Latin — Wanted, Dead or Alive? (Latina — Desiderata, Vivens Mortuave?): Elegiac Experiments in Latin Composition

Latin inscription on the tomb of the poet Vergil: Photo by Schoen at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20197230

In my experience, Latin education at the advanced level rarely emphasizes, strangely enough, how to speak or write Latin. Though often helpful at the introductory level, these skills seem to carry limited advantages in the end because Latin is a “dead” language few people communicate with today. Instead, the goal is generally to read Latin texts in order to understand them, interpret them, and learn about the society that produced them.

Doctor Who Season 10: Review of “The Pilot” and “Smile” – Promising Start Marred by Weak Writing

Season 10 of Doctor Who was off to a relatively promising start in its premiere episode “The Pilot,” which utilized a fresh back-to-basics approach in introducing the Doctor’s new companion, Bill Potts, and in (re-)defining the Doctor’s character and identity. Unfortunately, the main plot of the episode was marred by weak characterization that reduced the impact of its resolution. The unimpressive follow-up episode “Smile” did contain some interesting themes, but they went nowhere, due to a simplistic, unsatisfactory resolution that did not engage very well with any of them.

The following contains spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 of Doctor Who season 10.

(more…)

Adele as a Modern Roman Elegist: Reinventing the Exclusus Amator

Adele, the Grammy-award winning singer behind the album 25, is a modern musician whose work mirrors the ancient genre of Roman elegaic poetry. In the same way that Latin elegy is characterized by an emphasis on love and relationships, Adele’s songs focus on the nature of love and relationships almost exclusively. Many other modern singers explore love as well and might also be called modern elegists, but Adele earns that description because her work in its examination of love recalls the language, tropes, and style of Roman elegy to a remarkable extent.

(more…)

Article Now Available on Eidolon! – “Playing the Game of History”

I am proud to announce that my article, “Playing the Game of History: The Identity of Alexander and the Macedonians in Civilization VI,” has been published by the Classics blog Eidolon. Please be sure to check it out!

In the article, I discuss the decision of game developers Firaxis to portray Alexander as the leader of Macedon, rather than Greece, in the newest iteration of the Civilization series and how it ties into ancient and modern debates over Macedonian identity. Here’s a short preview:

The debate over Macedonian “Greekness” is complex; it stretches back to ancient arguments and continues in the form of discussions among scholars. It has the potential to inflame intense passions among modern-day Greeks and Macedonians, with real consequences in the political sphere. Therefore, the portrayal of Alexander and the Macedonians in Civilization VI as part of a non-Greek civilization becomes particularly stunning when we realize that Firaxis is stepping into such a complicated debate.

I highly recommend Eidolon. It is an excellent blog featuring unique perspectives on Classical topics and is notable for dealing with current, topical issues and intersections between the modern and ancient worlds. I appreciate how Eidolon seeks, while still being of interest to scholars, to make the ancient world more accessible for a general audience.

It does this by using a less academic and more informal style; it also removes the requirement for peer-review and extensive bibliographies, which works well for formal academic journals but makes it hard to produce timely content and respond to current events. It may take months or years for a peer-reviewed article to be published, whereas Eidolon can publish on immediately relevant issues: my article went live only a few weeks after Firaxis released Alexander as a new leader for Civilization VI.

“The Awful Grace of God”: Blue Bloods, Robert Kennedy, and Aeschylus’ Agamemnon

A recent episode of Blue Bloods, entitled “Unbearable Loss,” (episode 10 of season 7) features an unexpected reference to the Classical world, in the form of a quotation from Agamemnon, the first tragedy in the Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus. A police drama series might be an unusual place to find such a reference, but then again, Classical mythology remains so dominant in our culture that we shouldn’t be surprised to see it turn up in all corners of our entertainment.

Blue Bloods stands out among police dramas for its willingness to confront significant issues involving the police beyond just “catching the bad guys,” which is the main focus in many other shows. The morality and ethics of policing, the influence of politics and the media, racial tensions and accusations of excessive force, the importance of proper legal procedure, and even the role of religion and faith–all these areas and more have been dealt with by Blue Bloods at one point or another. If any TV series about cops had the depth to reference ancient Greek literature in a intelligent and meaningful way, it would have to be this one. (more…)

Sansa’s Story: Analysis of Game of Thrones, Season 6 Episode 10, “The Winds of Winter”

The following post contains spoilers for season 6, episode 10, of Game of Thrones, “The Winds of Winter.”

Last time, I wrote about the aspects of Margaery’s story that I found disappointing in “The Winds of Winter,” and I tried to come up with an analysis to explain why her plot line was resolved in such a way. This time, I’m going to discuss Sansa’s story arc, which produced some mixed feelings for me.

Women in Power

Let me begin with the part that did not turn out as I had hoped. Before this episode, I was looking forward to seeing Sansa claim her position as Lady of Winterfell. She has been in the background for so long and has continually been victimized and held back in so many ways that I thought it was finally time for Sansa to enter a position of authority and power. She would be the one to restore the Stark name to Winterfell–or so I thought.

This idea didn’t just come out of nowhere. For one, I knew that Jon Snow did not want the seat of Winterfell. He was only fighting against the Boltons on his sister’s behalf and also to try to save Rickon. Winterfell, naturally, would be claimed by the legitimate heir of the Stark family–Sansa.

More importantly, having Sansa claim Winterfell fits into several major themes of Game of Thrones. The first theme has to do with female characters ascending into positions of power, and the finale highlighted this concept very well.

As Game of Thrones shifts into its end game, female leaders are dominant in the political landscape. Daenerys leads a coalition of factions led by women. The deal between Dany and Yara is made by two women–fellow queens–who are equals and are seeking to break tradition by becoming the first women to rule Westeros or the Iron Islands respectively. And, with Varys’ help, she’s earned the support of Lady Olenna and the women of Dorne. In the final scene of the episode, there is a sense of optimism and inspiration as Daenerys sets out for Westeros, with so many people behind her.

ep60-ss10-1920

Meanwhile, Cersei is now the most powerful person in King’s Landing. She sits upon the Iron Throne, having destroyed her enemies in a massive explosion of wildfire, but at the terrible cost of losing her son. Daenerys, in fact, killed the Khals earlier this season in a similar way–trapping them in a building that is destroyed by fire–but far from being inspired by Dany’s overturning of the Dothraki patriarchy, we are in this case struck by Cersei’s villainous descent into darkness, ruthlessness, and cruelty.

ep60-ss06-1920

Women are the figures of authority now, ranging across the entire spectrum from inspirational leader to ruthless villain. If nearly all the major political figures are female, it would be plausible to continue with this theme and have Sansa become the Lady of Winterfell.

The second (but related) theme has to do with people in marginalized positions rising to greatness. Davos, a smuggler and commoner, becomes the chief advisor to first Stannis and now Jon Snow, while Tyrion, who has been an outsider and outcast for his whole life, finds his calling as an advisor for Daenerys. As I mentioned, Sansa has been a sidelined character for a long time. Not only that, but women in general are marginalized in a medieval society like this one, and I thought it would make sense to work against that idea by having Sansa become ruler of the North.

Given all these thought processes, I really hoped that Sansa would rule in the North, and I was a bit disappointed when Jon Snow becomes the King in the North instead.

King in the North

I don’t have any major problem with Jon, however. I completely understand why he was the one chosen to lead the North.

It makes sense that the Northerners would support the man who actually led them into battle against the Boltons. He fought with them and risked his life alongside them–something Sansa can’t claim to do. Since winter is now here and White Walkers will be attacking soon, the North no doubt needs someone with military experience who knows how to handle logistics. Jon fits that description extremely well.

There are also thematic reasons that support Jon becoming the king. What I said about sidelined characters rising to greatness applies to Jon. He begins the series as the bastard son of Lord Stark, without a chance to ever really be accepted, but over the course of the series, he overcomes serious challenges and ultimately proves himself to be a legitimate Stark and the true ruler of the North.

jon snow

His plot line in season six mirrors that larger arc: he begins this season literally dead, only to rise again and become king. With his resurrection, Jon takes on the role of a heroic Christ-like savior figure, which is thematically the exact sort of inspirational figure who would become king. Perhaps he is, as Melisandre believes, the Prince who was Promised, who is supposed to lead the fight against the coming darkness.

After the revelation of his parentage in this episode, we realize that Jon represents a balance of the two major elements in Game of Thrones: fire and ice (as referenced in the name of the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire). He is a Stark (or more appropriately, a Snow) of the cold North, but also a Targaryen, represented by the fire of the dragon. He has entered the cold of death, only to be revived by the power of fire, which Melisandre’s Lord of Light stands for. He represents a balance of the two warring forces central to the series, and perhaps it is up to him to restore that balance.

It makes sense for Jon to become the heroic, inspirational king and leader that the North needs to survive the winter. The problem is that Jon a bit of an obvious choice, and Game of Thrones thrives on subverting our expectations. Game of Thrones is often at its best when destroying traditional notions of heroism, and it seemed too straightforward for Jon to be placed into that role. I thought that Sansa would be a less obvious choice to lead the North.

Sansa’s Resolution

I wanted to see Sansa receive some pay-off for her story arc, and that was why I was disappointed when she did not become the ruler of the North. But I do have to appreciate that she achieved a proper resolution to her plot line and character development this season, in a variety of more subtle ways.

Of course, we have to start with the scene from “Battle of the Bastards,” when she allows Ramsay’s dogs to brutally maul him. As she walks away with a hint of a smile on her face, we get the sense that she’s finally absorbed some of the ruthlessness and toughness necessary to make it in Game of Thrones.

We also see that she’s become a more skilled, hardened political operator, especially in her resistance to Littlefinger. She smartly says that “only a fool would trust Littlefinger,” in contrast to her father, who trusted Littlefinger in season one and was betrayed, imprisoned, and executed as a result. She rightfully questions his loyalty by saying that he’s declared for other houses before, yet always serves himself.

sansa and littlefinger

When Littlefinger says that he wants to claim the Iron Throne alongside Sansa, he seems to be at his most open and honest, but Sansa does not give in to his (sincere?) expression of love and loyalty. She rebuffs his advances and gives herself more power over him, since he now must work that much more to earn her “approval,” instead of being able to use her as a tool to take power for himself.

Finally, she walks away without a word of acknowledgement when he suggests that she has a better claim to Winterfell than Jon Snow, and this connects with her urging Jon to take the lord’s chamber because she considers him a Stark. I very much appreciate her lack of selfishness as she reveals her strong, renewed loyalty to family and, possibly, the understanding that Jon might make a better leader than herself.

This brings me to Jon becoming king instead of Sansa ruling the North, which I think actually fits in with the resolution of her story arc. Her insistence that Jon claim the lord’s chamber as a true Stark, her dismissal of Littlefinger’s divisive words, and her smile of pride as Jon becomes king–all that leads me to think that she purposely stands aside for Jon to rise to power (or even had something to do with the Northerners making him king–we don’t know how planned all that was.)

When she gives Littlefinger a look at the end of the scene, what she’s saying to him is that she has resisted him in allowing Jon to be king. Rather than claiming the seat of Winterfell for herself, allowing Littlefinger a path toward manipulating her position for himself, or standing against Jon as Littlefinger intends, Sansa demonstrates her family loyalty and her willingness to put aside any selfish, personal ambitions for the greater good, since Jon is the leader the North needs now.

sansa

If I’m right, Sansa is telling Littlefinger that she knows exactly what he’s trying to do and that he’s failing miserably to divide the Starks against each other. Sansa is keeping an eye on him. There’s been the suggestion that Littlefinger and Sansa will conspire to turn on Jon, but I think Sansa is too smart to listen to Littlefinger and doesn’t have the personal ambition to betray her family anyway.

As it turns out, the fact Sansa did not become ruler of the North is a significant part of her story-arc resolution this season. If it is true that she purposely stands aside for Jon to be king in order to resist Littlefinger’s manipulations. then she demonstrates a level of awareness, political acumen, loyalty to family, and lack of selfish desires that are all signs of positive character growth. Maybe I should not be too disappointed with Sansa’s plot line this season–her story arc has reached a proper conclusion after all.

Game of Thrones Analysis: Margaery’s Story in Season 6, Episode 10, “The Winds of Winter”

ep60-ss02-1920

The following post contains spoilers for season 6, episode 10, of Game of Thrones, “The Winds of Winter.”

“The Winds of Winter” was an incredibly exciting finale for Season 6. It was filled with so many amazing moments that I had a hard time deciding what to discuss in this post.

Should I talk about the terrifying moments culminating in tragedy, accompanied by a beautifully haunting soundtrack, as Cersei’s plot to blow up the Sept of Baelor unfolded? What about the moments of inspiration and optimism, as the North rallied behind Jon Snow and Daenerys sets out for Westeros? What should I say about Arya’s revenge against Walder Frey, or the revelation of Jon Snow’s parentage? And so on.

Even though there were so many satisfying plot resolutions packed with significance that I could talk about, I’m going to be talking about one part of the episode that disappointed me, which was the conclusion of Margaery’s story. When writing an analysis of a TV show, movie, or literary text, one technique that works well for me is to start with a question. In this case, instead of dismissing the parts that I didn’t like, I’m going to try to answer the question, “Why did Game of Thrones‘ story unfold in this way and what thematic significance emerges from presenting the narrative like this?”

A Rose Cut Short

In this episode, Margaery was killed in a way that I don’t think gave her story a proper resolution. In previous episodes, as she spoke of her faith in the gods and of her desire to repent for her sins, it was difficult to tell whether she was being genuine or was putting on a facade to manipulate the High Sparrow. But then, she secretly handed her grandmother a drawing of a rose, the Tyrell family sigil, as if to indicate that she still had her family’s best interests at heart, that her renewed “faith” was merely a convincing act, that she had a plan in mind to deal with the High Sparrow or improve her family’s standing..

As a fan of the show, I really wanted to see what Margaery planned to do. I wanted to see her pull off an impressive political maneuver and put the High Sparrow in his place. But, instead of such a satisfying end to her story–no victory over the High Sparrow, no successful political scheme–she simply died along with everyone else inside the Sept.

To make this moment even more frustrating for me, Margaery was the only who had an inkling of what Cersei was planning to do, but that knowledge did not save her. Having played the game of political maneuvering against Cersei for so long, Margaery realized that Cersei’s absence meant she would have an alternative plan in mind to handle her enemies. Margaery’s warnings could have saved everyone, but that did not happen.

To me, this moment did not fit with one of the core themes of Game of Thrones: that if you are cunning and clever, if you possess keen political acumen, if you display an awareness of what is happening around you, you will not only survive but thrive in this brutal world. Contrast this to Ned and Robb Stark’s moral codes of honor, which ended up killing them. Consider how Jon Snow fell into Ramsay’s trap in “Battle of the Bastards,” even though Sansa warned him about what could happen.

Again and again, we’ve seen that you need to be smart to succeed, and yet, when Margaery displayed the exact type of awareness and intelligence needed to do well in Game of Thrones, she still wound up being killed. So what gives? Why did one of the most fascinating characters in Game of Thrones with a promising plot line meet such an end?

Margaery should have survived the explosion because she did what she was supposed to–try to escape the Sept. However, she was prevented from leaving by the High Sparrow’s minions. So Margaery’s death–as well as the death of everyone else in the Sept–does not reflect any problem with her, but rather, reflects a problem in the High Sparrow’s behavior: being so overconfident in the security of his position and the righteousness of his actions, he was unable to accept that Cersei would dare plot against him or oppose him. He did not understand the extent of Cersei’s cunning.

ep60-ss13-1920

So, it looks like Margaery’s death does fit in with the show’s major themes, in that the High Sparrow’s lack of awareness leads to his own death and the deaths of everyone else in the Sept with him. But that’s not fair, is it? Margaery does what she is supposed to–be smart, be aware, and think carefully–but has her end dictated by the High Sparrow’s behavior. The idea, though, is that even when you do everything right and follow all the rules that should ensure survival, you can still wind up dead in the game of thrones. Those who are built up to do great things are often torn down in dramatic fashion, as we’ve seen with Ned and Robb.

There’s another explanation. As smart and cunning as Margaery is, she does not possess the streak of violence, cruelty, and vengeance that we see so clearly in Cersei. Margaery definitely plays the game well. She displays a keen understanding of politics and how to leverage perceptions and relationships. That can be an effective model of power, but in the end, it is only Cersei, with her capacity for ruthlessness, who would contemplate the wholesale destruction of her enemies. In Game of Thrones, being clever is perhaps not enough–an extra degree of ruthlessness is required to be victorious. It all comes down to one thing: who has the power and resources necessary to crush his or her enemies?

ep60-ss06-1920

Finally, Margaery’s death becomes a motivating factor for Lady Olenna, who now seeks revenge against Cersei for wiping out her family. If there is any “consolation” for the unfortunate end of Margaery’s story, it is that Lady Olenna–an incredibly fascinating character in her own right–will be plotting her vengeance, and in the coming seasons, we will be treated to more amazing acting by Diana Rigg.

If I was slightly frustrated by the loss of this promising character, I can only imagine how Olenna–who has lost any hope of a future for her family line–must be feeling. As Game of Thrones has shown, revenge and anger can be a powerful–and dangerous–motivator.

ep60-ss08-1920

A side note: I hoped to see Olenna take charge of the situation and become a powerful force to oppose Cersei, so I was somewhat disappointed that her story was so quickly tied into Daenerys’ plot. I guess that was a narrative maneuver necessary to clarify alliances as we move into the final two seasons.

Although I’m still disappointed that Margaery did not survive this episode and that we did not get to see her plans come to fruition, it helps to know that her death does fit into the show’s larger themes, and in that sense, she did not die “for no reason.” Personally, I would have preferred that she lived–it would have been great to see her crawling from the rubble after the explosion–but at least I can understand why it happened from a thematic perspective.

Okay, that’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed this post, and stay tuned for another Game of Thrones analysis in a couple of days, probably regarding Sansa and why she did not end up claiming the seat of Winterfell.