Modern origins of the manly-man Roman fore-arm handshake

Evidently, men did not say hello and goodbye in antiquity as Basil Sydney and Stewart Granger are doing so below in 1953’s Salome, with a firm grip on one another’s forearms.

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Whence the mutual clasping of radius and ulna? Various theories:

“I saw Dullin’s Julius Caesar, with Marchat playing Mark Antony — beautifully, I thought — and Jean Marais as a Gaul. In this play we learned the Roman handshake, which went up to the forearm, and it so impressed us that the entire lycee adopted it.” So writes Simone Signoret in Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used to Be (Harper & Row, 1978) p. 23. Note that Charles Dullin (1885-1949) was a notable French actor and director.

According to a 2015 post on Alison Morton’s blog:

One interesting speculation is that the forearm handshake was taught to the actors by painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema in a 1898 staging of  Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. During this time, Alma-Tadema was very active with theatre design and production. His meticulous archaeological research, including research into Roman architecture (which was so thorough that every building featured in his canvases could have been built using Roman tools and methods) led to his paintings being used as source material by Hollywood directors in their vision of the ancient world for films such as D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916), Ben Hur (1926) and Cleopatra (1934). The designers of the Oscar-winning Roman epic Gladiator used the paintings of Alma-Tadema as a central source of inspiration.

I’d like to verify the Alma-Tadema theory sometime. Until then, all I can say is that the “manly man” forearm grip seems to be a thing of modern times. In antiquity, Romans shook hands more or less as we do today.

Phil (147)n2gwzm

Update. The Alma-Tadema set design, by the way, from the Cadbury Research Library Flickr site.

Alma Tadema set design for Shakespeare's Julius Caesar 1898 MS38_1999141113

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“The Hitler Gang”

The-Hitler-Gang-Poster.jpgIn the course of writing my book about film, I’ve come across some odd things, one of which is a 1944 pseudo-documentary made by Paramount called “The Hitler Gang.” This film, a piece of wartime propaganda, tells the story of Hitler’s rise with actors playing the parts of Goebbels, Goering, Mussolini, Rudolf Hess, etc. All in all, it looks kinda unpleasant.

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote: “The film is of questionable worth as a document for mass instruction in the political facts of Germany. For the emphasis in this picture is so heavily upon the ‘Hitler gang’ and upon the inside intrigues by which it gained and held its power, that the impression conveyed is that these leaders are entirely responsible for the Nazi state….’The Hitler Gang’ is cut very much to the pattern of some of our early and better gangster films….Paramount has taken a popular though misleading line in treating National Socialism in the elementary terms of an American gang. It means that the grave responsibility of the German citizens for what they have allowed has been neatly tossed onto the shoulders of a few ruffians, Army officers and industrialists.” (from TCM website)


Follow this link to see the film:



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what I see is an affliction to me; and what I do not see, a reproach

The paradox for the anthropologist imagining time travel and anachronism leads to a certain insight about present-day blindness

Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, trans. John Russell (New York: Criterion, 1961) 44-45

I should have liked to live in the age of real travel, when the spectacle on offer had not yet been blemished, contaminated, and confounded; then I could have seen Lahore not as I saw it, but as it appeared to Bernier, Tavernier, Manucci … There’s no end, of course, to such conjectures. When was the right moment to see India? At what period would the study of the Brazilian savage have yielded the purest satisfaction and the savage himself been at his peak? Would it have been better to have arrived at Rio in the eighteenth century, with Bougainville, or in the sixteenth, with Lery and Thevet? With every decade that we travelled further back in time, I could have saved another costume, witnessed another festivity, and come to understand another system of belief. But I’m too familiar with the texts not to know that this back ward movement would also deprive me of much information, many curious facts and objects, that would enrich my meditations. The paradox is irresoluble: the less one culture communicates with another, the less likely they are to be corrupted, one by the other; but, on the other hand, the less likely it is, in such conditions, that the respective emissaries of these cultures will be able to seize the richness and significance of their diversity. The alternative is inescapable: either I am a traveller in ancient times, and faced with a prodigious spectacle which would be almost entirely unintelligible to me and might, indeed, provoke me to mockery or disgust; or I am a traveller of our own day, hastening in search of a vanished reality. In either case I am the loser -and more heavily than one might suppose; for today, as I go groaning among the shadows, I miss, inevitably, the spectacle that is now taking shape. My eyes, or perhaps my degree of humanity, do not equip me to witness that spectacle; and in the centuries to come, when another traveller revisits this same place, he too may groan aloud at the disappearance of much that I should have set down, but cannot. I am the victim of a double infirmity: what I see is an affliction to me; and what I do not see, a reproach.

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Moorman twins & Normandy

If you have been over to the University Counsel’s office in Walsh-Ellett Hall in Sewanee, you have seen probably the portrait of the Moorman twins from the early 1930s. (I’ll load an image of it when I get back over there next). I wonder if you know, as I didn’t until recently, their tragic connection with D-Day? According to the Sewanee Magazine (March 1973) p. 5:

Lily Belknap (Mrs. Charles) Moorman of Louisville left $225,000 to the University in memory of twin sons who intended to enter but never matriculated. The boys went into the army directly from prep school and died a few days and a few miles apart in the operation for a Normandy beachhead in 1944.

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Battle Fatigues?

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Order of the Adjectives

Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.”

So Mark Forsyth wrote for the BBC a few years ago. I just wanted to hold on to this insight, as I’d like to test it out for Latin when I have more time this summer.

But thus far, it seems right to me for English: right now, I’m looking at a little orange paperback Greek textbook on my desk, as well as an old broken porcelain coffee mug.


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In Search of Elijah Smith: Glastonbury

If you’ve been following my inquiries (here and here) into the mysterious inscription in my old edition of Cicero, you know that I’ve pinpointed Glastonbury, CT, as the place where all the principals lived. I was at Yale with some students this week for a screening and presentation on “Mine 21,” and decided I would drive over to Glastonbury to see if there were any further clues particularly about Elijah Smith, the black sheep of the story. Sure, the weather was bad, but Winter Storm Scott was no match for my insatiable curiosity and a decent enough Chevy Impala rental.

The Glastonbury Historical Society museum and archives are located in what was the old town hall. It’s a quaint red-brick building in a town of quaint old buildings. “Only Marblehead has more eighteenth-century structures,” the director, Jim Bennett, tells me with a slight twinge of envy. He’s been good enough to come out in the snow to meet me this morning. When I explain what I’m looking for, he starts to pull out books and folder from the various shelves and cabinets.

While Jim is looking into the numerous Hale and Welles files, I take a look around the museum. “We’re giving it a long overdue paint job,” Jim explains, “so pardon our appearance.” A few display cases are covered in heavy plastic, and some others are pushed together to make space for ladders and such. But the general feel of the place, the very evident pride of the locals in their long history, is evident throughout.

As I have found, Hales and Welleses are thick on the ground in Glastonbury, both in the archives and in the town’s many old houses as well. Below is the Gideon Hale house, where the Gideon of my inscription live and raised his large family over two centuries ago. Because of the snow, I decided to forego a trip to the graveyard, and instead got back into the car to drive north where my brother- and sister-in-law were bringing my son to meet me for lunch.

The person I had really come to find out more about, the hapless Elijah Smith who once owned the 1750 copy of Cicero now in my possession, was not much in evidence. There is a Smith brook I had to pass over as I drove from the museum to the Hale house, and I believe it is likely to have crossed Elijah’s family property in the eighteenth century. But as for the old debt-welsher himself, nary a peep. “He hath absconded himself,” indeed, and my search will have to take me elsewhere.

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