Sunday, 23 August 2009

Lawrence of Arabia

I'm spending this week moving house and completing a final draft of the thesis at the same time, so I'm afraid this will have to be a quick post and I may not be able to post again until the end of the week.

I wrote a couple of months ago about the difficulty of finding representations of classicists in popular culture. It recently occured to me, while going through old editions of various texts and spotting the name 'T. E. Lawrence', that there is one Classicist who is rather well known.

Lawrence wasn't a professional Classicist, which is partly why I hadn't thought of him before. He was a writer, but, having been privately educated, he read Greek and Latin and among his other works, he published a translation of The Odyssey in the 1930s, originally under the name T E Shaw (you can read the review by The Times here). He was also an archaeologist, working chiefly in the Middle East.

I have to confess I don't know much about Lawrence, and am therefore more reliant than I'd like to be on the internet for information. I've also never seen the David Lean film all the way through - I watched most of it on a long Bank Holiday afternoon years ago (and then felt guilty, as I thought there must have been other things I could do with the Bank Holiday!). What I can't remember is whether there are any references to Lawrence's interest in classics and history in the film?

The real T. E. Lawrence, looking frighteningly like Peter O'Toole

If the film does make mention of Lawrence's appreciation of Classics, that probably makes Lawrence the most famous Classicist around. Since the film is highly romanticised and Lawrence presented as a heroic, dashing (if slightly bonkers, if I remember rightly?) character, that gives Classicists a rather more appealing image than they might otherwise get (not that Giles isn't heroic as well).

If, as I rather suspect, it doesn't, that relegates Lawrence's interest in Classics to a lesser known and not overly interesting (to those outside Classics) fact about him. Perhaps a re-make is in order...

What, you though you were getting away without a camel picture?!


  1. I certainly don't recall any mention of Classics, or even his archaeological past.

  2. I actually watched this the other day, and I concur with Mr Keen, I can't remember anything.

    I've also been slightly spooked by O'Toole's likeness to Lawrence.

    Great movie, though.

  3. I must see the film all the way through, though possibly not on a sunny summer bank holiday afternoon this time.

    (Though I still think we need a re-make emphasising the Classics angle! ;) )

  4. I don't remember any mention of classics or archeological work, unless perhaps at the beginning when he's in the office, before he gets sent out into the sands?

    No re-make need Juliette, it's a wonderful film just as it is!!! ;o)

  5. Wasn't one of the characters in the film "She" a classicist? It's been a very long time since I saw the film. And the book must be one of a very small number of works of popular fiction with two pages in Ancient Greek.

  6. You mean the Hammer Horror production? If memory serves Peter Cushing plays a Professor of sorts in the movie.

  7. I haven't heard of that one, is it a horror movie? I've seen a few horrors but it's a genre I tend to avoid!

  8. There have been a number of adaptations of "She" over the years. I'm not sure if the one with Peter Cushing (plus Christopher Lee and Ursula Andress) is a Hammer production. There was another version in the early 80s with Sandahl Bergman. I think there's even a silent version.

    But they aren't horror by any stretch of the imagination. They're adaptations of a famous Rider Haggard novel, so you know pretty much what to expect: lost civilizations, scheming viziers, intrepid explorers. Toss in immortality, reincarnation, and timeless love, and that's the whole story.

  9. The one with Cushing and Lee is certainly a Hammer production, those two were in countless Hammer films.

    I agree with DemetriosX insomuch as it's not essentially a horror movie, despite coming from the "Hammer Horror" production house.

    Great movie. Much of the Hammer catalogue is superb.

  10. Yes, the one I'm thinking of had Ursula Andress, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing. It's a 1960s adaptation of a Victorian ripping yarn rather than horror.

  11. IMO Lawrence of Arabia is a film that benefits immensely from viewing on the big screen; so many of ther desert shots simply do not work on video, and the film loses much of its impact when viewed on a standard television. I'm thinking in particular of Omar Sharif riding out of the horizon thru waves of shimmering heat to a thirsty Peter O'Toole; the harsh impact of the environment is overwhelming, and it amplifies later shots like the famous scene of the ship moving thru the Suez Canal and the order for lemonade in the British bar. It is an immersive experience.

  12. I agree. I saw it in the cinema recently along with The Bridge On the River Kwai, and it was wonderful.

  13. I'll have to look out for cinema re-realeases - that definitely sounds like a better option than trying to follow it on TV while Dad mows the lawn outside! I'll keep an eye out for 'She' on telly too.

  14. I believe that the film turned extremelly succesful not because it narrated the story of a classicist / archaeologist, but because it narrated the story of a hero. Classisict/ archaeologist or not, it wouldn't really matter for the general public.


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