Ancient Armitage CelebRAtes One Month of Looking for Richard Armitage in the Classical tRAdition

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Here’s to the first month in the Richard Armitage blogosphere.  I rolled over 2000 views this weekend, and I am totally astounded.  Thanks to all who have stopped by, and to those who have followed, commented and liked the posts!

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et alia: Survival Guide for “orphans” of Richard Armitage Fans

I had a very interesting conversation with my teenage son a few weeks ago.  I don’t remember how it began – probably my walking into his room to nag him to work on his homework.  We were going to go out for lunch (he’s in virtual school, so campus is always open)  but he didn’t have any clean jeans to wear.  This led his mother to ask guiltily, “Do you have any not too dirty jeans?  I’ve been a little distracted with this new blog thing and have gotten behind on the laundry.”  I jokingly suggested he start a support group for the “neglected” children of Richard Armitage fans.  He replied, “Oh that?  Someone already invited me to join that.”

Wait a minute….what?  I pumped him for more information over pizza – he’s a teenager, and always hungry, so he talked.  Evidently, one of his legion of Facebook friends is a second generation fan of Richard Armitage and has started a chat page on her personal Facebook account where the children of Armitage fans can join to lament about their mothers’ obsession.  He hasn’t ever logged in he said.  I had no idea such a page existed, but it seems perfectly logical that it does.

How many times have I complained that real life has gotten in the way of my Armitage habit?  Plenty.  I wondered what my new “hobby” looked like from the perspective of my kids.  My seven (and a 1/2) year old daughter has already come over to the fold.  This week I came home from a night class to find her fast asleep with my iPad open on her bed.  She had fallen to sleep listening to Richard Armitage reading Flat Stanley on the Cbeebies Story Hour.  Interested in his take on my fandom, I asked my son if he would write me his version of a guide to surviving life as the child of a Richard Armitage fan, so I could post it on my blog.  He grudgingly agreed, only after I promised he would remain anonymous.  That was about three weeks ago, he’s a bit of a procrastinator – I think he gets that from his mother!

I expected something that looked rather like this:

1.  Learn to like Ramen noodles and EasyMac – if you wait, “just a minute” until your mother finishes that episode of Robin Hood, or chatting online, you might waste away to nothing.

2.  Ditto for laundry unless you are styling yourself as the 21st century Lady Godiva

3.  Answer her questions about how to arrange her Tumblr dashboard as simply as possible.  Be prepared to repeat when she doesn’t get it the first time.

4. Take advantage of her distraction and allow your bedroom to become a comfortable hovel befitting any lazy teenager.

Here is what he emailed me today: (I only changed a couple of typos – the language and sentiment are all his)

Contributed by Obscura's 14 year old son.

Contributed by Obscura’s 14 year old son.

On an average day, my son is a pretty easy going kid – so easy going, that he has to be prodded to get just about anything done.  He falls behind on his school work, not because he is unable to complete it, but because he just can’t be bothered.  I guess I just assumed that he was put out in some way by the increasing amount of time I spend on fangirling activities.  Given his generally mellow attitude, I shouldn’t be surprised that not only is he not particularly bothered by the independence that he’s gained in lieu of my new hobby, it turns out that he may just be the only person of my close acquaintance who really gets it.  Is it strange that my son and I have found new common ground in our respective fandom activities?  Truthfully, it does feel a bit weird, but it is also amazing to realize how similarly we view things, how much common ground we have.  Thanks Armitagemania for providing me an entre into better communication with my teenager!

Looking for Richard Armitage at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

On a recent trip to New York City, I was determined to be as unscheduled as possible with the exception of a couple of must do activities.  One was to have a pastrami sandwich and matzo ball soup at Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side – seriously, just do it, it’s really that good!  The other, absolute must, was a visit to the Met.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art is among the largest art museums in the world with a collection ranging from ancient to modern.  It is a cultural mecca for visitors from around the world who could easily spend days wandering its hundreds of galleries and not see everything.

I never pass up an opportunity to visit an art or cultural museum.  I love to be able to literally walk through thousands of years of human activity in a few hours.  Equally interesting to me is the cross section of humanity roaming the exhibits.  I must confess, for a person in my line of work (ancient art and archaeology) I may actually be the worst museum visitor in the world in that I have an notoriously short attention span in exhibits.  I am not a person who must read every single placard on every single piece in every single case.  I look at what I like and move along.  (Don’t even get me started on the headset brigade…)  I fake it really well when I bring students to a museum though!

On this trip I found that I was much more focussed than ususal because I had an expressed purpose of seeking out Richard Armitage in the Met.  Hold on, hold on, – no need to call out the APM Guard – I was not looking for the man in the flesh, but rather his image amongst the classical works.  The seed that became this blog was planted shortly before I went to New York.  I thought at the time: What better place to start my search for Richard Armitage in the classical tRAdition than the spectacular Greco-Roman galleries of the Met?   As I walked up the stairs to the entrance, I swear, the clouds parted and I heard a choir of cupids singing:

Metropolitan Museum of Art - NYC Entrance to Greco-Roman Exhibit

Metropolitan Museum of Art – NYC
Entrance to Greco-Roman Exhibit

When I planned for this mission, I had a particular image of Richard Armitage in my mind’s eye – one that had always struck me as quite classical in compostion:

ra pink shirt

Recognise Magazine by Keith Clouston (14 June 2011)
Photo Courtesy of http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

The partial profile, the contemplative gaze, the overall compostional quiet of the image all reminiscent of the art of classical Athens (particularly that of the 5th century)

I have to admit a certain amount of intial overload as I entered through the Geometric galleries – nerd alert!  I must give my travelling companion credit for having the wisdom to just stand back when I began to bounce back and forth between cases like a pinball – I love this stuff:

Krater, second half of 8th century b.c.; Geometric Attributed to the Hirschfeld Workshop Greek, Attic Terracotta  H. 42 5/8 in. (108.25 cm) Rogers Fund, 1914 (14.130.14)

Krater, second half of 8th century b.c.; Geometric
Attributed to the Hirschfeld Workshop
Greek, Attic
Terracotta
H. 42 5/8 in. (108.25 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1914 (14.130.14)

As much as I love the material of this period and the one just before it (for which almost nothing is on display – not entirely surprising – I call it “pottery only a mother could love”) I was not going to find many reflections of Richard Armitage among the stylized figures that are characteristic of Geometric vase painting, so we headed off to the classical galleries.  I was not disappointed, I found a number of interesting examples, especially in the study collection, that will eventually appear here, but I found a particularly striking image when we reach a special exhibit on Sleeping Eros:

Enthroned Zeus (fragement of ceramic cup) MMA Rogers Fund, 1911

Enthroned Zeus
(fragement of ceramic cup) MMA Rogers Fund, 1911

The image depicts the king of the gods, Zeus, seated on a throne with a tiny Eros flying in to place a wreath on his head.  If we zoom in a bit closer, we can see the remarkable similarity of Zeus to several bearded profiles of Richard Armitage:

Detail of previous image

Detail of previous image

I love the long, straight line of the nose and slightly stern brow.  The hand lifted near the face is noteworthy as well.  The real kicker for me though, has been a subject of considerable chatter in Armitageworld over the past week:  chest hair.  This vase painting shows a shirtless Zeus with clearly defined chest hair…not remarkable among adult males of the human variety, but definitely not common in Greek vase painting representations of the same.  It was clearly meant to be that I find this one tiny fragment of a vase in a enormous collection of whole vases…like the gods knew I was coming or something.  🙂

et alia: So you want to write RAcy fan fiction? Caveat scriptor…

I had never heard of fan fiction before I “discovered” Richard Armitage in the summer of 2012.  Suffice it to say,  I had no idea what I was missing!  I became an avid RA fan fiction reader, hunting down stories about any and all ChaRActers on fanfiction.net, Wattpad, Tumblr, LiveJournal and finally Dreamer Fiction and an Archive of Our Own (If I’m missing any, please do tell!) .  There is a massive variety of stories from fluffy and sentimental to seriously sexy to downright raunchy.  (here’s another caveat for you…caveat lector – Let the reader beware –  My personal policy:  Don’t like?  Don’t read.)

In retrospect, this was no great leap for me really, since I have been a consumer of “romance novels” for decades.  I was in 6th grade, frantically trying to scrub the images of Steinbeck’s The Red Pony from my brain when a classmate slipped me a purloined copy of Rosemary Roger’s Sweet Savage Love.

sweet savage

The purple prose, the bodice rippery, crinolines, cravats, the eventual happy ending for the handsome hero and beautiful heroine, …I was hooked.  I was also eleven, so my interest in what my mother, to this day calls “smut books,” had to be kept on the Q.T.   Looking back, I know that at the time I didn’t understand most of the excessively euphemistic sex scenes, or the scenes of rape and abuse, but I became addicted to the formula.

Fast forward a bit.  The added incentive of stories about characters played by the oh so delicious leading man Richard Armitage was irresistible.  About six months after my entrance into Armitage World, I decided to take a stab at writing a fan fiction of my own – a “one off” in fan fic lingo, about John Porter in a life after StrikebackI’ve written reams of academic papers, and for the past decade I’ve spent an enormous amount of time correcting other people’s writing.  Consequently, I’m a pretty strong writer in terms of mechanics, but I’d never attempted creative writing.  I guess that I just need the right inspiRAtion!  Over the past few months, I’ve tapped into my inner storyteller, and as it turns out, she has a lot to say and she is often not G-rated.  🙂

John Porter - Strikeback S1.5 Courtesy of richardarmitagenet.com

John Porter – Strikeback S1.5
Courtesy of richardarmitagenet.com

So then, why do I warn, Caveat scriptor (Latin for “Let the writer beware!”)?  It all started with “The Longest Night,” my story about John Porter and an original character named Lindsey Tate.  I won’t give the details away in case you’d like to read it for yourself, but suffice it to say that sexy times ensued between Porter and Lindsey.  When it was finished, I gave it to my husband to look over for general readability.  I guess I did a pretty good job with sex scene in the story since I’ve had to beat him off with a stick since he read it… “I had no idea,” he says 😉  So, if you’re considering taking the plunge into writing RAcy fan fiction, Caveat scriptoryou may want to make a little room in your schedule before letting your significant other in on your new hobby!

ὅ παῖς καλός – Armitage and Ascroft

I’ve been talking a lot about the Greeks, but the ancient Romans also made enormous contributions to the classical tRAdition.  A new photo of Richard Armitage that emerged over the weekend put me in mind of the Roman tradition of portrait sculpture.  The classical Greeks were skilled and prolific sculptors – arguably far surpassing the later Romans in virtually all areas…except one:  portraits.  It wasn’t that the Greeks couldn’t generate realistic portraits, it was that they just weren’t interested.  I think that it has to do with a vast divide in ideologies between the Greeks and Romans.  To boil it down, the Greeks saw much of life as a quest to achieve ἀρετή (arête or excellence in English).  I’ll have more to say about Richard Armitage and ἀρετή at a later date, but suffice it to say now, that viewed through this lens, realism gave way to idealism for the Greeks in many artistic genres.

The Romans, in contrast, have been defined by many as centering themselves around the concepts of pietas (piety) and gravitas (gravity or severity)  If the Greeks were the great “out of the box” thinkers of the classical world, the Romans were the pragmatic doers. In its original role, portrait sculpture served as a visual means of keeping the pious Romans connected to the spirits of their departed ancestors, an important part of traditional Roman religion.  The earliest Roman portrait busts are thought to have been sculpted from wax “death masks” molded from the recently deceased’s features.  Not surprisingly, the results are realistic down to the wrinkle…a “warts and all” sculptural tradition.

"Veristic" Bust of an Old Man - Vatican Museum

“Veristic” Bust of an Old Man – Vatican Museum

As the Romans expanded out of Italy, into the wider Mediterranean world, amassing a huge territorial empire, the function of portrait sculpture also expanded to include realistic portraits of important public figures like the one of Julius Caesar below.  It is meant to be a realistic portrait, but also to show the power and importance of this individual.  This portrait represents Caesar in the mid 1st century BC (BCE) at about the age of 50…not a young man, but not old either.

caesar bust

Julius Caesar – Vienna, Austria

By the 2nd century AD (CE) we can see a very different style of portrait sculpture emerging.   After several hundred years of exposure to the Greek artistic aesthetic, some of it has clearly rubbed off on the Romans in this “portrait” of Antinous, the favorite of the Roman emperor Hadrian.  To be fair, Hadrian was a massive Hellenophile, Greece’s 2nd century sugar daddy, so the Greek influence is extremely pronounced here.  But Roman portraits from this period forward reflect a blending of the Romans desire for realistic portraiture with the Greek preference for an idealized look.

Antinous_Mondragone_Louvre_Ma1205

“Portrait” of Antinous – Louvre
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

So how does the latest Robert Ascroft portrait of Richard Armitage (below) fit in here?  The Romans would have loved modern photography for its ability to realistically portray the human face down to the last wrinkle, blemish and gray hair.  The Greeks would have loved Photoshop for its ability to make that all disappear and produce an idealized view.

Photo by Robert Ashcroft 2012 - Courtesy of richardarmitagenet.com

Photo by Robert Ascroft 2012 – Courtesy of richardarmitagenet.com

I can’t tell you if this image has been retouched – although I doubt that many professional images are released without some adjustments.  We see a mature man, not an idealized youth here, and for me, at least, the impact is a stunning blend of the realistic and ideal.  ὅ παῖς καλός indeed!

RArchaeology

Something occurred to me as I was driving to work today.   In many conversations in the Armitage fandom I find myself using qualifiers like, “it seems” or “it appears” to describe various things about Richard Armitage.  I do this deliberately to make clear that I am aware that I don’t know anything about the man apart from what appears in public sources, and any inference beyond that is supposition or speculation.  I realized today that the some of language I use when talking about Richard Armitage is very similar to that which I use to describe aspects of the ancient cultures I study, especially prehistoric cultures.

There is a basic line that can be drawn in the study of human activity between history (by definition, the study of the written record of human activity) and prehistory (the study of human activity prior to the advent of writing).  Much of my own work falls within the prehistoric time period.  In the absence of writing to tell us what was going on, we rely heavily on archaeology to show us.  Archaeology can bring to light an enormous amount of information about prehistoric culture, but without written descriptions, some things remain elusive.  I realized a long time ago, that when we (prehistorians/archaeologists) encounter something undefined in the archaeological record, some unusual practice that we can find no practical or utilitarian purpose for, we often identify it as ritual or religious behavior to try to understand why prehistoric peoples would do some of the things they seem to have done.  I’ll elaborate by using a very famous fresco painting from Minoan Crete.

"Bull Leaping Fresco" from the Palace of Minos at Knossos, Crete

“Bull Leaping Fresco” from the Palace of Minos at Knossos, Crete

We only need to have eyes to see that this fresco painting depicts a bull, shown as running, and three human figures who appear to be interacting directly with it.  Artistry aside, WTF are these people doing, and why are they doing it?!  Not to put too fine a point on it, but bulls are not the most pleasant creatures in the animal kingdom.  They essentially have one function:  to impregnate cows, and they don’t get to do it often enough for their liking.  Consequently, they are often irritable and unpredictable.  Add that to being large and having horns and you’ve got a formidable animal.

I can personally attest to the irascibility of bulls…my great uncle had a dairy farm, and my parents took me there often when I was young (evidently, real recreational activities were in short supply).  So far so good…I would be happily running about “stalking” kittens when one or more of my five male cousins would snatch me up and drag me into the barn.  I don’t like cattle barns…too many cows.  In any case, in the rear of the barn was the  “bull pen”  where the farm’s single bull was kept.  (In retrospect, I can appreciate why the bull was so miserable…constantly in close proximity to all those cows and unable to do anything about it!)  While two cousins held me by my feet upside down over the pen, another would go to the end and grab the bull by the ring in his nose and give it a twist.  This really got him going…so there I am helplessly suspended over a ton of kicking, snorting, incensed Holstein bull….to this day, I have a healthy respect for the bull and his capabilities.

Which brings me back to my original question…What are these people doing, and why are they doing it?  It would be nice if the fresco was labeled for us:

minoan rodeo poster

Understanding the scene would certainly be easier if there was a written record of this activity, but there isn’t, so we have to infer meaning from what we can see.  Many scholars understand it as stages of one event:  1.  Grab the running bull by the horns.  2.  Vault over his back.  3.  Land on your feet behind him.  It is doubtful that this scene is depicting an activity that was purely recreational.  What is going on here is excessively dangerous, and the ancients generally don’t engage in dangerous activities purely for sport – every day ancient life was full of dangerous activities, no need to seek out an adrenaline rush.   Since there is really no rational or practical reason to be engaging in this, and since bulls seem to have religious connections elsewhere in the culture of Minoan Crete, it is generally believed that what we are looking at here is a ritual activity of some sort.

It seems, it is believed, maybe, possibly, are all qualifiers we use to describe these interpretations because we just don’t know for sure.  We are trying to rebuild the original context of the image without all of the information…we can make some observations, but it is all a bit shaky.  It strikes me as quite similar to our understanding of who Richard Armitage is…we have bits and pieces of the puzzle, but the exact nature of it remains largely a mystery, and probably always will….

Photo by Robert Ashcroft courtesy of richardarmitagecentral.co.uk

Photo by Robert Ascroft courtesy of richardarmitagecentral.co.uk

Richard Armitage – ὅ παῖς καλός

This is the first installment of what, I think, will become a regular feature here at Ancient Armitage…the καλός post.  A little bit of ancient pottery, a lot bit of the pulchritudinous Mr. Armitage.  Unlike the more analytical discussions, nothing connects Richard Armitage to the vases in question, except the wording of the inscriptions:  ὅ παῖς καλός

The generic inscription ὅ παῖς καλός  (ho pais kalos) “the boy is beautiful,” or a more specific variant of it, appears on hundreds of vases.  These καλός vases are a sub-genre of of Athenian pottery that were made between 550-450 BC and the vast majority of them are drinking cups like the ones below which were used at symposiaThe inscriptions always refer to someone as καλός, or beautiful.  Although some are dedicated to females, the greatest number celebrate the beauty of males. Their exact function and meaning are not well understood.  Some scholars suggest that they were a part of the homoerotic tradition of pederasty in classical Athens, others that they functioned as a sort of public relations ploy to increase the popularity of a particular youth, and therefore a particular family in the tightly knit Athenian social structure.  Their exact function and meaning continue to generate discussion after 2500 years.

Red Figure Kylix - by Euxitheos as potter and Oltos as painterPhoto: Direzione Generale per i Beni Archaeologici, Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali

Red Figure Kylix – by Euxitheos as potter and Oltos as painter
Photo: Direzione Generale per i Beni Archaeologici, Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali

Interior - Discobolos Kleomelos KylixDepartment of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities in the Louvre, Sully, first floor, room 43Photo Credit:  Wikimedia

Interior – Discobolos Kleomelos Kylix
Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities in the Louvre, Sully, first floor, room 43
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

So without further ado, the καλός image that hit me in the solar plexus this week…. Oh, and of course there is Armitage as the “athelete” to link it to the image of the Discobolos (Discus Thrower) above  🙂

From the Facebook Page of Jamie Edwards - Magic 105.4

Table Football (or Foosball) Match
From the Facebook Page of Jamie Edwards – Magic 105.4