Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Does Tacitus Apply?

A quotation from this week's Time magazine:

"They created a desolation and call it peace."

Fouad Siniora, Lebanese Prime Minister, decrying Israel's incursion into Lebanon by quoting 1st century Roman historian Tacitus. Speaking to Western diplomats, Siniora asked, "Are we children of a lesser god?"

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Catullus Philly Style

Having recently visited Philadelphia for the first time, I was impressed (as everyone is I'm sure) with its sense of history. Imagine my delight and surprise when I came across this grafitto. Catullus' sprit and words live on! Apparently Philadelphia also has a sense of literature.

Go to

Saturday, June 24, 2006

"Ancient Greece House"

In the June 26, 2006 issue of New York Magazine:

Party Lines asks: "Which historical reality show would you like to be on"?

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. answers: . . .I'd want to be on Ancient Greece House. I'd love to see how the philosophers really lived, witness the birth of democracy, drink a little ambrosia. I could get into togas."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Restored "Temple of Invention"

The buzz around Washington D.C. this week regards the reopening, after seven years of renovation, of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) which are housed in what is known as the old Patent Office Building. In the spirit of corporate philanthropy, it will now be officially known as the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture.

SAAM director Elizabeth Broun is excited by the exposure of her art collection but almost even more so about the building's restoration, which apparently has brought the light and splendor back into a grand building that had been diminshed by disaster and beauracracy. In an interview about his excellent article for the Smithsonian magazine, scholar Adam Goodheart comments," it was interesting to me to experience a building that was very much a reinterpretation of the Greco-Roman ideals. I found that fascinating. I've always loved Greek temples, and this building is the American version of a Greek temple. They modeled the building's facades after the Parthenon, so they were very consciously echoing that. And I think once again, today, as it was in 1836, the Patent Office can be an object of civic pride as Parthenon was and is in Athens.

The portraits housed inside the building also echo classical Roman and Greek art and architecture, especially the 18th and 19th century ones. Famous portraits of George Washington, William Penn, and others are styled classicaly to impart dignity and significance to public men and women treading as Washington put it in a letter the "untrodden ground" of a fledgling nation. The collection itself is grouped into mini-Pantheons: there is a hall of presidents; George Washington iconography is a class unto itself; colonial portraits and figures of the Revolution grace the intercolumnar spaces. Interestingly enough, Goodheart tells us in his article that for this site, poised between the Capitol building and the White House, an actual pantheon of Republican heroes had been proposed; but Americans, alas, found deification and hero worship incompatible with republican ideals. Perhaps the National Portrait Gallery is that idea's more comfortably democratic successor.
The museum is set to reopen on July 1. Look for my review of the collections shortly thereafter. As always, please post with your comments and insights.

Goodheart, Adam. "Back to the Future." Smithsonian July 2006 Vol. 37 No. 4

Lubow, Arthur. "Speaking of Art." Smithsonian July 2006 Vol. 37 No. 4

Also see for pictures and the Adam Goodheart interview.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Greetings! The initial stages of this lifetime project will involve documenting sites of interest to the classical tradition in Washington, D.C. My first "real" contribution, which I hope to post tomorrow, will concern the reopening of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in the old Patent Office Building on July 1. Please let me know if you have any suggestions, contributions, or comments.