Category: Roman Culture


Permalink 11:23:54 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 412 words, 3469 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Roman Culture

ira versa laniando dentibus

I’m reading Robert O’Connell’s excellent and thoroughly engrossing .The Ghosts of Cannae, a review of the famous battle and the long shadow it casts in miliary history. Naturally, one of his primary sources is Livy–and although I’m not a fan of Livy’s rhetoric, I appreciate the insightful comparison to “a Hollywood mogul, capuring the sweep of Roman history with a notably cinematic flair.” And yes, an ancient historian would probably take that as a compliment.



Permalink 12:11:07 am, by Chris Jones Email , 560 words, 1819 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, Roman Culture

Argument ad Madidum

I should know better than to get into arguments at parties–a few beers in and everyone’s an expert. Basically–like a typical talk-radio hosts–I let the situation get the better of me and started making indefensible claims about the Roman poet Virgil; bear with me there’s a point in all this.

Basically the conversation was about the value of the arts in general: Are they strictly for entertainment, or is there some larger value in, say, reading Dickens or understanding opera. Since Latin literature is my own personal interest, I argued that art is of course entertaining–if nobody liked Silius Italicus, I doubt copies of the Punica would have survived, so I guess director Michael Bay has a chance. But art also provides a detailed window into a different culture, and there is some practical value in comparing that culture with our own. For one thing, it will often expose the unspoken assumptions and values of our own culture; if someone wants to, say, compare reality TV with Roman gladiator shows, they really need to do better than make an offhand reference to the Coliseum and rant about the slippery slope (Quamquam cornum meum canam, here’s an old piece on Jon&Kate that illustrates a better approach).

Anyway, though I stand by that point, the quality of that argument deteriorated thru the evening thanks to the continued ingestion of alcohol. Sadly, it reached a level where we were discussing the sexual orientation of the Roman poet Virgil (as a stand-in for all ancient literary figures–it’s too embarassing to recount even in a blog post). The correct answer to the question is, we simply can’t tell. Eclogue 2 is a tanatlizing clue–although as the earliest of Virgil’s bona-fide works it is a somewhat slavish imitation of the Greek Theocritus, so who knows how much of it reflects the poet’s real sentiments. But even the modern term “gay"–and I don’t mean just homosexuality, but all the attendant cultural implications–hardly has an equivalent in ancient Rome. The best my sober self can say is that it is quite possible that Virgil was homosexual–perhaps even more likely than for other Roman figures of the same era, but even so Virgil certainluy didn’t display the “gay sensibility” of 19th- and 20th- century writers like Oscar Wilde, James Merrill, or John Ashbury.

I guess what ultimately got me riled up was the way many people use the term “gay"–unfairly in my opinion–to ghettoize artistic work that doesn’t directly engage the heterosexual identity (for the modern culture, that means movies with car chases and buxom blondes). Musical theatre is the most common example; I personally enjoy musicals and appreciate their 20th-century development into a true American art form. But I suspect there is a large contingent of young males (that covereted 18-34 demo) who would instantly dismiss a masterpiece like “Carousel” as gay–even if they personally have no issue with homosexuality. I guess I take the use of the word “gay"–at least in this context–as a more general pejorative, somewhat like the anti-Romani connotation in the word “gyp". It’s a trap I shouldn’t have fallen into, and to anyone there who happens to stuble across this blog, I apologize.

Anyway, that’s my story from an embarassing weekend…so how did you spend your Saturday night?


Permalink 10:23:21 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 105 words, 1019 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

Ave Canem?

I was lucky enough to visit Pompeii eight years ago–absolutely fantastic, and I only saw a few strays roaming the streets (the cats on the Palatine were worse, but I suppose much less dangerous). It’s nice to know someone is doing something positive to change that.

OK, so [C]Ave canem is a good cause with a bad Latin name. Please explain:

Giacomo Bottinelli, the coordinator of the project, acknowledged that the Latin was not correct. “It should be Ave Canis” — for Hail Dog — “but we didn’t want to get into anything too complicated,” said Mr. Bottinelli, who studied classical philology in college.


Permalink 11:21:37 am, by Chris Jones Email , 264 words, 4165 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture


I spent last week driving with the family thru the American south, and at our stop in Monticello I learned a bit about Latin horticultural terms.



Permalink 01:03:22 am, by Chris Jones Email , 219 words, 1299 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

"We’re all custodians of global culture for posterity'

That pretty much sums up my reaction to this excellent NY Times article on recent requests from Greece to “repatriate” the Elgin Marbles.

My father–who is British–would say “we stole ‘em fair and square". True enough, and that theft is a fact of history–the presence of the marbles in Britain inspired the 18th/19th century Neo-Classical revival in the West. Prior to that, the Parthenon was a Turkish munitions dump, a makeshift mosque, a church–why, again, should all this be stripped away in favor of an archaeological reconstruction of Periclean Athens?

This blog proves I’m a big fan of the ancient world, but I also think it’s foolish to ignore later events in arriving at some pristine reconstructed notion of ancient civilization. All history is a process; take the example of the Euphronius Krater recently returned to Italy my the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Stolen property is stolen property. But how curious that an ancient Greek vase, which centuries after it was made came into the possession of an Etruscan collector (a kind of ancient Elgin) living on what is now the outskirts of Rome, and then ended up buried for thousands of years below what became modern Italy, is today Italian cultural patrimony. By that definition, Elgin’s loot is arguably British patrimony.


Permalink 10:22:05 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 24 words, 863 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

"Ista Mulier Invida"?

In the wake of the British media’s flap over Gordon Brown’s “bigot” gaffe, let’s rerun this post on the campaign of Publius Scipio Nascia.


Permalink 06:04:59 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 162 words, 3669 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Roman Culture

Contumeliosa Urbanitas

Thanks to Mary Beard for pointing me to this delightful anecdote from Valerius Maximus (one I hadn’t heard until her post).

Like the don says, Roman elections were much more of a face-to-face affair than their modern counterparts, but they still held the same media-based perils–something Publius Scipio Nascia had to learn the hard way:

P. autem Scipio Nascia…cum aedilitatem curulem adulescens peteret manumque cuiusdam rustico opere duratam–more candidatorum–tenacius (here “quite firmly") adprehendisset, ioci gratia interrogavit eum num manibus solitus esset ambulare (subj. of indirect question). Quod dictum a circumstantibus exceptum ad populum manavit ("spread") causamque repulsae (electoral defeat) Scipioni attulit. Omnes namque rusticae tribus (In fact all the country tribes), paupertatem sibi ab eo exprobratam iudicantes, iram suam adversus contumeliosam eius urbanitatem destrinxerunt. (VII.5.2)

I don’t know enough about British politics to comment on Beard’s comparison with Nicholas Winterton, but contumeliosa urbanitas is certainly part of the political wrangling in the US; we just call it “elitism”.


Permalink 01:23:26 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 305 words, 2750 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture, Education

Interiectiones sunt quae nihil docibile habent

I never gave the interjection much thought until I stumbled across this interesting 2004 article by Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc first published in the Revue Roumaine de Linguistique.



Permalink 11:21:46 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 33 words, 875 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture


…well, this was a complete waste of time. I gave up when that one guy cut off the other guy’s face and wore it into the arena. Who you ask? Ah, who cares…


Permalink 11:11:48 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 232 words, 1526 views   English (US)
Categories: Fun & Games, Roman Culture

So, how many can you show in a single episode?

The US pay-cable channel Starz is kicking off a 13-part series on Spartacus this Friday at 10 EST. The NY Times has a puff piece informative review drawing the usual U.S. vs. Rome parallels–not to mention the series’ unsurprising focus on “stylized, even balletic” violence and “abundant nudity, both male and female.”

I will be watching because, well, I’m interested in ancient Rome and willing to give it a chance. And I can say that I went into HBO’s ROME with similar low expectations and came away modestly pleased; in that series, the device of following the action via Vorenus and Pullo (soldiers in Caesar’s army) allowed for a more complete picture of Roman life that didn’t rely exclusively on political intrigue, shocking violence or overblown sex. My fear is that the Starz series will spend far more time with those last two items–the presence of Sam Raimi doesn’t inspire much hope, and with the skimpy historical details what else can they do to fill the time. Exercises in style like the recent 300 and (to a lesser extent) the Oscar-winning Gladiator seemed to treat the ancient world as little more than an action-movie vehicle, and perhaps I’m too familiar with the source material to enjoy the one-dimensional caricature offered by the swords n’ sandals genre…

But that’s just my opinion…tune in for youself and explain my idiocy in comments.


Permalink 11:37:41 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 348 words, 5550 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Roman Culture

De Amicitia in Tempore Vultilibris

William Deresiewicz has penned an interesting essay on friendship in the age of Facebook (Vultilibris?). I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusion that Facebook has debased traditional notions of male-male friendship–I think Kate Harding at Broadsheet has a better point when she underscores the cultural roles that “force boys and men to squelch their feelings and keep their emotional distance"–but Deresiewicz does his readers a service in sketching the idea of amicitia in the ancient world:



Permalink 11:12:28 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 172 words, 923 views   English (US)
Categories: Roman Culture

An Unusual Find in Wales

I’ve written before about archaeological discoveries uncovered by aerial photography. Now, thanks to a happy accident in the filming a BBC2 documentary, this photo from NW Wales shows what appears to be a previously-undiscovered Roman villa in Ceredigion, near the Roman fort at Trawsgoed.

I’m no expert on Roman Britain, but at some point in my undergrad careeer I read Peter Salway’s excellent survey. Traditionally, the geography of Roman Britannia is best understood via the division between “highland” and “lowland” regions–a NW diagonal line from Bristol to Middlesbrough roughly divides the lowlands south and east from the highlands north and west. The arable land and easy roads of the lowlands promoted a more domestic, civilized culture as compared to the isolated military communities of the highlands–in short, you expect to find large estates in the lowlands and forts or mining settlements in the highlands. So a well-appointed Roman villa in NW Wales should stick out like a sore thumb. Others have been found there, but AFAIK none this far NW…


Permalink 11:44:31 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 94 words, 1071 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture


Piling on to a post from David Meadows’ Rogue Classicism, someone should inform this reviewer that vomitorium doesn’t mean what she thinks it means:

…(W)hat we remember most about Rome, food-wise, is the period of its decadence, symbolized by disgustingly overwrought banquets and the vomitorium. We haven’t gone so far as to install vomitoria in the bathrooms of fast food restaurants (perhaps an idea whose time has come back?), but in many respects our society’s enslavement to the hyperpalatibility of junk food recalls the excesses of Rome in its self-destructive decline


Permalink 01:25:10 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 177 words, 3112 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

A Latin Inscription from Staffordshire

One of the items described in the recently-discovered Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon objects is a gold band–probably from a shield strap–that includes a Latin inscription. Photos are above, and from the obvious “inimici tui” and “qui oderunt te” this inscription is referencing Numbers 10:35 (Vulgate):

Cumque elevaretur arca dicebat Moses “Surge Domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua.”

Note the presence of non-capital letters throughout the inscription; the letter “a” in the words a facie tua looks exactly like a greek alpha (not to mention the tau for “t").

Dissipentur - “scatter” is an interesting word; the root sipo = su(p)po pretty much used as an equivalent to jacio, but there is also the connection with supinus - “bent back, lying on the back, supine".

For those with a better eye for inscriptions, much more detailed photos of the above can be found here and here. And if you’re looking to spend a few hours in rapt observation, you could do worse than this complete set of images from the hoard.


Permalink 11:44:49 am, by Chris Jones Email , 15 words, 802 views   English (US)
Categories: Roman Culture

Videre de caelo...


Permalink 10:54:36 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 62 words, 3063 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Roman Culture, Education

Summer Rerun

This week marks the 2000th anniversary of the Battle of Teutoburg forest–this post from last September reviews the story as told by the Romans themselves. Adrian Murdoch’s Bread and Circuses is also a good resource for the battle–hopefully he’s back from fishing soon…

Hey, it’s still summer here in Chicago…nothing wrong with light posting and one or two repeats…


Permalink 12:08:56 am, by Chris Jones Email , 359 words, 5678 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Literature, Roman Culture

Pliny - De Cura Salutari

Whichever side of the current US health care debate you’re on, a little dip into what Pliny’s Natural History says about the healing arts (as practiced in ancient Rome) can make for an interesting diversion. C’mon, this won’t hurt a but…



Permalink 10:43:55 am, by Chris Jones Email , 54 words, 972 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

Incunabula Vespasiani?

Article on Yahoo!…my Google-fu hasn’t found much else other than the picture at the top from an Italian news source.

Sounds like the usual overblown claim–there seems to be no evidence Vespasian ever lived in the villa–but then again any intact, large-scale dwelling from the 1st century is an impressive find.


Permalink 11:16:38 am, by Chris Jones Email , 779 words, 7046 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Literature, Roman Culture

Quid meruisti miser ut hoc spectes?

Jon and KateI certainly wouldn’t say I’ve cut myself off from pop culture–my wife and I are avid movie fans, read two or more newspapers a day, and when you have small children you spend a lot of nights in front of the TV–but I can say I had never heard of the now-ubiquitous Jon and Kate Gosselin before about three months ago, when rumors of an extramarital affair led to their recent separation. I’m pretty much left cold by that corner of “Reality TV” where the only talent on display is shameless self-promotion. As these so-called celebrities expose the detailed minutiae of their lives for a few moments of network fame, I’m reminded of a passage from Seneca’s Epistulae Morales:



Permalink 10:16:06 am, by Chris Jones Email , 463 words, 1431 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Kukla, Fran, and...

Olli and ollis are older spellings of the demostrative Latin pronouns illi and illis. The antiquarian Varro will explain:



Permalink 11:14:25 am, by Chris Jones Email , 58 words, 1053 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

Relics found in Campania

According to MSNBC, a rich trove of ancient artifacts has been found outside of Naples, including what is reported to be a bust of the emperor Titus. Looking for more pictures…

(Update) Blogging Pompeii has more; apparently this find is hitting the US press a week later…

Here’s a link to photos from earlier excavations at Rione Terra…


Permalink 02:46:48 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 539 words, 1905 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Dicis "tomato", dico "tomato"

In a recent discussion of Latin pronunciation, I pointed out that–contrary to expectation–ancient authorities are less trustworthy in discussing their own language than one would expect. The reason for this is that they were beholden to the more sophisticated Greek literature and would often try to graft Greek principles onto their native Latin. The situation is something like the way 19th century grammarians would sometimes declare English grammar must conform to the rules of Latin (Split Infinitive, anyone?).



Permalink 05:34:09 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 328 words, 1578 views   English (US)
Categories: Roman Culture, Education

Tormentum et Carrus

Call me a wet blanket, but while I appreciate the challenge of making Latin relevant and exciting for a high-school class, I often wonder what happened to the Latin in a story like this review of Latin classes at California’s Corona del Mar High school preparing exhibits for the California JCL Convention.

I’m hoping the article writer just glossed over the “boring” subject matter of the class, but since the article calls the catapult a “trebuchet", I’m left doubting the ancient authenticity of the weapon. And that would be a shame; events like the JCL convention should be used to cultivate students interest in a subject, not just whip up undirected enthusiam. I’d love to know, for example, how the students applied their study of Latin and Roman culture to the construction of the catapult and chariot–what ancient sources did they use, did the students study friezes/excavations to get their design, etc. For example, most people don’t know that (1) Greek and Roman chariots used only a single pole with a crossbeam for a yolk and (2) Greco-Roman catapults cast projectiles exclusively via the stretching of suitable materials, not by dropping a weight (there is an account in Caesar’s Civil War (III.9) of women cutting their hair to provide elastic ropes for catapults). It would be nice if the JCL projects illustrated these facts rather than perpetuating the popular myths of Roman culture.

Still, I wish the kids well–they obviously worked hard on their projects and for all I know they have done their classical homework. As for preventing their gravity-powered trebuchet from tipping over, put it on wheels that allow the base to shoot backwards slightly when the pith is cast. This causes the counterweight to drop in more of a vertical path (rather than along the circular curve of the lever arm), which not only improves stability but also transfers some of the force tipping the platform into the toss, making for much longer shots.


Permalink 12:29:09 am, by Chris Jones Email , 310 words, 3549 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation, Literature, Roman Culture


In my opinion staging myths from the Metamorphoses has always seemed like something an ambitious Latin teacher could develop with a little coaxing of the high-school drama club. The Fresno State drama department has taken that idea to the next level by augmenting their dramatic production of Ted Hughes’ “Tales from Ovid” with dancers, a natural given the author’s passionate lyric (which Hughes’ excellent 1997 translation preserves). There are time–rare to be sure–when I envy Californians.

No other ancient writer had the cinemagraphic eye for detail that Ovid did; parts of his long his mythological poem read IMO like a modern screenplay. Take these lines from the myth of Echo and Narcissus, the scene featured in the Fresno Bee article. Here Narcissus has admitted his, well, narcissism in a lengthy solilogy, and Ovid punctuates the scene with a familiar visual image:

Dixit et ad faciem rediit male sanus eandem
et lacrimis turbavit aquas, obscuraque moto
reddita forma lacu est; quam cum vidisset abire,
‘Quo refugis? Remane nec me, crudelis, amantem

“He spoke, and unnerved returned to that same face
and stirred the waters with tears, and the reflected image
was obscured by the disturbed pond; when he saw it disappear
‘Where are you going? Stay, cruel one, and do not desert me
your lover!’”

The shot of a pensive or melancholy actor disturbing their own reflection in water (or that of a ghost) now seems a rather common film cliche–here’s an example from the 2004 Oscar winner Return of the King, another from the 1978 musical Grease (speed to the end if you can’t hack Olivia Newton John). I’m not suggesting any deliberate reference to Ovid in these scenes, just that Ovid’s narrative poetry often includes visual details that–2000 years later–match some of the basic grammar of film imagery; IMO he would have made a great director.


Permalink 11:22:46 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 579 words, 6341 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Literature, Roman Culture

A Roman "Credit Crunch"?

At least one political website has linked the current worldwide credit crunch with one that struck Rome during the last years of Tiberius’ reign. The details of this ancient financial crisis can be found in Tacitus’s Annales(VI.16-7).



Permalink 02:21:30 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 625 words, 4865 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Literature, Roman Culture

Battlestar Galactica and the Aeneid?

In a couple of recent posts I’ve described a few subtle links between themes in classical literature and modern entertainment such as the TV show Lost and the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

Now comes a lecture from professor Peggy Heller of the University of King’s College in Halifax (Nova Scotia) who sees parallels to the Aeneid in the TV series Battlestar Galactica. Guardian culture editor Charlotte Higgins agrees and amplifies the connection, while David Meadows at Rogue Classicism thinks the parallel was “obvious” even in the original version of the TV series.

I’ll agree that Battlestar Galactica and the Aeneid share a superficially similar plot structure. The complications arise when this thin connection becomes a rigid template forcing every detail to conform to the interpretation. From Ms. Higgins’ blog:

A leader leaves the destroyed wreck of his former civilisation (Troy/Caprica), which has been blasted into smithereens by an invading force (Greeks/Cylons). You might even see Gaius Baltar as a sort of Trojan horse. That leader is accompanied by his son: it’s Adama as Aeneas, and Apollo as Ascanius, if you follow me.

Tentatively, I’d suggest Starbuck’s return to Caprica to collect the arrow of Apollo as akin to the visit to the Underworld in Aeneid book six. The arrow of Apollo as the golden bough?

The unsuccessful stay in New Caprica, of course, recalls the settlement the wandering Trojans found on Crete in book three, in the mistaken assumption that this is the fated new land.

One might argue that Helena Cain is a kind of reversed Dido (Aeneid book four); the eventually destroyed Pegasus might be seen as her funeral pyre.

This, to be charitable, is nonsense; it ignores the details surrounding all these characters/events that are present in the drama itself in favor of a “top-down” interpretation that treats the series as a direct allegory of the older work.

My understanding of modern pop culture is that when allegory is in play, it isn’t that difficult to spot. The inconsistent use of Greek names/gods in the original Battlestar may have been a hint of the story’s Greco-Roman origins, or it may have been a quick & dirty way to follow the tradition of earlier space operas: Give characters odd or lofty names ("Flash” Gordon, “Buck” Rodgers, Luke “Skywalker") that immediately suggest heroic status (I find it interesting that the more recent BSG doesn’t fully commit to this convention. “Apollo” and “Starbuck", for instance, are explained as Lee Adama’s and Kara Thrace’s pilot callsigns, not their actual birthnames. Perhaps the writers see the first BSG’s widespread use of this earlier convention as too “corny” for modern viewers?). The series’ premise may involve a hero leading a group of unknown people because it’s mimicing the Aeneid, or it may be because such a story device is useful in an open-ended episodic series, since it allows the “rag-tag fugitive fleet” to encounter new planets each week (and hence new situations/protagonists), not to mention guest stars/extras who can be placed in real danger as the story demands (unlike the under-contract series regulars; wasn’t this the whole point of the “red shirts” on the original Star Trek?). I’d obviously argue for the latter in both cases.

It’s likely that modern TV writers are “re-discovering” ancient storytelling ideas in modern contexts; my post on Lost, for example, was essentially about how the sci-fi conceit of time-travel is a modern stand in for the ancient dramatic theme of “Destiny” with a capital D. But if you hear me start comparing characters on that show to characters in the Aeneid (Hurley = Achates?), be very, very suspicious. Literary/cinematic allegory IMO is fairly obvious when its there, and doesn’t need an inscrutable theory to explain it.


Permalink 09:11:30 am, by Chris Jones Email , 112 words, 1765 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, News, Roman Culture

International Festival of Latin and Greek...

…is coming to Nantes the last weekend in March; all the details you will ever need can be found here.

I wrote a brief post for last year’s festival, which included a performance by Ista!. If Boris Johnson shows up at this year’s festivities, that alone is worth the price of admission.

I visited Nantes briefly some years ago while driving north for a tour of Brittany. Besides the festival, there is plenty for fans of the ancient world to see. Gallic and Roman ruins are still preserved at the impressive Château des Ducs de Bretagne, and of course a day trip to the prehistoric alignments at Carnac is highly recommended.


Permalink 01:28:01 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 295 words, 4418 views   English (US)
Categories: Fun & Games, Roman Culture

The role of Destiny

Last night’s post about the Latin in the TV show Lost sparked an idea that has been knocking around my head for a while. As viewers of that show are no-doubt aware, time-travel plays a big part in the ongoing story; in fact, explicit time travel can be found in quite a few modern pop-culture artifacts, not to mention the general narrative trend toward non-chronological storytelling (think of films like “Pulp Fiction", or the now-ubiquitous practice of TV shows that present how the story will end prior to the opening credits, only to double back to the beginning after the first 8 or 10 minutes).

The Parcae or Fata play an important role in classical literature, most notably in Vergil’s Aeneid. The modern trope of time travel serves the same narrative purpose that concepts like Fatum did in the ancient world. In these older stories, supernatual characters would make oracular pronouncements like “It is your destiny” to move the plot along and alert an attentive reader to signposts in the narrative ahead. Today these same story functions are commonly handled by a character explaining in a purely scientific way how the physical laws of time travel should work: You either can’t “affect the timeline” (manent immota tuorum/fata tibi - Aen.I.257-8), or if you do the results are uniformly a disaster that “needs to be fixed” (think of how miserable Aeneas is until he understands and accepts his destiny).

IMO, while a modern writer may recognize the narrative utility of devices like fate and destiny, he/she knows a modern audience wouldn’t accept the usual supernatural explanation or its attendant religious/philosophical underpinnings. So fate is varnished with a pseudo-scientific verneer; the ideas of classical literature aren’t at all dead, just transformed for a more sophisticated audience.


Permalink 09:12:24 am, by Chris Jones Email , 207 words, 3153 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, Literature, Roman Culture, Calpurnius' Bucolica

New Project...

Pastoral Northern Italy

One of the reasons I started this blog is to share my interest in Latin literature. Things have been a litle dead around here for the past month, and so I’ve been looking for a blog project in 2009 to keep me writing, something like the series of posts I did on the first book of Statius’ Thebaid.

At the same time, we’ve hired some contractors to do some work on our home. The house is a mess, but it did force me to go thru some old boxes I had in the attic. Lo and behold, I found an old paper I wrote for graduate school on Titus Calpurnius Siculus. Don’t worry if you don’t recognize the name; Calpurnius is a minor poet who wrote a set of bucolic poems (in imitation of Virgil’s Eclogues) most probably in the time of Nero.

I needed a topic to jump-start this blog, and along comes Calpurnius. So what’s say I take a look at his opera and do a little translation/analysis? If you’re a fan of Virgil’s Eclogues, these imitations will likely pique your interest.

I’ll add Calpurnius to the categories in the righthand column, and you can expect an initial post within the next week or so


Permalink 02:07:41 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 52 words, 653 views   English (US)
Categories: Roman Culture


Photos from the Commune di Roma’s presentation of the Ara Pacis with light-projected colors.

Most statues and public sculpture were brightly painted in the ancient world. It’s hard to imagine that now given the modern images of classical statuary in austere white marble; exhibits like this make the old images alive again.


Permalink 01:21:02 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 348 words, 857 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Words - A little at a time

A lot of Latin words starting in pau derive from the Greek verb ðáõþ (pauo) - “to stop, bring to an end". There’s an attendant sense then of “hindering” or “abating” something, so it’s not surprising to see it as the root of words like pauci, -ae, -a - “a few” and the archaic paulus - “little"–adjectives which imply that a thing/group is limited. Paulus is seen more frequently in classical times as the accusative-turned-adverb paulum - “a little” and the frozen ablative paulo - “by a little, somewhat", a word commonly used in comparisons.

More abstract is a word like pauper - “poor", which combines the form with the Latin verb pario - “I produce a limited amount” (recall the perfect for of pario is peperi, explaining the vowel change). There is also the verb parco - “spare” but less frequently “to refrain, desist” (sometimes even with an infinitive). An example comes from Livy: During the war with Etruria, the Roman general Camillus arrived at Sutrium–a city that had surrendered itself some days earlier to the Roman Senate–just as it was being looted by the Etruscans. As Camillus then attacked the city, he told the Sutrian envoys parcere lamentis Sutrinos iussit: Etruscis se luctum lacrimasque ferre. (there’s an implied verb of saying dixit in the second half of that sentence, a common omission for the historian Livy).

The root also explains why parco usually has what we perceive as a direct object in the dative case when that object is a person, e.g. parco tibi - “I spare you". Tibi here is really an ethical dative–"I refrain in your interest“–but it’s simpler for new students to simply be told “Parco means “spare” and it takes a direct object in the dative". Similar datives (nearly always, as with the ethical dative, reserved for persons) can be seen in verbs like faveo tibi - “I favor you” => “I am favorable in your interest” and noceo tibi - “I harm you” => “I am harmful as to your interest“. Something to consider the next time you’re puzzled by a weird dative in that sentence from Cicero…


Permalink 09:50:22 am, by Chris Jones Email , 114 words, 1440 views   English (US)
Categories: Fun & Games, Roman Culture

More on cultural symbols

I wrote a post on the Sator/Rotas square late last night, and as I turned in the perfect illustration of a group-transcendent symbol occurred to me: The now-ubiquitous image of revolutionary Che Guevara that has been lithographed and screenprinted throughout the world.

These days, the image is hardly an endorsement of a particular political system; it is simply a popular cultural abstraction. Similarly, whatever the origin of the Sator/Rotas square, it didn’t necessarily require an organized group (like the Christians) to propagate it thru the empire. If future archaeologists were to unearth a Che Guevara T-shirt in, say, Juneau, would they be justified in arguing Alaska was a hotbed of communist activity?


Permalink 11:54:06 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 314 words, 2922 views   English (US)
Categories: Fun & Games, Roman Culture

Semordnilap pt. 4

No review of palidromes would be complete without a mention of the Sator/Rotas square:

S A T O R   The sower
A R E P O   Arepo
T E N E T   holds
O P E R A   with effort
R O T A S   the wheels.



Permalink 06:49:27 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 7 words, 598 views   English (US)
Categories: Roman Culture

One of my favorite early blog posts...

…deserves a rerun for New Year’s Eve…


Permalink 12:11:33 am, by Chris Jones Email , 271 words, 3630 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Fun & Games, Roman Culture

Semordnilaps pt. 3

Sidonius’ letter regarding palindromes dates from the fifth century, a time when classical poetry was becoming an academic exercise, the irrelevant plaything of dilletants who sang about sterile mythology while an empire crumbled around them. The English poet W. H. Auden captures their overwrought pedantry perfectly in his poem The Epigoni:

It would have been an excusable failing
Had they broken out into womanish wailing
Or, dramatising their doom, held forth
In sonorous clap-trap about death;
To their credit, a reader will only perceive
That the language they loved was coming to grief,
Expiring in preposterous mechanical tricks,
Epanaleptics, rhopalics, anacyclic anacrostics:
To their lasting honor, the stuff they wrote
Can safely be spanked away in a scholar’s foot-note,
Called shallow by a mechanised generation for whom
Haphazard oracular grunts are profound wisdom.

Continuing this theme, I happened across an epigram by Martial that comments on a similar over-indulgence of wordplay from the lesser Silver Age bards:

Quod nec carmine glorior supino
nec retro lego Sotaden cinaedum,

non sum, Classice, tam malus poeta.
(Epig. II.86.1-2,5)

Sotaden (Gk. accusative form of Sotades) is apparently a poet who dabbled in carmen supinum, a term I translate as “backward poetry". Martial’s opinion of these imitators–who must have had some vogue in 1st century Rome if it merited an epigram–is neatly summarize in two later lines:

Turpe est difficiles habere nugas
et stultus labor est ineptiarum.
(ibid. 9-10)

Difficiles…nugas - “difficult trifles” isn’t just an amusing oxymoron but a fair assessment of palindromes in general. Perhaps then I’ve spent enough time with these trifles…and yet I have enough for just one more post…


Permalink 11:28:55 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 270 words, 3191 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Fun & Games, Roman Culture

Semordnilap (pt. 2)

Sidonius’ letter goes on to describe another kind of versus recurrentes…qui pedum lege servata etsi non per singulos apices (letters), per singula tamen verba replicantur. Sidonius illustrates this type of “word” palindrome with a cute story:

(Rivulus) repentino procellarum pastus illapsu publicumque aggerem confragoso diluvio supergressus subdita viae culta inundaverat…Igitur istic (nam viator adveneram), dum magis ripam quam vadum quaero, tali iocatus epigrammate per turbulenti terga torrentis his saltem pedibus incessi:

Praecipiti modo quod decurrit tramite flumen
   tempore consumptum iam cito deficiet.

(pastus is ppt. of pascere - “feed", referring to the rivulus; publicum…aggerem - “public levee", obj. of supergressus; vadum - “shallows"; magis ripam quam vadum quaero means Sidonius is willing to wait for the ripa rather than wade thru the vadum; saltem is an amusing touch, playing on the anatomical/poetic double meaning of pedes)

I translate the couplet “Right on the edge of doom because a river rushes over the path /Overwhelmed in a moment, he now will quickly pass away.” If w reverse the order of the words:

Deficiet cito iam consumptum tempore flumen,
   tramite decurrit quod modo praecipiti.

I translate “The spent river swiftly passes away in a moment/(the river) which runs just now on the dangerous path.” Not bad–the couplet covers both the sudden appearance and disappearance of a flash flood–but the Latin is a bit convoluted. Sidonius concedes as much in the following passage, which could apply generally to any such word games:

En habes versus, quorum syllabatim mirere rationem. Ceterum pompam, quam non habent, non docebunt.

(mirere = mireris; syllabatim - “syllable by syllable")


Permalink 12:40:12 am, by Chris Jones Email , 367 words, 3337 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Fun & Games, Roman Culture


Subi dura a rudibus - “Undergo rough things from rude men” is a neat little palindrome, a sentence that reads the same forward and backwards (I’m pretty sure it’s post-classical, but if anyone knows the source please put a cite in the comments).

Similar word puzzles are attested in ancient sources; the 5th-century bishop Apollinaris Sidonius includes an example in a letter from a preserved collection of the cleric’s correspondence. Burgundio, a young litterateur from a well-connected Gallic family, had apparently asked Sidonius about recurrentes versus:

…interrogas per pugillatorem, quos recurrentes asseram versus, ut celer explicem, sed sub exemplo. hi nimirum sunt recurrentes, qui metro stante neque litteris loco motis ut ab exordio ad terminum, sic a fine releguntur ad summum. Sic est illud antiquum: “Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor.” [Et illud: “Sole medere, pede ede, perede melos".] (Epistulae IX.14)

(pugillator is a messenger–is this hapax legomena? Nimirum - “without a doubt". metro stante - “with meter preserved")

Sidonius’ Latin isn’t exactly Ciceronian, but there are a few items worth highlighting. First, the palindrome Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor is called illud antiquum (as opposed to, say, notum). It seems safe to conclude the verse predates the 5th century, perhaps by more than a generation. Also, the second example–enclosed in brackets here–is translated “Heal with the sun, eat with a foot, devour songs". Even for a palindrome this is pretty nonsensical, and to my eye it looks like the insertion of a bored/overconfident copyist. Finally, the verse has the meter of an elegiac pentameter–the second half of an elegiac couplet–so its natural to wonder if there was ever a first half to this verse. A legend attributed to St. Martin of Tours supplies one possibility, as a donkey carrying the saint on pilgrimage to Rome protests his master’s rough treatment (an obvious allusion to the Biblical story of Balaam and the Ass in Numbers 22:28):

Signa te, signa; temere me tangis et angis;
   Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor.

(The verb signa mean “to cross oneself” in Christian contexts)

Sidonius mentions another word game in this interesting letter; feel free to read ahead or check in for the next post…


Permalink 05:26:17 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 113 words, 718 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

Discovery has a fascinating reconstruction of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius from the perspective of twelve people found buried in a collapsed home. Well worth a few minutes of time.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum (the second, though smaller, is much better preserved–don’t skip it). While the ruins are of course impressive, for me the most haunting artifacts are the plaster casts of the victims, which were poured into the hollow spaces left behind in the volcanic debris after their bodies long decayed. I still remember the agonizing detail in the face of one suffocated man far better than de rigeur brothel wall painting every tourist snickers over.


Permalink 05:01:50 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 530 words, 5832 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Literature, Roman Culture

An Ancient "Credit Crunch"

H/T to Adrian Murdoch’s Bread and Circuses for highlighting an article in the UK Guardian that ties the current credit crunch to a similar financial problem in Ancient Rome.



Permalink 10:24:34 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 438 words, 3228 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Fun & Games, Roman Culture

Dies lucis servandi

I really don’t see the point of daylight savings time anymore. Originally instituted in the US during the first World War, the measure increased the amount of summer daylight in the evening so that people would use as much electricity for electric lights. But the electrical savings today are miniscule considering the total use of electricity–most folks stay up later nowadays and use far more juice on appliances than on electric light–and a 1998 study in the New England Journal of Medicine argues that we pay for DST with an increase in traffic accidents–both in the spring and in the fall. And with Congress changing the US dates for DST in 2007, we are no longer in sync with the rest of the world (a concern for international business–just this past week I had trouble connecting on a conference call because Germany has “fallen back” a week earlier than the US). We already spend over 2/3 of the year on DST, so I have to wonder: Why not just keep the summer hours year round?

So what does this have to do with Latin? Well, it seems even antiquity had a problem adjusting life to the dictates of the clock. Preserved in Gellius’ Attic Nights is an otherwise lost fragment from an unknown play of Plautus. Gellius helpfully sets the scene: Parasitus…esuriens haec dicit:

Ut illum di perdant, primus qui horas repperit,
quique adeo primus statuit hic solarium!
Qui mihi comminuit misero articulatim diem.
Nam me puero uenter erat solarium
multo omnium istorum optimum et uerissimum:
Ubi is te monebat, esses, nisi cum nihil erat.
Nunc etiam quod est, non estur, nisi soli libet;
itaque adeo iam oppletum oppidum est solariis,
maior pars populi aridi reptant fame.
(Noct. Att. III.3.5)

(The leading ut=utinam; take the perf. subj. repperit to mean something like “distinguish"; in line 4–although there is no participle–take me puero to be abl. abs.; the is of line 6 refers back to venter and would be a qui in later writers; esses is not a form of esse, but a form of edo - “eat"; note the plural verb in the final line with the ‘collective’ subject maior pars populi)

I’ve always found this selection amusing; the speaker is complaining about the “new-fangled” solarium, but nowadays very few inventions seem more ancient than the sundial. However, the selection does acknowledge a more universal truth: The tendency for the works of man, created at first as his servant, soon become his master. So let me ask you again; why exactly do we choose to move the clock back and forth an hour twice each year?


Permalink 11:22:38 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 119 words, 834 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

Macrobius Inscription

Macrobius Inscription
Speculation about the recently discovered tomb of Macronius has been bouncing around the ancient world blogosphere over the past week.

Classicist Adrian Murdoch points readers and budding epigraphers to the photo above (hi-res version here), and more than one site has taken a stab at transliteration. Well worth a look even for amateurs like myself who will likely never get the opportunity to visit a dig in person.

BTW Mr. Murdoch’s recently-revived blog is excellent, and I’ve just subscribed to the atom feed of Dorothy King’s PhDiva. One thing I like about blogging is discovering all these other people with similar scholarly interests, many of whom are more than happy to respond to an email from an enthusiastic amateur…


Permalink 10:34:48 am, by Chris Jones Email , 36 words, 1474 views   English (US)
Categories: Fun & Games, Roman Culture

For the Besieger who Has Everything...

H/t to Gizmodo (via David Meadow’s Rogue Classicism) for finding this full-size replica of a Roman catapult up for bids on the UK version of eBay. It was originally built for a Discovery channel doc…

Permalink 12:12:56 am, by Chris Jones Email , 635 words, 6496 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Literature, Roman Culture

Politics Then and Now

McCain and Obama - 2008 Presidential DebateIf you’re like me, the recent US Presidential Debate and ensuing media analysis seemed overly-focused not on what the candidates said but trivialities like the debaters’ body language. But a quick review of Roman sources reminds us that political attention to unspoken communication is at least as old as Cicero; let’s take a quick look.



Permalink 10:30:18 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 225 words, 4465 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Passer deliciae meae puellae

A speculation from UK Independent columnist Michael McCarthy as to Lesbia’s famous sparrow. A professor of ornithology offers an alternate theory:

Now Professor Birkhead (he’s at Sheffield University), in a splendid old-fashioned academic footnote, ventures the possibility that the bird may not have been a sparrow at all, but a bullfinch, pictured above. He bases his theory on the fact that hand-reared bullfinches show more devotion to their human owners than any other bird, and also on the word Catullus uses to describe its voice – “pipiabat". Classicists will recognise at once that this is the third-person singular of the imperfect tense of the verb “pipiare", which may mean “to cheep” – in which case the bird probably was a sparrow after all – but may also mean “to pipe", in which case it was possibly a bullfinch, as only a bullfinch “pipes".

As I understand it, a bird that “pipes” produces a lower whistling sound rather than a sharp higher-pitched chirp. The verb pipio and its cousins pipo and pipito are clearly onomatopoeias, but a quick check of the OLD shows they are used to describe the sound made by a gallina, the mewling of infants, and the squeak of mice, so the English term “cheep” may not be exactly equivalent.

Obviously there’s not enough evidence to make a definitive claim, but it is an interesting idea…


Permalink 12:38:39 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 978 words, 7076 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Literature, Roman Culture

In Memory of an Earlier 9/11

Seven years after the attacks of September 11th, the American people are still clearly affected by the loss. By a tragic coincidence, early September finds the anniversary of another slaughter that cast a lengthy pall over its culture: The destruction of three Roman legions commanded by Publius Quinctilius Varus in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD).

Reconstructed German Fortifications



Permalink 12:31:58 am, by Chris Jones Email , 67 words, 625 views   English (US)
Categories: Roman Culture

The Ten Biggest Roman Amphitheatres

If you haven’t seen this list on Roland’s Earthblog, it’s well worth a quick look. Great pictures.

I’ve been lucky enough to see three of these in person (Rome, Capua, and Pompeii). Of course the Coliseum at Rome is hard to beat, but you may be surprised to learn the amphitheatres at Pompeii and Capua were built in the time of Cicero, some 150 years before the Flavian.


Permalink 12:19:11 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 480 words, 5771 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Roman Culture

Aches and pains

My wife, who is a physical therapist, asked me the other night if the Romans ever complained of “chronic pain", as opposed to the dolor of wounds. I did a little checking, and thought I’d share my brief dive on the topic of chronic pain in extant Latin literature.



Permalink 04:01:13 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 215 words, 3143 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Roman Culture, Education

What the Romans Have Done for Us

H/T to Rogue Classicism for a link to an interesting “What have the Romans ever done for us?” piece in the Canadian Times & Transcript.

The article concludes with the familiar Cicero quote “A mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than can a field, however fertile, without cultivation.” David Meadows wonders about the source of that quote, and by luck I just included a blurb from Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations in a post I wrote on translating the English idiom “How few” which leads right into the original Latin for this quotation.

As regular readers may recall, Cicero was complaining about “how few” philosophers practice what they preach. His friend Atticus then argues that the hypocrisy of most philosophers proves how unimportant philosophy itself must be. Cicero disagrees:

Nullum vero id quidem argumentum est. Nam ut agri non omnes frugiferi sunt qui coluntur, falsumque illud Accii:

  Probae etsi in segetem sunt deteriorem datae
  Fruges, tamen ipsae suapte natura enitent,

Sic animi non omnes culti fructum ferunt. Atque, ut in eodem simili verser, ut ager quamvis fertilis sine cultura fructuosus esse non potest, sic sine doctrina animus; ita est utraque res sine altera debilis.

(Accius was an early Latin tragic playwright whose work survives mainly in quote-fragments like this)


Permalink 10:01:44 am, by Chris Jones Email , 368 words, 3182 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Money changes everything...

Several ancient authors remark on the obvious etymology of pecunia - “money", from Cicero’s description of ancient Rome’s origins in his De Republica (tunc erat res in pecore et locorum possessionibus, ex quo pecuniosi et locupletes vocabantur - II.16) to Ovid’s more poetic explanation:

cetera luxuriae nondum instrumenta vigebant;
   aut pecus aut latam dives habebat humum
(hinc etiam “locuples", hinc ipsa “pecunia” dicta est);

Fasti V.279-81

Cetera luxuriae…instrumenta refers to more familiar/modern forms of wealth like gold. In olden times, the dives only had pecus or latam…humum (careful…humus, -i is one of those rare feminines of the 2nd declension). Note how the hinc…hinc of the parenthetical final line–with locuples referring back to latam humum and pecunia to pecus–forms a chiasmus, a favorite figure of speech for classical poets in general and Naso in particular.

If you’re wondering about the adjective locuples - “wealthy", the word is more accurately derived from loci plenus–Ovid’s humum is metri gratia. Here is yet another example of how Latin grounds abstract terms in familiar, everyday concepts, many coming straight from nature and agriculture. A quick scan of familiar names provides easy examples: Cicero, Lentulus, and Fabius are related to the words cicer - “chick-pea", lens - “lentil", and faba - “bean"; perhaps each had an ancestor who cultivated these crops. Better yet there is the adjective laetus, -a, -um, a word often used of “lush” plants or “healthy” animals (not to mention the lesser-known noun laetamen - “manure"), while felix, felicis has an obvious cognate with the verb fello, -are - “suckle".

One of my favorite words in this tied-to-agriculture category is the verb deliro, -are - “to rave, be mad” (hence the English words “delirious” and “delirium"). The 2nd century grammarian Velius Longus explains:

Ita sicuti boues, cum se a recto actu operis detorserint, delirare dicuntur, sic qui a recta uia uitae ad prauam declinant, per similitudinem translationis item delirare existimantur. (De Orthographia; GL VII.73)

A raving man then is literally de lira - “off the row” (lira, -ae is the mound of earth between two plowed furrows) . I suppose today we’d say he’s “off his rocker"; perhaps a sign we spend more time today at leisure than our dirt-scratching ancestors…


Permalink 08:13:05 am, by Chris Jones Email , 70 words, 634 views   English (US)
Categories: Roman Culture

Hadrian at the Museum

The long-awaited major exhibition on Hadrian at the British beings this Thursday and runs thru late October. If you are in London over the next few months, it should be well worth a visit. A few on-line resources:

British Museum description of the exhibit

Mary Beard got a preview, and shares her thought on her blog.

A Times UK review from an artistic perspective.

Another review from The UK Independent.


Permalink 12:18:02 am, by Chris Jones Email , 215 words, 6129 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature, Roman Culture

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

A google of recent news articles shows that the quote in the subject line–"Who will guard the guards?"–is still a rather common adage. Two examples can be found in just the past week:



Permalink 07:57:39 am, by Chris Jones Email , 263 words, 5257 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Roman Culture

Is this statue a fake?

Lupa Capitolina

The Lupa Capitolina is one of the most familiar statues from the ancient world and a favorite subject of Roman souvenir stands. It can be found on T-shirts, post cards–not to mention many public buildings in the city. But results of carbon-dating have been released, and they indicate a much later date than the previous estimate of 500 BC. The evidence is hardly definitive, but it has stirred up a bit of controversy in Italy.



Permalink 09:17:45 am, by Chris Jones Email , 47 words, 2839 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, Literature, Roman Culture

Added to blogroll...

I mentioned Professor Chris Francese of Dickinson college in a post from January. He’s put together a podcast of Latin poetry, and has been kind enough to leave me a comment.

A quick check of his site shows he’s made a number of updates. Take a look…


Permalink 02:36:16 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 201 words, 3478 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Modern Latin, Roman Culture, Education

Recitation Tips

I can across a thread on Textkit regarding Latin recitation for poetry. It’s well worth a look.

The thread begins with a Youtube link for a reading of Aeneid VI.836-853. I think the recitation is perfect for beginners; the rhythm is deliberately over-emphasized, but hearing it this way gives one a good starting point to develop a more natural style. It reminded me of my own high-school Latin teacher, who pounded out the rhythm of the dactylic hexameter by tapping a ruler on the edge of his desk. Our reading was very mechanical at first, but improved over the semester.

For those interested in more, the fellow in the video has also started typing out Charles Bennett’s The Quantitative Reading of Latin Poetry, complete with mp3’s for some of the sample lines. I haven’t read this book in a while–a copy of the out-of-print text lurks somewhere in a box in my garage–but the advice it gives stands up even today.

I’d like to credit the man, who identifies himself as Alatius on Textkit and Winge42 on Youtube. He’s doing good work to help revive Latin as an artistic medium, a topic I am very much interested in.


Permalink 11:12:27 am, by Chris Jones Email , 355 words, 1592 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

The language speaks!

The defective verb for, fari, fatus is ofen used in poetry for dico, loquor, and the like. The word pops up in the term used to describe small children as “infants"–those who cannot speak, an etymology well known to the Romans:



Permalink 12:16:43 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 255 words, 2933 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Roman Culture

Tempus solstitiale

The summer solstice this year falls almost exactly at midnight between June 20th and 21st (GMT; in the US that’s the evening of the 20th). Ovid, as usual, has a charming note in the Fasti (VI.784-90)

Ecce suburbana rediens male sobrius aede
ad stellas aliquis talia verba iacit:
‘zona latet tua nunc, et cras fortasse latebit:
dehinc erit, Orion, aspicienda mihi.’
at, si non esset potus, dixisset eadem
venturum tempus solstitiale die.

Notice how Ovid ironically structures the passage: The calendar-significant solstice is cast as an afterthought to the picture of a drunk making his way home after a night out, and the poet paints the picture in a muster of detail:

  • The constellation Orion rises just before dawn in late June, so its zona - “belt” would only be visible after a really late night of carousing.
  • Rather than calling him potus right away, Ovid employs the gentler, more playful litotes male sobrius - “poorly sober".
  • The fellow is returning from suburbana…aede (The Suburba was the lower-class section of the city; where else would you go for a cheap night on the town?)
  • The drunk mentions possibly looking for Orion on three separate nights (nunc, cras, dehinc).

Put it all together, and we’re looking at a real animal conviviale!

The date on this passage is June 26th, quite a few days later than our own solstice. The reason for this apparent discrepancy is the astronomical phenomenon known as Precession of the Equinoxes, though the exact dating was also affected by the Gregorian calendar reform in 1582.


Permalink 04:08:24 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 886 words, 2354 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

Oil for Food

The recent jump in US gas prices had me taking a look at another politically-sensitive commodity from ancient Rome: Annona, the supply and market price of grain in the city (this is often called the “corn supply” in literature per the British usage “corn” = “grain"; we ignorant Americans often use the term “corn” = “maize"). In some ways, the current wrangling over oil prices is a repeat of politics that our toga-wearing ancestors were quite familiar with.



Permalink 09:29:38 am, by Chris Jones Email , 43 words, 535 views   English (US)
Categories: Roman Culture


If you know what the word in the title means, chances are you scored your geek credentials with a few late-night sessions of Dungeons and Dragons. But I’ll bet you’d never guess the game may be far older than previously thoughtMaxima plaga!


Permalink 08:58:35 am, by Chris Jones Email , 120 words, 764 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

Right Head, Wrong Body

H/T to David Meadows’ Rogue Classicism for pointing me to this Guardian article: A statue of Hadrian in the British Museum recently revealed to be an erroneous Victorian reconstuction. Not really an intentional fake, but a good example of letting circumstance (the parts were found near each other) and historical opinion (Hadrian had a substantial interest in Greek culture) over-ride obvious physical problems (the two pieces were out of proportion and didn’t fit properly, so the Victorians literally plastered over the imperfection and understood the unusual proportions to justify their view of Hadrian as “a weaker, less impressive figure than Trajan").

Like Mr. Meadows, I’m also willing to bet there are other ‘famous’ statues which have been similarly reconstructed…


Permalink 10:48:15 am, by Chris Jones Email , 46 words, 675 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

More on Boris Johnson

The BBC comments on the lessons newly-elected London mayor Boris Johnson should have learned from his study of the classics.

One commentor has a great quote from Tacitus (Hist. I.49) that may or may not be appropriate when Boris ultimately leaves office: capax imperii nisi imperasset.


Permalink 02:24:26 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 144 words, 2367 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Roman Culture

Nox Dormienda

Though I sincerely doubt there is an emerging “Roman noir” fiction genre, the forthcoming Nox Dormienda by debut novelist Kelli Stanley looks to be a promising/hilarious bit of pulp fiction for the summer:

The plot centers on Arcturus, the half native, half Roman private physician and sometime investigator for the governor of Britannia, Agricola. When the body of a Syrian spy is found murdered in an underground temple, Arcturus has a week to determine who murdered him and why before civil war erupts both within the province and with Rome itself.

And this line in the article had me literally laughing out loud:

Rome and noir go together,” says Stanley. “All the Romans needed were scotch and cigarettes.”

The title, of course, is a reference to Catullus’ poem Vivamus, mea Lesbia:

nobis cum semel occidit breuis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda. (IV.5-6)


Permalink 09:00:55 am, by Chris Jones Email , 266 words, 973 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

Hyrcanian Tigers

I really don’t know much about local English politics, but Boris Johnson, the newly-elected Mayor of London, is apparently something of a classics student:

(Johnson’s) father predicted he would be a huge success - for an odd reason. “He knows his Greek, he knows his Latin and if you can do Greek and Latin . . . you can do virtually anything, certainly running a city like London,” Stanley Johnson told the BBC.

He’s already had newspaper editors rummaging thru classical references for this quote, commenting on the British media’s penchant for highlighting his frequent verbal gaffes:

“I feel that there’s a kind of pent-up rage in the media. You’re like some raven ‘Hercanean’ tiger that’s been deprived of its mortal prey, which is a Johnson blooper,” (Found this in the Qatar Newspaper A the Gulf Times; didn’t see it directly quoted in a British source)

This is an allusion to the fourth book of Virgil’s Aeneid. In the relevant passage, Dido has just been rejected by Aeneas; the first few lines of her reply to the hero hint that she is not going to take it well:

Nec tibi diva parens generis nec Dardanus auctor,
perfide, sed duris genuit te cautibus horrens
Caucasus Hyrcanaeque admorunt ubera tigres. (IV.365-7)

You had neither a goddess for a parent, nor was Dardanus the author of your race, faithless one, but the horrible Caucasus produced you from hard crags, and Hyrcanian tigers breast-fed you.

Hyrcania was a shadowy country somewhere southeast of the Caspian Sea; it was occasionally used by Roman writers as a stand-in for any far-off, uncivilized land.


Permalink 12:54:47 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 278 words, 3225 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

Invoking Cicero (incorrectly) again

A few days ago I wrote a post that said–among other things–that the mis-appropriation of classical history/literature by Afro-centric supporters in 1980’s-90’s academia to support their modern political agenda was not a unique sin. And just this weekend Patricia de Lille, leader of the Independent Democrats in the South African government, used a familiar political quote attributed to Cicero in accusing the party of the African National Congress of becoming a haven for corruption:

“A nation can survive its fools, and even their ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within.”

It amazes me how often this quote is used by the politically active, even by those on opposite sides of an issue. The complete quote–of which Ms. de Lille’s sentence is but the opening–can be found on numerous websites, a patina of ancient wisdom to burnish a wobbly and sometimes vile argument. I’m not linking to any of those here; if you are really interested, just Google “A nation can survive its fools” and page thru the nearly 50,000 hits.

The problem is, Cicero never said this or anything like it. I have scanned most of his political corpus and have yet to come across any lengthy statement about treason, let alone one so carefully tailored to false accusation. But Cicero himself used terms like proditor/proditio and perduellio to insult his political opponents, so perhaps these websites are preserving an ancient tradition after all.

Finally, to underscore the echo-chamber that is the internet, many sites report the date for this supposed utterance as “42 BC"–quite a trick since Antony’s men executed the orator in December of 43. There’s a good lesson here…


Permalink 12:40:55 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 237 words, 2124 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Ancient Altar Unearthed

In my bouncing arount the internets, I somehow missed this news story about a Roman altar found on a dig near Manchester UK (h/t to ARTL). To make up, I thought the inscription in the photo was so good that it was worth briefly analyzing the Latin here.



Permalink 09:44:39 am, by Chris Jones Email , 130 words, 784 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture

Romans at Stonehenge?

This article on recent excavations at Stonehenge in Current Archaeology –the first excavation in forty years–is interesting as it documents a “work in progress” among the giant stones.

Archaeology is a science, and like most sciences new data is often mysterious until it leads to an overarching theory. Once the theory is accepted, the once-provisional nature of the evidence that led to it is forgotten. The article above does a good job of presenting the facts as they are known now and leaving the conclusions for later. It would obviously be a radical rewrite of history to discover substantial Roman activity at the famous Salisbury site, so here’s a chance to guess along with the excavators at what could be a substantial find or just a stray coin/potsherd.


Permalink 01:05:54 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 444 words, 5210 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Roman Culture

Review of Lavinia

I finished Ursula K. LeGuin’s latest novel Lavinia a few days ago.



Permalink 02:59:44 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 440 words, 1610 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Res duae non possunt effugere: Mors et Vectigales

April 15th is tax day in the U.S., and a couple of news items out today show how rendering unto Caesar can conceal legacies of the Latin Language and Roman Culture.



Permalink 03:12:32 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 232 words, 629 views   English (US)
Categories: Roman Culture

Disability in Rome

Here’s a fascinating survey article in the UK New Statesman about Greek and Roman attitudes toward disabled persons. As brutal as life could be for the commoner in those ages, you can imagine how much worse it was if you were, say, paralyzed or a dwarf–that is, if you weren’t just exposed as an infant. But the understandably-scant literature on the subject is well reviewed by Victoria Brignell, and the details are far more complex than you’d expect.

Amid the gloomier stories in the article, Ms. Brignell discusses Quintus Pedius, a name mentioned in a brief survey of Roman painting by the Elder Pliny (N.H. XXXV.7):

Q. Pedius, nepos Q. Pedii (consularis triumphalisque et a Caesare dictatore coheredis Augusto dati), natura mutus esset. in eo Messala orator, ex cuius familia pueri avia fuerat, picturam docendum censuit, idque etiam Divus Augustus comprobavit; puer magni profectus in ea arte obiit.

There is a lesson in this story, where a child whose disability could have easily labeled him an unteachable idiot blossomed into someone magni profectus in ea arte thanks to a little extra effort and encouragement from others. It’s a shame it has taken so long for this lesson to be generally accepted in childhood education.

BTW I wrote this post before noticing Mary Beard’s column this week on disabled access at her university. I promise you, it was a sheer conincidence.


Permalink 01:23:38 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 650 words, 1262 views   English (US)
Categories: Roman Culture

Augustus and Later Historians

The Roman History Books blog has some lengthy excerpts from Tacitus and Edward Gibbon related to the imperial plan of Augustus, all posted to generate discussion. While I agree that any description of Augustus’ rule as a “disguised republicanism” would be wrong, I’m not sure the villainous tone used by Syme and Gibbon is altogether justified.



Permalink 10:21:09 am, by Chris Jones Email , 240 words, 886 views   English (US)
Categories: Roman Culture

Dies Stulti Aprilis

If you need a classical origin for April Fool’s Day, you might want to consider Hilaria - special days of public rejoicing. These were declared, say, at the installation of a new emperor or some other happy public event.

But it appears from one classical source that a permanent hilaria was set for the end of the festival to Cybele, “mother of the gods". A tiny reference in the Historia Augusta supports this idea; the author is discussing the dining habits of the emperor Severus Alexander (XXXVII.6)

Adhibebatur anser diebus festis, kalendis autem Ianuariis et Hilariis Matris Deum et Ludis Apollinaribus et Iovis Epulo et Saturnalibus et huiusmodi festis diebus phasianus…

The brief mention of Hilariis Matris Deum in a list of other permanent festivals/dates leads scholars to conclude this was also a permanent festival rather than a one-time celebration. Ovid’s Fasti confirms the Festival to Cybele began on the day after the Vernal Equinox (though he doesn’t mention the presumed hilaria), so the Hilaria Matris Deum–if, as supposed, they came near the end–would fall close to April 1st.

From this slendeer thread of research–not to mention the similarity of the name hilaria is the English cognate “hilarious"–some have proposed a fanciful origin for the customs normally associated with April Fool’s Day. In truth no one really knows how this holiday started, but that shouldn’t stop you from speading a little classical learning around–especially today.


Permalink 12:31:43 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 162 words, 585 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Roman Culture


I have been lucky enough to visit the site just outside of Naples (my only advice: Take the Circumvesuvio train and spend some time at the Herculaneum stop; it’s smaller, not as crowded, and far better preserved in places). SO I was taken aback by news that the regional government is floating a trial baloon to limit the number of visitors to allow more space for commercial interests.

If your first reaction was the same as mine, you probably found the news scandalous. But on reflection, I also recall how poor this part of Italy is; Naples, to be kind, has always been a haven for organized crime and something of a dump, even before the latest garbage crisis. So I can appreciate the need to pump cash into the local economy. Preservation of the site and easy access to the world is of course not open to compromise, but so concessions to business I think wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Permalink 10:57:53 am, by Chris Jones Email , 231 words, 1529 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Modern Latin, Roman Culture

Modern Ciceros...

H/T to ARTL blog for finding a few student recitations of the opening to the First Catilinarian on YouTube.

I tried to stick to ones where the speaker memorized the text, but I had to include the last one because IMO the woman speaking does an excellent job. All of them get the cadence right, and their recitation exposes the structure of Cicero’s brilliant rhetoric. Listen to them all, and I guarantee you’ll understand the Latin better.

Regarding that last video, some of the comments left by users are quite nit-picky–details about Latin aspiration, for example, are really guesswork, and most of them seem to revolve around which book on the subject you last read. I really don’t understand why so much time is wasted arguing over classical Latin pronunciation among non-linguists. If you can easily understand the words being said, who cares? I’m happy some students are moved enough by the subject to work on and post things like this; it’s much better that rude snobbery in the service of faux erudition.


Permalink 12:49:30 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 350 words, 7011 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature, Roman Culture

The Roman Collegium

A commenter asked the following question regarding my recent post on mortgages in ancient Rome:

can you tell me if Roman law allowed investors in any kind of business association to have their personal liability for acts of the association limited to the extent of their investment? I’m curious as to how far back the concept of limited liability for shareholders goes in human history.


Qui sciet quae quoque sint modo dicenda, nisi tamen in procinctu paratamque ad omnis casus habuerit eloquentiam, velut clausis thesauris incubabit.

January 2018
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
 << <   > >>
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      


XML Feeds

What is RSS?

Who's Online?

  • Guest Users: 17

powered by b2evolution free blog software