When learning a new language, I find that it’s always good to get to know it first. Find out what it’s about, the kinds of expectations it has, and how much work it’s going to be. After all, it takes a person who likes a certain kind of challenge to surmount the terrifying idioms of a language like English, or the ten thousand characters of Mandarin. But it’s not just about difficulty, it’s also about usability. Esperanto is really easy to learn, but unfortunately it only allows you to speak with nerds. So when I saw Latin making eyes at me from the course catalogue, I was a bit nervous. I’d never been into older languages, though I knew some people who had a real thing for them. Still, I was fascinated by some of its speakers, and decided to try it out.  Continue reading

Movie Review

I must admit, I was leery when I first saw the cover of Agora on Netflix. It showed the back of a young man with an unsheathed gladius dripping blood. I was immediately reminded of the many recent disappointments in terms of historical movies or TV series set in antiquity, namely Centurion, Clash of the Titans, and STARZ’s Spartacus series – plenty of nudity, violence, and gore, but not much beyond that. Continue reading

The Spear Carrier, by Doryphoros

I graduated a year ago with a minor in classical studies, but I like to stay involved with UW’s Classical Studies community, so I write here, and tweet as well. This isn’t just because the people involved in that department, both students and faculty, are great people who have had an incredible effect on my development as a human being, but because all of us place a great deal of value in the things we can learn from the past. It’s a shrinking field in some places though, and I think that’s to our detriment as a species, though a lot of people question the merits of studying dead languages and reconstructing the affairs of long dead people whose heritage is barely shared by western scholars. And those people are wrong. Continue reading

Last night was a big night for the Classical and Medieval Studies Student Society (CMS), and a great way to end the term. After a  talk by visiting graduate student Monica D’Agostini on the lineage of the Seleucids in Pontus and Syria, we retired to the Three Kretans restaurant in Kitchener for an evening of great food and good fun. Afterward, they headed out to the movie theatre to see Immortals, the latest movie reflecting Hollywood’s fascination with the myths of the ancient world.

It’s been a pretty busy term for CMS, too. From the First Year Social and Meet the Profs events in September, we’ve also had a Halloween movie night, the department’s wine and cheese, and even a scavenger hunt. We also devoted a week to recognizing and appreciating our department’s administrative assistant, Brigitte Schneebeli, who we can’t do enough for. Next term promises to be even more fun, with spiritwear being released, as well as a trip to the Royal Ontario Museum in the works, not to mention our yearly trip to the International Congress of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo Michigan, where this is a landmark year, as some of our alumni from the last few years (including me) are presenting.

I speak for everyone involved with Labyrinth when I say that we appreciate all of the work Sydney, Amanda, and Kyle have put into this term’s events, and that we’re looking forward to attending and giving them the attention they deserve in the Winter term.

If you want to write about an event, or anything else related to classics at Waterloo, you can learn more about how to submit to Labyrinth by clicking the “Submissions” link in the top bar. If you’re interested in finding out more about these events, you can find CMS on Facebook and on Twitter.

As a generally very picky person, there are very few TV series that I want to watch again and again and again. HBO’s Rome is definitely #1 on that list though – even above all my favourite non-classics related shows. It’s not for the violence and sex – if that’s what you’re looking for, I hear the newer series Spartacus has gratuitous amounts of that. If you want decent content, on the other hand, you’ll find yourself re-watching Rome as you expand your knowledge of ancient culture and history. Okay, maybe not the history quite so much – they do tend to take a fair amount of creative license with the details. Certain characters live beyond their historical expiry date, while others have factually inaccurate (but thoroughly entertaining) encounters, and events are glossed over, placed out of order or sometimes skipped altogether. But if you ever wonder what it would have been like to live during the times of Caesar and Pompey, of Antony and Cleopatra, this TV series paints a vivid picture of life as a Roman citizen – both rich and poor.

Parallel to the more recognizable names (Julius Caesar, Augustus, Cicero) you encounter an abundance of common people. They wear dingy clothing and walk through run-down neighbourhoods, near soot-stained walls that are often laden with rude political graffiti. They struggle with awkward family dinners, and love, and bringing home enough to pay the bills. And before you think I’m getting all mushy, don’t worry – they kick some serious ass.

Time and legend have crystallized the historical characters into larger-than-life heroes, but in Rome they, too, are portrayed in such a way as to emphasize how human they were. Cicero, the great orator, speaks his very eloquent and wise words like he’s supposed to, but his pompousness often hides fear, because he’s really not much of a strong fighter when push literally comes to shove. The infamous Marc Antony is just a cocky, self-assured jock, but his arrogance and obnoxiousness are hilarious and prevent the over-dramatic tendencies common in many ‘historical’ shows and movies.

Aside from absolutely brilliant, three-dimensional characters, HBO also does a fantastic job of looking after little details. You will not catch them all on the first viewing, or even the second. The fourth time I watched the show, I noticed in one very brief scene that a character walks into a brothel, and the doorway is marked by a specific kind of lamp that signals the type of ‘business’ that’s run there. In another scene, someone is sculpting a clay portrait of Pompey, which is meant to gently reference an actual portrait bust of the great warlord. The first time I watched Rome was before I started taking Classics courses, when I knew nothing about the real history or culture. Each year I would end up watching it again, and notice a few nods to material I had just learned – like the lighthouse of Alexandria in the background of a scene.

Most non-classicists tend to romanticize the ancient world. It’s perfectly natural to do that, since the highlights get emphasized so much – the brilliance of Greek philosophy, the magnificent beauty of Greek architecture, the eloquence of Roman oratory, the organization of the Roman military. But the life of your average Joe (or Gaius, I suppose) was far from glamorous, and Rome does an excellent job of portraying the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, forgotten details while still maintaining the grandeur and epic nature of prominent historical events and characters.

I adore Robin Hood stories. Always have. When I was a kid I’d read any version I could get my hands on, and the Errol Flynn Robin Hood was one of my favourite movies. So when I found a Robin Hood movie I hadn’t seen yet, I was very excited.

Sat down last night to watch it, and… well.

It started off good. Very different from the standard Robin Hood tale, but that’s no bad thing since there are so many Robin Hoods out there already. For instance, most of them start out with Robin Hood already an outlaw in Sherwood Forest, but here he starts off with his land and title and is outlawed during the course of the movie. So far so good.

And my optimism continued: the sword-fighting scenes are more “whack at the other guy until he falls over into the mud” than the dashing fencing of Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone. Probably far more accurate to the time period. And Friar Tuck shows up as a wandering Friar, kicked out of his order and forced to sell fake relics (passing off chicken bones as Saints’ finger bones) to earn his living. Delightful!

Some things did make me raise an eyebrow… In one scene, they have a fight in a dye shop. Greens and yellows and purples and more go flying around until all the characters are stained head to toe. That would be one expensive fight for the poor dyer. Then again, it makes for an interesting fight, and I’m sure the choreographer had a blast with it. Does that justify a scene that doesn’t ring true for historical accuracy?

As well, when Robin Hood and Will Scarlett are outlawed and have to run for their lives from the Norman soldiers, they seem to have somehow found the time to swing past their forfeited home and pick up a few nice changes of clothes. (Or, I suppose, they robbed a few nobles who were exactly their size…)

But overall, as the movie wound to a close, I was feeling pretty good about it. Some historical inaccuracies, but also some fun inclusions (like the fake relics); some inconsistencies in the film (things like wearing a cloak in one shot and not in the next). But all in all a good time.

And then the ending came. Which turned out to be 5 minutes or so of some of the cheesiest video I have ever seen in my life. A comically drawn-out death scene, a very quickly wrapped-up Happily Ever After, and some truly awful declarations of love (bees buzzing and springtime in her heart? really?) made this Robin Hood end on a much lower note.

Still, a decent couple hours of entertainment. And who doesn’t love some bad movie to laugh at? If you love Robin Hood stories, I still recommend it. Just brace yourself for that ending.