Greek Chic

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The ancient Greeks refuse to go away. The appearance of a new novel, play or opera on a Greek theme has become almost a weekly occurrence. In each of these three publications, the relationship with ancient literature takes a different form. But all three works recycle narratives about Greek heroes whose actions were first described […]

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Deep Frieze

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It’s rare you encounter a bombshell in the well-ploughed fields of classical scholarship, but the 21st-century proof that the Parthenon sculptures were once coated in bright paint certainly qualifies as such. Johann Winckelmann, father of art history, celebrated Athens’s greatest monument as the ripe fruit of Greece’s new democracy with a picture of pure, unsullied […]

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Laugh? I Nearly Died

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Astudent goes into his grandmother’s bedroom and starts humping her. When his father comes in to give him a good clout for being so disgusting, the son says, “Well, you hump my mother, why can’t I hump yours?”’ I’ve adapted this old Roman joke into modern vernacular, but still, I confess, I find it so […]

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And Then There Was One

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The idea that Roman emperors spent their time engaged in or recovering from orgies is highly misleading. In 29 BC, a merchant ship anchored off a fishing village on the small, obscure Greek island of Gyaros and a local fisherman boarded. He was an ambassador for the community. His mission was to importune the emperor […]

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Collecting Cuttlefish on Lesbos

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Aristotle and Plato – their names conjure up thoughts of stone busts showing serene elderly men with long curly beards. Perhaps these revered Greek philosophers really did look like that at some stage in their lives, but according to the evolutionary biologist Armand Marie Leroi, Plato was so irascible that he once threw his favourite […]

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One Sauce to Fit All

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

There he is on the cover, clever and tousled; there he is on the back cover, too, a little less scruffy this time, in suit and open-necked shirt. Then the author photograph, suit and tie to the fore, one hand artfully ruffling the flaxen mane. Three Borises, with only the hint of a Coliseum behind […]

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Annus Horribilis

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As Tom Holland’s Rubicon and Persian Fire thrillingly demonstrate, the most enjoyable history tells a story, and the Roman historian and politician Tacitus (c AD 56–120), who in his time served as both consul and provincial governor, had no better material with which to start his Histories than the dramatic events that unfolded during the […]

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Corinth in Flames

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘There is a tide in the affairs of men/Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune,’ Shakespeare’s Brutus remarks in Julius Caesar. The real Marcus Junius Brutus too had had good cause to note the vicissitudes of the fickle goddess Fortuna. He also knew something of Greece and the Greeks; indeed, according to his […]


Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Anyone who has visited Delphi, the ‘navel’ (omphalos in Greek) of the ancient world, will be aware of the numinous quality of its dramatically mountainous surroundings. Until the late 19th century, however, what is now a much-excavated site was in fact the village of Castri, and distinctly lacking in numen, or divinity. From Cyriac of […]

Over the Wine-Dark Sea

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There is a simple answer to the question understood by the subtitle of this book. Homer matters because he has mattered to people for some three thousand years or even longer. He matters because he is the father of European literature. Homer, Adam Nicolson writes, ‘is the foundation of truth and beauty … Homer is […]

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