Archives for: April 2008


Permalink 09:11:16 am, by Chris Jones Email , 101 words, 2150 views   English (US)
Categories: Fun & Games, Modern Latin

Concerro with 2 r's

Check out this error I found on news, a clearing house for tech company press releases:

San Diego-based BidShift said this morning that it has renamed the company, and has become Concerro, Incorporated. According to BidShift, Concerro is Latin for “to bridge or connect.”

Uh…no it isn’t. Concerro is Latin for “a boon companion, playmate"; the word is a combination of con- - “together” and the verb gero - “bring", referring perhaps to one who contributes food to a common feast.

Bidshift may have been shooting for concero - “join, inter-twine", a Medievalism hatched from the rare cero - “smear with wax".

Permalink 05:12:08 am, by Chris Jones Email , 75 words, 519 views   English (US)
Categories: News

In Memoriam

Just received word via the Latinteach mailing list that the noted Italian Latinist Guido Angelino passed away last night at the age of 87.

Besides numerous texts and articles written on various Latin topics–not to mention his contributions to the Vatican’s Lexicon recentis Latinitatis–M. Angeino was a champion of teaching Latin as a living language at a time when the grammatical approach dominated; in this his approach has been vindicated by modern Latin educators.


Permalink 12:30:12 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 423 words, 3742 views   English (US)
Categories: Statius' Thebaid I

Statius, Thebaid 312-323

The feelings of the exiled Polynices as he waits for his brother’s end-of-year abdication.

Interea patriis olim vagus exul ab oris
Oedipodionides furto deserta pererrat
Aoniae. iam iamque animis male debita regna
concipit, et longum signis cunctantibus annum
stare gemit. Tenet una dies noctesque recursans
cura virum, si quando humilem decedere regno
germanum et semet Thebis opibusque potitum
cerneret; hac aevum cupiat pro luce pacisci.
Nunc queritur ceu tarda fugae dispendia, sed mox
attollit flatus ducis et sedisse superbus
deiecto iam fratre putat: Spes anxia mentem
extrahit et longo consumit gaudia voto.

I decided to feature this brief passage in an isolated post because I thought it was just brilliant, the first really good selection I’ve come across in this epic.



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 07:08:50 am, by Chris Jones Email , 316 words, 752 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

Modus verborum concipiendorum

I’ve mentioned before that I wish students were encouraged to look at vocabulary the way the Romans did, i.e. as words formed from more basic forms in the same language.

In English, we’re used to looking to other languages for the source of vocabulary; words like “separate", “judicial", and “exacerbate” are obviously connected to Latin separo, judex, and exacerbo. But though the Romans also derived words from other languages (primarily Greek, Oscan, and Umbrian), they formed a large part of their basic vocabluary by combination within their own language:

Separo = se - “(from) itself” (abl. of the reflexive pronoun) + paro - “place".
judex = jus - “right, law” + dico - “say, speak”
exacerbo = ex - “out, outward” + acer - “bitter, sharp".

A common tendency when studying Latin vocabulary is to emphasize similar derivative English words, i.e. by talking about derivatives like “exacerbate", the student is more likely to remember the meaning of exacerbo.

The problem with this approach is that exacerbo does not quite mean “exacerbate", which American Heritage defines as “To increase the severity, violence, or bitterness of; aggravate". To be specific, “exacerbate” is almost exclusively used with things, i.e. people aren’t usually “exacerbated” (though they can be “exasperated"). Contast this with Latin, where exacerbo is most often used with people; that’s why this verb is usually defined as “irritate, enrage, provoke". When it is used with things, it is almost always limited to judicial language, i.e. “to exacerbate a crime/puinishment".

I’ll admit this is a subtle criticism, but if you’re first reaction when seeing Latin words like officium, excedo, and occurro is to translate them as “office, exceed, occur", you’re relying too much on English-cognate shorthand (the words more accurately mean “duty, withdraw/move out, run to/meet"). That’s not to say occurro can’t on occasion mean “occur", but better translators “see” the root forms ob - “toward” and curro - “run” first, not the English cognate “occur".


Permalink 07:01:03 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 67 words, 1257 views   English (US)
Categories: Education

Linked Classrooms

Latin programs interested in saving an upper-level class should consider the example of this use of technology in classrooms at Blue Ridge and Hillcrest High Schools in Greenville, North Carolina.

As the article notes, the two schools were somewhat forced into this after Hillcrest lost its Latin teacher. However, an enterprising teacher may find other uses (guest speakers, picking up extra students for an advanced class, etc.).


Permalink 11:13:42 am, by Chris Jones Email , 718 words, 3670 views   English (US)
Categories: Statius' Thebaid I

Statius, Thebaid 248-311

Thebaid text (new window) for this post. I laid out my rationale for this series in a previous post.

Summary: Juno reproaches Jove’s decision to bring Argos and Thebes to war. Jove brushes aside her plea and orders the shade of Oedipus’ father Laius be summoned up for his plan, and Mercury flies down to earth.



Permalink 02:52:04 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 400 words, 1552 views   English (US)
Categories: Modern Latin, Education

Cogitatio de disciplina linguae Latinae

One of the reasons I started this blog–besides a desire to foster general discussion of the Latin language–is to short-circuit what I’ve seen is a particularly irksome trend in Latin language study: The tendency for students to approach the language as if they were navigating a minefield or diffusing a bomb. Grammar instruction is fine, perhaps on some level even essential. And certainly some minds respond to the grammar-heavy method of learning a language, so no teacher worth his/her salt would dismiss it since the diversity of students in a modern classroom requires several different approaches rather than an insistence on one “right” method.

But IMO an over-emphasis on grammar has made some students gunshy about Latin; one false move and you’re bombarded by grammarians who will explain in exquisite detail why the imperfect subjunctive is required in that clause. If you’re lucky you can sneak away while they argue whether your choice of estimo is best for the verb “think” in this particular sentence…

I’ve read a variety of Latin texts for years, and consider myself quite fluent in the language. Does that mean I don’t make mistakes in my own Latin composition? Absolutely not, and I’ll admit to some pretty good blunders at times. Putting aside typos (I’m a horrible typist), I once offered a rather cumbersome (and incorrect) translation for the maxim “One must endure": Cuidam toleranda est - “things are for someone to be tolerated” (yes, est should be sunt). Another writer then offered the simpler patiendum est (a predicate gerundive is best for generic obligations where the subject is abstract, like “one"; a form of quiddam is unnecessary, and can be misread as the object of patiendum). Seems pretty obvious now, but very few people think their mistakes are obvious when they’re making them.

We all need to learn from our mistakes, but I wonder if excessive quibbling over forms and vocabulary is limiting real use of the language as an intellectual and even creative activity. I also wonder if niggling over grammar is a case of not seeing the forest for the trees; the more time we spend on points of grammar, the less we have for rhetoric, artistry, and the other wonders of language: A well-delivered speech, a heart-touching poem, or a well-drawn character in a novel. These, to me, are far more interesting than the details regarding sequence of tenses.


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 06:10:49 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 410 words, 2175 views   English (US)
Categories: Education

Historical Correctness

A bit off-topic, but this review of classicist Mary Lefkowitz’s attempts to debunk patent falsehoods concerning 1980’s Afro-centric theories about classical civilization (e.g. “Socrates was black") harkened me back to my college days and one of those late-night, beer-fueled bull sessions you and your friends easily fell into on a dateless Friday night. On one of those occasions, I remember one African-American dormmate down the hall who emphatically declared that Cleopatra was “certainly black". I responded that she wasn’t even Egyptian, but Macedonian.


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 08:23:37 am, by Chris Jones Email , 340 words, 2051 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Vocabulary and Grammar

The case of Porta vs. Portus

If I decided to make a rather ironical ranking of things about which I am the most indifferent, the recently closed J. K. Rowling lawsuit to block publication of “The Harry Potter Lexicon” by Michigan-based publisher RDR books would be somewhere near the top. Nevertheless, I go where the Latin is, and believe it or not one small point of the lawsuit revolved around the Latin-language roots to names/terms Rowling invented for her imaginative book series.



Permalink 02:27:26 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 817 words, 6562 views   English (US)
Categories: Statius' Thebaid I

Statius, Thebaid 164-247

Thebaid text (new window) for this post. I laid out my rationale for this series in a previous post.

Summary: Polynices is denied his turn at rule, and a Theban peasant delivers a complaint about the ruler of Thebes. Meanwhile, Jove hosts a council of the gods and promises to punish the descendants of Cadmus.



Permalink 02:37:10 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 208 words, 6723 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Education

College Board dropping a Latin AP exam

The College Board is an organization best known for administering the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the exam most high-schoolers need to score well on to be placed at more prestigious universities in the US.

But the College Board also administers a wide group of certified Advanced Placement (AP) courses and tests for US high schools. Students can take these courses in high school and either earn college credit in the subject area or use their final test results to bolster a college application or argue for advanced standing in a curriculum (I myself used AP credits to get into the more interesting Latin literature seminars at my own college, lo those many years ago).

Nevertheless, the Board has decided to pare down some of the language tests, and one of the subjects axed is for Latin Literature. On reflection–while I’m disappointed–I don’t consider this a devastating decision, since the AP Latin test specific to Virgil remains. Yes, many advanced high-school students enjoy the poetry of Catullus, and despite the loss of an associate AP course I would hope despite the loss ofcertified materials that AP teachers will continue to expose their students to literature beyond the Aeneid. But IMO it could have been a lot worse.

Permalink 12:24:02 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 23 words, 1455 views   English (US)
Categories: Fun & Games, Modern Latin

"Et Pluri-MAAAAAS..."

h/t to LatinTeach for finding this clip from The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. The Latin comes at about 1:30 into the clip.


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 01:07:11 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 729 words, 4036 views   English (US)
Categories: Statius' Thebaid I

Statius, Thebaid 123-164

Thebaid text (new window) for this post. I laid out my rationale for this series in a previous post.

Summary: Tisiphone sews emnity between the brothers Eteocles and Polynices; Statius laments the paltry stakes they will fight over.



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 11:09:24 am, by Chris Jones Email , 82 words, 1394 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements

Quis sum?

Haven’t been really trying to hide my identity on this blog, but I’ve only just learned how to include admin names via b2E SW on this site.

So now you’ll see me and my posts ID’ed as Chris Jones. I’m a 43 year old classics enthusiast who raises a wonderful family in the NW corner of Chicago, IL. Someday soon I’ll post that and more details in a link on the right, but just in case you were curious, here I am.


Permalink 09:41:46 am, by Chris Jones Email , 61 words, 491 views   English (US)
Categories: News

Latin on your phone

The Finnish Nuntii Latini has now partnered Foreca, a Finnish weather service, to provide Latin-based forecasts via mobile phone.

The service is probably limited (I think you need a 3G phone to operate it, and it seems to have only been tested with, naturally, Nokia), but point your phone browser to and select “Lingua Latina” under “Settings” for details.

Permalink 09:32:12 am, by Chris Jones Email , 105 words, 456 views   English (US)
Categories: News

Vermont Latin Day...

…was last Friday, a date where the University of Vermont hosts delegations from area schools in “three hours of spirited skits, songs and even a sit-down exam administered by certified classicists". Over 1000 students attended this year’s event, the 32nd in Vermont’s history.

These things no longer surprise me, but it you need evidence Latin is catching on in America, it’s an encouraging read. Here’s a point I wish more teachers would illustrate: One student took it initially because he/his parents thought it would help on the SAT’s, but soon found out it could be really fun (he’s in his second year now). More please…


Permalink 02:08:02 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 818 words, 5940 views   English (US)
Categories: Statius' Thebaid I

Statius, Thebaid I.46-122

Thebaid text (new window) for this post. I laid out my rationale for this series in a previous post.

Summary: The story picks up with Oedipus–father of Eteocles and Polynices–calling on the fury Tisiphone to curse his two sons. Tisiphone grants his wish and wings her way to Thebes.



Permalink 03:48:13 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 74 words, 525 views   English (US)
Categories: News

Heus Caesar, prandeamus!

I posted something a few months ago about Czech senator Martin Mejstrik’s penchant for using Latin in legislative session. Now Italian opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi is touting his fluency in Latin in a campaign interview ahead of the upcoming Italian elections.

Cicero would be proud, though he probably would have suggested Berlusconi invite a more appropriate dinner guest (perhaps a senator, highly fluent in Latin and a former ruler at Rome like himself, hint-hint).:)

Permalink 09:28:47 am, by Chris Jones Email , 167 words, 2833 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Modern Latin

More on De Piris Vernantibus

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on the Latin elegy De Piris Vernantibus, an excellent bit of modern/recent Latin I found on a website devoted to Latin poetry.

The author of the piece–Massimo Scorsone–contacted me via email this past week. Though flattered at the rcommendation, he felt he had to point out the elegy is a paraphrase from a portion of the American poem Among the Trees by 19th century writer/newspaper editor William Cullen Bryant (I regret to say it’s a poem I’d never read until I received the email). Mr. Scorsone says it was a work he “translated in Latin some years ago for my own pleasure, in (an) attempt to ‘reconstruct’ a fictitious ‘ancient archetype’ to the text…” His elegy picks up nine lines into Bryant’s, and ends about two-thirds of the way down.

Translation or not, I stand by my original assessment; Scorsone’s work is an excellent piece that Latinists should take a moment to review and enjoy.


Permalink 11:22:38 am, by Chris Jones Email , 824 words, 5353 views   English (US)
Categories: Statius' Thebaid I

Thebaid I.1-45

Thebaid text (new window) for this post. I laid out my rationale for this series in a previous post.

Fraternas acies alternaque regna profanis
decertata odiis sontesque evolvere Thebas
Pierius menti calor incidit.



Permalink 11:07:36 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 275 words, 633 views   English (US)
Categories: News

What is the Point of the Olympic Torch Relay?

Please indulge a slight political digression regarding the Olympics. Don’t worry, I won’t make a habit of it, but after reading about today’s laughable hide-and-seek torch run in San Francisco, one that followed similar protests in London and Paris, I’ve come around to Mary Beard’s position that the torch relay should be eliminated for future Olympics.

It bears repeating that the torch was in no way a symbol of the Olympics in the ancient world. Moreover, Dr. Beard gives a fair list of controversies that dogged the games in the ancient world. IOC president Jacques Rogge is rightly concerned about the image of the upcoming Beijing games, but pretending that people will set aside their protests at the bland invocation of the “Olympic Spirit” is, IMO, rather naive.

IMO the antiquity of the games has led some to turn the Olympic experience into a religious fetish. Athletes and hosts recite a corny oath as they hold a corner of the Olympic flag and the IOC tries to short-circuit every controversy by promoting a simplified myth of an Olympic truce scrupulously observed by the noble Greeks. The torch relay itself is hardly ancient–isn’t even 80 years old. It was started for the 1936 games in Berlin, and has all the hallmarks of fascist art: A relentless yet false grandeur intended to overwhelm the viewer into a state of sacred (read: docile) awe.

The time has come to admit what is obvious: Whatever the reason for reviving the games in 1896–and I’ll agree that classicism played a hefty part in that–they have become just another sports-commercial enterprise, one that should admit the realities of the modern world.

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 10:02:01 am, by Chris Jones Email , 171 words, 3096 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements

Lavinia Speaks!

Ursula Le Guin–a novelist better known perhaps for her science fiction books, particularly The Lathe of Heaven and Left Hand of Darkness–is on a book tour now promoting Lavinia, a novel fleshing out the briefly-mentioned future wife of Aeneas from Virgil’s epic poem.

Le Guin’s website includes some information about the book and an interview the author gave to Kirkus, in which she confesses:

“The first time I really read the Aeneid was in my seventies, when I got enough Latin into my head at last to read it in Latin. Vergil is truly untranslatable; his poetry is the music of his language, and it gets lost in any other. Reading it at last, hearing that incredible voice, was a tremendous joy. And Lavinia’s voice and her story came to me out of that joy. A gift from a great giver.”

The hardcover is up on Amazon, if you’re interested. I bought a copy at the local Barnes & Noble yesterday and will let you know how it reads…


Permalink 03:51:28 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 593 words, 6839 views   English (US)
Categories: Vocabulary and Grammar

ab, ex, de

A quick follow-up to my posts last week on prepositions.

When I was a young(er) Latin student, I always wondered just what the difference was between ab and de. Both prepositions mean “from” in the general sense, though the first is also used in the ablative of agency and the latter is used more abstractly (e.g. in the title of written works). But aside from these obvious cases, what would motivate a writer to prefer one over the other?

I found the answer some years later in a grammar book that, sadly, has passed into the great unknown (Translation: It might be jammed in one of those old, moldy cardboard boxes in the loft of my garage, but damned if I’m going to go thru all that junk to find it). The writer contrasted these two prepositions along with the more distinct ex, and I’ve remembered his explanation to this day.


Permalink 12:18:27 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 63 words, 813 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Modern Latin

"Gardener's Latin"

A short piece on gardening in the Olympia Register includes some Latin tips for those interested in the botanical names of plants. One paragraph tells the tale of a gardener whose knowledge of Latin helped her doctor discover a treatment for her rash (though if my doctor had to use Google to find a cure, I might just look for a new doctor).


Permalink 03:31:18 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 59 words, 2917 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements

Oops - housekeeping issue

Been having some hiccups with b2evo software :crazy:. Nothing major, but I noticed some posts I had scheduled for later popping up at unscheduled times. Seems to be fixed now, but if you saw some posts today that are longer on the site, don’t worry, everything I have now should be up by the end of the week. :>>

Permalink 12:39:03 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 63 words, 1646 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Fun & Games, Modern Latin

Io Io Io...

The UK Times reports on the European Festival of Latin and Greek in Nantes, France. One of the highlights was the German group Ista, who performs rap songs entirely in the Latin language.

Demo MP3’s can be found here on their website. The accent is a little thick and the rapping rather fast, so you may want to peek at the lyrics


Permalink 11:59:59 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 402 words, 3932 views   English (US)
Categories: Literature, Statius' Thebaid I

Statius Thebaid

I’ve read a lot of Latin in my twoscore-plus years, but I have never touched Statius’ epic Thebaid, not even a single line.


Permalink 09:59:08 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 95 words, 3891 views   English (US)
Categories: Fun & Games, Modern Latin

Latin Sport Team Mottoes

I understand Latin mottoes are far more popular among European soccer clubs, but here in the US the Chicago Cubs have an unofficial Latin motto stationed on one of the rooftops overlooking the ballpark (buildings overlooking the park rent their rooftop space for gameday parties):

Eamus Catuli

The numbers on the right indicate the total years since the Cubs last won the division (03), pennant (61), and World Series (98); this photo was therefore taken in 2006.

If anyone has a link to photos of other sports-related Latin, send it my way ("Contact the admin” email link at bottom of page).


Permalink 09:22:49 am, by Chris Jones Email , 341 words, 2874 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Literature

Two Artists Connected across the Centuries

Nicholas Poussin–the 17th century French painter best know for classical scenes like The Rape of the Sabine Women and Et in Arcadia Ego–is currently the subject of an exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the catalog for the exhibit is discussed in the latest New York Review of Books. Andrew Butterfield is the author, and his article includes a perfect classical reference:

The extraordinary amplitude of the world and sky in Poussin’s paintings was commented upon by his contemporaries…In a letter in 1665 Poussin compared the elements of painting to the golden bough carried by Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid. He does not elaborate on his comment, and perhaps it is only a suggestive coincidence, but in Book VI of the epic the golden bough serves as a magical aid that helps Aeneas reach the Elysian Fields. Virgil writes of the skies of that heavenly place: “What largesse of bright air, clothing the vales in dazzling/ Light, is here!” No description better fits the effect of the light and space in Poussin’s late landscapes.

The line above is VI.640; I’ll quote it along the follow-up line 641:

Largior hic campos aether et lumine vestit
purpureo, solemque suum, sua sidera norunt.

For a painter like Poussin, the complete thought is quite apropos; the landscape (campos) he creates on a canvas must be vested with its own dazzling light from the pigments (lumine purpureo; that last word doesn’t necessarily refer to the color violet, but majesty and grandeur, since purple dye was precious in the ancient world). The painting must also have its “own sun” and “own stars", which I personally reinterpret here as sources of illumination inside the painting itself. Since the images in the painting can’t depend on light from the actual sun (unlike, say, an outdoor statue), it’s up to the artist himself to skillfully create that illusion within the frame.

Virgil is rightly hailed for painting a picture with his words; it is nice to see Butterfield recognize that quality in comparison with another artistic master.


Permalink 10:46:21 am, by Chris Jones Email , 346 words, 3204 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

More on Prepositions

The “prepositions” are so called because they are usually “placed before” whatever word they take as an object. But as noted in a previous post, the prepositions started their linguistic life as adverbs closely associated with a verb. They only became detatched over time because, e.g., most verbs prefixed with ad would also have an accusative noun in the sentence expressing the limit of motion, and in comparing several such ad- verbs it became natural to associate ad with the accusative case. The association became strong enough that the adverb itself changed its typical position in the sentence, and the preposition was born.

Remnants of the original positioning pop up on occasion in classical prose. All students are familiar with cum becoming an enclitic with pronouns–e.g. mecum, quibuscum, etc.–but other prepositions also show unusual position related to their original status as fixed adverbs. Sticking with ad, Cicero’s De Natura Deorum provides a good example. When the consul Gracchus was presiding over an election, one of the two vote-collectors (rogatores) dropped dead, and given the superstitious nature of the crowd Gracchus ad sentatus rettulit (II.10)

Senatus quos ad soleret, referendum censuit. Haruspices introducti responderunt non fuisse iustum comitiorum rogatorem.

(quos here anticipates Haruspices later, the folks “to whom” the senate was “accustomed” to refer such matters)

Another example comes from Tacitus, where Claudius responds favorably to an embassy from Parthia and orders his govenor in Syria to support the Parthian prince (iuvenum) in a coup (Annales XII.11):

datum posthac C. Cassio, qui Syriae praeerat, deducere iuvenem ripam ad Euphratis.

But it’s of course the poets who take full advantage of this positional ambiguity; the opening of Horace’s ode Lydia, dic, per omnes te deos oro is notorious, and Vergil has an unusual placement in Aeneid VIII.285:

tum Salii ad cantus incensa altaria circum
populeis adsunt evincti tempora ramis

(populeis here are poplar trees).

These are tiny details in the grand scheme of the language, but details are what this blog is all about. If you have any other examples, feel free to comment!


Permalink 01:44:05 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 500 words, 5603 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar, Education

Putting up with prepositions

Like all four-year-olds, my son makes quite a few grammatical mistakes in his spoken English. One of these that caught my ear the other day involves the use of a preposition with a verb, and illustrated for me something about the Latin relation between prepositions and adverbs.


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 12:00:05 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 378 words, 3160 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

Double Negatives

I got a question from a student this past week regarding nonnumquam, a combination-word that literally means “not never” but is usually translated as “sometimes".

She noted that in English, “not never” would describe an action that happened occasionally but rarely. But this doesn’t seem to be how it is used in Latin. Take a look for example at this passage from Caesar; here the general must use some of his troops to gather food and materials for fortifications, reducing the number of men available to defend the camp. This led to problems (B.G. VII.73):

Ac nonnumquam opera nostra Galli temptare atque eruptionem ex oppido pluribus portis summa vi facere conabantur. Quare ad haec rursus opera addendum Caesar putavit, quo minore numero militum munitiones defendi possent.

Opera here are defensive “works".

If nonnumquam meant something closer to “once in a while” or “not too often", one could argue Caesar is overreacting (later in the passage he details an elaborate series of trenches and staked pits constructed by the soldiers). Clearly the word isn’t simplying denying that something never happened, but is rather saying the event happened repeatedly, or perhaps a shade less frequently than saepe.

I find this heightened double-negative also at play in non nullus, -a, -um (often written as a single word). This combination doesn’t just mean “non-zero", it actually implies quite a bit more than just a few. Cicero, for example, calls out nonnulli senators who didn’t believe (or at least blithely ignored) Catiline’s conspiacy (In Cat. I.30):

Quamquam non nulli sunt in hoc ordine, qui aut ea, quae inminent non videant aut ea, quae vident, dissimulent; qui spem Catilinae mollibus sententiis aluerunt coniurationemque nascentem non credendo corroboraverunt

Throughout the speech Cicero has made the point that the danger is greater than conventional wisdom has thought, so it’s not hard to see why he would use nonnulli here rather than, say, pauci.

The example shows how Latin invests a greater strength in the rhetorical figure of Litotes than perhaps modern English does. It’s something a careful Latin student should file away for future reference. Recognizing the constituent parts of compounds like nonnumquam and non nulli is good, but interpreting the parts like the equivalent English combination can undo that good work. Something to ponder…


Permalink 10:48:34 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 108 words, 1620 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements

Conventiculum Buffaloniense

I see another conventiculum for spoken Latin on the summer calendar in the US; this one is sponsored by the classics department at the University of Buffalo and slated for the last weekend in June.

Though the workshop appears geared for Latin teachers (e.g. one seminar covers best practices for classroom drills–discussed in Latin of course), my guess is there will be enough Latin discussion to interest a student. The registration fee also seems rather modest ($75, less if you’re a student, meals included; I’m certain all of that is negotiable). If you’re in the area, I’d suggest at least poking your head it for a look.

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.


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