Category: 300

Veni, vidi, vici

For some reason that quote has always sounded very sexual to me. Okay, so it’s not that hard to imagine. I came. I saw. I conquered. When Rome first came out and I was immersed in the world of LJ, I made a series of icons about the hotness of Antony. It was an animation that cycled through his hottest pictures (though sadly not the full frontal) with the words “Veni… vidi… vici.” My my, I’m a slut for history.

It is in that spirit that I bring you another top ten list. My top ten people from history.

10. Shakespeare

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Shakespeare is obviously sexy. You only have to read a few lines of his plays to know that. The man practically created the idea of love (except not really… as I’ll get to with number 5!) In my mind, Shakespeare is always played by Joseph Fiennes, brooding and creative in Shakespeare in Love. I tend to always view historical characters in their potential interesting historical fiction. Stories about Shakespeare’s life are always full of intrigue, lust, adultery… all of the wonderful things that made Shakespeare in Love one of the best chick flicks ever made.

9. Leonidas and Gorgo

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I have to admit that my love for Leonidas really didn’t surface until after seeing 300. But the truth about 300 is that while it’s “accuracy” may be questioned, the idea of it is true to the sources. What I mean is that if Herodotus or Thucydides could have made a movie about Thermopylae, it would have been exactly like 300. The story of Thermopylae was never history. Almost immediately it was myth.

Besides the rippling abs and small loincloth of 300, Leonidas was a Greek hero the likes of which they had not seen since Homer’s Troy. Of course, until the Persian Wars they hadn’t seen a war quite like Troy either. Leonidas, the Agiad King at Sparta (Sparta always had two kings, from two royal lines), led his men into war with all the courage, bravery and self sacrifice of the Spartan mirage. A Spartan man was not afraid of anything. Had Leonidas meant to lead his men to death? Probably not. Did 300 Spartiates fight off millions of Persians? Not at all.  Counting the Spartans helot slaves, and the fighters from other Greek city states, there had to be at least 3000 men at Thermopylae. And remember, they lost. All the same, it makes for a great heroic tale of the Spartan courage. After all, the statue dedicated for Thermopylae reads,  “Go tell the Spartans, passerby: That here, by Spartan law, we lie.”

And Gorgo? Remember that gorgeous scantily clad chick in 300? That’s Gorgo. The daughter, wife and mother of Spartan kings. She was a phenomenal woman, who kicked some major ass. Not quite like in the movie, but in her own way. When she was a child, she was listening to a meeting between her father and a man who was trying to convince him to support the Ionian revolt against Persia. When things had gone to far, she interrupted them. “Father, you must make this man leave before you are corrupted,” she said. From that moment on she earned the respect of the historical sources. She’s one of very few historical figures actually mentioned by name in Herodotus. She’s the epitome of a Spartan woman, the way Leonidas exemplifies Spartan men. The Spartan woman did not mourn the death of her husband, brother, son or father in war. Their philosophy? Come back with your shield or on it.

8. Hamnett Kirkes Pinhey

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Here’s where you get a little bit of history of the Ottawa area, pets! I know you’re all so excited. Hamnett Kirkes Pinhey was a merchant in England, who made his fortune early in life and retired at the age of 35. Frustrated by his inability to climb the social ladder in England, he decided to move to the colonies. So he petitioned for land in Canada, claiming that he had been  a spy for England to the King of Prussia during the Napoleonic Wars. He got his land grant and headed on his merry way.

He built his home on overlooking the Ottawa River. It was the most impressive building for miles, and Hamnett Pinhey was the wealthiest man in Carleton County. He was the unofficial patriarch of the area, often lending money to poorer settlers or overseeing public schools. He built a church, the first in the area, on his own property which he donated to the Anglican Church. He was a Great Man, with capitals, mostly doing all of these things to increase his own status in the community.

But he wasn’t bad looking for a settler, and he sure had class. Plus, he was rich. Which is always a bonus.

7. Delilah (and Samson)

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I guess here the term “historical” is used lightly. Biblical I guess would be better, but I’ve been inclined to think of the bible as mythology much like Hesiod’s Works and Days. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that the story of Samson and Delilah is by far one of the most compelling, a favourite subject among authors, poets, songwriters and artists. Samson was seemingly invincible, but Delilah learned his secret. When he was asleep, she cut his hair and thus robbed him of his strength. It’s sexy. Who knows why she did it. Who knows why he let her. But it’s a great story. The downtrodden women of the bible are my favourites, Jezebel and Delilah especially.

6. Julius Caesar

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The very man who spoke the words that gave this post a title! Interesting fact, to those of you who don’t speak Latin… in Latin, the “v” is pronounced with a “w” sound, essentially making the quote “Weni, widi, wici,” which doesn’t roll of the tongue in quite the same way.

Anyway, apparently Julius Caesar said a lot of famous things. Another of his is “The die is cast.” I think Julius Caesar is like a god. I mean, he’s the beginning of the Roman Empire. He’s… invincible! He dares to do what no other man in Rome will. I have to say that I’m guilty of always first thinking that JC stands for Julius Caesar and not Jesus Christ…

Caesar’s early death makes him a hero. He didn’t live long enough to fail, and thus he is eternally infallible.

5. Ovid

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By far my favourite Latin writer. And definitely one of my favourite poets of any language. Ovid was an artist in a way that writers weren’t before him. Ever since Homer, literature had steadily been moving towards the point of artistry, and indeed a lot of the credit can be given to others like Sappho and Virgil. But Ovid was the first to use a complex theme in his work, the Metamorphoses. He pushed the limits of literature as everyone knew it. His writing is unique because it’s actually good by modern standards. Which is to say, it’s still interesting.

Plus, he wrote on things like love and sex (he has a bunch of erotic poems) and got himself exiled.  He also coined the phrase “make love not war.”

“And what other treasures may not be hidden under that summer dress? Feeling hot? Would a cooling breeze be welcome? There, let me fan you a little. Or is the heat all in my own?” Amores, Book 3

4. King Arthur

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I have to say that even in First Knight when you’re supposed to go for Richard Gere as Lancelot, I went for Sean Connery as Arthur. I have always had this unwavering image of King Arthur as a good king, as brave and loyal. And thus always thought Guinevere was a whore. Who would chose Lancelot over Arthur?

I think my love for Arthur started with the Sword in the Stone… but it continued to Mists of Avalon, King Arthur, First Knight… Merlin… I think I’ve seen every movie relating to Arthur and read quite a few of the books.

Arthur represents, to me, the traditional Great Leader. The way a King should be. Ushering in a golden age. Unifying the kingdom. He’s a hero, and one not quite as long ago as the Greeks and Romans I usually go for.

3. Cleopatra

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The ultimate seductress. Sources generally agree that Cleopatra was not a looker - how could she be with the infamous Ptolemy nose? But Cleopatra was undeniably sexy. Proof? She, a client Queen, made lovers of two of the most powerful men in Rome, Caesar and then Antony. She seduced them. She used them. And all the while she was a surprisingly good queen, the only one in generations who had bothered to actually learn Egyptian. She spoke 7 different languages, she was supposedly very smart and no one was as charming as she. The story goes that she wagered Antony she would give him the most expensive party in history. At this party, she took a pearl that was apparently worth the value of 15 countries and dissolved it in a glass of vinegar, then drank it. It is, apparently, still the most expensive meal in history.

Cleopatra is intriguing in every possible way and her life is the best of stories, from her birth to her dramatic suicide.

2. Marc Antony

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Marc Antony was a great general. He lacked the politics to be a great leader. He really did best when Caesar was alive, he wasn’t cut out to beat Octavian at the games of political intrigue. When it came to war, he should have beaten Octavian. He was the better general. But Octavian knew his weaknesses and largely had Agrippa leading his armies for him. And so Antony was defeated.

But even Plutarch, though happy to point out all of Antony’s flaws, says that he was very attractive, with “a noble dignity of form.” Antony is more often than not portrayed as the man’s man, very rugged and tough. Like in the tv show Rome, he was supposedly into all sorts of debaucheries.

I like to believe that Antony and Cleopatra were in love. Real love, not political love like her and Caesar. I think this mostly because they were probably the only ones who could give each other’s charm a run for it’s money. But I bet she missed the intelligent conversation from her days with Caesar.

1. Alexander the Great

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Oh Alex. My love. In the theory of reincarnation, they say that if you identify strongly with a character from history, you were either that person or a person close to them in a past life. I don’t know if this is a legit theory, but I love it. I was definitely either Alexander or his lover Hephaestion in a past life. Their love is so touching. They had been friends since boyhood, and modelled themselves after Achilles and Patroclus. Everyone knew that Hephaestion was the love of Alexander’s life. The only close rival was his horse, Beucephalus.

I don’t know why I love Alex so much, or why I feel the need to call him “Alex” as is we were friends. But he’s the ultimate Greek hero. And like Achilles, his early death ensures his fame. Alexander was unstoppable. He never lost. He never gave up. He conquered further than any Greek had ever dreamed. And he was hot. I just know it.

“They say Alexander was never bested, except by Hephaestion’s thighs.” - Alexander, the movie.

Lavinia

I was amazed when I found this book at Chapters. 1) Lavinia! I’d never even thought about taking such a minor character in the Aeneid and writing a book! Clearly, no one else had until now. 2) I’ve always been very interested in Ursula K. LeGuin as an author, though I haven’t read much by her. This is because I absolutely love a couple of her short stories, and an essay I read by her. She’s a beautiful writer. The problem is, a lot of her stuff is a little too sci-fi for me. Also, I once attempted to read Tehanu. Which I got about half way through and still didn’t understand. This, I have concluded, is my own fault because I should have read the other three books in the series first. Which I also own. But Tehanu had the prettiest cover… hahaha.

Anyway! So, Ursula K. LeGuin + rewrite of the Aeneid (Penelopiad style!) = a must buy.

I think I read the first half of this book holding my breath. It was gorgeous. It just seemed right to me, the character, the ideas. The idea that Lavinia had no voice in the Aeneid, that this was her voice… it was wonderful. I adored it. I fell in love with Aeneas as she did, as I think all Romans did when they read (or heard) the Aeneid. Lavinia has had lots of criticism on the more modern approach, saying that it wasn’t accurate, it was too romantic, etc. But I think that that was the point. It was a modern epic. Because epics are supposed to be like that. Romance and reshaping truth.

I think what LeGuin said herself in her afterword was really how I felt. She said that she wanted to make these people Roman. She wanted to show them as the first roots of the Roman Empire, she wanted to show how they would have seen themselves and each other. And it suceeded.

It reminded me of watching 300. A lot of people criticize 300 for not being historically accurate. But what people don’t realize with the ancient texts is that there’s no separation between history and myth. Myths are true. The inexplicable heroics are true. To them. So for me, 300 is the movie that Herodotus or Thucydides would have made if they could make a movie. More propaganda than fact, but the truth is there, whether factual or not.

The point of Lavinia is to tell the story again (to use a Winterson-ism). To tell it in a way that two thousand years after the Aeneid, we would understand it and feel it and be a part of it. In myth - in greater truth rather than in true fact.

Some favourite lines, as usual:

“But then I think no, it has nothing to do with being dead, it’s not death that allows us to understand one another, but poetry.”

“I know who I was, I can tell you who I may have been, but I am, now, only in this line of words I write. I’m not sure of the nature of my existence, and wonder to find myself writing.”

“My mother was mad, but I was not. My father was old, but I was young. Like Spartan Helen, I cause a war. She caused hers by letting men who wanted her take her. I caused mine because I wouldn’t be given, wouldn’t be taken, but chose my man and my fate.”

“The poet sang me the fall of Troy, his story told of the king’s daughter Cassandra, who foresaw what would happen and tried to prevent the Trojans from letting the great horse into the city, but no one would listen to her: it was a curse laid on her, to see the truth and say it and not be heart. It is a curse laid on women more often than on men. Men want truth to be theirs, their discovery and property.”

“They lived and died as women do and the poet sang them. But he did not sing me enough life to die. He only gave me immortality.”

LeGuin admits that she is in love with the words of Virgil. This is very apparent in the book. Lavinia, aware of her fictiousness, aware that she is created by a poet living hundreds of years later, also falls in love with Virgil. It’s lovely. A tribute to Virgil, and rightly so.

All this being said, I found the end of the book a little less exciting than the beginning After the death of Aeneas, LeGuin went on to summarize the rest of Lavinia’s life in a very narrative way, which sort of lost my interest in parts and really lacked the insight and character of the first half.

I really love this new trend to reexamine the classics (obviously). I also love this new(ish) idea of a text that is aware of it’s textuality. Of characters aware of their own fiction and storytelling. There’s a real word for this, but it escapes me right now.

Lavinia was, in my opinion, well worth the read, and much better than the Penelopiad if it need be compared. Though it did share a lot of the themes of the Penelopiad (feminism, retelling, characters aware of their own fiction and grounding the epic hero.)

Makes me want to read the Aeneid again. The Aeneid, I would say, is written with much more craft and ease than its predecessors, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Virgil tells a better story. However, Homer tells a better battle. But that is a nerdy discussion for another day.