“On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome.”
- Edgar Allan Poe
Classical Antiquity (also the classical era or classical period) is a title given to a broad period of history, that started from the ancient Greece civilization (5th century BC) and ended with the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century AD). Built around the Mediterranean sea, this was a golden era for philosophy, culture & art, politics, education, language, science and architecture. The impact was not just on major areas of Europe, Asia and Africa of the time but also heavily influenced the European Renaissance (14th to 17th centuries) and thus almost all aspects of the world as we live it, including our stories and storytelling.
It is impossible however to quantify the contribution of this time, only suffice to say that the world would be a lot poorer, in every sense of the word, but for the Classical Antiquity.
And so, all we can do is be grateful and know more about the period. To get you started, here are 5 Classics Set In The Classical Age...
- Famous for the spectacular nine-minute chariot race, “Ben-Hur” (1959) is an epic made by William Wyler, written by Karl Tunberg, and based on the novel, 'Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ' by Lew Wallace. The story is about a wealthy Jewish prince-merchant (Judah) who lives in Jerusalem in the 1st century. Though a childhood friend of the commanding officer of the Roman armies (Messala), their differing political views creates a rift and when Messala is accidentally hurt, he imprisons an innocent Judah as well as his family and confiscates their property. Though he achieves revenge, his interactions with Jesus changes him.
The movie was a huge blockbuster, becoming the second highest earner ever at that time, and won a record 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Direction and Cinematography. It also won three Golden Globes and is till today ranked amongst the greatest films ever. The movie is also famous for its highly influential and popular score, composed and conducted by Miklós Rózsa, and which at three hours is the longest ever for a feature. In 2004, Ben-Hur was selected for preservation by the American National Film Registry.
- “Dacii” (The Dacians, 1967) by Romanian film-maker Sergiu Nicolaescu is based on a pre-battle between the Dacians (ancient inhabitants of Dacia, which is located around the west of the Black Sea) and the vastly superior Roman empire. Set around AD 87-88, the movie combines historical facts with a fictitious story about a Roman general, the son of a senator but who had always been a Dacian spy.
The movie was a huge success in Romania and continues to be in the top five list of the most popular movies of the country even after five decades.
- Written and directed by Italian film maestro Federico Fellini, “Fellini Satyricon” (1969) is a cult fantasy that's freely adapted from Gaius Petronius' Satyricon (The Book of Satyrlike Adventures). Set during the times of the Rome Empire, which is given a surreal feel, the movie is split into nine episodes and follows the adventure of a scholar and his friend as they try to seduce a young boy, whom they both love.
A visual delight, the film is filled with brilliant colours and beautiful compositions. It received a 5-minute ovation from the press upon its début at the Venice Film Festival, and tickets started being sold in black for 30 times the original price. Fellini was nominated at the Oscars for Best Director but lost to Franklin J. Schaffner (“Patton”).
- “Roman Mysteries” (May 2007 – September 2008) is a made for television that's directed by Paul Marcus and is based on the historical novels for children by Caroline Lawrence. It is one of the most expensive television programs ever made for children, with a cost of £1 million per hour but was very well received and has been screened in many countries around the world.
Divided into two series with five scrolls each, every of which is based on one of the books. Series 1: The Secrets of Vesuvius, The Pirates of Pompeii, The Assassins of Rome, The Dolphins of Laurentum and The Enemies of Jupiter.
Series 2: The Gladiators of Capua, The Twelve Trials of Flavia Gemina, The Colossus of Rhodes, The Fugitive from Corinth and The Slave Girl from Jerusalem.
- “Agora” (2009) is a Spanish-English semi-biopic directed and co-written by Alejandro Amenábar, along with Mateo Gil. Starring Rachel Weisz as Hypatia, a female mathematician, philosopher and astronomer in 4th-century Alexandria (Egypt), the story focuses on the antagonistic relationship between religion and science during the Christian sweep of the Roman Empire and Hypatia's valiant attempts to fight to preserve and promote knowledge based on facts. This is interspersed with the story of her slave who turns to Christianity in order to secure his freedom but is unable to walk away because he secretly loves her.
Agora was the highest grossing film of Spain in 2009 and received seven Goyas (the national film awards), including for Best Original Screenplay.
Do you believe that there are any lessons to be learned from making and watching content based on ancient times, or is it just entertainment? Share with us in the comments...