Friday, January 30, 2009


A deductive argument.
And, what is worse, the reader often shares the writer's prejudices, and is far too well pleased with his conclusions to examine either his premises or his reasoning. Stand on a barrel in the streets of Bagdad, and say in a loud voice, "Twice two is four, and ginger is hot in the mouth, therefore Mohammed is the prophet of God," and your logic will probably escape criticism; or, if anyone by chance should criticise it, you could easily silence him by calling him a Christian dog.
Again, from A.E. Housman's The Application of Thought to Literary Criticism.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

alea iacta est

The die is cast.*

Via Newsvine, a comparison of the passing of the most recent economic stimulus bill...with Caesar crossing the Rubicon:

It was in the winter of 49 BC that Julius Caesar lead his armies across the Rubicon river. One imagines the glint of a veiled sun off frost-sheened armor and curved shields as thousands upon thousands of legionnaires wade through waist high water in the January cold at the command of a crimson cloaked Caesar. Their destination was Rome and there was no turning back - in crossing the Rubicon they had invaded Italy, declared war upon the government they served, and cast their lots with their commander. Alea iacta est, Caesar intoned. "The die is cast."

The Republican Party crossed its own Rubicon earlier this week, its ultimate fate just as uncertain as that which faced the man-who-would-be-emperor more than 2000 years ago. Barack Obama's stimulus package passed the US House of Representatives on Wednesday without a single Republican vote. Though the plan has been derided by the Right as full of pork and insufficiently focused upon economic stimulation, the political reality is that no one will remember these critiques in a few months' time...

The Republicans have crossed the Rubicon, they march upon the nation itself and will see it in ruin before accepting anything less than the full measure of victory. From this there can be no return and no half measures. The Republican party will succeed in its opposition or be destroyed in the process. Alea iacta est.

The parallel does not seem unreasonable, although I cannot say it was my intuitive reaction to the bill.

*I prefer "The die is cast" to the perhaps more common "The die has been cast." The former translation seems to really hammer the home the traditional stative sense of the perfect, more fitting here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lost explicatum

Lost explained.

Chris Jones notes a Latin exchange between two characters on tonight's episode:

Just when I least expect it, this evening’s episode of the ABC Series Lost features characters speaking Latin to each other; and for the most part the actors try and duplicate a classical pronunciation.

The series is far too complicated to explain, but if you’re interested in seeing a little spoken Latin from primetime US television, you can view this evening’s episode here. The first Latin exchange is at the 14 minute mark:

Other 1: Quare non sunt vestitus eis?

Other 2: Tace!

Juliet: Cognoscitis qui sumus?

I am not a viewer, but I can offer this explanation (via Paul Kedrofsky):

PILOT: So, we have a little time and the auto-pilot’s on. How ‘bout you tell me about the island?

JACK: Well, we lived on the beach, mostly, except for the time we lived in the cave with the skeletons and the time we lived in the secret underground bunker with the lending library and the time we lived in the village built by the scientists that the people who don’t age gassed to death with the help of their leader, my third nemesis, the nebbishy con man with spine cancer, which we took over when the freighter people came to kill everybody. We ate wild boar and fish, and then the supplies stashed in the storeroom of the bunker, and then the scientists who the people who don’t age gassed to death were nice enough to replenish our food by airdrop, but only once, but that was okay, because the people who don’t age had some agriculture that we completely ignored while we stood in front of their refrigerators with the doors open. And I saw my dead dad just hanging around on the island, which I didn’t think too much about because I was preoccupied with the smoke monster and the baby stealing and the mind games with the nebbishy guy and my TOTALLY AWESOME tattoo which got my ass kicked in Thailand and the power struggle with my second nemesis, the formerly paralyzed bald survivalist mystic, who was, frankly, nuts.

PILOT: Nuts, you say?

JACK: Yeah, man of faith, thought the bunker wanted you to punch Hurley’s lotto numbers into the computer every few hours, and I was like, it’s a GAME, you lose, sucker.


JACK: So he finally came around after the shipwrecked sailor who lived in the bunker for two years told him that you had to punch the numbers, which obviously meant you didn’t have to punch the numbers. Which, come to think of it, I guess he was right in the first place. Missed the numbers, cratered the whole freaking bunker, knocked the guy who used to live there right into last Tuesday. Literally.

Oh, I forgot to mention that my dead father came back and kidnapped my secret sister.

PILOT: Um, okay. So … happy to be getting back?

JACK: Yeah, you know, I’m looking forward to having the time to grow a beard.

Mars laudetur!

Let Mars be praised!

Campus Mawrtius
does not post often. That is unfortunate. Today's subject of inquiry is close to my heart--How to be a Classical Philologist. D reads Laurand's Manuel des études grecques et latines, and offers up much simple wisdom. My favorite
  1. The Reading of ancient texts.
    • This is too often neglected. People read about but never read Plato, for example.
    • How to read (different but indispensable approaches):
      • In-depth, slow reading (lente, pace Nietzsche)
        • understanding all of the questions
        • produces much fruit
        • one can never read all of Plato in this way, or can read Herodotus but misses the big picture
      • Very rapid reading
        • understanding the big picture, outside connections
        • ensures that you never become too narrow-minded
    • You need calm, privacy, tranquility if you are to be moved by reading the great works.
Certainly check out the whole thing. He also quotes the eminently quotable A.E. Housman on the subject. From his The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism, D emphasizes:
Most men are rather stupid, and most of those who are not stupid are, consequently, rather vain; and it is hardly possible to step aside from the pursuit of truth without falling a victim either to your stupidity or else to your vanity. Stupidity will then attach you to received opinions, and you will stick in the mud; or vanity will set you hunting for novelty, and you will find mare's-nests.
That there are too few classicists like Housman, and too few blogs like Campus Mawrtius, is sad indeed.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


In vain...

I blog substantively. Nearly half the visitors to this blog over the last two days have been preteens/creepsters looking for the Sailor Moon pictures I included in this post.

Should I add other random pictures in hopes of drawing traffic? What will work best?* Perhaps something politically fresh, pop-culture retro?

Yup, I officially have no soul.

*A top result for "Obama funny picture." This is my ticket to the top, baby!

linguae antiquae discendae sunt?

Must classical languages be studied?

Via RogueClassicism, some kid from Columbia presents the case for a classical language requirement.

It starts of well enough. There is definitely substance to the formal-study-of-grammar argument, although he is not necessarily casting it in the best light. Grammar is sorely neglected outside the Classics (Consider asking a typical student of modern language X what a "subjunctive" is.), to the detriment, I think, of modern language students.

But he probably should have left it there. His stumbling world tour is a mess, although I do like this bit:
[S]tudying a classical language teaches students more about other cultures. For example, a two-year course in Greek might consist of two semesters of Greek grammar, and then a semester each of reading Plato and Homer. While the student of German is learning how to order a sandwich, his counterpart in Greek is reading the Republic.
Ich mochte ein Hamburger?

Saturday, January 24, 2009



Roy has left several comments. They are clearly intended to be funny. Since I am sure that only the most audacious (read: bored) DeGrypis readers venture into comments, I will answer them here.

Roy writes:
So scot-free is unrelated to the people of Scotland. Could it be that the English gave Scotland its name because the Scots didn't pay their scots?
Via Wikipedia*:

The name of Scotland is derived from the Latin Scoti, the term applied to Gaels. The word Scoti comes from Greek Σκωτία derived from the word Σκότος (Skotos), which means darkness and refers to the fog and long winter nights of Scotland.

Roy writes:
So what about slugs? What came first, the word slug for a slow thing or the little slimy critter?
The quality predates the animal. 'Slug' is an entity defined by slowness and heaviness (perhaps more accurately here, density). Its origins are Scandinavian cf. Swedish dial. slogga to be slow or sluggish or Norwegian dial. slugg a large heavy body, sluggje a heavy slow person. It is thus we also have, in English today, bullets referred to as 'slugs,' although by no means slow moving, or 'slug-fest,' a fight characterized by many heavy blows exchanged. 'Slug' as a 'slow, lazy fellow' is first attested, via the OED, around 1425:
c1425 Castle Persev. 2341 in Macro Plays, A, good men! be-war now all of Slugge & Slawthe,{th}e fowle {th}efe!
Our slimy little friends do not appear until 1704:
1704 PETIVER Gazophyl. ii. §xvii, This resembles our small Slug, and like it, is whitish below, but brownish above.
And finally, Roy writes:
You make the field sound like a subset of anthropology based on language. Presumably it's more than that?

Also, how can it be just a coincidence that the English word DAY is from a different root? If this were a TV show about a pair of investigative philologists, they would share a funny look and then dig deeper.
The technical question first. We can trace the sound changes systematically through the Germanic branch (whence English) of PIE. These changes are consistent. They rule out the possibility of PIE base *dyeu-'to shine,' from which Latin dies. They fit, however, with PIE *dhegh-, which is manifest in Sanskrit 'dah'-to burn and Lithuanian 'dagas'-"hot season," The OED notes in this Germanic branch OE. {asg}, OFris. dei, dey, di, OS. dag, OHG./MHG. tac(g), G. tag, ON. dag-r, Goth. dag-s, and OTeut. *dago-z. Thus we establish this as the root. There is, then, nothing coincidental about it. In fact, it makes pretty good sense that these roots should look similar in the proto-language, as they share much in common semantically--the link between light and heat is basic.

Anthropology is the study of humanity (literally, Gk. ανθροπος- man). It is, by nature, a blanket discipline. Extraction of the study of language, the very trait which separates man and animal, from mankind is, therefore, impossible. The answer, then, is yes, but a very trivial yes. I do not think it is possible to completely separate most fields from anthropology, including linguistics-- modern or ancient (perhaps only pure science and mathematics, if that). Consider the fact that the remainder of academic disciplines lie in the social sciences or humanities.

*It is usually best not to look to Wikipedia for etymologies, as it is susceptible to the folk kind, but the multiple sources here appear sound.


SHAZAM: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, Mercury.

I have fond reminiscences of childhood hours spent watching truly terrible cartoons on VHS tapes, among them, Shazam! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the official name--perhaps the inspiration for a certain soon-to-be relic of a search engine?). But today I learned something new, browsing the legitimately LOL-worthy* [H.T. Marginal Revolution]:
The origin of Shazam! is that young Billy Batson, a 12-year-old homeless newsboy, follows a mysterious stranger into a secret subway tunnel and boards an empty train that takes him to the lair of a wizard who gives him the secret word "Shazam!" The word is an acronym for Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury who all lend their respective powers to whoever yells the word with the least amount of shame.

Yes, you've read correctly, Captain Marvel in all of that skin-tight clothing, with his rippled muscles and dangling package is actually a 12-year-old boy who, thanks to a secret magic word he learned only by talking to strangers and following them into abandoned subway tunnels, has the amazing ability to instantly transform into the legal age of consent.
But although Mercury is included in this list, it is another hero who doth receive his gifts. This was the Sub-Mariner--also in our excellent collection--of whom Cracked writes, worthy of a quote in full:

Namor was the bastard offspring of a ship's captain and a member of a secret undersea race. We might be tempted to call him a mermaid, but the comic book insists he is technically "Homo Mermanus." A piece of advice for budding comic book writers, if you'd like to avoid cheap gay jokes at your hero's expense, perhaps including the words "homo" and "anus" in your character's scientific classification is a bad idea.

Namor has pointy Spock ears, can communicate with aquatic life, breathe underwater, possesses an enhanced physique to deal with the high pressure depths and, of course, has the obligatory tiny wings on his ankles that enable him to fly.

What's that you say? That last one seems a little out of place? Why would an aquatically themed superhero flit about on delicate little calf-wings? According to the creators: Fuck you, that's why.

*I laughed out loud, many times. Does that pardon of such a delightfully corny expression? No, no it certainly does not.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Estne serpens parvus?

Is it a small snake?

In English, we call those charming little slimy gastropods "snails." The etymology is offensively dull. Via etymonline:
snail Look up snail at Dictionary.comO.E. snægl, from P.Gmc. *snagilas (cf. O.S. snegil, O.N. snigill, M.H.G. snegel, dial. Ger. Schnegel, O.H.G. snecko, Ger. Schnecke "snail"), from base *snag-, *sneg- "to crawl" (see snake). The word essentially is a dim. form of O.E. snaca "snake," lit. "creeping thing." Also formerly used of slugs. Symbolic of slowness since at least c.1000;snail's pace is attested from c.1400.
The Romans were more observant. They called a snail a coclea, identical to their word for "spiral screw." And with their observation, the Greek tradition mixed in creativity, establishing my personal favorite (via LSJ): φέροικος--literally, house-bearer.

poenam fugere

To avoid the penalty.

On James Fallows always stimulating blog, a discussion of new Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner's past tax "error" leads him to dip into his mailbag:
"Not an innocent error" dept:
1) I couldn't agree more about Geithner and after 8 years of the rankest, in-your-face demonstration of a two-tiered justice system in which every wrong doer with a white collar has gotten off scott free (who is this scott anyway?) or even been rewarded for his malfeasance I just wish we could go back to the pretense that we have a legal system that works one way for all the people.

Let me hasten to add: I'm so excited about Obama and his promise I could just about burst but this episode keeps me from bumping my nose against the ceiling.
Scott? I know Scott Free, more properly as scot-free. The expression comes from Old English sc(e)ot-a payment, contribution, ‘reckoning’; a customary tax laid on, or a contribution paid by subjects according to their ability; a custom paid to the use of a sheriff or bailiff; a local or municipal tax (OED). To go scot-free is to avoid such a tax.

Monday, January 19, 2009

pro philologo

The case for of philology...

or Why I am not an Archaeologist. Cal Watkins presents the case for me:
The evidence that archaeology can provide is limited to material remains. But human culture is not confined to material artifacts. The reconstruction of vocabulary can offer a fuller, more interesting view of the culture of a prehistoric people than archaeology precisely because it includes nonmaterial culture. Consider the case of religion. To form an idea of the religion of a people, archaeologists proceed by inference, examining temples, sanctuaries, idols, votive objects, funerary offerings, and other material remains. But these may not be forthcoming; archaeology is, for example, of little or no utility in understanding the religion of the ancient Hebrews. Yet, for the Indo-European-speaking society, we can reconstruct with certainty the word for “god,” *deiw-os, and the two-word name of the chief deity of the pantheon, *dyeu-piter, Greek Zeus pater, and Luvian Tatis Tiwaz). The forms *dyeu- and *deiw-os are both derivatives of a root dyeu-, meaning “to shine,” which appears in the word for “day” in numerous languages (Latin dies; but English DAY is from a different root). The notion of deity was therefore linked to the notion of the bright sky. The second element of the name of the chief god, *dyeu-phter-, is the general Indo-European word for FATHER, used not in the sense of father as parent but with the meaning of the adult male who is head of the household, the sense of Latin pater familias. For the Indo-Europeans the society of the gods was conceived in the image of their own society as patriarchal. The reconstructed words *deiw-os and *dyeu-phter- alone tell us more about the conceptual world of the Indo-Europeans than a roomful of graven images.

That is from his excellent introduction to the American Heritage Dictionary's Appendix of Indo-European roots.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

linguae Europae indigenae

The languages of aboriginal Europe.

Don Ringe is a very, very smart guy. In his discipline, only a very smart guy writes this:
In the first place, if you want “reality-based” answers, take a scientific approach. Science may or may not reveal the existence of an objectively real world out there, but it does give results that can be replicated and answers that can be proved by anyone who knows how the system works. That’s good enough for me because I think it’s the best we can hope for. If people find specific scientific conclusions ideologically inconvenient, that’s their problem.
Thus, you should read his discussion, on LanguageLog, of the languages of Europe prior to the arrival of Indo-European and the eventual spread of our linguistic parent.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Per se

Per se--more often misused or misspelled?

This is prompted by my recent observation and acute shock at "per say," but the first is painfully common.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Odysseus et Steve Irwin

Odysseus and Steve Irwin.

What do the legendary voyager and the Crocodile Hunter have in common?

They were both fatally impaled upon a sting-ray barb. 

The September 2006 death of Steve Irwin was, perhaps, no less tragic than that of Odysseus, who according to the lost Telegony, perished at the hands of his son by the witch Circe, Telegonus. The battle between father and son, neither who recognized the other, culminated in Odysseus's death on the his son's spear point--a sting-ray barb.

That bit of Classical lore is from M.L. West's Indo-European Poetry and Myth.