Praxiteles exhibition at the Louvre

This is from the Eurostar website:

When: 23 Mar – 18 Jun 2007; not Tue

Where: Louvre

Cost: €9.50; combined ticket (exhibition and permanent collections): €13; Wed & Fri from 6pm €11; under 18s free

Opening Hours: Wed-Mon 9am-6pm (until 9.45pm Wed & Fri)

The first Greek sculptor to create female nudes, Praxiteles was a great innovator of his era – the 4th century BC – and exercised a profound influence on art and sculpture in the ensuing centuries. Little is known of the man himself, and even his art remains fairly mysterious, with many Roman works having been attributed to him and later found to be copies. This exhibition at the Louvre assembles a large body of marbles and bronzes that show off his style, and demonstrate his far-reaching influence on art through the ages. There are also some pieces that illustrate the difficulty in identifying his work, a problem that remains to this day.

If you are thinking of visiting Paris this year this might be a good extra attraction.


Do we need eipc films about the Greeks and Romans?

The Observer has a piece about the forthcoming film of Thermopylae. David Smith reckons that it's the last chance for a classical epic film to be successful, before Hollywood pulls the plug on the genre.

He says that whereas Gladiator was a great success, Troy and Alexander were failures. He quotes a particularly scathing dismissal of Alexander as

a lumbering, shapeless failure, historically and artistically. It's put the notion of making ancient movies back

That's David Cartledge's view. I haven't seen it (or Troy, for that matter) so I can't comment.

It is probably because I shall very soon reach my three-score years and ten, but I'm not vastly taken with sword and sandal epics these days. There were one or two that impressed me in the past. Ben Hur; Richard Burton's Alexander; even Cleopatra. But what I liked about them, aside from the reconstructions which could be excerpted for teaching use, was the human story played out by good actors. Come to think of it, that Alexander had just a few classical columns to represent a great temple or a palace, which is why I never used that as classroom illustration. And I have a soft spot for Ben Hur, apart from its spectacular chariot race, mainly for its Christian symbolism.

The Italian sword and sandal films of, when was it? the Fifties were really a joke.

The Greeks dealt with huge subjects with small resources – three actors, a chorus of maybe twelve. Could there have been 50 Oceanides? There weren't when I saw the play in the Herod Atticus Odeon. Isn't epic scale in films merely a diversion?

Nevertheless, I wish the new film well.

Depressing – and short on facts

The Financial Times printed a column by Matthew Engel on 19th January which my 'Latin' news alert didn't pick up, but Explorator did. He tried to downplay the fact that schools are taking up Latin like this:

I think what we may be seeing here is the equivalent of what’s known on the stock exchange as dead-cat bounce: dead-language bounce. The study of classics has collapsed to such an extent that even the tiniest flicker of life seems like a revival.

It seems that he has got around to reading Amo amas amat, and proclaims himself of the author's persuasion. He shares Harry Mount's disdain for the truth, writing:

And even that number can only be maintained by using the Cambridge Latin Course, which steers clear of nasty medicinal concepts like the fifth declension and the gerundive.

Need I say more?

Some letters in reply:

Father Foster says you don't need to be clever to know Latin

The Sunday Telegraph has a piece on Father Foster (Vatican Latinist) and his views on Latin, including this:

He condemned the loss of Latin teaching in schools across most of Europe, and said that as a result students were missing out on important elements of history. “Like classical music, Latin will always be there. If we cannot understand it, it is we who are losing out.”

Italy is, however, different: all schoolchildren, except those who attend technical colleges, must be taught Latin for at least four hours a week until they are 18. But Fr Foster said the techniques used to teach Latin were outdated. “You need to present the language as a living thing,” he said. “You do not need to be mentally excellent to know Latin. Prostitutes, beggars and pimps in Rome spoke Latin, so there must be some hope for us.”

Romans left African DNA in Yorkshire – perhaps

The Mail on Sunday has been having fun with a Leicester University study that discovered African DNA is present in seven Yorkshiremen. What do Classicists think of the Mail's assumption that Africans in Britain in Roman times were slaves? See for example Mary Beard's recent blog article on racism in the ancient world here.

Yorkshireman found to share DNA with African tribes

John Revis has always considered himself a true Yorkshireman who was proud of his ancestry.

But he has been forced to confront an entirely different heritage – after scientists uncovered that he has exactly the same DNA imprint as a tribe of African warriors.

Scientists last week announced the discovery of the first proof that slaves brought to Britain by the Romans left behind a distinct genetic heritage.

This strand was revealed to exist among just seven men with a particular surname hailing from the North of England.

However, the academics refused to disclose the identities of any of those men included in the study.

Now The Mail on Sunday has discovered that all of those with the African lineage have the surname Revis.

Last night, John, 75, a retired surveyor living in Leicester, said: “I started looking into my family history and traced my ancestors back to the mid-1700s.

“One line went to the States and became very successful while my immediate line stayed in the North of England and were mostly bakers. There was nothing to suggest that I was African.”

John responded to a newspaper advert by Leicester University asking for people who have traced their ancestry to give DNA samples for a study on world populations.

He said: “The scientists took some of my DNA away for analysis and then one day they called me up and were very excited. They said I had a Y-chromosome that was extremely rare. I was flabbergasted. I had no idea that I was so culturally unique. But I am not going to start eating couscous and riding a camel.”

John is attempting to take the discovery in his stride. He added: “It was a shock to find out that, because I was so blond and blue-eyed when I was younger, people thought I was Nordic or German.

“But the researchers said that if my DNA were examined then people would assume they were looking at a North African man.

“I suspect there must have been some big Berber tribesman who came to Britain with the Romans and spread his seed all over Yorkshire.”

John is married with three children and six grandchildren. The news shocked his friends at Brookfield Bowls Club in Leicester.

He added: “It is a very white establishment which can be a little awkward in a multi-racial place such as Leicester.

“At least now they can say they have got one more ethnic-minority member but I doubt anyone would be able to pick me out. His wife Marlene was also taken aback.”

She said: “I can hardly believe it. John has always seemed very English to me. He likes his roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on a Sunday. He has never asked me to cook anything unusual. My friends think our news is hilarious.

“The closest John ever came to the traditional Berber life was when he went camping with the Scouts. I don't think we've been in a tent since we got married.'

Scientists from Leicester University made the finding during research sponsored by The Wellcome Trust. They were examining the relationship between the male, or Y, chromosome and surnames.

Like surnames, the Y-chromosome is passed from father to son, virtually unchanged through generations.

Professor Mark Jobling said: “We found John was in the A1 group of Y-chromosomes, which is very rare and highly west African-specific.

“This study has shown what it means to be British is complicated and always has been. Human migration history is very complex, particularly for an island nation such as ours. This study further debunks the idea that there are simple and distinct populations or races.”

Over time, the Y-chromosome accumulates small changes in DNA sequence, allowing scientists to study the relationships between different male lineages.

The surname Revis is believed to derive from Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. Berber comes from the Latin word for Barbarian.

Fellow researcher Turi King said: “Our findings represent the first genetic evidence of Africans among 'indigenous' British people.”

She added that Africans were first recorded in northern England 1,800 years ago, brought by the Romans to help defend Hadrian's Wall.

Ms King said: “The slave trade was responsible for the influx of Africans in the 16th and 17th Centuries. By the last third of the 18th Century there were 10,000 black people in Britain.

Previous studies of British genetic diversity had found no evidence of African Y-chromosome lineages.”