Claudius Meets Pollio and Livy

Currently rereading Robert Graves’s I, Claudius (1934), in the wake of teaching HIS 302 this past semester. I was taken with this section from Chapter 9, in which a young Claudius meets the historians Livy and Pollio and discusses competing theories of history writing.

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Livy said: “The trouble with Pollio is that when he writes history he feels obliged to suppress all his finer, more poetical feelings, and make his characters behave with conscientious dullness, and when he puts a speech into their mouths he denies them the least oratorical ability.”

Pollio said: “Yes, Poetry is Poetry, and Oratory is Oratory, and History is History, and you can’t mix them.”

“Can’t I? Indeed I can,” said Livy. “Do you mean to say that I mustn’t write a history with an epic theme because that’s a prerogative of poetry or put worthy eve-of-battle speeches in the mouths of my generals because to compose such speeches is the prerogative of oratory?”

“That is precisely what I do mean. History is a true record of what happened, how people lived and died, what they did and said ; an epic theme merely distorts the record. As for your general’s speeches they are admirable as oratory but damnably unhistorical: not only is there no particle of evidence for any one of them, but they are inappropriate. I have heard more eve-of-battle speeches than most men and though the generals that made them, Caesar and Antony especially, were remarkably fine platform orators, they were all too good soldiers to try any platform business on the troops. They spoke to them in a conversational way, they did not orate. What sort of speech did Caesar make before the Battle of Pharsalia? Did he beg us to remember our wives and children and the sacred temples of Rome and the glories of our past campaigns? By God, he didn’t!…”

Livy said: ‘Pollio, my dear fellow, we were not discussing Caesar’s morals, but the proper way to write history.”

Pollio said: “Yes, that’s right. Our intelligent young friend [Claudius] was criticizing your method, under the respectful disguise of praising your readability. Boy, have you any further charges to bring against the noble Livy?”

I said: “Please, sir, don’t make me blush. I admire Livy’s work greatly.”

“The truth, boy! Have you ever caught him out in any historical inaccuracies? You seem to be a fellow who reads a good deal.”

“I would rather not venture…”

“Out with it. There must be something.”

So I said: “There is one thing that puzzles me, I confess. That is the story of Lars Porsena. According to Livy, Porsena failed to capture Rome, being first prevented by the heroic behaviour of Horatius at the bridge and then dismayed by the astounding daring of Scaevola; Livy relates that Scaevola, captured after an attempt at assassinating Porsena, thrust his hand into the flame on the altar and swore that three hundred Romans like himself had bound themselves by an oath to take Porsena’s life. And so Lars Porsena made peace. But I have seen the labyrinth tomb of Lars Porsena at Clusium and there is a frieze on it of Romans emerging from the City gate and being led under a yoke. There’s an Etruscan priest with a pair of shears cutting off the beards of the Fathers. And even Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who was very favourably disposed towards us, states that the Senate voted Porsena an ivory throne, a sceptre, a golden crown and a triumphal robe; which can only mean that they paid him sovereign honours. So perhaps Lars Porsena did capture Rome, in spite of Horatius and Scaevola. And Aruns the priest at Capua (he’s supposed to be the last man who can read Etruscan inscriptions) told me last summer that according to Etruscan records the man who expelled the Tarquins from Rome was not Brutus but Porsena, and that Brutus and Collatinus, the first two Consuls at Rome, were merely the City Stewards appointed to collect his taxes.”

Livy grew quite angry. “I am surprised at you, Claudius. Have you no reverence for Roman tradition that you should believe the lies told by our ancient enemies to diminish our greatness.”

“I only asked,” I said humbly, “what really happened then.”

“Come on, Livy,” said Pollio. “Answer the young student. What really happened?”

Livy said: “Another time. Let’s keep to the matter in hand now, which is a general discussion of the proper way to write history. Claudius, my friend, you have ambitions that way. Which of us two old worthies will you choose as a model?”

I looked from one face to the other. At last I said, “I think I would choose Pollio. As I’m sure that I can never hope to attain Livy’s inspired literary elegance, I shall do my best to imitate Pollio’s accuracy and diligence.”

“A joke is a joke, Pollio, and I can take it in good part. But there’s also a serious matter in
question and that is, the proper writing of history. It may be that I have made mistakes. What historian is free from them? I have not, at least, told deliberate falsehoods: you’ll not accuse
me of that. Any legendary episode from early historical writings which bears on my theme of the ancient greatness of Rome I gladly incorporate in the story: though it may not be true in
factual detail, it is true in spirit. If I come across two versions of the same episode I choose the one nearest my theme, and you won’t find me grubbing around Etruscan cemeteries in
search of any third account which may flatly contradict both — what good would that do?”

“It would serve the cause of the truth,” said Pollio gently. “Wouldn’t that be something?”

“And if by serving the cause of truth we admit our revered ancestors to have been cowards, liars and traitors? What then?”

I’ll leave this boy to answer the question. He’s just starting in life. Come on, boy, answer it!”

I said at random: “Livy begins his history by lamenting modern wickedness and promising to trace the gradual decline of ancient virtue as conquests made Rome wealthy. He says that he
will most enjoy writing the early chapters because he will be able, in doing so, to close his eyes to the wickedness of modern times. But in closing his eyes to modern wickedness hasn’t he sometimes closed his eyes to ancient wickedness as well?”

“Well?” asked Livy, narrowing his eyes.

“Well,” I fumbled. “Perhaps there isn’t so much difference really between their wickedness and ours. It may be just a matter of scope and opportunity.

“I hadn’t considered the matter before, that there are two different ways of writing history: one is to persuade men to virtue and the other is to compel men to truth. The first is Livy’s way and the other is yours: and perhaps they are not irreconcilable.”

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This is always the issue, isn’t it? Of course, I stand with Claudius and Pollio here – call me a naive positivist, but I still believe there is such a thing as the truth, and we can get close to it if we really try. If you want to write a novel (say, like I, Claudius) then you should clearly label it as such. The trouble is that truth-seeking history really takes effort, as Livy notes, and if taken to extremes leads to tedious books like The Lion, the Lily, and the Leopard. There is nothing wrong with making a historical argument, or retelling a historical narrative, in a clear, compelling way. Just make sure that you don’t go too far in making things up, especially in the service of your fatuous politics (a shockingly common occurrence, I regret to admit).

Queen Elizabeth

From the BBC:

Elizabeth I is arguably one of the most recognisable and iconic monarchs in history, yet the careful curation of her image and the way she was depicted throughout her reign means her true appearance has remained a mystery.

“Propaganda portraiture, once the reserve of the rich and powerful, is now in the hands of every teenager. The ability to curate your image to present a persona to the world. Elizabeth I pioneered this syndrome” says Mat Collishaw, an artist who has embarked on the task of recreating the true face of the Virgin Queen.

To bring her back to life, Collishaw has used a combination of modern technology such as digital scanning, 3D printing and animatronics. His very modern portrait, named The Mask of Youth, now sits face to face with its original inspiration, the famous Armada portrait at the Queen’s House in Greenwich, London.

“I’m creating a mask which attempts to reveal the truth of her actual appearance but also provides other mechanical elements which suggest that beneath the surface, behind the mask, her mind is busy making decisions and calculations that no one is privy to.” says Collishaw.

Click the link to watch a 5-minute video of Collishaw’s work.

Templars Today

From Smithsonian.com, courtesy Andrew Reeves, a feature about one of America’s major neo-Templar groups:

Joseph A. Auteri draws his sword and hands it to his Grand Prior, Patrick Carney, who brings it down through a layer of yellow icing, cutting a large birthday cake in half. A couple of hundred people cheer.

The crowd is mostly dressed in business attire, but Auteri is wearing medieval-style armor: a shirt of steel-link mail, a mail coif on his head, plate armor on his shoulders and white linen robes emblazoned with a red cross. The outfit weighs 65 pounds and can cause problems for airline baggage handlers. His sword, modeled on one from the Ridley Scott movie Kingdom of Heaven, is not battle sharp, but it cuts sponge cake easily enough.

By day Joe Auteri, 49, is a partner in a financial planning company based in Pennsylvania. This evening, though, he is Hugh de Payns, a French knight who died in 1136 after establishing a military order known as the Knights Templar.

More at the link, including the information that this group accepts women and even Muslims (although not without some objection on the part of some members).

Color

The white marble temples and statues of ancient Greece, and the grey limestone cathedrals of medieval Europe, did not look like that to contemporaries. In fact, they were painted in a riot of color, which is not exactly to our taste. Perhaps as a consequence, the paint has been allowed to fade and has not been restored. At Amiens Cathedral, however, cleaning efforts in the 1990s revealed what the original colors were; they then figured out a way to project colored light onto the statuary on the façade to indicate how it may have appeared in the thirteenth century (hat tip: Michelle Armstrong-Partida). In a similar fashion, Vinzenz Brinkmann and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann have spent two decades using “several high-tech methods to uncover the true intended appearances of ancient artwork,” including X-ray fluorescence, infrared spectroscopy, and ultraviolet analysis. This allows them to make digital images of the statues as they may have originally appeared.

Both links will take you to some very interesting illustrations.

More Videos

From my friend Alex Blomerus, a link to Altair4, a company that digitally recreates historic sites, like the Ara Pacis and the Forum of Augustus or Ostia Antica and Trajan’s Harbor.

A company that has used their services has been Hermis, whose Ancient Acropolis video is interesting (although, as Alex notes, there’s “lots missing. No stairs to the north of the Erechtheion, no Old Temple, no altar.” So viewer discretion is advised!)

Pompeii and Vesuvius

From Kelly DeVries, an interesting link, which features computer animated video of the destruction of the Roman town of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

A good disaster story never fails to fascinate — and, given that it actually happened, the story of Pompeii especially so. Buried and thus frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, the ancient Roman town of 11,000 has provided an object of great historical interest ever since its rediscovery in 1599. Baths, houses, tools and other possessions (including plenty of wine bottles), frescoes, graffiti, an amphitheater, an aqueduct, the “Villa of the Mysteries“: Pompeii has it all, as far as the stuff of first-century Roman life goes.

The ash-preserved ruins of Pompeii, more than any other source, have provided historians with a window into just what life in that time and place was like. A Day in Pompeii, an exhibition held at the Melbourne Museum in 2009, gave its more than 330,000 visitors a chance to experience Pompeii’s life even more vividly. The exhibition included a 3D theater installation that featured the animation above. Watch it, and you can see Pompeii brought back to life with computer-generated imagery — and then, in snapshots over the course of 48 hours, entombed by Vesuvius again.

I wish they had used “the third hour” or “the sixth hour” instead of “9:00 a.m.” or “12:00 p.m.” They do use A.D., however!

Tall Ships on the Great Lakes

From MLive.com:

Fleet of 20 tall ships to race across Great Lakes this summer

At least 20 tall ships are scheduled to visit each of the Great Lakes this year; a fleet that includes a replica Viking longship and a 170-foot Spanish Galleon making their debut on America’s freshwater seas.

The El Galeon Andalucia, a 495-ton, authentic wooden replica of a galleon that was part of Spain’s West Indies fleet, and the Dragon Harald Fairhar, a replica Viking longship built in Norway, are crossing the Atlantic Ocean this year to join the Tall Ships Challengereturning to the Great Lakes in 2016.

The fleet will sail the lakes over the course of four months, with scheduled port stops and races on lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior between July and September.

The organized tall ships show last visited Michigan in 2013.

“In between each of the ports, they will be racing,” said Erin Short, challenge manager for Rhode Island-based Tall Ships America.

Although there are numerous tall ships that are home-ported around the Great Lakes, the challenge brings them all together into a large, international fleet with a structured schedule, said Short.

The entire roster has not been announced, but the fleet will make port at least 8 times in the Great Lakes this summer.

More at the link, including photos of the ships and the actual schedule of where and when they will all be stopping.

Here is a photo of Lake Ontario that I took on Christmas Eve at Port Hope, Ontario:

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Bayeux Tapestry Pictures

As promised, photographs of the Bayeux Tapestry reception at the University of North Georgia this past Friday. They were all taken on my iPhone; apologies for the general lack of quality.

Here is the obligatory picture of Price Memorial Hall:

The whole tapestry is pretty much to scale, although it is not embroidered, but painted with acrylic paint in colors closely matching the original.

It is a pleasure to see the whole thing as a continuous frieze, rather than the discrete chunks that publishers must break it into in order to publish it in a book.

The Tapestry is some 230 feet long; it continued on the outside of the U:

In this format, one certainly notices details that one may have previously missed.

Participants included Christopher Jespersen, Dean of Arts and Letters, as MC:

Judge Edd Wheeler, sponsor of this reproduction:

Theresa Jespersen of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, who spoke about the Bayeux Tapestry (and other artifacts) as teaching tools:

Kelly DeVries of Loyola University, Maryland, who spoke about military technology on display in the tapestry:

Glen Kyle of the Northeast Georgia History Center in period costume, and Tim May, associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters:

At the end of the evening the reproduction was rolled up into a specially designed box: