Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Shout-Out

On March 31, The Big Ten Conference announced its list of student/athletes awarded Big Ten all-academic honors for winter sports.

My favorite college basketball player, Iowa’s Matt Gatens, was one of 36 Big Ten basketball players honored, and one of only eight sophomores to make the list (players are eligible for the award only after completing three semesters, a rule that effectively disqualifies freshmen).

Unlike other Big Ten schools, the University Of Iowa did not issue a press release marking the honor, a shameful oversight since Gatens is the best player on the Iowa squad as well as a genuine student/athlete—and a genuine student/athlete taking serious coursework, a rare enough occurrence in the realm of college basketball.

The failure of the Iowa coach and the Iowa Athletic Director to take public notice of the achievement of the team’s finest player and finest scholar is yet one more sign that the basketball program in Iowa City is in utter disarray. Iowa basketball has become a low-class affair administered by down-market morons.

Gatens was one of only two Hawkeyes awarded Big Ten all-academic honors (the other was reserve Devan Bawinkle).

Purdue and Wisconsin led the conference in placing six players each on the all-academic list—and Purdue was particularly impressive, because the six Purdue players receiving academic honors included the team’s star players as well as others that enjoyed significant playing time.

Indiana and Northwestern each had four players on the honors list. Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State each placed three players on the list. Illinois and Michigan each had two.

Minnesota came dead last, with one player receiving academic honors. This is not surprising, since Minnesota basketball has not interacted with academic achievement since at least the 1960’s. I had hoped that Tubby Smith might change that situation, but apparently it is not happening.

In any case . . . if his own coach and his own Athletic Director will not give a shout-out to Matt . . . at least I will.

Friday, April 23, 2010

"I Have Gazed Upon The Face Of Agamemnon"

On March 14, a very busy day for us, we visited Mycenae after our visit to Corinth.

Mycenae was the capital city of the powerful ruling dynasty that governed most of the Eastern Mediterranean for 500 years during The Late Bronze Age. Indeed, Mycenae was so influential from 1600 B.C. to 1100 B.C. that those five centuries are often referred to as The Mycenaean Period.

Unique for the age, the royal city of Mycenae was situated neither upon water nor upon a well-traveled trade route. Instead, the city was erected amidst rugged terrain in the mountainous interior of The Peloponnese. It is believed that the city was intentionally founded upon a site ideal for defense against foreign invasion.

Most of the ruins to be seen in Mycenae today are remnants of structures built between 1350 B.C. and 1200 B.C., the peak years of Mycenaean civilization.

One enters the city proper (The Citadel) through the Lion’s Gate, erected circa 1250 B.C.

The Lion’s Gate is reached only after an arduous climb up a steep, rocky, winding road built during The Late Bronze Age. The road was constructed so as to make attempted invasions of the royal city exceedingly difficult.

While city walls and foundations of the royal palace are still visible, the most important Mycenae monuments visible today are grave circles (funerary enclosures used for the burials of non-notables) and royal tombs (the monumental graves of Mycenae’s rulers and aristocrats).

The photograph below shows one of Mycenae’s two large grave circles.

It is unknown how many persons were buried in each of the grave circles. While the remains of dozens of persons have been uncovered in both grave circles, it is likely that the grave circles represented a symbolic place to pay tribute to the dead rather than a final resting place (the common practice in Mycenaean civilization was to incinerate, not to bury, the dead).

Important personages were not buried in grave circles. Important personages were, instead, granted individual burial monuments.

Mycenae buried its nobles in beehive tombs (large, circular burial chambers with high vaulted roofs). The tombs featured solemn, even dramatic, entranceways lined with stone.

The tombs, vandalized only a few generations after they were first erected, were richly adorned when new. The dead, laid to rest in sitting positions, were buried with gold masks, tiaras, jeweled armor and weapons, and other luxuries befitting their exalted statuses.

The largest and most famous tomb of Mycenae is today known as The Treasury Of Atreus. Historians speculate that it may have served as the tomb of Agamemnon, although there is no direct evidence to support such a claim.

The photograph below shows the entrance to The Treasury Of Atreus.

The photograph below shows the interior of The Treasury Of Atreus, illuminated with its single source of natural light.

By 1100 B.C., Mycenae was abandoned, a victim of earthquakes, fires and waves of destruction by foreign invaders. The abandonment of the city was coincident with the sudden collapse of Mycenaean civilization, a collapse that attended the end of The Late Bronze Age.

The swift demise of Mycenaean civilization resulted in a great and lasting Dark Age for the entire Eastern Mediterranean, a Dark Age whose long-term effects vastly exceeded the effects of the Dark Age that was to follow the collapse of The Roman Empire sixteen centuries later.

Trade and commerce came to a halt. Literacy disappeared (as did entire languages). Ruinous declines in population occurred. Flourishing city-states with sophisticated political structures ceased to exist almost overnight, replaced by scattered and thinly-populated villages that lacked significant contact with the outside world. Mycenaean culture, known for art and architecture, advanced naval vessels and land weaponry, and high-technology coinage and communication and record-keeping systems, was wiped from the face of the earth in a near-instant.

Greece was not to begin to recover from this particular Dark Age for 400 years.

The highly-developed civilizations of Anatolia in present-day Turkey were to take even longer to rebound, not to emerge from this Dark Age for over 1000 years.

Addendum Of 14 August 2010: The photograph of the interior of The Treasury Of Atreus, which I found on a Greek travel website and which may be viewed elsewhere on the worldwide web, was taken in 2009 by Mr. Richard Buck of Oxford, United Kingdom. Mr. Buck’s photograph is by far the finest photograph I have encountered of the interior of The Treasury Of Atreus. The original photograph may be viewed, in ultra-high resolution, on Mr. Buck’s Flickr page, which may be found [link disabled, pursuant to Blogger request, on 8 September 2010] .

Addendum Of 28 August 2010: The very same photograph of the interior of The Treasury Of Atreus also appears in a 2003 disc of photographs distributed by the U.S. arm of The Tourist Authority Of Greece and mailed to prospective U.S. travelers in response to requests for information about the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. The photograph was clearly taken by a professional photographer during a period in which the historic attraction was closed to the public—there are no tourists milling about, inside or out, and no tourist shadows, and no modern torches illuminating the interior of the dark cavern, all of which are in conspicuous evidence during visitor hours. In the booklet accompanying the 2003 photo disc, the photographs contained on the disc are credited to: S. Adrianou, G. Efstathiou, D. Karvelas, A. Michelis, B. Ostroff and C. Thiamis.

Addendum Of 8 September 2010:

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Sunday, April 18, 2010


On Friday night, Joshua and I attended a performance of Boston Ballet’s production of “Coppelia”.

Boston Ballet’s current staging of “Coppelia” is the company’s first presentation of the George Balanchine/Alexandra Danilova version, first unveiled by New York City Ballet in 1974. The Balanchine/Danilova version is based upon Marius Petipa’s 1884 version, revised in 1894 by Enrico Cecchetti, except that Balanchine provided an entirely new Act III.

In its program booklet, Boston Ballet asserts that its current presentation of “Coppelia” is unique. The company claims that Boston Ballet is the only American company other than NYCB authorized to present the Balanchine/Danilova version.

Such assertion is incorrect. In June, Pacific Northwest Ballet will also present the Balanchine/Danilova “Coppelia”. In fact, the person in charge of staging the Boston production on behalf of The Balanchine Trust, Judith Fugate, is also scheduled to stage the Seattle production.

For its “Coppelia”, Boston Ballet has not used a recreation of Rouben Ter-Arutunian’s original NYCB stage designs and Karinska’s original NYCB costume designs. Instead, the company has purchased Seattle’s old “Coppelia” physical production—Pacific Northwest Ballet has commissioned entirely new stage and costume designs for its upcoming “Coppelia”—and, according to the program booklet, has refurbished and rebuilt the old Seattle production to suit Boston’s staging.

This was probably a mistake. The Seattle production, refurbished and rebuilt or no, looked cheap and unattractive. Boston Ballet would have been better off recreating the original NYCB designs.

“Coppelia” is such an enchanting ballet that Josh and I enjoyed the performance very much—and this was despite the fact that the presentation was anything but top-notch. The dancing lacked the specificity and precision necessary to realize fully Balanchine’s genius and originality. Everything was too generalized, even a bit muddy. Characterizations were broad. Divertissements were not polished and exacting as they must be. There was too little virtuosity to be seen onstage. The flood of child dancers was annoying.

We had purchased tickets for Friday night’s performance because Friday night’s cast was the same cast as that on opening night. We had assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the opening night cast would showcase the finest of the Boston dancers.

I found none of the principals to be impressive. All very much operated on a purely regional level of accomplishment. In fact, I found both the Swanilda and the Franz to be very, very weak.

The Boston Ballet orchestra was much less impressive playing Leo Delibes’s captivating “Coppelia” score Friday night than it had been last October, when we had heard the orchestra give a fine account of Adolphe Adam’s “Giselle” score.

In sum, everything about the performance was tired and lackluster.

And yet all evening we were never in doubt for a moment that “Coppelia” is a work very much worth seeing and hearing. There is no other work in the repertory quite like it. It may be the single most life-affirming ballet ever created. Its charms come across even in the most inept of productions.

Friday, April 16, 2010

On Ancient Athens

In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all: security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.

Edward Gibbon

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


On March 14, we visited the excavations at Corinth.

Corinth has a long and distinguished history.

Corinth was Greece’s largest and wealthiest city before The Roman Era—it is estimated that Corinth had at least 800,000 inhabitants, five times the population of Athens, before the Romans destroyed the city in 146 B.C.—and was for centuries the political and economic capital of The Peloponnese.

In 44 B.C., 102 years after the city’s destruction, Julius Caesar decided to reestablish Corinth, planning a Roman city atop the Greek ruins. Within fifty years, Corinth was once again the primary city of The Peloponnese, with a population exceeding 100,000 persons.

The Greek Temple Of Apollo is the only structure from pre-Roman times that continues to stand in Corinth. Corinth’s Temple of Apollo was erected in 580 B.C., approximately 100 years before similar Greek structures, making it one of the oldest temples to be seen in Greece. Seven of the original 38 pillars remain standing.

All other Corinth structures uncovered after more than a century of excavations date from The Roman Era.

The square in the photograph below, with a Roman fountain in its center, lies in the very center of Roman-Era Corinth.

The Apostle Paul surely walked this very square almost two thousand years ago.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Vera Icon: The True Image

Domenico Fetti (1589-1623)
The Veil Of Veronica
Circa 1620
National Gallery Of Art, Washington

Oil On Panel
31 3/4 Inches By 26 1/8 Inches

". . . Which Have Not Entered The Heart Of Man"

Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man: all that God has prepared for those who love him.

The Apostle Paul
First Epistle To The Corinthians


While we were in Corinth, it was, of course, impossible not to think of The Apostle Paul, who for eighteen months in 50-52 A.D. lived and preached in Corinth.

We toured the excavations in Corinth, and walked the very streets Paul had walked almost two thousand years before.

It was one of the great moments of my life.

It is fitting, during these holy days, to remember our visit to Corinth.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Corinth Canal

On March 14, we toured The Corinth Canal, the six-kilometer canal that connects The Gulf Of Corinth with The Aegean Sea.

The Corinth Canal cuts through The Isthmus Of Corinth, which connects the Greece mainland with The Peloponnesian Peninsula. The purpose of the Canal is to provide passage for ships through The Isthmus Of Corinth, thereby eliminating the need to sail 400 kilometers around The Peloponnese.

Plans for a canal through The Isthmus Of Corinth go back 2600 years. Numerous rulers from Greek and Roman antiquity—including Demetrius I, Julius Caesar and Nero—foresaw the need for such a canal. Preliminary work for the canal was conducted over several centuries and substantial excavations were undertaken in the 1st Century A.D., only to be abandoned in 68 A.D. shortly after Nero’s death.

The Corinth Canal came to fruition only in modern times. Plans were prepared in the 1870’s, construction began in 1881, and the Canal was completed in 1893. Today’s canal path is identical to that projected in Nero’s time.

Still in use, The Corinth Canal is too narrow (it is 21 meters wide) to accommodate modern freighters. The Canal is used today primarily by tourists ships. Almost 1000 ships traverse the Canal each month.

Numerous conventional and suspension bridges span the Canal. In addition, there are submersible bridges at each end that allow vehicular traffic to cross the Canal. The submersible bridges are lowered to the bottom of the Canal when ships enter and exit the passageway.