Saturday, May 26, 2012

Planning a Trip to See the Wonders of the Ancient World with Orbis

Stanford has new geospatial networking tool, Orbis, that lets you calculate travel times, distances and costs in theRoman Empire based on data for the early 3rd century A.D. Think of it like Google Maps and Travelocity rolled into one.Prices and routes vary according to time of year and mode of travel, all of which can be selected in the Orbis dashboard.
I played around with it a little and decided to see what it would be like to plan a summer vacation travelling fromRometo see all seven of the wonders of the ancient world. I used the traditional list of wonders (see below), but our first extant list of wonders by Antipater of Sidon (late 2nd century B.C.E.) mentions the walls of Babylon instead of the light house of Alexandria:
"I have seen the Walls of rock-like Babylon that chariots can run upon, and seen Zeus on the Alpheus, and the Hanging Gardens, and the great statue of the Sun, and the huge labour of the steep Pyramids, and the mighty Tomb of Mausolus; but when I looked at the house of Artemis soaring to the clouds, those others were dimmed, <  > apart from Olympus, the sun never yet looked upon its like." (The Greek Anthology, 9.58; translated by A.S.F. Gow & D.L. Page, 1968)
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World:
  • The colossal gold and ivory statue of Zeus in theTemple of Zeus at Olympia(5th century B.C.E.)
  • The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (6th/4th century B.C.E.)
  • The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, burial place of Mausolus, King of Caria (4th century B.C.E.)
  • The Colossus of Rhodes (3rd century B.C.E.)
  • The Lighthouse at Alexandria (3rd century B.C.E.)
  • The Pyramids at Giza (ca. 2500's B.C.E.)
  • The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (6th century B.C.E.)
[Image via Wikipedia]
Since one almost surely would have passed through Alexandriato get to the pyramids at Giza, and the walls were in Babylon with the Hanging Gardens, using Antipater's list wouldn't make much of a change to the route. Not all of these places are available in Orbis, so I selected the closest point possible. In particular, for Olympia I chose the mouth of the Alpheus River, for Giza I chose Memphis, and Dura for Babylon. I also chose what seemed like the most logical route to me: starting with Olympia, jumping over to Asia Minor for Ephesus and Halicarnassus, then down to Rhodes, before crossing the Mediterranean to Egypt and finally heading east toward Babylon.
[Screen shot from Orbis of tour of the wonders of the ancient world.
[Screen shot from Orbis]
When planning these routes I chose to use the price list for travel by donkey. Under speed options I selected the slower means of sea travel for the cheapest route, but for the shortest and fastest routes I went wild and selected the private transport speed option!
Distance and time are pretty self-explanatory. But how much is a denarius worth in modern terms? Conversions from ancient to modern currencies are fraught with difficulties and most scholars will warn you away from such attempts. It is possible, however, to get a sense of how much one of these travel options would have cost by comparing known prices for common goods and salaries. The denarius was the Romans' most common silver coin. When the denarius was first introduced in the 3rd century B.C.E. it was the equivalent of 10 asses, small denomination copper coins, but in the 2nd century B.C.E. the denarius was valued at 16 asses, which remained the standard throughout much of the Imperial Period. At the beginning of the 3rd century A.D., contemporary with the data used by Orbis, a Roman legionary earned about 400 denarii per year. Living in Romean individual would have spent about 60-90 denarii per year on grain/bread which was the staple of the Roman diet (see an example of wages and prices here).  So a trip to see the wonders of the world would have been quite an expense for most people inRome.
Looking at the results, if you only wanted to be able to say you saw all seven of the wonders, the fastest route seems to be the best choice.  Not only is it faster, but probably much more cost efficient in the end. It is more than double the price of the cheapest route, but by cutting out an extra month and a half of travel time one could save on other travel expenses. Nowadays those expenses would be food and lodging, but in antiquity travelers frequently stayed as guests in private homes. Networks of friends, family, friends of friends/family provided room and board, but these often times included exchanges of gifts. There would undoubtedly still be times, on a trip such as this, when travelers would be compelled to rent accommodations and buy food, not to mention souvenirs.
Orbis is a great tool and lots of fun to play around with. It will be interesting to see how it develops and how people make use of it. I can also say from my own experience that they are extremely prompt and helpful when responding to questions.

Friday, May 25, 2012

If the Colosseum had been built on the University of Utah campus...

The BBC has a cool tool that puts the size of the Colosseum in perspective by letting you plop down the amphitheater's footprint in your own neighborhood. (They also offer comparisons of the pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge, the leg span of the Colossus of Rhodes and more.)

The Colosseum compared to Rice-Eccles Stadium and the Huntsman Center, via the BBC
 I dropped the Colosseum on the middle of the University of Utah campus and it's interesting to see how it compares to the modern sports arenas. There are two arenas on campus: Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the Utes' football team plays and where the 2002 Winter Olympic ceremonies took place, and the Jon M. Hunstman Center, where the Utes' basketball teams and women's gymnastics compete. While it is roughly similar in size to Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Colosseum would probably have dwarfed Rice-Eccles in appearance due to the difference in building techniques.
The Colosseum vs. Rice-Eccles Stadium (photos by author)
The stats:

The Colosseum
First Game(s): 80 A.D.
Cost: Unknown
Seating: 54,760, estimates vary from ca. 50,000 to 80,000[1]
Overall Square footage: 258,334
Arena Dimensions in feet: 282.15 x 177.17[2]

Rice-Eccles Stadium
First Game(s): 12 September, 1998
Cost: ca. $50 million ($71.3 million in 2012 according to Wikipedia)
Seating: 46,179
Overall Square footage: 234,350
Arena Dimensions in feet: 360 x 160 (NCAA regulation)

Jon M. Huntsman Center
First Game(s): 30 November, 1969
Cost: $10,392,00 in 1969 ($65.9 million in 2012 according to Wikipedia)
Seating: 15,115
Overall Square footage: Unknown
Arena Dimensions in feet: 94 x 50 (NCAA Men's Basketball regulation)

It's interesting to compare the seating arrangments of the three arenas. In the Colosseum, the best seats were front row seats. Bomgardner has calculated some numbers: for the tribunal, where the emperor and his guests sat, ca. 60 seats and ca. 2,190 seats for the podium, where senators and various priests and priestesses, like the Vestal Virgins, sat. These VIP's sat in portable folding chairs that they would have brought with them, while the rest of the audience sat in bleacher-style seating, packed in like sardines, if we extrapolate from Ovid's comments (Ars Amatoria I.139-142) about being compelled to sit glued to the side of one's neighbor in the Circus Maximus. (Of course, Ovid doesn't mind this as he thinks it's a great way to pick up girls!) 
Seating arrangments in the Colosseum (excerpted from A. Claridge (1998) Rome, p. 279)
It is debatable which are the best seats at Rice-Eccles. There are the front line seats, closest to the action, or the "luxury suites" (953 seats) up in the skyboxes. There are generally better seats at Rice-Eccles than in the Colosseum, because it has 15,015 "chair seats," but the other ca. 30,000 seats in the bleachers aren't much better than what the Roman enjoyed! The Huntsman Center has better overall seating, everyone gets a "chair seat", but there are only 194 front row seats.

[1] Bomgardner, D.L. (2000) The Story of the Roman Amphitheater, p. 20.
[2] Richardson, L. (1992) A New Topographical Dictionary, p. 10.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Throwing Beans at Lemurs

In ancient Rome, today, May 9th, marked the first day of the Lemuria, a three day religious holiday during which lemurs were exorcized from private homes by throwing beans, banging on pots and pans, and making obscene hand gestures.

The thing about the Lemuria that most interests me is the throwing beans part, and I'll come back to that, but first some clarification about the Lemuria. If you have been picturing cute, little, furry, big-eyed lemurs, erase that image from your mind. Lemurs in ancient Rome were spirits of the dead. (For you students of Latin that should be lemures, lemurum.) The precise nature of lemurs is unclear, although most define them as "malevolent" spirits. The Romans in fact had a number of words that can generally be translated as "spirit of the dead" or "ghost." Among these are larva, umbra, manes, spectrum, simulacrum, and borrowed Greek words like phantasma and idolon.

Our best source of information on the Lemuria is the Augustan era poet Publius Ovidius Naso (ca. 43 B.C.-17 A.D.), better known to English speakers as Ovid. In his Fasti, a poem about Roman holidays, Ovid tells us that the Lemuria was celebrated on May 9th, 11th and 13th. These days were marked with an "N" on the Roman calendar, indicating that they were unfavorable, or nefas, days for conducting official activities. In fact, Ovid says (Fasti 5.485-489) that the doors of the temples were closed, meaning that the Roman Senate could not meet and conduct official business, and that one should not marry in May as the bride would not live for long. According to Ovid the Lemuria was a very ancient festival, dating back to the founding of Rome. He provides an origin myth for the festival with a spurious etymological argument. The festival began with the funeral rites of  Remus, who was killed by his brother Romulus. Remus' bloodied ghost appeared to his adoptive parents asking them to intercede with Romulus to establish a day of celebration in honor of Remus. Romulus agrees and the Remuria is established. Presumably, Ovid is identifying the Remuria as the Lemuria, not only because of their ghostly connections, but also due to a common pattern of linguistic change (a.k.a. dissimulation) in which "R" becomes "L" (e.g. Latin "peregrin" becomes "pilgrim" in English). Whatever its origin, Ovid says the Lemuria is an ancient festival and it was apparently still being observed at the start of the seventh century A.D. when Pope Boniface (608-615 A.D.) established May 13th as All Saints' Day and consecrated the Pantheon to Mary and the Saints. Boniface hoped to divert the common people of Rome from celebration of the Lemuria to a Christan substitute.

More importantly, in this passage of the Fasti (5.431-444), Ovid gives us the ritual by which a Roman householder rid his home of lemurs:

nox ubi iam media est somnoque silentia praebet,
et canis et variae conticuistis aves,              
ille memor veteris ritus timidusque deorum
surgit (habent gemini vincula nulla pedes),
signaque dat digitis medio cum pollice iunctis,
occurrat tacito ne levis umbra sibi.
cumque manus puras fontana perluit unda,              
vertitur et nigras accipit ante fabas,
aversusque iacit; sed dum iacit, 'haec ego mitto,
his' inquit 'redimo meque meosque fabis.'
hoc novies dicit nec respicit: umbra putatur
colligere et nullo terga vidente sequi.              
rursus aquam tangit, Temesaeaque concrepat aera,
et rogat ut tectis exeat umbra suis.
cum dixit novies 'manes exite paterni'
respicit, et pure sacra peracta putat.
(Excerpted from The Latin Library)

"When it's the middle of the night and silence offers sleep, and the dogs and the spotted birds have fallen silent, that man mindful of the ancient rites and fearful of the gods rises (his two feet are unshod), and he makes the sign with his fingers joined in the middle to his thumb, lest an unsubstantial ghost run into him in the silence. And when he has washed his hands clean in spring water, he turns and first of all takes some black beans, and, turning back, he throws them; but while he throws them "These I cast to you," he says, "with these beans I avert evil from both myself and my family." He says this nine times and does not look back: the ghost is thought to collect the beans and to follow behind the man who does not see the ghost. Again he touches the water, and he bangs the bronze pots from southern Italy, and he asks that the ghost leave his home. When he has said "Spirits of my fathers, go!" nine times he looks back, and he reckons that the sacred rites have been carried out completely." (My translation)

And that is how you can purge your house of lemurs at midnight on Sunday, May 13th.

There are a couple of things worth noting in the various parts of the ritual. The hand gesture being described is probably what is known in modern Italian as the "mano cornuto" (the horned hand) and is known in contemporary American culture from heavy metal concerts and University of Texas football games. The index finger and little finger are raised, while the thumb holds the two middle fingers down on the palm. The "mano cornuto" has its origin in ancient Italy, where it is seen in Etruscan tombs, and it serves as an apotropaic gesture used to ward of evil. The fact that the household repeats the sacred words nine times undoubtedly was meant to make the words as powerful as possible. Nine is composed of three sets of three, and three is a magical number, think of the Roman preference for divine triads, or the Christian Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Finally, the bronze pots from southern Italy, or as the Latin reads literally "bronze from Temesa," are ritually significant because bronze was the preferred metal for sacrificial implements. Temesa, located in Calabria, was apparently well-known for the quality of its copper mines.

The thing I have always found intriguing about this passage is the ritual of throwing beans over one's shoulder to appease the lemurs and make them leave. Now beans are significant in the ancient world for a variety of reasons (e.g. in Pythagorean beliefs, in other rituals associated with dead) that I won't go into here, because I am more interested in the method of throwing, rather than what is being thrown.

This ritual carried out at the close of the Lemuria belongs to a series of other rituals that involve throwing objects over one's shoulder both to protect oneself and to bring good fortune, which are of course two aspects of the same idea. And I suspect that, through comparisons with other throwing rituals, its possible to assert that the householder threw the beans with his right hand over his left shoulder.

Some comparanda:

Salt. Throwing salt is a common ritual performed after one spills some salt. The origin of this ritual are uncertain, but it probably arose in part due to the costliness of salt in historical periods. The most common throwing method is to take a pinch of the spilt salt with one's right hand and toss it over one's left shoulder. It is said that the devil sits on one's left shoulder and that throwing salt over that shoulder blinds the devil, or distracts him, and prevents one from being cursed for wastefulness.

A couple of interesting observations about salt. Everyone knows, of course, that the human body is composed of a large quantity of salt and that salt is necessary for life. Conversely, salt is used, and has been used for centuries, to preserve meats.

The Trevi Fountain. Anyone who has been to Rome, knows that one needs to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain to ensure a future return trip. As the ritual procedure was explained to me, one turns one's back on the fountain and casts the coin over his left shoulder with his right hand. I have also been told, and this seems to be a common belief based on a quick internet search, that one can throw a second and third coin into the fountain to ensure marriage and/or divorce.

Weddings. Throwing the bridal bouquet and bride's garter are common wedding rituals. The tossing of the bouquet appears to have developed as a defense mechanism for the bride. At least as early as the Middle Ages the bride's wedding garments were considered to bestow good luck and after the wedding the guests would try to rip portions of the cloth. It seems that the practice of throwing a bouquet developed by the Renaissance to allow the transfer of bridal luck without the bride losing her clothes! The groom's throwing of the bride's garter also allows that transfer of good luck. The good luck associated with bridal bouquets and garters is of course a very specific sort of luck: those who catch the bouquet and garter are destined to be the next to marry. Presumably, it is possible to extend this good luck to cover not only marriage, but also the birth of children.

Deucalion & Pyrrha. The myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha is coincidentally best preserved for us in another of Ovid's poems, Metamorphoses (1.313-415). This aged and childless couple is often compared to Noah and his wife. Because of their piety, Deucalion and Pyrrha are forewarned by Zeus of the coming flood that is designed to eradicate the largely impious human population. As Ovid relates the story, the couple ride out the flood in a tiny boat and eventually make landfall on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus. As they observe the flood-washed world around them, they are struck by its emptiness. Seeking guidance, they appeal to the goddess Themis, whose shrine is conveniently located there on Parnassus. Themis tells them to "leave the shrine! Cover your heads and loosen the fastenings on your garments and throw the bones of your great mother behind your back!" Pyrrha is troubled by this oracle as she fears desecrating her mother's grave, but Deucalion arrives at the correct interpretation. He realizes that the "great mother" is mother earth and that her bones are stones. When they cast the rocks over their shoulders as ordered, each rock is transformed into a human being as it hits the earth. The stones cast by Pyrrha become women, those by Deucalion become men.

The Lemuria and these other rituals are performed to ensure prosperity and bring good fortune to a household. In the cases of throwing spilt salt and coins into the Trevi Fountain the prescribed ritual requires one to throw over one's left shoulder with one's right hand and I'd argue that this was the same procedure used for the Lemuria.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fall 2012 Course Textbooks

I'm a book addict. I admit it. This probably explains the level of enjoyment I attain from selecting textbooks for my courses. In the fall I'll be teaching three courses here at the U of U and for those students who like to shop around, or just know far in advance, these are the primary texts I'll be using in my courses. We will also make use of some other resources on-line and at the library, but these will make up the bulk of our reading assignments. 

CL CV 1550-060 :: Classical Mythology 
Classical Mythology: Images & Insights, 6th edition 
By S. Harris & G. Platzner 
Published by McGraw-Hill, 2011 
ISBN 978-0073407524 

CL CV 2780-001 :: Graeco-Roman Sport as Religion & Culture 
Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World 
By D.G. Kyle 
Published by Wiley-Blackwell, 2006 
ISBN 978-0631229711 

The Roman Games: A Sourcebook 
By A. Futrell Published by Wiley-Blackwell, 2006 
ISBN 978-1405115698 

Arete: Greek Sports from Ancient Sources, 3rd ed. rev. 
By S.G. Miller 
Published by University of California Press, 2004 
ISBN 978-0520241541 

LATIN 3610/4610-001 :: Third & Fourth Year Prose 
Suetonius: Divus Augustus 
Edited by J. Clark 
Published by Bristol Classical Texts, 1991 
ISBN 9780906515556 

Res Gestae Divi Augusti 
Edited by R. Wallace 
Published by Bolchazy-Carducci, 2000 
ISBN 9780906515556 

Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars 
Translated by R. Graves; revised by J. Rives 
Published by Penguin Classics, 2007 
ISBN 9780140455168 [The Oxford edition would be fine as well] 

For upper level Latin I also recommend buying a good Latin dictionary and grammar. I typically recommend C. Lewis' An Elementary Latin Dictionary from Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780199102051 and A. Mahoney's revised edition of Allen & Greenough's New Latin Grammar from Focus Publishing, ISBN 9781585100422. 

There are, however, a number of apps now available through iTunes for iPods, iPads and iPhones that provide good dictionary and grammar resources at a much lower price and in a much more portable form. I'll be doing a post on these in the next week or so.