Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The New Seven Wonders of the World...of Nature

In an age where our culture thrives on the ability to take quizzes, vote for their favorites, and ultimately insert our opinion everywhere it is needed (or not), one of the latest, and more interesting polls is on the New Seven Wonders of the World - of nature. On 7.7.2007 in Lisbon, Portugal, Vote7.com unveiled the New Seven Wonders of the World, taken from millions of votes around the world. Due to its success, the newest New Seven Wonders of the World is underway, this time focusing on natural phenomenon. The finalists have been chosen, and those who visit the site are urged to vote for their top seven which range from the Matterhorn (or Cervino as it is known to the Italians) to the Galapagos Islands, many of the sites you will have heard of, and many you may not. For those that are a mystery, more information is offered on each finalist in order to bring you up to speed. A ranking system allows you to see which finalists are gaining ground, losing ground and holding their own. The only downside of the system is In order for your vote to count, you must register on the site. Whether or not you believe that this is news in the making, or a publicity stunt, the site is certainly interesting to look at. Furthermore, this site offers a reminder of how many beautiful places there truly are in the world, and should inspire you to pack your bags and set out to visit all of them.

Vote for your choices of The New Seven Wonders of the World of Nature here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Samurai Sword Fighting Makes a Comeback in Japan

One of the latest crazes to hit Japanese natives and tourists alike isn't new at all, but the ancient art of samurai sword fighting. For 12,000 yen, you too can take a course in Tokyo where you will learn to wield a sword by the sensei who not only appeared in "Kill Bill Vol.1" but also choreographed the fight scenes for film, training the movie's two biggest names: Lucy Liu and Uma Thurman. If the world can embrace the ancient art of samurai sword fighting (even as only a form of exercise), can Spartan warrior classes be far behind?

Read Metro.co.uk's article here.
Or see the cultural section of the See Japan website here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli

Sirena, the narrator of Donna Jo Napoli's young adult book "Sirena", longs for what her sisters want - immortality, and she is told that the only way to obtain it is by loving a man and having him love her in return. Unfortunately Sirena carries a terrible curse. Half fish and half human, she and her mermaid sisters are oddities to humans and fish alike, not fitting well in either world. What's more is as a siren, her beautiful voice can captivate and enchant a man forever, but since her and her sisters live within the rocky crags near Crete, her voice also spells their doom. Sadly, in Sirena's world, most of the silly sea-faring humans are unable to swim, so even if their boat crashes near a hospitable island, they drown in the salty waters, their last vision of land and the beautiful creatures that lured them there.

Unhappy with her lot in life, Sirena strikes out on her own one day and happens upon an injured young human male being left by his shipmates on the deserted island of Lesbos. Bitten by a sea serpent, the man is dying and Sirena nurses him back to life, and falls in love with the process. This is a tragic tale of love, and the reader knows that their love cannot last forever, however it is that tragic love that tugs at our inner longings to find love in unexpected places and hope that all will turn out for our heroine in the end, though perhaps not in the way she wishes.

Napoli's writes in the present tense, which at first can be disarming, but with the tense choice, she immerses the reader in the tumult and beauty of the sea. One can feel every squeak of the passing porpoise and every prickle of the starfish as Sirena makes necklaces to make herself beautiful. The novel is lush with feeling, imagery and Greek mythology, and the reader will not only enjoy the story, but will learn a lot about Hera, Heracles, and the creatures that inhabited the ancient Grecian ocean in the process.

Being a fan and student of mythology in all its forms, I enjoyed this novel immensely. But hopefully books such as this one will inspire readers to seek out the timeless tales such as "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" and will inspire a new generation of Classicists in order to keep that part of our history alive...and swimming.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Michigan State University Threatens to Remove Classics

On October 30th, Kim Wilcox, provost of MSU recommended the elimination of the Classics Department at MSU in a "focused budget reduction". The Classics Department isn't the only department on the hit list, and as the letter reads "as many as 30 academic majors, specializations and other programs could be affected". This is only one of many higher learning institutions to make these kinds of reductions, but the hit to the Classical education, and to arts and humanities in general, is one that sadly, many people are starting to become all too familiar with. Classical Studies have long helped students and non-students alike gain a fundamental foundation for understanding the modern world through analytical thinking, philosophy, art and language skills. As a side note, if MSU removes its Classics Department, it will be the only one of the Big Ten without a Classical Education. It will also lose a department that makes it able to stand toe-to-toe with other notable universities around the world.

An online petition is going strong. Sign it to show your support by clicking here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Linear B & Related Scripts by John Chadwick

An earlier form of the Greek language which died out with the fall of the great Myceanean civilization (estimated 13-15 B.C.E.) Linear B has remained a mystery until fairly recently. Interested in ancient scripts, I happened upon this little treasure of a book in the Classics section of a used bookstore. The author, John Chadwick, is a key player in the decipherment of Linear B, and helped crack the code in the 1950s. Only 68 pages, it is a treasure trove of the basics, from its discovery on clay tablets, to its decipherment and relationship to other ancient languages.

One of the most difficult parts to follow, and rightly so, is a bit about how Chadwick cracked the code. Yet once I was on board with his methodology, the book was a very interesting and enjoyable read. Due to Chadwick's involvement with this language, he takes great pains to teach the reader about the many difficulties involved with deciphering and reading this script, notably the largest is the comparatively small sample size found (though archaeologists are finding more as time progresses). Included in this book is a list of the currently known symbols - the signs, ideograms, and numerals, making it a valuable addition to any ancient history buff's library, both amateur and expert. It is also a part of a series put out by the British Museum called "Reading the Past". As they can be difficult to find, I hope to discover more.

To learn about Linear B, see Wikipedia's article here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Villa Hermes in Vienna, Austria

The Villa Hermes can be difficult, but well worth its rewards, to reach. A tram and a bus ride later, you find yourself at the entrance to Lainzer Tiergarten. The grounds itself were the imperial hunting grounds of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and walking through the equivalent of a large national park, one can easily imagine wild boars crashing through the woods. And this is still an image that lucky visitors will come upon, for wild boar still roam the woods of the Lainzer Tiergarten. Much more docile, however, are the deer that are fenced in and incredibly receptive to visitors, though you are asked politely not to feed or pet them.

Ten minutes through the park nets you a brief glimpse of Villa Hermes and soon after you are upon it. Franz Joseph I gifted his wife Empress Elisabeth, affectionately known a
s Sissy, with this villa as her private retreat. Mythological statuary populate the grounds, including a beautiful one of Hermes itself, after which the villa is named. The inside of the villa contains numerous exhibitions and visitors are allowed to walk through many of the rooms and take pictures. The most impressive room is arguably the Empress's Dormitory. One can view her fascination with Titania here, as the room is a menage of A Midsummer Night's Dream paintings and furniture.

Hermes Villa and the associated Lainzer Tiergarten are currently open from Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 6pm. Their website is only in German, but you can visit it here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hedgehogs: Drunken Menaces or Simply Misunderstood?

Every autumn my husband regales me with stories of the hedgehog, an animal that makes many British people avoid the time-honored tradition of jumping into large piles of leaves. So when I happened across this short bit on Metro.co.uk's weird section, it brought a smile to my face. Apparently a hedgehog found its way into a cache of fermented apples and got a bit tipsy. To make the story even cuter (and sadder), it was a legless hedgehog. Read the story here, while I try to work out the greater significance of this story which must be here somewhere...