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?