William Shakespeare's plays still enthrall audiences, 460 years after his birth. Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford on Avon and died on the same date 52 years later in his hometown. Sometimes I imagine Shakespeare's amazement at our ...
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William Shakespeare's plays still excite us and more...

William Shakespeare's plays still excite us

William Shakespeare's plays still enthrall audiences, 460 years after his birth.

Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford on Avon and died on the same date 52 years later in his hometown.

Sometimes I imagine Shakespeare's amazement at our technology, transportation, buildings, mass media and hygienic and health improvements if he were to come back to life today.

Although the English language has changed immensely since Shakespeare's Elizabethan era, and science and commerce have transformed the world, his characters remain relevant. His insights into the human heart, with its passions and foibles, are unsurpassed.

His sonnets also express universal emotions that remain true for us.

Artificial intelligence will never match his poetry and understanding of humanity. 

Generations to come will no longer understand his language, critic Amit Majmudar laments in the April New Criterion.

I believe "Hamlet," "King Lear," "The Tempest," "Othello," "Romeo and Juliet," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "As You Like It" will keep astonishing those yet unborn.







LSU historian Gaines M. Foster's "The Limits of the Lost Cause" explores Confederate symbols' place in U.S. political turmoil

LSU history professor emeritus Gaines M. Foster's "The Limits of the Lost Cause: Essays on Civil War Memory" examines how the Confederate battle flag and other symbols have been appropriated by national white supremacist movements. 

Foster looks at the battle flag's presence in violent events such as Dylan Roof's slaying of nine people at the Emanuel African American Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17, 2015, and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The flag now represents nationwide white resentment over gains of blacks rather than symbolizing Southern nostalgia for the Civil War, Gaines concludes.

In his groundbreaking book "Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause and the Emergence of the New South, 1865 to 1913," Gaines explored the rise of the Lost Cause mythology and construction of Confederate monuments in the post-Reconstruction South.

Gaines in his new collection of essays shows how those developments also reflected the South's move toward national reconciliation.

The book's eight essays are "a contrarian's take on the white South's memory of the Civil War, commonly called the Lost Cause," Gaines says. "Although the Lost Cause played an important role in creating the modern South, it did not preclude white southerners from accepting reunion and embracing sectional reconciliation; indeed, it facilitated it."

In three essays first published in 1985 and 1990, Foster challenges noted historian C. Vann Woodward's view expressed in "The Burden of Southern History" that the South's defeat in the Civil War gave it a different perspective from the rest of the country's belief in national righteousness and progress.

In a thorough analysis of Woodward's work, Foster points out that Southerners after the Civil War turned into the most fervid supporters of American wars and patriotic values.

The essays written for the book provide a strong framework of Southern history leading to an extensive discussion of the Confederate battle flag's central place in today's white supremacist rebellions.

"The Fiery Cross and the Confederate Flag" gives a deeply researched analysis of D.W. Griffith's divisive film "The Birth of a Nation" and the book from which it derived, Thomas Dixon's "The Clansman." Foster concludes that despite Griffith's use of Confederate symbols, he sought to promote national unity.

Foster in "The Marble Man, Robert E. Lee and the Context of Southern History" traces how the famed Confederate general's legacy has changed over the years from beloved national icon to traitorous criminal. Even Lee's reputation as a military master has declined.

In his wide-ranging summary of historical views about Lee, Foster presents him as a white supremacist of ingrained racist beliefs. He also cites Lee's post-war promotion of national unity.

"The Solid South and the Nation-State" shows that although the South follows current conservative opposition to the federal government's "deep state," Southern members of Congress played a major role in creating it by strongly supporting Franklin  D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs.

The final essay concludes that the prevalence of the Confederate battle flag in current American politics doesn't represent a Southern effort to re-fight the Civil War. Rather, white supremacists have appropriated the flag as a national symbol to express their grievances and desire for a traditional white-ruled America.

"The long and continuing battles over Confederate symbolism reveals a serious and troubling divide within American society today," Foster says. "Framing it as a continuation of the Civil War or the persistence of the Lost Cause emphasizes the failings of the white South and thereby obscures the racist heritage and racial problems of the country of the whole."

Foster makes a convincing case that that Confederate symbols now represent deeper political passions than Southern nostalgia.











Farewell, Dickey Betts, Allman Brothers' guitar master

Dickey Betts shaped the Allman Brothers as much as Gregg and Duane Allman.

Betts and Duane's dueling guitars gave the Allmans a signature sound, their long melodic reveries shifting from perfect harmonic convergence to call and response flights. 

After Duane's death in a motorcycle accident, Betts took the Allmans on a new direction with his 1972 hit "Rambling Man," a vibrant echo of country traditions from Hank Williams to Robert Johnson. His mellow voice and imaginative guitar work on his song "Blue Sky" showcased his star talent on the band's post-Duane album "Eat a Peach."

Betts, who emerged from the Allmans' shadow to receive recognition as a major progenitor of Southern rock, died Thursday morning at age 80 at his home in Osprey, Fla. He'd suffered from cancer and pulmonary disease.

His music with the Allmans rang from dorm rooms, college bars and local bands' garages. His songs were instantly recognizable anthems inviting listeners to sing along.

Often feuding with Gregg Allman, Betts persevered with the band, and embarked upon a successful solo career.

His soaring guitar solos and country-resonant singing expressed a distinctive joy, evoking the open road, Southern roadhouses and stories told on summer nights.


Ancient frescoes showing Trojan War characters discovered in Pompeii

Ancient frescoes recently discovered at Pompeii depict mythological characters from the Trojan War.

The artwork adorns the walls of a dining hall recently excavated at the site of the Roman city covered by volcanic ash following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

First discovered in the late 16th century, the ruins of Pompeii and adjoining archaeological sites near Naples in Italy's Campania region capture the moment when ash and pumice engulfed the homes of ancient Romans.

The bodies of families seeking to escape are preserved beneath the ash. Their home furnishings, dining areas and sexually explicit artwork also remain as they left them.

Along with the frescoes, the space features a mosaic floor of more than a million tiny white tiles, according to a statement from the Pompeii Archaeological Park, which continues excavations begun in the 18th century.

One fresco shows the first meeting of the Trojan prince Paris and Helen of Troy, another the Greek god Apollo encountering Cassandra, the daughter of the Trojan king Priam.

Paris's capture of Helen from her husband, the Spartan king Menelaus, started the 10-year war between the Greeks and Trojans in the 12th or 13th century BCE. Helen left willingly in some myths, and was kidnapped in others.

Apollo, who favored the Trojans in the war but was unable to prevent their defeat, gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy. But when she spurned his advances, he punished her by proclaiming that she wouldn't be believed. Her warnings to the Trojans not to trust the Greeks were ignored, leading to the Greek victory.

The frescoes have a black background, unusual for Roman art, which protected them from soot emitted by burning oil lamps in the dining hall, which measures 50 feet long and 20 feet wide and opens into a courtyard.

“People would meet to dine after sunset,” said Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the Pompeii Archaelogical Park. “The flickering light of the lamps had the effect of making the images appear to move, especially after a few glasses of good Campanian wine.”

Zuchriegel said the frescoes depict themes of personal decisions determining fate that Romans inherited from the Greek world.

Homer's "The Illiad" and "The Odyssey" and other epics about the Trojan War were already ancient when the Roman empire flourished. That fascination with the murderous conflict between Greek and Roman heroes continues today, as new translations of Homer's work keep appearing.

The Roman poet Virgil, later valorized by Dante in "The Divine Comedy," revisited the Trojan War in "The Aeneid," his epic about the founding of Rome by the Trojan prince Aeneas.

Pompeii's sudden, tragic end made real the inevitability of fate, the dominant theme of ancient literature.



Howell Raines talk at Atlanta History Center a journalistic homecoming

Former New York Times Executive Editor Howell Raines' appearance at the Atlanta History Center Sunday afternoon turned into a mini-reunion for Atlanta Journal-Constitution alums.

Raines discussed his recent book "Silent Cavalry: How Union Soldiers From Alabama Helped Sherman Burn Atlanta and Then Got Written Out of History," drawing a large crowd to the AHC's McElreath Hall on a beautiful Masters Sunday afternoon.

Former AJC journalists who warmly greeted each other at the event included former AJC Managing Editor Hank Klibanoff, now a non-fiction writing professor at Emory engaged in uncovering unsolved crimes against blacks in the Civil Rights Era.

Popular AJC film critic Eleanor Ringel, now writing reviews for the Saporta Report, stood in a long line as Raines signed copies of his book after the talk. Former AJC local reporter and editor Joe Earle also gave his regards to Raines, a Birmingham native who worked at The Atlanta Constitution before his career at The New York Times. 

AJC attorney Peter Canfield, who rigorously defended the AJC in the Richard Jewel case and other successful lawsuits, also attended, as did former Washington Post Atlanta correspondent and CNN reporter Art Harris.

"Silent Cavalry" tells how Winston County in the North Alabama mountains opposed the state's joining the Confederacy in the Civil War. As Raines discloses, a regiment of Alabama soldiers from the area fought for the Union, eventually serving as Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's guard and the spear point of his army.

Raines uncovers how the First Alabama's history was suppressed by historians who pushed the "Lost Cause" myth of how the South lost the war.

Thanks to Raines, the First Alabama has joined the Civil War pantheon.