Daily Archives: June 22nd, 2008

Iris, Troy and other classical things

A while back, I became a member of the Classical Association of Victoria. I figured I should, since I go to a lot of their public lectures, and it’s not exactly expensive. As a bonus, members get a copy of Iris when it’s published – the CAV journal. I gather that this is something of a haphazard production, because everyone involved has full-time jobs and Iris isn’t it. Nonetheless, it gets produced, and I got my first copy on Friday (bent in half thanks to the postie shoving it through the little slit, instead of lifting the lid for the mailbox…).

Firstly, there’s an editorial, basically explaining why Iris was delayed and ruminating a little on the fate of Classics at various tertiary institutes (I hadn’t realised it resurrected itself at Monash; hurrah!). This is followed by a short intro to Jenny Webb, the new president of the CAV.

The first article – peer-reviewed and all – is “The Making of the Wooden Horse,” by Miriam Riverlea. It feels too short for its material, but is essentially looking at the treatment of the actual making of the horse at Troy, as the title suggests – how this is largely skimmed over by ancient sources, especially, and that there are variations on the theme. She suggests that like epic poetry, as part of the oral tradition, means a story is never told exactly the same way twice, the horse itself is constantly refashioned… at least, I think that’s what she meant. She finishes with a really cool look at two modern examples of the horse. The first is the horse in Troy, the building of which is shown in painstaking detail; and the object itself is now at Canakkale, the closest modern town to the suggested site of Troy (which she points out is hilarious itself – the Turks accepting a wooden horse from strangers… and she parallels this with the Chaser boys trying to get their wooden horse into various places, and it working everywhere – except the Turkish consulte.) The second example is a LEGO version, which some academic apparently finds ridiculous (no sons or brothers?): the creator took eight years to agree to posting the instructions, but now everyone can DIY….

The second peer-reviewed article is by John Whitehouse, who was my tutor way back when and to whom I owe a lot. This, I think, is a paper from his MA: it’s about the similarities between Thucydides and Tacitus, as “Historians of Disillusionment”: Tacitus disillusioned with the Roman Principate, Thucydides with war (after/during the Peloponnesian one). Interesting stuff, especially the question about how deliberately/consciously the parallels are in each from their predecessors.

I must admit to skipping the next article, by Jenny Webb: I’m just not up enough on archaeology to appreciate “Tracking Gender and Technology in Prehistory,” specifically on Cyprus in the Early Bronze Age. I did really enjoy the fourth article, though: called “‘Which of the Gods is this?’ Dionysus in the Homeric Hymns,” it does just that – tracks what the Hymns say about Dionysus (number 1, 7 and 26 if you’re curious) and examine how he is justified as being an Olympian god, despite having a mortal mother (generally this makes you a demigod, and mortal). Very cool – but I was a bit sad it was just a survey of the hymns, and didn’t actually make persuasive arguments about the repercussions on Dionysian worship, for example, or on the origins of Dionysian myth.

I also skipped KO Chong-Gossard’s “On Teaching Euripides’ Medea,” since I’m not likely to do that any time soon, but did enjoy Peter Mountford’s “From Fantasy to Reality in Epic Duels – Iliad 22 and Aeneid 12.” Like Whitehouse, this is a comparison of two ancient texts – but here they’re being compared directly. Mountford’s basic idea, as the title suggests, is that Virgil is more real than Homer, especially in his use and the role of the gods – or lack thereof – in the duels between Aeneas and Turnus, on the one hand, and Achilles and Hektor. It’s a very interesting demonstration of how much Virgil is indebted to Homer – which I already knew, but hadn’t realised how textually that was true: similes, etc, are all borrowed and, generally, re-shaped. I haven’t read The Aeneid since about third year, and didn’t like it as much as The Iliad anyway, but it’s a very engaging article.

The final, very short article is by Meg McPherson. Called “A Perfect Post,” it outlines some of the things she has done in teaching Latin at primary school! It blows my mind to think there’s a primary school that would do that. I had a very brief discussion with someone the other about the point of learning Latin (they suggested there wasn’t one); and I resolutely stayed out of a discussion the other day about whether learning a language had a point at all. Latin at primary school seems indulgent; mostly in a good way, but indulgent nonetheless.

So that’s Iris for 2008. Actually it says 2007 on the cover, but is copyright 2008, so I’m not sure if they run a year behind or what. I think I will definitely continue to support the CAV, and look forward to reading more of their journal.

Space Classics

When we saw that the MSO was doing Space Classics as part of their MSO Pops series, we bought tix as soon as we could. And it was last night; we’ve only been waiting for about three months.

So, a few of the nerdier moments: the trombones and a couple of French horns had glow-sticks strapped to part of their instruments; there were Stormtroopers and Darth Vader wandering around beforehand, posing for photos (a few kids had brought their own lightsabers…); but I didn’t see anyone dressed up who wasn’t meant to be, thankfully.

As expected, the night began with “Sunrise” from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathrustra – and I still get goosebumps when I hear it. They did very clever things with the lights during this, and in a number of other pieces too: for this, they had a line of lights basically imitating sunrise, which worked surprisingly well. That went straight into the main theme from Star Wars, which was awesome.(1) It just never gets old.

There was a lot of Star Wars, unsurprisingly. We also got Close Encounters of the Third Kind; three Holst pieces (Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter; it may be my favourite set of classical music in the world, which is not that hard, admittedly. It’s possibly that only The Nutcracker Suite would give it a run for its money); J. Strass’ Blue Danube (so lovely!); ET – bike ride and main theme; Star Trek, Thunderbirds are GO!; and Superman. Personally, I think the last two were stretching it a bit. I would have thought maybe X-Files or Twilight Zone would have been more appropriate, and probably more recognisable, than Thunderbirds at least. There’s an ongoing discussion about just how space-y Superman can claim to be.

One of the possible reasons for including Thunderbirds was, of course, audience interaction. That’s right, gentle Reader: if you listen to the Classic FM broadcast sometime in the future, you will indeed hear four sections of the audience count down (begun by the orchestra with FIVE!), and then everyone shout “Thunderbirds are GO!” It was quite funny. In my vast experience of these things, when conductors are allowed to talk to the audience about things other than ultra-serious matters of musicology, they tend to think they’re very damn funny… and stray in to dad-joke territory. Last night’s conductor (Anthony Inglis, if you’re interested), nearly did so. A couple of things saved him. One: acknowledging he’s a trekkie. This doesn’t necessarily save him from dad-joke-hell, but it does at least give him a context (and a reason for including a pre-recorded ‘Captain’s Log’ bit before the Star Trek section). Two: the intro to Superman. He made the audience stand up, and pretend to get into superhero clobber, starting with underwear over pants (including the all-too-predictable stern, “I said on, madam!”), then ripping jackets off. Apparently the audience didn’t do it to his standard, so he had to show us how it’s done: he took off his jacket, and tie, and then – can you credit it, Reader? – ripped his shirt open to reveal a Superman tshirt! We were in hysterics.(2)

And then, for the encore, we got the entirety of the throne room/end credits sequence from A New Hope. Brilliant! With Mr Inglis as Obi-Wan. Also hysterical! But not nearly as funny as when Darth and his Stormtroopers marched in and stood in front of the stage, pointing their guns at the audience – and Darth turned around and, standing directly behind the conductor, started conducting with his light-saber…

Two things to gripe about, though, both in the programme.
a) The Herald Sun ad: “But seeing as though we’re a sponsor…”. Argh!
b) Star Wars is “now officially the fourth chapter”. You what?

Overall, it was a great programme of music. My love is now investigating the 501st Legion and considering a career as a Stormtrooper for charity.

(1) Interesting fact: the Star Wars music was done by the London Symphony Orchestra originally; the main trumpet then is the same person today! Amazing. And when he first played the opening fanfare, he reportedly declared ‘This is going to be huge,’ or words to that effect.
(2) And I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was completely set up – whether his shirt had press-studs, for example – or if authenticity was sought, with buttons flying out over the violas.