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Frederick The Monk
447.  Tue Oct 21, 2003 10:46 am Reply with quote

There is no surviving footage of Nijinsky dancing which, bearing in mind he worked in an entirely visual medium, begs the question 'How do we know he was any good?'.

462.  Tue Oct 21, 2003 1:03 pm Reply with quote

That's a very good question. It also leads one to wonder whether the definition of 'good' changes in the same way that the definition of 'beauty' often seems to change with the passing of time.

477.  Tue Oct 21, 2003 3:46 pm Reply with quote


He won the Derby and the Triple Crown, dinne?

Course he was bloody good.

479.  Tue Oct 21, 2003 3:53 pm Reply with quote

Very good point about values changing? Has anybody heard Gielgud, supposedly the greatest Hamlet of his time, giving his prince on radio?
It's excruciating.

480.  Tue Oct 21, 2003 4:50 pm Reply with quote

Now you remind me, Liebig, yes I have heard that and it was indeed bloody awful. I was thinking of all the Peter Lely 'beauties' of the Restoration court too - all with apparently identical eyes as well.

485.  Tue Oct 21, 2003 5:16 pm Reply with quote

Didn't most, if not all, of the 'old masters' have a production line system going for their portraits? Markdoes the eyes, Bob does the noses, Neil does the legs, Philip does the hands, Gerry builds the scenery in the background, the boss plans the pose and signs it? No wonder the eyes have it, and the noses etc. cf any ikon.

Valentino isn't all he was adored for, either, when you see him nowadays.

486.  Tue Oct 21, 2003 5:23 pm Reply with quote

I was talking to someone the other day about how (to me) David Beckham doesn't compare with George Best or Stanley Matthews or Pele in their heyday, and this person said that that's because everyone nowadays is so frighteningly FIT that talent doesn't show up so obviously.

The greats of yesteryear he contended would be completely outrun and outtackled by a modern first-class footballer.

487.  Tue Oct 21, 2003 5:24 pm Reply with quote

Perhaps this thread should be retitled:


Frederick The Monk
502.  Wed Oct 22, 2003 3:47 am Reply with quote

Bearing in mind that ever since Homer people have been banging on about how things always were better in the 'olden days' I quite like the idea of a thread that suggests they were worse. Which they were. In some cases.

An exception might be fishing catches in the North sea, which were better.

602.  Thu Oct 23, 2003 3:36 pm Reply with quote

So was school milk. Never mind the health/nutrition aspect - you could drive the teacher nuts with slurping noises.

Frederick The Monk
610.  Thu Oct 23, 2003 5:25 pm Reply with quote

Talking of things being surprisingly better (or worse) in the past, life expectancy in Roman Britain was actually lower that in the Dark Ages. So who says the Romans did anything for us?

613.  Thu Oct 23, 2003 5:33 pm Reply with quote

Ah, but what about quality of life?

Frederick The Monk
615.  Thu Oct 23, 2003 5:38 pm Reply with quote

Good question - 35 years in a heated villa or 60 in a shed?

Actually I don't think the Roman invasion really happened to all that many people in Britain, at least not in a new roads, heatings and lets all have a bath way, so the quality of life probably didn't change much. Which begs the question 'why did they decide to live longer after the legions left?' I guess the lack of 'urban stress' is as good an answer as any.

619.  Thu Oct 23, 2003 5:56 pm Reply with quote

The bracing air of freedom, maybe. But how do we know that life expectancy was greater? Looking at skeletons, maybe? Life expectancy averages always seem to get so heavily skewed by infant mortality rates, which must be difficult to judge. Interested you hear you sources, Fred.

Frederick The Monk
620.  Fri Oct 24, 2003 4:22 am Reply with quote

The source was a conversation with Lindsay Allason-Jones, director of Archaeological museums in Newcastle. She is currently writing a book on urban angst in Roman Britain, studying the changes that town-dwelling brought about in the rural Iron Age population. Her argument as to mortality rates is based on cemetary excavations at urban sites where the skeletal pathology suggests that many of the problems asociated with later city life were present in the towns of Roman Britain - problems with the water supply, sewerage, overcrowding (leading to the faster transmission of disease) and so forth.

Of course, as you point out Flash, there is always a statistical problem with this type of information as it is just about impossible to define what a statistically significant sample would be in both the Roman and Saxon periods. In the Roman period whilst there is good evidence from town cemeteries (I've dug a few myself) finding the remains of the rural poor to compare them with is very hard. The burial rites of the rual population present a problem as we have real trouble just finding them. The same of course was true in the pre-Roman period where human remains are exceptionally rare. In the Saxon period the problem gets worse as the usual pagan burial rite in the south of England is cremation which makes studies of skeletal pathology a lot harder! The cemetaries certianly exists - such as the huge Spong Hill site excavated byCatherine Hills - but there are very few inhumation in them and the fact that those bodies are buried rather than burnt might imply that they were 'different' anyway.

So where does this leave the argument on mortality rates? I think Lindsay's argument comes down to the pathology of Roman urban cemetaries. In the bodies from these sites there is certainly evidence of mortality factors that are (nearly) unique to urban populations and are associated with having lots of people living in a relatively small area. As there is no urban life (in the Roman sense at least) in the years immediately following the Saxon Adventus it would be logical to suppose that hence the overall mortality rate would return to the base rural level .i.e. be lower.

As something of a P.S. the infant mortality rate certainly skews later mortality estimates but in this period cemetary evidence usually excludes this group alltogether as babies were not considered to be 'fully fledged humans' from birth and were hence not afforded full burial rites. In fact whilst Roman civic law is very insistent on the burial of the dead outside the city walls, babies could be buried inside, often just under the floors of the house in which they lived and died. As such we don't find them in cemeteries very often. There are babies in some Saxon cemeteries (such as the 7th century infant from Barton-on-Humber buried with it's breast-shaped feeding pot) but again they are unusual finds. In this period that is probably due to taphonomic reasons - babies have very little ossified bone and as such are poorly preserved in the archaeological record.


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