Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's in a paper, anyway?

Does it seem strange to non-classicists that this bizarre, five line passage (from Tacitus' Agricola, chapter 12) can serve as the basis for a 20-some page paper? Well, it does to me anyway:
fert Britannia aurum et argentum et alia metalla, pretium victoriae. gignit et Oceanus margarita, sed subfusca ac liventia. quidam artem abesse legentibus arbitrantur; nam in rubro mari viva ac spirantia saxis avelli, in Britannia, prout expulsa sint, colligi: ego facilius crediderim naturam margaritis deesse quam nobis avaritiam.

Britain bears gold and silver and other metals—the value of its conquest. The ocean also produces pearls, but they are dusky and of bluish hue. Certain men believe that some technique is absent in the collectors; for in the Indian Ocean,the pearls are pulled out of the rocks still living and breathing, whereas in Britain, are collected just as they are expelled: I, for my part, would more easily believe that the natural quality of the pearls is lacking than our greed.
Also, I am on a quest for a highly-technical, possibly extant term which, if it exists, would be the term in structural engineering for, more or less, 'the point at which the force would cause a structure to collapse in the absence of a support.' Suggestions are welcome (with credit given! hmm? hmmmm?).

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