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

Make Latin the Language of Europe

Lately I have become a huge fan of the Wall Street Journal.  They ran a recent article titled Cavest Emptor: Lover of Latin Try to Sell a Dead Languge.

The gist of the article was that Latin should become Europe’s Continental Language.  That it should be the basis of what ‘English’ does for the ‘United States’ today.   The article talks about “…a hard core of Latin enthusiasts say the language would foster a sense of European unity that’s have been lacking since the decline of the Holy Roman Empire…”

It is interesting idea.  An example of this I saw in a public television show called the ‘Pallisers”  This was an Anthony Trollope story about a family in England.  There was  a court case where a witness did not speak English, however, he studied to be a priest.  The Judge attended a British ‘public school’-‘public’ is the designator for an upper crust ‘private’ school where Latin would most certainly had been taught.  The Judge conducted the ‘cross-examination’ with the witness in Latin.  Cool.

Stephane Feye is a proponent for a European Union Language, a founder of a schoolhouse near Brussels, that requires 10 hours of Latin per week and updates the dead language for its students by teaching them modern terminology in the ‘old’ tongue:  students talk on their telephonis gestabilibus (cell phones) and do their lessons on their computatoria (computer).   

Let’s face it, there is a certain ‘cool factor’ in having your own language.    Tell me that speakers of Española have not dropped into their own language when they want a certain amount of privacy from the English speakers.

I even saw a ‘spy TV movie’ where the hero spoke in Gaelic to his ‘spy master.’  What are the odds that anyone understanding Gaelic is even listening in… (the odds are low even though Gaelic and Welsh are experiencing a resurgence). 

 Think about it, if the European Union made the declaration that Latin was the language of ‘union’…purely used for governmental concerns of course…what a statement they would be making that their UNION has a history going back to early empire.    The European Union is here to stay.  Of course it won’t happen, but every country has instructors ready to implement the new law.  The are bastions of Latin speaker ready to take high positions in government.

DEUS SERVO EUROPEAN LUGUM [God save the European Union]

Did I get the translation correct?

A Night in the Museum

Imagine that you have been to a party.  You have drank most of the night or have taken some drugs.  A friend let’s you into a museum at night and this is what you see. Is this drug induced or have you been visited by PAN himself?


An August Tale

Going back and forth on the internet I accidently came across a Granada TV production on Augustus.   It was produced in 1968 just before the international attention of ‘I, Claudius.’   If you ever been a fan of public television you will recognize quite a few actors on this show.  It is black and white (which somehow adds to the story), looks like a stage production, but the writing is thoughtful and insightful.  Good writing is good writing whether in Homer’s time, your parent’ time, or NOW.  There is no ‘chewing the scenery’ here.  The dialogue is delivered calmly, no ‘addressing the Senate’, it is an imperial family discussion of issues and gripes they have discussed many times before.

If your are put off by the fact it was filmed in 1968 I find that a little ridiculous considering we are talking about an event in 19 August AD 14 b.c.    Watch it…it is outstanding television.  Now, I admit I was carried away by the death scene of Augustus.  I was not able to be present when my father passed away.  The scene of the death bed made me slightly emotional.  Isn’t all death bed scenes of Fathers as if an Emperor is passing?  The wife says her goodbyes, she strokes his arm, and whispers in his ear.  The son or stepson settles regrets or questions the father’s motives or actions in life before the final goodbye.  How I wish it was that way for me.

Augustus on his deathbed with Tiberius ready to accept the mantle of 'kingship.' Did I say King?

Augustus on his deathbed with Tiberius ready to accept the mantle of ‘kingship.’ Did I say King?

“Have I not played my part well?” Says Augustus before he dies and then asking for applause. I have a hard time with what happened next, the room of mourners actually applauds.  I somehow think it was a rhetorical question, but who knows when you deal with a man that possessed ‘absolute’ power.

Augustus is played by Roland Culver (a man with a very impressive movie career).  If you see him you will recognize him, and he has a most distinctive voice.  He makes a fascinating Augustus.  Was it from the fact he was playing Augustus?  There should be more parts for old men that denote who they are and what they were in their  youth.  This part did just that.  There should be more parts for old men that denote ‘gravitas.’

His son is Michael Culver. by the way. (Captain Needa. Star Wars?). Let’s see how good a Star Wars Fan you are.

Roland Culver, actor.

Roland Culver, actor.

It was a little confusing for the show opening up with Culver (i.e. Augustus) sitting on the steps of a temple with his handout like a beggar.  I was trying to figure out who he was and started to pick it out when a slightly humped over guy with a stutter asked: “Unc…Unc…Uncle, why are you asking for money?”   OH, Claudius!  That’s who the beggar is…AUGUSTUS!  It was a nice opening and the reason was a dream.  Don’t we all do what we see in our dreams?  Well, especially in ancient Rome.  At a dinner party later Claudius pulls out a coin and tries to give it to Augustus.  The first citizen waves it away, “…I turn back into an emperor, after five,” he says.

And Tiberius is played by Andre Morell.   I have to tell you this was the far greater part, and I don’t think I ever seen where so much effort had been put into writing diagolue for this particular Roman Emperor.  The language was witty, urbane, intellectual and thought provoking.  Morell is not new when it came to wearing armor, he played Sextus in Ben Hur and Elrond in the 1978 animated feature lord of the rings.  He has a series of movies roles playing inspectors, military men, and judges.    The part of Tiberius to me is his greatest role.  The man is calculating, and walks through life with a philosophy of “I don’t control events” which makes me wonder if the scriptwriter was trying to make Tiberius a proponent of the Stoic philosophy.

Meaning I found on Internet:

The Stoic ethic espouses a deterministic perspective,

: a person who accepts what happens without complaining or showing emotion

End of quote.

Before Augustus dies he cries (at least were told later) ”Forty young men are carrying me away…”

Tiberius responds, “For the sake of legend we must make it come true….no dying words?”

“No,” the servant says.

“Good,” says Tiberius.  “Dying words make inconvenient quotations.”

Name that Classical Connection (8)

In the last Name that Classical Connection I asked readers to identify the classical connection of the Tribune Tower in Chicago, Illinois.  Steven Lee was kind enough to point out the meaning of  the name ‘Tribune’ itself.  He is right – I give him that.  Yet, there is more.  Much more.

95866948_ncnGZkc7Imagine a place in Chicago that you can travel about the world, time and space all within fifteen minutes.  Yes, you can visit antiquity and place your hand upon it.  The secret is in the foundation and the stones of the Tribune Tower located at 435 North Michigan Avenue. It looks like a cathedral done in Neo-Gothic style.  If your a visitor to the city, its just over the river heading north on Michigan (There is a great Starbucks just a block away if you need to fortify yourself and an Argo Tea is at street level in the same building). I strongly suggest you get your favorite brew and take some time to walk around the building.  Don’t hang back, get in close and bring your camera.

Reporters at the height of the power of the Tribune Newspaper traveled the world.  The record of their travels is in the walls not ON the walls.  TheyTribune-Tower-rock-Sibyls-Cave-Naples-Italy-1024x768 Tribune-Tower-rock-Roof-tile-Roman-Ruins-Birecik-Turkey-1024x768brought back a record of man’s achievements. In one section is a stone from the Parthenon.  A wall tile from Pompeii can be seen embedded in another part of the wall.  Look for it and you will find a slab from the Colosseum, and a building tile from the Stabian Baths in Pompeii.  Reporter after reporter brought the world back to Chicago.  Each of these stones were embedded into the wall of the Tribune Tower to add to the luster of this news organization.    No one will bother you if you stop and stare. tribune-tower-great-pyramid

Low angle view of a tower, Tribune Tower, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Low angle view of a tower, Tribune Tower, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Aesop's Fables carved above the door.  These are tales that gave moral lessons, and what better inspiration for reporters that are on their way to work?

Aesop’s Fables carved above the door. These are tales that gave moral lessons, and what better inspiration for reporters that are on their way to work?

Take the time to walk around the building and you transverse other times and places other than the classical world.  A stone from the Great Wall of China.  A building stone from Remagen Bridge, and ornate piece of tile from the Forbidden City, even a piece of steel from the World Trade Center can be seen.

This is a history buff’s dream, travel without travel, stones from history itself — touchable and available to the public.

Guest Lecturer: Hattem Massouba

Part of the fun of having a blog is that you can get many different people sharing their ideas on how they see the world.  I was fortunate to have Hattem Hassouba  share his article that he posted on  The article is conversational in style, and brings up Egyptians of political, philosophical, and literary note, and makes an interesting premise that the Romans were waiting for a goddess such as Isis to fill something lacking in their own society. 

Mr. Hassouba studied Economics and Political Sciences at Cairo University.  He lives in Cairo, Egypt.

The following article was posted by permission of the author.

The Essence of Egypt

by Hattem Hassouba

Hattem Hassouba

Hattem Hassouba

After a brief review of Egyptian history in particular, and world history in general, I will try to reach to a proper and an appropriate definition to the word “ Egypt”.

Before I start, I am obliged to admit that I won’t add much, to the contributions of the great men of science and thought, like the late Gamal Hemddan; the geographer, Selim Hassan; the archaeologist, Hussein Moeness; the historian, Salama Mussa; the philosopher-historian, Tawfik Al Hakim; the philosopher-novelist, Taha Hussein; the philosopher-novelist, Muhammad Hussein Heikal; the philosopher diplomat, Ahmad Lotfy Al Sayed; the father of Egyptian Liberalism, and many others of worth. And if you find me claiming that I added to them, please don’t continue reading the following lines.   My thoughts took me back to a debate which took place in 1994 between myself and the late Dr. Milad Hanna, the philosopher architect, about a historical fact of ancient history, this debate took place during a lecture he delivered at the Institute of Diplomatic Studies to junior cadets of the foreign service.

This historical fact is : Rome worshipped Isis, but the debate didn’t develop into discussing the root causes behind Rome’s adherence to the cult of Isis. The Queen of the Egyptian ancient pantheon. Allow me to share with you my personal interpretation of this historical fact :Who is Isis ? The ideal mother, the faithful-loving wife, the reincarnation of Mother Nature, the power of magic, the symbol of fecundity and fertility, the savior of the oppressed, the beacon that guides the astray, the muse of poets and artists, the forgiver of sinners, not only that; but also the goddess of wealth and the aggrandizer of the rich class’ wealth and assets, as long as they stick to the righteous path and benevolence to the poor. In other words Isis is the personification of tenderness, cuddling, security, safety, wealthand fecundity. A personification of the narrow, yet fertile valley, which hugs and sculpts, the features, the genes, the sinues and the traditions of the Egyptian nation.

Why did Rome establish a temple for Isis in Campus Martius? And why particularly Campus Martius; the military training camp and barracks, named after Mars, the Roman god of war? What has Isis got to do with war? Campus Martius is located on the low-lying plain between the river Tiber and the Quirinal Hill in the city of Rome. The temple for Isis is from around the time of Emperor Caligula (12AD-41AD), who was considered as one of Rome’s most successful generals and one of  her most beloved public figures, in spite of his late insanity and tyrannical way of rule. Caligula was the third Roman emperor after Augustus and Tiberius.

I found out that the answer to the above mentioned questions is a lot easier than I thought. Simply put, it is nostalgia for, and yearning to, tenderness and passion. The Roman society was basically a militaristic-expansionist society, who survived by means of perpetual war, thus perpetually living under stress as well as brutal and harsh conditions, it even resorted to violence and blood-shed in leisure and sports. Not denying of course that they were great engineers and legislators. So it could be logically deduced, from a psychological perspective, that, as human beings, the Romans must have yearned to experience a bit of tenderness and passion.

On the other hand, when the Roman invading legions collided with other cultures and civilizations, they discovered that most of the deities and holy figures of these cultures and civilizations were mostly gods of war and brutality who had to be placated by means of blood-shed and human sacrifice until they become fully satiated, from the perspective of those who believed in them, the only exception to these cultures and civilizations was to be found in Egypt. Only in Egypt, did the Romans find the meaning tenderness and passion, personficated in Isis the Goddess of all sublime human emotions. Not just that, even Sekhmet the goddess of war, was also a goddess of motherhood and child-birth. Nowhere else in the vast Romans empire could such deities be found. For the first time in its history the Roman mind finally came to taste the flavor of tenderness , love and passion, and this happened on Egyptian sacred soil. Even further, in spite of the fertility of the soil of the soil of the Italian peninsula, and many other regions and provinces of the Roman empire, Rome didn’t feel entirely secure, from the perspective of alimentary security, until it annexed Egypt, the granary of the world, which was self-sufficient in grain production from the dawn of its history until 1965.In spite of being occupied militarily, Egypt occupied the thought , the beliefs, and the creed of its occupying powers, she also endowed them with her style of attire, her unique architectural designs, her system of administration, and most important of all she gave them the answer to a long perplexing question : Is there an after Life ? Moreover, Egypt was the cradle of Greek civilization, philosophy and thought. Thus, the cradle of the whole western civilization, but that’s another story, sufficient it is to say that she was the principal chapter of the first recorded history scroll in the world, Histories,written by the father of recorded history; Herodotus.

Egypt was the main target of every empire builder , the core of his imperial glory, the means of his survival, and part and parcel of his development. In this context, I urge you to read about the impact of Egyptian cotton on British Textile Industry, The bedrock of the Industrial Revolution, during the Victorian era, the zenith of British imperial might and glory. Read about the cause behind the architectural boom in Constantinople in the 16th century, it was the work of Egyptian masons and builders who were forcedly relocated there to add to the glory of the fledgling Ottoman Empire. Take a look at contemporary Paris, almost a third of its landmarks, sites, monuments and museum exhibitions is Egyptian, and ask yourself this question: Why did one of France’s greatest leaders was nicknamed “THE SPHINX”; the late president Francois Mitterand. One more thing before I conclude, take a look at the impact of the simple, yet majestic, architectural designs of the late innovated architect Dr. Hassan Fathy, in the United States, Greece, and the Gulf countries. A unique style inspired by the Nubian one, which could have saved us ages of accumulated ugliness and pollution had it been adopted since its inception.

This is the meaning of the word “Egypt”, and I again I frankly confirm that I haven’t added anything new to what have been written before by the above mentioned geniuses.


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: