the disk drive.   I am now back in production.

What book would you choose?

(William Glover, a regular contributor to Ancient Rome Refocused asked a question on FACEBOOK that got quite a few responses.  By the way, William, please get better…)

William Glover — If you knew that you were that you were going to be “layed up” for more that a few weeks what book on the classical world would you pick. Right now I’m “in hospital” and had “The Oxford History of the Roman World” pick on me for have that and “The Men who fought for Rome” in my comp. bag.

Steve Nodine – I’m just finishing “Caesar: Life of a Colossus” by Adrian Keith Goldsworthy. Very good book. Hope you get better soon.

Paul LaFontain — Herodotus…..

Joey Hill — I’m starting the Rise and Fall by Gibbon again. Love that one

Rob Cain — Ghost of Vesuvius by Charles Pellegirno for me.

Paul LaFountain — I’ll take a look Rob. FYI all….there are numerous applications like KOBO that give access to public domain literature for free. As an example: The 12 Caesars, and The Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt (an audio download, not KOBO but a different service).

Bill Cohn  — Try Rubicon by Tom Holland. Also, the sub-rosa series by Steven Saylor for wonderful mysteries/historical ficiton. Recently started the series by John Maddox Roberts and am very impressed. Finally, I recently paid only 99 cents to get Gibbon’s Decline and Fall on my Kindle. 

Antonio Rodriquez – Steven Saylor would be my choice also.

Rob Cain — William, please get better.

Joey Hill — I have an Audible credit to get an audio book, but I have no idea which one I want.

William Glover — I’ll put those on my wish list [book suggestions], if they ever let me out of here, but it’s a hazard being a dig bum.

Paul LaFountain — Be well, William.

Steve Casey — Get well, soon. I also vote for Caesar: Life of a Colossus.  I bet it doesn’t end well for the protagonist.

Paul LaFountain — Ha!

William Glover — Yes, Goldsworthy does a good job.

Bill Cohn — I have read the entire Gordanius Sub-rosa series by Steven Saylor and eagerly wait for the next one. In the meantime, I discovered John Maddox Roberts SPQR series, read the first three, and thoroughly enjoyed them. Roberts is definitely in the same ballpark at Saylor.

(What book would you pick?  Leave your comments on the FACEBOOK PAGE or comment on this post.)

Design, Coins and Empire

What is a value of a coin? 

Is the value only determined by what it can buy?    

Does the design of the coin determine value as well?  

Can the design affect what others think of that country or civilization?

I’m not talking about whether it says 10 cents or a dollar.    I’m talking about what we choose to put upon it shows our power in the world, or what we think it should be?

 What I am asking is:  is there a sub conscious relationship to the art on the coin and its buying power, and what the public perceives the people to be by what is on the coin itself?   We know that weight and how it feels makes value, but what if how it looked determined the coin’ts worth and the country’s perceived self-worth as well?   Is that possible?

 Utter nonsence, right?

The JANUS coin


 The Janus coin (beginnings and ends) — early republic.  Look at it.  The design is brilliant, intricate, and its worth is determined in silver.  I love just to look at it. The Roman Galley on the back is intricate and detailed, and try to imagine how it felt in your hand.   This is a coin of the early Republic with a long life of a people laid out in front of it.  It was the beginning for the Roman people.   They chose the JANUS god to adorn the front (the god of beginnings and ends) an apt and noble god for a youthful people, and the symbol of power called the trireme.  Naval power to sing the power of the republic itself.    Naval power had saved the Romans on more than one occasion (Pompey’s conquering of the pirates on the MARE NOSTRUM is just one example).

 In ancient times the value of money was actually tied to the amount of precious metal that sat in the coin.    THAT you can always feel in your hand.   The weight is distinctive, the silver and the gold makes it feel heavy and satisfying.   There is still heavy trading in coins of this value, but what of the design of the coin?  Can the design determined value?  Can the design determine respect?


EARLY REPUBLIC: 1889 Morgan Silver Dollar

 Check out the 1889 Morgan Silver Dollar currently valued today at 1,100 to 1,300 dollars.  A magnificent piece, with that same feel in your hand, but look at the design.   The head of Lady Liberty is exquisite.  Like the Romans with their God Janus, Lady Liberty is another form of deity — a personfication of a nation’s ideals.    I am not saying that it is just the choice of using a god or a personification which makes the value of the dollar higher, but making the holder of the coin feel that by weight AND design he or she holds something of IMPORTANCE.   

  Would you rather have the Morgan Dollar in your hand (right) ?


Eisenhower Silver Coin

 Or would you rather have this (left) a 1972 dollar Eisenhower coin?  Forget value, which one seems to you worth more?  To me, the Morgan not only looks heavier, the design gives the impression of power…even though the subject on the left was one of the 20th century’s most powerful men.    Have a Morgan in your pocket you are carrying power, value in weight, and value in design.  Look how deep Lady Liberty is cut into the metal, it is a god damn statue in your pocket that ROARS of national power.  

 Shouldn’t a coin always denote power?  Shouldn’t the image upon it raise what it is trying to say to almost spiritual level?

Well, in my world: YES! 

 A coin should have intrinsic value, it should have weight, and a coin should have a design that speaks of a nation’s values and dreams.

 Modern coins do not use the silver nor design in the same manner.  Today, coins, especially quarters, have turned into travel post cards.  Don’t get me wrong I have no problem promoting the granduer of the ‘Grand Canyon’ and I would be the first to say that Duke Ellington should be lionized at one of the greatest musical geniues of the age, but are these the symbols of American power?  Ingrand-canyon-national-park-quarter-0921-lg my opinion it is turning our monetary power into postage stamps.  Give me personifications of our ideals in classical form for our coinage every time.  


The Walking Liberty Coin circa 1940

 The ‘Walking Liberty 1940 silver quarter dollar is a image paying homage to a nation.  I have a coin like this dated 1945.  I admit I purchased it specifically for the reference to that date (end of the war), and hold this in your hand and you instantly feel that there is value behind it…the weight of a nation. This symbolizes a nation on the rise.  The sun even on the horizon hints of a bright future.  

Standing Liberty

Standing Liberty

Even the 1930 standing liberty is our ode to the our Roman forebears.  This is beauty, value, and a ‘great’ design incorporated into one coin.  The lines should be cut DEEP to denote the endurance of the country.  Do modern coins have such lines cut deep into the metal?  No. This coin was made to last forever.  To be heavy in the pocket and to be impressive to the touch and the eye.  Look at the Morgan Dollar Eagle below.  What does it say to you?  Can you doubt for a moment that the country is NOT here to stay?  Just, look at it.



 Yes, yes, yes.  I am totally propagandized and have been seduced by the classical design in the coins.  Yes, I am a classical snob, but look at some of the modern coins in comparision.  Does it speak steadfastness, bedrock principals, AND national power?   

Years ago, my dad gave me a quarter (depicted below).  A full silver one as they were disappearing.  He turned to me and said, “Rob, keep this…you won’t see another one like it.”  I carried it about with me in my wallet for years, and unfortunately one day it fell out.  I was extremely disappointed, still am…but to feel it in your hand you knew you had SOMETHING OF VALUE.   Am I talking buying value, sentimental value, or value of a nation that was still on the rise –  a value of 90 percent silver anyway. 


No, not Mercury. It's actually Lady Liberty...but I have called it a Mercury Dime all my life, and I will continue to do so no matter what anyone says to the contrary.

 silvercoinquarterA quarter of its like has never came to me in such a way again.  My father received it in a transaction, turned around and gave it to me and said, ‘Rob, keep this.  You won’t see it again.”  I admit…I didn’t keep it for the silver but because he gave it to me.  Later, I tried to find a copy of the coin, but they were gone, all quarters had a copper layer that sat sandwiched between the silver.   What was left was a cheapened copy of something greater. Yes, we are talking weight again, and the value of the silver.  Not design right?  But even size can be an issue.  Why make a dollar coin the same size as a quarter, and why choose Susan B. Antony?  Though I admit her greatness in her support of women’s rights.  Choose a founder of the country or choose a personification of American ideals. 

Note that from Republic to Empire the coins seemed to change. 


LATE EMPIRE: This is a coin from a people hoping for divine intervention. Though the gold is worth more than the silver, the early republic coin says POWER to me, rather than a call for prayer.


LATE EMPIRE: Valentian III who lacked the ability to rule. A man with a weak profile.

 Look at the gold coin to the left — an anemic empire torn apart by barbarians cutting through and slicing away what was left only to be bribed by gold.  Look at the silver one below: powerful, full of fire, not worth as much as the other one, but the design, THE DESIGN, is represents a people on the rise, putting their faith in themselves and their city.  But what of the coins of an earlier republic?  Their symbols denoted personfications of a city-state, of a people. coins were to sing their praises of who and what a people were and what they hoped to be.  Eventually, as generals paid their armies it was to remind the spear carrier where his pay was coming from.  The soldier has a constant propagandist reminder of where his loyalities lie, and that marked the beginning of the end (See Brutis coin below). 

A personification of a city, confident in this ability to take on all comers.  Look at the design of the nose, the mouth that seems to have an amused expression.

EARLY REPUBLIC: A personification of a city, confident in this ability to take on all comers. Look at the design of the nose, the mouth that seems to have an amused expression.


Brutus on the Obverse side of the coin.

EARLY REPUBLIC: Brutus on the Obverse side of the coin. Brutis was the chief conspirator to kill Caesar. Hold this in your hand and you know your money comes from Brutis. When he calls for volunteers for his legion, with a little silver in your pocket, this is the man you will obey. Not the city-state, but BRUTIS!



EARLY REPUBLIC: The portrait of the man on the left side is Roma. Hold this in your hand and you know who is paying you. Yes, the merchant or the paymaster of a legion, but its the state that you hold your allegiance.








(OK, ok, you nuismatrists and / or economists.  Maybe this is a simplification.  Trying to play art into value, design as a function of state and the economy – who the heck does he think he is?  Fall of empire based on a quarter?  Fall from greatness based on design? Hurumph! Foolish.  So let me know what you think?  Don’t let me get a way with it. Comment.)

Buying Your Own Army


Growing up this advertisement was always in a comic book near the backpage.  Personally, I think its a great ad (notice the prices if you want to guess the year).   This image has been burned into my brain, for I spent hours staring at the images wondering how I could convince my parents to buy it.   Never was able to do it.   Now, I’m told the soldiers contained in the box were just cheap plastic.  Yet, in a child’s imagination, that may have been enough.  I remember playing with soldiers that were nothing but cardboard cut-outs.   I had a howitzer that was flat as a pancake, but at that age it still looked ‘neat.’

Two dollars and twenty five cents FOR TWO COMPLETE ROMAN ARMIES. 

Anyone want to hazard a guess what that would have translated into denarii for a real army?

You can’t beat $2.25.

Go To The Mythology Nearest You!


The past surrounds us.  This depiction is just a few blocks from where I live.  Mythology is often used as public art to give meaning to public places.   Let’s play a game.  Take your digital camera and see if you can walk a few blocks from your home and find an image that seems to reflect ancient mythology. 

Is there something like this near you?  Send your photos to Ancient Rome Refocused at: rob@ancientromerefocused.org

Give us a description of what we’re looking at, your name,  location, and I will put it on the blog.

How strange is it that the past is continually with us.  Who can read what the photo to the left means?  It’s fairly easy for the image of the blinded justice with the scales of justice.  This needs little interpretation.   She may be based on Themis, one of the Titans.  Her meaning is the ‘neutrality’ in decision making.  She is also known at Justitia, a  Roman Goddess of Justice. 

My real reason to put this on the blog is the drama played beneath her feet.  What do you see?  A Tortoise and a Hare from the fables of Aesop.   “JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED” is written on the pedestal.  This is the the basis of our Sixth Amendment in the right to a “speedy trial.”  I remember at first I was a bit confused when trying to make the connection between the tortoise and a “speedy trail” but then I remembered the hare took a nap, which gave time for the tortoise to make it to the finish line first. 

(I am looking for JPEGS that tell a story, and provide meaning to public spaces that tap into ancient mythology.  If you know of one  give us a description of what we’re looking at, your name,  location, and I will put it on the blogTELL ME WHAT MYTHOLOGY IS NEAREST YOU!)