Category Archives: Gladiator

Kingdom of Heaven

Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven has been warmly received by critics as an epic that trades in positive masculinity and features a powerhouse performance from Eva Green as the princess Sibylla and an all-star cast of knights in shining armor. As with Gladiator, the soundtrack steals many a scene, this time scored by Harry Gregson-Williams.

The story asks the question whether personal integrity is an adequate stand against corrupt leadership in the realm of statecraft – whether upholding the rights of criminals is fair to those under their power. Although the film suggests that Balian is content to live with his choices to the end, the price paid by others whom the film allows us to care about is awfully high.

This poem, based on the 73rd Psalm, is in Balian’s voice addressed to Sybilla, after he has announced his decision not to usurp power from her cynical and foolhardy husband, Guy de Lusignan (played by Marton Csokas). Later, he will retrace his steps and confront Guy ineffectually about a tactical blunder – but his cinematically convenient decision to confront the king bluntly in front of his knights naturally dooms his advice to failure, as Guy must defend his own authority by dismissing Balian’s unsolicited advice wholesale. Balian (Orlando Bloom) comes off as a bit of a blunderer himself, in that regard. But at least his self-respect is intact…

Only the good is cherished by a true knight,
for what more is Christendom to the pilgrim?
Truly, for my part, I might have strayed,
for in this labyrinth, love gave me pause.
Do you doubt that I envy your husband,
when I see you secure in his palm?
Glibly the man fears nothing of the grave,
feeling only his fullness in power.
The cross has no place in his religion,
for the man abhors all self-denial.
Arrogance defines his every gesture,
disdainful of his duties under law.
Grease from his table smears his bloodshot eyes,
as he plies the mob by idolizing war.
Of binding oaths he speaks with arch derision,
and no one doubts that he will be a tyrant.
When he swears by the name of our Lord,
his rabble-rousing sweeps through crowds like wildfire.
Not because they credit him with faith, no –
and yet they drink his poison eagerly.
They suppose Christ does not see them sin,
and question how one God could know all hearts.
Do you think I am blind to their success?
Men who stint no evil gain in power.
For what reward do you think I keep my vows,
and by my labors do such penitence?
The Templars spit on me, and will do worse,
and all my doings here may be for nought.
Do you doubt I contemplated killing him?
The thought of my wife, and your son, held me back.
The act of apprehending how things stand
has been a wrenching sorrow in my heart.
Until, in contemplation on the mount,
I came to sense what heaven can withhold.
Truly, these warriors rule over an anthill,
a simple act can cast all to the winds.
Do you not marvel at how sudden death
can be, on the heels of great good fortune?
Ephemeral as incense, their illusions
dissipate like mist above the sea at daybreak.
When I resented keenly all I’d lost,
and fear of hypocrites transfixed my soul,
I stumbled like a brute led on God’s way,
comprehending none of what I saw.
Yet even then, love’s light burned from within,
the spirit of Jerusalem sustained me.
Your brother took me in his confidence,
and in defending you, I won acclaim.
Why else do you believe I take up arms,
who else do you imagine I desire?
Exact from me all that the world demands,
and still a knight and Christian, I endure.
I see what ends corrupted men are for,
how low they grovel, obdurate and damned.
For me, nearness to scripture is enough,
I pitch my tent where God wills and move on,
consoled by the fair sweat upon my brow.

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Filed under Acting, Corruption, Dream Ensemble, Gladiator, Music, Poetry

Gladiator 2

Not sure what to make of all this talk about a Gladiator sequel with Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott, but if it comes to fruition this time, I will definitely be seeing it in theaters! Couldn’t resist writing a little fan poetry in anticipation…

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Filed under Gladiator, Poetry

Ben Wade

I have to confess, over the course of the first few months of this creative writing exercise I’ve given myself (adapting the Book of Psalms to fan poetry), I’ve been really itching to give James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma a go.

This is one of my favorite movies, with two of my favorite actors going toe to toe, and I even found out the name of the handsome black horse Russell rides in this movie! That’s Ribbon. Ribbon’s my favorite, so far, out of all the horses Russell has ridden in the movies. (Although I do think it’s super cool that Rusty and George, who both turned heads in Gladiator, made starring appearances in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, too!)

Based on the 36th Psalm, this one is naturally in the voice of Ben Wade.

I hear the voice of crime speak to the wicked
as it speaks to me with the weight of my heart:
“There is no fear of God or holy justice
upon the world that stands before my eyes.”
The sparkle in the eyes of crime seduced me
by feeding off my sin – hatred is a fuel.
I learned the trade of mischief and deception,
and laid aside all other trades and virtues.
Getaways and murders can be planned a-bed,
but the leader of a gang must cut a stance,
only evil itself escapes his contempt.
I can be awed by the heavens – this kindness
is a kind of faithfulness to that night sky.
God’s justice lights like sunshine on bare mountains,
his judgment opens like a naked defile,
that man and beast escape by singular grace.
The farthest hawk pays tribute to this kindness,
and I but shelter in his soaring shadow.
I take my fill from the fare of providence,
and from wild streams and passing delights drink up.
For I will not spurn to take the best from life.
I can take pleasure in acts of kindness, too.
Draw down your mercy on those who know your law,
and save your justice for the gates of hell.
Let no man’s pride in this life overtake mine,
nor the hand of the wicked stay my hand.
There lie the murderers I led to this death.
They fell where they stood – they did not strike in time.

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Filed under 3:10 to Yuma, Acting, Corruption, Dream Ensemble, Gladiator, Poetry, Robin Hood

Maximus

One of my favorite scenes in Gladiator is also one of the simplest, quietest moments in the story. The night after his fateful conversation about the succession with the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Maximus says a brief prayer for his family.

That this is a daily ritual is acknowledged by his manservant Cicero in the moment of silence he allows as he douses the lamps. Then Cicero exchanges a few laconic words of advice with the troubled General before he, too, goes to bed.

This poem, based on the 28th Psalm, is inspired by that scene, but it unfolds as though Maximus had spoken to Cicero and resolved himself to fulfill the Emperor’s wishes before making his prayer, rather than after.

To you, ancestors, and to the gods, I pray.
My senses warn me – do not be deaf to me.
Lest you answer my prayers in silence gone cold
and I number with those gone back to the dust.
Hear me, kneeling before you, uninstructed
when I call up your examples before me,
when I lower the oil lamps and raise my lips
to my family’s effigies on your altar.
Do not pull me down like a despot at bay,
and number me with the worst of the Caesars,
whose oaths to the state were empty flattery
from men whose vices met no natural limits.
Deal evenly with the corrupt – repay them
only as their schemes to cheat the state deserve.
Give back in kind nothing but their handiwork.
Their dues will be repaid with meager justice.
For they have not shared in the dream that was Rome
and her future they would sell short, not strengthen.
Ancestors, I honor you facing this trial,
for your wisdom and courage go before me.
Gods, grant me fortitude. Guard my family.
In this long absence, their care I ask of you.
As you have long watched our footsteps, my heart smiles
when I seek out your guidance and protection.
The laws of Rome are the light of this wide world
and their imprint on us, the refuge of grace.
Ancestors, gods of my people, bring back Rome
to her estate – free her of this decadence.
Tend to her people, bear them up for all time.

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Filed under Gladiator, Poetry

Kin and country, work and love

What is it with Hollywood and reluctant heroes? I’ve taken one stab at giving them a pedigree, but Schiller’s relatively obscure legacy can only be a partial explanation. As much as Russell Crowe wants to distinguish Maximus from iconic action heroes like the cop in the Die Hard franchise, both characters spend their illustrious careers killing bad guys secretly dreaming of a modest retirement, utterly unambitious in their work despite self-evident talent of a superhero caliber. Would it be worth it to save the world from terrorists if said terrorists hadn’t kidnapped your daughter? Maybe, but only if you happen to be on duty when the shit hits the fan and no one else is available. And therein lies my next angle on reluctant heroes – they’re our family men.

Maximus is trusted by Marcus Aurelius above all men because his excellence as a general doesn’t compromise his commitment to his family with ambition. But if he had put his family first he would not have risked all to honor the dead Emperor’s last wishes for a legacy greater than his conquests. Quintus may have justified his loyalty to the usurper on his commitment to his own family’s safety. Maximus can only offer his family vengeance and impatience to join them in the afterlife. But in her moral philosophy of public life, Jane Jacobs warns against privileging the domestic sphere as more naturally virtuous than public life, or treating the family as an island that can endure in a social milieu where corruption in public life makes it dangerous to trust strangers. Without recourse to justice outside the home, families can be destroyed from within with brutal efficiency.

Not all trade-offs between public duties and private commitments are tragic conflicts. But how often does the gifted artist find balance, when it is so commonplace for the skilled worker to undervalue his own family’s needs out of love of his work for its own sake? Einstein, the iconic genius, was no family man. The alternatives are laid out starkly in Cinderella Man and American Gangster. Jim Braddock faces the world championship with milk money in mind, and Richie Roberts dodges weekends with his son to chase criminals in a city so corrupt his efforts seem futile. Richie is the genius who will beat the odds and single-handedly clean up the NYC drug enforcement police force, against seemingly impossible odds. Jim Braddock is the man we want our children to look up to instead.

I came across an interesting generalization in a textbook on corruption research, “Cultural and social factors are related to a country’s level of corruption; in particular, when family ties are very important, reported corruption is high” (Rose-Ackerman 2006). So it’s not just Sicilian families, then? The more assiduously we provide for our own, the less ground we will give for the public interest, I suppose. Frank Lucas is a family man, exploiting the strength of family ties in his crime organization in the Sicilian fashion, but showing his kin genuine consideration at the same time.

The tension between public life and the security of the household is embedded in the political liberal’s defense of personal privacy and the political conservative’s defense of domestic prerogatives to self-government. Every polity has ideas about how families should work, and every political minority takes refuge in the home when its values are under assault. So there is room for muddying the topic of corruption in with political dissent. If for its own purposes Hollywood is politically cosmopolitan, expecting generic heroes to serve humanity rather than region, country, race or sect, the family is the protagonist’s refuge from overextension, a tribal unit where his identity means something, and not just everyone can make equal demands on him for help. If he’s written too generic, then like the hero in Red he might find retirement a little empty, but sometimes we concede that being the ultimate badass comes at a price, an achievement made possible by love of work to the exclusion of the rest life has to offer.

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Filed under Acting, American Gangster, Cinderella Man, Gladiator, Systems of Survival

Systems of Survival

I brought up Systems of Survival in my last blog and mentioned I wanted to return to the ideas in this book and go into them at length. The author is Jane Jacobs, a very creative thinker but fairly obscure as intellectuals go, known mostly for her work in urban planning. The topic is ambitious – she has gone through journalistic and archival records of public life cutting across historical epochs and continents to try and abstract moral principles operating in public discourse that transcend human history and culture. What’s the use of taking all this out of context? Well, she quickly hit upon vital applications in the study of political corruption and crime, topics you can think of as timely or timeless, on which moral philosophy has heretofore shed little light.

Although her non-Western sources are usually presented through a Western analytical lens (ancient history or anthropology), it is tempting to give her credit for having transcended these limitations with a natural history of human civilization that doesn’t flatter present circumstances as the best of all possible worlds. Her abstract principles are compellingly simple and her approach to organizing them into systems is at once easy to support with empirical examples and theoretically coherent. So rather than worry too much about her idea’s pedigree, I’m running with it as a tool for studying motivation, organizational behavior and corruption.

Her idea is that in public life, there are two possible codes of conduct that are internally valid but diametrically opposed to one another, and civilization needs adherents to each to play different roles for which their different values are uniquely suited. I liked this at once, because I enjoy dissecting false controversies and I think one of the main reasons Americans look for post-partisan candidates is that we see false controversy in the very way our bipartisan system is organized. Strikingly enough, her two moral codes of conduct fall out along the same fault lines as the Democratic and Republican parties in U.S. politics. One moral code of conduct is for commerce, the other for governance. She calls the second category of roles “guardian work” because it encompasses the military and police, but administrative and regulatory watchdog work that is in the public interest (rather than providing services from the private sector) belong in the same category.

I’ve illustrated her two lists with examples from Russell Crowe’s filmography to show how closely they correspond to the professions of the characters he plays. For me the correspondence between the ideas in the book and the values in these movies is fascinating and encouraging. I think movies are fertile territory for illustrating this sort of theory, because of the plurality of perspective so common in film. You can see characters from different walks of life interacting on their own terms, and have a sense of each person’s perspective in the same scene even if they disagree. Of course, we know Russell Crowe best for playing “guardian” types, muscular and adventurous, but Cinderella Man is an interesting exception. For Jim Braddock, boxing is a professional sport and his adversaries aren’t supposed to be trying to kill him. Work isn’t supposed to be dangerous, and outside the boxing ring he shuns force and puts the utmost importance on abiding by voluntary agreements rather than simply taking what you can for yourself.

The first thing you might notice about these lists is that they seem incomplete. Universal virtues appear on neither list, though Jane Jacobs can think of many: cooperation, courage, moderation, mercy, common sense, foresight, judgment, competence, perseverance, faith, energy, patience, wisdom. No one disputes these virtues, whereas adherents to the moral code of commerce hold values diametrically opposed to those of adherents to the guardian code of conduct. It is the values that have twinned opposites that distinguish these ways of life from each other and function interdependently with the other values within the same code.

She recounts being surprised to discover a variant on her own idea in Plato’s writings, and notes how adamant Plato was that each citizen must mind his own work and not try to do anyone else’s, in support of her claim that corruption occurs when people mix and match values from both codes and combine roles. She points out that the British navy was set up with a merchant fleet that merchants did not wish to operate themselves, because of the temptation to use warships to raid one another’s trade ships if they were responsible for their own protection from piracy, fearing anarchy would make the seas un-navigable if trading vessels were armed. In the drug trade this is a constant threat, because drug dealers are quick to resort to violence.

She does point out that there are jobs in civilization that mingle the priorities of governance and commerce, inevitably as without guardian enforcement of contract rights or fraud liabilities, commerce would be an unreliable way of life. The darker side of collusion between governance and commerce is illustrated in the colonial history that prefigured what we now call globalization. I used a graph to illustrate these overlapping responsibilities and undertakings, and used the axes to underscore the basic functions and modus operandi of each code of conduct. Jane Jacobs argues that in many managerial and administrative jobs, one must wear two hats, one at a time, adhering to the code of conduct appropriate to the task at hand. These are delicate responsibilities, easily mishandled. The corporate confidentiality agreement among tobacco executives in The Insider is an example, ethical when it protects trade secrets, unethical when it conceals knowledge of fraudulent public statements or practices like adulteration. The Brown & Williamson lawsuit against Jeffrey Wigand for violating his confidentiality agreement was not upheld in court because the expectation that he withhold knowledge of corporate malfeasance was unethical. The U.S. government is less understanding of whistleblowers within the guardian services, treating Wikileaks as treason instead. But this hypersensitivity to betrayal of government secrets is closely linked to the edict “shun trading,” which for a public official means not selling out the public interest, not selling military secrets to the enemy, and not subverting one’s professional responsibilities for bribes.

I doubt I’ve said enough to be clear yet, you should really read the book. But I’ll keep drawing examples from movies as I think of them, to try and show how her ideas work. So far my favorite examples are Master and Commander for guardian/governance values, and Cinderella Man for commercial/professional values. I pulled a picture from the scene where Jim takes his son to the butchers to return the salami because it underscores the importance of not taking what you need without paying for it in a voluntary transaction. In Master and Commander, in contrast, the crew speculate that if they take the Acheron as a prize, they’ll enjoy shares of her stolen loot. Thus far, the basic taking/trading distinction.

The importance of luxuries like rum and music on the HMS Surprise is part of the guardian way of life, dangerous at times but taking some of its core values from hunter/gatherer lifestyles rich in leisure time and creative arts. Jane Jacobs speculates that one reason hunter/gatherers cultivated skills in art and other leisure activities was to keep their predations on the game animals sustainable. The introduction of fur trade in the Americas subverted this conservation ethic and created incentives to maximize kills and waste meat in favor of pelts. Rum also functions as largesse, dispensed by the powerful to placate subordinates expected to abide by a rigid hierarchy with few rewards at the bottom of the pecking order. Hierarchy and discipline are explicit themes in the script, along with cunning, prowess, fortitude and tradition.

State largesse comes into play in Cinderella Man when Jim goes on welfare, and as such it is help he is reluctant to accept. He would not expect charity without obligations from peers, and it hurts his pride as an equal among other ordinary citizens to go to the welfare office. His friend Mike dismisses FDR’s reforms as politically motivated and not a redress of what had been taken from families like theirs. Jim repays the welfare office as soon as he’s able as if it had been a loan, like the cash assistance he asked for at Madison Square Garden, which he also repaid. As a professional boxer and wage laborer, he’s uncomfortable taking something for nothing even when his family is in need, impatient to return the welfare money even when his family’s future is still precarious. It’s a matter of keeping true to his own way of life, which has no part in governance, although he respects the need for the government to step up in a national emergency.

I’ll refer back to this account of the core concepts in Systems of Survival later, so I hope it’s adequate since you probably won’t have time to read the book. I have a lot of ideas about how to apply this theory of corruption and public life to the analysis of other movies, and I’ll bring in more material from the book as I go along. Hopefully I’m not the only one eager to see how far her ideas pan out. I think I can use them to study corruption in hospitals, since my work is in public health, so I have a great deal of interest in the details of her theory.

For now I’ll leave you with a quote from her book, about elementary school children evincing guardian virtues without coaching, lifted from John Holt: “Ten is a heroic age for most kids. They remind me in many ways of the Homeric Greeks. They are quarrelsome and combative; they have a strong and touchy sense of honor; they believe that every affront must be repaid, and with interest; they are fiercely loyal to their friends, even though they may change friends often; they have little sense of fair play, and greatly admire cunning and trickery; they are both highly possessive and very generous – no smallest trifle may be taken from them, but they are likely to give anything away if they feel so disposed.” Jane Jacobs thinks if Holt had watched the same children at a yard sale, they would have taken just as naturally to the commercial virtues, that all this is in human nature and flows naturally when the appropriate task is at hand.

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Filed under A Good Year, Acting, Cinderella Man, Corruption, Economics, False controversies, Gladiator, L.A. Confidential, Master and Commander, State of Play, Systems of Survival, The Insider

Christian Bale

One of my favorite Maxims of Marcus Aurelius is, ‘when anything tempts you to be bitter,’ to say not, ‘this is a misfortune’ but ‘to bear this worthily is good fortune.’ I don’t like to remember my dreams, because I tend to have nightmares. Even if I dream my dogs are with me, it tends to be in a situation where I am uneasy about their safety. You would think it would be easier to avoid negativity in a daydream, but for me it’s a struggle. I keep looking for ways to have daydreams that don’t entail catastrophizing, but without crisis there’s no opportunity for heroics and impressing everyone, so maybe there’s a reason for it. Maybe courage and melancholy go together, where if you tend to choose to take a stand against the odds, you often feel like the whole world is against you.

I started to collect Christian Bale movies last year, but stopped. I really admire his acting, but I found they were too dark for my tastes, I didn’t enjoy watching them. I discovered Christian in either Henry V or Empire of the Sun; not sure which I saw first, but Henry V is one of my all time favorites. Heroism might be overdone for the stage as a general rule, but never has it been more valiantly glorified or brutally undermined as a national enterprise. I rediscovered Christian in The New World, where he gives a quiet but soul-searching performance in one of the most sensitive, believable love stories I have ever seen. But of all his performances, the one I had the most interest in capturing in a poem was Rescue Dawn. It brings out a theme in his career, of going to extremes to encounter Fear in its archetypal form. I never finished the poem I wanted to write about this movie, but touched on some of the things that struck me about it in a shorter poem in hendecasyllabics:

To have survived the sleepless death of hunger,
unaccompanied but not alone inside,
to have endured the weakening conviction
that endurance is a thing to celebrate,
to have answered the night with the lowered voice
of someone who knows his words cannot be heard,
to have consoled a ghost so uselessly fear
filled me in the utterance and would not leave,
to have lived as an enemy to people
I could not have violated, concealing
my hunger from help at every turn, knowing
war as I never imagined it, total,
to have returned to grace and the fellowship
that surrounds a man without being noticed,
is to carry that hunger inside, alone,
anxious to remember unsharable things,
and yet be at ease with grim contingency.

The start of the narrative poem is worth sharing, since I don’t have the stamina to finish it. This is also in hendecasyllabics.

The language of captivity came easily,
for I was not at ease and this appeased the men,
the meek eyes on their guns, the supplicant raised hands,
these gestures of submission were instinctive, clear
and seemingly respected – they took me alive.
To come into their village raised my hopes – I smiled
at seated women, children and the elderly,
convinced that here among them I could count upon
the nature of a civilized society
to govern and soften my lot, as a human.
In truth I smiled to see them well and self-absorbed,
exotic and in their own way beautiful, proud.
The neatly woven integrity of their world
and the confident abundance of artifacts
as intricate, trim and colorful as shop goods,
proving their world was made and not hacked from wild things,
impressed me greatly. They scarcely looked up at me,
and those who paid attention kept their composure.
But I was not so gently minded, I was tied
spread-eagled on the ground and left to shit myself
despite my saying, whispering, as though the shame
conveyed by whispering could say, I had to go.
I raised my voice when I had voided, angrily
demanding their attention – but they were watching,
they had listened, their eyes said they had understood.
What had they understood? The comprehension there
was still obscure, their feelings for me were too strange,
for me, none of their intentions were foreshadowed.
I sank back into neutral rapport with a child
twirling a beetle over my head on a string,
my attitude passive, my nerves jangled by noise
from the desperate clockwork of wings, captivated.

When we left the village I confronted my death.
I did not face my execution grimacing
in anticipation. But the spray of gun shots
should have murdered me, the shock of transformation
from a prisoner to a dead man ripped through me
with wounding certainty and stole my body’s voice
to shout into my brain that I had been destroyed
just the same. I was enraged to have survived it,
yelled. The executioner who failed to kill me
so deliberately and with an understanding
stared back with his black glasses, fired by my ear.
The pain was deafening – I watched him shout until
the sound returned and stood still at attention, stunned.

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Filed under 3:10 to Yuma, Acting, Classic Crowe, Dream Ensemble, Gladiator, Poetry, Roll Credits

Maxims of Marcus Aurelius

I’m not an aspiring Stoic, but I like some of the aphorisms from the Meditations Marcus Aurelius put down (they were not for publication, but are now in many editions and on Brainy Quote). I associate Stoics with extremism, but I can take a little Stoicism from a pampered Emperor who doesn’t endorse acceptance of misery from experience. They are simply brave words, to be used under moderate hardship and not abused when the status quo is unacceptable.

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

“Anything in any way beautiful derives its beauty from itself and asks nothing beyond itself. Praise is no part of it, for nothing is made worse or better by praise.”

“Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.”

“Be content to seem what you really are.”

“Here is the rule to remember in the future, when anything tempts you to be bitter: not, ‘This is a misfortune’ but ‘To bear this worthily is good fortune.’”

“We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.”

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

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Filed under Classic Crowe, Gladiator

“Death smiles at us all…”

There is more to Karen Blixen than the gorgeous Meryl Streep movie Out of Africa. Start with Daguerreotypes, a book she published under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen. The first essay is my favorite, “On Mottoes of My Life.” If you liked the mottoes in Gladiator, you might like these, too.

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“Tilth and vineyard, hive and horse and herd”

Today I took an interest in Virgil.This, I think, makes me a more credible Russell Crowe fan, because the line “Strength and honor” was his idea, but he wanted to deliver it in Latin.

I had credited the Greeks with the more authentic use of quantitative meter, epic meter, but now I question my sources. I read somewhere that the Greek epics had their origins in an oral tradition that involved not memorization of every line but facility with the epic meter and familiarity with the plot, a sort of extemporaneous versifying of legends passed down by goat herds. A phenomenon of that sort had been documented in the Balkans with early voice recording technology before the traditional bar room recitations disappeared altogether. But this semester I’ve been reading Attridge on quantitative meter in the English language, and Hollander on classical musicology in poetry, and I’m beginning to think this lost source was mistaken. The Greek vernacular may have had as little use for quantitative meter as the Latin, and the Homeric meter may have been as much Homer’s contribution as heroic couplets are Dryden’s.

Attridge sees the experiments with quantitative meter in the English Renaissance as orthographic conventions, arguing that no one could hear quantitative meters in the schoolboys’ Latin that inspired the use of quantitative verse, because the lost language was profoundly mispronounced. I don’t know if the pronunciation of Latin had improved by the time quantitative meters were revived by Victorian poets, but again the enterprise was only experimental. Since then Chomsky has improved our understanding of linguistics and I’d like to look at his analysis of duration in English and Latin pronunciation next. What I’m looking for now are correspondences between meaning or part of speech and duration. Some of my favorite lines of dactyllic hexameter in English are full of spondees, and I think something in the structure of the language explains their richness and muscularity.

With that hunch already in mind, I thought the meter might come through in unrhymed verse translations. I liked the first few lines of a Theodore C. Williams translation of The Aeneid in blank verse and started searching for a preface to the translation. Instead I found a charming review on Google books:

“I’m a huge fan of propaganda, but I think I may not be a fan of fan fic. I was going into this with the hope that it would be fun, extreme, Latin propaganda, but The Aeneid is really more Trojan War fan fic, IMO. It’s the Phantom Menace to The Iliad’s Empire Strikes Back. It is seriously lame. I think Akira Kurosawa could have made a pretty decent movie of it because he likes to have people frenzy. ..And there are some seriously weird details to this story. For example, Venus is this guy’s mom, but she doesn’t raise him to know not to pull a George Costanza in running away from the Greeks? Dude. It just takes a second to wait for your wife, you loser. I mean, I’m no great fan of Venus to begin with, but that’s just weird. It seems like she would have taken a minute to say, “Don’t trample people running away from your enemies.” Maybe it never occurred to her he’d be so lame.

And then the business with Dido was just annoying. She’s the queen of all the land, has been through hell, wherein her eeeevil brother killed her seemingly pretty awesome husband, and then when Aeneas says to Dido, “btw, it was great sleeping with you, but I have a lot of heads to chop off for no particular reason, so I should prolly get going,” she goes all Kathy Bates in Misery all of a sudden. Except lamer because she’s wailing and self-mutilating instead of taking it out on him. It’s just awkward to watch. Girl needs a sassy gay friend. And none of these people are as cool as they think they are.

And the rest of the book is basically one long chest pound. I guess there’s the part where he goes to Hades, and lo, he knows folk there. I’m kind of bitter about the whole thing because Juno’s so funny and great in The Iliad and such a loser here. Again, Akira Kurosawa probably could have turned it into a pretty decent movie. I don’t really get the frenzying thing, but Kurosawa seemed to have liked it. And, if you like people to run around, chopping limbs off and then whining and blustering for a while, you might really click with this book. ” – Sparrow’s review

Since my interest in quantitative dactyllic hexameter was for the writing of an Alexander epic in the style of the Iliad, I took this as encouragement. Virgil, it seems, wrote fan fiction too.

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Filed under Classic Crowe, Gladiator, Poetry