Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Exhibition on Anatomical Art

There is an exhibit currently on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC called "The Body Inside and Out: Anatomical Literature and Art Theory Selections from the National Gallery of Art Library". In light of our recent focus on health and medicine throughout the ages it is an exhibit I look forward very much to seeing soon. The online catalogue describes t iby saying, "This exhibition, featuring outstanding examples of anatomy-related material from the collection of rare books in the National Gallery of Art Library, offers a glimpse into the ways anatomical studies were made available to and used by artists from the 16th to the early 19th century." Running through January 23, 2011 there's not much time left to catch it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How time does fly

My apologies, friends, for not completing my series on health issues through time, but with a show about to open and wedding work consuming my free time I've been more than a little busy. I'll finish those shortly when I've had more to time to do the research. In the meantime I leave you with a favorite quote..."Post Tenebrus Lux (After the darkness, light)"- Motto of the city of Geneva

Happy holidays to all!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Turn of the Century Health Fads

In the two centuries just prior to 1900 not only medical professionals, but ordinary people had taken an increased interest in new ways of maintaining their health. Spas had sprung up all over Europe and America, usually around natural sources of mineral water and hot springs. Here people went to seek cures for everything from infertility to rheumatism and paralysis. The methods used varied from curative waters to electroshock therapy, and typically included special diets and exercise regimens.

One such place was the Battle Creek Sanitarium which opened in Michigan in 1866. The name was a corruption of the word "sanitorium" which usually refered to a place of rest for soldiers. It was here that the Kellogg brothers started their "wellness institute" based on the health principles of the 7th Day Adventist Church. The Toasted Corn Flake Company follwed in 1906, and provided the basis of what would become the cereal empire we know today. Famous people who attended the sanitarium included May Todd Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Amelia Earhart, C.W. Post (of Post Cereals), Henry Ford, and Warren G. Harding.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

1920s Prescription Drug Addiction

In 1929 two federal prisons were proposed to deal specifically with the treatment of drug addicts. Multiple factors had led to an increase in the number of addicts, estimated at 250,000. Amongst these were the return of soldiers after WWI who had brought with them drugs more easily attained in Europe, the Volstead Act which in outlawing alcohol drove people to other substances, and the Harrison Anti-Narcotic Act which severely limited the types of narcotics available for medicinal usage and who could prescribe them, which in turn led people to seek relief from less clinical sources intent on profit rather than relief.

Statistics reported that 70% of cases began when victims were introduced to the drugs through associates who were either victims themselves or related to trafficking, 20% began as an attempt to alleviate pain, 5% through boredom and experimentation, and 5% through assorted other sources.

Doctors recognized three kinds of addicts. The "genius" who used drugs to achieve a new consciousness and relieve ennui was ultimately curable. The "hopeless delinquent" operated at a diminished mental capacity and even after being weaned off of drugs would be permanently unable to care for themselves. The third type was the "normal" addict, who usually began as someone seeking relief and would be able to return to a normal life once a less dangerous form of pain management was achieved.

The focus of the prisons was on patient care and reform rather than on punishment, and the methods used were threefold; to handle withdrawl, build up willpower and physical health, and create new habits and  practices to replace old ones.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Votive Offerings After Surgery

Whether in thanks for a good recovery or in hopes of a successful one, many votive offerings like the one to the left have been found in Roman and Greek temples and shrines across the ancient world. The Greek God Asklepios was co-opted by the Romans along with his daughter, Hygeia (from whom we get the word "hygeine"), and his followers would present representations of the body parts they were concerned with, some inscribed as the the one above which says "Tyche [dedicated this] to Asklepios and Hygieia as a thank offering."

Other examples of votive offerings include ears
and mouths
and even placentas for those worried about safe childbirth.
In some cases entire torsos were presented complete with genitalia and internal organs.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Polite Society- Anesthesia in the Victorian Era

Medicine is such an interesting topic and I could easily make an entire series out of exploring what medicine was like throughout the ages, but that would be more like a book than a blog. In fact, just exploring one era would yield a whole books-worth of information, so instead I present to you a week of medically-related incidents through time.

Today we begin with the topic that led me to first examine the medicine and treatments of past ages; anesthesia. Pain is universal and the desire to lessen pain and suffering led early man to begin performing surgery, but this was fraught with peril even if the operation was a success because the trauma to the body from the stress and sensation of surgery could be overwhelming. The ancient Greeks used herbal mixtures to lessen the pain of surgery but this could not rightly be called an anesthetic. The word "Anesthesia" is Greek, meaning "without sensation", but the term was not coined until the poet and physician Oliver Wendall Holmes suggested it in 1846.

Holmes was responding to an amazing new technique he'd witnessed in Boston, when on the 16th of October a dentist named William Thomas Green Morton administered inhaled ether to a patient who then had a tumor painlessly removed from his neck. Prior to this some plant-based tropane alkaloids (opium, atropine) had been used, but they were very difficult to standardize and could easily overdose and kill a patient. In 1859 cocaine first reached the market where it was enthusiastically endorsed by none other than Sigmund Freud, who thought that it would help to wean people off of morphine.

Just after the discovery of inhaled ether anesthesia, chloroform was also developed in November of 1847. It's popularity grew rapidly after John Snow administered it to Queen Victoria in 1853 during the birth of Prince Leopold; but it quickly proved difficult to control and the first death attributed to chloroform anesthesia followed in January of 1848. This left morphine and cocaine and its derivatives as the chief forms of anesthesia through the turn of the century.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ship of Fools: On the Black Death

"The symptoms were not the same as in the East, where a gush of blood from the nose was the plain sign of inevitable death; but it began both in men and women with certain swellings in the groin or under the armpit. They grew to the size of a small apple or an egg, more or less, and were vulgarly called tumours. In a short space of time these tumours spread from the two parts named all over the body. Soon after this the symptoms changed and black or purple spots appeared on the arms or thighs or any other part of the body, sometimes a few large ones, sometimes many little ones. These spots were a certain sign of death, just as the original tumour had been and still remained." - Giovanni Boccaccio The Decameron

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In Flanders Fields- For Veterans/Remembrance Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Polite Society- Court Presentation Dress

There were few occasions more harrowing for a Victorian lady than her presentation at court. Whether she was the daughter of noble or married to an officer in the Queen's service there were rigorous rules to be followed. Though the action of approaching the Queen, kissing her hand, and backing out of the room took only a few moments, the preparations leading up to the event took many weeks at least.

In addition to learning to make a full court curtsy with the knee almost to the floor, walking with a ten-foot train, and backing out the length of the room with said train; the guidelines over what was to be worn were extensive. White was the preferred color for dresses, but light colors would be worn and typically were by married women unless they had their wedding gowns adapted for this purpose. The style of the dress itself could vary dramatically from that being worn for other occasions depending on how recently court regulations had been updated to reflect changing fashions. Regardless, the dress was always to be low-cut, short-sleeved unless medically relevant, and topped off by a veil that fell to the train and was made of tulle with three large feathers perched precariously just to the left of the center, with the middle feather highest of all.

Tiaras could be worn by married women, and all carried small fans. In the summer these came in handy as the women waited, first in their carriages, and then crammed into the gallery waiting to be admitted to the Queen's presence. In the winter the women froze in the carriages and worse in the galleries where shawls, furs, or any kind of outerwear were forbidden.

After all of this the woman to be presented walked into the room where the queen, her entourage, and often some of her family, waited. She walked in her carefully-prepared glide to stand before her monarch, curtsied, kissed the Queen's hand (unless she was of the upper nobility in which case her forehead was kissed by the Queen), and then hopefully the valets in attendance would hand her the ten-foot train she was attached to so that she could gracefully back out the way she had come.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Back in the Office

Back in the office after attending to a show that has consumed my every waking hour for the last two weeks. Regular posts will recommence shortly. Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dulce et Decorum Est- Movie Review "Gigi"

One might very well start a discussion of movies set at the turn of the century with A Room with a View, and I do love that film, but today I want to introduce you to a lesser-known classic Gigi. Starring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan,  it was directed by Vincente Minelli with a script and score by the famous Lerner and Loewe duo.

The story begins with Maurice Chevalier as an old "roue" (playboy) named Honore singing the charming "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" as he points out polite society promenading in Paris, and the young girls playing in the park. Among them is Gigi, who runs off to her grandmother's apartment where she lives with her mother. Unbeknownst to Gigi she is being groomed by her Aunt Alicia to become a courtesan, as Alicia was, and her grandmother, Mamita, once dated Honore. Honore's nephew, Gaston (Jourdan), is a close friend of Mamita's and spends considerable time with her and Gigi when he is not romancing various women. Over the course of the film Gaston and Gigi's relationship goes from that of playful siblings to budding romance.

Finally Gaston finds that he must choose between Gigi's reputation and his own desires; but never fear, all ends well as we rejoin Honore on the promenade in Paris. This 1958 color film is a beautiful and fast-paced classic filled with gorgeous costumes and light-hearted music. Some may find it predictable, but it is nothing if not entertaining.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Colosseum to Open New Areas to Visitors

The Colosseum is poised to open two new areas to visitors; the upper tier and underground chambers where gladiators and the animals they sometimes fought were both held in preparation. msnbc reports

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ship of Fools- Upcoming Film "The Tempest"

I love Shakespeare plays made into films; 12th Night, Hamlet, As You Like It, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and now coming in December of 2010, The Tempest. Helen Mirren is surprisingly cast as Prospero, a typically male character, but audiences will recognize a few other familiar faces like Djimon Honsou (Gladiator), David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck), and Alan Cumming (Goldeneye). Directed by the ever-magical Julie Taymor (The Lion King, Across the Universe, Frida, The Magic Flute), it promises to be a beautiful, thought-provoking, and just simply fun film.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Another Favorite- 1912 Worth Gown

This 1912 gown from the House of Worth manages to look both comfortable and elegant, and the black and white with Greek key pattern detailing is classic. I want it!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

17th century- What would you call it?

Most of the different timeperiods about which I blog have their own titles; 1920's- Ermine and Pearls, Middle Ages and Renaissance- Ship of Fools, but I don't have one for the 17th century. Perhaps it's because I know the least about this era in history, which is another reason to study it. What to call it though? It is the age of Louis XIV, the sun King, and also of the English Civil War, of Cavaliers and Roundheads, the Glorious Revolution, American settlement by Europeans, many wars but also the beautiful writings of Moliere. The Thirty Years War. Peter the Great. Isaac Newton. The Salem Witch Trials.

Science and Sentiment?
Waging Order?
A Bloody Peace?
The Dawn of Glory?

What would you call it?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Jump, Jive, and Wail- Swing Kids

Swing Kids, starring Robert Sean Leonard, Kenneth Branagh, and Christian Bale amongst others, is a film about the pro-jazz, non-conformist youth of Hamburg, Germany at the start of WWII. Contrary to the pressure to be nationalistic, somber and join the Hitler Youth these hipsters embraced American fashions, Swing, and a certain "joie de vivre" that authorities found unsettling, even dangerous. In the film, a group of friends finds themselves challenged by prejudice, familial pressures, and their own still-developing sense of morality. Each one makes a choice, but do those choices bring them closer together or tear them apart?

I'm not going to answer that for you, you'll have to watch it for yourself. Be assured that the movie has lots of thrilling swing dance scenes with high-flying aerials (acrobatic moves), jumping music, and plenty of the pathos for which the main actors are well-known. Robert Sean Leonard, in particular, is brilliant as a kid named Peter whose father died after enduring harsh interrogation for his supposed Socialist views. Peter's widowed mother is not eager to lose her son as well, and Kenneth Branagh is only too eager to help her and her family through his Nazi governmental ties. It begins with a party and ends with a party, but the in-between is anything but joyful. If you liked Dead Poet's Society you will likewise enjoy Swing Kids. You know what's going to happen from the start, but like a great piece of music, you've got to listen to all of the notes.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ermine and Pearls- These are a few of my favorite things...

Wow! I'm working on a show called Enchanted April right now, which may be familiar as it was made into a movie; and it is filled with great '20s costumes, from dreary London to the golden summer of an Italian countryside. The picture above also looks like it's right out of some kind of show. There is a lot of drama going on with the a-symmetrical sleeve detail and that enormous fan. I love it!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The 17th Century- A Letter from Madame de Sevigne

Some of you may be familiar with a movie that came out some time ago called Vatel. Starring Gerard Depardieu, Uma Thurman, and Tim Roth, it's about a very famous 17th Century cook of the same name who (spolier alert) commits suicide after a grand feast for the visiting King, Louis XIV, goes partially awry. In the movie there is a lot more to it than that, but the film was based on true events.

In a letter to a friend Mme de Sevigne recounted the events as they ocurred in April of 1671:-

"It is Sunday, the 26th of April; this letter will not go till Wednesday. It is not really a letter, but an account, which Moreuil has just given me for your benefit, of what happened at Chantilly concerning Vatel. I wrote you on Friday that he had stabbed himself; here is the story in detail.

The promenade, the collation in a spot carpeted with jonquils - all was perfection. Supper came; the roast failed at one or two tables on account of a number of unexpected guests. This upset Vatel. He said several times: 'My honor is lost; this is a humiliation that I cannot endure.' To Gourville he said. 'My head is swimming; I have not slept for twelve nights; help me to give my orders.' Gourville consoled him as best he could, but the roast which had failed (not at the king's, but at the twenty-fifth table), haunted his mind.

Gourville told Monsieur le Prince about it, and Monsieur le Prince went up to Vatel in his own room and said to him, 'Vatel, all goes well; there never was anything so beautiful as the king's supper.' He answered, 'Monseigneur, your goodness overwhelms me. I know that the roast failed at two tables.' 'Nothing of the sort,' said Monsieur le Prince. 'Do not disturb yourself, all is well."
Midnight comes. The fireworks do not succeed on account of a cloud that overspreads them (they cost sixteen thousand francs). At four o'clock in the morning Vatel is wandering about all over the place. Everything is asleep. He meets a small purveyor with two loads of fish and asks him, 'Is this all?', 'Yes, sir.' The man did not know that Vatel had sent to all the seaport towns in France. Vatel waits some time, but the other purveyors do not arrive; he gets excited; he thinks that there will be no more fish.

He finds Gourville and says to him, 'Sir, I shall not be able to survive this disgrace.' Gourville only laughs at him. Then Vatel goes up to his own room, puts his sword against the door, and runs it through his heart, but only at the third thrust, for he gave himself two wounds which were not mortal. He falls dead.

Meanwhile the fish is coming in from every side, and people are seeking for Vatel to distribute it. They go to his room, they knock, they burst open the door, they find him lying bathed in his blood. They send for Monsieur le Prince, who is in utter despair. Monsieur le Duc bursts into tears; it was upon Vatel that his whole journey to Burgundy depended. Monsieurie Prince informed the king, very sadly; they agreed that it all came from Vatel's having his own code of honor, and they praised his courage highly even while they blamed him...

Gourville, however, tried to repair the loss of Vatel, and did repair it. The dinner was excellent; so was the luncheon. They supped, they walked, they played, they hunted. The scent of jonquils was everywhere; it was all enchanting."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Jump, Jive and Wail- Found new blog!

Just today I received in the mail a book I have been coveting for a while; "Vintage Hairstyles" by Lauren Rennells, who is a freelance hair and makeup artist for film and television. Turning to the back of the book with the author information I found that she has a blog called Bobbypin Blog.

Intrigued? You should be. Not only does she showcase styles of the past and tell you how to create them, but she posts ridiculous advice from past publications, such as the Gasoline Shampoo, or singeing hair to make it healthier (hopefully not both in combination or good-bye hair). If this were not enough the site has a charming retro playlist to put you in the right mood as you read. Go forth, check it out, and report back on your findings! I will review the book itself when I have had a chance to put it to the test.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dulce et Decorum Est- The Poem


The 1910s were simultaneously a period that encompassed the Belle Epoque ("Beautiful Era") of painters like Tissot and Waterhouse and composers like Stauss, Debussy and Ravel; as well as the period of WWI with its mustard gas, trenches, and tanks. For this reason the phrase "Dulce et Decorum Est" seems particularly appropo to describe the timeperiod; for besides meaning "sweet and good/fitting it is", it is also the name of a poem written in 1918 by Wilfred Owen who served and died during "The Great War".


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!---An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,

And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,---

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ermine and Pearls- The Quickstep vs. The Charleston

I confess that although I am not generally a fan of reality television I do enjoy Dancing With the Stars. It's nice that different styles of dance have made a resurgence (I'm looking forward to trying some Swing myself soon), and the video above showcases two of those styles, and, coincidentally, their use on DWtS. Which one do you prefer?

The Quickstep
Developed iin the 1920s as a faster Foxtrot, the Quickstep actually owes some of its steps to the Charleston. Meant to be danced to ragtime music the basic formula is a combination of chasses, quick jerky movements of the feet, and solid armholds punctuated by brief slower pauses and slides. It was a smooth, refined dance that worked well for more conservative dancers, in contrast to the brash youthfullness of...

...The Charleston
It is both a song and a dance style, though the dance can be performed to other songs. Originating on Broadway in Runnin' Wild in October of 1923, it is thought to have been inspired by black dockworkers in the city for which it was named. Beginning with lazy, loose movements and becoming faster and wilder the dance was associated with flappers and speakeasies who flouted the establishment and prohibition, thus being largely a youthful craze. It helped to give birth to the later Lindy Hop style of dance, and there is even a hybrid called the Lindy Charleston.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ancient Greece- The dinner party or "Things Belonging to Men"

While researching ancient Greek cooking I came across an interesting tidbit. There were two main kinds of banquets; Symposiums and Syssitias. The symposiums (literally "gathering of drinkers") were a popular dinner party centered around a drinking spree at which games were played, ideas exchanged, and a "King" directed the slaves on how strong to make the wine. They even came to be associated with a genre of writing espoused by Plato, Xenophon, and Plutarch consisting of philosophy discussed  at a symposium.

Syssitias were close kin of the symposiums, but much more formal events. Intended to promote companionship between men they were held at times to solidify a sense of honor and brotherhood within units of soliders.

Both types of banquets were held for and by men, with the only women in attendance being high-level prostitutes known as hetaira (or hetaera). Perhaps for this reason the supper parties were also refered to as Hetairia, or Andreia; "Companions of or things belonging to men".

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Polite Society: Queen Victoria's Children

What could be more fitting to kick off the new blog parameters than to jump all the way from the Roman Empire to Victorian England? Well, modern society, perhaps, but be that as it may I present to you Queen Victoria's children.

Victoria married her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in February of 1840, and the first of their children, Victoria, was born in November of the same year. Below is a list of the couple's 9 children and some information that you may find interesting about each.

Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa "Vicky"- born 21st November 1840, died 5th August 1901. Married German Emperor Frederick III, becoming Empress of Germany and Queen of Prussia. After her marriage she remained close to both her younger brother, Edward, and her mother to whom she sent more than 4,000 letters. Her education had been closely supervised and included reading, writing, French, German, literature, science, Latin, history, politics, and philosophy. Despite knowing German she continued to speak English within her household once in Germany, and was sometimes known as "The Englishwoman". She had 8 children; William, Charlotte, Henry, Sigismund (died aged 21 months), Victoria, Waldemar (died aged 11), Sophie, and Margaret. Victoria died of throat cancer in 1901, only 7 months after her mother.

Albert Edward "Bertie"- born 9th November 1841, died 6th May 1910. Married Princess Alexandra of Denmark and had 6 children; Albert, George, Louise, Victoria, Maud, and Alexander. Though quite the playboy (he is supposed to have had as many as fifty-five liasons) he never awknowledged any illegitimate offspring. He was the first British heir to visit the North American continent, which he did in 1860. He was also the heir apparent to the British throne longer than anyone before him, not attaining the crown until 1901, only 9 years before his own death from complications arising from severe bronchitis. Despite gaining a reputation as a peacemaker he predicted that his nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, would lead the world into war; which he did only four years after Edward's death.

Alice Maud Mary- born 25th April 1843, died 14th December 1878. Poor Alice's life was surrounded by tragedy. She had a happy enough childhood, traveling with her parents and siblings between royal residences, but when her elder sister married and left for Germany in 1858 she was distraught. Only a few years later her maternal grandmother, the Duchess of Kent, died in 1861. Alice had helped to nurse her grandmother through her final illness, and when her own mother broke down in grief it was Alice that her father sent to comfort her. Worse was yet to come though, for her father, Prince Albert, died of typhoid in December of that same year, leaving Queen Victoria devastated. Plans for Alice's wedding to Prince Louis of Hesse had begun in 1860 and concluded with a gloomy ceremony in July of 1862 that the Queen herself said was "more of a funeral than a wedding" despite the fact that there was genuine affection between the couple. Marital problems soon followed as the pair failed to find common ground and drifted apart, nevertheless they had seven children; Victoria, Elizabeth, Irene, Ernest, Frederick (died of hemophilia aged 2), Alix, and Marie (died aged 4). The last of her children, Marie, died in 1878 from a bout of diphtheria that swept the royal household with everyone, but Elizabeth falling ill. When Marie died Alice wrote to her mother that "the pain is beyond words". She delayed in telling the other children, but finally confessed the truth to Ernest, who sat up of crying uncontrollably. Breaking her rule of not touching the ill Alice kissed her son, and contracted the disease that finally killed her on December 14th, the anniversary of her father's death.

Alfred Ernest Albert- born 6th August 1844, died 30th July 1900. Known as "Alfie" to his family, not because of "Alfred", but because he was so affable, he was the first of Victoria and Albert's children to enter the military which he did by joining the Navy in 1856. He was chosen to succeed to the throne of Greece in 1862 but his family blocked the plans, arranging instead for him to inheirit the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He voyaged around the world and was the first royal to visit Australia, where he was received with great joy. While there he was shot close to the spine by a would-be assassin, but recovered to the immense relief of the people. He was also the first royal to visit Hong Kong and India. In 1874 he married Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, but sadly the marriage was not a happy one as the bride was very haughty and insisted on being granted precedence before the Princess of Wales due to her family. The couple had six children; Alfred, Marie, Victoria, Alexandra, a stillborn son, and Beatrice. In 1899 his son, Alfred became involved in a scandal with his mistess and shot himself in the midst of his parents wedding anniversary celebrations, and died two weeks later leaving Prince Alfred without an heir. He died of throat cancer in shortly thereafter in 1900.

Helena Augusta Victoria- born 25th May 1846, died 9th June 1923. Princess Helena was a passionate person. Cconsidered too emotional to act as her mother's secretary upon her father's death, she later assumed that position along with her sister, Beatrice. After a clandestined love affair with her late father's German librarian she was married off to Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, but settled close to her mother in Britain. She was very active in charity work, and helped to found the red Cross, as well as serving as President of the Royal British Nurses Association. Her marriage ended up being a happy one and she and Christian had six children during their fifty years of marriage; Christian, Albert, Helena Victoria, Marie Louise, Frederick (died 8 days old), and a stillborn son. She never had any legitimate grandchildren, and died in 1923. Although not considered beautiful by even her mother, her daughter Marie Louise said of her that "Her outstanding gift was loyalty to her friends."

Louise Caroline Alberta- born 18th March 1848, died 3rd December 1939. The longest-lived of Victoria and Albert's children. Despite objections from high-ranking officials she was allowed to make a love-match with the Marquess of Lorne, John Campbell. Considered the most beautiful of the Queen's daughters and one of her favorites, Louise was high-spirited, feminist, and liberal. Louise actually announced to her mother after a visit from Campbell that she had already accepted him, in anticipation of her mother's approval. Despite the objections of her siblings and their spouses the Queen supported her saying that political alliances were frought with trouble and that it would bring "new blood" into the family. When her husband was sent to Canada as Governor General, Louise became the first royal to live in North America, but she did not like it much and she and her husband drifted apart, aided perhaps by their apparent inability to have children. An unconventional woman, she sometimes went by the name of Mrs. Campbell on her travels, rather than any royal title, and prefered to be looked upon as a private individual. Despite economic troubles at home, Louise and her husband reconciled in 1911, but he died in May of 1914. She died in December of 1939 at the age of 91 and was cremated quietly due to WWII.

Arthur William Patrick Albert- born 1st May 1850, died 16th January 1942. Arthur served in the British Army for 40 years and was, like his brother in law, Governor General of Canada after the former returned to Britain in 1911. He was reported to be Queen Victoria's favorite child, and she often dressed him in the tartans of her beloved Scotland. In 1879 he married Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia and had three children; Margaret, Arthur, and Patricia. He continued in military service well into WWII, and died in 1941 at the age of 91 with an enormous number of medals and honors. He was extremely beloved in Canada, and head of the Boyscouts for many years.

Leopold George Duncan Albert- born 7th April 1853, died 28th march 1884. Diagnosed with hemophilia as a baby, he nevertheless lived for 31 years. He studied Civil Law, but his health issues kept him from receiving political appointments. After a difficult search for a wife he married, on the 27th April 1882, Princess Helene Friederike of Waldeck-Pyrmont. In 1883 they had a daughter, Alice. In February of 1884 Leopold went to Cannes on doctors orders to help with his joint pain, where he slipped and injured his knee. Given morphine he succumbed to a combination of that and the claret he had with dinner and died. His son, Charles Edward, was born posthumously in July of that same year.

Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore- born 14th April 1857, died 26th October 1944. The youngest of Victoria and Albert's children, she bore the brunt of her mother's grief and posessiveness following her father's death and was soon resigning to being "baby", as her mother called her, forever, never to marry. When she fell in love with Prince Henry of Battenburg her mother refused to even speak to her daughter for seven months, communicating by written note instead. It took a year of persuasion for her mother to consent to the match, on the conditions that the couple continue to live with her and that Beatrice should remain her secretary. The couple had ten blissful years of marriage before he died of malaria in January of 1896. Beatrice and Henry had four children; Alexander, Victoria Eugenie "Ena", Leopold (died of hemophilia after a knee operation, aged 33), and Maurice (died in action during WWI). Beatrice herself remained devoted to her mother until her death in 1901, and then retired quietly, finally dying in her sleep aged 87 in October of 1944. She was the last surviving child of Queen Victoria, and when she died the current Queen Elizabeth II was eighteen years old.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Announcement- Timewarp

I don't seem to post here often enough, especially considering that I come across interesting things to blog about all the time; it's just that those things so rarely fall into the realm of Classical Antiquity.

But why limit oneself?

So starting tomorrow, Sunday, I will blog about any and all timeperiods, excepting the 18th century as that is covered in my other blog, Letters from the Enlightenment. The schedule is roughly as follows:-

Monday- Classical Antiquity
Tuesday- Ermine and Pearls- The Roaring Twenties
Wednesday- Dulce et Decorum Est (1900-1920)
Thursday- Ship of Fools (Middles Ages and Renaissance)
Friday- Jump, Jive, and Wail (40s and 50s)
Saturday- The 17th Century
Sunday- Polite Society (Regency and Victorian)

Good idea? Bad idea? Indifferent? Let me know!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dionysus Procession Sarcophagus at the Walters

The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore is one of those rare gems; a museum which is full of interesting and beautiful art and completely free and open to the public. While there recently the Director of Special Events took the trouble of asking if we had seen Elvis yet. Why no, we answered, and to our great surprise he pointed us toward the Roman gallery. There, on a series of Sarcophagi depicting a Dionysian Triumphal Procession are four finials bearing an uncanny resemblance to Elvis Presley, right down to the forward curl of his head.

Of course the sarcophagi themselves are not to missed, with incredibly intricate carvings in Thasian marble from Greece circa 190 A.D. They were acquired by Mr. Walters in 1902, and part of the generous bequest he made to the museum in 1931. Further information can be found at

Friday, September 17, 2010

I'm Spartacus

For anyone who hasn't seen this; an oldie, but a goodie...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of the gods." - Aeschylus

Sunday, August 8, 2010

This Day in History- Destruction of the Antonia Tower

August 8th, 70 A.D. the forces of Titus' Roman army destroyed the Antonia Fortess (aka the Tower of Antonia) during the Siege of Jerusalem.

The fortress was built by Herod the Great, (the one who is depicted in the Bible as ordering the Massacre of the Innocents) and named for Herod's patron, Mark Antony (yes, that Mark Antony). It was located at the Eastern end of the city of Jerusalem and mainly used to house part of the Roman garrison, as well as some of the High Priests Vestments. It is interesting to think of a Jewish High Priest having to enter the home of the Roman soldiers in order to procure his necessary garments, it seems like a move calculated to remind him who was in charge. Perhaps he sent a servant, but still it is, I think, notable.

In 66 A.D. the Jewish defenders had gained control of the city and in 70 A.D. the Romans answered with an army led by Emperor Titus himself, supported by Tiberius Julius Alexander as his second-in-command. The fortress was captured after one of the walls of the city was breached via battering ram, and once the Romans were in command of the fortress they built siege equipment with which to attack the Temple where many of the Jews had entrenched themselves. The Tower of Antonia was leveled in the process, and finally the Temple itself succumbed to fire signalling victory for the Romans who depicted their success on coins and architecture.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Movie Review- Agora

I was surprised Saturday to learn via the web that Agora was showing in a small art-house cinema near my home. I was surprised because it has had such an underpublicized release as to go completely unnoticed in the USA unless you are looking for it. That aside let me assure you that if you have an interest in Roman history, philosophy, or the struggles of religious factions in early Christianity you will almost certainly enjoy this film. That is, if you can approach it without a tendentious viewpoint.

It has received significant criticism for perceived defamation of Christianity (more specifically of the Catholic Church), and the Religious Anti-Defamation Observatory denounced the film; but the distribution company had insisted before its release on screening it at the Vatican, which offered no objections and actually assisted with some of the depictions. There is one scene in which the Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril, reads from the Bible about the proper place of women, and if you are not familiar with the Bible you may think it's a harsh fiction, but in fact the Vatican helped to choose the version of this reading used in the film. If not for anti-Christian sentiment, the film may be criticized for a certain dislike of hierarchy in general, as Christians attack Jews, Jews attack Christians, Christians attack Pagans, Pagans attack Christians, and the Roman soldiers sent to keep the peace look ready to attack anyone necessary. Everyone is a bad person at some point; Hypatia the philosopher, though the moral compass of the piece, snaps at her slave, and everybody is loaded with some fatal flaw, be it ambition, lust, or zealotry.

The most surprising facet is the director's tendency to use shots of the earth from space, to underscore both the place of the planet (and consequently humanity and its petty squabbles and concerns), as well as scientific inquiry. It is Hypatia's search for the place of Earth in the order of the universe that provides the through-line of the film. So, you know, nothing too weighty.

Despite what could come across as rather prodigious scientific theory, it is presented in such a way by the script that it is immediately accessible to even the most sophmoric mind, aided by a superlative performance from Rachel Weisz; who is neither too gritty to be believable as a starry-eyed thinker absorbed with her questions, nor so introspective as to be divorced from the terrible events which surround her and bookend the movie's narrative.

Though often approaching sentimentality, the film swings away from it at the last moment to re-focus on the human and the real. Historical accuracy is high, and I spent a good part of the evening following my viewing by researching the characters and events depicted.

I give this movie two enthusiastic thumbs up for entertainment, accuracy, and story. Visually magnificent, nuanced, and with an ambitious scope the film delivers all that it promises, and invites the viewer to be part of a challenging discourse that stretches from ancient Egypt to the ideological clashes of our own time.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Alexander and Toxic Bacteria

Historians have long debated the cause of Alexander the Great's death, and theories, from septicemia to heavy drinking, abound. One persistant hypothesis, and one which some of his closest friends posited, is that he was poisoned; but by what and whom? This article from MSNBC discusses a Discovery News report that suggests he was poisoned, and not by any common drug, but by water from the famous RiverStyx...

Friday, July 9, 2010

In Their Words - Persius

"Each man has his own desires; all do not possess the same inclinations. [Lat., Velle suuum cuique est, nec voto vivitur uno.]" - Persius (Aulus Persius Flaccus)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dressed to Kill- Fibulae

"When he came back to Athens, bringing word of the calamity, the wives of those who had been sent out on the expedition took it sorely to heart that he alone should have survived the slaughter of all the rest;—they therefore crowded round the man, and struck him with the brooches by which their dresses were fastened each, as she struck, asking him where he had left her husband. And the man died in this way. The Athenians thought the deed of the women more horrible even than the fate of the troops; as however they did not know how else to punish them, they changed their dress and compelled them to wear the costume of the Ionians. Till this time the Athenian women had worn a Dorian dress, shaped nearly like that which prevails at Corinth. Henceforth they were made to wear the linen tunic, which does not require brooches."- Herodotus "The History"

Fibulae were brooches used by men and women to fasten their garments, from the Bronze Age to the Medieval era. The story as related by Herodotus tells of an incident in the Hellenistic age and explains (if somewhat anecdotally) the shift from the woolen peplos to the lighter linen or silk chiton. Fibulae seem to have started as straight pins, much like decorative hatpins today, and developed into a hinged accessory which is the ancestor of the modern safety pin.
Though the pins may initially have been used to hold garments together, they quickly became primarily decorative, worked in gold, enameled, painted, and engraved.
For anyone seeking a much more detailed article on fibulae I refer you to the font of all knowledge Wikipedia, which actually has a pretty extensive entry for the subject.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Versatile Blogger Award

Wow! The Dreamstress was kind enough to grant me this splendid award, for which I am stunned and grateful. I am supposed to tell you 7 things about myself, and pick 15 blogs to pass the award on to, but I don't even read 15 blogs. I feel guilty for reading as many as I do already, so I'll follow Dreamstress' example, and name 5.

7 Things About Me

1) I come from a military family and grew up in America and England.
2) I am engaged to be married in July of 2011 (wedding planning has me under its thrall).
3) I just received my Master of Fine Arts degree in Costume Design this May.
4) My best friend and I live far apart and actually write letters more than we e-mail.
5) I used to enjoy fencing and was a sabreur.
6) I love opera and have worked with/for several companies.
7) I hope someday to be fluent in at least five languages; English (check), French, Modern Greek, Italian, and Russian.

Now to the fun stuff, the awards.

1) Lauren at American Duchess is a multi-talented blogger with great creative impulses. I never know what interesting tidbit she'll divulge next.
2) Marie-Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century while a mouthful, is also the blog of another amazing Lauren. If you haven't read this one you should. There is more information there than one can explore in one visit.
3) The Duchess of Devonshire's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century by Heather, is the sister-blog to the one above, and provides an ever-changing assortment of interesting information; from the humorous and whimsical, to the scholarly.
4) Antoinette's Atelier features the stunningly beautiful work of Kathleen Marie, who does everything from wigs to...well, everything!
5) Fashions of Time, formerly The Baroque Boutique, is chock-full of delightful and bravely personal stories about sewing and otherwise. It's always great to see what costume or project she's working on next!

So those are my five, and if you are not already familiar with them I encourage you to check the blogs out and see if you enjoy them as much as I do!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In Their Words- Pliny the Elder

"Hope is the pillar that holds up the world. Hope is the dream of a waking man." - Pliny the Elder

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Kinder, Gentler Nero

Deservedly or not Emperor Nero gets quite the bad rap, but there were kinder depictions of him. A man who saw himself as an artist (read: actor, musician, and all around performer). Some his final words are reported to have been a line from the Iliad, and "What an artist dies in me!" Though it has been likewise said that he "fiddled" while Rome burned, there is little to suggest that this is anything but rumor.

It is therefore not surprising that in Moregine, just south of Pompeii, also preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius on August 24th 79AD there is a fresco of the Emperor Nero as Apollo Citheroedus, the God who inspires aethetic and artistic gifts in man. The unsurprising part is that the fresco is found in the home of a weathy patrician family, which most likely would have supported the emperor in his early years. The surprising part is that Nero deviated so drastically from his predecessors and their focus on militaristic propaganda as to be depicted primarily as a peaceful, artistic archetype.

In a political climate in which it was almost mandatory that a proper roman leader endorse expansionistic policies, the military and diplomatic successes of Nero were overshadowed, or at least under-exalted, to the point at which the elite classes began to consider him weaker and "un-Roman". This eventually led to attempts to replace him with military leaders, and finally his own suicide.

Perhaps despite the historical accounts, his true failing was in being different at a time and place when that was not readily-accepted. We may never really be able to accurately judge.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Death of Nero June 9th, AD 68

The life, controversies, and rumors associated with the Emperor Nero would take many posts to encompass, but as yesterday was the anniversary of his death let us focus on that at this time.

It was a suicide, or so history concludes. The reliability of some accounts has been called into question by historians, but one thing is for sure, death was coming for Nero because due to revolts in the provinces, disaffection amongst the Roman legions, and a drastic loss of favor with the senate he was declared a public enemy and was sentenced to be beaten to death.

Knowing full well the gravity of his disfavor Nero weighed the choices of fleeing to the provinces which may or may not have supported him, taking his own life, going into hiding, or appealing to the people to restore him to power. Waking at his palace during the night of June 8th he found that both his guards and his friends had deserted him, and he determined to flee with four loyal servants to a villa outside the city. There he ordered them to dig a grave for him, but lost the nerve to end his own life. When word of his sentence arrived he finally drove a dagger into his throat with the help of his secretary Epaphroditos. A pursuing horseman arrived and attempted to staunch the bleeding, but with the words "Too late, this is fidelity!" Nero died, bringing to an end the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

In Their Words

"Women cannot partake of magistracies, priesthoods, triumphs, badges of office, gifts, or spoils of war; elegance, finery, and beautiful clothes are women's badges, in these they find joy and take pride, this our forebears called the women's world."- Livy, History of Rome

Saturday, May 22, 2010

In Their Words

"All things good to know are difficult to learn." - Greek Proverb

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

This Day in History

Constantinople Becomes the Capital of the Roman Empire

On May 11th 330A.D. emperor Constantine I officially made the city of Byzantium the capital of the Roman Empire, renaming it Constantinople. He did this to bring the capital of the empire closer to the frontiers, yet within easy defense of her armies. Situated on trade routes between Asia and the west it quickly became a rich and flourishing center, though initially devoid of all of the decorum of the old capital. It would remain as the center of the empire until 1453 when the Ottoman Turks captured the city.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Some Latin words

Domina- Female form of the masculine Dominus meaning "Master". This is the term with which a slave or servant would refer to his or her mistress. It is the origin of the word "Dominate".
Villa- Upper-class country house.
Denarius- A small silver coin first minted in 211 BC which was the most basic coin in circulation, much like the penny or one-pence coin today. It's value was debased through decreases in it's weight over time, and it was eventually replaced by the antoninianus.
Forum- Marketplace, much like a city-center today it was a hub of commerce and daily ritual.
Via- Road. The Romans built extensive road networks for transporting troops and goods across the empire. Some examples include the Via Latina, Via Labicana, and Via Appia (aka the Appian Way) leading to Rome (as I've heard all roads do).

Thursday, April 8, 2010

In Their Words

"Stranger, my message is short. Stop and read it. This is the unlovely tomb of a lovely woman. Her parents gave her the name Claudia. She loved her husband with all her heart. She bore two children, one of whom she left on earth, the other beneath it. She had a pleasing way of talking and walking. She tended the house and worked wool. I have said my piece. Go your way." (Corpus of Latin Inscriptions)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter and It's Roman Equivalent

Many people know that the word "Easter" comes from the Anglo-Saxon Lunar goddess Eostre, who was said to mate with the solar god around the vernal equinox hence the references to those prolific bunnies and eggs. What you may not know is that the romans also had a vernal holiday involving a goddess-mother, Cybele, and her mate, Attis (taken from earlier Phrygian beliefs), who died and descended into the underworld to challenge the forces of death. In later years he came to be associated with the god Dionysus as well. Many of these customs were naturally based on the cycle of the seasons and the life-death-life cycle was representative of the crops, and so very dear to the cycle of people's lives. Christians and Pagans would eventually come to celebrate their very similar holidays around the same time of the year, and today much of the world has forgotten just how similar the stories are. Both traditions set the date for their celebrations around the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Ride Up Vesuvius

A Don's Life, the blog of Professor Mary Beard of Cambridge, is a surprisingly funny and straight-forward look at academia and all things Roman. The latest post is on a documentary of Pompeii that she is consulting on. As someone who is used to being on the entertainment end of such things, it's really interesting to get the opposite point of view. I think my favorite part is where she talks about being able to try on jewelry that was actually worn by the Pompeiians. Enjoy!

Monday, March 22, 2010

In Their Words

"He is not haggard from Venus' quiver, nor fired by her torch;
the dowry it was that kindled his ardour and furnished the arrows.
Her freedom is paid for; no need to conceal her notes and glances.
A wealthy woman who marries a miser is as good as single..."

- Juvenal (The Satires)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Movie News ~ Agora

I have been waiting impatiently for the movie Agora to hit american theaters since last year. For anyone not familiar with this beautiful historical-epic-biopic the trailer can be found under the link. It stars Rachel Weisz as the famous astronomer Hypatia, and follows her choices and challenges during a Christian uprising in Alexandria, Egypt in 415 AD. As this happened in March it would make sense for the film to come out this month, however no U.S. release date has yet been announced, though it is expected to be sometime this year. I'll let you know as soon as I hear more.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Recreating the Romans

I like to do a series in every era of my interests on how to recreate the look of another time. This is because as a costumer I spend quite a lot of time finding and adapting garments and accessories to look like something else, and because as a costume historian I like things to be at least a little accurate.

First of all me have a beautiful set of Roman jewelry, late period, in mostly gold and turquoise. Priceless no doubt. Oddly enough I think my mother owned a necklace very like that back in the 80's. It's surprisingly simple being comprised of chunky beads and gold motifs. The earrings and ring follow a similarly basic aesthetic, yet when put together they have an oppulent effect.

I recently came across the Etsy shop of an international jewelry designer known as Kokomi, whose museum-inspired creations in polymer are just lovely. For more images visit (, and for an article by and about the items go to (

Be inspired!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Exhibition notes

It's always hard to hear that something perfect has passed you by. I would have loved to have seen the exhibition entitled "Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture Around the Bay of Naples", but sadly it was only at the National Gallery through March of last year, and then it went to LACMA until October.

Do not despair, however, there is a very interesting article by which can be found at which drops some crumbs for those of us who missed it.

Did anyone catch the exhibit when it was in town? Thoughts on what you saw?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Roman Names- Part 1

One of the first things that comes to mind when pondering the life of a woman in Rome is "What would my name have been?" Let's start with a list of known names for women:-
Clodia (Claudia)

This is, of course, an incomplete list, and we can never know the names of all those who went unrecorded on monuments, epitaphs, or in legal records. With only 58 to choose from it is limiting, but not only could a woman have a first name, but often two names were combined, especially in the later part of the Roman era; as in Poppaea Sabina. For my part I think I would choose Aquilia Galla. As for what we would call the surname, we'll look at that next time.