I have mixed feelings about the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee (anyone know if/when “Howard’ was dropped from the title?). On the one hand, it’s nice to see Latin taken seriously in pop culture for a change. The uncommon words used in the competition require some detailed knowledge about the languages they come from, and we all know that Latin has deep roots in the English language.
If you’re interested in words, the dictionary isn’t as much a reference as it is an opportunity to tour the language. Have you ever, for example, looked up one word but then noticed something that caused you to detour to another entry, and then another, and before you know it you’ve skipped thru a couple dozen pages? The OLD and L&S can sometimes get like that, with delicious etymologies and copious citations that occasionally lead you like stepping stones to some unusual corner of Latin you would have never reached otherwise.
…this time in the Australian Parliament. In an attack on conservative opponents, Education Minister Julia Gillard suggested two Latin school mottos were apt for members of the previous administration: Disce pati and Quidquid excusatio prandium pro. The first is easy–"Learn to endure"–but the second is dog Latin; the translation given in the article is “Any excuse for lunch", which I think should be Quaeque excusatio pro prandio.
The lunch motto was suggested for Alexander Downer, the former Foreign Minister. He (or his staff) seems to know a little something about Latin since Catullus’ lampoon of Egnatius (XXXIX.16) is quoted in the riposte: Risu inepto res ineptior nulla est.
The news article translates risus as “laugh"; readers familiar with the amusing original will know that it is actually Egnatius’ smile (and a rather unusual toothwash) that is the object of the poet’s ridicule.
I have always considered myself a good speller, but I’ve found that the immediacy of blogging often reveals the shortcomings of intellect and age: “teh", “of” (for “off"), DOuble CApitals…I never realized how often I overlook these things until I started blogging (in my work I often complain about Microsoft word “helping” too much with its spellchecker, but i guess it catches more of these than I give it credit for).
I’ll chalk some of these up to my cheating thru typing class in high school (I’m basically an elaborate hunt-and-peck typist, with one eye usually down on the keyboard). And when I spot these in older posts, I’m reserving the right here to correct them without notice. But I’ll make the commitment now that anything more elaborate–even if i post some completely incorrect info–will be corrected using
overstriken letters deletion marks, such as in this revised post.
Another sarcastic UK Times criticism of London Mayor Boris Johnson. For a twist, this one is written in Latin–and although a little schoolboyish it’s really not that bad. First, though, a little background.
Apparently during a round of question time earlier this week an exasperated Mayor Johnson quoted from the Aeneid:
Non tali auxilio nec defensoribus
This is from book II, line 521; as Hecuba tries to fend off the invading Greeks, she rebukes the Trojan king Priam with these words.
This inspired at least one wag to shout “Speak English", and I think prompted the Times’ response. When it comes to blog material, Mayor Johnson is someone I’m keeping my eye on…
I completely support Dr. Robinsons efforts to take Latin study out of the usual classroom setting with her Latin in the Park program.
My uncle and father both took Latin in Midlands England–it was a requirement of all schoolage boys in the ’30s-40’s. They both absolutely hated their Latin teacher, who fit the example of the “pipe-gnawing housemaster of advancing years” described in the article. My uncle, in fact, was punished for not reciting his verb conjugations fast enough by having teh teacher grab him by the collar and depositiing him in the trash can at the front of the room. Yes, it really used to be like that. Anything that takes the subject I love out of the hands of sadists like that has my full support.
…a holiday in the US which is commonly marked by cookouts and parades; best to all.
If you’re looking for a bit of appropriate Latin, how about Cicero’s translation of Simonides’ epitaph to the Spartan dead at Thermopylae (see the movie 300 for vaguely-historic details):
“Dic, hospes Spartae nos te hic vidisse iacentes,
Dum sanctis patriae legibus obsequimur.” (Tusc. Disp. I.42.101)
Though the source for this epigram (Tusculan Disputation I.42.101) isn’t well-known today, the writers of the film must have studied it closely. Here are the sentences that follow:
Quid ille dux Leonidas dicit? ‘Pergite animo forti, Lacedaemonii, hodie apud inferos fortasse cenabimus.’ Fuit haec gens fortis, dum Lycurgi leges vigebant. E quibus unus, cum Perses hostis in conloquio dixisset glorians: ‘Solem prae iaculorum multitudine et sagittarum non videbitis’, ‘In umbra igitur’ inquit ‘pugnabimus.’
In the wake of the otherwise forgettable 2005 feature film Doom–based on the video game of the same name–film critic Roger Ebert made some comments regarding the artistic value of electronic gameplay. Although they may be subtle, ingenious, challenging, even visually stunning, video games couldn’t be art because the nature of the medium (player control of outcome, investment of enormous amounts of time, no emotional catharsis beyond solving a puzzle) seems to contradict common artistic goals.
For the long weekend, a cool bit of Latin that you can dance to; enjoy!
Summary: Adrastus diffuses the quarrel and invites Tydeus and Polynices into the palace. The king discovers these two will fulfill a prophecy regarding his house and draws up a celebratory banquet.
…and another bedtime song translated into Latin. This time it’s the Jo Stafford classic You Belong To Me, which I know quite well from singing it as a lullaby every night (in the proper order, with the exact words–trust me, a two-year-old can be very attentive to detail).
Review the lyrics of Te Esse Mihi on my “Popular Songs” page. Props to friends at Akela’s Latin Forum for a few corrections–I can’t believe I thought the imperative of currere was curri, but as Horace says:
Vir bonus et prudens versus reprehendet inertis,
culpabit duros, incomptis allinet atrum. (Ars P. 445-6)
The English humorist Miles Kington died earlier this year, and the UK Independent is reprinting some of his best columns. For those who never read the original, the latest issue of the newspaper has a hilarious column about everyday Latin from 1992.
A question over at Akela’s Latin Forum reminded me of a translation problem I once struggled with: How exactly do you translate phrases like “Too A to B"?
Long ago, a college friend of mine was interested in a girl at the bar and jokingly asked me how to say “she’s too hot to handle". I gave him a pretty bad on-the-spot rendering–Illa est nimis calida tangendo, and while he plied his newfound knowledge with the object of his desire, I couldn’t help but be distracted over this particular English idiom, and pondered it on the walk home (alone) from the tavern. “Illa est tam calida ut non tangatur…propter calorem illa non tangenda…Vae illam calidam tangentibus…“
Nothing felt right, so I broke out the Bradley’s Arnold for a little inspiration. The book recommends (496) for the idiom “Too A to B” a comparative clause of characteristic:
The result: Illa est calidior quam ut tangatur - “She’s too hot to handle.” Now we can probably argue about specific vocabulary here (Is calida really the right Latin metaphor here? Fervida might be better), but at least a small corner of Latin grammar was better organized in my mind.
Needless to say, my friend was unimpressed, as was the lady he chatted up that evening.
P.S.: Ah, the internet once again proves that there isn’t a question that hasn’t been asked previously. From the cache of alt.language.latin at Google groups…and here I thought for a moment I had an original idea…
My family and I are visiting New York this summer, a trip which will allow us to take in a game at venerable Yankee Stadium before the wrecking ball strikes this winter.
I have visited the stadium previously, and felt a classic sporting venue deserved a classic ode. Click here to review my less-than-Horatian work (I’ve always liked Horace’s O Fons Bandusiae) and tell me where I went wrong.
Yes, one could say I’m targeting a very narrow audience with this poem (Latin scholars who are baseball fans), but I thought it was worth a shot. It’s actually inspired some thoughts about modern Latin poetry which I’ll get around to posting later in the week…
Facetious and the rare arsenious (definition: “pertaining to/containing arsenic") tie for the title of shortest words in English (nine letters) which contain all five vowels in order.
I have found four such words in Latin that have eight letters each, only one of which is not a proper noun; can you name it?
With a little thought, you should be able to narrow down the general form of the word. A quick check of the dictionary then should lead you to it.
Ginny Linsey over at LatinZone is a teacher who’s pretty active on the LATINTEACH mailing list. A few weeks ago she wrote an email to the College board regarding their decision to drop the AP Latin Literature test.
Summary: Tydeus arrives at the palace; he and Polynices begin to fight on the doorstep. Adrastus intervenes and Tydeus introduces himself.
If you liked the Scrambled Vergil game I put up a few months ago, how about a few more to test your knowledge of the Dactylic Hexameter. But this time, I’m going to use lines from the readings of Statius (I’ve been dissecting the first book of his Thebaid here for the past month).
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.
..what is the only third-declension noun with a stem that ends in -m?
I wrote some thoughts in an earlier post on problems I’ve seen with Latin teaching. Latin itself is of course very ancient, but I think there’s also some antiquity in the English lessons used to teach the language.
Here’s a simple example: What is the translation of Horace’s phrase carpe diem? Even non-Latinists will know this one: “seize the day". But that word “seize"–who other than a Bond villain talks that way anymore ("Guards! Seize him!")? And carpere more literally means “pluck, gather", and is often used in an agricultural context. That’s not to say “seize” is incorrect, but the English language and culture have changed substantially since this translation from (perhaps) the 18th century.
How about utinam and ne? These words are translated in some texts as “would that” and “lest", terms that survive only in stereotyped phrases, religious quotes, or legalese (more modern translations would be “if only” and “so that…not". The Gildersleeve and Lodge grammar (1895) is excellent, but it refers to purpose clauses as “final clauses", and many students just don’t see the connection (finis means both “limit” and “goal” in Latin). And while verbs like interest - “it is in the interest” and pudet - “it is shameful” were used impersonally in Latin, this is generally not the case in English: Magistrorum interest bene docere can be translated as “it is in the interest of teachers to teach well", but “Teachers are interested in teaching well” sounds a lot more modern.
There’s no harm in pointing out that “lest” was once a more common word in English–one that matches up pretty well with ne–but if you’re constantly using “lest” in your translations, there’s a good chance your translations sound stilted or forced.
The Holy See’s site has had scattered documents in Latin (notably the material from Latinitas), but now it holds a spot equal with other languages on the mainpage. Given the current pontiff’s favor toward Latin it’s not a surprising move, but it has been a long time in coming…
Like all languages, Latin has it’s share of homographs–words spelled alike but with different pronunciation/meaning. I thought I’d share a few of the more common ones I’ve seen over years of reading.
Vowel quantity differences are critical for poetry, so keep this list in mind the next time you read…comment if you can think of others.
If you can’t see the macrons in the list, check that your browser is set for Unicode or auto-selected encoding (in IE, choose “View” -> “Encoding” and select “Auto-select").
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)
Been deleting a bunch of user accounts I presume are spam. If I hit yours by mistake, sorry; just re-enter and send me a Latin note mocking me inertissimum.
A lot of Latin students (myself included) fell in love with the Asterix comic adventure. The New York Sun has a brief but interesting essay by one of the English translators of this peculiarly-Gallic Funnycomix
A few hilarious words from Independent UK columnist John Walsh on his daughter’s Latin school project…
Summary: Polynices makes his way to Argos, where king Adrastus worries about a portent from Apollo.
H/T to Dr. Mary Beard for this strange story about a lawsuit from the Island of Lesbos.
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.
As noted in a previous post, I’ve read Ursula K. LeGuin’s Lavinia a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed the novel, although I’ll admit I was the perfect audience for it. I thought I’d close the week with some links to reviews:
Laura Millaer, writing for Salon, has a very good review that hits the mark in the final paragraph, calling the book “old writer’s book – Le Guin is 79 – in the best sense of the word; it is ripe with that half-remembered virtue, wisdom.”
Yvonne Zipp of the Christian Science Monitor gives an overall positive review, praises her grafting of a feminist perspective on a male-dominated epic, and think (like me) the conversations in Albunea with the dying Vergil are a highlight of the book.
Sam Munson of the New York Sun faults the work as trivial, not just because it lies in the shadow of Vergil, but because of her “workmanlike prose” and a plot that lacks the epic scope seen in her other works.
Julie Brickman, a fiction lecturer at Spaulding University writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune, wonders how a book with such “mastery of technique and luminosity of language” could fall flat, and thinks LeGuin is too in love with Virgil to make an interesting story for the non-specialist.
Tricia Snell of The Oregonian finds the feminine perspective revealing, both in lavinia herself and on the better-known characters of the poem.
…This brief “Word Watch” column from the Hartford, CT Courant shows how insidious Latin roots can be in the English language…
An interesting quewstion popped up in the Yahoo! LatinChat group (a good though sparse group for beginners). What is the difference between utrum…an and sive…sive?
Both are quickly translated “whether…or", but utrum…an is used exclusively in questions (grammars usually say these conjunctions head up noun clauses), while sive…sive is used to describe circumstances (i.e. adverbial clauses).
Here’s an example of each from Cicero’s De Senectute. In the first, Cato defends against a common criticism of old age as a time of lessened strength. He describes various feats-of-strength attributed to the Greek strongman Milo–a man much more powerful than most young men–and asks his interlocutors a rhetorical question:
Utrum igitur has corporis an Pythagorae tibi malis vires ingeni dari? - “So, would it please you more whether you are given the these strengths of body, or of Pythagorean talent?” (X.32)
Later in the essay he praises the superior power of the mind, regardless of its source:
Homini sive natura sive quis deus nihil mente praestabilius dedisset - “For man there is nothing more distinguished than the mind, whether it has been given by nature or some god.” (XII.40)
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