What would you hear?

doctorwhopompeii_2727005bOh, how I wish I could walk down a street in Ancient Rome.  That my Latin was street worthy, and I could overhear conversations and ask questions of those living their lives.  “Do you know the best place for wine?” I would ask.  “Could you direct me to the nearest philosopher?”  There was a blog called ‘Overheard in New York’ by Michael Malice and S. Morgan Friedman, that documents snippets of conversations by pedestrians in New York City.

What conversations in Rome do you …imagine that you would hear?  Anyone?  Anyone?    I seem to remember one post (hope I got this right)  in the humor blog ‘Overheard in New York’ that seems relevant.

Overheard conversation:

One street tough to another: “What ya readin?”

Answer:  “Plato.”

Make up your own overheard Ancient Roman conversation (2 or three lines) and post here!


Doomed to Repeat

doomed to repeat I spent a thoroughly happy morning at Northwestern Hospital waiting for my wife during a medical appointment at a Starbucks on Huron Street downtown Chicago. Of course, I am the ‘Awake’ hot tea, and she is the green tea latte. The Starbucks is in one of the hospital’s waiting room’s at street level, with many tables, great chairs, and customers’ that are mostly doctors, nurses, and people trying to chill out after visiting their ‘loved ones.’ If you’re looking for a place to spread out, this is the place. It is quiet, warm, and has the expanse of a large library without the stacks, and if you go to the second floor and take a short walk to the next building, there is a food court – “get the gyros.”

TO keep me company I had Bill Fawcett’s book DOOMED TO REPEAT. Fawcett has series of books with titles such as HOW TO LOSE THE CIVIL WAR, HOW TO LOSE THE WAR, and HOW TO LOSE A BATTLE.

DOOMED TO REPEAT is compelling in many comparisons he makes with the modern world and the

The opening paragraph starts with a familiar quote:

“Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

He spends most of the book showing how this is true in war, politics and business.

He brings forth a question: If Alexander the Great tried to bring the Afghan tribes under control and his efforts were fruitless, why didn’t the English, Soviets and the American’s learn anything from a repetitive historical cycle of trying to accomplish what Alexander could not? Why do nations continue to think that they can do better? In simpler terms if the English got their asses kicked, if the Soviets got their asses kicked, then for god sakes why did the Americans think they could overcome generations of tribalism?

The book explores each attempt, and goes on to look at the Romans and modern society in regards to employment and taxes.

“Today, American workers are not competing with slaves, but they too see their jobs being offshored…”

There are many ‘warnings’ that creep up in the book that can make you uncomfortable, and wonder are we heading down the same road as Rome in the ‘destruction of the middle class.’

I have long thought the real weakness of American society does not come in from a lack of military or economic prowess, but our inability to see beyond 4 to 8 years in our planning for the future. I do not believe the ‘Chinese’ have this problem, but WE do.

As thought provoking this book was, my wife joins me after her appointment. She is well. That is the best news so far. I hope the future is flexible enough that we can change course. That is the attraction of the future. It’s unpredictability. Things change, sometimes, people change. Sometimes a slight miscalculation, a slight thing in the course of man changes the inevitable. Like a typhoon (‘divine wind’) when a Mongol Navy heads for your shores (check Japanese history). Like the V-12, piston aero engine, of 27-litre (1,650 cu in) capacity. Rolls-Royce designed and built the engine which was initially known as the PV-12: the PV-12 became known as the Merlin and true to its name was placed in the Spitfires that defended England against invasion. Like those ‘darn’ Americans during the Battle of Midway that broke the Japanese code (and managed to keep it secret) to ambush with dive bombers the four Japanese aircraft carriers—Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, all part of the six-carrier force that had attacked Pearl Harbor just six months earlier.

It’s fine to depend on a typhoon, on technology and stealth, but at the moment of reading this book, I want those in the NOW and the FUTURE to lay the foundation of our “pursuit of happiness” for those who come after me.

Footnote * I’m proud to say my brother Jeff was at Glenview Naval Air Station and met Ensign George Gay the lone survivor of a devastator squadron who was shot down by the Japanese. While floating in the sea he witnessed the battle about him and the sinking of the Japanese aircraft carriers. I bring this up for one reason, and one reason only: you may not know it, but history surrounds you.


Zenobia-the-musical-2Title – “It’s Good to be Queen.” Rob Cain interviews Lorrisa Julianus and Craig Engel.

Zenobia, is an original musical written by Lorrisa and composed by Angela Salvaggione. It premiered at the Bolingbrook Performing Arts Center, and was directed by Craig.

The subject is the 3rd century queen who defied Rome and tried to carve out an Empire. Want to know more?

MP3 File

Lorrisa Julianus as Queen Zenobia

Lorrisa Julianus as Queen Zenobia

Episode 14, Season 3, of Ancient Rome Refocused will be posted soon.  On EPISODE 14 titled “It’s Good to be Queen,” I interviewed Lorrisa Julianus and Craig Engel.  Lorrisa wrote the book and lyrics and starred in an original musical about the 3rd century Queen Zenobia.  Craig directed this sword

Craig Engel and Lorrisa Julianus

and sandal epic.  He is the co-president &  artistic director of Theatre-on-the-Hill, in Bolingbrook, Illinois.  A veteran, with an extensive military background, a medic with Navy Special Forces for Seal Team 8, he has the perfect combination of skill and spine to convinced the City of Bolingbrook to support the effort, bringing a multitude of activities into concert,  and turning gangly ‘spear-carrying’ 15 year olds into Roman Soldiers you can be proud of.   Lorrissa starred in the production. She appeared on the Bold and the Beautiful, and will soon be seen on Chicago PD.  Not only does she have a ‘Broadway’ class voice but has the physicality to make anyone believe that she could survive a sword fight, which should be no surprise since she is a ‘motion-capture’ actor for the highly successful Mortal Kombat computer gaming series. 


 You got to admire Lorrisa’s passion and tenacity to take this classical story of ‘late-empire’ and adapt it into a musical.   The show has love, passion, sword fights, spirituality, forgiveness, all at a time when the Roman Empire was split into the Gallic and Palmyran Empires.  I couldn’t help to think of the DreamWorks film THE PRINCE OF EGYPT while watching it.  The music was haunting.  

The composer was Angela Salvaggione.  The music is hard to get out of your head, and the music for the duet Who you Are is magical.  I am still humming it to myself.  The music for the production is haunting, and is perfect for this larger than life story.   


What of Palmyra?  It was centered between the Romans and the east.  It grew rich on trade and decided to build for itself an empire. It was a splinter empire that broke away form the Roman Empire in the period that was called the Third Century Crisis.  The Palmyrene Empire survived from 260–273, and acquired Syria, Palaestine, Egypt and large parts of Aisa Minor.


Lorrisa Julianus and  Angela Salvaggione taking Zenobia on as a musical subject is a bold move.  Western culture is Cleopatra obsessed.  Look how many times Cleopatra is remade over and over for every generation.  The list goes from Theda Bara  (find  a copy of the ‘lost’ silent film and you will make a fortune) through  Elizabeth Taylor to the soon-to-be-released Cleopatra film starring Angelina Jolie.    Zenobia may be new on the American psyche, but not in the Middle East.   A  different version of Zenobia’s story appeared in Dubai last April, with horses, camels and waterfalls appearing ‘live’ on stage.  Julianus and Salvaggione’s version is worth your time for it has the music and Lorrissa’s voice.  This is enough to transport anyone to another place and another time.    You can keep the camel. 

Man is a story-telling  creature.  The musical starts out with a telling by a Sybil, played with angelic qualities by Emily Seymour.  She sets the stage.  Isn’t that how every story should start?  “Once upon a time…” or “Oh Muse…” or “Far away..across the sea…”


There are too many ancient stories that fail to capture the imagination of the public, because they are JUST NOT TOLD.    Zeniobia is a subject ripe for song, poetry and musicals in Bolingbrook.   

If you are interested in learning more about this eastern queen check out Empress Zenobia, Palmyra’s Rebel Queen, by Pat Southern or  the book A Chronicle of Zenobia, The Rebel Queen by Judith Weingarten.

Here are some links:


Want to read about the director Craig Engel?


Want to read another author about Zenobia?  She has a great blog.


Want to read about Lorrisa Julianus as artist?


Want to know more about Theater on the Hill in Bolingbrook?


Want to read about Zenobia the musical?


Want to read more about the Bolingbrook opening?



What will our remnants tell of us?

Check out the photography of Mike Mission, a Brooklyn-based artist, that photographed these strange objects found in the asphalt of New York.  Imagine a thousand years have passed and we are the ones being uncovered under rock and debris?

What would our story be?

His work is titled Asphalt Archaeology.  http://9bytz.com/objects-in-new-york-asphalt/

Objects In New York Asphalt


Made the list


bc1Ancient Rome Refocused made Boston College Department of History’s list for Podcast Series for History Lovers (Summer 2013).

1138751333_6160_f_pagecat_gr1s PARTY ON!

The Cleopatras

thecleosI have a secret pleasure.  It was produced in England, and this dramatic presentation of the rule of the Ptolmeys is really, really bad.

However, have you ever seen something that is so bad, it turns out to be lots of fun to watch?    This show has lots and lots of ‘chewing the scenery.’  Actors are emoting.  Oh, how they  emote.  The entire show is obviously filmed on a sound stage, and when something was supposed to take place in a palace of cold hard marble, once in a while, you can hear the wood creak under a footstep.    Take my word from a guy that has stepped on more than a few stages himself, wood creaks and squeaks occasionally when you walk on it.

Also if you like seeing lots and lots of half-naked women, this is the show for you.

The cinematography is dated.  There are cuts, wipes and dissolves that video teachers warn their students against, and probably were used because at the time the director thought these techniques were new and were really ‘cool. man.’  Think 70s video production 101.

Most of the Ptolemy’s seem to be stupid.  All except one Pharoah named Potbelly, who sports the requirements for the name and has the political acumen that would make Machiavelli proud.  Unfortunately he drinks a little too much and gets his cumuppance  in the end, however he is one of the most entertaining characters in the series.   The part was played by a young Richard Griffiths, well know for his depiction of Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter films.  Griffiths performance makes the show worth watching.     

The story begins with young Cleopatra VII getting a history lesson from her tutor.  We cut back and forth between lectures in the present to her ancestors in the past.  “Am I beautiful?” She asks her tutor to see if he is a flatterer.  His answer is strange to say the least, “Of all the women that I have ever seen…”   Yea, yea, yea…he’s a flatterer.

The actress is beautiful.  Her name is Michelle Newell.  The jury is still out whether the real Cleopatra was beautiful though.

One of the Cleopatras is Ms. Lemon of the Inspector Poroit series on public television.   Go Ms. Lemon, va va voom.

I sometimes wonder if the writer had more respect for the pharaohs, that maybe, just maybe, the story would have had been more interesting.  The show has a tendency to be presented like a high school production.

The history of the Ptolomys deserve better.  Think about it.  Ptolemy was an Alexandrian general, taking charge of a country that had a history going back thousands of years.  Imagine that story of the first Ptolmey, who tried to control a country and have it accept his rule  His family did a metamorphosis – they walked in two worlds (Macedonian and Egyptian).  Think what that must have been like, and what itwould have entailed.   Soter stepped into the Pharonic line and took charge of a people that did not want him.  The “Greek speakers” and the “belt wearers” were a distinct people from the Egyptians.  The Ptolemys played a propaganda game for generations, and at the same time lived in a system of apartheid.   As for ruling, besides that horrible ‘family relations’ brother against brother, sister against Father, etc, etc, in the stuggle for the throne, and raising an Army here and there against their relatives, they did a pretty good job of ruling a country.  Of course they had to suffer Roman domination toward the end of the rule.  How do you think Cleopatra VII must have felt to know that she was the end of her line?  How do think Czar Nicholas the II must have felt?

I admit writing such a story would be a daunting task.  I can hear my detractors saying, “You just try to write a history of a royal family of Macedonian that ruled a country for 300 years.”

OK, I will!

You want to know how I would have started the series?  With the hijacking of Alexander’s body as it was being transported back to Athens.    Now, there is the start of great television.  It seems the first Ptolmey Soter knew that the city that housed the body of the great Alexander would be a major attraction in the ancient world.


The great funeral cart moves slowly down the road.  The wheels are taller than two men standing on top of each others shoulders.  As it passes through the village, the people are on their knees offering up prayers.  It is protected by 20 hoplites sent from Athens.  On a sunny day, Alexander’s body can be seen reclining in his amber coffin.  A ship has been sent to a port ten miles down the road.  They have to move quickly lest the sun turns the holy body to organic sludge.  Sixty oxen are tied to the front of the funeral cart, they bellow and snort as drivers whip their filthy hindquarters.  A beach is to the right, a hill on the left.    The sun is setting, and those on the road do not see the ship beached on the white sand.    

Suddenly there is a high-pitched whistle, and  Macedonian hoplites in black armor rise up from the beach and storm the funeral cart.  They kill the slaves in an short battle with the guards.   

Run credits:

The Cleopatras    

A movie that is more worth the time.  It is called THE LAND OF THE PHAROAH starring Jack Hawkins and Joan Collins (1955).  The whole movie is worth it especially when you see the look on Joan's face when she realizes she will be staying at the funeral a little bit longer than planned.

A movie that is worth your time. It is called THE LAND OF THE PHAROAH starring Jack Hawkins and Joan Collins (1955). The whole movie is worth it especially when you see the look on Joan’s face when she realizes she will be staying at the funeral a little bit longer than planned.

Rise of the American Optimates.

pogoThe great political cartoon POGO had a famous saying.  “WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”

Jugurtha described Rome as “urbem venalem et mature perituram, si emptorem invenerit” (“a city for sale and doomed to quick destruction, if it should ever find a buyer”)

[Note* How about mainland China?  Aren’t we in debt to the Chinese?].

If you have ever wondered if we become ancient Rome, the proof is the rise of the American Optimates.   Not only do we see a ‘Wall Street’ sense of entitlement, where do they get the gall to act ‘shocked’ by the pope’s criticisim.

Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny”, urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality.

The pope is quoted as saying:  “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

The ‘Wall-Streeter’s’ claim that the Catholic Church would whither away if it was not for THEIR contributions.  My response is:  Oh, sure, a religious organization that has survived longer than any corporation (or government) on earth…depends on them!  Right.  Oh, why didn’t I realize that?” [sarcasm inserted]

The rise of the American Optimates can be seen in the vast inequality of wealth across the nation, and now the law doesn’t  even apply to them.   A boy that mowed down people with his car, killing some, and sending others to a lifetime prone on a bed, unable to move, has been sentenced to a resort-like rehabilitation center under the excuse of the AFFLUENZA DEFENSE.  Yes, according to woman that does not even know the DSM he was just too affluent to know right or wrong.  He must be saved…at least according to the judge.  What the boy really had is commonly called in my circle as “BEING A SPOILED BRAT.”    Yes, yes, I agree the law provides protection…even to the rich.  Given.  I concede.  What’s more the poor deprived child, who got off under the Affluenza Defense, not only robbed a store but tried to rape a 14 year old girl.  Let us SAVE this fine and upstanding lad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  [Sarcasm submitted].

I think we need a new POGO saying: “WE HAVE MET THE OPTIMATES, AND THEY…OWN US.”

From New York? Chicago?


Though we hurry, we merely crawl;
We’re blocked by a surging mass ahead,
a pushing wall
Of people behind. A man jabs me,
elbowing through, one socks
A chair pole against me, one cracks my
skull with a beam, one knocks
A wine cask against my ear. My legs are
caked with splashing
Mud, from all sides the weight of
enormous feet comes smashing
On mine, and a soldier stamps his
hobnails through to my sole.

A poem by Juvenal Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, known in English as Juvenal, was a Roman poet active in the late 1st and early 2nd century AD, author of the Satires.  

Rob Cain interviews the screenwriter James Erwin who wrote a story on the popular website REDIT and it was purchased by a movie company. In addition, Rob interviews Gunny Sergeant “Red” Millis who provides insight into the capabilities of a Marine Expeditionary Unit. Both screen writer and Marine answer the question, “Can a MEU beat the Rome Empire?”

MP3 File