Classically Inclined

November 22, 2012

Film Review: Sebastiane (1976)

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 8:47 am
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Derek Jarman is one of those film makers. He’s a bit of an enfant terrible, especially in this, his first film. There are some deliberate nods to Fellini’s cinematic style, and the whole Italian art house oeuvre clearly had a strong influence on the direction this film took. It’s not got the same directorial voice and chaotic association-by-accident that Jarman develops later in films like The Last of England (1988), and nor does he quite reach the levels of ultraviolence he plays with in Jubilee (1977 – the film which really established Jarman’s cinematic identity, and one of the few films I’ve actually had to stop watching half way through). Of course, what most people reading will know Sebastiane for is not the historic importance of Jarman’s historic role in British cinema, but the porn.

For Sebastiane is, ultimately, a film about homosexual desire, BDSM and nude lads running about a desert without much more than a strategically placed posing pouch between them. And sometimes not even that. For Jarman to have chosen the story of St. Sebastian as a vehicle for these themes is not actually that surprising, given the numerous paintings of the saint supposedly in his death agonies, but in reality displaying off rather well-developed pecs and fair tousled hair. (There’s an interesting article over at the Independent on how Sebastian came to be a homoerotic icon, if you’re interested in the broader historical context.) All that positioning had happened well before Jarman came on the scene, so the choice makes cultural sense. For that matter, a lot of the film actually consists of reconstructions of famous classical paintings by the actors, including a beautiful shot echoing Narcissus looking at his own reflection in a seaside pool.

(more…)

June 27, 2011

Consolations and grief in the ancient world

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:15 am
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Given how much I’m blogging and tweeting about consolations in the ancient world, I thought I should give a quick run-down of what they actually are rather than expecting everyone to know. It’s actually quite a tricky question, because while people are happy to bandy about terms like ‘the genre of consolatio‘, our evidence for such a thing is remarkably poor. Now, speaking less technically, consolation has been around in the ancient world since as early as Homer – people comfort other people on misfortunes they have suffered, which is the basic definition of consolation. What’s interesting about the consolatio as a genre is that eventually it became a special sort of writing with its own rules and standard tropes. Crantor, a third century B.C. member of the Academy (the school which tried to follow Plato’s way of doing philosophy) is normally credited with being the first person to write a consolatio as we’d understand it – that is, a piece of writing addressed to someone suffering some specific misfortune designed to comfort them with philosophical arguments.

Originally, certain philosophical schools had certain specific consolatory arguments which they would deploy, but by the time we get to Cicero’s period, what seems to have happened is that all these arguments have been brought together into a library of potential consolatory arguments that an author might use in a consolatio. Cicero himself wrote a lost consolatio after the death of his daughter Tullia, and he also wrote many letters of consolation to others who were bereaved or in exile. Consolations were multi-purpose – Cicero tells us that it would be appropriate to write a consolatio for those suffering poverty, an inglorious life, exile, the destruction of their country, slavery, lameness or blindness (Tusculan Disputations 3.81). (more…)

May 25, 2011

When a thesis chapter breeds – the Stoic Exile article

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:39 pm
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Seneca's Tower on Corscia - © Ethelwulf

Sometimes, when you are writing a thesis chapter, you find yourself going off on a tangent. It’s a pretty tangent, with highways and byways and beautifully flowered verges, and you wander through it on your way back to your main point, and you think nothing of it, because it’s been part of your mental process to get where you are in your thinking about your material. Then you hand your draft to your advisor, who looks at it, raises an eyebrow, and wants to know how on earth this relates to what you said you were going to give her. Although in my case, she did it very kindly, and she was right. Chapter two of my thesis was supposed to look at the subject of brothers and the Stoic cosmopolis in Seneca’s de Consolatione ad Polybium, a really interesting treatise that gets maltreated because – well, there’s no way of getting around it, it’s a bit sycophantic. Seneca claims he’s writing to Polybius to console him on the recent death of his brother, but he writes with the agenda of getting himself recalled to Rome from Corsica, where he’s currently being held in exile. Let’s just say that he gets the tiniest bit florid, and over the years many academics haven’t reacted well to his stylistic choices.

I wanted to look at the relationships between brothers in the consolation, because my thesis was about the family. However, I ended up getting distracted by the representation of the Emperor Claudius, and how he gets described using several images that the Stoics use to talk about God. It’s all a bit complicated, as the same images are used to describe Jupiter, head of the Roman pantheon, but that’s part of the point. Anyway, I wrote a great big lengthy draft of this chapter and proudly sent it off to my supervisor; she duly worked through it and her feedback essentialy said that it was all very interesting, but wasn’t this chapter supposed to be about brothers and the ad Polybium rather than Stoicism and the ad Polybium? At which point I re-read what I’d written, groaned, and chopped about four thousand words out of the manuscript. They were there because they were trying to take over my chapter, and turn it into something else. It wasn’t that what I wanted to say about Claudius and the Stoic god and all my other shiny ideas weren’t worth saying – it was just that they didn’t actually contribute towards my overall thesis about how families work in Seneca.

I knew, however, that hanging on to those four thousand words would come in handy. (more…)

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