My first podcast titled: “What have the Roman’s ever done for us?” has reached 145,000 downloads.  I am overwhelmed, and suspicious that its success is more to the fact that the title is a popular Monty Python comedy skit, then an interest in my pontification on Ancient Rome.  Either way, it has given me the opportunity to introduce Ancient Rome Refocused to the pod-o-sphere.   

I just wished I started the podcast with: “And now for something completely different…”  

I think I delivered on that. 

The first thriller!

Do you like a good thriller?  Everybody likes a little excitement right?  Such books as Marathon Man, Rear Window, and John Grisham’s 1991 book THE FIRM are just a few that can be classfied in this genre.  If you’re a fan of thrillers, everything from 007 to a good Hitchcock story you might find it interesting what was rated number one and two by the International Writers Organization in the recent book: Thrillers, 100 Must Reads, edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner.  


The story of Theseus and the Minotaur is over 3,500 years old.  Synopsis: Athens and Crete have a truce, held together by Athens sending young men and women to be sacrificed to the Minotaur (halve man and bull).  The hero volunteers to be its victim, seduces the daughter of the enemy King, and is provided a ball of string to find his way out from the maze where the Minotaur kills its victims.    


Homer’s THE ILLIAD and THE ODYSSEY (7th Century B.C.)

The Illiad tells the tale of the anger of Achillies.  The story provides us passages like:

 Dazzling was the sheen of their gleaming helmets, their

fresh-burnished breastplates, and glittering shields as they

joined battle with one another. Iron indeed must be his courage

who could take pleasure in the sight of such a turmoil, and look

on it without being dismayed.

…and within the pages of the Odyssey we have tales of the Cyclops, the enchantress Cerce, and the nymph Calypso, with a room full of suitors being picked off by Odysseus. 

The arrow struck Antinous in the throat, and the point went clean through his neck, so that he fell over and the cup dropped from his hand, while a thick stream of blood gushed from his nostrils. He kicked the table from him and upset the things on it, so that the bread and roasted meats were all soiled as they fell over on to the ground. The suitors were in an uproar…

Now THAT is a thriller if there ever was one. 

Can you guess what was third on the list? 

Episode 6 – Ancient Rome Refocused

Title – "I'm the Emperor and You're Not." A look at a boy who visits a soothsayer and is foretold of his rise to the emperorship of Rome. A review of the cancelled NBC show KINGS, and a comparison of what it means to be part of the imperial family. The listener then travels back in time (in Mr. Cain's time machine) to interview for the position of emperor. This is the last episode of Season One. The show will return in March.

MP3 File

Episode Six is coming.

“We want episode 6! We want episode 6! We want our bread and circuses!” Fred Kiesche at:

 Episode Six is titled: “I’m the Emperor and You’re Not.”

I have been receiving reports from the outer empire questioning the whereabouts of Episode Six.  I have been having some technical difficulties, but I have produced the last episode. 

Keep an eye on this blog and itunes.

 In Episode 6 we visit the life of an emperor through the visions of a soothsayer, we explore what makes up an emperor in modern times (the last couple of hundred years), talk about the NBC Show Kings and its portrayal of what seems like an emperor in the personage of Silas Benjamin, and we go back to the past to take a job interview for the position of emperor of the Roman Empire.

Yes, I dusted off the time machine again. 

Yes, Episode 6 is a long one, but I hope worth the wait.

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.