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...