cloudy symbols of a high romance

Just finished watching channel 4’s documentary Richard III: The New Evidence, and it was absolutely fascinating.  What I found most interesting was the section where they found a young man with the same degree of scoliosis Richard had (he was even a re-enactor at Bosworth!) and decided to find out the extent to which he was capable of wearing armour, wielding a sword, riding a horse, leading a cavalry charge etc.  And he could do all of those things — if anything, with a modern saddle he kept slumping to the side and found it hard to sit up straight, but a medieval saddle, which has really high pommels front and back, kept him secured in place.  The same with the armour - ordinarily much of the weight of it sits on the waist, but his scoliosis meant he didn’t have much of a gap between his ribs and his hips.  They thought about putting the weight on the shoulders, but that would only have strained the back further, so they got around it by having a very close-fitting back plate that he could brace himself against.  Fully armoured, you couldn’t tell that he had scoliosis (or barely), nor that he was slight.

Where the scoliosis did trouble him, however, was his lung capacity, meaning that hand-to-hand combat would have tired him more easily.  The scientists and historians in the show thought that might have influenced Richard’s decision to charge at Henry at Bosworth - in the saddle he would have been considerably less vulnerable.  You always think of biology being destiny in the case of e.g. Anne Boleyn, but it’s strange to think of it also being the case here.

The bones also revealed quite a lot about his physical condition before the battle - that he would have suffered with osteo-arthritis in his spine and hence constant back pain (you can see it in the lines etched around his eyes and mouth in the portraits. OH DICKON D:), and that he had roundworm and hence could have had symptoms including fever, asthma (what would that have been like for someone whose lungs are already impaired?!), nausea/vomiting or diarrhoea. 

Plus the bones showed that his diet became considerably richer in the years after he became king, with far more in the way of delicacies and rare meats (e.g. wildfowl and freshwater fish) on his table compared to his time as Duke of Gloucester, and that each day he was drinking a whole bottle’s worth more of wine than he had used to.  The people on the show brought up Edward IV and essentially made the point that all Plantagenets are sensuous dissolute failtastic wrecks, but (while I can understand why they didn’t say this on the show, as psychological speculation is not science) there’s also the considerable emotional pressure he was under, the deaths of his wife and son not least.  To me it makes sense that he might try to sublimate that in food/drink.

It’s amazing what we can learn - and I’m really keen to see all of this reflected in historical fiction about Richard, as so much of it up to now has dismissed the idea that he might have had spinal problems as ‘Tudor propaganda’.  Particularly in portrayals of his younger years, when he would have been learning how to fight and the scoliosis would have been coming on — I’d like to see him realising that it doesn’t impede him as a horseman (not least as the countryside around Middleham is famous for its horses—they were bred at Jervaulx Abbey), and what medieval reactions to it would have been.  I don’t need to know what, if anything, the doctors hired by his family/Warwick to cure it would have done to him though — I’m very squeamish and I’m quite sure all medieval medicine was absolutely horrifying!

"When her kiss transforms the Beast, she is furious. “You should have warned me! Here I was smitten by an exceptional being, and all of a sudden, my fiance becomes an ordinary distinguished young man!”"

the 1909 play Beauty and the Beast:  Fantasy in Two Acts by Fernand Noziere, the very first published version of the story where the Beauty is disappointed when the Beast transforms into a human at the end.

(via poniatowskaja)

Source: corseque

Question from Anonymous

Man, I actually feel compelled to look up whoever this Alcibiades dude is, you're so into him.

aporeticelenchus:

aporeticelenchus:

VICTORY

MY CUNNING PLAN HAS WORKED

(I probably have an Alcibiades intro post lying around somewhere, let me go check…)

To my deep distress I do not have an Alcibiades intro post lying around (besides the Mean Girls one, which though 100% accurate is perhaps not the most informative), and sadly I’m really busy tonight and don’t have the time for a proper introduction to the dick-smashing, flute-snubbing, spouse-seducing, silverware-stealing, asshole traitor golden-boy rockstar general of 5th Century Athens.

Here are the reeaaallllly basic facts. Alcibiades was raised by Pericles, the most famous politician of classical Athens, which made him obscenely wealthy and well-connected. He was also drop-dead, no-one-can-shut-up-about-it, historians-hundreds-of-years-later-are-still-gossiping-about-it, gorgeous. Unfortunately he also had a terrible temper and a reputation for bad YOLO-esque decisions (go figure).

He came of age during the Peloponnesian War and um, may or may not have sabotaged peace treaties between Athens and Sparta in order to keep the war going so he could win personal honor and glory, depending on whom you ask (tbh it’s plausible). He turned out to be both a wonderfully charismatic orator (despite his sharp tongue and cutesy lisp) and, more importantly, either a fantastically skilled or fantastically lucky (or both?) general, because he basically never lost a battle. As you can imagine, this made him a Person Worth Paying Attention To during the war. To cut a very long story short though, his political enemies accused him of…desecrating religious statues (desecrating is the polite locution usually used instead of “chopping the dicks off of” which I KID YOU NOT WAS THE ACTUAL CHARGE).

Alcibiades is found guilty and given the death sentence, so he flees Athens and moves to Sparta, where he promptly starts winning every battle for them and encouraging revolt among Athenian territories(hey Athens, WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS GOING TO HAPPEN?). Things are going great! Uuuuuuuntil Alcibiades knocks up the queen of Sparta. So he gets back to the fleeing and conquering and sleeping with people he shouldn’t (LIKE THE PERSIAN SATRAP’S BOYFRIEND WOW GREAT THINKING ALCIBIADES) and gets invited back to Athens in desperation and then kicked out AGAIN and basically he managed to be on like three different sides of the Peloponnesian War and got a reputation for being a super successful but not particularly principled general AND IT’S THE GREATEST.

The thing he’s know for besides the backstabbing and battle-winning and royal wife/boyfriend seducing is for being Socrates’ lover. Yes, that Socrates. Alcibiades was allegedly head-over heels for Socrates, which deeply baffled both the Athenian populace and generations of historians since (Alcibiades: hot, rich, ambitious, ruthless politician-in-training. Socrates: ugly weirdo who hates politics and spends his days wandering around the streets asking obnoxious questions about morality). Somehow, against all odds, these two jerks dated, and friends, it was beautiful. Disastrous, but beautiful. This means that Alcibiades turns up somewhat frequently in writings about Socrates, particularly in the Platonic corpus (despite the fact that I’m pretty sure Plato hated his guts).

Seriously though this is not even scratching the surface of his amazing disaster life. I don’t understand why this guy isn’t more talked about among classicists and philosophers and I’m doing my best to personally remedy this tragic oversight.

Source: aporeticelenchus

let’s talk about CATULLAN ELISIONS though

vivamus, mea Lesbia-atque-amemus

surely, when you say it like that, the ‘atque’ gets swallowed, so the line is nothing but living, loving and Lesbia; so that Lesbia and love are inseparable.

nox est perpetua-una dormienda

I just love the way that turns into perpetuuuuna; it sounds so cute and stresses that it’s a truly endless sleep.

I can never get enough of how clever and subtle Catullus is, and just how much there is to discover in what seems like such simple and heartfelt poetry.  Not to mention how beautiful spoken Latin is; I love how it looks so stern written down, and in the mouth it turns into something liquid and musical and sparkling and clearly the ancestor of Italian.

why everyone needs to read The Venus Throw

- CATULLUS. IS. ABSOLUTELY. PERF.  Sharp-tongued and sassy and vulnerable and desperately in love even if he doesn’t want to be.  I loved how much Saylor captured the flavour of the poems in Catullus’s speech; the vigour and salt and insight and sheer delight in language.

- The entire book is pretty much Steven Saylor going OH YES I WENT THERE.  A case in point: Catullus/Caelius is canon!  Catullus says he loved both him and Clodia - “the glittering Venus and the petulant Adonis” - and was heartbroken when they turned to each other. (& when Caelius sees him again after Catullus returns from Bithynia, a ‘lightning bolt of emotion’ crosses his face, before he summons up a mask.  ohhhhhhh those two my heart.)

- Clodia discusses her lovers’ performance with her brother I can’t. (apparently Catullus’s silver tongue doesn’t serve him so well in bed if you know what I mean.)

- In fact the relationship between Clodia and Clodius is carefully kept just the right side of ambiguous; they are closer than would be usual, and there’s plenty of gossip (including that they had threesomes with Caelius!), but there’s also a lot of emphasis put on how losing their father so young meant they had to rely on each other, and you could just as easily conclude that they’re the victims of malicious slander as you could that they’re fucking. (they’re totally fucking though.)

- Clodius is surprisingly likeable; normally I think he’s a dick who got what he deserved, and here — he’s still reckless and irresponsible and selfish and irritating, but has an odd sort of charm.  Also Clodia is lovely; I think I’d like her to be more obviously not someone you should cross, but I see what the portrayal is going for.  Like Venus, she’s beautiful and sweet and seductive and enticing, and that’s the side she wants to show to Gordianus, not the vengeful fury.

And I haven’t even got to the trial scene yet - bring on the Pro Caelio! :D  Other portrayals have got a lot to live up to. (though I’m really excited to see what Benita Kane Jaro does with them, not least as Caelius is her viewpoint character whereas here he only makes cameos.)

by purple death I’m seized and fate supreme

poniatowskaja:

camelionpoet:

I knew Gore Vidal’s ‘Julian’ would be sad, but I never realised it would be so heartbreaking.

Part of it is just how much I loved his Julian - this naive, heartfelt, talkative, romantic, exuberant, bookish, thoughtful, energetic dork. His relationship with Helena was especially fascinating, because so often arranged marriages in fiction are polarised into either working well or really, really not, and here……they clearly didn’t love each other, and would never have chosen each other normally, and yet there were moments where you could see a potential for at least partnership, and maybe even friendship, between them.  I was particularly touched by her wishing they had been closer in age, and by her death scene, where Julian tells Oribasius he doesn’t know how to feel.  (though I feel like there’s something of sublimated grief in its being followed by his dedicating his chastity to Cybele, and maybe even the moment where he thinks that Faustina is the Princess, not the Augusta.  I did really like how the death of his first child was handled, because Robert Browning in his biography of Julian makes a point of how cold his lack of reaction is, whereas here it’s acknowledged that he learned of the child’s existence and its death in pretty much the same moment, making it harder to sincerely grieve.  Plus I feel like there’s something very deliberate and pointed in his focusing on the troops marching in Pyrrhic measure, a careful non-reaction when normally he says and feels so much about everything.) 

He’s made more lovable by just how much those people who get him care for him — I found Priscus difficult to like throughout much of the book (mostly due to his cynicism and misogyny), much as some of his bitchy asides were absolute gold, yet I was moved by his berating himself for having been unable to express his affection at Julian’s deathbed and talking about Plato instead.  It was Libanius who truly broke me, though - the part where he says he was enchanted by Julian, and all of the ending, especially the sincerity of his letter to Theodosius and his encounter with John Chrysostom, where Chrysostom says he saw Julian in the Forum of Antioch leaving for Persia, and Julian smiled at him and he thought this man is a saint, why do we hate him? and Libanius starts weeping.

What I like best, though, is how gently and sincerely it handles Julian’s beliefs, with a depth you wouldn’t see in many historical novels nowadays.  He’s not a prig or a fanatic.  There is something unutterably beautiful about the classical pantheon - I feel the pull even reading the poetry of that time, and how much more would you feel it being steeped in philosophy, knowing that it informed everything you love, knowing how close by it was, and being able to sense some sort of falling away from the heights of Roman culture to now; some indefinable, inexplicable decline?  I’ve always judged his attempt to restore paganism as ‘tragically misguided’, and now I feel embarrassed at coming to such a snap conclusion (even though I don’t think Christianity had anything to do with the fall of Rome).

(also the Eleusinian mysteries.  I’ve only ever read about what exactly they entailed, so far as we know, in one other book - it was a terrible mystery novel set in ancient Greece - and somehow it’s stayed with me, somehow it feels meaningful.)

However what I think Christianity has to offer, on the other hand, is forgiveness and charity.  While I don’t know very much about what classical philosophy has to say on how to lead a good life, Roman society in the late Republic/early Empire was dog-eat-dog, and surely there was something wonderfully radical in saying blessed are the meek, the persecuted, the merciful, the reviled; that strongest isn’t always best.  In the book the Christians Julian sees are all very worldly, dedicated to the letter rather than the spirit of the law, and it’s easy to see how for him it’s just another part of the oppressive machinery of the court, and why he insists that Hellenic priests must lead a pure life.  But thinking objectively about why he failed, you have to wonder exactly what the appeal of Christianity was.

Finally, the last section of the book was painful - it’s always difficult to read novels about someone you’ve come to love, knowing when they will die and watching the clock inevitably tick down.  I was caught between wanting to stop and wanting to read faster so it would be over with. (and oh, he died in Persia at age 32, leaving his succession to the best, just like Alexander.  I keep a biography of Alexander at my bedside; it is finished with living it.  I’m also reading Robin Lane Fox’s book about Alexander at the moment, and much as I knew that all Romans heading east invoked him, cf. Pompey, I hadn’t realised the eerie synergy.)

I think for me it would be four stars rather than five, just because there were moments where I found myself sliding off it, and reading without really taking in, but what a beautiful, rich book.  Are there any good non-fiction treatments of Julian?  I think I might go with Adrian Murdoch’s The Last Pagan, but do let me know if there are any others I should be reading. (would love Shaun Tougher’s, but it’s a bit expensive; ditto Julian’s Gods, which looks fab; and apparently Bowersock has really got it in for him.  Browning I’ve already mentioned - from a skim it seems elegant but I don’t think he’s a fan.)

And finally, where in the Iliad does my title come from?  My copy is on Kindle so I can’t flick, and googling only turns up Julian’s quoting it.

It’s not the exact line, but book 20 has purple death falling over the eyes of Echeclus, son of Agenor, and the force of destiny. But there is no mention of seizing as it’s in the description, not speech (also in some translations it’s red because the word used referred to the die). 

Thank you very much indeed - that’s some excellent Homeric knowledge! :D  I just looked it up, and my copy (the Robert Fagles translation) says:

Echeclus son of Agenor next -

Achilles split his head at the brow with hilted sword

so the whole blade ran hot with blood, and red

death came plunging down his eyes, and the strong force

of fate.

So I imagine Julian is referring to the fact that most emperors couldn’t expect to live long.  But I do love just how well most educated Romans knew their Homer and Virgil; it’s easy to forget that it was cultural currency for them, when it’s somewhat rarefied for us.  It was much the same when I was reading Pliny the Younger’s letters earlier in the year - there’s one where he agrees not to be part of the prosecution when the people of some province take their former governor to court, but says that out of respect for everything he’d done for those people in the past he can’t be part of the defence either, and it could not possibly have crammed in any more Homeric references if it had tried. (e.g. it starts by saying that like Zeus in response to Achilles he can grant part of the request and must deny the other part, and then goes on about Zeus nodding to show his agreement.)  Pliny is a bit of a dork anyway (though in the most precious way) but I find that facility with literary references so cute.

Source: camelionpoet
crave the knife that cut me :: a catullus/clodia fanmix (x)
"but the wound still bleeds, and I still crave the knife that cut me" (Steven Saylor, The Venus Throw)
lady gaga - beautiful, dirty, richwe do the dance right, we have got it madelike ice-cream topped with honeybut we got no moneydaddy I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry yeah, we just like to party, like to party yeahbang bang, we’re beautiful and dirty richbang bang, we’re beautiful and dirty richbat for lashes - laurayou say that you’re stuck in a pale blue dreamand your tears feel hot on my bedsheetsdrape your arms around me and softly saycan we dance upon the tables againyou’re the train that crashed my heartyou’re the glitter in the darkooh laura, you’re more than a superstaryou’ll be famous for longer than themyour name is tattooed on every boy’s skinooh laura, you’re more than a superstaremmy the great - paper forest (in the afterglow of rapture)it’s like these days i have to write down almost every thought i’ve heldso scared i am becoming of forgetting how it feltand these fears they will unravel me one daybut still i am afraidlaura marling - little love caster i wish that i had, i wish that i had’ve told you thenwhere my kindness endsi will take you home, i will take you home and thenour lovespell will endyou are new to meyou are new to meand i can’t seem to say"i’d like you to stay"adele - melt my heart to stoneeach and every time i turn around to leavei feel my heart begin to burst and bleedso desperately i try to link it with my headbut instead i fall back to my kneesas you tear your way right through mei forgive you once againwithout me knowingyou’ve burnt my heart to stoneand i hear your words that i made upyou say my name like there could be an usi best tidy up my head i’m the only one in lovei’m the only one in lovethe national - anyone’s ghostsay you stayed at homealone with the flufind out from friendsthat wasn’t truego out at night with your headphones on, againand walk through the manhattan valleys of the deaddidn’t want to be your ghostdidn’t want to be anyone’s ghostdidn’t want to be your ghostdidn’t want to be anyone’s ghostbut i don’t want anybody elsei don’t want anybody else

crave the knife that cut me :: a catullus/clodia fanmix (x)

"but the wound still bleeds, and I still crave the knife that cut me" (Steven Saylor, The Venus Throw)

lady gaga - beautiful, dirty, rich
we do the dance right, we have got it made
like ice-cream topped with honey
but we got no money
daddy I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry yeah,
we just like to party, like to party yeah
bang bang, we’re beautiful and dirty rich
bang bang, we’re beautiful and dirty rich

bat for lashes - laura
you say that you’re stuck in a pale blue dream
and your tears feel hot on my bedsheets
drape your arms around me and softly say
can we dance upon the tables again
you’re the train that crashed my heart
you’re the glitter in the dark
ooh laura, you’re more than a superstar
you’ll be famous for longer than them
your name is tattooed on every boy’s skin
ooh laura, you’re more than a superstar

emmy the great - paper forest (in the afterglow of rapture)
it’s like these days i have to write down almost every thought i’ve held
so scared i am becoming of forgetting how it felt
and these fears they will unravel me one day
but still i am afraid

laura marling - little love caster
i wish that i had, i wish that i had’ve told you then
where my kindness ends
i will take you home, i will take you home and then
our lovespell will end
you are new to me
you are new to me
and i can’t seem to say
"i’d like you to stay"

adele - melt my heart to stone
each and every time i turn around to leave
i feel my heart begin to burst and bleed
so desperately i try to link it with my head
but instead i fall back to my knees
as you tear your way right through me
i forgive you once again
without me knowing
you’ve burnt my heart to stone
and i hear your words that i made up
you say my name like there could be an us
i best tidy up my head i’m the only one in love
i’m the only one in love

the national - anyone’s ghost
say you stayed at home
alone with the flu
find out from friends
that wasn’t true
go out at night with your headphones on, again
and walk through the manhattan valleys of the dead
didn’t want to be your ghost
didn’t want to be anyone’s ghost
didn’t want to be your ghost
didn’t want to be anyone’s ghost
but i don’t want anybody else
i don’t want anybody else

by purple death I’m seized and fate supreme

I knew Gore Vidal’s ‘Julian’ would be sad, but I never realised it would be so heartbreaking.

Part of it is just how much I loved his Julian - this naive, heartfelt, talkative, romantic, exuberant, bookish, thoughtful, energetic dork. His relationship with Helena was especially fascinating, because so often arranged marriages in fiction are polarised into either working well or really, really not, and here……they clearly didn’t love each other, and would never have chosen each other normally, and yet there were moments where you could see a potential for at least partnership, and maybe even friendship, between them.  I was particularly touched by her wishing they had been closer in age, and by her death scene, where Julian tells Oribasius he doesn’t know how to feel.  (though I feel like there’s something of sublimated grief in its being followed by his dedicating his chastity to Cybele, and maybe even the moment where he thinks that Faustina is the Princess, not the Augusta.  I did really like how the death of his first child was handled, because Robert Browning in his biography of Julian makes a point of how cold his lack of reaction is, whereas here it’s acknowledged that he learned of the child’s existence and its death in pretty much the same moment, making it harder to sincerely grieve.  Plus I feel like there’s something very deliberate and pointed in his focusing on the troops marching in Pyrrhic measure, a careful non-reaction when normally he says and feels so much about everything.) 

He’s made more lovable by just how much those people who get him care for him — I found Priscus difficult to like throughout much of the book (mostly due to his cynicism and misogyny), much as some of his bitchy asides were absolute gold, yet I was moved by his berating himself for having been unable to express his affection at Julian’s deathbed and talking about Plato instead.  It was Libanius who truly broke me, though - the part where he says he was enchanted by Julian, and all of the ending, especially the sincerity of his letter to Theodosius and his encounter with John Chrysostom, where Chrysostom says he saw Julian in the Forum of Antioch leaving for Persia, and Julian smiled at him and he thought this man is a saint, why do we hate him? and Libanius starts weeping.

What I like best, though, is how gently and sincerely it handles Julian’s beliefs, with a depth you wouldn’t see in many historical novels nowadays.  He’s not a prig or a fanatic.  There is something unutterably beautiful about the classical pantheon - I feel the pull even reading the poetry of that time, and how much more would you feel it being steeped in philosophy, knowing that it informed everything you love, knowing how close by it was, and being able to sense some sort of falling away from the heights of Roman culture to now; some indefinable, inexplicable decline?  I’ve always judged his attempt to restore paganism as ‘tragically misguided’, and now I feel embarrassed at coming to such a snap conclusion (even though I don’t think Christianity had anything to do with the fall of Rome).

(also the Eleusinian mysteries.  I’ve only ever read about what exactly they entailed, so far as we know, in one other book - it was a terrible mystery novel set in ancient Greece - and somehow it’s stayed with me, somehow it feels meaningful.)

However what I think Christianity has to offer, on the other hand, is forgiveness and charity.  While I don’t know very much about what classical philosophy has to say on how to lead a good life, Roman society in the late Republic/early Empire was dog-eat-dog, and surely there was something wonderfully radical in saying blessed are the meek, the persecuted, the merciful, the reviled; that strongest isn’t always best.  In the book the Christians Julian sees are all very worldly, dedicated to the letter rather than the spirit of the law, and it’s easy to see how for him it’s just another part of the oppressive machinery of the court, and why he insists that Hellenic priests must lead a pure life.  But thinking objectively about why he failed, you have to wonder exactly what the appeal of Christianity was.

Finally, the last section of the book was painful - it’s always difficult to read novels about someone you’ve come to love, knowing when they will die and watching the clock inevitably tick down.  I was caught between wanting to stop and wanting to read faster so it would be over with. (and oh, he died in Persia at age 32, leaving his succession to the best, just like Alexander.  I keep a biography of Alexander at my bedside; it is finished with living it.  I’m also reading Robin Lane Fox’s book about Alexander at the moment, and much as I knew that all Romans heading east invoked him, cf. Pompey, I hadn’t realised the eerie synergy.)

I think for me it would be four stars rather than five, just because there were moments where I found myself sliding off it, and reading without really taking in, but what a beautiful, rich book.  Are there any good non-fiction treatments of Julian?  I think I might go with Adrian Murdoch’s The Last Pagan, but do let me know if there are any others I should be reading. (would love Shaun Tougher’s, but it’s a bit expensive; ditto Julian’s Gods, which looks fab; and apparently Bowersock has really got it in for him.  Browning I’ve already mentioned - from a skim it seems elegant but I don’t think he’s a fan.)

And finally, where in the Iliad does my title come from?  My copy is on Kindle so I can’t flick, and googling only turns up Julian’s quoting it.