Thursday, November 27, 2008

"dies ad gallipavonem edendum spectandumque pedifollem consecratur"

"A day dedicated to eating turkey and watching football,"

as Chris Jones has aptly called it.

I considered writing a more meaningful post, something with sentimental value along the lines of a reflection on all the things for which I am thankful, but this was vetoed in favor of these other two pastimes. I am only now beginning to catch up from two weeks in England and Ireland, and would rather spend my time appreciating friends, family, football, and food; there is little better in the world than all four combined.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

per Britanniam peregrinans

Wandering through Europe.

I will be accompanying Brett and Abe on a two week journey through England and Ireland. While an inspired moment may lead to a a blog entry from across the pond, I think it unwise to hold your breath waiting.

Until the 25th, salvete!

Monday, November 10, 2008

commemoratio meditationum

A remembrance of Meditations.

Dana writes at The Edge of the American West:

On this night in 1619, after a night in which he swears he was not carousing, René Descartes went to bed in an overheated, stuffy room in Ulm, and had three vivid dreams to which he later attributed the eventual course of his life.

In the first dream, a strong wind battered Descartes, and he sought shelter in the church of a college, only to be pushed back by the winds. After the winds abated he found himself surrounded by upright people, while he himself tottered along, leaning to the left. In the second dream, he perceived a loud thunderclap and saw the room filled with sparks of light. This apparently was a recurring dream for Descartes, so he meditated on logic until he fell asleep. (It’s like counting sheep, but for intellectuals.)

In the third dream, Descartes felt no terror, but instead came upon a book of verse, the first line of which read “Quod vitae sectabor iter?” and another poem, presented to him by an unknown man, with the first line “Est et non.” Which way of life shall I choose? It is and it is not.

It’s no tolle lege, but it’s surely proof that the universe has a sense of humor, having man who would be identified with rationalism and whose books and teachings would be periodically banned, get his inspiration from a dream about a church...

One can read Descartes' Meditations in the original Latin here (You can also read it in English, if you must).

Monday, November 3, 2008

quare semper haec "ova" scribis?

Why are you always writing these "eggs?"

The reign of idiocracy looms ever nearer. Chris Jones is affronted by this article, and rightfully so:
Imputing another’s motives based merely on personal feelings is solipsism–look it up if you don’t know what it means. And then there’s this brilliant insight:
A Campaign spokesman said the ban might stop people confusing the Latin abbreviation e.g. with the word “egg."
Really? While many readers might not know the letters stand for exempli gratia, I’ve heard more than a few who think it means “example given"–a workable definition–and not a single one who ever though it meant “egg".
My reaction is the same. Against such concessions to utter stupidity, we must come together and take a stand.

Monday, October 27, 2008

res publica argentarii principis

The Republic of the Central Banker.

Brad DeLong has an excellent new piece in the American Prospect detailing "philosopher-prince" Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and the history of the Federal Reserve. He concludes:
Cicero said that the problem with his political ally Cato was that he thought they lived in the Republic of Plato while they really lived in the Sewer of Romulus. It is either our curse or our blessing that we live in the Republic of the Central Banker.
The relevant text is a letter from Cicero to his friend Atticus:

Cicero Epistulae ad Atticum 2.1
Nam Catonem nostrum non tu amas plus quam ego; sed tamen ille optimo animo utens et summa fide nocet interdum rei publicae; dicit enim tamquam in Platonis πολιτείᾳ, non tamquam in Romuli faece, sententiam.

You do not love our dear Cato more than I do; but that man, although employing the finest mind and greatest trustworthiness, occasionally does harm to the Republic; for he gives his judgment as if in the Republic of Plato, and not in the filth of Romulus.

Highly recommended.

*Latin faex, faeces is the root of English "feces"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nonne iocus?

A joke, surely?

Latin is undoubtedly becoming more and more popular because the quality of teaching is high, the methodology varied, and the content rich, rigorous and relevant. Latin teachers are working hard to inspire and educate their students -- by educating themselves through attendance and participation at American Classical League Institutes and Workshops, conversational Latin Conventicula (several listed here), blogs, online discussions, webinars -- and of course, old-fashioned continuing education coursework. Then they bring what they've learned into the classrooms. Latin teachers don't always agree upon the best way to teach Latin. There are often spirited disagreements, but this is just evidence that they are continually thinking about ways to expand and improve their teaching skills.

Some pretty good irony after our recent look at some real-world recollections of Latin class.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

hodie gravissima conferentur

Today the most serious things will be discussed.

At 9pm, all ought tune in for the third and final US presidential debate.

Chris Jones has a Classical take, borrowing from Quintus Cicero (brother of the famous Marcus) some particularly Obama-relevant advice. On the off chance you guys might check this out for once, I offer a translation of the Latin passage.

Primum oportet cognosci equites (pauci enim sunt), deinde appeti (multo enim facilius illa adulescentulorum ad amicitiam aetas adiungitur). Deinde habes tecum ex iuventute optimum quemque et studiosissimum humanitatis…Nam studia adulescentulorum in suffragando, in obeundo, in nuntiando, in adsectando mirifice et magna et honesta sunt. (VIII)

Foremost, the business class [equites] should be understood, and thereupon be sought (for it is easier by far that the generation of young men be joined to one's alliance). Then you have with you the best of the youth and the greatest zeal of character...for the zeal of young men in expressing public support for you, in attending, in conveying your message, in following you admirably, is both great and worthy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

scripta peritissime

Things written most skillfully.

The best sentence I have read in years haunts my every waking moment, begging, pleading, to be blogged. But because I retain the pretense of this being a Greco-Roman culture/linguistic blog, I have thus far painstakingly resisted this urge.

O Iuppiter! No longer can I refrain! Cunningly, I have found a loophole. I shall translate it into Latin. The context is simple enough; an elf, a dwarf, and Kuma, a minotaur, are journeying on a great quest to Amaranth Castle. This creative plot has been gifted onto us by way of another of my 7th-grade Verbal contemporaries:

...Kuma ictu in medium vehementi ursam dismembraverat.

...Kuma had dismembered the bear with one great blow to the waist.

No pun intended. Seriously.

And not that really weird plot elements are out of the ordinary in this compilation of literary masterpieces, but I find it very, very odd that these three characters spend almost the whole story inebriated, drinking, among other things, a "bottle of rum on the rocks."

rei argentarii de extrahendo

Concerning the bailout of the financial system.

Brad DeLong is jubilant at the latest news.

From Tyler Cowen:

Marginal Revolution: The Deal:

Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase were told they would each get $25 billion; Bank of America and Wells Fargo, $20 billion; Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, $10 billion each, with Bank of New York and State Street each receiving $2 to 3 billion. Wells Fargo will get an additional $5 billion, reflecting its acquisition of Wachovia, and Bank of America receives the same for amount for its purchase of Merrill Lynch.... The government will purchase perpetual preferred shares in all the largest U.S. banking companies. The shares will not be dilutive to current shareholders, a concern to banking...executives, because perpetual preferred stock holders are paid a dividend, not a portion of earnings. The capital injections are not voluntary, with Mr. Paulson making it clear this was a one-time offer that everyone at the meeting should accept.

Here is the story. No matter what your point of view, you ought to be stunned by this development.

I am not stunned. I w[a]nt to sing!

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace:
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.

If this doesn't revive the interbank market, nothing will. If this doesn't, I'm going to start training in flint-knapping to get ready to fight for cans of salmon in the aisles of Trader Joe's...

The text is the beginning of the Song of Simeon, Luke 2:29-32. I much prefer the Greek, as usual; the syntactical function of secundum is strange, and salutare as an abstract noun is decidedly non-Classical usage. Thus:
Νυν απολύεις τον δούλον σου, Δέσποτα, κατά το ρήμα σου εν ειρήνη,
ότι είδον οι οφθαλμοί μου το σωτήριόν σου,
ο ητοίμασας κατά πρόσωπον πάντων των λαών,
φως εις αποκάλυψιν εθνών και δόξαν λαού σου Ισραήλ.
And translation from the New Revised Standard Edition of the Bible:
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.
Fitting words today. This is exactly the kind of decisive action the financial system requires to restore confidence. Furthermore, within this consensus view, the vast majority believe that this sort of move could have and should have come sooner.

It will be a fine day in January when the responsiveness of the government is no longer oppressed by the heavy burdens of a failed ideology.

Monday, October 13, 2008

hic et ille

Odds and ends.

The short answer to Roy Yates's query on the origins of English histrionics is Lat. histrio, histrionis- "stage-player, actor", whence it comes to mean "theatrical performances, a deliberate display of emotion for effect." The origins of the word are Etruscan.

"Tu Betchus." This sort of makes me ill.

It's weird when you stumble upon someone you know (like, from the real world) blogging. For the random thoughts of as thoroughly Berkeley-ed a New Jerseyite as I can

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

discendi linguam latinam commemorata

Recollections of learning Latin.

As expected, the classics blogosphere (Chris Jones et al.) has taken note of a recent NY times article on the resurgence of Latin in high schools across America. More interesting, however, is the reaction it has stirred up outside of this tiny community; the high-school reflections of Ben Wolfson at Unfogged are right in line with my own experience, and point towards a general trend in high-school classical education:

In Scarsdale, N.Y., where Latin enrollment rose by 14 percent to 80 this year, the high school sponsors a Roman banquet on the Ides of March during which students come wearing tunics and wreaths in their hair. Seniors serve bread, olives, roasted chicken and grapes to younger students, and all of them break bread with their hands.


While I personally took Latin in high school because I thought it would be cool, rather than because I was under the impression that doing so would make me> cool, I believe that unbiased observer E. Klein can confirm that the Latin population at our school was home to the coolest of the cool. While I have noted before that it was exposure to the subjunctive in high school that set me on my current terrible path (my mother having failed utterly to get me to say "were" rather than "was" in counterfactual conditionals), it's less known that the main Latin teacher at my HS was also a practiced cock-joker, having once (or maybe more than once) claimed, for instance, that semen leaves his penis at improbably, and dangerously, high speeds. (Also: the contraceptive properties of anal sex. No doubt the frequency of such incidents is exaggerated in my memory, but it's still somewhat hard to believe that we ever learned anything, and that neither he nor the other Latin teacher, hardly any cleaner-mouthed, haven't been embroiled in scandal.)

Loyal commentators on that blog further confirm my suspicions. Oudemia writes:

Why are so many high school Latin teachers pervs? Mine was fond of telling the boys in class to get the girls on a boat, because girls lose all their morals on a boat. CA's Latin teacher (at ogged's super honky high school) was a flamboyant gay man who used to chase the girls around his desk crying "Give teacher a kiss!" and promising A's to whichever of them would show up to class in a "monokini."

Thus I am inclined to think that these Latin teachers are the norm. My own high-school Latin teacher was crazy (in a charming way), and excelled at telling to near exclusivity the dirtiest mainstream stories, revelling in translations which echoed crude modern sexual lingo. When we were tested on mythology, the fill-in-the-blank methodology reinforced the reduction of these fabulae to their lowest, most lacivous denominator. Thus the myth of Zeus and Danae became the tale of the "golden shower," and Zeus and Europa the story of the "bull-focker" (one student I recall as particularly zealous in attempting to say repeat this phrase as often as possible).

Likewise, Latin in my high school was not the domain of the cool or popular. By senior year, the "bull-focker" chanter and his like-minded comrades had abandoned the discipline, and it became the province of only a few nerds like me.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

lapsus linguae S. Palinis

The slips of the tongue of Sarah Palin.

Like a nervous 5th-grader overwhelmed by the bright lights of the elementary school auditorium, Gov. Sarah Palin visibly wracked her brain to recall long-rehearsed lines. In the midst of a semi-coherent, rambling delivery of well-known GOP talking points in her folksy, down-home and painfully irritating accent (although authentic), she managed to stutter her way, twice, to a particularly ignorant semantic error.

The culprit was the word attribute, the semantics of which she twice fails to grasp.

Here is Palin (via NYT, complete transcript):
I'm not one to attribute every man -- activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man's activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet.
And again:
And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner.
Attribute comes directly from Latin attribuere, a compound of ad + tribuere, and so literally, "to assign to." And so from the OED, it comes to mean in English:
To ascribe, impute, or refer, as an effect to the cause; to reckon as a consequence of.

1530 PALSGR. 440/1, I attrybute, I ascrybe the cause of a mater to one cause or other, J'attribue. 1626 DK. BUCKHM. in Ellis Orig. Lett. I. 329 III. 234, I cannot attribute this honour to any desert in me. 1794 SULLIVAN View Nat. I. 39 To the deluge he attributed the changes of the earth. 1876 GREEN Short Hist. vi. §1 (1882) 268 The shrivelled arm of Richard the Third was attributed to witchcraft.

Palin's mistake is the reversal of cause and effect. Attribute assigns result X to cause Y, e.g. I would attribute the horse's victory (X) to his speed and endurance (Y). Palin's muddled discourse consistently mixes it up, assigning cause X to result Y.

This seems a very strange mistake to me, but perhaps it is not so uncommon. What is uncommon, however, is the general stupidity of both statements. Do we really want someone a heartbeat away from presidency of the United States who doesn't believe in global warming?

Monday, September 29, 2008

fabula nova deum

A new tale of the gods.

A relic of the days of my youth has resurfaced, an anthology of "creative" short stories composed by 6th and 7th grade Verbal (advanced English) students c. 1998. Alas, the collection for my class remains missing, but there are plenty of stories with which to embarass my friends. Also among them is this μυθος, the tantalizing, imaginative creation of...well, not even I could do that to someone. The text is an exact transcript (excellent emphasis mine, though); the images are best-possible substitutes for the actual reproduction.

A sincere thanks to Shelly, for unearthing this gem.

Why Lockers are So Small

One day Zeus and Hera decided that Aphrodite should go down to earth and see how the human children got an education. They decided that she would be a sixth grader at Hammarskjold Middle School. Aphrodite absolutely hated the very idea of her going to a MORTAL school. She argued and argued but in the end (as parents always do) Zeus and Hera won the dispute. However Aphrodite was not done yet. The way she saw the situation, since she was a god, and was only going to that horrible school for one day, she would cause a huge ruckus. Aphrodite was determined to bring master chaos upon the school. What she was looking for was revenge.

The next day it was arranged that Aphrodite would go to school as a human teenager. She would wear baggy jeans and a tie-dye T-shirt. That way she would blend in with the rest of the mortals. Since Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, she was the most beautiful of all the gods and goddesses (besides Hera). Although Aphrodite protested repeatedly the rest of the gods transformed her into a lovely looking young girl. She had very long blonde hair, big blue eyes, and she was medium height. Her hair was styled into an odango (see image). Her human name was to be Serena Serenity. Aphrodite was so determined to get back at her parents that she was ready to do anything. Aphrodite would do anything to aggravate them! However her parents expected her to rebel. Even they would not have liked to be reduced to a mortal for a day. So they tried to console her rage with many wondrous gifts. Some of these were a television, computers, and even a new CD set! Although nothing could console the screaming Aphrodite.

At that moment Demeter came in and asked what all of the commotion was about. Aphrodite told the entire story with no interruptions from either of the superior gods. When she was finished, Demeter exclaimed, "I think that this will be a wonderful experience for Persephone as well!" I think her mortal name will be Rini. Rini Serenity. She will be Aphrodite's younger sister. She will look just like her except Rini will have pink hair and red eyes. At that precise moment Persephone decided to enter. Demeter excitedly told her about adventure that she was to embark on the next day with Aphrodite. This goddess had the exact same reaction as the other, uncontrollable rage. Consequently, before she could say anything, Aphrodite told her that it was no use, and that they were being forced to go against their own will. She also told her that she had a plan. Aphrodite's plan was to find something that she children needed, and to make it harder to use.

The next day they were escorted to the school on Apollo's golden sun chariot. As they flew across the sky the felt the heat of the sun upon their backs. The young goddesses wanted to get to Hammarskjold, but they didn't. The goddesses wanted to get there so they could destroy something, and they did not because it was humiliating to be seen as a mortal.

Finally they were there. Everything was so exciting. Aphrodite and Persephone were so ecstatic that they barely noticed that very thing that they were looking for. The children were all running about slamming lockers, and trying to open them. There were even some bullies that came up behind some of the children, and spun their locks while they were being opened. It was chaotic. They both laughed their heads off. As they were laughing, all of the heads one by one slowly turned to stare at them. Soon the goddesses realized this, but by then it was too late, and the hall had grown quiet. They realized that they were giving themselves away so they both said, "Inside Joke!" Then slowly everyone went back to his or her own business, and they let out a huge sigh. Then a tremendous light bulb went off in their heads. "The lockers!" they screamed. It was so thrilling that they had found what they were looking for.

The rest of the day dragged on, class after class. Then finally after seven hours of hearing about the innovations and discoveries that their parents and friends had created, and found, the final bell rang. They went out of sight and were picked up speedily by Apollo. They were on their way home!

Then, just as the building was fading out of sight, the goddesses bestowed their terrible gift upon the world. The gift of small lockers. Childrens and teens everywhere were devastated. They now only had small lockers, with tiny boxes on top.

When the got home Aphrodite and Persephone's parents were burning with anger. Steam was coming out of their ears. As soon as they came into the room, they were about to be yelled at like they never had been before.

What did you two do? You are in big trouble now. The goddesses played it cool. They said that they did not think what they did was that terrible. They stated their side of the story. Zeus and all the other gods and goddesses involved realized that sending them off without their approval was wrong and unkind. The gods and goddesses apologized right then and there and politely requested that the goddesses take away their gift. It was only then that they remembered that once a god's gift has been given, it cannot be taken away. They said that no punishment would be brought upon them for their treachery. However, they made the goddesses bestow another gift (The school day ended at four o'clock then). Zeus made them shorten the school day to 2:57 p.m. That way it was fair to everyone.

May it live on forever in the Greco-Roman corpus.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

quod legebam

What I've been reading.

Michael Dietler Chap. 9-Iron Age of the Western Mediterranean p.275
For many years, a concept known as “Hellenization” served as the primary explanatory framework for understanding the consequences of trade and cross-cultural consumption that constituted the essence of the pre-Roman colonial encounter in Mediterranean France. Initially, this concept conflated both a description of the process of social and cultural change in the colonial situation and its explanation. It was axiomatically assumed that, even in the absence of a coercive imperial domination of the Roman kind, imitation or absorption of Greek culture (or that of other Mediterranean “civilizations”) by “barbarian” societies would have been a natural and inevitable result of contact. Hence, the focus of analysis was to chart the gradual clumsy progress of this self-evident phenomenon…The roots of this flawed interpretive paradigm and untenable assumptions of the inherent superiority and attractiveness of Greek and Phoenician culture and the one-way flow of transformative influences, can be traced to a tradition of Hellenophilia that had a powerful influence on the structure of cultural capital in modern European societies.
Whoops...our bad.

That is from Scheidel, Morris, and Saller’s excellent Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World, which has pleasantly consumed much of the last week for me.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

autumnus adest...

Autumn is here...

and that means the beginning of a new semester. For some, it may mark an initial foray into the lingua latina. For others, the lazy otium of summer was no time for digging through grammars or perusing ancient texts.

Fortunately for both first-time discipuli and those scholars to whom the sun beckoned too often, Chris Jones at LatinLanguage has got us covered. His tips, here and here, ought help all get back on the right track for a successful school year.

Friday, August 29, 2008

imperia fidei

Empires of Trust.

Thomas F. Madden's Empires of Trust argues for an exceptional quality which marks the Roman Empire and the "American Empire" as historical aberrations. Rather than functioning as "Empires of Conquest," expanding borders via force of arms, they build their empires primarily through alliances with neighboring states. These alliances are desirable to other states because of a hard-earned, time-tested "trust" in Roman/American responsible use of power. While towards this end he contends effectively, elsewhere I believe his project fails.

Much of the success of these "Empires of Trust" Madden attributes to an unwillingness to expand---a general isolationist attitude which is deeply set in the national character. Romans and Americans, he writes, have inherited this mindset from their forebears, the pioneering frontier farmers. This in itself is a possible point of contention, I believe, but as Madden takes it further, it moves into the land of the fantastical. The idea that this pervasive isolationist natural character translates uniformly and directly into a state policy of anti-empire building is rather silly. It implies that all state decisions, having been politically considered in good faith with regard to the public welfare, are in accordance with this doctrine, and that there is no false motive or political opportunism involved in the process. That, to me, does not stand with fact even in the age of the Roman Republic, which provides probably the best bar for comparison to the US. The tactical politics which resulted in alliances such as that of Saguntum in the late 3rd century, which essentially can be viewed as a declaration of war against Carthage, are glossed and obscured to square better with the "unwilling empire" thesis. Likewise are treated the US aquisitions of Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines.

Moreover, calculating purely on historical precedent, Madden is strongly in favor of continuation of the Iraq War. He argues vehemently on ikts behalf; even the idea of John McCain's "100 years in Iraq" would no doubt leave him unfazed. His primary parallel is the Roman occupation of Judaea, a particularly bloody and terrible struggle, with horrific losses to both occupiers and the occupied. Nevertheless, it is in this chapter, focusing on terrorism in the state, that Madden it is at his best. He provides an excellent, intriguing synopses of individual events over a long, disordered epoch, while weaving them together into a fascinating tale which does justice to a period of monumental historical importance.

Polybius enthusiasts will enjoy; the author's voice is liberally integrated into the story. Liberals will immediately note a conspicuous conservative undertone. On the whole, it was a worthy read for its thorough examination and analysis of often poorly explained eras in Roman history. While I occasionally found myself in disagreement with certain attempts to shape events to Madden's project, I thought the conclusion was particularly insightful, a quelling tonic I would prescribe to the victims of the fear-mongering, doomsaying politics of this century.

A good, easy (with substantial doses of "pop" nonfiction flavor) read for the historically interested. Otherwise, duck it for its politics and not infrequent dry spells.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

de Antikythera

Via MarginalRevolution, the New York times reports the latest research on the Antikythera Mechanism [Ed. note: incredible how fast Wikipedia incorporates these new facts!]:

After a closer examination of a surviving marvel of ancient Greek technology known as the Antikythera Mechanism, scientists have found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.

The new findings, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, also suggested that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, on Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with Archimedes...

The mechanism’s connection with the Corinthians was unexpected, the researchers said, because other cargo in the shipwreck appeared to be from the eastern Mediterranean, places like Kos, Rhodes and Pergamon. The months inscribed on the instrument, they wrote, are “practically a complete match” with those on calendars from Illyria and Epirus in northwestern Greece and with the island of Corfu. Seven months suggest a possible link with Syracuse.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ὀρθογραφία Ἄρκτου

The spelling of "the Bear".

At Language Log, an interesting discussion of the history of the spelling and pronunciation of Arctic/Artic. The root, of course, is the Greek Ἄρκτος-Ursa Major, and thus "the North."

Also, at AWK Abe calls me out in a bizarrely entitled post to discuss some anomalous plurals.

Plus, via RogueClassicism, Hercules returns to the big screen: info here, here, and here. Based on a gruesome, gritty comic book series, this is neither Disney nor Kevin Sorbo. Is that a good thing? You decide---but we don't tolerate Kevin Sorbo bashing here at De Grypis.

More on the film later.

Monday, July 21, 2008

hic et ille

Odds and ends (lit. "this and that" [HT: Leslie and friends]).

My good friend Abe at AlmostWorthKnowing briefly mentions a bit of Latin etymology, and so I can use it as an excuse to plug his new blog.

Chris Jones at LatinLanguage's take on the oft-neglected Statius' Thebaid Book I.

One of the more Classics-y discussions at Roger Travis's LivingEpic blog---his perspective on the strange dual forms in Book 9 of the Iliad.

Friday, July 11, 2008

illla non intellexit quantum iocosum...

That woman does not know how funny...

...her latest "insights" are. Philolog is at it again, I hesitate to recommend that you read the whole post, but among other silly observations (NB: consider "pediatrics"), an excerpt concerning her latest monthly "word of the day[?]":
One of the traits that many centenarians share is that they may be considered recalcitrant. See you in August!
I believe her research process stops at, but if she had consulted Lewis & Short:

II. In gen., to strike convulsively with the feet, of one dying, Ov M. 12, 240.

Ho ho. For conjuring a lovely image of old folks are kicking on their death beds, thank you Philolog. I don't believe that's what she was going for...

Monday, June 30, 2008

ad discendam linguam Latinam...

To learn Latin...

Head over to LatinLanguage, and follow Chris's weeklong series on Latin grammar.

tractum ex annotationibus

Drawn from comments.

Remarking on my previous post, Stephen inquires:
Do you have a source for this? I feel like it would be unlikely that the original [u:] sound of υ would be preserved in English. It would almost certainly have come into English via Latin, which merged it with 'i' at a fairly early date and other words that derive from Greek roots show the change already to have happened (The only example I can think of right now is "priest" which is from "presbyter", that doesn't show a remnant of [u], but that's gone through several stages before it got to "priest" so i'm not 100% sure about that).
He is right to wonder about a source; my etymological suggestion was rather speculative. The logic behind his concern is flawless, but I do not think not it applies here. There is a real lack of evidence that this came to English via Latin. The OED entry has "ptooey" attested only as early as 1930, with etymology and citations as follows:
ptooey, 19- ptui. [Imitative. ComparePFUI int., PHOOEY int., and also PTISH int., PSHAW int., etc.]

1930 O. LATTIMORE High Tartary xxvii. 273 Ptui! Wrong again! Will you ever be fit for Official life? Ptui!’ Thus the Great Man, pursuing his orderly with a flying gob of spittle. 1977 Rolling Stone 5 May 5/2 Ptooey! Who'd stand for it? 1993 Albuquerque (New Mexico) Jrnl. 26 Aug. F6/1 What do you think this is, Lollapalooza? Ptui.

This first form [pfui] only has roots in German. The rest are of even more uncertain origin, and often falsely attributed to Yiddish. The Latin verb "spuo-to spit," which is connected to Gothic speiwan (LSJ), seems to have no correlation to any of these forms. Nor does Latin have any alternative onomatopoeic rendering for this expression. In fact, the OED seems to have little evidence definitively showing the roots of "ptooey" in any language besides English.

And so I return to my initial point which, having been forced now to think it through more thoroughly, is in need of clarification. I should not have said this expression is derived from the Greek verb; there is no concrete evidence testifying to this hypothesis. But I do not see any evidence to the contrary either. Therefore:
  1. "Ptooey" was formulated in English independent of the Greek verb, and perhaps free of the influence of any other language. It is a direct onomatopoeic rendering of the sound of spitting.
  2. My original hypothesis was correct, and "ptooey" is a borrowing of a Greek onomatopoeic rendering, a best-possible English imitation.
I don't think I can prove either one. But a bit of further speculation, just for fun...

I would briefly draw your attention to the earliest attested form in English. What is is about that name that looks strangely familiar? The famous Owen Lattimore, post-WWII public intellectual, Far-East scholar, and notable author is the brother of Richmond Lattimore, the renowned Classics translator of Iliad and Odyssey among others.

Perhaps, and only perhaps, Owen Lattimore was well-versed enough in the classics to be familiar with the Greek onamatopoeic verb, and attempted to render the sound in English.

Before climbing out onto a yet thinner and more treacherous limb, I will rest my case here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

ὀνοματοποιία εὐθύς;

Onomatopoeia directly?

Is our English colloquial "ptooey" or alternately, "ptooie" a direct onomatopoeic rendering of the sound made when a person spits?

It seems more likely it is derived from the Greek onomatopoeic verb "πτύω-to spit."

A fun and relevant passage:

Xenophon Cyropaedia 1.2.16

αἰσχρὸν μὲν γὰρ ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἐστι Πέρσαις καὶ τὸ πτύειν καὶ τὸ ἀπομύττεσθαι καὶ τὸ φύσης μεστοὺς φαίνεσθαι...

For it is even now shameful among the Persians to spit or to blow one's nose or to appear flatulent...

Friday, June 20, 2008

potestas frumenti et benzi

The power of grain and oil.

Apparently, not I alone am interested in the connection between oil today and grain in ancient Rome, about which I wrote earlier. Chris Jones at LatinLanguage has a thorough and fascinating discussion of annona, the market supply and price of grain in the city. He concludes [emphasis added]:

[T]he annona was an issue that always haunted Roman politics through the Republic. A repetiton of this basic pattern is seen in the Gracchi Brothers, Saturninus, Caesar and Clodius, cases where self-serving demagoguery is not always so clear a motive.
Though the unelected emperor didn’t need to worry as much about the plebs, the wiser emperors knew the power of public opinion and the role of the annona in swaying it (after all, it’s half of Juvenal’s famous panem et circensis). The most startling example is Vespasian’s victory in the Year of the Four Emperors (68 ACE); while Galba, Otho, and Vitellius raced to Rome to be crowned and deposed in succession, Vespasian moved to occupy Egypt and secure Rome’s breadbasket.
Oil is arguably as important to the modern American economy as the annona was to ancient Rome’s. It’s always dangerous to press historical analogies too hard, but their study can often provide a new insight.

I agree with nearly all of this. Power over a limited and valuable resource lends heavy political clout. The masses who rely on obtaining this resource within their budget schema are much more inclined to support a politician who can guarantee stable, cheap access. In the Year of the Four Emperors (68 AD), Vespasian wisely came to this same conclusion, and his occupation of grain-producing Egypt was instrumental in his victory.

But this last argument, I believe, would be a very difficult one to make. Oil is an integral part of the American economy. We depend on it to such an extent that our demand for gas, even with prices in excess of $4-per-gallon at the pump, remains relatively inelastic. Nevertheless, we do have some leeway, and are exercising these options. We are driving less (HT: MarginalRevolution) and using mass transit more often.

The Romans did not possess the same limited flexibility. As remains the case in poor and developing nations today, a shortage of grain did not mean changes in routine for the urban poor...more likely, it meant starvation and death.

Indeed, I think this final argument that Chris is not voicing particularly strongly. He rightly identifies the powerful allure of a closer comparison, and here likewise rightly resists it. His greater point about the politics is still quite correct. Just as the grain supply for Romans, gas is an essential part of the lives of millions of Americans, and so will feature prominently in political campaign (as it already has, most notoriously with the foolish "gas-tax holiday" pandering).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

scholares linguae de lingua Latina dicunt

Linguists speak about the Latin language.

The bright fellows at Language Log have been hard at work of late dispelling myths about Latin.

Mark Liberman patiently teaches Graham Young of The National Forum that the Romans did not invent grammar:
The earliest systematic study of a linguistic system that has come down to us is that of Pāṇini (4th or 5th century BC), whose commentators reference several earlier accounts of Sanskrit grammar, such as Śākaṭāyana (8th century BC). The goal of this tradition was to preserve knowledge of the language of the Hindu religious canon, bccause in Panini's time, the language in everyday usage had changed so much (since the composition of works like the Vedas) that correct recitation and understanding of the sacred works could not be assured without explicit study.
He likewise takes it upon his shoulders to correct some false Latin etymologies offered by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his 1887 Zur Genealogie der Moral:

Most of the specific etymologies that Nietzsche offers are nonsense; for example:

The Latin word bonus [good] I believe I can explicate as “the warrior,” provided that I am correct in tracing bonus back to an older word duonus (compare bellum [war] = duellum [war] = duen-lum, which seems to me to contain that word duonus). Hence, bonus as a man of war, of division (duo), as a warrior. We see what constituted a man’s “goodness” in ancient Rome. What about our German word “Gut” [good] itself? Doesn’t it indicate “den Göttlichen” [the god-like man], the man of “göttlichen Geschlechts” [“the generation of gods]”? And isn’t that identical to the people’s (originally the nobles’) name for the Goths?

In fact, according to current scholarship, Latin bonus came from IE deu-2 "To do, perform …", through the sense “useful, efficient, working”. And for German "Gut", see the discussion of good above.

Nietzsche's thoughts about Latin malus pile racism on top of anti-semitism:

In the Latin word malus [bad] (which I place alongside melas [black, dark]) the common man could be designated as the dark- coloured, above all as the dark-haired (“hic niger est” [“this man is dark”]), as the pre-Aryan inhabitant of Italian soil, who stood out from those who became dominant, the blonds, that is, the conquering race of Aryans, most clearly through this colour.

It's true that (e.g.) Lewis and Short identify mălus as related to "Sanscr. mala, dirt; Gr. μέλας, black"; but even the earliest Latin citations don't suggest any connection with dark-haired people, or with the lower classes of society either. Latin mĕlas, borrowed from Greek μέλας, just meant "a black spot on the skin". Liddell and Scott's entry for Greek μέλας does indicate that it could mean "of men, dark, swarthy", but none of the related Latin words seem to have had such a meaning. And other sources suggest that Latin malus came from IE mel-3 which already meant "False, bad, wrong" before the Romans went to Italy.

Of course, the logic of Nietzsche's argument from etymology is faulty, independent of the validity of its premises. (See "Etymology as argument", 6/18/2005, and the other posts listed here.) Still, the carelessness of his scholarship may serve to indicate the overall quality of his ideas — and it would be worth investigating, some day, why people who advance etymological arguments are so often wrong about their etymologies.

Both posts are well worth reading in their entirety. We are all in the debt of these Language Loggers, who take up the heavy burden of informing an oft-misinformed public.

Monday, June 9, 2008

καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα...

And he addressed him speaking winged words.

This from the Iliad, in Book 13 line 750 (and of course, elsewhere).

I am quite cheerful for two reasons.
  1. Zmjezhd at Epea Pteroenta has kindly consulted the real experts, and produced a series of more detailed etymologies for tenebrae. Check it out.
  2. My intuition was not too far off. The consensus that emerges on the evolution of the [n] in tenebrae seems highly speculative, and so I believe I was right to be a bit skeptical about the derivatives offered in L&S. Nevertheless, Chris's argument remains elegant.

Friday, June 6, 2008

quod cum nocte advenit. et omnia contegit.

That which arrives with the night and conceals everything.

Chris Jones at LatinLanguage has a very interesting post about the semantic differences between three Latin words for darkness: obscuritas, tenebrae, and caligo. As usual, he has some excellent examples to illustrate his conclusions. I myself was doubtful if the etymology of tenebrae extends all the way to temetum and temulentus, but indeed, it is linked to Lat. timeo, from there to Sanskrit tamas-darkness, and finally to these more uncommon words.

A good linguist, I am sure, could offer some insight as to how tenebrae evolved from timeo. Alas, it is a better linguist than I.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

ars Aegea

113 Knossos throne room
Originally uploaded by winninator
Aegean art.

The artwork of the earliest civilized peoples of Greece, the tribes of the Aegean, is beautiful and unique. I can describe vases, statues, architecture and other creations of the era c. 1600 BC and the pinnacle of Cretan influence in the Mediterranean as breahtaking, but Mikhail Rostovtzeff can actually convey this sense with the elegance of his description:

M. Rostovtzeff Greece p.28-29:

Aegean art, so live and sparkling, is all full of humanity and individuality; it is free from the oppressive magnificence and majesty of the god-king, before whom his subjects are pitiable grains of desert sand before the sun; it bubbles like a fountain with vivacity and merriment; it thirsts for life and delights in life; it is intoxicated with sea and sun, trees and flowers, sport and war. These men reproduce life on their household utensils, on the walls of their houses, and in works of art; their fancy is not for separate figures or portraits---no portraits have been bequeathed to us by them---but for groups; and these groups are not rows of identical figures but related to one another and full of movement. The ornament is lively, impersonal, capricious, and infinitely various, finding models everywhere, both in the elegance of the geometric spiral and in natural objects, such as flowers and marine animals, and the odder these are, the better---cuttle-fish, flying fish, sea-shells.

This why the productions of Aegean art, sometimes sketchy and impressionistic, often childish in their simplicity, impress us so strongly after the splendid monuments of the East---the refinement of Egypt and the dramatic power of Babylon...But Aegean art carries us beyond the limits of the palace, and shows us other lively pictures; bulls caught with nets in the forest; the attack on a fortress by enemies who come from the sea; the ship carrying a statue of a horse (it recalls the horse of Troy); a funeral procession and rites performed at the grave. Their is not a trace of conventionality or tradition throughout, and there is hardly any repetition. The brightness and variety of the colours is surprising; their arer laid, one on another or one beside another, in the most unexpected combinations, with a constant endeavour to get novel tints.

Moreover, this allows me the excuse to post this picture of gryphons. Our favorite mythical beasts adorn the the throne room at Knossos c. 1450 BC.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from user Winninator.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Demo-archy? (Think oligarchy or monarchy.)

Michigan's Josiah Ober's 2007 paper questions today's perceptions of democracy:

In modernity, democracy is often construed as being concerned, in the first instance, with a voting rule for determining the will of the majority. The power of the people is thus the authority to decide matters by majority rule. This reductive definition leaves democracy vulnerable to well-known social choice dilemmas, including Downs’ rational ignorance and Arrow’s impossibility theorem. What I propose to do... is to look more closely at the original Greek meaning of “democracy” in the context of the classical (fifth and fourth centuries B.C.) terminology for regime-types. The conclusion is that democracy originally referred to “power” in the sense of “capacity to do things.” “Majority rule” was an intentionally pejorative diminution, urged by democracy’s Greek critics.

The paper is entirely interesting. Ober distinguishes between -arche and -kratos suffixes to differentiate control of the government and the capability to exert influence. The absence of monocracy or oligocracy testifies to the natural strength and capability of the individual or privileged few. By examinining the rights inherent to Athenian democracy---ἰσηγορία-equal access to address, ἰσηνομία-equal protection under law, and ἰσηψηφία-equal vote---and the use of ἰσοκρατία as periphrasis for δημοκρατία, he makes a compelling argument that democracy is originally and at its most basic level

the empowered demos” – it is the regime in which the demos gains a collective capacity to effect change in the public realm. And so it is not just a matter of control of a public realm but the collective strength and ability to act within that realm and, indeed, to reconstitute the public realm through action.

This thoughtful piece could, inter alia, lead to some reconsideration of recent neologisms. Since we have a thriving punditocracy*, what would a punditarchy look like? Can we even begin to fathom a government in which political appointments and power was invested solely in the hands of our favorite---and most detested---political pundits? Can one argue that we have an indirect version of it?

These are big questions. I'll leave them to the real pundits.

Update: I somehow forgot to include the link to the paper.

*Can you believe there is no Wikipedia entry for this term?!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

oratio, sed non Ciceronis...

A speech, but not of Cicero...

The following is the beginning of Barack Obama's “Speech on Race,” delivered in 2008, which perhaps like the great speeches of Cicero, can survive the test of time. And, of course,---Latine scriptus.

I welcome translational comments from the Latin readers of the blog. For the rest, try reading it out loud. It still sounds pretty spectacular.

Nos Populi, ut perfectiorem societatem statuamus.”

abhinc ducenti unetviginti annos, in illa basilica iam stanti in adversa via, his claris dictis illi conventi incepere suum democratiae inauditum experimentum. agricolae et docti, senatores et studiosissimi patriae, qui iter trans marem fecerant ut tyrannidem persecutionemque effugerent, tandem in eo conventu qui usque per verem in anno MDCCLXXXVII Philadelphiae constat suam veram declarationem libertatis effecere.

haec tabulae effectae demum insignatae sunt sed non ultime confectae sunt. has servitus, nostri populi nefas princeps, foedavit; cuius consultatio omnes provincias divisit dum patres decrevere ut liceat commercium servorum viginti quidem annos permanere et ullum ultimum consultum sequentibus saeculis relinquatur.

inerat enim resolutio de servitute consultationis iam in nostra Constitutione, quae civitatem sub lege aequam maxime habuit ac pollicita est suis civibus libertatem iustitatiamque et societatem quae possit et usque per temporem perficiendum sit.

And the English text (NYTimes):

We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

I would eventually like to try my hand at the rest of this speech. Could there be a better way to spend a Sunday morning than with an exercise in Latin composition...?

Also, I apologize for the light blogging. I am making the great trek back across the country, and will return as quickly as I can.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

πάλιν εἰς πᾶσαν παιδείαν ἀνηκέτω.

Let it come back into every education.

Xenophon's Cyropaedia frames the life of the Persian king with a discussion of the education of Persian boys. According to Xenophon, the emphasis of the Persian education system was on justice. Boys spent long hours training in the art of judgement, participating in trials of sorts in which they brought one another up on various charges. But one particular charge leaps out, perhaps a testament to the erosion of certain values in today's culture.

Xenophon Cyropaedia

δικάζουσι δὲ καὶ ἐγκλήματος οὗ ἕνεκα ἄνθρωποι μισοῦσι μὲν ἀλλήλους
μάλιστα, δικάζονται δὲ ἥκιστα, ἀχαριστίας, καὶ ὃν ἂν γνῶσι
δυνάμενον μὲν χάριν ἀποδιδόναι, μὴ ἀποδιδόντα δέ, κολάζουσι
καὶ τοῦτον ἰσχυρῶς. οἴονται γὰρ τοὺς ἀχαρίστους
καὶ περὶ θεοὺς ἂν μάλιστα ἀμελῶς ἔχειν καὶ περὶ γονέας
καὶ πατρίδα καὶ φίλους. ἕπεσθαι δὲ δοκεῖ μάλιστα τῇ
ἀχαριστίᾳ ἡ ἀναισχυντία.

They bring [others] to trial on a charge, one for the sake of which men hate one another most of all, but are the least prosecuted, that of ingratitude; and he whom they know capable of returning a favor, and yet is not returning it, they punish this man strongly. For they believe that ungrateful men live their lives neglectful of the gods and parents and homeland and friends. It seemed, most of all, that shamefulness followed on the heels of ingratitude.

Gratitude is sorely neglected as a virtue these days. As a student, I can recognize the enormous debts I've piled up to certain individuals in my academic career, and yet, the chances to recognize them are all too few. Today, at least, I can discharge one such debt. Strangely enough, Brad DeLong was directly responsible for my introduction to blog reading, and in turn, to participation in this sphere. He was also kind enough to cite my fledgling blog yesterday, and greatly add to the trickle of readers coming this way. So do me (and yourself) a favor, and check out his latest amusing not-quite-ancient dialogue.

Thanks Professor DeLong.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

τὸ λεχικόν ἀναχρονίζεται.

The dictionary is anachronous.

H.G. Liddell and R. Scott's Greek-English Lexicon (more fondly “The Big Liddell”) was first published in 1843, and the ninth and most recent edition in 1940. As such, this necessary tool for translators contains more than a few words with definitions that feel...more than a touch out of date. These have set many a novice student translator stumbling and mumbling through a “yea, verily” or three. But while interjections and transitory particles may be the most conspicuous culprits, there are other words which lie beneath the surface, awaiting the unwary.

I wrote a short piece on one such word a year or so back. Entitled a “Rarely Udder-ed Word,” it takes a look at a particularly rare word in the ancient Greek corpus. I would like to initiate what I hope to become an ongoing theme here at DeGrypis with my take on this word, revamped a bit for clarity and brevity.

εθηλος, εθηλον- adj. with distended udder

This word is rare in the Greek corpus. In fact, in all its forms it appears only four times in all Greek texts according to LSJ and the Thesaurus Linguae Gracae. However, because of its slightly strange definition, when I first came across it in Euripides’ Bacchae in line 737, I was mystified, at a loss for a good way to render the word in English. The presence of ε at the forefront indicates it as a positive quality. Research on distended udders reveals that a distended udder is both a sign of the udder being full of milk and the approach of birthing. However, the top Google returns for “distended udder” are almost uniformly negative (almost uniformly-one result is a cheerful classicist directly rendering Horace's Odes). In these unfortunate cases, it is a painful symptom of mastitis, which stems from negligence in a farmer’s milking and thus of the brutality common in the beef and dairy industries. The overhwelmingly negative modern connotations alone suggest that it the implications of word to Mr. Liddell and Mr. Scott must be reconciled with those of the modern reader. But further issues arise.

It can be found in the Greek corpus as follows:

1) Euripides’ Bacchae line 737
καὶ τὴν μὲν ἂν προσεῖδες εὔθηλον πόριν

2) Euripides’ Ipigenia Aulidensis line 579
εὔθηλοι δὲ τρέφοντο βόες

3) Anthologia Graeca Book 9 epigram 224 line 1
Αἶγά με τὴν εὔθηλον, ὅσων ἐκένωσεν ἀμολγεὺς

4) Lycophron Alexandra line 1328
Μύστῃ Τροπαίας μαστὸν εὔθηλον θεᾶς

All four appearances are in poetry, three of these in tragedy. In translation, “with distended udder” seems terribly awkward in translating poetry (especially in the final example, in which it describes the breast of a goddess, no less!), which leads me to search for a more colloquial or at least, verse friendly, translation. In pursuit of this end, I look to the origins of this word.

LSJ places the adjective under the verb εθηλομαι- “to be well-suckled, to be fatted up”. The participial form of this verb appears earlier in tragedy:

5) Aeschylus Fragmenta Tetralogy 44.A.616a line 2
‘ἐγὼ δὲ χοῖρον καὶ μάλ' εὐθηλούμενον
τόνδ' ἐν νοτοῦντι κριβάνωι θήσω.

The participle refers to a young pig here, and well-suckled seems to fit in this description. “Well-suckled” implies having spent a great deal of time at the mother’s teat until it has become “fatted up,” and thus the secondary meaning of the verb. However, while these may present more aurally pleasant options in translating εὔθηλος, referring either to cows or goats, it still fails to provide an adequate translation in the final context, that of the breast of a goddess, or in the description of the mother animal, as opposed to her young. Nevertheless, the verb does yield some clues. The next step is to break down the word further:

ε- well adv. + θλη, - n. teat, nipple

The most basic convergence of the meanings of these two words yields something along the lines of “well-nippled” or “nicely-nippled.” Such a translation is quite effective. A “nicely-nippled” cow or goat has fine udders, full of delicious milk and an indicator of joyous birth impending, and from the verb, a plump youngling is "well-suckled." These definitions also avoid all the negative animal cruelty connotations of “distended udders” which seems to arise in modern discourse. Furthermore, now there is a far more fitting way to describe the “nicely-nippled” divine breast of a goddess in Lycophron’s Alexandra, for should a poet dare to describe a heavenly teat (even of ox-eyed Hera---the adjective is surely a pun, but the Liddell translation would still not do) as “well-uddered,” surely he would bring down the wrath of gods, or at least literary critics, upon himself.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Σωκράτης περι πολιτικῶν νέων

Socrates on recent politics.

caveat lector---for the politically inclined only.

A hypothetical dialogue via Berkeley economics professor Brad DeLong:

A conversation in Brewed Awakening this morning:

Thrasymakhos: Why are you chewing your tie?

Glaukon: I made the mistake of reading Joe Klein this morning...

Sokrates: How can listening to what somebody has to say ever be a mistake?

Glaukon: You'll see. The structure of Klein's argument was roughly as follows: (1) Hillary Rodham Clinton has been demagoguing the gas tax holiday; (2) I know it's a bad and stupid idea; (3) but my small unevolved journalist lizard-brain was excited and enthusiastic; (4) but she lost; (5) so I will kick her when she is down; (6) and I feel somewhat guilty; (7) and I will be a more substance- and less spin-minded journalist in the future...

Sokrates: But this is a story of self-development--of someone acquiring knowledge through experience. Why should that make you chew your tie?

Thrasymakhos: No, Sokrates, you are wrong. This is a story of someone pretending to acquire knowledge through experience--it is a false repentance narrative, a la Elmer Gantry. But did you expect any better?

Glaukon: I was not finished. Then there is: (8) John McCain is an honorable man; (9) if Barack Obama "wants to maintain his reputation for honor, he'll have representatives from his campaign sit down with McCain's people to work out a sane, equitable campaign-financing mechanism for the general election — and a robust series of debates." The fact that the initial gas tax holiday demagoguer was John McCain is not mentioned--Joe Klein hides it from his readers. If he meant his pledge to do better, the fact that the gas tax holidy was McCain's idea first would have made it into the column...

Sokrates: Your logic is irrefutable, Glaukon.

Thrasymakhos: You are correct, Glaukon. If I were as ill-mannered as Duncan Black, I would award Joe Klein yet another "wanker of the day" prize.

Sokrates: I do wish you wouldn't chew on your tie, however. It sends the wrong message...

Thrasymakhos: This is Berkeley. Why are you even wearing a tie?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

hodie miror quid heri “heri” appellaretur.

Today I am wondering what “yesterday” was called yesterday.

Reading a bit of fake Ciceronean Latin---the product of the esteemed W.H.D Rouse---I stumbled across nudius tertius, a temporal expression which translates to “the day before yesterday.”

But how did it come to mean this?

Adam's Latin Grammar, 1833, p.124:

nudiustertius, of nunc dies tertius.

So literally, “now the third day.” The Romans, of course, count inclusively: today is 1, yesterday 2, and “the day before yesterday” 3.

nudius is also combined with other ordinal numbers. The expression seems to be most beloved by Plautus. He demonstrates its flexibility in the following passage:

T. Maccius Plautus Mostellaria 956:

PHAN.: Habitat profecto, nám heri et nudius tertius, quartus, quintus, sextus, usque postquam hinc peregre eius pater abiit, numquam hic triduom unum desitum est potarier.

Phaniscus: Certainly he dwells there, for through yesterday and the day before yesterday, and three days ago, and four, and five, and six, and all the time since his father went off abroad, at no point for a span of three days has this man ceased to be drunk.

Now that you have this expression tucked under your belt, you are well-equipped to tell your friends oppressively dull stories about your daily life (in Latin!).

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

“haudquaquam similis,” inquam.

“Not at all similar,” I say.

Philolog wonders:

Have you ever noticed how similar the words agnostic and antagonistic are?

Just a thought from me as I write an article about spirituality and somehow type antagonistic instead of the word agnostic. A Freudian Slip perhaps?

Agnostic comes from Not know, in Greek, of course.

Antagonistic comes from Latin? I'll look it up and let you know.

Let's not hold our breath waiting for the response. Rather, a very quick look allows us to begin by saying that the two are in no way etymologically connected. We must secondarily observe that this is a pretty poor etymological analysis of these two words.

Agnostic does indeed come from Greek. And while such words as the verb ἀγνοέω- “to fail to know, to be ignorant” have evolved, the more basic predecessor is the negative prefix α- + γνῶς, the aorist participle of γιγνῶσκω- “to know.”

Antagonistic can be traced to Latin anti- “against” + agere- “to lead, to drive.” But it goes back to Greek as well. Much as γνοω, the verb ἀνταγωνίζομαι- “to struggle against” developed. The root is found in ἀντί- “against” + ἄγω- “to lead, to drive.” Thus the Latin came directly and virtually unaltered from the Greek, and then, perhaps, we borrowed it from them.

I also stumbled upon this interesting bit, albeit strictly for my fellow serious nerds. At Living Epic, a classics professor explores connections between video games, gamer culture, and the world of classical antiquity. The hot topic of late has been Grand Theft Auto 4.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Redibo quam celerissime

I shall return as quickly as possible.

I am going home to New Jersey for a few days and, as Cicero once said:

Cicero de Oratore 2.24.10

cum huc veni, hoc ipsum nihil agere et plane cessare me delectat.

When I come here, the very act of doing nothing and being completely inactive pleases me.

Therefore, there will likely be a brief respite in blogging through the weekend.

Until then, valete.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cum iter facere vultis, cavete Tabulam Peutingerianam.

When you want to travel, be wary of the Peutinger Map.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky enough to attend a phenomenal talk by Richard Talbert here at Berkeley. In “Reconsidering Peutinger's Map: Romans Rule the World,” he argues against many of the generally accepted scholarly theories regarding this fascinating document. He began the talk by displaying, with the help of the audience, a full size replication of the map---about 28 feet long and a foot high. This copy is, in fact, a copy our only surviving copy, made by a monk at Colmar in 1265 AD, and its truly impressive dimensions certainly helped to put into rare perspective the map, the presentation of which, as Talbert says, is one of the principal “buggerboos” of studying it. Having laid out the high level of scholarly controversy and lack of concrete knowledge, Talbert jumped right into his presentation, and though I cannot hope to do it justice here, I would like to mention some of his key points.

  • Completeness
Talbert proposes that, in contradiction to the claims of Konrad Miller (author of Iterinaria Romana, the 1887 definitive commentary on the map), there is not a single fragment missing, but rather three, which brings the length to a total of 28 feet. He explains that Miller's reconstruction of the missing piece is infeasible; the scale adopted in that part of the map is better suited to 6 feet than 2. Furthermore, it would imply that Rome was deliberately placed at the center of the map, providing rhyme and reason for an otherwise strange choice of scale. He also suggests, as a possibility for explaining its strange dimensions, that the map was designed to illustrate only one of five κλίματα as a part of a larger map which resembled a globe, as shown right (the idea of a map only 1 ft. high is “plain ridiculous.”) More detail on this “globe” is revealed as he discusses the usage of the map.
  • Usage
Scholars have long argued that (as here) "the Peutinger Map was primarily drawn to show main roads, totaling some 70,000 Roman miles (104,000 km), and to depict features such as staging posts, spas, distances between stages, large rivers, and forests." Talbert claims that the roads are among the least important details on the map; they seem, in fact, to be added as a sort of “filler.” Talbert attributes previous misinterpretations to an all too common trap--- “scholars and enthusiasts looking for what they want to find.” Instead, it is likely that first to go on the map were the natural features: shores, rivers, and mountains. These were followed by the symbols for cities, towns, and spas were marked, and only then was the road network filled in. The map was not intended for use in planning military expeditions nor even inter-city journeys. Indeed, "Do not use this map to travel!" he proclaims. The map was more likely a showpiece, designed to show the expanse of Roman imperial might. The emphasis on the inclusion of many (some obscure) place names at the expense of displaying travel routes more accurately lends credence to this hypothesis. He adds further proof in his defense for his dating of the original map.
  • Dating
The time frame of the map is very confusing. It shows the existence of Pompeii, destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, but other labeling indicates that it cannot predate Trajan's organization in Dacia around 100AD. Talbert places the around 300 AD, earlier than many other scholars. They argue that the prominent symbolic depictions of Constantinople (only founded in the first half of the 4th century) and Antioch reflect a later period. Talbert refutes these arguments, arguing that these symbols are late additions to the map; a close inspection of the map reveals that these symbols are clumsily drawn in and disrupt the surrounding road networks, showing that they are likely emendations of later Christian scholars hoping to "improve" the map. Other signs of Christianity are conspicuously absent. He explains that the map best fits the era of Diocletian's tetrarchy. The map would "project the values and tastes of the tetrarchy," and "celebrate their firm grip on the world after the calamities of the 200s." Based on excavations of an aula, he shows that the space immediately behind the throne would be a perfect fit for the sort of "globe" to which he earlier proposed the map belonged. In addition, a 2005 discovery on the northeast slope of the Palatine turned up a wooden box with a set of ceremonial throne room items, including four small finely-wrought globes. These can probably be dated to the not-quite-tetrarch Maxentius, and support the theory of the globe coming to be a symbol of imperial power during this period.
Talbert's talk, on the whole, was fascinating and very persuasive. His passion for the topic is rather enrapturing, and I found myself quickly nodding along with his points. He makes it very clear that a certain degree of mystery will likely surround the map forever; nevertheless, his estimations seem much more plausible than those proposed before him.