Laugh as the Romans Laughed

Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor of the New Yorker, regularly posts a newsletter online. This week, his dispatch highlights the world’s oldest joke book: the Philogelos, or “Laughter-lover” which was written in Greek. Mary Beard, one of the most famous and prolific Classicists alive, agreed to discuss some of the jokes for his newsletter, starting with one delivered recently by a British stand-up comic:

“A few years ago, the English standup comic Jim Bowen presented a show with jokes that were based entirely on the one surviving ancient joke book, the Philogelos. It’s a collection of some two hundred and sixty short gags, written in Greek; it probably dates, in the form we have it, to the fifth century A.D., but some of the jokes go back centuries earlier. I particularly like the one about the thuggish, philistine Roman who destroyed Corinth in 146 B.C. When he was overseeing the transport of the precious antiques that he had looted from the city, he said to the ships’ captains: ‘Don’t break anything, or you’ll have to replace it.’”

Read on, at the NewYorker.com.

Enter the Labyrinth with Theseus–in a comic book!

As Robert Ito reports in the 8/30/14 issue of The New York Times, Toon Books has released a comic book retelling the famous Greek myth “Theseus and the Minotaur” by Yvan Pommaux, and Daniel Tandarich’s fifth-grade students at Brooklyn’s P.S. 124 love it!

Theseus Toon Books

This pedagogical experiment affirms the vision of Francoise Mouly, the New Yorker‘s art editor and creator of Toon Books. Soon Toon Books will release a retelling of Orpheus in the Underworld!

Our upcoming visitor brings ancient wines to life!

This fall the Classics Department is looking forward to some amazing lectures on campus! One of our visitors, Brandeis University Professor of Classics and Chemistry Andrew Koh, is featured in the August 27th online issue of Time magazine for his work on understanding the flavor profiles of ancient wine. Working at a palace site in modern Israel, Koh observes:

“In the past,” says Koh, lead author of a paper describing the discovery in the latest issue of the journal PLOS One,“we wouldn’t have been able to say much more than ‘this is a bunch of containers that held wine.’”

Thanks to an unprecedentedly sophisticated analysis of the deposits inside those containers, however, Koh, who has a joint appointment in Brandeis’ Classical Studies and Chemistry Departments, along with two colleagues, can conclude much more, specifically that the wine was flavored with — deep breath, now — honey, storax resin, terebinth resin, cedar oil, cyperus, juniper and possibly mint, myrtle and cinnamon as well….

See Andrew Koh speak about his methods and discoveries at Trinity on October 16th!

A botanist reviews Socrates’ drug of choice

This excerpt from Michael Largo’s new book The Big, Bad Book of Botany: The World’s Most Fascinating Flora, courtesy of Slate.com:

“…According to Christian mythology, the hemlock plant became poisonous after growing on the hillside of Jesus’ crucifixion. When his blood touched the plant, it turned forever toxic. However, the most infamous poisoning by hemlock is attributed to the Greek philosopher Socrates, who chose a hemlock drink as his preferred means of death—most sources say that he drank it mixed with water or as a tea….”

Continue reading at Slate.com.

Now anyone can access all of Greek and Latin literature–in English, too!

Thanks to John Alcorn of Italian Studies here at Trinity for bringing this wonderful news to my attention:

“WHEN JAMES LOEB designed his soon-to-be-launched series of Greek and Roman texts at the turn of the twentieth century, he envisioned the production of volumes that could easily fit in readers’ coat pockets. A century later, that compact format is still one of the collection’s hallmarks. Beginning in September, however, the iconic books will be far handier than Loeb had hoped: users of the Loeb Classical Library (LCL) will have the entire collection at their fingertips. After five years of dedicated work on the part of the library’s trustees andHarvard University Press (HUP), which has overseen LCL since its creator’s death in 1933, the more than 520 volumes of literature that make up the series will be accessible online. Besides allowing users to browse the digitized volumes, which retain the unique side-by-side view of the original text and its English translation, the Digital Loeb Classical Library will enable readers to search for words and phrases across the entire corpus, to annotate content, to share notes and reading lists with others, and to create their own libraries using personal workspaces…”

Jon Stewart solves the IRS problem with…Homeric oral tradition

In the first segment of tonight’s episode of The Daily Show (6/24/14), Jon Stewart covered the ongoing House investigation of whether the IRS inappropriately targeted certain political associations. A major obstacle: the emails that the House committee is seeking were only preserved for six months before deletion. What does it take to preserve information, Stewart asked. Microfiche? Stone tablets? Or…the process of oral transmission scholars believe was used to preserve the Homeric epics for centuries?

Sophoclean tragedy helps veterans grapple with PTSD

On today’s “All Things Considered” Quail Lawrence reported on a traveling production of Sophocles’ tragedy Philoctetes, a classic portrayal of the PTSD that plagues veterans not only today, but in antiquity as well. Peter Meineck, artistic director of the Aquila Theater Company, has staged the production with a cast consisting mostly of veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He will deliver the annual Moore Lecture for the Department of Classics at Trinity this coming fall.

In 2008, Bryan Doerries organized a similar production, The Philoctetes Project, which offered staged readings of the same play to help veterans work through their experiences.

The science of spycraft, starting from Herodotus

On today’s broadcast of NPR’s “Science Friday”, Professor Kristie Macrakis of the Georgia Institute of Technology discussed her new book Prisoners, Lovers & Spies: The Story of Invisible Ink from Herodotus to Al-Qaeda. The interview led off with a discussion of the use of lemon juice as invisible ink, which dates back to classical antiquity!

For more on the broadcast and Prof. Macrakis’ book, visit the “Science Friday” page.

 

Another modern-day Pygmalion story: this week’s Grimm

Last week in my seminar on Ovid’s Metamorphoses in translation, we looked at adaptations of the Pygmalion episode in contemporary film and television. Examples, which we derived from Paula James’ book on modern-day Pygmalions, ranged from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn; to “make-over” movies like Pretty Woman and She’s All That; and engineered-woman dramas, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “I Was Made for You” (Episode 5.15), which has been the subject of a series of essays on the Open University (UK) iTunes site.

This week, add another interpretation to the file: an episode of NBC’s drama Grimm titled “My Fair Wesen”, which features interlocking plots: Nick (the titular Grimm) tries to make Theresa Rubel (aka Trubel) into a properly trained Grimm like himself, while a “family” of criminal Wesen attempt to make the scruffy runaway over as one of a cohort of high-end shoplifters (it’s creepier than it sounds).

grimm classics blog