The Chinese Lantern Festival had many great lanterns on display, but surely the best was Jason and the Golden Fleece. The Epic story of Jason and the Argonauts sailing from Europe through the Black Sea to Asia where he wins the Golden Fleece seems particularly apt. Here we see Jason standing before the captured Golden Fleece, having vanquished the dragon.
2016 is the Year of the Monkey. Jove has his eagle, Juno has her peacock, and Bacchus has his leopard, so we decided that the monkey must be the animal associated with Folly, the goddess of mischief. Little is known of Folly since most sensible people try to avoid her.
The Auckland "Art in a Day" competition had local artists painting scenes from various locations all over the city. Professional artist Ken Garrett chose the Roman temple in Grafton. The artists had from 8-4 pm to complete their paintings, and then needed to deliver them by 5 pm closing, so they were all in a rush a bit like the Amazing Race. Ken did a fantastic job of capturing the mystery of Ancient Rome, set in a distant South Seas island.
The Taupo Medieval Faire is being held in Tauranga this year, which is about a three-hour road trip from Auckland when hauling the new Chinese-made trailer loaded to the gunnels with Roman gear.
Mitch traveled with us, and gave invaluable advice, such as to toss another rope across the top because his Dad didn't and so their tarpaulin cover ballooned out from wind pressure like a giant parachute landing the Space Shuttle. Also, to keep 10 km under the speed limit when towing a trailer because his Dad didn't and was pulled over by a cop. I didn't know any of that, and was more concerned our Chinese-made trailer would lose a wheel on any of the many corners I took a bit too fast before being reminded by the weight that we had a trailer on the back.
Anyway, we made it there and back again and all I lost was a single Roman pugio dagger, so far as I am aware. At the show Lisa disguised the trailer with two bed sheets, one red and one black, which kind of made it stand out more, not less. We discussed the problems of the world on the way down, and solved nearly all of them on the way back.
One of the things got Mitch interested in Rome was the computer game "Rome: Total War" that looks really good, between the game-play building up your Roman Empire, and all of the actual historical battles listed for replay. I'm going to check it out.
Today is the last day of December, known as the pridie (prior-day) Kalendas January (Day Before the Kalends of January).
Originally there were ten months beginning with March (Mars) and ending with December (Tenth). But January and February were added to the front, making the tenth month now the twelfth. January is named after Janus, the two-faced god that looks both backwards and forwards, symbolizing both endings and beginnings.
On this day in 192 AD the Emperor Commodus was assassinated. He was the son of Marcus Aurelius, the so-called "philosopher emperor", who was silly enough to hand the throne to his own boy instead of giving it to the best man for the job, as the previous emperors of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and Pius had done during the "period of the Five good emperors".
Commodus was infamous for fighting as a gladiator in the arena, something that brought almost as much shame on the throne as Nero singing. Commodus was not without some physical skill, reputed to have killed 100 lions with 100 javelin casts, and used crescent-headed arrows to shoot the heads off running ostriches that kept on trotting along headless for the amusement of the crowd. He was evidently not as hopeless as the emperor depicted as the opponent of Russel Crowe in the movie Gladiator.
However, Commodus had grown increasingly megalomaniacal and paranoid, commanding summary executions for trivial crimes. When his favorite concubine Marcia discovered a hand-written list with her name on it, she feared the worst, and so decided to poison Commodus first. When he vomited up the concoction, the terrified Marcia urged him into his nice relaxing hot bath. She then inveigled the emperor's wrestling companion, the slave Narcissus, to strangle him.
What an ignoble end for the mighty Commodus - instead of dying gloriously in the arena as shown in the Hollywood movie Gladiator - he instead drowned in his bath, kicking and screaming Latin curses as he went under, and then the bubbles on the water - pop, pop, pop - until finally Marcia pats Narcissus on the shoulder and hisses "Vixit!"
"Vixit" means "he has lived" and was the standard Roman death notice to avoid saying the unlucky word "Death". Perhaps the list that Marcia found only had her name on it because she was to be one of the guests at a surprise party? Now we will never know.
The Romans celebrated 25th December as the birthday of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. In the Northern hemisphere the 25th is the first day when the naked eye can discern that the Sun begins rising higher in its apparent orbit across the sky, meaning that the days start becoming longer and warmer. A great cause for celebration! But here in NZ's Southern hemisphere is just the opposite with days now get shorter.
Following his victories out East (including bringing the rebel Queen Zenobia of Palmyra to heel), the Emperor Aurelian reformed the Roman cult of Sol in AD 274 as a soldiers' religion with a new temple dedicated on the 25th, and four-yearly games in honor of the sun god. The Roman festival was celebrated by lighting lamps and candles representing the Sun's light and warmth.
In 2015 the Solstice ("sun-stops") falls today on 22nd December (it is normally the 21st). This is the point where the sun stops falling lower in its apparent orbit across the sky in the Northern hemisphere as their Winter Solstice (shortest day) and now begins rising higher again, heralding increasing warmth as it heads toward the Equinox ("equal-night" and equal day) in three months time, and then in six months time their Summer Solstice.
But in the Southern hemisphere here in New Zealand it is the other way around. Today we celebrate our Summer Solstice, the longest day, and from now on our days begin growing shorter again. It was always a puzzle growing up in NZ to see Santa, sleighs and snow on all the Christmas cards and in the carol singing, when we were all playing on a hot sandy beach and swimming in the ocean. It never snows in Auckland, so even in winter we had to head on down south to see real snow.
The Romans celebrated Winter Solstice because they were grateful that it was going to get warmer again. However, to the naked eye the sun only starts visibly moving again on 25th December, which was why they celebrated that date as the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun".
The Roman Saturnalia celebrations included food, games and drinking, gambling with dice, small gift-giving, and role-reversal where the masters and adults wait on the slaves and children, while acting up in jest and playing practical jokes. It is a fun family time of mirth and goodwill, much as we still like to do today. Io Saturnalia!
Some sore heads this morning recovering from the annual Imperium Romana Saturnalia party. The huge Roman feast provided by Domus Matrona Lisa slaving in the kitchens and the varied delicious contributions from all members ensured a table overflowing even more than the famous flowing over Cena Trimalchionis (Trimalchio's Dinner).
We also discovered Decebalus' closely-guarded secret for drinking Sangria ("blood") is to water it down with straight Brandy ("burned-wine"). Archaeological evidence may one day prove that all the Roman legionaries stationed in Spain drank it this way.
After a discussion of all things Roman, and the best way to cook stuffed-dormice, we watched the old classic "Masada" starring a laconic Peter O'Toole. Having just worked as extras on the movie "Roman Empire" - and having a good laugh at ourselves too, reviewing the pics taken on set - we were in a right mood to critique everything about the movie, including a much greater appreciation of the good parts, now that we know just how hard it is to make these things.
Forgot to take a group photo (doh!) but here is the Roman Christmas tree.
Merry Christmas and - IO SATURNALIA!
Our Roman group just finished filming onsite at Bethells Beach forest as extras for episode one of the upcoming netflix blockbuster "Roman Empire". They used the forest as a substitute for deepest darkest Germania with hidden pipes blowing smoke through the trees as atmospheric misty fog. They also constructed a full-sized Roman camp where a lot of the action takes place. We had to sign a confidentiality agreement not to publish photos until the show is publicly released, but let's just say I have some very funny shots of Jason, Dave, Ben and Mitch hamming it up, so just imagine them and have a good laugh anyway.
The Roman Saturnalia festival is celebrated in honour of the Roman god Saturn who is normally bound up in his temple all year by golden threads to prevent him from using his awesome power of chaos. But in order to appease Saturn so that he doesn't become so enraged that he breaks free, the Romans agree to release him once a year for five days. Saturn's freed power turns our world upside-down and reverses the normal order of things. It is a time of gift-giving, merriment, partying and good humour - and where slaves get to lord it over their masters and play pranks (although if they are too cheeky, when it's over they will still receive a damn good thrashing!).
Sing Goddess, of the classicists’ journey to the circus-cabaret ITHACA, the amazing sights they saw, and how they survived to tell the tale…
I’m a classicist that led a small group including an MA in Ancient History from Auckland, a fellow BA in Classics, and an MA in Archaeology from Harvard. Bravely we joined the queue for Q Theatre, to be seated as an audience at tables of six. Champagne, fresh oysters and other delicious delicacies were served continuously, just as though we really were dining in the dreamy land of the lotus-eaters.
ITHACA is a futuristic adaption of Homer’s Odyssey about Odysseus sailing home to his faithful wife Penelope waiting on the island of Ithaca. Since the 3000-year-old Greek original contains robot-ships, mythical beings and fabulous adventures it translates perfectly into a science fiction universe cleverly designed to showcase the outstanding acrobatic skills of the Dust Palace theatrical troupe.
The stage for Odysseus’ spaceship resembles the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and so it begins, “Captain’s log, star date 2292…” His spaceship is called the Argo, so his crew are Argonaut astronauts. Homer never did name Odysseus’ ship, but simply called it a ‘fast black boat’, so Argo (“Speedy”) seems apt. However, considering the length of time it took tardy Odysseus to sail home, we joked about the Tardo of the Tardonauts. In Greek mythology, Jason led his Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece. He succeeded thanks to the barbarian witch Medea, whom he married, but when Jason later took another royal wife, Medea burnt her alive, murdered their children and escaped in a flying chariot pulled by dragons. Being unfaithful sometimes has extreme consequences!
Mike Edward plays Odysseus, who dominates every scene as the charismatic hero leading his ragtag band. Turning his telescope on faraway Ithaca, he is shocked to see his beautiful wife Penelope (Eve Gordon) pirouetting in silk ropes, entwined with her suitors in most unseemly fashion. Moving up and down the threads might suggest the weaving and unweaving of her tapestry. Except that this is a modern liberated Penelope, fully the equal of her mate Odysseus, and capable of knowing many men while still remaining true in her heart to her one great love, absent in unknown parts. In this Homeric retelling, the Fates of cunning Odysseus and faithful Penelope are amusingly reversed.
The circus acrobatics are superlatively stunning, leaving you both amazed at the phenomenal amount of training endured to get so good, yet how they make it all look so effortless, full body weight balanced on a finger tip, a casual smile on the lips. The athletes perform within arm’s reach, or straight above your head. Here is cabaret right in your face, so intimate you feel the dancer’s breath on your cheek. Not only do you fear for the acrobats’ lives, as they gyrate dangerously above you, but also for your own, since one slip will send them flying into your lap. There is nowhere else you can experience danger, excitement and fear this real, apart from the Trojan battlefield. This stuff just has to be seen to be believed.
The show is accompanied by live music, as hauntingly beautiful Siren Songs where Odysseus struggles tied to the mast, or high-power rhythms to the jaw-dropping stunts. The witch Circe introduces her fantastic performing human-pet Dog, and casts the entangling net of the sea-nymph Calypso that draws her prey to the heavens. She seduces our hero with a sexual energy that makes ITHACA a rival of Sybaris in outrageous decadence. Circe-Calypso resigns herself (or himself – don’t ask!) to loving without love, in an unforgettably camp romp culminating in gyrating rumps twerking the audience.
Swinging trapezes, falling sashes, spinning human hoops, and when they run out of props – they simply begin flinging flying girls soaring high across the room. This is a show of extremes, sheer brute physicality at one end, running all the way to subtle intellectual humour at the other (and both may go over your head). The aerial acrobatics are indeed out of this world, but the Dust Palace troupe also excel at creative dance and the slow motion effects of their temporary weightlessness really does give the surreal illusion that they are defying gravity.
The Astronauts take pity to pick up a marooned space-creature that becomes the malevolent Scylla in a blitzkrieg psychic attack worthy of any really good Star Trek episode, as she proceeds to suck the life force out of the horrified crew. Homer would love it!
Virgil’s pleasant bucolic poetry often conjures up an Arcadian landscape of rustic shepherds singing while watching their bleating flocks gambol across green meadows. Here this delightful imagery is captured by the frolicking about the room of near-naked girls in sheep’s clothing. If you’re lucky, they may sit on your knee, and even two at once. They are guarded by the giant Cyclops, Polyphemus, suffering from his unrequited love of Galatea. Other interludes include the Lotus-eaters, Charybdis and Tartarus. This play has everything.
The climax sees Odysseus land in Ithaca where he must woo Penelope, who is clearly torn in a choice between him or her suitors. Odysseus’ heartfelt rendition singing “the first time, ever I saw your face,” evocative of the face that launched a thousand ships, tips Cupid’s scales and Penelope runs into his waiting arms. Triumph! Lovers are good, but love is better, and so we get our happy ending that unlike Homer’s original does not require a brutal mass murder of the 108 suitors.
We left the Q Theatre in a state of mild euphoria, as if waking from a pleasant dream, and wondering if what we’d seen was real or now only imagined. If you want an entertainment so unique, so intimate, and so thrilling that it leaves your head spinning, a smile on your face and stars in your eyes then brave souls make the journey to ITHACA to learn something new about yourself. And I haven’t even told you the best part.
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