The Sound History Makes is Echoes.

—Corrected from Original—

If you live in the west, you know the cliche, history repeats itself. And, if you have read anything, anything at all, in the discipline of history, you know this proverbial warning rings true. In fact, you can say history echoes with the cries of mankind’s folly. Times change, but people do not.

Look I’m not writing in the abstract. I have a clear case to make. Today, I’m talking about the resurgence of fascism inside the U.S.A.

A very wealthy man, mentor, and close friend of mine once told me a new rise in fascism will be the inevitable by-product of late-stage capitalism under threat. When those who hold power have to share their power with the common people, and a time will come when the people, average citizen, no longer accepts the ineptitude of their government. The powerful at the top will begin to feel threatened by those demanding their nation put people before profits. That’s how society collapses into authoritarianism. Hence, the rise of Mussolini, Hitler, etcetera. Today, we call fascists in America white nationalist, because their views and rhetoric closely mirror the Nazi party of 1930’s and 40’s Germany, which by the way, actual Nazism, by its name, also thrives inside the ideology of white nationalism here in the U.S.

These people aren’t even clever enough to rebrand. They still blame minorities for their angst, immigrants for their disenfranchisements, society’s progress for brainwashing their children—ironic that one—, and like all terrorist ideologies, they rank and file behind false patriotism and twisted scriptures—regardless of religion. These fascists, although many of them are too close to the fire to see that they are indeed fascist, believe they will be counted on the right side of history. Well, they have that last one partly right: the right, when it shifts too far right, always ends up on the fascist side of history, which is to say, the wrong side. A democracy not slipping into chaos is indeed a walk across the tightrope.

A big difference between Isis and Q is Isis didn’t target baby boomers with propaganda.

These people are not patriots, they are terrorists; they are intellectually manipulated, susceptible to lies, and readers, mostly watchers, of fake news. The problem isn’t they have their own fake reality, but their false ideology threatens the stability of our democracy. The only smart one’s in their movement are the leaders, because they know full well what they are doing. If you think might proves right, chances are, you fall in line with this budding American fascism.

Think about this: how many grandparents, parents, and friends have you heard say the press/media should be filtered? That’s a violation of the first-amendment. How many of these same people complain protestors should be shot? Protesting is the foundation of our democracy—Boston Tea Party, American Revolution, Civil Rights, etcetera anyone? How many of these people go on and on about how the use-of-force will solve their problems. Name one time in history where getting tougher on people actually worked. Go ahead and name one. Don’t be shy. I’ll give you a hint: they weren’t democracies. Comment your findings below. Come on. Do it! Yes, that’s right, I’m coming for you QAnon believers.

Fascism, historically speaking, is rarely elected but arrives in watershed moments of turmoil, and takes the form of a coupe, which can be election fraud, or sewing doubt in election integrity, or more likely, fear politics—that’s when people are told their false reality, which they believe is real, cannot be compatible with their leaders and experts.

The latest fascist threat we faced was January 6, 2021—the Capitol building riot. Another key marker of fascism, and remember: we are using the historical method to look back and use comparable events, is disinformation. Or, better put, misinformation, a.k.a. fake news and false narratives. No one falls in love with a dictator style government, but they do fall in love with a person, and that’s how you get dictators. 100% of the time that’s how you get dictators. Hitler is famous for saying, “if you tell a lie loud enough and long enough, it will become truth.” You don’t need me to draw a line from Nazi Germany propaganda to today’s election lies from the Q’s and other Trump supporters to know the power of misinformation. Book burning is around the corner—the first cancel culture. Albeit, today, it will look more like not allowing certain books to be taught because it doesn’t work with many of the false historical ideologies they use to uphold their worldview. But trust me, their world is built on sand. It will not last. We just have to outlast them.

Fascism roots in the minds of those who can’t reasonably connect with reality. Therefore, fascist governments are infamous for attracting those who believe in simple answers for complex problems.

Why am I ranting about fascism today? It’s ugly face continues to show up in my life. I have family, friends, and members in my own community bathing themselves every night in the lies they read on the internet, swallowing every fear-written piece of propaganda they can find, and fact-checking their stuff only with the information they already agree with. Terms for this phenomenon are coined confirmation bias, naive realism, and, of course, cognitive dissonance. It’s scary and heartbreaking. What’s worse, is these folks think they are truly right. They are in a political cult. Another by-product of fascism.

I want to make one point clear, before I finish. I am not accusing the Republican party of fascism. I am a Democratic-centrist, but before that I was a Republican, and I live with that, like an inmate lives with the memory of his crimes. There are Republicans who do not pledge their allegiance to any single man, but continue to serve the greater ideals of our great country—meaning, the Constitution comes before politics. The problem is there are few of them left. The Mitt Romney’s of the world are out of any real power.

Yes, I know there are Democrats that are so far left, they get confused with Communism, but that’s not only a false narrative, it is one that will require a different post. One, I am unlikely to write, because I hope this is the only political post of 2022. No, anyone with two-brain cells rubbing together knows Communism and Socialism are not allies, but, economically and politically and historically speaking, they are enemies. Whether you support one of the other, has nothing to do with reality. And, that’s my point. Half of our nation has decided to create their own reality—hence, the slip towards fascism. Again!

Do you think Germany elected Hitler as Chancellor because they wanted a World War? No, he promised to make Germany Great Again. I kid you not, he said it over and over and over, “Make Germany Great Again.” Go inside any holocaust museum, and chances are you will see those words stitched or printed to old propaganda—some of it in English. Their blame victims: the Jews. Our nation’s blame victims: immigrants.

History indeed repeats itself, and in our case, it hasn’t even changed from the same old tactics. Like I said, these people didn’t even rebrand. They will say, well, we don’t believe in concentration camps. To which I reply, children and mothers are in cages all along our borders. That’s when they usually attack me on a personal level. “You think you know everything,” kind of arguments. Remember, personal attacks are the refuge of the simple. Violence is the refuge of the simple when angry. Aristotle said, find the man that yells he is right in assembly, and never allow him to achieve his ambitions. Meaning—he is a threat to peace.

Facts do not, in themselves, have the capacity to convey emotions. If you or someone you know gets frustrated with reality, it is because reality doesn’t fit with yours or their worldview. I already mentioned how reality becomes distorted through propaganda, which is the purpose of such tactics.

All this said, however, does not change the fact they these people are human beings and deserve respect, even if they cannot or will not show it back. We must love our neighbors, but we cannot continue to allow them to believe every belief has equal weight. It does not. Slavery for example is wrong, and few would say otherwise. But, the person who does believe slavery is okay has the right to believe that, but their belief is not an equal opinion to that of the abolitionist. Truth and justice is not relevant to an individual. Reality is sculpted by reason, justice, and a respect for all peoples and all histories.

So, stand firm on truth, but always meet hate with love. For love is the only way to penetrate the minds of those lost to false causes. They want violence. They want control. They want to force the world to make sense to them, but you, I, and everyone else must reach out and offer them your arm, praying they will allow you to pull them back into reality. Until they do so, if they ever do, you are under no obligation to share your life with them, but, by God’s decree, you are to love them, forgive them, and pray for their return to sanity. For hell, if it is real, is full of those who bear false witness. Proverbs 6.

Or, as my grandfather once said, a Democrat will come clean about not knowing what to do, a Republican will do it anyway and blame the Democrats if it fails. Whoever sits in the middle is the experiment.

That makes me a nail between hammers. Oh well! It is the price of living with my eyes-wide-open.

Next time, we will get back to writing.

God bless you all forty-thousand of you who read me regularly. You are more than a number.

—W. Alexander

A Nod To Derry’s Son

Derry, New Hampshire was the longtime home of Robert Frost. This poem is in dedication to my favorite poetry book: North of Boston, and his poem October.

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The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

Chapter I: Necessity Breeds Destiny

We were poor, almost destitute. I remember pretending to sleep through my father’s weeping himself into exhaustion, day after day, from scratching a scanty living gathering and selling fish to our neighbors. The Nile sustained both of us, until, that is, I became a thief. Father was once a holy man, so the first day I stepped through the door with a handful of silver and laid the coins before his feet, he didn’t ask where my bounty came from. Instead, he sighed. Then, he kissed me and hurried out to trade for wheat and barley. Though necessity drove me to steal my daily bread, I soon found, Ra forgive me, that I was good at it. In fact, I loved the thrill of following fat patricians, as they waded through the agora’s crowds. I became their shadows, and when the moment was ripe, I jostled them, pretending accident, before I slipped my knife into their robes and sauntered into the crowd before they knew their purse was gone.

            That day, thievery and destiny entangled. Forever after, my previous insignificant life was insnared in a role far larger, and far worser than what fates befall the gods. I had been stupid, even overconfident. It was a ruse I used often: I hid behind some drunkard poking the barrels of beer imported from upper Egypt grumbling about their price. Senselessly, I lobbed a small stone at the next merchant’s stall, if I am remembering right, hitting him full on the chin. At once, the stall holders clamored at each other’s throats allotting their recriminations. In the upheaval, I grabbed a basket, believing it stuffed with bread, from behind the beer seller’s stall.

            But a woman caught me in the act. She emerged from the encirclement of barrels stored behind the stall just as I scooped up my prize and shouted: “Thief!” The entire agora turned. A cacophony of voices followed her, “Stop that thief!” and “Somebody, grab that boy!” I squirmed through the crowding press of the rich and poor alike until—crack—a soldier supplied a cudgel to the forehead. When I came ‘round, the soldier had dug his heel into my chest, pinning me to the ground in the center of the jabbering, malicious crowd. I struggled, but he picked me up by the neck and punched me full in the face with his battle-hardened knuckles. My legs went limp.

            “That boy is Ishaq,” I heard someone cry. Another yelled, “have pity on him. His father once served Horus.”

            The crowd’s expressions whirled and meshed with the blue liveries donning Pharoah’s guard, and I knew I was caught.

            I spit out a single tooth, and feared my own blood threatened to drown me. The soldier dropped me, and I sat up dazed and trembling. Onlookers craned forward to see the incriminating evidence the soldier was about to pull out the basket. I’ll never forget his smirk.

            “Why lose an ear for papyrus, boy?” he asked.

            “It’s not bread?” I replied.

            He laughed, “Scribbles make poor excuses for bread.”

            Then, a wave of jostling and shouting, and the crowd parted for six seven-foot-tall spearmen. Into the clearing stepped a figure outfitted entirely in scarlet. Though, I had never seen him before, I knew this was Imhotep: the first prince of Egypt, husband to Pharaoh’s daughter, regent of Alexandria, and, as such, held the power of life and death over all peoples for a hundred leagues. The agora fell silent, and I gawped at him, frightened, as his eyes scanned serenely up and down my starved body, taking in my unshaved scalp, bloody face, and tattered clothes. Prince Imhotep was a slight man, not tall like his guards but handsome. He had a body sharpened from heavy use clad in a scarlet kaftan, and a black satchel, fixed with a turquoise clasp at his hip. In his left hand, he fingered a black leather riding whip a yard long. His face was clean-shaven, carved and framed underneath his nemes. His eyes were cold and inhuman, and he pursed his lips while he studied me.

            Suddenly, somehow, in that moment my fear retreated. I discovered I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority. I concentrated my disgust in my stare. He must have recognized my repulsion in the instant our eyes locked, for he simpered.

            “What is his crime?” Imhotep asked.

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            The soldier bowed and handed over several papyruses, “My Lord, he stole this thinking it bread.”

            Prince Imhotep undid the thread tying one of the rolls. I could feel blood running down my chin. I resisted the urge to lick at it. Imhotep signaled he wanted silence. He began to read.

            “Can you read this,” Imhotep asked me. Instead, I pressed my lips shut, trembling underneath. “Boy! Answer me.”

I stayed silent.

“You do as your prince commands, or I will—” threatened the soldier who caught me before Imhotep cut him short.

“Silence!” Imhotep thundered.

He stared at me with contempt and then spoke, “You’re brave. I can see that much, but you’re stupid.”

He snapped his fingers, and the soldier grabbed me by the arm, lifted me to my feet and started to drag me away when we all heard a man cry:

“That’s my son. Please, my prince, have pity on him, he’s only a foolish boy.”

Both Prince Imhotep and the soldier turned toward the man’s voice. As he looked, the soldier detained my left arm with only one of his fists. I twisted my body against his grip, ripped free, fell to the ground, and crawled through the prince’s legs and missing, by inches, his fast-closing grip. I took to my heels and dashed through the crowd.

Behind me, hell itself erupted; the soldier shoved and cursed the people impeding his path. A woman threw a pottered vase. I ducked just in time, avoiding my brains becoming entangled with the falling shards which crashed above me. I juked left and right; I slid through the crowd’s legs; I shoved past stout tradesmen and skirted unsuspecting slaves and the livestock they drove. Men and women, slaves and soldiers, sellers and buyers, all rounded quickly, furious at being so roughly shoved. I dared to look behind me. Only the soldier who caught me earlier pursued me. Prince Imhotep and his bodyguards walked, absentmindedly, the opposite direction. I stopped stunned still. That’s when I caught a fist with my left cheek and toppled into the dirt. I pushed my heel into the man’s kneecap. He screamed. Then, I rolled out of the soldier’s path as he dived to tackle me. I got to my feet again and squirmed through another fast-pressing crowd. I sent carts flying. I shoved an elderly man to the ground busy tying his empty cart to his donkey, seizing it, and then, with all my strength, pushing it into the nearby sheep hurdles. The animals let loose, and the ensuing tumult was chaos.

The soldier’s legs were taken out from under him by the stampede of darting sheep. That’s when I raced down a side alley, bursting, to my surprise, through our city’s great library, and into a crowd of philosophers and wealthy patrons. Then, out the other side, up a wide street, passing between noble houses, I ran until the noise behind me subsided. I turned left into another alley.

 I stopped in the doorway of a brothel, recovering my breath. No one was behind me. I leaned my back against the door, struggling to calm my hammering heart. The pain emanating from my jaw threatened my ability to stay conscious. In a flash, a hand wearing three gold rings closed around my mouth and dragged me through the door. I landed on my ass, coughing through a pounding head. My stomach churned. I struggled to stand, but a woman’s heel fixed my hand to a dirty clay floor covered in ragged yellow and green carpets.

A voice whispered, “Stop yelling, you fool.”

Outside the door, a troop of footsteps charged down the alley. Their voices commanding bystanders to stop me. The woman let off my hand and held a single finger over her mouth. I crept to the door and peered through one of its cracks. The soldier I ripped myself from in the agora was leading the others.

“Damn, he has help now,” I said.

“Whatever you did, you won’t be escaping today,” she said.

“Who are you?”

She frowned. “I wouldn’t expect you to recognize me as I—,” she hesitated. “As I am now.”

Keep Reading! Chapter II here: page 2

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Hi, friends and readers, subscribers and first-time-site clickers. I have big, beautiful news to share with you. I published in The Closed Eye Open, which is an impressive literary journal boasting beautiful art and great writing. If you’re looking for something new, creatively speaking, to delight and inspire you, I recommend reading The Closed Eye…

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Continue reading The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

Portrayals of Commodus, From the Senate Floor to Hollywood

Lucius Aurelius Commodus reigned as emperor during the Roman empire’s apex. At nineteen years old he became the most powerful man on earth. Perhaps nowhere else in history was there more promise. Then when the young emperor first adorned the purple. However bright his beginnings, no one foresaw the tyranny and excesses that later defined his place in history. Remembered as one of Rome’s major villains, his likeness is reimagined across generations through screenplays, art, video games, biographical pieces, theatre, and a plethora of histories. The retelling of Commodus’ deeds has entertained and enlightened many, yet he is often portrayed by inaccurate reimaginations. One example is his depiction in modern cinema, the Gladiator[1] which seen in light of scholarship and his own contemporaries, misses countless complexities that molded one of histories most feared autocrats.

Facts & Fiction

            The screenplay Gladiator, not unlike Commodus’ contemporaries with their histories, will build an arc to tell a specific narrative. This is true regardless of a screenwriter’s pursuit to sew tension or a contemporary Roman historian, for example, attempting to justify a later imperial’s position on the throne.[2] History nor art, is rarely if ever told neutrally. Keep in mind every generation’s reimagining has an agenda, some entertainment, often nationalistic, others defacement, et cetera. Ridley Scott, Cassius Dio, Herodian, and many others are no exception to this reality. Understanding this dynamic allows for adequate separating of facts from fiction. Only then is an accurate comparison of portrayals possible.

            First, start by separating facts from fiction regarding Ridley Scott’s, Gladiator. The plot begins with Marcus Aurelius, Commodus’ father in the last days of his life. Deep in the Germanic woods he meets his end at the hand of his own son. The jealousy of missing out on the crown because his father favors Maximus, exposes to the watcher Commodus’ first great act of villainy. Powerful, unsettling, and a perfect plot foundation. Only it didn’t happen. Marcus Aurelius was never hostile to the thought of Commodus on the throne.[3] From early childhood Commodus was actively groomed for the imperial purple. In fact, at five years old Commodus was proclaimed a Caesar.[4] Of course when mindful of creating a screenplay arc, it makes sense Gladiator would need to reveal Commodus’ villainy early, even inaccurately to pace the film under say twenty hours. Fact here, Marcus Aurelius did die on the frontier and was succeeded by his nineteen-year-old son.[5] Fiction, Commodus murdered his own father.

            Knowing why this is important to analyze is in itself of utmost importance. Commodus is often portrayed as an inept, spoilt, cowardly, and mentally ill man. None of these are true. What spelled disaster for his reign was really a combination of severe complexities. Nearly always overlooked was the fact despite Marcus Aurelius’ reasonable expectations the Senate and his advisors would help guide his son in matters of state; when the time of his death came, internal strife prevented such an ideal arrangement in practice. One example would be how the Senate splintered under Commodus’ decision to not continue his father’s expansionist policies in Germania.[6]

            However, blighted the young Emperor often was by those meant to help him succeed, Commodus did them no favors. It is well documented that dressed as a gladiator; Commodus threatened Senators sitting front row in the Colosseum by waving the head of a decapitated ostrich.[7] This clearly captures the sadism of a corrupt autocracy and personality of a young emperor who offered little to no respect regarding the institution of the Senate. A grave mistake.

            The facts in regard to the screenplay are Commodus was unstable, disrespectful, and a tyrant. Not to mention his lust for the mass’s approval was infectious. The fictions are how Ridley Scott created and completed his arc. Commodus did not kill his father and he himself did not die in the arena. He was assassinated in 192 CE,[8] after only twelve years on the throne. The film accurately caught the ethos of Roman culture during the sadist rule of Commodus, bloodlust and corruption. This in its own right is commendable and should not be overlooked.

Cassius Dio & Herodian

            Senator and historian, Cassius Dio is arguably the best firsthand witness to Commodus. His writings paint a vivid portrait condemning the emperor for his lack of devotion to matters of state. Cassius Dio tells that Commodus devoted his life to ease, horses, and combat of wild beasts and men.[9] The emperors disregard for handling matters of state and his perpetual purge of personal enemies filled Rome with terror. When a plague broke out in Rome, and at one point two thousand people were dying a day, Romans feared the emperor’s wrath more than the gods; “Now the death of these victims passed unheeded for Commodus was a greater curse to the Romans than any pestilence or any crime.”[10]

            It is important to note that such a damning account will be replete with bias. However, a historian’s lamentation does not make him wholly inaccurate. Having personally lived through the reign of Commodus and taken part in much of what he seen; Cassius Dio is an instrumental witness.

            Another historian is Herodian. Sharing with Cassius Dio many similar lamentations regarding Commodus, he reinforces the ineptness of the emperor. One of these complaints was how the emperor simply handed over all communication to go through his chamberlain Perennis.[11]Perennis was cruel, but efficient. Again, proper context should be given. This decision was largely a result of the emperor’s refusal to appear in public in response to his sister’s plot to kill him. Though Perennis was soon replaced by Cleander, who became Commodus’ new chamberlain after exposing Perennis’ own plot to overthrow the emperor.[12]  If Herodian is to be believed, Commodus learned of the plot while attending a festival, before an entire audience seated in a theatre.[13] Commodus certainly, if not constantly feared for his life. An event like this would have been humiliating. Circumstances like this perhaps contributed toward his fanatic behavior.

Conclusion

A consistent narrative across scholars, his contemporaries, and screen play writers is the message that Commodus had little to no respect for his duties and unleashed a reign of terror. Though much scholarship has tried to figure out why Commodus was the way he was, history lacks any empirical explanations. Scholars are left asking questions that may never be answered. Was the office too big for him? Was being born into his duty, in itself a corrupting feature? Perhaps it was his love for reading and imitating emperor Nero that drove his excesses?[14] Did he really see himself equal to Hercules? He did erect a colossus depicting himself as much?[15] Was he simply mad? Was the constant threat on his life what drove him mad? The pursuit of these questions has inspired interest into Commodus for generations.

Regardless of what it was that led to the autocratic behavior Commodus exhibited, his legacy is immortalized. Even if it is for negligence, jealousy, and tyranny; Commodus would be pleased he didn’t fall into obscurity. His portrayal from the ancient Senate floor to Hollywood has remained consistently negative. Though facts are often stretched to arc the narrative as the writer sees fit, commonalities in his portrayals help uncover just how difficult ruling Rome must have been. From the start Commodus was manipulated by his own counsel for personal gain. This alone might provide reasonable insight into his personal disdain toward the Senate. Where Gladiator missed Commodus’ bright beginnings, his contemporaries overwhelm history with evidence the emperor was not naturally evil, but a product of circumstances.

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Bibliography

“Gladiator.” Ridley Scott. DreamWorks Distribution, (2000).

Mary Beard. “SPQR,” A History of Ancient Rome. (New York, NY: Liveright Publishing, 2015): 43-398

Gary North. “Gladiator,” A Review. (lewrockwell.com, www.lewrockwell.com, 2001).

Allen M. Ward, Fritz M. Heichelheim, Cedric A. Yeo. “A History of The Roman People,” Sixth Edition. (New York, NY: Routledge, 2016): 368-371

Cassius Dio. “Roman History,” Vol IX, Book LXXII. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927): 94-103

Donald L. Wasson. “Commodus.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. (www.ancient.eu/commodus, 2013).

Mary Beard. “Confronting the classics,” Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations. (New York, NY: Liveright Publishing, 2014): 145

Herodian. “History of The Roman Empire Since the Death of Marcus Aurelius.” Vol I, Book I. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927): I.IX


[1] “Gladiator.” Ridley Scott. DreamWorks Distribution, (2000).

[2] Mary Beard. “SPQR,” A History of Ancient Rome. (New York, NY: Liveright Publishing, 2015): 43

[3] Gary North. “Gladiator,” A Review. (lewrockwell.com, www.lewrockwell.com, 2001): par III

[4] Allen M. Ward, Fritz M. Heichelheim, Cedric A. Yeo. “A History of The Roman People,” Sixth Edition. (New York, NY: Routledge, 2016): 368

[5] Allen M. Ward, Fritz M. Heichelheim, Cedric A. Yeo. “A History of The Roman People,” Sixth Edition. (New York, NY: Routledge, 2016): 368

[6] Allen M. Ward, Fritz M. Heichelheim, Cedric A. Yeo. “A History of The Roman People,” Sixth Edition. (New York, NY: Routledge, 2016): 369

[7] Mary Beard. “SPQR,” A History of Ancient Rome. (New York, NY: Liveright Publishing, 2015): 398

[8] Allen M. Ward, Fritz M. Heichelheim, Cedric A. Yeo. “A History of The Roman People,” Sixth Edition. (New York, NY: Routledge, 2016): 371

[9] Cassius Dio. “Roman History,” Vol IX, Book LXXII. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927): 94

[10]Cassius Dio. “Roman History,” Vol IX, Book LXXII. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927): 103

[11] Donald L. Wasson. “Commodus.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. (www.ancient.eu/commodus, 2013): par IV

[12] Donald L. Wasson. “Commodus.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. (www.ancient.eu/commodus, 2013): par V

[13] Herodian. “History of The Roman Empire Since the Death of Marcus Aurelius.” Vol I, Book I. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927): I.IX

[14] Mary Beard. “Confronting the classics,” Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations. (New York, NY: Liveright Publishing, 2014): 145

[15] Mary Beard. “Confronting the classics,” Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations. (New York, NY: Liveright Publishing, 2014): 145