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Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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Come Blow Your Horn

Published in Miami News

It has been 56 years since Come Blow Your Horn first hit Broadway, but this first-ever play by the venerable Neil Simon has stood the test of time. The production by the Players Guild of Dearborn (in Michigan) is true to the lightly comedic spirit that Simon intended.


Sue Delosier, in her role as Mother, stole show with her deft handling of comedic timing and delivery. That comes from a long career spanning 70 productions. One member of the audience said “she was really into her part. The whole audience fell in love with her.”


Mother certainly needed a good sense of humour to deal with her eldest son, Alan Baker, played by Alex Gojkov. The role is that of a playboy, a kind of goof-off who enjoys the money from the family business but isn't keen on being associated with it. Perhaps not too surprising as not many 30-year-olds can find much romance in the wax fruit business.


Younger son Buddy, played by Graham Dallas, has a lot of one-on-one stage time with Alan, especially in the first half of the play. They played off each other in a very natural manner, making it quite believable they were siblings. Their light banter was engaging.


Looking up to his older brother, Buddy decided he wanted to leave the nest and be with Alan. He found the allure of partying all the time to be alluring, but he finally realises he just wants to be a writer. This is Neil Simon's persona in the play.


There was a slight wardrobe malfunction in the performance I saw, which turned out to be cute. Allan's girlfriend Peggy (played by Jazzmin Sharara) was not able to get a coat on and walked off the set with one arm in and one out! Both her and Allan's other girlfriend (played by Nicole Harris) were delightfully portrayed. The cast was rounded out by Ron Eagal as Mr. Baker, and Marsha Barnett-Krause as Aunt Gussie. Her one-minute part at the conclusion of the play was perfectly cast for a cameo.


The most memorable scene in the play is where Mother tries to make notes during a succession of phone calls, but unable to find a pencil she tries to keep it all in her memory. She gets so confused she can't remember anything coherent. Her young son comes into the room and goes to a small bar where he opens what appears to be a old-fashioned straw dispenser. It is full of pencils! Her reaction was hysterical.


The very modest set by Ross Grossman, meant to evoke an apartment in the east Sixties, New York City, set just the right tone for this production. As the first play in the 90th season of the Players Guild of Dearborn, this is a sure-fire hit.


Come Blow Your Horn directed by Kori Bielaniec in her debut as a director, ends its run today, October 1, 2017.


thanks to Sharon Williams and Dr. Matt Emanuele for their review comments.

Female Priests in ancient Rome

Published in Books

The subtitle of this award-winning book is a bit misleading, as author Meghan J. DiLuzio does cover the role of priestesses in both the Republican and Imperial Roman periods, although the emphasis is certainly on the former. DiLuzio is assistant professor of Classics at Baylor University in Texas.


Earlier this year I met Dr. DiLuzio at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS), where I asked about what led her to research this book. Here she mentions Dr. Mary Beard of the University of Cambridge.


“I decided to write about priestesses in Rome because I had read Mary Beard's article about Vestal virgins where she talked about how the Vestals must have had a masculine aura that surrounded them because they were the only priestesses in Rome. To sacrifice you had to have this official public status.


“That seemed odd to me because we do have evidence for other public priestesses like the flamen Dialis, the flamen of Mars, priestesses of the Quirnalis and of Ceres: so there are other priestesses but they weren't getting a lot of attention in the major scholarly works on priesthood or on women in religion.


“John Scheid's article on women in Roman religion asserts very definitively there are no priestesses other than the Vestals although he does acknowledge these other women are performing official roles but there is a sort of problem of categorizing them. I wanted to address what I thought was the issue of the way we are talking about women and their official role in public cults, and present all of the evidence to show they did have a very full role in public cults but one that was conditioned by their gender and Roman ideologies of gender.” DiLuzio said “how this impacted the kind of cults they were involved in and the kind of relationships they had to other public priests” was central to her project, which I must say is a great success.


Dr. DiLuzio with her bookThe author convincingly demonstrates how pervasive the role of women was in a wide variety of ceremonial rites in ancient Rome. Sometimes this was in conjunction with a man, as a priest of a major cult was quite literally married to the priestess of the cult. If she died, the priest had to withdraw from his role, to replaced by another married couple. Foremost among these was the flamen Dialis, and his wife the flaminica Dialis, representing the priesthood of Jupiter, the foremost god. Their requirement to perform daily sacrifices meant they were never allowed to leave the city walls of Rome.


On page 144 she deals head-on with the model advanced by Beard that Vestal Virgins possessed a certain “sexual ambiguity” that made them sacred figures. This thesis, writes DiLuzio, “is untenable.” She looks at a particular leader of the Vestals, Cornelia, “who was convicted of incestum and buried alive” by the emperor Domitian. According to Livy, she defended herself thus: “does Caesar think that I have been unchaste, when he has conquered and triumphed while I have been performing the rites?” This plea, says DiLuzio, “hinges on the relationship between her virginity and efficacy of the sacra (religious rites) in her care. If she has performed the sacra unchastely, Domitian's campaigns would have been doomed to failure.”


The plea, which did not dissuade the tyrant, shows not only the link between Rome's own inviolability, but that of the Vestal Virgin. This also highlights the vast difference between what we regard as religion today, and what it meant to those in ancient Rome.


An examination of the Vestals occupies much of the book as it was the premiere cult that has survived the best in our sources, but the author gives full attention to several other cults. She describes the Salian Virgins as both enigmatic and the most intriguing of the ones under discussion. Unlike Vestals, Salian priestesses “only remained in office as long as they were virgins,” so they resigned upon marriage. Most were thus teenagers, who danced through the city to the Forum at the beginning of the military campaign season. Thus she disputes the opinion of some scholars that the Salian dance was not a martial ritual but merely an initiation rite into adulthood.


The book offers several illustrations showing how the Vestals dressed, and DiLuzio goes into great details about such things as their hairstyle, shoes, and jewelry (or lack of it). Their public role is also given its due in this book, showing how they could and did intervene in public affairs. The most notable of these is the decision by Sulla to kill the young Julius Caesar. Fortunately Caesar had already been named flamen Dialis, and a personal intervention to Sulla by the leader of the Vestal Virgins saved his life, and thus changed history.


A fascinating book that shows how, despite centuries of scholarly study, we still labour under serious misapprehensions about ancient Roman life and culture.

For A Place at the Altar: Priestesses in Republican Rome, CAMWS awarded its “First Book Award” to DiLuzio in 2017.


I noticed three typos: pg. 57 (That the he); pg. 102 (that that); pg. 193 (rather than); Photo with this article by C. Cunningham


A Place at the Altar: Priestesses in Republican Rome (281 pages) is $45 from Princeton University Press.

World Premiere at Windsor Symphony

Published in Miami News

The beginning of the 70th season of the Windsor Symphony was studded with several sparkling highlights including its opening selection, the world premiere of Fallen by composer Jordan Pal.


After a warm introduction to the new season by Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens, conductor Robert Franz led the symphony into the short ode Fallen, one of the compositions commissioned by the government to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday. Fallen will have its premiere with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, 2017.


As its title implies, it is about fallen soldiers. Its title derives from the final stanza of Canadian Master Corporal Charles Matiru's poem Dark Shadow. He was an Afghan vet who died recently due to PTSD. The ode is deliberately unpleasant, a mixture of chaos and frenetic passages intended to give us a glimpse into the soul of those suffering from the psychological wounds of war. In its resemblance to a film score, it tries to evoke emotion in the listener. It has a sincerity to it, which is tough to do in a postmodern society.


A world away from this is the Brahms composition Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn, which was delivered in a unique way. Instead of just offering us the music, each of the variations ranging from pastoral to scherzo was introduced by a poetic excerpt. The contributing poets, including Windsor poet laureate Marty Gervais, were in the audience, while their poems were faultlessly read by a young man and woman on stage.


If one regards a frame as part of the picture, the poems were expressing the idea that musical compositions do not end on their final note. It was both a delightful way to breathe new life into a piece over 200 years old, and a daring choice as it could easily have fallen into an unwelcome pastiche. It was a nice way to make a piece that's not Canadian a way to celebrate Canada, and the inclusion of Windsor-based poetry is a nod to the city's 125th anniversary this year.


There was an especially good connection between Variation 5, a sprightly piece where the violins literally dance which was likened poetically to Walkerville by Gervais, which conjures up a famous bicycle race in that part of Windsor in 1896. Variation 7, a stately composition suitable for a river cruise, was paired with a few lines from the poem Windsor by Carlinda D'Alimonte. “I relax into the space, in the small steps I can take.”


Other poems talked about Al Capone and rum running (a well known local pasttime in the 1920s), “a cannonball that won nothing for nobody”, and by Peter Hrastovec “there is an art in everything and in everything a reason.” My favourite was paired with Variation 8: “History is a fable unless you tell it honestly,” from South Windsor by Vanessa Shields. Other poets included in the Variations music-poem combo were Mary Ann Mulhern, Dorothy Mahoney and D.A. Lockhart.


The second half of the programme featured a flawless performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, complete with the Windsor Classic Chorale and University of Windsor Chamber Choir. Combined with the symphony, the stage held some 350 performers, including four guest soloists: Marjorie Maltais (alto), Ryan Downey (tenor), Margie Bernal (soprano) and in one of the choicest roles for a bass singer, Reginald Smith.


Instead of going for a punch to the jaw early in the performance, conductor Franz wisely saved it for the ending. While he held back, he added just enough emphasis to titillate the musical taste buds. It is sometimes good to show restraint! In the end, the assembled performers knocked it out of the park, to borrow a sports analogy, no mean feat in a venue originally designed as a cinema.


For a finale with several children's choirs standing along the side and in the aisles, the audience was treated to a rousing rendition of Canada This Is My Home. With the instrument plus vocal power boosted to more than 400 in a venue that only seats 640, it was truly an impressive way to begin the 70th season.


Thanks to Mitch Raeck for his musical expertise in the preparation of this article. Photo by C. Cunningham


The next performance of the symphony, the music of Star Wars on Sept. 30, is already sold out.

Visit their website for details on other upcoming shows:



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