Monthly Archives: October 2014

Getting Your Word’s Worth



I recently came across what is quite likely the earliest treatise to appear on Pompeian graffiti: Inscriptiones Pompeianae; or Specimens and Facsimiles of Ancient Inscriptions discovered on the walls of buildings at Pompeii. Published in 1837, this small volume penned by Charles Wordsworth, nephew of the famous poet, Classicist, and bishop of St. Andrews, is, if not always entirely accurate in its interpretation of the texts, nonetheless an altogether lovely presentation of the texts scratched into the walls of the ancient city.

A mere thirty-three pages, this slim volume takes the form of a letter Wordsworth addresses to a friend – his dear P—, who seemingly accompanied him on a trip to Pompeii in 1832. He states the letter is ‘retaliation’ for P, who indulged in ‘some pleasant humour’ for his interest in the graffiti they saw on their trip. He further writes that he ‘should indeed have abstained from this undertaking as unnecessary, had any notice whatever been taken of these fragments to which I now invite your attention, by any of the writers who have described the antiquities of Pompeii.’ He claims (rightly) that apart from a few vague references in William Gell’s revised 1832 publication of Pompeiana, no one has yet mentioned the texts in print, much less published them in any way. This then, is what he sets out to do.

Wordsworth invites P to join him, as he acts as guide, to go back through the streets of Pompeii, and examine more thoroughly a number of the ancient graffiti. Likely to pique the interest of his friend, Wordsworth begins with a text from Vergil, P’s favourite Latin poet, which is to be found on a wall in the Building of Eumachia.


Now recorded as CIL IV 1982 (CLE 1785 = CLE 2292):

Circe socios 

the graffito is line 70  from Book VIII of Vergil’s Eclogues, the entire stanza (lines 69-71) of which reads:

Carmina vel caelo possunt deducere lunam,
carminibus Circe socios mutavit Ulixi,
frigidus in pratis cantando rumpitur anguis.

‘Songs can even draw the moon down from heaven; by songs Circe transformed the comrades of Ulysses; with song the cold snake in the meadows is burst asunder.’

Wordsworth demonstrates again and again throughout the book his thorough knowledge of ancient literature, but more astonishingly, an understanding of the graffiti and the culture of writing on display on the walls of Pompeii that is not always found in later (dare I say, even recent) works on the Pompeian epigraphy. This is clear in his recording of the following text, one of many found in the Basilica. Here, the writer combined the words of two poets, Ovid and Propertius, who wrote similar entreaties regarding gifts, matchmaking, and the difficulties of love.



Ovid Amores I.8.77-78 and Propertius Elegies IV.5.47-48

CIL IV 1893 (CLE 1785)
Surda sit oranti tua ianua laxa ferenti
audiat exclusi verba receptus amans

CIL IV 1894 (CLE 1785)
Ianitor addantis vigilet si pulsat inanis
surdus in obductam somniet usqu[e] seram 

‘Let your door be deaf to prayers but wide open to the bearer of gifts; let the lover who has been admitted hear the laments of the one excluded. The door-keeper must be awake for bearers of gifts, but when empty hands knock, let him be deaf and sleep against the bolt.’

There are a number of things that I find remarkable about this book, and not just because I love a beautiful, old, leather-bound tome. One is the faithful rendering of ancient handwriting throughout the text, as seen in the photos above. Wordsworth does this for every grafitto he presents, both in Latin and in Greek, which presumably would not have been possible if he had not made a faithful rendering of each one at the time he visited Pompeii five years before writing. Considering many of the early visitors to the excavations were more interested in collecting images of themselves in a romantically ruinous vista, or, for those bent on more scholarly pursuits, reproducing the ancient artworks, this attention to the non-lapidary texts is an unusual occurrence. As a feature of epigraphic publishing, illustrations of the handwriting do not appear again for nearly forty years until the first volume of CIL IV, and even then, is not applied systematically until sometime late in the 20th century. Wordsworth also shows an astuteness in his observations on language and the literary nature of the texts. Not only does he recognise the origin of those he records, but he seemingly has no difficulty in discerning the accurate quotations from those that are adapted or conflated in some way. He remarks once or twice on the poor spelling of the texts (which he attributes to slaves), but does not assume this is due to illiteracy, but rather refers to it as the ‘false Latinity of an Italian scribe.’ He also remarks on the very nature of literacy itself (which is a topic I have been meaning to address myself at some point), and makes a point with which I strongly agree, that ‘We hear much of the diffusion of literary tastes among all classes of people in our own age and country; and comparisons, injurious to other nations and times, are founded on this assumption. This is hardly fair. I should much question whether all the walls of all the country towns in England, would, if Milton were lost, help us to a single line of the Paradise Lost.’

Wordsworth’s attention to the graffiti shows, in many ways, that he was ahead of his time, not just in the recording of the texts, but in his appreciation for them, for the literary and literate proclivities of the Pompeians, and for recognising what an important artefact these scratched words were. For that, I would argue anyone working on ancient graffiti or Pompeii owes him a great deal of admiration and gratitude.

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Can I Get a Witness?


The wax tablets of Lucius Caecilius Iucundus are one of the best records for financial activity that survive antiquity. The tablets, triptychs of wooden leaves covered with wax and tied together to make six pages, were used as receipts, closed, wrapped with string, and sealed by witnesses. Carbonised by the Vesuvian eruption in AD 79, these 153 tablets were found in the House of Caecilius Iucundus at V.1.26 during its excavation in 1875. The tablets record a number of transactions, including auctions, money lending, and payment of civic rents. What makes these records so important for network analysis is that each one of these exchanges made use of a number of signatories – typically six in addition to those directly involved in the transaction – who acted as witnesses to the transaction taking place.

The use of so many witnesses, is, of course, what makes the tablets so valuable for the purposes of building a network for Pompeii. Not only do they provide information about the workings of the local economy, but more importantly, they contain so many names. Whether or not these witnesses were friends, business associates, or simple happened to be passing by at a particular time when signatories were needed is difficult to determine without looking for corroborative evidence amongst other bits of Pompeian epigraphy. Regardless, the tablets can be used to trace both individuals and events (if one views the signing as an event), which actually allows for the analysis of both one and two mode networks.

I can hardly cover all of the tablets of Iucundus in a single post, but this instead serves as a brief example of how the tablets can be used, starting with just one individual. I selected the six wax tablets on which Aulus Veius Atticus appears as a witness. If we look at the individual texts, some of which are more complete than others, you can see that, typically, the witnesses are appearing in the third or fourth section.

CIL IV 3340.22           05. November AD 56
Perscriptio Histriae Ichmadi || HS n(ummum) VI(milia)CCCCLVIs(emis?) / quae pecunia in / stipulatum L(uci) Caecili / Iucundi venit ob / auctionem Histriae / Ichimadis mercede / minus persoluta || habere se dixsit / Histria Ichimas ab / L(ucio) Caecilio Iucundo. / Act(um) Pomp(eis) Non(is) Nove(mbribus) / L(ucio) Duvio P(ublio) Clodio co(n)s(ulibus). / C(ai) Numitori Bassi / L(uci) Numisi Rari / A(uli) Vei Attici / D(ecimi) Caprasi Gobi[onis] / L(uci) Valeri Peregr(ini) / [—] Cestili Philod(emi) / [C(ai)] Novelli Fortun(ati) / [A(uli)] Alfi Abasca[nti] / [L(ei)] Cei Felic[ionis] || [L(ucio) Duvio P(ublio) Clo]dio co(n)s(ulibus) / [Non(is) Nove]mbr(ibus) / [— sc]ripsi rogatu / [Histriae Ichimadis ipsi] persoluta / [esse ab L(ucio) Iuc]undo HS n(ummum) / [sex milia quadr]i(n)gentos quinqua / [ginta sex semi]s ob auctionem /q[uam servus] eius fecit [act(um) Pom]peis.

IV 3340.35           05. August AD 57
Per[s]c[ript]io Cn(aeo) Alleio / C(h)ryser[oti] || [HS n(ummum)] / III(milia)DXI / quae pecunia in / stipulatum L(uci) Caecili / Iucundi venit ob / auctionem Cn(aei) Allei C(h)ryserotis / mercede [m]inus / persolu[ta h]abere / se dixsit [C]n(aeus) Alleius / C(h)ryseros [ab] L(ucio) Caecilio / Iucundo. / Act(um) Pomp(eis) Non(is) Aug(ustis) / Nerone Caes(are) II L(ucio) Calpurn(io) c(onsulibus) || [—] Postumi Primi / A(uli) Appulei Severi / [A(uli)] Vei Attici / [— Au]rel(i) Vitalis / T(iti) [Sorni] E[u]t[y]ch[i] / L(uci) Corneli Maxsi(mi) / P(ubli) Terenti [—] / N(umeri) Popidi Am[—].

IV 3340.49
Perscriptio [L(ucio) Cornel]io Ma[xs(imo)] [—] || L(ucio) Caecilio [—] / act[um || HS n(ummum) V(milia)CCC quae pecunia in stipulatum. / L(uci) Caecili Iucundi venit ob manc[i]pia / duo veterana vendita r(atione) hereditaria / L(uci) Corneli [Tert]i soluta habere se / [dixi]t L(ucius) Cornelius Maxsimus / ab L(ucio) Caecilio Iucundo. || [—] Postumi Primi / A(uli) Appulei Severi / [A(uli)] Vei Attici / [— Au]rel(i) Vitalis / T(iti) [Sorni] E[u]t[y]ch[i] / L(uci) Corneli Maxsi(mi) / P(ubli) Terenti [—] / N(umeri) Popidi Am[—].

IV 3340.67
Perscriptio N(umeri) Popidi [—]Y[—] || [HS] n(ummum) V(milia)[—] / quae pecunia in / stipulatum L(uci) Caec[ili] / Iucundi venit o[b] / auctionem N(umeri) [P]op[idi] || [Pop]idi[us(?) —] / [ab Caecilio] Iucundo || Q(uinti) Appueli Severi / A(uli) Vei Attici / P(ubli) Terenti Primi / L(uci) Cei Decidiani / [—] Corneli Adiutoris / L(uci) Lucili Fusci / C(ai) Corneli Tagetis / [—]O[—].

IV 3340.99
[Persc]riptio P(ublio) Terentio Prosod(o?) || Q[—]C[—] || Ti(beri) Claudi Nedymi / Q(uinti) Appulei Severi / A(uli) Vei Attici / M(arci) Aureli Vitalis / [N(umeri) Popid]i Sodalion[is] / [—]pi Fortunati / [P(ubli) Si]tti Zosimi / [P(ubli) Tere]nti Prosodi.

IV 3340.115
[—] / A(uli) Vei Attici / M(arci) Uboni Cogitati / C(ai) Cas[si] Secundi /[L(uci) Va]leri Peregrini / [P(ubli) Corne]li Tagetis / [—].

There are 35 names all together on these 6 tablets (excluding consuls used solely for dating purposes), but including Lucius Caecilius Iucundus, who was presumably present for most (if not all) of the transactions:

1. Lucius Caecilius Iucundus (22, 35, 49, 67, 99, 115)
2. Aulus Veius Atticus (22, 35, 49, 67, 99, 115)
3. Histria Ichimas (22)
4. Gaius Numitorius Bassus (22)
5. Lucius Numisius Rarus (22)
6. Decimus Caprasius Gobio (22)
7. Lucius Valerius Peregrinus (22)
8. [—] Cestilius Philodemus (22)
9. Gaius Novellius Fortunatus (22)
10. Aulus Alfius Abascantus (22)
11. Lucius Ceius Felicio (22)
12. Lucius Laelius Fuscus (35)
13. Marcus Fabius [—] (35)
14. Publius Terentius Primus (35, 49, 67, 99)
15. Lucius Vettius Valens (35)
16. Gaius Poppaeus Fortis (35)
17. Tiberius Caudius Secundus (35)
18. Aulus [—] Fuscus (35)
19. Gnaeus Alleius Chryseros (35)
20. Lucius Cornelius Tertius (49)
21. Lucius Cornelius Maxsimus (49)
22. [—] Postumius Primus (49)
23. Aulus Appuleius Severus (49)
24. [— Au]relius Vitalis (49)
25. Titus Sornius Eutychus (49)
26. Numerius Popidius Am[—] (49)
27. Quintus Appuleius Severus (67, 99)
28. Lucius Ceius Decidianus (67, 99)
29. [—] Cornelius Adiutor (67, 99)
30. Lucius Lucilius Fuscus (67, 99)
31. Gaius Cornelius Tages (67, 99)
32. Marcus Ubonius Cogitatus (115)
33. Gaius Cassius Secundus (115)
34. Lucius Valerius Peregrinus
35. Publius Cornelius Tages (115)

Of these, there are six men in addition to Atticus who appear more than once. More to the point, all nine of the witnesses who appear on tablet 67 also appear on 99, which suggests that these two transactions might have actually been carried out at the same time, with the same witnesses present to sign off on both sales. We can see a wide range of known Pompeian gentilicium present in the witnesses – Cornellii, Ceii, Poppidi – but if we look closer at the cognomen in particular, these are not the men of these families known from electoral campaigns, and are more likely to be freedmen. The cognomina do include a number of Greek names as well as those favoured for the servile classes, and although this certainly warrants further investigation, it does seem more likely than not that there are a number of freedmen serving as witnesses.

In terms of finding the ancient network, it is (seemingly) a simple process to take this much further using solely the wax tablets. To demonstrate this I picked two men from this list who appear more than once. Publius Terentius Primus seems the most obvious choice because he appears on four tablets with Atticus, thus suggesting a possible strong tie between the two men. He actually appears on sixteen additional tablets, connecting him with 97 others witnesses or sellers, so in all, well over a hundred people when you include the tablets he is on with Atticus. Whether this actually indicates a strong tie with Atticus or a strong tie with Iucundus remains to be seen.

The other selection is Quintius Appuleius Severus, because I found him on Tablet 25, on which Primus also appears. So in addition to two tablets with Atticus, and one with Primus, Severus appears on another 14 tablets with a further 100 individuals.

Just by looking at the appearances of these men as witnesses on the wax tablets, there is already a network of more than 200 individuals that can be connected through three nodes. This does not yet even take into account further epigraphic information. If we include the epitaph of Aulus Veius Atticus, for example, we can add in the 8 other members of the gens Veia, the 7 other Augustales, and the family of Gaius Munatius Faustus and Naevoleia Tyche, with whom Atticus built a tomb, which adds another 12 people from their funerary inscriptions alone. Add in the extended family groups of the Munatii and the Naevoleii, and we now have a network with close to 300 actors, all of whom can be connected through one line, and many of whom can be connected along multiple edges to different actors within the network. This demonstrates a fruitful network analysis, especially when incorporating multiple forms of epigraphic (and to some extent) archaeological material. Eventually, I hope the network I can map will thus link most of the men and women found in the epigraphic material of Pompeii, thus providing us with a clear view of how the society in this ancient city actually functioned.

I think I’m going to need a bigger piece of paper.

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Cicero Recommends

One of the pivotal studies in developing network theory is Mark Granovetter’s 1973 essay ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’, which posits the hypothesis that weak ties are more beneficial to an individual seeking employment than strong ties. This is in part because ‘those to whom we are weakly tied are more likely to move in circles different from our own and thus will have access to information different from that which we receive.’ The weak tie acts as a bridge, connecting two individuals previously unknown to each other through a mutual friend or acquaintance. Using Granovetter’s example, if you select any two people at random, call them A and B, from a set of all the people who have ties to either or both of them, the stronger the tie between A and B, the larger the proportion of people in the set who will have ties to both of them. If the tie between A and B is weak, then they are less likely to have a significant amount of mutual links. If you add a third person to this example, C, who has a tie to A but not to B, the common ties between A and B and A and C will eventually bring B and C into contact, and a relationship will be generated. A acts as the bridge, and thus a weak tie is established between B and C.

In reading a series of letter’s written by Cicero for another purpose, it suddenly occurred to me that this concept might be applicable to the ancient world. Of the roughly thousand or so letters (plus fragments) written by Cicero that survive antiquity, about ten percent (of what I have surveyed thus far – I’m only about half way through the entire corpus of evidence) are litterae commendaticiae. These letters are written on behalf of a number of individuals (and on a few occasions, a municipium or other group), and sent to one of Cicero’s acquaintances in order to pave the way for the recommendee’s interests to be advanced. In essence, Cicero is recommending these men for a job, and is thus acting as the bridge, creating a weak tie between someone who requires assistance, and someone else who is in the position to grant such favour.

The letters are scattered throughout his collections, but Book 13 (in the pre-Shackleton Bailey edition) contains 79 letters, 78 of which are ‘commendatory’ letters regarding individuals or communities, and as such is the largest concentration of this form found in the literature of antiquity. (By contrast, similar letters found in the works of Pliny the Younger and Fronto are distributed fairly evenly throughout their books). The fact that so many letters are concentrated in one book has led some scholars to view Book 13 as a collection that was compiled and published by Cicero in his lifetime, thus illustrating that Cicero regarded these letters as a definite ‘type’. Whilst this idea cannot be proved, the fact that the letters contain certain features suggest there was a schema or formula to the letters, that this form of writing was an entrenched practice, using set phrases and conventional attitudes. As nearly half of the recommendations found in Book 13 can be dated to 46 BC, this lends further weight to the idea that this book was specifically compiled. It seems as if 46 was a particularly good year for Cicero – he had found favour with Caesar upon his return to Italy, was happily into his second marriage, and hadn’t yet been devastated by the death of his daughter Tullia. Because of his past legal and political career, he was seen as having great influence despite a current lack of power, and was probably one of the most widely known figures in the Roman world besides Caesar. Publishing his litterae commendaticiae from this time would thus serve to heighten appreciation of the influence he was still able to wield through social contacts and networks.

Letter writing in the Roman world was an essential part of political and social life, and that aspect goes some way to explain the nature of the letters of recommendation. Letters were meant to sustain or advance friendship and in the case of recommendations, were ineffective if there was no friendship between the author and addressee. Unlike more modern letters of recommendation, the emphasis in the letters of antiquity is not on the candidate himself, apart from identification, but the letter gets its force from the relationship between the recommender and the recipient. The letter was meant to invoke the obligations and responsibilities to each other which were born on an appeal to qualities of humanitas, liberalitas, voluntas, integritas, mansuetudo, clementia, stadium, and officium. Cicero not only makes note of his respect for the protocols of this obligation but also requests the benefactor to be aware of his deed, which illustrates Cicero’s desire to be seen as influential. These letters were more of a testimonial, recommending someone’s character, trustworthiness, honour, and staking the writer’s own reputation and integrity, as he provided surety for the recommended simply by writing the letter.

In a compelling essay, which at its essence is about social networks though the term is never utilised, Roger Rees refers to this as ‘The Amicitia Triangle,’ a moniker which evokes the earlier example of the links between individuals A, B and C that bridged a tie between the two figures unknown to each other. He argues, I think correctly, that a ‘more persuasive argument than the bald assertion of the relationship between the author and the subject, or between the author and the recipient, was the integration of all three parties.’  This ‘social triangulation’ makes fulfilling the request for assistance that much more attractive to the addressee, because rejecting it would not only refute Cicero’s amicitia but also deny the possibility of a new relationship. The assertion that the subject, by definition a friend of the author (whether or not this is in fact true), will prove to be deserving of the friendship of the recipient, creates a contract of reciprocal obligations, which forms the basis of social system found in the Roman world. In his 1929 Loeb translation of the letters, Williams suggests that the recommendations Cicero wrote show ‘impressive evidence of Cicero’s large-hearted bonhomie, and his unfailing readiness to do a friend, or even an acquaintance, a good turn; in short, of that humanitas which was one of his dominant characteristics.’ I’d argue this gives Cicero considerably more credit than is his due, as the letters are more often about the author than the beneficiary, and the sheer number of letters of this type that survive antiquity, by others in addition to Cicero, demonstrates that this was a standard, if not expected practice, and was an integral part of the patronage system and necessary to ensuring one’s rise up the political ladder. This is particularly clear in a substantial series of letters Cicero writes to a young protégé, Gaius Trebatius Testa.

Ad Fam. 27 (VII. 6)
‘Every letter I write to Caesar or to Balbus carries as a kind of statutory bonus a recommendation of yourself, and not the standard sort but phrased with some special indication of my regard for you.’

Ad Fam. 33 (VII.10)
‘How pressingly I have written to Caesar on your behalf, you know; how often, I know.’

Ad Fam. 29 (VII.8)
‘Caesar has written to me very civilly, regretting that he has so far been to busy to get to know you very well, but assuring me that this will come. I told him in my reply how greatly he would oblige me by conferring upon you all he could in the way of good will, friendly offices, and liberality.’

Fortunately, we also have one letter Cicero wrote to Caesar, so we know that the claim of his efforts on Trebatius’ behalf was true. In this letter, Cicero breaks from form, referencing positions to which Trebatius no doubt aspires, but he does so in a joking manner. I suspect the tone is meant to prevent Caesar taking any offense that Cicero should presume to tell him what to do.

Ad Fam. 26 (VII.5)
‘So observe my presumption: I now want Trebatius to look to you for everything he would have hoped for from me, and I have assured him of your friendly disposition in terms really no less ample than I had previously been wont to use respecting my own… In embracing his acquaintance with all your usual graciousness, my dear Caesar, I should wish you to confer upon his single person all the kindnesses which I could induce you to wish to confer upon my friends…. I do not ask on his behalf for a Tribunate of Prefecture or any other specific favour. It is your good will and generosity I bespeak; though if in addition you have a mind to decorate him with such ambitious trinkets, I say nothing to deter you. In fine, I put him altogether, as the phrase goes, out of my hand into yours – the hand of a great conqueror and a great gentleman, if I may become a trifle fulsome, though that’s hardly permissible with you. But you will let it pass, I see you will.’

There is further analysis to conduct with those letters I have catalogued so far, particularly in regards to the identity and connections between Cicero, the recommended individual, and the addressee of the letters. Deniaux’s prosopography of the letters should be particularly useful for this. From there, my intention is to go forward with the remainder of Cicero’s letters. I am most curious to see if he included recommendations in the correspondence he wrote to those we can undoubtedly view as Ciceros’s strongest ties – Atticus, Quintus, and to some extent, Brutus. Though the evidence certainly will never provide a completed network for any of the authors, the ability to build even a partial network for them should shed some light on how networks of patronage and advancement worked in the Roman world.

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I’m going to deviate from topic here just a bit, if you will allow a small foray into Greek tragedy. I saw the new production of Electra at the Old Vic, starring Kristin Scott Thomas in the titular role on Saturday evening. It is, perhaps surprisingly, the first time I have seen an ancient play performed rather than just reading the text, and that in itself (nevermind the Hollywood status of the lead actor) was quite stunning.

Electra, for anyone unfamiliar, is one of the children of the ill-fated marriage of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Caught up in the cycle of the Trojan War, her father sacrificed one of her sisters, Iphigenia, at the start of the war so that the Greeks would have a favourable wind, and thus could sail east to besiege Troy. Still distraught over this incident, Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus, killed Agamemnon when he returned from the war. Sophocles‘ version of the play, written in the fifth century BC, picks up a number of years later, with Electra still mourning the death of her father, and hoping for the return of her brother, Orestes, so that they may seek revenge upon their mother and her new husband, who has taken up the thrown of Argos in their father’s stead.

Unlike some of the other Greek tragedies that have survived the centuries, there is no real sense of conflict in the character of Electra: she is adamant in her anger, her despisal of her mother and her husband, and focuses on her desire for revenge above all things. Whilst this might seemingly make the play somewhat flat, as there is no possible outcome for Electra other than death – either her’s or that of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus – the tragedy of it is not about the end result, but about the suffering Electra endures. Her grief consumes her almost to the point of madness, and whilst the overwhelmingness of it is clear on the page, on stage it becomes real. The Electra of Kristin Scott Thomas is a manifestation of torment. Her pain, her grief, is tangible, from the moment she walks onto the stage. Though others have seen her intensity, her inability for stillness ,as a bit over the top, I recognised it as the physical outlet of deep emotional suffering, of the kind that makes one tremble merely from the struggle to keep from falling apart entirely. For Electra, the tragedy comes from within, from her battle to cope with the pain others have brought into her life, and the knowledge that once she gets her revenge, she will have nothing left. This leaves no room for the catharsis typical of this type of tragedy, and leaves the audience with as much emptiness as Electra undoubtedly feels herself.

I hate to take any credit away from Sophocles, for it is his words that filled the stage (for the most part), but I cannot help but think a lesser actress would not have been able to convey the emotional turmoil, the heartfelt agony of loss and grief, and the physical intensity of mental anguish as readily. Quite simply, Kristin Scott Thomas is Electra.





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