Interesting to see that on the rediscovery of Herculaneum there was some debate which city had been found. It was not immediately clear. Some thought that it was Pompeii, others thought that it was Retina/Resina:
Upon this discovery, there was a variety of Opinions among the Learned about the ancient Name of this City. Some would have it to be Pompeja; others, upon the Credit of Camillo Pellegrino maintained that it was Retina of which Pliny makes mention in a Letter he wrote to Cornelius Tacitus giving him an Account of all the Circumstances attending his Uncle's Death. This last Opinion appears the more plausible, as this City stands in the same Situation which Pliny the younger assigns to Retina.
Que la campagne de Naples est étrange et merveilleuse! Nulle contrée n'éveille dans l'âme plus d' inspiration, ne donne plus de repos à resprit.
C'est la terre des églogues, la terre des géorgiques, ou les montagnes se souviennent des doux accents de Virgile.
Quelle richesse de couleurs, de nuances et de tons! Quelles degradations depuis l'azur clair de la baie jusqu'au violet obscur et améthyste du Vésuve! Comme la chaîne orientale des montagnes, hérissées par intervalle de glaciers, qui brillent ainsi que des diamants entre des turquoises et des émeraudes, contraste avec la nuance rose, clair, avec les teintes opalines de Caprée.
One of the sheer joys of French is the fun that writers clearly have with the language. It is hard to imagine a British or German historian writing in such tones.
From the introduction to Guide d'Herculanum, published in the 1906 by Pompeiénne.
A marvelously rude description of Pompeii from William Henry Davenport Adams' Buried Cities of Campania (1868):
This third-rate provincial town the "Brighton" or "Scarborough" of the Roman patricians, though less splendid and far less populous than the English watering-places owes its celebrity to its very destruction.
Saw ye how wild, how red, how broad a light Burst on the darkness of that mid-day night, As fierce Vesuvius scatter'd o'er the vale Her drifted flames and sheets of burning hail, Shook hell's wan lightnings from his blazing cone, And gilded heaven with meteors not its own? The morn all blushing rose; but sought in vain The snowy villas and the flowery plain, The purpled hills with marshalled vineyards gay, The domes that sparkled in the sunny ray. Where art or nature late hath deck'd the scene With blazing marble or with spangled green, There, streaked by many a fiery torrent's bed, A boundless waste of hoary ashes spread. Along that dreary waste where lately rung The festal lay which smiling virgins sung, Where rapture echoed from the warbling lute, And the gay dance resounded, all is mute.- Mute!
Thanks to Film4 in the UK, I was reminded this week how good the 1941 film Pimpernel Smith is. Starring Leslie Howard, it is an updating of Emma Orczy's novel Scarlet Pimpernel. Rather than set in the days of the French Revolution, the action is transferred to Nazi Germany; and rather than a foppish dandy, the hero is an archaeologist.
The film is certainly of historical interest as it is one of the first films to discuss concentration camps. But it is also of interest to classicists, as a discussion of the Venus Callipyge is where the viewer first meets Professor Smith.
Of course the film is propaganda (it is said that Winston Churchill was a fan), but it is also great fun. Here is the final monologue from the film... much better than Humphrey Bogart at the airport.
Work on Herculaneum is proceeding almost comically slowly, but I have spent time since the new year studying Pliny's two letters on the eruption of Vesuvius - 6.16 and 6.20. They are curious and strangely difficult texts as they are almost too familiar. They belong either to a time of short trousers and unseen translations at school, or to television. I can't remember a documentary on the eruption (mea culpa) that doesn't have a shot of a presenter pulling out a battered copy of Betty Radice's translation for Penguin.
What this means is that the letters are taken for granted: you remember the description of the pre-eruption, the pillows on the heads and Pliny the Elder's heart attack. And then you skip to the archaeology.
The letters, however, are considerably more sophisticated and complex than that.
A pleasure therefore to discover the blog [quem dixere chaos], curated by Pedar Foss, professor of Classical Studies at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. He has been running a thought-provoking series on how to translate the letters with line-by-line commentary. Part 10 was posted a couple of days ago. Definitely worth a read.
Since 2010, the Venice-based Centre de Musique Romantique Française has been sponsoring performances of David’s music, including this live recording of his opera “Herculanum,” captured during performances last year at the Théâtre Royal de La Monnaie in Brussels. Premiered in 1859, it would remain David’s only opera produced by the Opéra de Paris, after which he turned to works for the Opéra-Comique.
The plot is almost entirely forgettable, but the final explosive scenes are great fun. A sense of the scale of the work is seen in the trailer to the CD:
A regular update on how the SNP is cutting the throat of culture in Scotland. The headlines on finance secretary John Swinney's budget yesterday trumpeted that he had ruled out an increase in Scottish income tax next year. From next year Scotland gets its own tax raising powers. There is a good overview on the BBC.
But yet again history gets the chop.
The budget for what used to be called Historic Scotland (but now after a political land grab includes the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland) has been cut from £44.6 million to £44.3 million.
To put that into context, the 2013 budget figures for Historic Scotland alone were £47 million.
It goes without saying that everything else cultural is hacked too. Creative Scotland is down from £56.7 million to £52.6 million; and the national performing companies are down from £27.6 million to £22.9 million.
A guest blog I wrote for the brilliant Alderney Literary Trust on why we need to look at modern volcanic eruptions if we want to understand what happened in August AD79 when Vesuvius erupted:
The photograph taken by the news agency AFP/Getty makes it come alive. In the aftermath of the explosion of the Mount Sinabung volcano on Sumatra island, Indonesia, a group of five ladies is hurrying along the road. Behind them, the mountain can barely been seen, but its presence looms from the muddy blackness of the sky. All five ladies have thick clothing on and cushions on their heads.