Sometimes Mythology catches up.

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The Sphinx in black and white

This is reported as the first film of the Sphinx in 1897.  This is many years removed from today’s bustling Cairo that is now just feet away.  I remember my first time seeing the site I was amazed at the desert park that surrounded it.  I had only seen photos of this site where the background was always shot towards the desert.  Seeing Cairo so close was a surprise to me…well Tourist.  I always imagined it far away in the desert.  Forgive the dreamer who spends too much time in the past.

Sometimes Mythology catches up.

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A hero of Palmyra

Khaled-al-Asaad - Hero of Palmyra

Khaled-al-Asaad – Hero of Palmyra

I have to bring your attention to an article in Minerva Magazine. The headline reads: ‘Tribute to Palmyra. This is not the first time this city has been attacked.”

Minerva Magazine is the type of publication where it smells like it came fresh off the presses by the smell of printer’s ink. To me, a former graphic arts guy in college, the smell is heavenly.  The magazine has large beautiful photographs of ancient artifacts, great articles and reeks of another smell: class. 

If you get a chance, check out the NOV/DEC issue. As you know ISIL, a 14th century cabal composed of thugs and psychopaths, took explosives to the city and hammers to various antiquities.  And according to recent reports, ISIL is collecting and selling whatever they can loot.  The magazine article provides a look at a city before it was destroyed. There are 17 Century woodcuts, photographs of edifices and various funeral busts.

What has gone on in Syria and Iraq under ISIL’s ‘benevolent’ (sarcasm!) regime has a chilling comparison to a quote by Emperor Aurelian:

“The Palmyrans have been sufficiently slaughtered and cut to pieces. What have not spared the women; we have slain the children, we have strangled the old men, we have destroyed the husbandmen. To whom then shall we leave the land? To whom shall we leave the city?”

A couple of paragraphs in the article pays homage to a man that should be called a hero of that ancient city.   We can remember Palmyra from its buildings, sculptures and art, but Kahled al Assad should be remembered with respect.  This 80 plus year old man (with emphasize on the word MAN) was an archeologist that studied the ancient world of Palmyra. Most of us when given the opportunity to flee from approaching ‘barbarians’ would have gladly fled, but Kahled al-Asadd chose to stay and try to save the treasures and antiquities of an ancient people which he dedicated most of his life studying. He refused to reveal where he hid the artifacts. For that he was beheaded.  There is no better illustration of Kahled al-Asaad’s bravery than Thomas Babington Macaulay’s poem titled Horatius:

“Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?”

I stand in awe of this man’s bravery. I have met heroes in my life;  I have the unique ability to recognize them.  This man I gladly place him on my list.

I hope that with all my heart that the children of Kahled al-Asadd are alive. It should interest you to note that one of his daughters is named Zenobia.

Are you surprised?

I’m not.

Remember Palmyra.  Remember Kahled al-Asaad. 

My favorite movie lines

The Movie ‘Troy’ with Brad Pitt

Context – King Prim tells Hector that Helen can stay because Troy is the favorite of Apollo.

Hector (played by Eric Bana) replies:  “How many battalions does the sun god command?”

The Movie ‘Gods of Egypt’ with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Remember Game of Thrones?). 

Context – ‘Set’ an Egyptian God, sends minions riding giant worms.

Bek (Handsome young hero):  “We should run.”

Horus (A god played by Coster-Waldau) :  “Run?”

Bek (he is running away before he even finishes the sentence):  “We humans do it all the time!”

Paper Towns

U3 heroes I just got finished watching the movie Paper Towns. The movie is based on a John Green book. It was recommended by a check-out clerk (who looked like the late River Phoenix).  My wife and I were trying to decide our next Redbox pick.  You may remember John Green from his major bestseller: The Fault in Our Stars. The reason I am promoting the movie  is that I was overcome with an overwhelming feeling that I had seen this before.  It had an incredible classical feeling to it. Other films popped into my head. Star Wars The Odyssey The 13th Warrior The reason I found the film familiar was that it reminded me of another book titled: THE HEROES JOURNEY by Joseph Campbell. I don’t have to go too far into the movie for if you saw Star Wars – you are already familiar with the journey. Joseph Campbell is an American scholar who went far into the study of mythos. George Lucas (a creator of his own mythos) sat in one of his classes and melded the ‘hero’s journey’ into his script. If you haven’t read Joseph Campbell – do so. Star Wars, The Odyssey and even the Antonio Bandera’s movie The 13th Warrior are prime examples of such a plot line. Catch the scene where the Vikings volunteer for adventure, and the Arab traveler tries to keep quiet only to find himself ‘volunteered’ to accompany the warriors into harm’s way. The reluctant hero is a common theme. Even Luke Sky walker was hesitant to start the journey. Quentin “Q” Jacobsen the hero of Paper Towns is no different. He’s an “A” student, a guy that has never gotten into trouble. He has a crush on Margo Roth Spiegleman, the girl that lives across the street. One day she disappears, and he find that she has left a series of clues behind. “Q” is off on his journey, and every hero must gather companions for his journey. Luke Skywalker had the droids, the princess and the rogue Han Solo, and Chew-bacca. “Q” is no different. He gathers his companions and they volunteer not too dissimilarly from The 13th Warrior scene where the Vikings volunteer for the adventure. A hero must have an adventure. His crush Margo fulfills the role of Obi-Wan. Don’t get me wrong. This is a Young Adult (YA) movie and book (the kind John Green is famous for), and there is no mention of Star Wars or the Odyssey mentioned in this film, but it grabs you with all the elements. A hero must learn something, and what this movie told  me is that THE HERO’S JOURNEY is engrained in our psyche, and in our story telling. Surely, in your youth you must have gone on a road trip? Maybe you’re about to go on one. What shall you bring back from your adventure into the unknown? herosjourney

The Robiad Liber

(The Robiad are the rants of Rob Cain.  You may agree or disagree, but it would be great if you commented.)

I have to share something. I am a total nerd on old books written about Ancient Rome. I know it’s ridiculous to say this…but somehow I feel closer to that time period picking out an old text written pre-1900s.

I visited the Alexandria Library, the Kate Waller Barrett Branch on 717 Queen Street Alexandria, VA twice on two separate years and always managed to score a book that I purchased for mere couple of bucks. The Barret branch has a book sale each year. You may not be surprised by this, the neighborhood still has a strong resemblance of what it might have looked like in the time period of George Washington himself. I am sure there would have been fewer houses, dirt roads, and a distinct aroma of horse manure in that air, but Alexandria (downtown near King and Prince street) still reflect the atmosphere of the late and early 1700 and 1800s. Two years ago I found an old Latin text (did you know that Latin was taught in grammar schools at one time?), which provided totally cool book illustrations of equipment of the legions and what Gauls were presumed to look like. It is hard to find modern texts with such illustrations. Yes, yes, I know…modern texts have something called photographs. I don’t know how I can convey this…but somehow I get a kick of an outstanding woodblock illustration of Caesar crossing the Rubicon, or an illustration of the Forum.  Sometime in the near future if you ever visit me you will see framed woodblock maps of the ancient world. These, I consider…art.

I followed my wife over to the Barrett Branch (built in the 1930s and in Colonial Style) as she searched for what is called YA (Young Adult) books that she wanted to donate to a charity in Seattle that gives books to youth that are incarcerated. I asked the librarian on duty (an orange haired generation X? Y? can anyone tell me what they are called now?), and she guided me over to a section titled…get this…OLD BOOKS. It is there that I found a book titled: Smaller Classical Dictionary by Smith. The publishers are London: J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd. Note* Only that new-fangled technology called photos in this edition by the way.  The book is a 1948 reprint.

Side point – Those of you that consider 1948 an eon ago…pray reconsider. It was in my parent’s youth, and what took place in their lifetimes affect us now in ours. What’s more…here’s a little more to think about…what occurred in B.C. (Before Christ) or what they call now (Before the Common Era) affects us just as much. The argument has been proposed…discuss.

The Smaller Classical Dictionary is exactly what it says it is. A simple dictionary going from ABIA to ZOSIMUS:

ZOZIMUS, Greek historian who lived in the time of the younger Theodosius. He wrote the history of the Roman Empire in 6 books, which is still extant. Zosimus was a pagan, and comments severely upon the faults and crimes of the Christian Emperors.

Those pagans…what can I say.

I have spent a wonderful afternoon, going through this book with my traditional Starbuck’s Hot Tea, and all I can say is the following (many of you know this already): Reading a classical dictionary lets you fully realize that the ancient world was a rich, varied place that was packed full with stories of a colorful people.

So was the world of my parents.

So was my world.

So is yours- girl with orange hair.

Something found

I was watching a cool video on Facebook.  I believe the speaker was a librarian from the new Library of Alexandria in Egypt.   He said the following: “I had a nephew ask me what ‘B.C.’  means.  I told him it stands for ‘Before Computers.'”   

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CHIRAQ

A new movie is coming out by the American director and film producer Spike Lee.    The title CHIRAQ is apt and comes from a terrifying statistic that the murder rate in Chicago has exceeded the number of deaths in Iraq.  In other words a war is being waged in Chicago, and so far the city, state and Federal Government have been powerless to stop it.

Year To Date Shot & Killed: 383 Shot & Wounded: 2191 Total Shot: 2574 Total Homicides: 433.

Lee could have come out with a hard hitting documentary, review the situation, while spotlighting a few cases to expose this national tragedy, but he has reached back into history to use a far more powerful weapon:  satire. 

sat·ireˈsaˌtī(ə)r/noun

Satire is the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

015I can understand why satire is feared by kings, governments, and politicians.  Why do you think Saturday Night Live can be a driving force in how we view an issue or a politician?  Satire cuts thought ‘talking points’ and personas displayed by those in power.    Artists and writers have fled for their lives when they used satire to make their point.  It has been used in cartoons, movies, stories and plays.

Mr. Lee has taken the play titled Lysistrata, written by the Greek playwright Aristophanes, to make his point.  What is the basis of the play?  Women deny men sex until they stop killing each other.    It was originally staged in 411 b.c.  It was about the Peloponnesian War which was an all out struggle between the nation states of Athens and Sparta.  The title character Lysistrata comes up with a plan to end the continual grind and destruction of this war.

Mr. Lee is not the first to revision this play, but he is the first to make it glaringly REAL.  We may not be able to sympathize or empathize with a people fighting it out in the hills of Greece thousands of years ago.  Maybe their political objectives are lost to time, and a little too far back in the midst of history for us to care.   However;  set it in the NOW, with characters that seem familiar, it has the potential to be powerful.  I have not seen the film to date.  A link to a trailer is attached to this article.   If you get to see the film, please put your comments on the blog.

What I applaud Mr. Lee about is his use of Lysistrata; to put meat on the bones; to make it sing once more.

I lived near Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  The best trauma center was at Northwestern Medical Center that was just down the street from my apartment building.  Anybody who has visiting the ‘Windy City’ will know the area as Streeterville.  In just the one year that I lived in that area I heard a continuous wailing of sirens as ambulances made their way north from the south side.   I will be first to bow to criticism.  I will be the first to admit that maybe I presumed too much.   I know what directions the ambulances were coming from.  It was always from the south and west side.  The headlines in the newspapers and the lead stories on the 5:00 news were always the same.

TWO DEAD.

THREE DEAD.

And the sirens keep coming.

Cyclops as Art

This is a painting by Joseph Mallord William Turner.  The title is: Ulysses deriding Polyphemus – Homer’s Odyssey.   We have come upon the scene where Odysseus shouts to the blinded Cyclops:  “When Neptune asks who took your sight, tell him Odysseus!”   It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1829.  I saw it for the first time in Washington D.C.  at the National Gallery (on loan?).   Can you see the Cyclops in the midst?  Turner had a fondness for midst and fog.    Yes, I too had to look for the Cyclops.

This concludes the Cyclops Series on Ancient Rome Refocused.  I hope you enjoyed the search for Polyphemus.

I purposely left out my final entry on the rare anomaly called Cyclopia.  It is not a visual that I want to share.  I will tell you that it sometimes happens in animal and human childbirth (death is always the final result).   The link below leads to a very good article on the subject.   One can only think of the implications such an event would have on ancient cultures.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fighting-fear/201207/the-cyclops-child

 

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