Tag Archives: classics

What is it about Historicals? Escapism and Education!

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I think Ms. George hits it right on the nose!  Got it from Washington Independent Book Reviews.

Margaret George: In an interview on A Writer of History, Margaret George says: “I think the combination of escapism and education is what fuels a top historical fiction author. People want to escape into another time but they want to learn about that time as well. [The history] should not serve as just wallpaper against which the action takes place.”She specializes in fictional biographies of famous women like Helen of Troy, Mary Magdalene (Mary Called Magdalene) and Cleopatra (The Memoirs of Cleopatra).

 

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From Delancey Place—always interesting tidbits…This is a post every writer should look at.

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Today’s selection — from Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters by Michael Tierno.The Greek philosopher Aristotle’s book Poetics has given countless writers a guidepost for creating great fiction:

“One of the many things we can thank Aristotle for is his writings on how to create characters that seem both realistic and able to captivate an audience. First, make them good enough that we can root for them. Second, make them ‘appropriate,’ meaning give them characteristics that make sense for the type of person they are. Third, make them human — give them flaws or quirks that make us believe that they exist. Finally, whatever characteristics you do give them, make sure you keep them there throughout the length of the screenplay. As Aristotle says, make sure they are ‘con­sistently inconsistent.’…

“Additionally, he gives us five principles of life that we can use to create character in our stories:
Nutritive Life
Desiring Life
Sensitive Life
Locomotion
Capacity for Rational Thought
“Because these five principles all belong to the makeup of a real-life person’s ‘psychology,’ they can be used to create convincing three-dimensional characters. Let’s examine each one.

” 1. Nutritive Life. Do you wonder about your characters’ eating habits? Wouldn’t that tell you (and your audi­ence) a lot about them? Don’t your eating habits say a lot about you? You should brainstorm as much as you can to get a clear picture of what the eating habits of your characters might be, to gather clues about who they are. How do they eat, what do they eat? Do they think about food a lot? What do your characters’ refrigerators look like? Not that any of this ever has to make it to the page, but it’s a window into their character. I mean, when Rocky gets up at 4 a.m, and drinks four raw eggs, isn’t that worth a gazillion pages of psychological notes on him? That image is so powerful and evocative that you know without further elaboration that he is serious about this boxing match. Look at Lester Burnham [in the Oscar-winning American Beauty]. What does he eat? By the end of his transformation from mis­erable mid-life-crisis guy to seeker of eternal youth, he’s blending and drinking health drinks. What could tell us more about Lester’s new attitude toward life? What could make Lester seem more human?
Roman copy in marble of a Greek bronze bust of Aristotle by Lysippus, c. 330 BC

” 2. Desiring Life. At the heart of all action is the desire of the hero. Basic human desire is really what makes char­acters come alive on the screen. In The Godfather, when Michael Corleone goes to Italy and falls in love with an Italian woman from the mountains, doesn’t that make him seem truly alive? It’s a probable incident that flows with the action, reflecting his deep commitment to his Italian ‘roots.’ In Gladiator, Maximus yearns to go home to his family and, after they have been murdered, to join them in eternity. In The Blair Witch Project, the kids’ ambition to tape the Blair Witch and make a film leads them to their death. Desiring is at the heart of what it means to be a living, breathing human being.

” 3. Sensitive Life. It goes without saying that our five senses are a big part of being alive. If a human being faces the prospect of losing sight or hearing, it’s devas­tating. In fact, all of the five senses — sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste — define our lives at the most ba­sic level. Lester Burnham spends a lot of time mastur­bating, doesn’t he? In fact, it’s how we are first introduced to him. What more do we need to sense that Lester is real and to ‘know’ who he is? In cinema, perhaps the most important sense in regard to character development is visual perception. Great screenwriters know how to feed information to the audience through the eyes of characters, such as when Lester sees Angela at the pep rally and fantasizes about her. Showing how characters actually see things with their own eyes ena­bles the audience to experience ’causes’ of the action.
It also puts to use a powerful aspect of the cinematic medium, which is the hero’s literal point of view.

” 4. Locomotion. Carefully depicting movement is vital to a screenplay. For example, The Blair Witch Project is a tapestry of rest and locomotion, in which the characters’ use of their eyes and ears is also notably important. Heather, the lead character in the story, spends a lot of time running around, screaming, and trying to videotape the ground in front of her. The lifelike aspect of all the characters is transmitted largely by their physical move­ment, as they trudge through the woods.

“5. Capacity for Rational Thought. Thinking about the mind and thought processes of people can be a fun way to brainstorm characters into existence. In Annie Hall,
Alvie is a rational man who has bouts of irrationality. This surfaces when a cop pulls him over and he tears up his license. In Titanic Rose jumps from the lifeboat to return to Jack, a slightly more irrational than rational act — but hey, this is a love story, and romantic love is rooted as much in animal nature as it is in the higher mind. (Rose is also slightly larger than life, and she’s being consistent with what we’ve seen of her.)

“In summary, to create a real human being for an audi­ence you must have them do things that convince the au­dience that they are alive, really alive, giving details that even a scientist like Aristotle would appreciate.”

Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters: Storytelling Secrets From the Greatest Mind in Western Civilization
Author: Michael Tierno
Publisher: Hachette Books
Copyright 2002 Michael Tierno
Pages: 123-128

 

Hellenistic Coinage—Book Review: always a fascinating topic for me!

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The Hellenistic World. Using Coins as Sources. By Peter Thonemann. Guides to the Coinage of the Ancient World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xxxii + 232. Paper, $34.99. ISBN 978-1-107-45175-9. Reviewed by Philip Kiernan, Kennesaw State University The first in a new series on ancient coinage organized by the American Numismatic Society, this book […]

via CJ-Online Review ~ The Hellenistic World. Using Coins as Sources — rogueclassicism

one of the most remarkable revolts in world history

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— from The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt. In 494 BCE, the people of Rome staged one of the most remarkable and imaginative protests in world history. Though this protest brought some reform, it underscored the seemingly never-ending struggle of the plebs against the major landowners and ruling elite:

“It was the strangest spectacle seen since the foundation of Rome. A long stream of families could be observed leaving the city in what looked like a general evacuation. They walked southward and climbed a sparsely populated hill, the Aventine, which stands across a valley from the Palatine, the site of Romulus’s first settlement. They were, broadly speaking, the poor and the disadvantaged — artisans and farmers, peasants and urban workers. They carried with them a few days’ worth of food. On arrival they set up camp, building a stockade and a trench. There they stayed quietly, like a weaponless army, offering no provocation or violence. They waited, doing nothing.

Read more at:

Source: one of the most remarkable revolts in world history — 3/16/17

Buy  Everitt’s book, The Rise of Rome  at Amazon

 

What is it about Historicals?

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I have loved Historicals since reading The Calico Captive (Elizabeth George Speare) in the third grade. What was your first?

I love sinking into a past world lovingly created around a good story…the ancient world, Rennaisance, Elizabethan, Victorian, Edwardian…all can take me into hours of otherworldly delight.

Old favorites:  Mary Renault, Georgette Hyer, Robert Graves, Marguertie Youcenar, Lawrence Schoonover

New favorites:  Stephen Saylor, Charles Finch, Robert Harris, Lindsey Davis

My biggest surprise:  Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings.  Not a fan of the man or his work, but I fell in love with this book.

Historicals  are magical transport into the past.

What are your favorites?  Why do you read Historicals?

 

Camping It Up in Ancient Rome: A Queer Take on Catullus 16

From the Huffington Post…Article by Michael BroderImage

Once upon a time, I was sitting around a Fordham University seminar table in a graduate class on the Roman satirist Juvenal, who lived and wrote in the second century A.D. The professor, an adorable grandfatherly man named Harry Evans, was trying to pin some slackers like me down to an oral presentation on one of Juvenal’s 16 satires. Only a few of the poems were not already spoken for by other students, and we had not yet read them all, so Prof. Evans ran through his little stack of index cards, telling us what was left: Satire 15, about cannibalism in Egypt (okay, not bad). Satire 8, about noble pedigrees (retch).

And then he said, “Satire 9, about a male prostitute who has sex with his patron and his patron’s wife and fathers their two children.”

“Stop!” I called out. “That’s the one. I’m doing my report on Satire 9.”

That oral presentation led to a term paper, which led to my dissertation and to my obsession with an idea that has proved very controversial in academia: the ancient Romans, it turns out, invented camp.

Surprised? Well, the Romans gave us aqueducts and concrete. Why not acid wit, incongruous humor, over-the-top theatricality, and drag queens?

In this post, I’m not going to give you my whole spiel on Juvenal 9, a 150-line poem that spawned a 350-page dissertation. Perhaps another day. Instead, I want to talk about a 14-line poem by Catullus, a Roman poet who lived in the first century B.C. (Hmm, could the Romans have invented the sonnet, too? Stay tuned.)

Catullus’ poems have numbers, not names. This one is called “Poem 16,” and it goes something like this (the translation is by me):

I will butt-fuck you and skull-fuck you,
Aurelius, you pussy-boy, and Furius, you cocksucker!
Both of you think I’m not man enough
because my little poems are a little soft.
But while a decent poet should be manly,
his bits of verse need not be manly at all.
In fact, poems are witty and charming
if they’re a little soft and a bit shameful,
and can get a rise, well, not out of boys perhaps,
but these hairy men who can barely get it up.
Because you read about my “many thousands of kisses,”
you think I’m not a real man?
I will butt-fuck you and skull-fuck you!

The technical literary term for this torrent of ridicule and verbal abuse is “invective,” but I prefer to call it a shady day in Rome and the library is wide open!

Now, since I started arguing for the Roman invention of camp at academic conferences in 2009, I’ve received some support, but more pushback. A generation of classics scholars staked their careers on the idea that this sort of ridicule was deadly serious and was all the proof we needed that every homophobic bone in our modern social body could be traced back to ancient Rome. These folks don’t take kindly to my claim that Catullus, more than simply being ironic, is a kind of proto-queer figure. Others insist that I cannot use the 20th-century term “camp” to describe a type of poetry and a social milieu found in ancient Rome. Like so many gay voices today, my critics claim, I’m just hell-bent on “seeing us in them,” of finding evidence for gayness wherever I look in history. Both of these sins fall under the general charge of “presentism,” applying modern categories inappropriately to the past. But now I’m on The Huffington Post, not at an academic conference. You make the rules around here. So read on and tell me what you think.

Camp has been defined in various ways, but my favorite definition is the one suggested by sociologist Esther Newton in her 1972 book Mother Camp, a study of female impersonators in America. Newton argues that camp is a kind of performance, whether onstage or in everyday life, that embraces the stigma of homosexual identity by calling attention to incongruous juxtapositions in a way that is both theatrical and humorous. By incongruous juxtapositions, she means any pairing of things that don’t seem to go together: a beauty in love with a beast, an old woman living in a shoe, or a man wearing a dress. She argues that by fully embracing the stigmatized identity, camp can “neutralize the sting and make it laughable.” She continues:

Not all references to the stigma are campy, however. Only if it is pointed out as a joke is it camp, although there is no requirement that the jokes be gentle or friendly. A lot of camping is extremely hostile; it is almost always sarcastic. But its intent is humorous as well.

Hostile, sarcastic humor about men acting like women is precisely what Catullus’ Poem 16 is all about. In the poem, Catullus is pissed off at his friends, Aurelius and Furius, because they say his sissy poems prove that he’s a sissy. Catullus does not mention a specific lover here, but any Roman reader would know that Catullus pleads for “many thousands of kisses” from both his girlfriend Lesbia (in Poems 5 and 7) and from his boyfriend Juventius (in Poem 48). Moreover, in Poem 99, Catullus “steals” a single kiss from Juventius, who proceeds to wash his lips clean, a gesture that Catullus interprets as a devastating rejection.

You may wonder what is so “unmanly” about asking your girlfriend or boyfriend for kisses, even for thousands of them. Keep in mind that manliness for the Romans meant dominance — sexual dominance above all. The Romans were fine with a man having sex with another man, as long as he stayed on top. In modern terms (which of course I’m not supposed to use when talking about ancient Rome), being a gay male top was fine, but being a gay male bottom was not. In contemporary grindr-ese: masc for masc, no fems, no btms (sorry, nothing personal, just a cultural imperative).

Wow, things have really changed a lot in 2000 years, haven’t they?

The way I read this poem, Catullus is making fun of exactly that kind of hypermasculine Roman sexual morality. His friends say he’s a sissy because he writes sissy poems. To prove them wrong, he’s going to skull-fuck them and butt-fuck them. On the one hand, Catullus is challenging the traditional Roman assumption that submission is unmanly: he can assume a submissive role or a dominant role as he pleases — his manliness is independent of his society’s rigid sex and gender roles. On the other hand, he’s reminding us that masculinity is only skin-deep: even if he skull-fucks and butt-fucks Aurelius and Furius, he’s still the same Catullus who begged Lesbia and Juventius for kisses. It’s the same type of camp irony we see these days on grindr, where guys sprinkle their profiles with quips like, “Tell me how masculine you are while my dick is in your mouth.”

There’s another way in which Poem 16 is camp: the way Catullus pretends to buy into moral standards that he actually rejects. In defending himself against the charges of being effeminate, he does not go all “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” on us. Instead, he deflects. He says he can be manly while still writing unmanly poems, and that unmanly poems are witty and charming. He’s no sissy, he’s just pretending to be one for the entertainment value. Wink wink. Does Catullus really accept traditional Roman standards of masculinity? Which is the “real” Catullus, the manly Catullus who only writes mushy love poems to give hard-ons to hairy old men, or the sissy Catullus who begs Lesbia and Juventius for kisses? The fact is, we don’t know for sure which is real and which is pretend, and that’s precisely how camp works. Camp is all about insider audiences and outsider audiences. In the 1960s, drag queens were called “female impersonators” to make straight audiences feel more comfortable. They could believe that once the man in the dress went home, he was a “normal man,” just like them. Meanwhile, the camp audience members knew that after the show, the drag queen was going to the nearest gay bar to cruise some trade. Catullus is wielding that same kind of double-edged sword.

For years, gay readers have been told that we should despise this kind of poetry because it devalues us and has historically contributed to our stigmatization and marginalization. And yet, much of this poetry can be great fun if we approach it as camp frivolity rather than earnest homophobic ridicule. What’s more, reading these poems in this spirit makes a lot of sense: how morally serious do we really think Catullus can be when he goes around threatening to sexually assault friends who question his manhood? If gay readers approach this poetry as camp, we are reclaiming it for ourselves, making it a part of our history, and re-inscribing ourselves into a part of the Western literary tradition from which we have long been excluded.

Note: A very different version of this essay previously appeared in the Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide.