Sunday, January 31, 2010

Upcoming Talks and Readings

On Friday, February 5th at 4:00PM, I'll be giving a talk in Special Collections (WAC Bennet Library, 7th floor, room 7100) at Simon Fraser University about the uses and abuses of a philosophy degree, and how having that degree played into the writing of The Golden Mean. For more information, please click here.

On Saturday, February 6th at 8:15PM (doors open at 7:30PM), I'll be addressing the Vancouver Institute, reading from and discussing The Golden Mean. (Woodward Instructional Resources Centre, UBC, Lecture Hall 2). For more information, please click here.

On Sunday, February 7th, 4:00-5:30PM (3313 Peak Drive on Blueberry Hill, Whistler), I'll be in Whistler for the 28th Whistler Reads book club discussion. For more information, please click here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

All Things Said and Done

To read my interview with Marita Dachsel on her blog about writing and motherhood, All Things Said and Done, please click here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dionysian Rant

From YouTube: "'Dionysian Rant' - a realisation by Michael Atherton, performed Melismos (Philip South, Mina Kanaridis & Michael Atherton). Melismos was formed by Michael Atherton, Mina Kanaridis and Philip South to investigate the performance of ancient Greek music. The songs and instrumentals have been realised from surviving fragments by Michael Atherton and are performed on copies of original instruments. This item is conjectural dance music from Classical Greek Theatre. The double auloi (ancient oboes) were turned in maple by Harry Vatiliotis, Australia's master luthier."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hello Ottawa!

I'm so pleased to be delivering Carleton University's Annual Rose Maguire Lecture (College of the Humanities), entitled "Contemporary Resonances from the Ancient World: Annabel Lyon Discusses The Golden Mean".

Wednesday, January 27, at 7:30 pm.
302 Azrieli Theatre

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Handy-Dandy Map

To see the full-size version of this map (including such Golden Mean settings as Stageira, Pella, Mieza, and Aegeae), please click here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dionysus or Jack White, You Decide

Performances of Euripides' The Bacchae bookend The Golden Mean. Here's a production I dearly wish I'd seen. These clips are from the National Theatre of Scotland's 2008 performance for the Edinburgh International Festival, under the direction of John Tiffany, featuring Alan Cumming as Dionysus and Tony Curran as Pentheus.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Tetradrachm for your Thoughts

Here's a portrait of Alexander the Great as Zeus Ammon (check out the ram's horns, symbolizing divinity) on a silver tetradrachm of Lysimachus, 297–281 bc, thought to be a copy of a portrait by Lysippus; in the British Museum. Diameter 30 mm. Click on the Encyclopedia Britannica for more.

According to Wikipedia, "Lysippus' sculpture, which is opposite to his often vigorous portrayal, especially in coinage of the time, is thought to be the most faithful depiction of Alexander."

Courtesy of the trustees of the British Museum; photograph, J.R. Freeman & Co. Ltd.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Creating Character: Herpyllis

Aristotle had children by two women: a daughter by his wife, Pythias, and a son by a woman named Herpyllis. Historians frequently refer to Herpyllis as Aristotle's concubine, a word that always struck me as unnecessarily fussy. A quick trip to the dictionary, though, reveals "concubine" to mean a companion a man can't or won't marry because of her inferior social status.

According to the 3rd century Roman historian Diogenes Laertius, Herpyllis came from Stageira, the village of Aristotle's birth. She was a slave or servant in Aristotle's household, likely one of Pythias's own maids. In The Golden Mean, I imagine she and Aristotle became intimate only after Pythias's death, though in reality who knows.

In creating the character of Herpyllis, I wanted a woman who would provide a foil to the quiet, inscrutable, sexually uneasy Pythias. I imagined her older than Pythias, earthier, and more self-assured. She's happy, illiterate, an excellent servant, and her sexual appetite is a match for Aristotle's. (In fact, I imagine her teaching him a thing or two, since medical texts of the time are entertainingly misguided about women and sex).

Herpyllis outlived Aristotle, as evidenced by his will:

"The memory of me and of the steady affection which Herpyllis has borne towards me, shall take care of her in every other respect and, if she desires to be married, shall see that she be given to one not unworthy; and besides what she has already received they shall give her a talent of silver out of the estate and three handmaids whomsoever she shall choose besides the maid she has at present and the man-servant Pyrrhaeus; and if she chooses to remain at Chalcis [where Aristotle died], the lodge by the garden, if in Stageira, my father's house. Whichever of the these two houses she chooses, the executors shall furnish with such furniture as they think proper and as Herpyllis herself may approve."

translation by R.D. Hick (Loeb Classical Library)


I received this comment from an anonymous reader on my recent Word of the Day post. Thanks for the correction!

"I do not wish to delve into Balkan politics and the heated Macedonian naming dispute; however, I do have a problem with your inclusion of Renee Kaplan's description of Macedonia as located "way down in Southeastern Europe between Serbia, Albania, and Greece." This definition refers to the former Yugoslav republic and ignores the existence of a northern Greek region which defines itself as Macedonia. In fact, the birthplace of Aristotle and Alexander (in Stagira and Pella respectively) can be found in northern Greece (the Greek province of Macedonia) and not somewhere "wedged" between Greece and Serbia. The kingdom of Macedonia, which was ruled by Philip and Alexander, primarily lies within the borders of modern Greece and extends into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia by only 100km. Renee Kaplan's descriptor of Macedonia's location encompasses the ancient regions of Paeonia and Dardania, and not the Macedonian kingdom of Alexander. However, it should be noted that the geographic boundaries and territories of what is termed to be "Macedonia" changed throughout history. (I point out this distiction because this blog deals primarily with Alexander's Macedonia). One should be careful before linking the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (which is largely Slavic in language and culture) to ancient Macedonia, which spoke a bastardized Greek dialect, or a language closely related to Greek if not Greek itself.

The statement that Macedonia has been home to a "richly varied population encompassing many ethnic groups" is quite true. Macedonia, which became fully assimilated with Greece by the end of the Hellenistic period, would come under Roman and Byzantine rule, overrun by Slavs in the seventh and eighth centuries, conquered by Bulgars and Serbs in the Middle Ages, and settled by Turks and Jews during the Ottoman periods. The mixed population of the region resulted in the competing Greek and Slavic nationalisms in the region, and the present conflict over the name and ancient symbols of Macedonia."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Raphael's School of Athens

A detail from Raphael's School of Athens, featuring Plato and Aristotle. Painted in 1510-11, it's a fresco in one of the rooms known as the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

From Wikipedia: "In the center of the fresco, at its architecture's central vanishing point, are the two undisputed main subjects: Plato on the left and Aristotle, his student, on the right. Both figures hold modern (of the time), bound copies of their books in their left hands, while gesturing with their right. Plato holds Timaeus, Aristotle his Nicomachean Ethics. Plato is depicted as old, grey, wise-looking, bare-foot. By contrast Aristotle, slightly ahead of him, is in mature manhood, handsome, well-shod and dressed, with gold, and the youth about them seem to look his way. In addition, these two central figures gesture along different dimensions: Plato vertically, upward along the picture-plane, into the beautiful vault above; Aristotle on the horizontal plan at right-angles to the picture-plane (hence in strong foreshortening), initiating a powerful flow of space toward viewers. It is popularly thought that their gestures indicate central aspects of their philosophies, Plato's his Theory of Forms, Aristotle's his empiricist views, with an emphasis on concrete particulars. However Plato's Timaeus was, even in the Renaissance, a very influential treatise on the cosmos, whereas Aristotle insisted that the purpose of ethics is "practical" rather than "theoretical" or "speculative": not knowledge for its own sake, as he considered cosmology to be."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Word of the Day

Macédoine is the French word for Macedonia (birthplace of both Aristotle and Alexander the Great). It's also used to refer to a salad of mixed fruits or vegetables. According to the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary, "Historically, this area [Macedonia] has been home to a richly varied population encompassing many ethnic groups. Etymologists believe that the cultural heterogeneity of the region may have inspired people to use its name as a generic term for any kind of wildly jumbled mixture. English speakers borrowed "macédoine" early in the 19th century. The word took on its more specific "salad" sense later in the century."

Food writer Renée Kaplan writes at, "So where the hell is Macedonia? And how it is that chopped carrots and peas and pears and peaches can all somehow claim to be Macedonian? It turns out Macedonia is actually wedged way down in Southeastern Europe between Serbia, Albania and Greece, that the national diet tends massively toward barbecued meat, and that there wasn’t a single Macedonian salad on any of the menus in the many restaurants I sampled there." She concludes that a Macedonian salad is simply a mixed salad, and offers a recipe for Macédoine de Légumes.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Alexander Romances

The tradition of the Alexander Romance, stories of the mythical adventures of Alexander the Great, dates from the late 3rd to the 16th centuries, with variations in virtually every European language as well as Arabic, Persian, Ethiopic, Hebrew, Turkish, and Mongol. Chaucer makes reference to the tradition in The Canterbury Tales. Early versions were attributed to Aristotle's nephew and Alexander's historian, Callisthenes (more on him in a future post). But, since Callisthenes died well before Alexander, this author was later referred to as Pseudo-Callisthenes.

The stories were largely fantastical, featuring magical creatures, superhuman powers, prophecies, and a tryst with the Queen of the Amazons. (Told of this last story, Alexander's general Lysimachus, who accompanied him on his campaigns, is supposed to have said, "I wonder where I was at the time.")

Alexander rex exploring the depth of the sea

This image shows Alexander being lowered into the sea in a glass barrel to observe marine life (Aristotle's influence, perhaps?) From the old French prose Alexander Romance manuscript, Rouen, 1445
London, British Library.