Telly Savalas’ cuirass

At $3500, I have no intention of buying the cuirass worn by Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate in The Greatest Story Ever Told, now up for auction at 1stdibs. It sure is sweet to look at a bunch of pictures of it there, however, even if they won’t let me download them! This uniform was designed by Vittorio Nino Novarese, later to win Oscars for Cleopatra and Cromwell, who squabbled with Greatest Story director George Stevens over the appearance of Pilate in the film.

from 1stdibs:

Released by MGM Studios in 1965, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” was a star studded film dealing with the death of Jesus (Max Von Sydow). Pontius Pilate, the commanding officer of the occupying Roman army, is played by Telly Savalas, of later “Kojak” TV fame. The chest plate is molded leather over fiberglass, with metal medallion decorations. The bottom red fringe is a more supple leather, also decorated by medallions. The costume opens on both sides, with ties for access. The interior is marked in felt marker “Savalas Pilate”. The costume is mounted on a custom-made steel Stand and both are in nice original condition. The costume originated from an MGM auction in the early 1970s, when the studio was thinning out its’ inventory of costumes and props. Photo of Mr. Savalas in costume are included.

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Regrets of Romulus

The Daily Mail, among other news outlets, is reporting this week that “A man raised by wolves for 12 years says his life in human society was a failure and he wishes he could go live among the animals again.” Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja’s story has been told before, since he was found in the 1970s. “Did This Man Live with Wolves?” the BBC asked in 2013. Sent to work in the Spanish mountains at the age of 5 or so, he was abandoned when the goatherd he’d be given to died. Wolves took him in, he said, feeding him and treating them as one of their own. When he was discovered a decade and a half later, he couldn’t really speak or act like a person. He gradually relearned human ways, but was ambiguous about the good it had done him. As the BBC notes, “Now in his late 60s, Marcos bears few grudges, but he does wonder why, after forcing him to come down from the mountains, the state didn’t prepare him properly for life in society.” Evidently, he’d like to go back now, and this made me think about an ancient story. With his brother, Romulus was raised by a wolf, too. At the end of his life, he disappeared, according to Livy (1.16)–Subito coorta tempestas cum magno fragore tonitribusque tam denso regem operuit nimbo ut conspectum eius contioni abstulerit; nec deinde in terris Romulus fuit, “suddenly a storm came up, with loud claps of thunder, and enveloped him in a cloud so thick as to hide him from the sight of the assembly; and from that moment Romulus was no more on earth.” Some say the senate killed him, others say the gods took him up to heaven. But I wonder whether his long tenure as king hadn’t finally gotten to him. To rule Rome, said a later leader, is lupum auribus tenere. Maybe Romulus concluded in the end that it might be just as easy to go back to the wolves.

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The legacy of lynching

From Oprah Winfrey’s 60 Minutes feature, “Inside the Memorial to Victims of Lynching,”  about Bryan Stevenson’s memorial and museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Here she is discussing the photos that show white people “in their Sunday best” surrounding the hanging bodies of black people.

Oprah Winfrey: I think about who are those people–

Bryan Stevenson: Yes.

Oprah Winfrey: –that are smiling into the camera?

Bryan Stevenson: And I think it’s done real psychic damage not just to black people, but to white people, too. Because you can’t bring your child to the public square and have your child watch someone be burned to death, be tortured, to have their fingers cut off, to be castrated, to be taunted, to be menaced, to be hanged like that and not expect it to have some consequence, some legacy. And the legacy that I think it’s created is this indifference to how we treat people who look different than us. And I think that’s tragic. I don’t even think that white people in our country are free. I think we’re all burdened by this history of racial inequality.

Oprah Winfrey: What about everyone who says, and there are black and white people say it, enough already, of all that. That happened. That’s the past. Let’s move forward.

Bryan Stevenson: I don’t think we get to pretend that this stuff didn’t happen. I don’t think you can just play it off. This is like a disease. You have to treat it.

I’ve put this exchange here so I can easily find it again. I have no doubt I will be thinking of it in connection with local matters sometime.

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Career of Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie

Another tidbit for my eventual online history of Classics at Sewanee–the very eccentric Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, who attended the University in the 1890s and was a “Professor of Extension” in the 1910s.

From the Introductory matter to his translations of Proclus (1925)

Career of Dr Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie

He was born in Scotland’s ‘Bonny Dundee’ on July 22, 1871 of an interesting ancestry, whose spiritual heritage determined his career.

His maternal grandmother, Frances Wright of Dundee first achieved a literary prominence by writing a dozen dramas of which Altorf was produced in Philadelphia, and published. Then she felt the call to ascertain truth, and in 1802 visited the then young United States, recording her impressions in her Views of Manners and Society in America. In this investigation her conscience was outraged by two abuses which in characteristic fashion she immediately set out to rectify. As to slavery, she secured from the State of Tennessee a grant of 2400 acres, on the Wolf River, 18 miles E of Memphis, named Nashoba, on which she educated slaves, and freed them in Hayti. As to the subjection of Woman, she was the real pioneer of the Woman’s Rights movement, and is so recognized in Appleton’s Encyclopedia. This naturally led to her last phase, a sociologic one, which led her to visit the colony of Robert Dale Owen in New Harmony, Ind.

Here she met and married Casimir Silvain Phiquepal d’Arusmont, a noble French emigre from Agen, who brought over with him a number of French youths to educate, on the way stopping in Philadelphia with Col McClure. He was a philosopher and scientist, and invented the since then so popular tonic sol-fa system. The married pair then went to Paris where was born their daughter Frances Sylva. But Frances Wright returned to the United States to her lecturing, and published her still continually reprinted A Few Days in Athens. She then practised law in Cincinnati, where she died, resting in Spring Grove Cemetery.

To these five phases of thought was added the note of religious devotion by Frances Sylva, who was converted in Notre Dame by Lacordaire, and devoted her sons to the sacred ministry, and that in the Episcopal Church, as the only sufficiently liberal one.

Being born too late in his family’s fortunes to be given an education, he earned one, taking his M. A. in 1890 and Theology at Sewanee; his Ph.D. in 1893 at Tulane; A.M. Harvard, 1894; M.D., with three gold medals, 1904; Marburg and Jena, 1911; Ph.D, Columbia, 1915; Professor in Extension, Sewanee, in 1912.

His mother’s devotional interest fructified in his Communion with God, Presence of God, Ladder of God and Why You Want to Become a Churchman.

His grandfather’s philosophical and educational interests resulted in his monumental opening to the world in translations of Plotinus, Numenius, Pythagoras and Zoroaster; Teachers’ Problems and How to Solve Them.

A combination of both these interests resulted in Angels, Ancient & Modern; the Mithraic Mysteries, the Angelic Mysteries of the Nine Heavens, etc

His grandmother’s literary taste produced the Spiritual Message of Literature, Collected Poems, Perronik.

Her quest for truth originated his Message of the Master, How the Master Saved the World, Studies in Comparative Religion, his New Testament Translation.

Her crusades against abuses continued in his Dawn of Liberty, A Bunch of Thistles.

Her sociologic ideals matured in his Complete Progressive Education, A Romance of Two Centuries, etc.

But the very unusual breadth of his conflicting interests checkmated his career, so far as worldly advancement. Little understood or recognized, he had to find consolation in earning his living honestly by teaching a language to children, by pouring out his religious experiences to the few who visited his semi-deserted East Side church, and in putting the accumulated results of his studies in such shape that, to the greater glory of God, they may be of service to humanity, if possible thro’ his children (Sylvia Camilla, Sept. 1, 1916; and Kenneth Launfal, Jan 19, 1918).

His has been a drawn battle over-delayed by self-support.


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Willingness with Happiness

This weekend, I went with my friend Thomas to Louisville and, while there were other things on our itinerary about which I’ll write later, we went to the city’ famous Cave Hill Cemetery. Among the many remarkable gravestones we saw there was Muhammad Ali’s. I was not expecting the epitaph and, remembering the interview from which the words came and being able to hear his voice, I found it very moving. Like Elvis, Ali had been a real culture hero of my youth–his brash confidence seemed connected to his profound love of the world, which loved him back for it. Every match was an event that combined genuine athleticism and showmanship  with broader cultural matters of race and religion. When he left the sport, and the public eye, all the fun left too– what remained were bruisers whom I could barely bring myself to watch. Looking at Muhammad’s grave, I thought of the world that had passed and the world we are in. As discouraging as the times are, there is hope to be taken from his words and his example. He mixed willingness with happiness. Truly, he was the Greatest.

The epitaph is excerpted from an interview he gave with David Frost in 1972 (I note one significant change in the recipe–the omission of the word “deserving,” though even that seems a last bit of generosity on his part).


David Frost:

What would you like people to think about you when you’ve gone?

Mohammad Ali:

I’d like for them to say: He took a few cups of love. He took one tablespoon of patience, One teaspoon of generosity, One pint of kindness. He took one quart of laughter, One pinch of concern. And then, he mixed willingness with happiness. He added lots of faith, And he stirred it up well. Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime, And he served it to it to each and every deserving person he met.

Posted in Cemeteries & Funerals, Race, Sports & Games, Statues & Monuments, Time, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Scorsese on Bowie as Pilate

Excerpt from interview with Martin Scorsese, from Dylan Jones, David Bowie: A Life

I’m sitting in my director’s chair and there are some chairs behind me and suddenly I feel a tap on my shoulder and I turn around and there I was face-to-face with the ancient world, a being from the ancient world. I suddenly looked into the face of history. His face was right up close to mine and he was smiling and his hair was done as Pontius Pilate, he was in his toga and his eyes, of course, one was one color and the other another color. It was the most shocking, beautiful thing I had seen. This was the ancient world and it has come alive! He was an alien in the best sense of the word! That’s my fondest memory of him. I was stunned; I couldn’t speak … David? Yes! Let me see the toga. It was fantastic. That’s why I wanted him to stay a little still during the shoot because he became that world. He didn’t have to show his authority by moving, he could just glare and speak, you see.


How to wear the toga—Quintilian, Institutes of the Orator, 11.3.137-150

137 With regard to dress, there is no special garb peculiar to the orator, but his dress comes more under the public eye than that of other men. It should, therefore, be distinguished and manly, as, indeed, it ought to be with all men of position. For  p319 excessive care with regard to the cut of the toga,121 the style of the shoes, or the arrangement of the hair, is just as reprehensible as excessive carelessness. There are also details of dress which are altered to some extent by successive changes in fashion. The ancients, for example, wore no folds, and their successors wore them very short. 138 Consequently it follows that in view of the fact that their arms were, like those of the Greeks, covered by the garment, they must have employed a different form of gesture in the exordium from that which is now in use. However, I am speaking of our own day. The speaker who has not the right to wear the broad stripe,122 will wear his girdle in such a way that the front edges of the tunic fall a little below his knees, while the edges in rear reach to the middle of his hams. For only women draw them lower and only centurions higher. 139 If we wear the purple stripe, it requires but little care to see that it falls becomingly; negligence in this respect sometimes excites criticism. Among those who wear the broad stripe, it is the fashion to let it hang somewhat lower than in garments that are retained by the girdle. The toga itself should, in my opinion, be round, and cut to fit, otherwise there are a number of ways in which it may be unshapely. Its front edge should by preference reach to the middle of the shin, while the back should be higher in proportion as the girdle is higher  p321 behind than in front. 140 The fold is most becoming, if it fall to a point a little above the lower edge of the tunic, and should certainly never fall below it. The other fold which passes obliquely like a belt under the right shoulder and over the left, should neither be too tight nor too loose. The portion of the toga which is last to be arranged should fall rather low, since it will sit better thus and be kept in its place. A portion of the tunic also should be drawn back in order that it may not fall over the arm when we are pleading, and the fold should be thrown over the shoulder, while it will not be unbecoming if the edge be turned back. 141 On the other hand, we should not cover the shoulder and the whole of the throat, otherwise our dress will be unduly narrowed and will lose the impressive effect produced by breadth at the chest. The left arm should only be raised so far as to form a right angle at the elbow, while the edge of the toga should fall in equal lengths on either side. 142 The hand should not be overloaded with rings, which should under no circumstances encroach upon the middle joint of the finger. The most becoming attitude for the hand is produced by raising the thumb and slightly curving the fingers, only it is occupied with holding manuscript. But we should not go out of our way to carry the latter, for it suggests an acknowledgment that we do not trust our memory, and is a hindrance to a number of gestures. 143 The ancients used to let the toga fall to the heels, as the Greeks are in the habit of doing with the cloak: Plotius and Nigidius123both recommend this in the books which they wrote about gesture as practised in their own day. I am consequently all the more  p323 surprised at the view expressed by so learned a man as Plinius Secundus, especially since it occurs in a book which carries minute research almost to excess:124 for he asserts that Cicero was in the habit of wearing his toga in such a fashion to conceal his varicose veins, despite the fact that this fashion is to be seen in the statues of persons who lived after Cicero’s day.c 144 As regards the short cloak, bandages used to protect the legs, mufflers and coverings for the ears, nothing short of ill-health can excuse their use.

But such attention to our dress is only possible at the beginning of a speech, since, as the pleading develops, in fact, almost from the beginning of the statement of facts, the fold will slip down from the shoulder quite naturally and as it were of its own accord, while when we come to arguments and commonplaces, it will be found convenient to throw back the toga from the left shoulder, and even to throw down the fold if it should stick. 145 The left hand may be employed to pluck the toga from the throat and the upper portion of the chest, for by now the whole body will be hot. And just as at this point the voice becomes more vehement and more varied in its utterance, so the clothing begins to assume something of a combative pose. 146 Consequently, although to wrap the toga round the left hand or to pull it about us as a girdle would be almost a symptom of madness, while to throw back the fold from its bottom over the right shoulder would be a foppish and effeminate gesture, and there are yet worse effects than these, there is, at any rate, no reason why we should not place the looser portions of the fold under the left arm, since  p325 it gives an air of vigour and freedom not ill-suited to the warmth and energy of our action. 147 When, however, our speech draws near its close, more especially if fortune shows herself kind, practically everything is becoming; we may stream with sweat, show signs of fatigue, and let our dress fall in careless disorder and the toga slip loose from us on every side. 148 This fact makes me all the more surprised that Pliny should think it worth while to enjoin the orator to dry his brow with a handkerchief in such a way as not to disorder the hair, although a little later he most properly, and with a certain gravity and sternness of language, forbids us to rearrange it. For my own part, I feel that the dishevelled locks make an additional appeal to the emotions, and that neglect of such precautions creates a pleasing impression. 149 On the other hand, if the toga falls down at the beginning of our speech, or when we have only proceeded but a little way, the failure to replace it is a sign of indifference, or sloth, or sheer ignorance of the way in which clothes should be worn.

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Sewanee Memoire: Projections for the Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation

Below are remarks I gave for a forum organized by Prof. Woody Register and the Sewanee Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation on about Art, Commemoration, and Sewanee’s Campus, held at Otey Parish on February 19, 2017. Also on the panel was Prof. Shelley Maclaren, whose discussion of the University History windows in the All Saints’ Chapel narthex was brilliant and thought-provoking. I would guess that there were maybe 100 folks in attendance. Write-ups in the Sewanee Purple and the Mountain Messenger   appeared later in the week. 

img_0350-0In preparing for today’s panel on “Art, Commemoration, and Sewanee’s Campus,” I thought it might make sense for me to reflect on my own experience of monuments, the earliest of which comes from the time when I was growing up in West Roxbury, a neighborhood in Boston. Outside the Unitarian Church on Centre Street was a statue completely covered in verdigres of a seated man on a high pedestal. I know now he was Theodore Parker, the renowned preacher and fiery abolitionist who aided John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, went into exile shortly thereafter and died in Florence where no less than Frederick Douglass would commission and pay for his tombstone. But to all of us neighborhood kids in the 1960s and 70s, he was a mystery: this was a church none of us had ever been in–everybody I knew was Irish, Italian, Jewish, or Greek–and besides weren’t churches only supposed to have statues of Jesus or Mary? I can remember that a friend of mine once told me confidently that the statue was really George Washington and that he himself was buried in the pedestal, even though THEODORE PARKER was very legibly spelled out in the green copper letters underneath. This friend was not an especially reliable source in other respects, I will admit, but it’s a good indication of how little good spelling out the meaning of a monument can do for many observers. But in any event: famous abolitionist, theological reformer, preacher and phrase-maker? Parker was all of these things, but to us street urchins at the time his statue was just a marker by the bus stop near the Dip-N-Sip, which was the best place in town to buy donuts. In the 90s, the Parker statue was rehabilitated, the verdigres stripped off, the copper treated so it looked like new, and a plaque erected to explain who Parker was and why he mattered. I suspect, though, that most of the kids in West Roxbury didn’t really care and still don’t.

I mention all of this as a way of pointing out that there is a natural life cycle to a monument. Few of them experience the long enthusiasm of, say, the Statue of Liberty or the Lincoln Memorial, which are almost always thronged with school-groups and selfie-taking tourists. Some end their days ignobly, like the colossal statue of Tiberius’ henchman Sejanus that a Roman satirist says was toppled by ropes and melted down into jugs, frying pans, and chamber pots (Juvenal, Satire 10.56-70), a fate Lenin and Stalin have also enjoyed, as well as the Confederate Statue in front of the courthouse in Durham, North Carolina. For most monuments, the highpoint of their life cycles is at the very beginning, that moment when the ribbons are cut, the dignitaries gathered, speeches made, family members tearing up in pride, children and pets running around, and the spirit of celebration at its peak–a scene such as is depicted at the laying of the Sewanee cornerstone. After the unveiling, it is a long slow slide into oblivion. Some monument-makers are aware of this fact, and try to forestall it by kneading the ephemeral hoopla of the moment into the thing itself. The Arch of Titus, for instance, depicts in its interior the triumphal parade of which it is itself the commemoration. Augustus’ Altar of Peace likewise depicts the imperial entourage marching to the altar’s own inauguration. (We see something like this in the final narthex window in All Saints, the procession of Vice-Chancellor McCrady and other notables in front of the chapel, still under construction.) The move here is to avoid the future disregard by remaining eternally in an unfolding celebratory present.

It is the fate of most monuments, however, once unveiled, to sit like immoveable stones while the current of history flows around and past them. Occasionally, a well-meaning history buff will take pains to try to re-inject some significance into the thing, or a dedicated group decides to scrapes off the verdigres and erect a new, inevitably to-be-ignored plaque. But mostly the monument is forgotten or subject to critical reinterpretation, as the ideological basis on which it was made comes under scrutiny. The statue of Christopher Columbus in New York’s Columbus Circle, for instance, erected by proud Italian-Americans in the 1890s, once symbolized the successful integration of immigrants into American society; the statue is now the locus of protests against imperialism and genocide, which it also encodes.

In its time, own Kirby-Smith Memorial has  certainly traced this same trajectory. As Tanner Potts told us all a few months ago, it was set up in the late 30s by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to honor a university founder, an impulse in itself inoffensive. As a Jim Crow monument, though, it also helped to designate public space as white space, and is intimately connected with the university’s segregationist history. In 2016, as some of you will know, I exchanged correspondence in the Sewanee Purple with the head of the local UDC chapter about the memorial. As I said,

I think the University ought to hire an artist to make an installation that would sit in front of it [the monument], and draw attention to it [to answer] the question of what does it memorialize and what does it remember,” he said. “And that doesn’t have to be a rejection—it can be a sort of open question about, ‘What is it that we remember about the Civil War? What does it mean to us?’

It had been my idea, when suggested that an installation be put in front of the Kirby-Smith memorial, that we might reinvigorate the space as a sort of reflection garden, a place to go where the artworks could serve as a jumping off point to ponder what we are doing with our own lives and how it will look sub specie aeternitatis, in view of eternity. I still think that would have been the best way to proceed–to leave the UDC memorial in place but to give artistic voice to another point of view about the ideology it enshrined–but in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville protests of the next year, the Vice-Chancellor removed the medallion and name from University Avenue and relocated them to the cemetery. I wish the chance to debate that decision as a community had not been precluded, but that is the VC’s prerogative and so there’s no point to revisiting the matter.

IMG_6762So where does this leave us now? In a famous essay he wrote for the Nation in 1985, the philosopher of art Arthur Danto outlined the critical distinction that “we erect monuments so that we shall always remember, and build memorials so that we shall never forget.” Defenders of Confederate monument sometimes elide this distinction–claiming to want to never forget the horrors of the Civil War when in fact they often want to always remember the Confederacy as a noble endeavor. The Romans had a similar practice, the damnatio memoriae, which seems to split the difference by commanding us to Always Forget an individual fallen from grace. I invoked this idea in a blogpost last fall about the now empty plinth of the Kirby-Smith last fall. Some people really liked this idea, and some were very upset and pained by it. I think, insofar as the project whose auspices we are gathered under is named the “Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation,” my idea about damnatio memoriae is not an especially useful one.

But larger than that, far larger, I think is the issue of the “Always/Never” dynamic that Danto points out in his essay. An inherent problem of all monuments and memorials, it seems, is their totalizing nature, their insistence on being taken to have a single, indivisible meaning which we must either accept or reject entirely (Something like this seems to be at work with honorary degrees, I have to say, though I won’t say anything more about that … right now). As an educational institution, we don’t accept the idea of a single monolithic meaning in other works of art of literature, nor do we believe that history or politics are ever simple matters. It may be that, in this age of polarized politics and weaponized nostalgia, we all could use a lot less all-or-nothing certitude and a little more hesitancy in the middle ground.

And so, in this respect, I am very attracted to the Cité Mémoire project in Montreal that Shelley Maclaren has introduced me to, in which images from the past are projected into various locales that do not confirm or negate strongly-established principles but instead unsettle us a little about what we think we already know. I like the temporary nature of the images, their connection to the visual culture we occupy–screens–and now not one that is associated with boring old history–statues. The idea of an exhibit that can be curated, questioned, re-curated, and re-questioned. If I had to select a few images for such an outdoor exhibit on Slavery, Race and Reconciliation at Sewanee, here are some of them: 

img_7403The autographed picture of Louis Armstrong dedicated to English professor Charles Harrison, now in the Ralston Listening Room. When Armstrong played at Sewanee in the early 60s, it was Harrison’s home he stayed at because, as a black man, he was excluded from the old Sewanee Inn. As Richard Tillinghast notes in Sewanee Poems, “Coming down the morning of the gig he is greeted / With the question: “How would you like your eggs, Mr. Armstrong?” /Armstrong comes back at him /In that melodious throaty bass of his: / “However you’re having yours, Daddyo.”  There’s much to reflect upon in this story–the private accommodations that had to be made in the face of Jim Crow, the place of music in the process of reconciliation , and the nature of hospitality that culminates in the wonderful anecdote Armstrong gave Harrison as a gift.

IMG_7330This image of a procession of “natives”  which makes up part of the base of one of the windows behind the high altar in All Saints. This I would throw up outside of the chapel, on the McClurg side where it would be seen by many, as a way of forcing us to confront at eye-level what this kind of iconography means. Why is this offensive, racialized image in the church windows? What does it say about those who made it and installed it, that the Jesus they approach is himself white, indeed Anglo?

One last image below would be Allan Crite’s amazing engravings of the Stations of the Cross, with Christ suffering at the School of Theology Dean’s house (now the Spanish House) behind the old Seminary, crucified and then risen in front of St. Luke’s Chapel. The originals of these are small, and sit in a frame over in Hamilton Hall–enlarged, and projected onto St. Luke’s, they could be quite powerful. Crite, an African-American artist and devout Episcopalian, visited Sewanee in the early 1950s, and made this engravings on-site. The images, very much of but also far ahead of their time, were intended to encourage people in the seminary here to see the sufferings of black people in light of their avowed Christian faith. “As a visual artist,” Mr. Crite said in a 1998 interview with the Harvard Extension School Alumni Bulletin, “I am . . . a storyteller of the drama of man. This is my small contribution – to tell the African-American experience – in a local sense, of the neighborhood, and, in a larger sense, of its part in the total human experience.”


There are other images I can think of, but I have no doubt the people in this room have fuller and more interesting ideas of their own. I welcome your response to this proposal, and would be more than happy to gather a database of possible images to project and suggested places to show them. Many thanks, and good evening. 


Posted in Bible, Boston, Classics, Education, Emblems, Florence, Music, Poetry, Pontius Pilate, Race, Saints, Sewanee, Slavery, Statues & Monuments, Uncategorized | Leave a comment