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Posted on on December 17th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (


Equus        the 1993 Longman edition

Equus is a play by Peter Shaffer written in 1973, telling the story of a psychiatrist  who attempts to treat a young man who has a pathological religious fascination with horses.

Shaffer was inspired to write Equus when he heard of a crime involving a 17-year-old who blinded six horses in a small town near Suffolk, England. He set out to construct a fictional account of what might have caused the incident, without knowing any of the details of the crime. The play’s action is something of a detective story, involving the attempts of the child psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Dysart, to understand the cause of the boy’s actions while wrestling with his own sense of purpose.

The stage show ran in London between 1973 and 1975: later came the Broadway productions that starred Anthony Hopkins as Dysart, (later played by Richard Burton and Anthony Perkins) and from the London production, Peter Firth as Alan.

However, numerous other issues inform the narrative. Most important are religious and ritual sacrifice themes, and the manner in which character Alan Strang constructs a personal theology involving the horses and the supreme godhead, “Equus”. Alan sees the horses as representative of God and confuses his adoration of his “God” with sexual attraction. Also important is Shaffer’s examination of the conflict between personal values and satisfaction and societal mores, expectations and institutions. In reference to the play’s classical structure, themes and characterization, Shaffer has discussed the conflict between Apollonian and Dionysian values and systems in human life.

What must cross everyone’s mind today is the idea that some great playwright is already working on the Sandy Hook Elementary School’s anti-hero Adam Lanza story.

Equus is the zoologist’s name for a horse and the modern domesticated horse is equus caballus. It is assumed that the first domesticated horses were in what is today Kazakhstan.

White horses have had a special place in ancient history-according to Herodotus, they were held as sacred animals in the Achaemenid court of Xerxes the Great (485-465 BC).

White horses are associated with the Pegasus myth, the unicorn in the Babylonian myth of Gilgamesh, Arabian horses, Lipizzaner stallions, Shetland ponies, and Icelandic pony populations.

The partnership between horse and master in antiquity rested on many factors; perhaps the most important was that the horse provided man with his quickest means of overland movement.

When Athenian society was first organized for political reasons into three classes according to birth and wealth, the horse-owners or cavalrymen (hippeis) occupied the top rung of society. After Solon’s constitutional reforms in 592/91 BC, they were moved to the second of five classes which were by then determined solely on the basis of wealth. The social preeminence of horse owners continued, however, to be reflected over and over again in scenes on Attic vases showing Athenian men with their horses engaged in hunting, riding in the countryside, and other leisure time activities.

In Rome –  A Knight (Latin eques): title of members of the elite of the Roman republic – they owned an equus.  Under the empire, they were ‘second tier’, after the senators.

In ancient Roman religion, the October Horse (Latin Equus October) was an animal sacrifice to Mars carried out on October 15, coinciding with the end of the agricultural and military campaigning season. The rite took place during one of three horse-racing festivals held in honor of Mars, the others being the two Equirria on February 27 and March 14.

Two-horse chariot races (bigae) were held in the Campus Martius, the area of Rome named for Mars, after which the right-hand horse of the winning team was transfixed by a spear, then sacrificed. The horse’s head (caput) and tail (cauda) were cut off and used separately in the two subsequent parts of the ceremonies: two neighborhoods staged a fight for the right to display the head, and the still-bleeding cauda was carried to the Regia to sprinkle on the sacred hearth of Rome.

Ancient references to the Equus October are scattered over more than six centuries: the earliest is that of Timaeus (3rd century BC), who linked the sacrifice to the Trojan Horse and the Romans’ claim to Trojan descent, with the latest in the Calendar of Philocalus (354 AD), where it is noted as still occurring, even as Christianity was becoming the dominant religion of the Empire. Most scholars see an Etruscan influence on the early formation of the ceremonies.

The October Horse is the only instance of horse sacrifice in Roman religion; the Romans typically sacrificed animals that were a normal part of their diet. The unusual ritual of the October Horse has thus been analyzed at times in light of other Indo-European forms of horse sacrifice, such as the Vedic ashvamedha and the Irish ritual described by Giraldus Cambrensis, both of which have to do with kingship. Although the ritual battle for possession of the head may preserve an element from the early period when Rome was ruled by kings, the October Horse’s collocation of agriculture and war is characteristic of the Republic. The sacred topography of the rite and the role of Mars in other equestrian festivals also suggest aspects of initiation and rebirth ritual. The complex or even contradictory aspects of the October Horse probably result from overlays of traditions accumulated over time.

The Trojan Horse

Laocoon spearing the Trojan Horse (Codex Vaticanus lat. 2761)

Timaeus (3rd century BC) attempted to explain the ritual of the October Horse in connection with the Trojan Horse – an attempt mostly regarded by ancient and modern scholars as “hardly convincing.” As recorded by Polybius (2nd century BC),

he tells us that the Romans still commemorate the disaster at Troy by shooting (?????????????, “to spear down”) on a certain day a war-horse before the city in the Campus Martius, because the capture of Troy was due to the wooden horse — a most childish statement. For at that rate we should have to say that all barbarian tribes were descendants of the Trojans, since nearly all of them, or at least the majority, when they are entering on a war or on the eve of a decisive battle sacrifice a horse, divining the issue from the manner in which it falls. Timaeus in dealing with the foolish practice seems to me to exhibit not only ignorance but pedantry in supposing that in sacrificing a horse they do so because Troy was said to have been taken by means of a horse.

Plutarch (d. 120 AD) also offers a Trojan origin as a possibility, noting that the Romans claimed to have descended from the Trojans and would want to punish the horse that betrayed the city. Festus said that this was a common belief, but rejects it on the same grounds as Polybius.

Walter Burkert has suggested that while the October Horse cannot be taken as a sacrificial reenactment against the Trojan Horse, there may be some shared ritualistic origin, since the success of the Trojan Horse depended on its being taken as a votive offering or dedication for a deity. For instance, the spear that the Trojan priest Laocoön drives into the side of the wooden horse is paralleled by the spear used by the officiating priest at the October sacrifice. The Romans did hold ritual equestrian games that commemorated their claim to Trojan origins; see Lusus Troiae.



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Also, to fill out the picture – we have here extracts from the Inner City Press reporting by Matthew Russell Lee – one of the very few journalists present.

His title:  As UN Ban Given Hyundai & Champagne by South Korea, Ad & Legal Qs

UNITED NATIONS, December 17, 2012 — UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accepted an armored Hyundai sedan from South Korea’s Ambassador Kim Sook on Monday afternoon, along with a glass of champagne.

Ambassador Kim Sook said the car had taken one year to customize, and is named Equus, which he translated as “horse of victorious general” — in this case, Secretary General. Photo here.

South Korea joins the UN Security Council next month; when Inner City Press asked Ambassador Kim Sook last week if he spoke in the closed door meeting on North Korea’s launch, he memorably quipped that until January 1, “I have no mouth.”

The car had a red bow on the hood, like in television commercials. Ban gave an engraved dish to a Hyundai executive.

Staff members contacted Inner City Press to ask about the legality. “We’re told by Ban’s office we can’t accept even a bottle of wine from our Missions,” one complained. “And he takes a car?”

In attendance was Ban’s top lawyer Patricia O’Brien, whom Inner City Press has repeatedly asked to hold a press conference and answer questions. But Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky, also in attendance, most recently said no, that is highly unlikely.

The champagne, at a car ceremony, seemed to Inner City Press a false note, not in the spirit of Don’t Drink and Drive messaging. Photo here.

Some might call this a cheap shot. Others might wonder why the UN chose to publicize this handover. Hyundai’s and South Korea’s motives would be easier to grasp.

While there was no informational hand-out at the event, held in a tent in front of the UN’s North Lawn building, putting the best face on it once imagines that it is a gift to the UN, which should stay with the UN when Ban Ki-moon moves on. But staff remain confused, expressing anger to Inner City Press.

More generally, this may represent a new low in the corporatization of the UN.

How will the video footage, including Ban Ki-moon praising the Hyundai “family,” be used? Are there any restrictions?

But whatever – this was a good day for Mr. Ban Ki-moon and his beloved UN as it also provided a move upwards:

Also parts from Matthew Russell Lee – As UN Re-opens 38th Floor, Banning Press & Elections Allowed by UNCA

UNITED NATIONS –  With UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon moving back into the 38th floor office in the glass skyscraper on December 17, 2012 the lack of focus on access and even space for the press has become clear.

Under the UN’s Capital Master Plan, Ban moved to the temporary North Lawn building, and the press corps was moved into smaller space in cubicles above the Dag Hammarskjold Library.

As Inner City Press exclusively reported, and opposed, the UN had installed monitoring cameras over reporters’ cubicles. (These were then taken down.)

There have been other Capital Master Plan issues, ranging from Hurricane Sandy back to “fixed” but broken elevators to undrinkable water. But that’s another story, or 40 stories.

Now as Ban moves back to the 38th floor, the press corps will remain in the cubicles over the library at least until February.

And after a December 10 meeting, not announced in advance to other reporters and even not to all UN Correspondents Association members in the Executive Committee, between a handful of UNCA insiders and the UN, it emerged later (only to UNCA members) that media space will be reduced by more than forty percent.

To the insiders, this seems not to matter. Reuters, for example, is sure to get it own enclosed office, as is Agence France-Presse.

Both of these, along with Voice of America, urged in 2012 the UN to dis-accredit investigative and critical press. See VOA letter to the UN, here.

Now they prepare a $250 a plate reception with Ban Ki-moon on December 19th, giving prizes to their own Executive Committee members and  an award to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Even just on space, while it might be one thing for Western wire services to be guaranteed the largest offices and other privileges, why should their personnel who rarely report on the UN have easier “Resident” access than developing world journalists who have covered the UN for years?

Then, are there not media present at the UN that do not get recognition from the UN DPI under a pretext that they are merely Social Media or are closely related to NGOs? That at a time the UN waxes about its openness to Civil Society? Will the UN note that it is these new media that are the real media of the 21st century?

On December 7, 2012, to combat all this and to push for UN Under Secretaries-General like Ban’s lawyer Patricia O’Brien and Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous to have to hold briefings and answer questions, the Free UN Coalition for Access or FUNCA was launched.

The complaints are real and merit attention. We clearly will follow this to much more detail and we understand that quite a few people at the UN are following these developments closely as well. It seems that the newly created FUNCA is destined to become the alternate information distribution pipeline from matters of the UN.


A Complete Inner City Press Additional Posting of today that seems to point out that there is a Spring awakening at the UN information pipelines.
It seems like some investigative reporters have called for more information release by the UN and availability of its employees for Q&A sessions.

At UN, Return to 38th Floor Presented as Almost Religious, Media Silence.

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 17 — It was an almost religious experience, or treated like one, when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon moved back into the 38th floor of The Organization’s skyscraper Monday morning. Video here and below.

Inner City Press and a dozen other media arrived at 8 am and waited, first in the checker board floored lobby then up in the renovated 38th floor. There, wood paneled walls were now white, and the conference table had retractable microphones. All this for $2 billion and counting. Photo here.

Workmen wiped the doorknobs clean; UN cameramen set up. Finally at 8:45 am Ban Ki-moon and his team came in. Photo here.

There was chief of staff Susana Malcorra, a hard worker recently seen defending the blacking out of portions of Ban’s second report on the UN’s actions and inaction in Sri Lanka while 40,000 people were killed in 2009.

Malcorra also met with the M23 rebels in Eastern Congo, a region Ban’s chief of Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous refuses to answer Press questions about, video here.

There was Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, a long time humanitarian now in charge of Ban’s third study of failure in Sri Lanka, due in the second quarter of 2013.

There was chief of management Yukio Takasu, who sources tell Inner City Press stopped the naming of a technical expert to the Chief Information Technology Officer post in favor of “a politician,” after member states’ outrage at the UN’s failure to even e-mail them during Hurricane Sandy.

In his office-opening remarks, Ban said all the right things: he thanked Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg and other member states; he thanked the recipient of the $2 billion dollars, Skanska. (Afterward some reporters asked if he hadn’t called them Skanka, and what it might mean.)

No questions were taken, in the conference room or when Ban Occupied his big new desk. (Photo here; old office shown in this Inner City Press video, also embedded below.)

One might have asked, was it worth $2 billion and the suspension if not snuffing out of the UN’s culture? What lessons have been learned, and what changes will be made, after Hurricane Sandy?

But in the past year, the UN press corps has in a sense been reduced to repeating UN statements, and covering outside events like Sandy and the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

Meanwhile the UN Correspondents Association executive committee, after spending a year trying to expel the investigative Press and allowing the UN to reduce media space by over 40%, now intends to violate its own Constitution and not hold elections in 2012, and not leave office as required on December 31, 2012.

Ban, through his spokesman Martin Nesirky, has been asked about this.

Ban will hold his end of the year press conference on December 19. If the past is any kind, Nesirky will give the first question automatically to the UNCA executive committee. He and therefore Ban have been asked about this as well.

But since later on December 19 he will celebrate UNCA and their awardee Arnold Schwarzenegger, it may seem easier just to go along. It usually does.

On December 7, to combat all this and to push for UN Under Secretaries-General like Ban’s lawyer Patricia O’Brien and Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous to have to hold briefings and answer questions, the Free UN Coalition for Access or FUNCA was launched. Watch that site.

Ladsous has refused to answer questions for example about working with units of the Congolese Army accused of rape in Minova, video here, and of UN Peacekeeping’s dealings with General Shavendra Silva of the Sri Lankan Army, depicted by a UN report as engaged in war crimes.

Silva was sponsored by the UNCA Executive Committee to deny these charges inside the UN Dag Hammarskhold Library Auditorium, click here for fall-out.

On December 14, the UNCA Executive Committee announced that it was putting off the elections that its own Constitution requires it to hold by December 15, before leaving office and power on December 31.

Here’s from UNCA’s Constitution, Article 3, Section 3:

“The members of the Executive Committee shall assume their duties on the first day of January following the election and shall hold office until the last day of December of the year. Elections of the Executive committee shall be held between November 15 and December 15.”

Despite this, they say they intend to hold over. But legally, they have no powers, including to run elections, after December 31.

The question has been put to UNCA’s president, who has not provided any answer, as also happened when the evidence of the dis-acceditation push by three Executive Committee members and UNCA itself was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (a version of which FUNCA asks the UN to adopt.)

Will this blatant UNConstitutional violation of election rules be brought up on or before December 19 by Ban Ki-moon or UN Ambassadors, particularly those like France which talk so much about democracy in other countries like Cote d’Ivoire, before they party with UNCA?

Earlier on December 19, Ban has scheduled his “end of the year” press conference. At such events, his spokesman tightly controls questions, and until now has always given the first question to UNCA. Should that continue on December 19? Can it? The questions have been raised to the UN.


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