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.

Monday, April 28, 2008

errata novi discipuli linguae Latinae

The errors of a new student of Latin.

At LatinLanguage, Chris Jones explains a the problems with instructional approaches which rely on cognates to teach new students of Latin vocabulary. He writes:

I’ve mentioned before that I wish students were encouraged to look at vocabulary the way the Romans did, i.e. as words formed from more basic forms in the same language…A common tendency when studying Latin vocabulary is to emphasize similar derivative English words, i.e. by talking about derivatives like “exacerbate", the student is more likely to remember the meaning of exacerbo…The problem with this approach is that exacerbo does not quite mean “exacerbate", which American Heritage defines as “To increase the severity, violence, or bitterness of; aggravate". To be specific, “exacerbate” is almost exclusively used with things, i.e. people aren’t usually “exacerbated” (though they can be “exasperated"). Contast this with Latin, where exacerbo is most often used with people; that’s why this verb is usually defined as “irritate, enrage, provoke"...

Certainly go and read the whole thing. It’s interesting throughout, and functions effectively both as a caveat to new students and a reminder to the more experienced that they too can be prone to thinking in this way.

And begin to get excited. I was fortunate enough to attend a fascinating lecture by Richard Talbert entitled “Reconsidering Peutinger’s Map,” and will be posting some of the highlights in the next few days. Familiarize with the Wiki’s key points; it adds to the fun when he easily dismantles most of them. More background can be found here and here.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Non solus ruinam rei publicae praedico.

I am not the only one predicting the destruction of the republic.

Apparently, the crazy doom-sayers here at have been citing Roman parallels to prophesy the end of American democracy.

Meanwhile, at Language Log, Mark Lieberman attends to predictions of destruction from another source, proposed here at Epea Pteroenta (in an aptly titled post, "pont max tr pot lol"). He wisely does not subscribe to the school of texting=death of civilization. He writes:

You might have thought that the Roman empire was doomed by barbarian invasions, lead poisoning, the loss of masculine values, or climate change. But Jim Bisso at Epea Pteroenta has pointed out that at the very height of the empire’s power, in the reign of Trajan, Roman culture had already been compromised by an insidious agent that you probably have never considered, though it’s obvious in retrospect.

The villain was none other than txting, that widely-feared destroyer of civilizations. While IM and SMS had not yet been invented, the Romans used a medium that motivates textual concision even more strongly: marble...

Go read both!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Et divitissimi divitiores fiunt...

And the rich are getting richer...

S.J Bastomsky's The Great Divide in Ancient Rome and Victorian England” (gated, JSTOR) works out approximations for the yearly wages of various income groups in Ancient Rome. His results and methodology are pretty interesting:

We are on much surer ground when we turn to the closing years of the Republic...Cicero mentions that the slave Panurgus...could only have earned 12 asses a day without any training. We assume that the cost of free labour is depressed just enough to keep it alive and reproducing...this means the labourer's wage would be 3 sesterces a day...Given that the concept of a five-day week and paid holidays were unknown to the Romans, we may reckon a free labourer working on just about every day of the year...If we suppose that he was able to find employment on 350 days of the year, his earnings would be 1,050 sesterces per annum...

Bastomsky goes on to calculate that Cicero and other moderately wealthy senators during the Late Republic earned about 750,000 sesterces per annum, and the super-rich like Crassus, possibly the wealthiest individual of his era, around 11,000,000 sesterces. Proceeding into the 1st century AD, his calculations show a minimum wage laborer earning only 1,400 sesterces, Pliny the Younger and similarly wealthy elite earning 1,000,000, and the ultra-rich, as Lentulus and Narcissus, nearly 24,000,000 sesterces.

These data show that there is a tremendous (and increasing) inequality gap between rich and poor Romans in both the Late Republic and during the tumultuous 1st century AD. The figures are plotted on the left.

The graph makes it very clear that the yearly earnings of a minimum wage laborer, even under optimal circumstances (no illness, full-employment) are miniscule. Indeed, as Bastomsky writes, they are straining and exerting themselves to "keep the wolf from the door." It is hard not to sympathize; we see a similar income gap in a country with which we are all intimately familiar- the United States. I attempted to find the closest modern parallels to the Roman income groups. For the minimum wage laborer, the figure $15, 900 represents the average yearly salary for the lowest 20% of wage earners in the US in 2005 according to the Congressional Budget Office. This figure is reasonably close to the amount earned by a full-time worker at a minimum wage of about $6.50 ($6.50 x 40hr week x 52 wks/yr=$13520). The wealthy elite 's $1,558, 500 per year is the mean income for the top 1% of wage earners, a category into which Cicero and other senators would likely fall. The third data point depicts one of the highest earners in the United States; it is the 2005 income ($1.5 billion) of the highest paid hedge fund manager in the country, James Simons of Renaissance Technologies, according to Institutional Investor's Alpha Magazine. Caveat lector: it is a logarithmic scale.

Depicted on the right is another way to look at it. This is a graph of the comparative income of the wealthy elite and super-rich to the minimum wage labrorer; each single unit represents one worker, and the height of the bar the number of workers, the sum of whose total income is equal to a single individual in each of these two groups.

Crassus thus earned about 10, 476x the minimum wage laborer's salary, and Lentulus approximately 17,142x. Even more striking, James Simon in 2005 made over 98,000x the annual income of a minimum wage employee.

A closer look at the data (down and left) from ancient Rome reveals another striking phenomenon; the biggest gains are far and away going to the very top of the income spectrum. This, quite significantly, is exactly the same pattern as we see in the United States---but accelerated exponentially. From 2002-2005, the United States has experienced huge gains in GDP, but these gains have been skewed very strongly to the top. While the difference between the $15,000 a minimum wage laborer made in 2002 and his earnings in 2003 is only $900, a factor of 1.06, the top 1% of earners netted $593,300 more on average than their $965,000 mean salary, a factor of about 1.61. And like their ancient counterparts, the very wealthiest made out like bandits. The highest paid hedge fund manager in 2002 made a mere $700 million, less than half of the $1.5 billion Simons earned in 2005. The factor of 2.14 measures up closely to the 2.18 figure for the wealthiest of the Romans.

What can we conclude from this array of facts and figures, all which point to a great deal of economic commonality across two millenia? Well, the age in which the Republic experienced such massive inequality fostered a great deal of woe for the common people. Chaos and civil war, revolts, and other violence prevailed. It did not, however, result in economic loss for the rich who survived the violence. Likewise, the generally unfortunate economic climate which grips our country has not clamped its stranglehold on their incomes; it is rather the stagnating wages of the poor and middle class which fuel their inflating profit margins. Robert Reich, professor at the University of California-Berkeley and author of Supercapitalism (highly recommended), lays out the situation best:

We're reaping the whirlwind of many years during which Americans have spent beyond their means and most of the benefits of an expanding economy have gone to a relatively small group at the very top. Adjusted for inflation, the median wage is below where it was in 1999. The nation's median hourly wage is barely higher than it was 35 thirty-five years ago. The income of a man in his 30s is now 12 percent below that of a man his age three decades ago. The rich, meanwhile, can't keep the economy going on their own because they devote a smaller percentage of their earnings to buying things than the rest of us: After all, they're rich, and they already have most of what they want. Instead of buying, they're more likely to invest their earnings wherever around the world they can get the highest return.
And like in Rome, if we do not begin to address this income inequality their will be serious consequences. Will the democratic government of the United States be overthrown? No. But if John McCain takes the helm and institutes a second round of Bush tax cuts, the gap will grow larger, and so too the shadow it casts on the lives of the average citize

If you are one of the ultra-rich, however, make sure to give your thanks to imperator Bush on his way out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

εἴθε ἠπιστηθείην τὰ πλεῖστα περὶ γρυπῶν

If only I knew more about gryphons!

We started with the Latin geographer Pomponius Mela, who wrote at the end of the first half of the 1st century AD, and read from Pliny the Elder, only slightly later, as well. As we will soon learn, though, these are but accounts of accounts. Gryphons are attested in Greek all the way back to Aeschylus in the 5th century BC in Prometheus Bound.

[Credit to the Greek Mythology Link for the textual pointers.]


ἄλλην δ' ἄκουσον δυσχερῆ θεωρίαν·ὀξυστόμους γὰρ Ζηνὸς ἀκραγεῖς κύνας γρῦπας φύλαξαι, τόν τε μουνῶπα στρατὸν Ἀριμασπὸν ἱπποβάμον', οἳ χρυσόρρυτον οἰκοῦσιν ἀμφὶ νᾶμα Πλούτωνος πόρου·

And hearken now another unpleasant sight; keep watch for the sharp-beaked unbarking creatures of Zeus, the gryphons, and the one-eyed people, the Arimaspoi, who live around the gold-bearing water of Pluto's river.

Herodus too was an early “observer.” It is his account in the Histories, it seems, which Mela's most closely mirrors.


Πρὸς δὲ ἄρκτου τῆς Εὐρώπης πολλῷ τι πλεῖστος χρυσὸς φαίνεται ἐών. Ὅκως μὲν γινόμενος, οὐκ ἔχω οὐδὲ τοῦτο ἀτρεκέως εἶπαι, λέγεται δὲ ὑπὲκ τῶν γρυπῶν ἁρπάζειν Ἀριμασποὺς ἄνδρας μουνοφθάλμους

Toward northern Europe, there is clearly the most gold by far. As to how it is produced, this I cannot say exactly, but it is said that the Arimaspoi, one-eyed men, steal it from the gryphons.


Τὸ δὲ ἀπὸ τούτων τὸ κατύπερθε Ἰσσηδόνες εἰσὶ οἱ λέγοντες τοὺς μουνοφθάλμους ἀνθρώπους καὶ τοὺς χρυσοφύλακας γρῦπας εἶναι, παρὰ δὲ τούτων Σκύθαι παραλαβόντες λέγουσι, παρὰ δὲ Σκυθέων ἡμεῖς οἱ ἄλλοι νενομίκαμεν, καὶ ὀνομάζομεν αὐτοὺς σκυθιστὶ Ἀριμασπούς· ἄριμα γὰρ ἓν καλέουσι Σκύθαι, σποῦ δὲ ὀφθαλμόν.

To the north of these things are the Issedones, who say that there are one-eyed men and griffins, defensive of their gold; the Scythians tell it thus, having taken it from those men, and we have adopted it from the Scythians. We also call the same men, in the Scythian fashion, the Arimaspoi; for the Scythians use the term “arima” for “one,” and “spou” for “eye.”

Onward to the 2nd century AD, we have a particularly amusing bit from Pausanias. His wrath appears to fall upon those who cast doubt on the perfectly valid reports of gryphons with wild flights of fancy and silly exaggerations.


ἤδη δὲ καὶ ἄλλα ἤκουσα, τοῖς γρυψὶ στίγματα ὁποῖα καὶ ταῖς παρδάλεσιν εἶναι, καὶ ὡς οἱ Τρίτωνες ἀνθρώπου φωνῇ φθέγγοιντο· οἱ δὲ καὶ φυσᾶν διὰ κόχλου τετρυπημένης φασὶν αὐτούς. ὁπόσοι δὲ μυθολογήμασιν ἀκούοντες ἥδονται, πεφύκασι καὶ αὐτοί τι ἐπιτερατεύεσθαι· καὶ οὕτω τοῖς ἀληθέσιν ἐλυμήναντο, συγκεραννύντες αὐτὰ ἐψευσμένοις.

I have even heard other things, that the sort of spots are on griffins as on leopards, and that the Tritons speak with the voice of a human, but men also say that they are blowing through a bored-through shell. As many men who, hearing a myth, enjoy it, themselves naturally exaggerate it in some way; thus they besmirch the truth, mixing it with falsifications.

He also writes:


τούτους τοὺς γρῦπας ἐν τοῖς ἔπεσιν Ἀριστέας ὁ Προκοννήσιος μάχεσθαι περὶ τοῦ χρυσοῦ φησιν Ἀριμασποῖς <τοῖς> ὑπὲρ Ἰσσηδόνων· τὸν δὲ χρυσόν, ὃν φυλάσσουσιν οἱ γρῦπες, ἀνιέναι τὴν γῆν· εἶναι δὲ Ἀριμασποὺς μὲν ἄνδρας μονοφθάλμους πάντας ἐκ γενετῆς, γρῦπας δὲ θηρία λέουσιν εἰκαςμένα, πτερὰ δὲ ἔχειν καὶ στόμα ἀετοῦ. καὶ γρυπῶν μὲν πέρι τοσαῦτα εἰρήσθω·

In his writings, Aristeas of Proconnesus says that these gryphons fight over gold with the Arimaspoi beyond the Issedones, that the gold, which the gryphons guard, comes up from the earth, that the Arimaspoi are all one-eyed men from birth, and that gryphons are beasts resembling lions, but have wings and the beak of an eagle. And about gryphons, let only so many things be said.

I feel like this is a pretty good place to leave off our discussion. There really are only so many things to be said about gryphons*. Nevertheless, the spirit of these gryphons will live on here, for there are countless oddities which have yet to observed, documented, and commentated, etc., and so we will forge on ahead here at DeGrypis.

*nota bene: Pausanias wrote this in Book 1, and clearly he returned, albeit briefly, to his subject in Book 8 (above). I will take this, then, as a license to talk about gryphons any time I damn well please.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Audibitis (Audite) me, O Iuris Consulti!(.)

HEAR (Hear) me, O Lawyers!(.)

Today I turn to the trusty mailbag. This, gathering dust sadly, from an AVID reader. Colette writes:

[T]oday in one of my classes we brought up this phrase: subpoena duces tecum, which they translate as "bring with you under penalty of punishment." [I] know i haven't taken Latin for awhile, but something about this just seems wrong to me. Why duces? duco is 3rd, so this looks future in form to me, but it doesn't seem to have any kind of future meaning. [I]t could be a jussive subjunctive, but that would be ducas (plus it would seem not very common to use the second person singular in this kind of construction?). There is a small note I just found in my grammar about futures being used with imperative force, so I guess this must be the explanation, but this is not something I remember seeing before.

Indeed, Colette. It is an easy to miss side note and an unsatisfactory explanation, but here is what Allen and Greenough have to say in their New Latin Grammar:

449. b. The Future Indicative is sometimes used for the imperative.

Seriously?! That's it? That's a pretty lame effort.

Only slightly better is what is found in J.P. Postgate and C.A. Vince's New Latin Primer:

Commands and Requests

In positive Requests besides (1) the Imperative and (2) the Subjunctive of Desire, Latin writers also use forms which are properly Statements, viz. (3) the Future Indicative, which puts the Request as something which will happen, and is thus a strong Command, as hôc faciês you will do this.

I think that we're on the right track, but that it's also a long road. My hypothesis is that the regularity of the future indicative as a substitute for the imperative in modern legal Latin is the result of evolution through Vulgar Latin (sermo vulgaris) and/or Medieval Latin, late bastardizations of the Classical Latin taught in schools. In the Vulgate Bible, a work of direct translation from the original Hebrew, we see St. Jerome render a particularly famous series of commandments with the future indicative,

From LatinVulgate:

  1. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.
    habebis deos alienos coram me

  2. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing..
    non facies tibi sculptile ..

  3. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them...
    non adorabis ea neque coles...

  4. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain...
    non adsumes nomen Domini Dei tui in vanum...

  5. Thou shalt not kill.

  6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
    non moechaberis.

...I think that's enough. You get the point. Scholars and the clergy, the only ones still Latin-literate during the later periods, were quite a mixed up bunch. I'm fairly sure that modern legal Latin emerged from the confusion, and retained what had become a common convention.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Quid vulgus in memoria tenebit?

What will the common people remember?

Robert Fagles, renowned translator of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid among other notable accomplishments, passed away last month, on March 6, 2008---requiescat in pace.

Over at The Worst Ever, the choice resource of De Grypis for literature, film, and music, Brett writes:

Robert Fagles, renowned translator of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, among other works, passed away on Wednesday, ensuring that we'll have to wait a while before another really boring text from ancient Greece will be declared once again "fresh and relevant for the contemporary reader," who, for his part, will quit after two pages. Fagles was 74. The cause of death was prostate cancer.

His contributions to world literature will live on, mostly unread, on millions of bookshelves in the United States and beyond. No one has done more to bring the Greek classics to high school and college students, except for the publisher of CliffsNotes.

There's more than an element of truth in it, and it is recognizing that which leaves classicists frowning. It is difficult to interest modern readers, particularly students mandated from above, in Greek and Roman epics. Why? Two key points inter alia.

  • Length- The Illiad is 15693 lines. That's a lot of lines. It's hard to get high school or college students to read the slim Apology of Socrates. A veritable tome in comparison, it would take a great deal of effort (and testing) to compel a full and careful reading. It is not the sort of daunting task teachers want to undertake, and fortunately students can find it in themselves to stifle their protests. Recalling my high school days, I remember that both Iliad and Odyssey were assigned as summer reading for AP English; what I cannot recall, however, is a single person who completed both (or either?). Feel free to confirm my hazy memory, hometown readers, or to refute (...liars).
  • Relevance-it is impossible to make the Iliad truly relevant to the today's casual reader. Elaborating on his earlier post, Brett aptly says:

I wasn't impugning the translation...just the idea..., proposed by all reviewers/journalists (who aren't a part of the classics world), that he made this relevant to the modern reader. More accessible maybe, maybe even more enjoyable, but it's just as irrelevant as it's ever been.
While there are some ideas with which the modern reader may feel common ground, to really understand the roles/themes/culture in the Iliad requires a comprehensive study of Greek culture. To put it in perspective, after fairly thorough readings in several translations, course study, and supplementary reading, I can grasp these concepts at a loose and abstract level, but even I cannot make them feel "relevant."

Nevertheless, Fagles achievements in translation are remarkable. While he cannot do the impossible, he has made the translation much "more accessible" than previous authors. And accessibility is paramount in encouraging unwilling readers to forge on ahead. In a somewhat recent paper, I argued that Fagles' Iliad is the best of three of the more popular editions---Fagles, Lattimore, and Fitzgerald:

Why another Iliad?” This question is the apparent universal bane of Homer’s translators, doggedly pursuing their footsteps as they carefully tread through the poet’s hexameters...Lattimore responds elliptically, calling it “a question which has no answer for those who do not know the answer already” (Lattimore 7). Fagles, on the other hand, attempts an answer:

It seems, that if Homer was a performer, then his translator might aim to be one as well, and that no two performances of the same work---surely not of a musical composition, so probably not of a work of language either---will ever be the same. The timbre and tempo of each will be distinct, let alone its deeper resonance, build and thrust (Fagles xii).

[And so] he responded to th[is]...inquiry with a knockout blow. His Iliad is the epic poem for our generation...consider the especially pertinent [societal] example, Troy. As a nation, we spent over $133 million on this film, a historical travesty constructed, if with the Iliad in mind at all, then only lurking in the depths of Hollywood scriptwriters’ and producers’ minds concealed by the green shadow of money---sadly, their real ambition. Even so, we consumed this summer blockbuster with our customary vigor. For indeed, we are Americans. We do not want historical accuracy; we want entertainment! We want violence and we want sex and we want it now! Certainly, it is unjust to compare Robert Fagles’ Iliad to the crimes of Hollywood; his is a noble endeavor, bringing to life the glory of Homer’s epic masterpiece. However, the manner in which he eases the Greek into readable English while still maintaining a level of poetic artistry, and most of all, with which he boldly renders the sense of imminent action in the Iliad would most cater to our modern appetites. His vivid representation of battle scenes which threaten to quickly dull with repetition conserves the inner energy of the passages and keeps our minds intent and focused. His ready readability allows the reader to move rapidly through the scenes which have less consequence on the overall plot (e.g. catalogue of ships) and to generally appreciate the brilliant qualities of the story which have made it an eternal part of Western literary tradition. For the reader to whom fortune has not blessed with the opportunity to learn the lingua Graece, the Iliad of choice is most likely that of the eminent Robert Fagles.

I, for my part, conclude by suggesting a compromise measure of sorts. For those whose Iliad is gathering dusts, appreciate the poetic grace of Robert Fagles' translation...on audio cd. It was, after all, an oral composition.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Vireo equidem et aegritudine et invidentia

I am green with both illness and envy.

I am disgusted, sick to my stomach even, when I look at this map from GasBuddy.

And painfully envious when I look at this one.

My current residence is in Berkeley, but home is and will always be New Jersey. Driving by the gas station just the other day, I found myself wide-eyed with horror, gaping at regular pump prices upwards of $4.00. It seems utterly unjust that I should have to pay these astronomical prices, while my fortunate friends on the East Coast can enjoy their marginal victory in the triumphant form of a Wawa sub and iced tea with cash leftover (16 avg tank*(3.79-3.19) lowest prices– 4.79 sub– 1.59 iced tea= $3.22). Whatever happened to fairness? Why, in fact, do California drivers pay so much more?

From the Energy Information Administration:

Why do gasoline prices differ according to region?
Although price levels vary over time, Energy Information Administration (EIA) data indicate that average retail gasoline prices tend to typically be higher in certain States or regions than in others. Aside from taxes, there are other factors that contribute to regional and even local differences in gasoline prices:

  • proximity of supply
  • supply disruptions
  • competition in the local market

Why are California gasoline prices higher and more variable than others?

The State of California operates its own reformulated gasoline program with more stringent requirements than Federally-mandated clean gasolines. In addition to the higher cost of cleaner fuel, there is a combined State and local sales and use tax of 7.25 percent on top of an 18.4 cent-per-gallon Federal excise tax and an 18.0 cent-per-gallon State excise tax. Refinery margins have also been higher due in large part to price volatility in the region...California prices are more variable than others because there are relatively few supply sources of its unique blend of gasoline outside the State.Supplies could be obtained from some Gulf Coast and foreign refineries; however, California’s substantial distance from those refineries is such that any unusual increase in demand or reduction in supply results in a large price response in the market before relief supplies can be delivered. The farther away the necessary relief supplies are, the higher and longer the price spike will be...

It is clear that multiple distortive forces are at work here. But these are not unique forces to our time, not even close.

Paul Erdkamp's The Grain Market in the Roman Empire points us to Cicero, who writes of the system by which provinces could contribute money instead of grain to Rome.

In Verres

Video quid inter annonam interesse soleat, video quot dierum via sit, video Philomeliensibus expedire, quanti Ephesi sit frumentum, dare potius in Phrygia quam Ephesum portare aut ad emendum frumentum Ephesum pecuniam et legatos mittere. In Sicilia vero quid eius modi est?..[I]sta ratio aestimationis in Asia, valet in Hispania, valet in iis provinciis in quibus unum pretium frumento esse non solet: in Sicilia vero quid cuiusquam intererat quo loco daret? neque enim portandum erat, et, quo quisque vehere iussus esset, ibi tantidem frumentum emeret quanti domi vendidisset.

I am aware what is the customary difference between the prices of grain. I am aware how many days the journey takes. I am aware that it benefits the Philomelians to pay as much as the grain is worth at Ephesus in Phrygia rather than to bring grain to Ephesus or to send messengers and money to buy it there. But what is there of this kind in Sicily?...This logic of value works in Asia, works in Hispania, and works in those provinces in which there is not a single customary price for grain; in Sicily, however, who cares where one pays? For the grain does not need to be transported, and whither anyone should be ordered to convey it, there he could buy the same amount of grain for the same price as he had sold it at home.

Much as today, there were powerful forces altering the cost of an everyday commodity, here grain, across various provinces in the Roman Empire. The costs of transportation played a major role, and thus larger differences across larger provinces. In addition, the implications of Cicero's accusation---that Verres is greedily subjugating his people to an unfair and illogical system resulting in coin contributions, presumably which make it easier for him to rob Sicily blind---are additional market distortions at Rome. The “disappearing” grain from Sicily would decrease supply and inflate market prices for the ordinary citizens of Rome.

And so the commodity price gap can be explained by similar factors today; it is the effects of governmental (legal though, like taxation) and market forces.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Discamus hodie de grypis.

Let us learn today about gryphons.

[translations mine]

Pomponius Mela. De Chorographia 2.1.6

deinde est regio ditis admodum soli, inhabitabilis tamen, quia grypi,
saevum et pertinax ferarum genus, aurum terra penitus egestum mire
amant mireque custodiunt, et sunt infesti attingentibus.

Then there is region of very rich soil, but which is nevertheless uninhabitable, because gryphons, a fierce and tenacious race of wild beasts, love the gold mined deep within the earth excessively and guard it likewise, and are hostile to those who come to it.


ceterum fertilis, et vario genere hominum aliorumque animalium scatet. alit
formicas non minores maximis canibus, quas more gryporum aurum
penitus egestum cum summa pernicie adtingentium custodire comme-
morant; immanes et serpentes alit, qui et elephantos morsu atque ambitu
corporis adficiant;

Moreover the land is fertile, and abounds with various races of men and animals. It supports ants even larger than huge dogs, which men recount, as in the custom of the gryphons, defend the gold mined within with the greatest destruction for those coming there. It also supports giant serpents, and elephants which inflict harm by trampling and biting.

[yes, I only left this last bit in because it is well-suited to what I discuss below]

C. Plinius Secundus. Naturalis Historia 7.10.5

    haut procul ab ipso aquilonis exortu specuque eius dicto...produntur Arimaspi,
    diximus, uno oculo in fronte media insignes. quibus ad-
    sidue bellum esse circa metalla cum grypis, ferarum volucri
    genere, quale vulgo traditur, eruente ex cuniculis aurum,
    mira cupiditate et feris custodientibus et Arimaspis rapien-
    tibus, multi, sed maxime inlustres Herodotus et Aristeas
    Proconnesius scribunt.

Not far from from the very origin of the North Wind and his cave is said to be...the Arimaspoi are recounted, whom we said are distinguished by a single eye in the middle of the forehead. To these men there is continuous war over precious metals with gryphons, a flying race of beasts which, as it is handed down by the commons, dig up gold from their mines; with excessive desire both the wild beasts defend the gold and the Arimaspoi carry it off—many men, but most of all the famous Herodotus, Aristeas, and Proconnesius write about these things.


Aurum invenitur in nostro orbe, ut omitta-
mus Indicum a formicis aut apud Scythas grypis
tribus modis...

Gold is found in our world, as we should disregard the Indic region, since it is mined by ants, and near Scythia, by griffins, in three ways...


Pegasos equino capite volucres et grypas aurita
aduncitate rostri fabulosos reor, illos in Scythia, hos in


It is my account that there are flying pegasi with the head of a horse and marvelous gryphons with a golden hook of a beak; the latter are in Scythia, the former in Ethiopia.

Apuleius Madaurensis. Metamorphoses 11.24.11

hinc dracones Indici, inde grypes Hyperborei, quos
in speciem pinnatae alitis generat mundus alter.

From here Indian serpents, from there Hyperborean gryphons, which another world created in the image of a winged monster.

Fragmenta Bobiensia. De Nomine 543.15

Gryphes, animalia quaedam in hyperboreis montibus omni corpore
leones praeter os, quod habent aquilae sive accipitris, et quod pinnatae


Gryphons, particular creatures in the Hyperborean mountains, are lions in form throughout except the mouth, which they have of an eagle or of a hawk, and because they are winged.

And so we from these Latin historians (more from the Greeks, the "real observers" soon!) we learn a thing or two about...griffins? Who cares? This is preposterous, absolute nonsense.

I love it.

Before I matured (slightly, I hope) and learned to appreciate the often subtle beauty of this language, it was, in my perception at least, this incorporation of silly and outrageous information, in a serious curriculum that was truly enjoyable. The myths, particularly the dirty or violent ones, captivated my high school class; we cheerfully seized upon this theme, twisting mundane translation exercises to lascivious ends, as from CLC Book I:

Melissa Grumionem delectat. Melissa Quintum delectat. Eheu! ancilla Metellam non delectat.

It's almost too easy.

I am not embarrassed to admit that the inspiration for my pseudo-scholarly efforts is so utterly juvenile. Nor do I deny that I find a certain boyish amusement in moments when, in the midst of dull translation, I stumble and do a double take...I'm reading about gryphons? What the f...?

But even if these wtf? moments are not for you (although I hope they are), there will be much, much more here at De Grypis. Vergil poses about the right question in his 8th Eclogue:

quid non speremus amantes?
iungentur iam grypes equis, aeuoque sequenti
cum canibus timidi uenient ad pocula dammae

What ought not we lovers expect?
Will the gryphons now join with horses, and in the next age
Timid deer come to drink with dog

Well, if it'll take timid deer and dogs for you all to be lovers, you can expect plenty of that. But more likely, you will get my thoughts and semi-random on interesting or strange things pertaining to Greek, Latin, language, culture. I'm sure there will be some other odds and ends as well.

Welcome to de Grypis!