I have always had a fascination with coins. Well, I suppose, not coins themselves, but the idea of coins.
When I was a kid, I had grand aspersions to be an archeologist. My mom was the type of parent who encouraged exploration, so she signed me up for Archeology Magazine, many copies of which still live in my childhood bedroom with gap-toothed pages where I cut out pictures and articles out and hung them on my wall, sometimes connecting them with push-pins and yarn to make my room look more treasure-hunty.
Perhaps it is my wonder about the people of the past that have led me to where I am now– at the halfway point of my last year of grad school– one master’s degree down and another on the horizion, planning for an uncertain future that, at this juncture, has no set destination and not much of a plan on how to get there.
There was an article once in Archeology Magazine about coins. How sometimes, researchers would discover large piles of coins in random places in the ruins of ancient cities, which led, usually, to one of a couple of options: 1. The place had been a bank. 2. The place had been some sort of business. 3. The place had been a shrine or a wishing well.
I always liked the third option best. The thought that a thousand or so years ago, a person was so worried about some problem that they stopped and tossed a coin as an offering or a wish, only for someone to collect that wish in the age of Ebay, for someone else to catalogue and collect again and again.
Discovering the detrius and extraneous stuff of life. Collecting re-claimed wishes.
I think, maybe, in some way, this notion about things collected again and again is why I love Shakespeare. Some people find the notion of playing Hamlet terriying because of all the comers-before that had to Say The Words. Me? It find it reassuring.
For me, it’s like going to church. That moment when everyone stands up and sings a song, but intead its raw, human creativity and emotion captured in iambic pentameter. But with Shakespeare, everyone still knows the words. Shakespeare makes me feel connected to something more important. Who came before.
Tonight, we opened Troilus and Cressida. Five actors, the entire Trojan war. Tonight, for the first time in a really, really long time, I felt that connection. The spark. With my cast, with the audience, and finally, after almost a year of missing the feeling completely, the words.
I am a fan of gestures. Tokens. Signs of appreciation. After my first Titus, I started a tradition of giving ancient Roman coins to my cast mates whenever I found myself in a Roman Shakespeare play. It turns out that the detrius of Rome comes pretty cheap on Ebay.
So I did the same for the T&C cast. Coins from ancient greece and ancient Macedonia, (which is about as good as you can get to Troy). And it felt good. I’m not good at gratitude. I’m not particularly good at giving gifts. I’m awkward and self-effacing, but in this case, with this cast and this play and where I am, now, I felt like I needed to do …something.
So, much like Oprah, errybody got a coin. Simple. Small. But to me, huge.
What fascinates me is not the what– it’s, in the most pedandic way possible, an old-ass coin. It’s not the coin, itself. It’s the wh0, and when. The history its seen. Two thousand years of human history whizzing by at the speed of everything, only to end up, accidentally, with me. The people its met. The places its seen. So much in a couple of milimeters that it tends to get overdramatic and very quickly.
The idea that maybe, impossibly, though I’d never in any capacity ever known at all, that a thousand years before four hundred years ago before the story was written down, the real, live person just happened across it.
Maybe Hector or Agamemnon or Achilles– when they were still real people, before they were legends and before the particularities of their actual existence were lost to time, maybe they dropped this particular coin in that particular well for an archeologist to find and an amateur collector to buy in bulk and for me to end up with 9 small pieces of the past in my mailbox.