Monday, July 28, 2008

Byzantine archaeological discoveries

25 July 2008
ANSA - English Media Service

An extremely rare and very well preserved Byzantine baptismal font has been found on an island off the western Sicilian coast near Trapani. The font was discovered in a newly unearthed Byzantine church and baptistery on the island, already a tourist attraction because of a Roman fort and Norman church. "The finds provide exceptional evidence of the vitality of the island of Marettimo in the Byzantine era," archaeologists said.

The font is covered in decorated plaster and shaped like a cross to conform with Byzantine baptismal rites. "As you peer further down its shape shifts first into an octagon, then a circle and finally a rectagon, highlighting the high level of craftsmanship that went into its working," cultural heritage officials said.

These geometrical figures had religious and symbolic meaning in the early Church, they said. The only other Byzantine font in Sicily was found last year at the ancient site of Selinunte (Selinos in Greek) on the south coast of the island.

Rare Imperial Seal of Andronikos II Palaiologos Found Near Kurdjali
22 July 2008
Bulgarian News Agency

Kurdjali, Southern Bulgaria, July 22 (BTA) - A rare seal of the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos, dating from the 13th-14th century, was unearthed in a big aristocratic mansion 2 km east of the stone palace of Perperikon, archaeologist Nikolai Ovcharov said on Tuesday. On one side it bears an image of the emperor, and on the other, an image of Jesus Christ in a blessing posture.

According to Ovcharov, there are ten such seals in the world, and this is the second one found in Bulgaria. It will be included in the exposition of the Regional Museum of History in Kurdjali.

Experts also found a silver sign dating from the 11th-12th century. It carries the image of a female figure crowning another one. Another rare find is a conical distillation vessel of the 9th-15th century. Such vessels have been discovered in Western and Eastern Europe, and this is the second one in the Rhodope Mountains, Ovcharov said.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Red Cliff opens in Asia

War epic "Red Cliff" declares opening victory in Asian market
12 July 2008
Xinhua News Agency

"Red Cliff", reportedly Asia's most expensive ever film, gained 27 million yuan (3.91 million U.S. dollars) of box office on its first-day release, setting the highest record among homemade movies.

The first of this two-part epic motion, adapted from China's classic historic fiction Romance of the Three Kingdoms, hit cinemas in Asia on July 10. Its first-day box office was the highest among all movies released in the mainland so far this year and higher than last year's Hollywood blockbuster Transformers whose first-day box office was 22.41 million yuan.

Weng Li, spokesman of the China Film Group Corporation, the movie's main investor, said that the group was confident of its box office later on. "The romantic epic fits in the taste of audience of all ages and the upcoming summer vacation will bring more people to the cinema. I believe more records will be set," he said.

On its first day release, the movie also gained 17 million New Taiwan dollars in Taiwan and 2 million HK dollars in Hong Kong. The movie directed by Hollywood-based Hong Kong director John Woo has several leading Asian stars in its cast, including award-winning Hong Kong actor Tony Leung, Taiwan supermodel Lin Chi-ling, Taiwanese-Japanese heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro and mainland's leading actor Zhang Fengyi. It attracted public attention for the 80-million-US-dollar investment, said to be the most expensive of all Asian movies.

The movie revolves around the epic Battle of Red Cliffs in 208 AD in China's Three Kingdoms period. It was a famous military case of the weak winning the strong, in which a 50,000-strong allied forces of the southern warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan defeated the powerful 800,000 troops of the northern warlord Cao Cao.

The biggest scenes in the movie involved 2,000 actors and crew, and a large amount of special effects were used, according to earlier media reports. The movie's second episode is set to be released in December. By then, a condensed version covering both episodes will also be released outside of Asia.

Lots of extras, little substance
11 July 2008
Business Times Singapore

John Woo's Red Cliff is overly busy, badly bloated and ultimately flawed, says GEOFFREY EU

WATCHING Red Cliff, action director John Woo's big-budget historical epic about a storied incident that took place during the Warring States period in Han Dynasty China in 208 AD, is a little like ordering a deluxe burger with everything on it, and then being given a plate with all the trimmings but no actual meat inside the bun.

Where's the beef? Or more appropriately, what's the beef with Red Cliff? Well, chances are that Asian audiences will go home starved of entertainment value because Woo has served up an overly busy, badly bloated and ultimately flawed action movie that has been split into two parts, with the second part - the one depicting the actual Battle of Red Cliff - only being released in several months' time.

To further the analogy, the unintended effect of Red Cliff is a cinematic dish with lots of extras but not nearly enough real substance. Western audiences will be fed a single pared-down version of the four-hour- long two-parter, with less exposition and more emphasis on the action.

Currently, part one of Red Cliff assumes that audiences are reasonably familiar with their Chinese history. The story is based partly on real events and characters in history but it also draws from a fictionalised account made popular in the 13th century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

There's plenty of epic potential, and Woo includes various scenes of opposing armies marching, fighting and preparing to do battle, including effects-laden scenes of a vast armada of warships. Unfortunately, the fight scenes in Red Cliff all look and feel similar, conveying a sense of being convoluted and uneven - basically, it's boring in parts.

The story involves the leaders of two independent kingdoms who team up to thwart the ambitions of Cao Cao (Zhang Fenyi), the Han prime minister who fancies himself as emperor of a unified China.

Early on, after a defeat of Cao Cao's forces, the leader of the Shu Kingdom, Liu Bei (You Yong), sends his chief military strategist Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to broker an alliance with Sun Quan (Chang Chen), ruler of the Wu Kingdom, and his viceroy Zhou Yu (Tony Leung). Sun Quan's tomboyish sister Sun Shangxiang (Zhou Wei) is also an integral member of the coalition. Even if they combine forces, it's their 100,000 troops against the opposition's 800,000-strong army and navy.

Red Cliff also inflicts a heavy dose of melodrama, with a prominent secondary storyline involving Cao Cao's unhealthy obsession with Zhou Yu's porcelain-skinned wife Xiao Qiao (Chiling Lin).

In order to establish that Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu are sensitive New Age males, we also get to witness a musical bonding scene between them and their duelling yan qin, (the ancient seven-stringed instrument). This, from a director who more or less invented stylised violence in classic Hong Kong movies such as A Better Tomorrow and Hard Boiled and Bullet in the Head.

Despite various distractions, Red Cliff is still an action movie at heart. It's messy, disjointed and some of the fat needs to be excised. Hopefully, the filmmakers will be able to render part two more palatable, but based on the current showing, the prognosis is not good at all.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Call for Papers for the 2009 International Congress on Medieval Studies

The Call for Papers for the many sessions at next year's Kalamazoo is now available here. Some of the proposed sessions include:

Sensory Perceptions in Medieval Society, AD 450-1600
Medicants and Merchants in the Medieval Mediterranean
Medieval Icelandic Bishops' Sagas
Letters of Love and Treachery in Late Medieval and Renaissance French Literature
J.K. Rowling's Medievalism
Friendship in the Middle Ages
Concubines in Medieval Europe
Beowulf as Children's Literature
Beyond Beer and Celibacy: Exploring Monastic Productions
Web-Based Learning and Teaching the Middle Ages
The Carolingians in Anglo-Saxon England
The Cultures of Armenia and Georgia
The Serbian Middle Ages: Between Byzantium and the West
Urban Culture in Medieval France
Origins of Firepower: European Warfare in Transition, 1450-1650
What Every Digital Medievalist Should Know (A Panel Discussion)

This is a just a very select and randomly chosen few of all the sessions coming next year. Please see the full list and if you can, submit your own paper for consideration. One more note - if all goes well, will be filming some of the papers given at the congress. More on this soon, but if you are interested in having your paper filmed (and posted to Google Video or Youtube) please feel free to contact me at

Reports on the International Medieval Congress

The 2008 International Medieval Congress concluded today, and a few bloggers have already posted their observations and experiences of the conference. Here is a list of the ones we found:

Melanie Duckworth gives her thoughts about the paper she gave and the rest of the congress in her blog Northern Lights.

Eileen Joy of In the Middle comments on some of the sessions she attended.

Jonathan Jarrett of A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe will be posting on his experiences soon, but lets us know "that it was draining, but enlightening, fun and hopefully extremely useful."

Stephanie Trigg gives her observations about the congress and her paper in Humanities Researcher.

A few more bloggers were at Leeds but have not posted anything yet. We will update this list if any more come in.