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Posts Tagged ‘Roman history

“Can we all just get along?”…

 

Barcelona

Is your subway car packed like sardines? Does your city feel like a shopping mall? Is your community, well, not all it could be? Richard Sennett [see here] has some answers.

Sennett is a designer-scholar, eminent in both the built-design world and academia. Currently the Centennial Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, he’s advised the United Nations on urban issues for decades and worked as planner in New York, Washington, D.C., Delhi, and Beijing. Sennett’s writing often revolves around the interplay of work, strangers, and cooperation, but he always returns to cities: how to plan them, adapt them, and live in them. Doing that well—as either a planner or a resident—means celebrating complexity and accepting diversity: “Experience in a city, as in the bedroom or on the battlefield, is rarely seamless, it is much more often full of contradictions and jagged edges,” he writes in his new book, Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City.

The book offers microhistories of Barcelona and Paris, exegeses of Heidegger and Arendt, and tours of Medellín and Songdo. But through it all, Sennett is asking a pretty simple and pressing question: How do we live together now? How does cosmopolitanism survive in an age of both populism and urbanization—and what can we do in our streets, parks, and cities to help?…

A fascinating interview with Sennett: “Can cosmopolitanism survive in an age of populism and urbanization?

* Rodney King

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As we celebrate complexity and diversity, we might send thoroughly-researched birthday greetings to Edward Gibbon; he was born on this date in 1737.  A historian, writer and Member of Parliament, he is best remembered for his monumental (and instructively cautionary) The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788 and known for the quality and irony of its prose, its use of primary sources, and its open criticism of organized religion.

Portrait of Edward Gibbon by Sir Joshua Reynolds

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“Damn everything but the circus!”*…

 

250 years ago [this month], on an abandoned patch of land near London’s Waterloo, showman, entrepreneur and equestrian rider Philip Astley drew out a circle in the ground and filled it with astounding physical acts. This spectacle was the world’s very first circus. It was 1768, a time of revolutions, and poet William Blake could have been one of Astley’s first customers. But the real revolution Astley created was a whole new art form. His 42 foot ring, the dazzling combination of jugglers, acrobats, clowns, strong men, bareback riders… Every circus, anywhere, began at this moment in 1768.

250 years later, circus is a worldwide phenomenon. There’s barely an art form that isn’t touched by it – from Sir Peter Blake’s circus collages to cutting edge performance art. Every schoolchild can tell you what a circus is. Many of us would secretly like to run away and join one…

Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, what you are about to see will thrill you. It will chill you. It will keep you on the edge of your seat: “Circus 250.”

See also.

* e e cummings

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As we bow to the Big Top, we might recall that it was on this date in 1145 that Pope Lucius II gifted the Circus Maximus to Rome’s wealthiest families.  It was an attempt to strengthen his alliance with the Guelfs and their faction in opposition to the Roman Senate and the emerging Roman Commune (all part of a larger conflict between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor).

Pope Lucius II

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Written by LW

January 31, 2018 at 1:01 am

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”*…

 

In July, Harvard scientists used a gene-editing technology first developed in 2013 to programme bacteria to do something astounding: play back an animation of a galloping horse.

The GIF animation was generated from an iconic image series created in 1878 by the motion-picture pioneer Eadweard Muybridge.

The breakthrough involved the scientists translating image pixels into genetic code, which they fed to the cells one frame at a time. The bacteria incorporated and reproduced the sequence in their DNA, demonstrating the possibility of using living cells as information recording and storage devices.

The tech world was, predictably, agog. But beyond the hype, scientists’ goal of applying the technique to human cells has deep philosophical implications.

A future in which our bodies are used as hard drives could, in effect, change the entire way we conceive of human history and perceive life.

Today, it is impossible to imagine a world without history: from the vast array of chronicles housed in the world’s libraries to the countless traces of the past accumulating in the data farms that support the digital cloud, history surrounds us.

But it wasn’t always this way. Starting around 4000 BCE, the rise and spread of city-states, from Mesopotamia to Ancient Greece, radically changed the relationship between humans and our physical world…

How history is– and may in the future be– “made,” and what that might mean: “Will whoever controls gene editing control historical memory?

* Winston Churchill

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As we think in time, we might recall that it was on this date in 44 BCE that Cicero delivered the first of his oratorical attacks, Philippicae,  on Mark Antony. He went on to make 14 of them over the next several months. Modeled on Demosthenes‘ Philippic (Ad Atticus, 2.1.3, leveled by the Greek orator against Philip of Macedon), the Philippicae attacked Antony both for his leadership in Julius Caesar’s assassination and for other offenses against the realm.  While Cicero had been sympathetic with the conspirators who acted on the Ides of March, he favored Julius’ adopted son and heir, Octavian as the next leader.

While Octavian ultimately prevailed, Cicero’s effort to force out Antony failed.  Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus formed a Triumvirate to rule; and Cicero was “proscribed”– made an enemy of the state.  He fled, but was captured and ultimately beheaded. Antony requested that the hands that wrote the Philippics also be removed; his head and hands were publicly displayed in the Roman Forum to discourage any who would oppose the new Triumvirate.

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Written by LW

September 2, 2017 at 8:28 am

“You don’t get explanations in real life. You just get moments that are absolutely, utterly, inexplicably odd”*…

 

A warning sign in Coober Pedy, a town in northern South Australia

There are over five million articles in the English Wikipedia… These articles are verifiable, valuable contributions to the encyclopedia, but are a bit odd, whimsical, or something you would not expect to find in Encyclopædia Britannica.

Wikipedia: unusual articles

* Neil Gaiman

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As we wonder at the weird, we might send dissolute birthday greetings to the poster boy for oddity and excess, Caligula; he was born on this date in 12 CE.  The third Roman Emperor (from from 37 to 41 CE), Caligula (“Little Boots”) is generally agreed to have been a temperate ruler through the first six months of his reign. His excesses after that– cruelty, extravagance, sexual perversity– are “known” to us via sources increasingly called into question.  Still, historians agree that Caligula did work hard to increase the unconstrained personal power of the emperor at the expense of the countervailing Principate; and he oversaw the construction of notoriously luxurious dwellings for himself.

In 41 CE, members of the Roman Senate and of Caligula’s household attempted a coup to restore the Republic.  They enlisted the Praetorian Guard, who killed Caligula– the first Roman Emperor to be assassinated (Julius Caesar was assassinated, but was Dictator, not Emperor).  In the event, the Praetorians thwarted the Republican dream by appointing (and supporting) Caligula’s uncle Claudius the next Emperor.

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Written by LW

August 31, 2016 at 1:01 am

“And worse I may be yet: the worst is not/ So long as we can say ‘This is the worst’.”*…

 

Terror attacks, Zika, Brexit, police shootings, Syria, Trump, record-hot temperatures, the losses of Prince and David Bowie—this has been one unrelenting turn around the calendar. Have terrifying events truly piled up on each other in 2016, in a way they didn’t in any other year in human history? Or is it impossible to judge the awfulness of a year while it’s still unfolding? Do we just notice negative happenings more these days because of our high levels of connectivity? And what does “worst year” even mean—“worst year” for Americans, for humanity, for the planet?…

In an effort to understand how to determine a “worst year” in history, Rebecca Onion asked ten historians to nominate their own “worst years” and to reflect on what constitutes a “really bad year.” Explore the bottom of the barrel at “Is 2016 the Worst Year in History?

* Shakespeare, King Lear

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As we hold our heads in our hands, we might spare a thought for Mark Antony; on this date in 30 BC– pretty surely his worst year ever– he won a minor victory over the forces of Octavian (Augustus) in the Battle of Alexandria.  But most of Antony’s army, cowed by the Roman forces, subsequently deserted, leading to his suicide.

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Written by LW

July 31, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The key of the success of Studio 54 is that it’s a dictatorship at the door and a democracy on the dance floor”*…

 

In 1977, at the height of the disco craze, a club opened at 254 West 54th Street in New York City. Studio 54 was—and, arguably, remains—the world’s most renowned and legendary disco. Regularly attended by celebrities such as Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger, Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, Michael Jackson, Calvin Klein, Elton John, John Travolta, Brooke Shields and Tina Turner, the club fostered an atmosphere of unadulterated hedonism for New York’s art and fashion set. Hasse Persson [c.f., here] and his camera were frequent club guests from 1977–80. The images he photographed there have become legendary, capturing the club’s famed revelers, dancers in costume and general, drunken exhilaration—and yet, incredibly, Studio 54 (published by Max Ström) marks the first time in history that they have seen publication. Almost 35 years after the club’s unceremonious and sudden closure, this beautiful hardback volume superbly documents the zeitgeist…

More at “Never Before Published Photos of Studio 54” and at Persson’s own site.

* Andy Warhol (seen, holding his camera, at the bottom of the photo above)

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As we look for the “Hot Stuff,” we might recall that it was on this date in 37 CE that the Roman Senate conferred the Principate on Caligula.  His great-uncle Tiberius had left the office jointly to his grandson, Gemellus, and to Caligula; but Caligula had the will nullified on the grounds of Gemellus’ supposed insanity.

Caligula reigned until his assassination three-and-a-half years later by members of his own Praetorian Guard; the first two years of his tenure were marked by moderation– but accounts of his reign thereafter paint a portrait of extraordinary sybaritic excess and cruel, extravagant, and perverse tyranny…  leading many historians to suspect that Caligula succumbed in his last months to neurosyphilis.

A marble bust of Caligula restored to its original colors. (The colors were identified from particles trapped in the marble.)

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Written by LW

March 28, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”*…

 

As this interactive graphic from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reveals, the number of nuclear weapons in the world peaked in the late 80s.  But there are still roughly 10,000 nukes floating around the world, and in the hands of an increased number of countries…

Explore the Nuclear Notebook.

* J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoting the Bhagavad Gita as he recalled the Trinity Test (the first atomic bomb detonation)

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As we duck and cover, we might recall that today is the Ides of March.  An occasion in the Roman calendar for religious observances, it retains a certain notoriety as the date, in 44 BCE, of the assassination of Julius Caesar– becoming, thus, a turning point in Roman history… and the prompt for Shakespeare’s immortal warning (from a soothsayer to Caesar in Julius Caesar): “Beware the Ides of March.”

The Death of Caesar (1798) by Vincenzo Camuccini

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Written by LW

March 15, 2015 at 1:01 am

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