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: http://www.philoctetesproject.org/

Want to be Emperor?

Senator: “A legion has been destroyed. The people are hungry. Pirates have stopped the grain shipments from Egypt. What do you do?” Applicant: “Hmmm. That’s a tough one. Let…me…see…”

What was it like to be Emperor?  I mean every day was a struggle to stay alive.  Who do you keep happy?  Who do you get rid of?  Who is your friend?  Who is  your enemy?

On Episode 6 of Ancient Rome Refocused you get to take a job interview with the Senate and you better have the right answers.

Wanted Emperor! Apply within.


WRONG ANSWER! "Get him!"


The next episode of Ancient Rome Refocused is on the Emperors.    The title of Episode Six is: “I’m the Emperor and You’re Not.”

We are going to pretend that one day you get invited to a job interview to be emperor of the Roman World.  You are going to be asked a series of questions, and the Empire and your life may depend on the answer.

Do you have what it takes to rule the world?

Attend the Roman Emperor job interview, here on Ancient Rome Refocused.

Halle Berry in the movie "Perfect Stanger"

Halle Berry in the movie "Perfect Stanger"

I would like to say in my fake headline: “Halle Berry my first choice for Zenobia,” says Spielburg…but frankly I don’t have the power to make him do anything and so far he has done a pretty good job on his own.  If he did take suggestions, I would strongly suggest to make Queen Zenobia the project of his next film.  If anyone looks like a queen, especially of a strong empire, this is the lady.  I got an email from Judith Weingarten who wrote the book: Zenobia: Empress of the East who expressed the same frustration at Hollywood’s blind eye when it comes to this subject.  I am currently checking out her web site and blog at: http://judithweingarten.blogspot.com/

I suggest that you head on over there and tell me what you think.

“Halle Berry Perfect Zenobia”

The Actress Hallie Berry (2002)

The Actress Hallie Berry (2002)

Halley Berry would be great as Queen Zenobia

Western media repeatedly makes movies about Cleopatra, and holds her up as the ideal of sexual allure, and in the meantime sells hair products and assorted beauty creams in her name.  Yet, the Ptolmey Queen had to re lie on both Caesar and Antony to retain her power.   At the first sign of trouble at Actium didn’t she sail away on her ship leaving Antony to face Octavian alone?  What makes Cleopatra so interesting to the public? 

Now as for Zenobia, now we are talking about a queen that really kicked ass.  She was the third century Syrian queen of the Palmyrene Empire who led a revolt against the Roman Empire.   Why aren’t there movies from Hollywood about her?  She was the second wife of King Septimus Odaenathus and following his death decided to rule in her son’s name. 

Roman Name: Iulia Aurelia Zenobia.

Sir Edward Poynter's Neo-classical painting: "Zenobia Captive."

Sir Edward Poynter'sNeo-classical painting: "Zenobia Captive."

Arabic Name: al-Zabba’ bint ‘Amr ibn al-Zarib ibn Hassan ibn Adhinat ibn al-Samida.   (This is the best I could do with the font that I am using). 

According to Wikipedia she appears to be of Arab ancestry, but her lineage may have included Aramaean and ancient Egyptian.  She claimed to be an ancestor of Cleopatra and the Carthaginian Queen Dido.     She had knowledge of Egyptian Culture and it is thought her mother was of Egyptian ancestry.    Classical and Arabic scholars described her as having a dark complexion, and she was considered  beautiful and intelligent.

She bestowed on herself and her son the following titles: Augusta and Augustus.  But her most famous title should be: WARRIOR QUEEN.

Hey, I like Cleopatra as much as the next history ‘time-traveler’, but shouldn’t Zenobia get her shot at an Oscar?  I think we should start a letter writing campaign?   

Address your letters to:  Amy Pascal, Sony Pictures, 10202 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232-3195

Dear Ms. Pascal,

Please cast Ms. Berry as Queen Zenobia…


Halle Berry to play Queen Zenobia


Title: Queen Zenobia's Last Look Upon Palmyra (Artist: Herbert Schmalz)

No.  I’m afraid not.  But Halle Berry starring in a Hollywood film about Queen Zenobia is one heck of an idea. 

What is coming out soon is another film on Cleopatra.

I do a lot of thinking on what would make a good podcast, and I find myself staring off into space at Starbuck’s dreaming of far away places and histories unwritten. 

Lately I have been wondering about the mania that Cleopatra has over people, and I am wondering if its more Hollywood than anything else.   I know it began with the major discoveries by Napolean scientists during his military campaign in Egypt, and the finds of buried Egyptian treasure in the 1920s that have captured peoples imaginations.  But there was something else that started this Cleomania — the something else was called: film.   Now Cleo was not just for those who could afford paintings, or attendance at the opera, or for those who spent their school years studying the classics, Cleo went national and then global.  For a few pennies (yes…at one time the price of admission at a movie was a few pennies) you too could experience the QUEEN OF THE NILE.  


Except…except…why Cleopatra?  Why is it always Cleopatra?

I mean why not Queen Zenobia  with Halle Berry in the starring role?   

Think about it.   If you really think about it…you too will be staring off into space next time you’re at Starbucks.


p0001550“To Romans I set no boundary

In space or time.  I have

Granted them dominion,

And it has no end.”

                       Virgil, The Aeneid


So what if it never ended?

I don’t know about you but I think about these things.  

If you think about this type of stuff as well you may want to read the book Roma Eterna by Robert Silverberg.

He writes of an empire that does not die but changes, adapts, and clings to the pagan gods.

You know how I judge a good book?  Well, for one thing its my second reading of it, and it was just as exciting as the first time I read it.  What’s more I stayed up rather late to read the whole thing.  If you can’t put it down…you know it’s good.

The only issues I have with the book is that it slightly opposes my view of what might actually happen if such a thing was possible.

Silverburg’s book in order to show the progression of Roman power and influence we have a continuous references to the emperor, to the consulship, to references to Roma, to names no matter what the century that reflects the Roman influence such as Apollinaris, Marcus Anatasius, Torgquatus, Laurelolus, and Rufus. 

As the centuries passed, as time moved on, the names would be less and less Roman sounding. 

I believe that names would begin to move away from latin roots over time, and Apollinaris would be most likely referred to as Pollo, or Laurelolus and Laurel.  And even the emperor himself would be more executive sounding as possible turning from emperor to the ‘Imperial Chief Executive’ or something like that. 

That’s just me.    

And why not an alternate world where the Senate turned into a version of the United Nations? 

It’s my believe that over time, the roman influence would be no more strange sounding to our ears as the fact of our own Senate, and Washington architecture that reflects the times of republican Rome.  

In my version of events what if the Imperial Power was shared in almost the same way as the current power of the Pontiff in Rome?  What if every twenty or 40 years a new emperor is chosen in a different part of the world?  A truly power sharing organization, where the seat of government shifts, and one person become the ‘Imperial Chief Executive’ and commands unlimited power.  Is this so much different that the Catholic Church and the College of Cardinals recent habit of choosing non-Italians to take the seat of pope? 

What if the pressure of the barbarian press on its borders subsided?  What if Atilla never pressed and the Goth’s did not seek asylum, and the chain reaction of people (the Alans, the Vandals, and the Bergundians) on the move did not take place?  What if decisions to allow certain people settle within the borders of Rome were reversed? 

I know this is in the area of fantasy…why even talk about it?  

We’ll for one reason its fun.

What if Rome survived?   I know…impossible.  Every civilization that rises to flex itself and make itself felt in the world ebbs and eventually wanes. 

Greece rose to power while looking in the face of the Persians. 

Rome rose to dominate the Mediterranean world. 

And various Assyrian, and Babylonians had their time to dominate the world, only to recede. 

Look at China.  At one time a huge ancient Empire – one of the oldest civilizations – a dominant ancient kingdom that fell from power, to be dominated by western powers (google boxer rebellion), attacked by Japanese Imperial Forces only to step recently onto the world stage and continues to grow and make its presence felt.   

And what about us – the AMEERICANs (sic)?

 I happen to have a more upbeat look to the future –  believing firmly the American Golden Age is still on its way.   We Americans have survived meeting Goliaths in the world before, and have always managed to guide that rock to the forehead when someone got in our way.    

 Anyway, we move faster! 

 Democracies have too!

 Roma Eterna is for anyone that is a ‘What If” fan of science fiction and the fantasy genre. 

 What if Rome tried to conquer the New World?

 What if a Roman armada that circumvents the globe bringing destruction on native island people? 

 And what if a world tired of an endless stream of emperors rises up to install a republic that takes over and ends the imperial line, only to have Roman power to remain?

 What if a strange old man is found living in a German forest lodge, who strangely looks like the child of the final emperor? 

 And finally what if a Jewish sect decides another Exodus is needed and the only place left to follow the new Profit is the stars?

 Give it a read.

 Is it on the Ancient Rome Refocused bookshelf?  Not yet, still looking for a copy to permanently place there, and the book that I took out of the library is way overdue.

Empire by Steven Saylor

by Rob Cain

Empire_SaylorNow on the Ancient Rome Refocused Bookshelf

I rate a book by whether I simply read it or I devour it.  This I devoured.  

Empire is the story of a family who are eyewitnesses to the glory and the decadence of the Emperors spanning 4 generations from 14 A.D. to 141 B.C.  Over time the Pinarius family see murder, mayhem, and even the burning of Rome itself in the great fire.  They are not untouched by it.  One generation is molested by Caligula, one dies by his own hand at the final days of Nero. 

It is a wild ride. Saylor is known for his Roma Sub Rosa series starring Gordianus the finder.  Normally his ‘detective’ works in a small microcosm of alleyway and lamp lit rooms investigating thieves, thugs and the famous (Cicero, Caesar, etc) only moving as far and wide as he can walk, ride or sail from his beloved Rome.  But in the book Empire we sweep across the generations, seeing a city, its empire and its emperors change through the eyes of a single family.

Early in the book the Pinarius brothers (twins) go their separate ways.  In the time of Nero one brother is the emperor’s favorite and the other a Christian in the shadows.   Many authors (especially Lloyd C. Douglas – The Robe, and Lew Wallace – Ben-Hur) held no secrets that their novels were settings of tales for the coming of Christianity.  Saylor’s book has an entirely deciding different track.  Saylor brings us Rome unvarnished and clean of 20th or 21st Century sensibilities.  We are seeing ancient Rome through pagan eyes, through the pagan temperament, and through the Roman Psyche.  

fire of romeA scene in the book is the great fire of Rome (remember Nero fiddling as Rome burned?).  Titus the proper patrician seeks out his Christian brother living in the Christian quarter.  It is hard thing to watch a city that you love destroyed, a fire that threatens your home and the memory of your ancestors, and witness your brother shout: “…the end of all things.  Praise God!”  

What would your reaction be?  I mean as a Roman. 

“Watching the gruesome punishments of the arsonist gave Titus no pleasure, but it was his somber duty as a citizen, and as friend of the emperor to witness the event.”

Emperor Nero

Emperor Nero

For a moment I thought I had picked up a horror story instead of an historical novel.  Nero rounds up the Christians to take the fall, and makes a speech quite legal, quite logical, quite sensible before dogs rip people apart in retribution, or as the Roman’s might say “proper punishment.”   Saylor describes humiliations dressed up in ancient myth ending in death for the condemned.  He describes Christians used as human torches for the ‘convenience’ of the crowd so that the games can continue into the night.   It is then Saylor masterly changes the perspective, and for a moment I too was in the arena.   I literally felt a chill down my spine, a reaction frankly I did not expect.   I only felt this once before and that was while reading Stephen King’s novel: IT.

This epic switches to Lucius, another son of the Pinarius line.  We now stand next to him as he viewed the opening of the Flavius Amphitheater (known today as the coliseum) and are provided a seat to see an unapologetic presentation of slaughter for the amusement of the crowd.   The slaughter is presented proudly, and how else ancient Romans describe such a spectacle?   It represents power, the unquestionable demonstration that the Roman people are favored in the eyes of the gods. 

Saylor would be the first to say: “It’s all about the emperors.” If you’re a fan of the Augustus, Vespasian, Trajan and Hadrian pull up a chair.  If you’re a fan of the more colorful emperors such as Claudius and Caligula, there is plenty to read.   Empire is well researched and certainly entertaining. 

Saylor opens the book with an interesting quote from Gustave Le Bon who studied the psychology of crowds:

“History is scarcely capable of preserving the memory of anything except the myths.”

Why would Saylor pick this quote to open his book? 

I suppose it has to do with context.  Le Bon lived during a period where the word ‘Emperor’ was still fresh in peoples’ minds.  He saw a tendency for historians to mythologize Napoleon Bonaparte – a man that brought great destruction upon the continent of Europe and had power equal to any Roman emperor.    

However, Saylor presents raw and undiluted narratives of the emperors, and he supports it with research from the works of Seutonius, Plutarch and Tacitius.    He avoids mythologizing them, but lays them out warts and all. 

I highly recommend this book to the listeners of Ancient Rome Refocused.  It’s hard to put down and keeps your attention like listening to a good storyteller at the Esquiline Gate.

Title: "The 24th Shitkickers Were Never The Same After The Peloponnese"

If you talk about the Romans you have to talk about the Greeks. This episode explores the ancient Greek play AJAX written by Sophocles. Included in this episode are interviews with Bryan Doerries, director and translator for the New York based THEATER OF WAR acting troupe.

MP3 File

Steven Saylor’s new book: Empire

I just received in the mail Steven Saylor’s new book: EMPIRE.  I got 4 days off coming up and I’m going to spend the time reading the book.  Look for a review here on Ancient Rome Refocused in the coming weeks.