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Posts Tagged ‘classics

“Let us now praise famous men [and women], and our fathers [and mothers] that begat us”*…

 

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The classical scholar and tutor Miriam Griffin, who has died aged 82, played a crucial role in getting readers to appreciate the philosophical writing of the ancient Romans in their historical context, in particular that of Seneca, the Stoic philosopher and tutor to the emperor Nero.

Seneca’s works had generally been viewed either as the self-exculpation of a hypocrite, parading his aspirations to virtue while pocketing Nero’s largesse, or as an unreliable compilation of ideas from earlier (otherwise lost) Greek Stoics. Miriam’s intellectual biography, Seneca: A Philosopher in Politics (1992), made a case for thinking about Seneca’s writing in its specifically Roman social, intellectual and political context, illuminating the particular dilemmas with which Stoic ideas enabled him to grapple…

The scholar who rescued the philosophical reputation of Seneca (and Cicero), as she illuminated the often torrid world of Roman imperial politics: Miriam Griffin.

* from the Wisdom of Sirach (44:1), famously appropriated by james Agee as the title for his celebrated collaboration with photographer Walker Evans

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As we note that too often what’s past is present again, we might think of Seneca’s challenge as we recall that it was on this date in 1859 that Charles Blondin crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Twice.

On the morning of June 30, 1859, about 25,000 thrill-seekers arrived by train and steamer and dispersed on the American or Canadian side of the falls, the latter said to have the better view. Both banks grew “fairly black” with swarms of spectators, among them statesmen, judges, clerics, generals, members of Congress, capitalists, artists, newspaper editors, professors, debutantes, salesmen and hucksters. Vendors hawked everything from lemonade to whiskey, and Colcord gave tours to the press, explaining the logistics of what the Great Blondin was about to attempt.

A light rope, not even an inch thick, had been attached to one end of his hempen cable so it could be conveyed across the Niagara River. On the American side the cable was wound around the trunk of an oak tree in White’s Pleasure Grounds, but securing it on the Canadian side presented a problem. Blondin’s assistants feared that the light rope wouldn’t bear the weight of the cable as it was drawn up the gorge for anchorage in Canada, but the rope dancer, to the delight of his audience, executed a daring solution.

After tying another rope around his waist, he rappelled 200 feet on the small rope, attached the second rope to the end of the cable, and then blithely climbed back to Canadian ground and secured the cable to a rock. To prevent swaying, guy ropes ran from the cable at 20-foot intervals to posts on both banks, creating the effect of a massive spider web. Blondin could do nothing, however, about the inevitable sag in its center, approximately 50 feet of cable to which it was impossible to fasten guy ropes. At that spot, in the middle of his crossing, he would be only 190 feet above the gorge. “There were hundreds of people examining the rope,” reported one witness, “and, with scarcely an exception, they all declared the inability of M. Blondin to perform the feat, the incapacity of the rope to sustain him, and that he deserved to be dashed to atoms for his desperate fool-hardiness.”

Shortly before 5 p.m., Blondin took his position on the American side, dressed in pink tights bedecked with spangles. The lowering sun made him appear as if clothed in light. He wore fine leather shoes with soft soles and brandished a balancing pole made of ash, 26 feet long and weighing nearly 50 pounds. Slowly, calmly, he started to walk. “His gait,” one man noted, “was very like the walk of some barnyard cock.” Children clung to their mothers’ legs; women peeked from behind their parasols. Several onlookers fainted. About a third of the way across, Blondin shocked the crowd by sitting down on his cable and calling for the Maid of the Mist, the famed tourist vessel, to anchor momentarily beneath him. He cast down a line and hauled up a bottle of wine. He drank and started off again, breaking into a run after he passed the sagging center. While the band played “Home, Sweet Home,” Blondin reached Canada. One man helped pull him ashore and exclaimed, “I wouldn’t look at anything like that again for a million dollars.”

After 20 minutes of rest Blondin began the journey to the other side, this time with a Daguerreotype camera strapped to his back. He advanced 200 feet, affixed his balancing pole to the cable, untied his load, adjusted it in front of him and snapped a likeness of the crowd along the American side. Then he hoisted the camera back into place and continued on his way. The entire walk from bank to bank to bank took 23 minutes, and Blondin immediately announced an encore performance to take place on the Fourth of July…  [source]

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Blondin and his camera, as rendered in “Blondin: His Life and Performances.” [source]

Written by LW

June 30, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I got a little bored after a time. I mean, the road seemed to be awfully long.”*…

 

Explore– and enjoy: “14 classic works of literature hated by famous authors.”

* Aldous Huxley on On the Road

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As we devour the dish, we might send prolific birthday greetings to E. Phillips Oppenheim; he was born on this date in 1866.  

After leaving school at age 17 to help in his father’s leather business, Oppenheim wrote in his spare time. His first novel, Expiation (1886), and subsequent thrillers caught the fancy of a wealthy New York businessman who bought out the leather business at the turn of the century and made Oppenheim a high-salaried director. He was thus freed to devote the major part of his time to writing. The novels, volumes of short stories, and plays that followed, totaling more than 150, were peopled with sophisticated heroes, adventurous spies, and dashing noblemen. Among his well-known works are The Long Arm of Mannister (1910), The Moving Finger (1911), and The Great Impersonation (1920). [source]

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Written by LW

October 22, 2017 at 1:01 am

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”*…

 

A view for the 1950s…

Interviewing Governor Rockefeller recently on Station WMCA, Barry Gray, the discless jockey, felt the need to ask his guest a certain question. He also felt a clear obligation to put the inquiry in radio-televese, the semi-official language of men who promote conversation on the air. Though it is more or less required, this language is a flexible one, leaving a good deal to the user’s imagination. ‘Governor,’ Mr. Gray said, after pausing to review the possibilities of the patois, ‘how do you see your future in a Pennsylvania Avenue sense?’ I thought it was a splendid gambit. Another broadcaster might have said ‘How do you see yourself in the electoral-college picture?’ or ‘How do you project yourself Chief Executive-wise?’ The Gray formula had the special flavor, the colorful two-rings-from-the-bull’s-eye quality, that I have associated with the work of this interviewer ever since I began to follow it, several years ago. For the record, Governor Rockefeller replied, ‘I could be happier where I am.’ He might have meant Albany, he might have meant the WMCA studio. As you see, radio-televese is not only a limber language, it is contagious.

The salient characteristic of remarks made in radio-televese is that they never coincide exactly with primary meanings or accepted forms. For instance, Mr. Gray, a leader in the postwar development of the lingo, has a way of taking a trenchant thought or a strong locution and placing it somewhere to the right or left of where it would seem to belong. ‘Is this your first trip to the mainland? How do you feel about statehood?,’ I have heard him ask a guest from the Philippines on one of his shows (the program runs, at present, from 11:05 P.M. to 1 A.M.). On the topic of Puerto Ricans in New York, he has said, ‘How can we make these peo­ple welcome and not upset the décor of the city?’ …

Artie Shaw, a musician, in describing the art of another per­former to Mr. Gray, said, ‘He has a certain thing known as “presence” — when he’s onstage, you can see him.’ Another guest declared that the success of a mutual friend was ‘owing to a combination of luck and a combination of skill.’ ‘You can say that again,’ Mr. Gray agreed, and I believe that the guest did so, a little later. The same eloquence and the same off-centerism can be found today in the speech of a wide variety of radio and television regulars. ‘Parallels are odious,’ Marty Glickman, a sports announcer, has stated. ‘The matter has reached a semi-head,’ a senator — I couldn’t be sure which one-said at a recent televised Congressional hearing. ‘I hear you were shot down over the Netherlands while flying,’ a video reporter said to Senator Howard Cannon, a war veteran, on a Channel 2 program last winter. …

Perhaps the most startling aspect of radio-televese is its power to move freely in time, space, and syntax, transposing past and future, be­ginnings and endings, subjects and objects. This phase of the language has sometimes been called backward English, and sometimes, with a bow to the game of billiards, reverse English. Dorothy Kilgallen, a tele­vision panelist [above], was wallowing in the freedom of the language on the night she said, ‘It strikes me as funny, don’t you?’ So was Dizzy Dean when he said, ‘Don’t fail to miss tomorrow’s doubleheader.’ Tommy Loughran, a boxing announcer, was exploring the area of the displaced ego when he told his audience, ‘It won’t take him [the referee] long be­fore I think he should stop it.’ …

Ted Husing was on the threshold of outright mysticism when he reported, about a boxer who was cuffing his adversary smartly around, ‘There’s a lot more authority in Joe’s punches than perhaps he would like his opponent to suspect!’ It is in the time dimension, however, that radio-televese scores its most remarkable ef­fects. Dizzy Dean’s ‘The Yankees, as I told you later … ‘ gives the idea. The insecurity of man is demonstrated regularly on the air by phrases like ‘Texas, the former birthplace of President Eisenhower’ and ‘Mickey Mantle, a former native of Spavinaw, Oklahoma.’ I’m indebted to Dan Parker, sportswriter and philologist, for a particularly strong example of time adjustment from the sayings of Vic Marsillo, a boxing manager who occasionally speaks on radio and television: ‘Now, Jack, whaddya say we reminisce a little about tomorrow’s fight?’ These quotations show what can be done in the way of outguessing man’s greatest enemy, but I think that all of them are excelled by a line of Mr. Gray’s, spoken four or five years ago: ‘What will our future forefathers say?’

From John Lardner’s “Thoughts on Radio-Televese” in The 50s: The Story of a Decade, via the always-worthy Delanceyplace.com.

* George Orwell, 1984

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As we cover our ears, we might send transformative birthday greetings to Publius Ovidius Naso; he was born on this date in 43 BCE.  With his older contemporaries Virgil and Horace, Ovid was one of the three canonical poets of the Golden Age of Latin literature.   His poetry was much imitated in late antiquity and in the Middle Ages, and has had a tremendous influence on Western arts and culture; for example, his love elegies (Amores and Ars Amatoria) are the ur-model of love poetry.  But his impact was surely greatest with the Metamorphoses, an  epic poem in 15 books of hexameter that catalogues transformations in Greek and Roman mythology from the emergence of the cosmos to the deification of Julius Caesar; it remains a key source document of classical mythology– and a great read.

The first taste I had for books came to me from my pleasure in the fables of the Metamorphoses of Ovid. For at about seven or eight years of age I would steal away from any other pleasure to read them, inasmuch as this language was my mother tongue, and it was the easiest book I knew and the best suited by its content to my tender age.

– Montaigne

Ettore Ferrari’s 1887 statue commemorating Ovid

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Written by LW

March 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Happiness is not something ready made”*…

 

Hedonometer reading for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

A collaboration of data scientists at the University of Vermont and the Mitre Corporation, the Hedonometer was created to gauge happiness by assessing word use.  It was first applied to Twitter, as readers can see here.  More lately, it has been turned on the repository at Project Gutenberg, so that users can test the “happiness” of thousands of classic books… as above.  The chart in the top left shows happiness metrics through the whole of the book; the chart on the right shows a comparison of book sections, which one can select in the first chart.

As our friends at Flowing Data observe, “I wish I could say this meant something to me…”  Still, it makes one happy to know that they’re on the case.

* Dalai Lama

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As we search for word replacements codes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1977 that Hamida Djandoubi became the last person to be legally executed in France by guillotine.

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Written by LW

September 10, 2014 at 1:01 am

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