Weekend Reading: Dramatic Exits

As I explained last week, I’ll be trying to publish, every Friday evening, a set of links to the week’s interesting news, views and silliness from the murky classical corners of the internet. Read and enjoy: and do comment below if you found anything particularly enjoyable or ludicrous!


What caught my eye this week

In an essay I was reading this week, somebody made reference to the peculiar death of Aeschylus. This rang a vague bell, but I couldn’t remember the details. So naturally, I went looking.

Do you know the story of how Aeschylus died? It’s rather startling, and certainly implausible. The story goes (according to Pliny the Elder, at any rate), that Aeschylus heard a prophecy that he was going to be killed by something falling on him. On the appointed day he sensibly went outside, only to be struck by a falling tortoise dropped by an eagle which had mistaken Aeschylus’ bald head for a rock on which the tortoise’s shell could be split.


Death by tortoise, or possibly death by baldness: not a particularly dignified exit, but certainly a dramatic one, with the misinterpretation of prophecy in a starring role. Of course, that prompted other questions…

The story of the death of Sophocles (one of several, I should point out), is almost as peculiar. Sophocles died, according to one version recorded in the Life of Sophocles, as a consequence of reading aloud a long passage from his Antigone without pausing for breath. Now that’s a dramatic exit, in several senses.

And what of Euripides? Well, the story goes that as he was walking home from dinner one night, he was attacked by a pack of dogs set upon him by a jealous rival, and torn apart. That sounds rather familiar…

These stories, and a lot more besides, are mentioned in the little book A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities by McKeown, which I happen to have sitting on my bookshelf. Great fun: although it might make you giggle on the train! According to the blurb on the back of the book, Laocoon of Troy calls it “The ideal gift”, while Callimachus praises it as “Not too long” and Ptolemy of Alexandria states that it’s “A must for every library”…!

And if you have too much time on your hands, do check out this Wikipedia page on unusual deaths.



From Classical Studies Support

Nothing new to contribute this week: I’ve been having a quiet week of pottering, painting and judging the international Undergraduate Awards (more on that over the next week!).

From the archives: Painting the Impossible Library – Classical Studies Support



University students object to getting up early –  BBC

Controversy over the shape of Julius Caesar’s head –  RT

Amazon statue symbolises cancer survivors – New York Times

Should museums accept ivory? –  Guardian

… or should they focus on fly-infested fatbergs? – BBC


Comment and opinion

Star Trek, Gilgamesh and the Odyssey – Historiai

‘The Romans were not nice guys’: on empire and America – New York Times

…and the relevance of Antigone to today’s America –  Atlantic

On experiencing ‘deep’ Classics – Mythology and Autism

Oracles: cryptic or straightforward? – Kiwi Hellenist

How to rewrite the Dictionary –  OCD Letter from the Editor

The development of Greek writing systems – e-ni-jo-te

Athenian vases and secret messages – Archaeology News Network

Love and magic – The Conversation

Star Wars ‘Rebel scum!’ and the ancient world – Ancient Worlds

The challenges of an independent scholar – Society for Classical Studies (US)

Mortuary archaeology and ‘The Walking Dead’ – Archaeodeath

Lessons to be learned from Lego – Res Gerendae

Thoughts on Cicero, Catiline and Ibsen – Institute of Classical Studies

Choosing the right translation for performance – Society for Classical Studies (US)

Feminism and the study of Homer – Cloelia

Making a Neo-Assyrian ice cream sandwich – Eating Artefacts



Podcasts, video and other media

Dame Prof Mary Beard in Civilisations on your Doorstep, an accompanying programme to Civilisations.

Robert Harris on Imperium on stage –  Financial Times

Prof Kraus on Livy – The Fowler Lecture 



Events and opportunities

Should we risk lives to protect historic buildings? Book to attend the lecture live online – The Open University

MA Scholarship: still a few days to apply! –  OU Classical Studies blog



And finally…

“Maybe we study Classics because we’re quirky, and somewhere along the way we discovered that in Latin class we could be as quirky as we liked, and we could find friends who shared our interest in books and languages and old stuff.”

Elizabeth Butterworth, writing for Eidolon.


3 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Dramatic Exits

  1. What is it with Greek playwrights? Did any die in the sleep in bed?

    I do like to dip into compilations and have a random read. Pliny’s Natural History for one and Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Philosophers. Even better is Gellius’ Attic Nights.


  2. Of course, once you start thinking about it, many famous Roman writers met dramatic ends. Pliny the Elder, of course; Seneca, Lucan and Petronius (it was tough to be well-known in Neronian Rome); and Cicero, certainly, as well as popular writers whose work does not survive, like Gallus. The Augustan writers mostly dodged the more dramatic fates – unless you believe the conspiracy theories about Augustus having Virgil killed so that he could take control of the Aeneid…!


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