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.
Just when I least expect it, this evening’s episode of the ABC Series Lost features characters speaking Latin to each other; and for the most part the actors try and duplicate a classical pronunciation.
The series is far too complicated to explain, but if you’re interested in seeing a little spoken Latin from primetime US television, you can view this evening’s episode here. The first Latin exchange is at the 14 minute mark:
Other 1: Quare non sunt vestitus eis?
Other 2: Tace!
Juliet: Cognoscitis qui sumus? ("Do you know who we are?” - shouldn’t this be simus–indirect question?)
Note the first actor overemphasizes the classical “w” sound for the v leading off vestitus. Juliet translates the phrasing correctly, although vestitus, -us is more generally “clothing” than military “uniforms". Another exchange–with subtitles–occurs at :27, si placet…
Full text can be found here, though I think it has a few typographical errors:
Line 32: silva should be silvas
Line 43: positi should be posito
Line 71: priore should be priorem
Summary: Ornytus recites the poem of Faunus, who predicts a golden age led by a god who will end civil war and establish “real” peace and rule of law. In an epilogue, the shepherds resolve to repeat the song.
Full text can be found here, though I think it has a few typographical errors (I’ll point those out in the review).
Summary: The shepherd brothers Corydon and Ornytus look for shade on a hot day and find a text carved in a beech tree.
A short op-ed from the Gazette of Beaufort, SC strings together a number of Latin aphorisms to lecture us about modern economic problems.
What’s interesting to me is the source: “A Collection of Latin Maxims and Phrases Literally Translated and Explained by John M. Cottrell, Intended for the use of Students for all Legal Examinations. Washington, D.C., John Byrne and Company, Law Book Publishers, 1897.” Has anyone else run across this tome?
The quote above–a neat little rhyme–is often attributed to Cicero, but is actually by the 17th century English jurist Sir Edward Coke (makes sense in a book of legal maxims). It is loosely translated “prevention is better than cure”
…he should really take the oath in Latin, right?
Ego, Barack Obama, solemniter iuro magisterium Praefecti Civitatum Coniunctorum bona fide exsequi, atque pro mea parte Constitutionem Civitatum Coniunctorum custodire, servare, et defendere.
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
I recently joined the multitude and swapped my old celphone for the new 3G iPhone. This slick device allows you to download a wide variety of applications from the iTunes-based Application Store, so on a lark I thought I’d do a seach on “Latin".
Surprisingly (to me at least) quite a few applications popped up–even after sifting out the ones related to Latin music. For example, there are plenty of Latin dictionaries, and someone has even ported William Whitaker’s Words, although the ported version doesn’t include English-to-Latin search. More interesting was the free app I found entitled “Latin Reader", a small program that parses two short poems of Catullus. It’s fairly crude–if you need “help” on a line you get some pretty skimy grammar tips along with a English translation–but it also seems a step in the right direction if you’re interested in getting folks who studied a bit of Latin to read more. And since I’m one of those people, maybe I’ll spend a little time looking at Apple’s Developer Program…
Bob Edwards had an interesting interview this morning with Boston Globe columnist Alan Beam. His latest book “A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books” provides a whirlwind history of the “Great Books of the Western World” curriculum–no doubt you’ve seen a colorful set either tucked onto a dusty home shelf or priced cheaply at a local yard sale. I’ve had more than one adult Latin student talk to me about the “Great Books"; they are top-heavy with ancient classics, and the philosophy behind the curriculum is decidedly anti-modern ("modern” being anything written in the past 300 years). I was also lucky enough to meet Mortimer Adler at a small post-lecture reception hosted by my college’s classics department (he chuckled at our undergraduate complaints about a difficult ode of Horace we had been translating in class earlier in the day).
Nevertheless I can’t say I’m a fan of “Great Books", and IMO it represents an attitude Latinists should avoid. I like classical writing, enjoy reading much of it in Latin (with enough Greek to be dangerous), and of course I encourage others to discover it. But I certainly don’t think it’s necessary to read, say, Epictetus or Livy to be considered educated. The educational pendulum that dismissed the “irrelevance” and “cultural arrogance” of Greek and Latin did swing too far (though nowadays, as this blog has chronicled, Latin has been on the rise for at least the past decade). However we do these subjects no favors by demanding they be canonized. Paradoxically–at least since the curricular upheavals of the ’60s and ’70s–such attempts lead to fewer readers of these books.
Enjoy Latin, read as much as you can, but please, please don’t think it makes you a better-educated person. Discerning and cultivated perhaps …
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.
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…
An art installation by Lawrence Weiner at Rome’s Gagosian Gallery should delight any Latinists planning a visit.
The show has gotten at least one good review, though the author should check his Latin sources more closely. Si parva licet componere magnis is actually from the Georgics, not the Aeneid. After describing the hot work of the Cyclopses in their forge under Mt. Etna, he compares it to the furious labor of bees:
Non aliter–si parva licet componere magnis–
Cecropias innatus apes amor urget habendi,
munere quamque suo. (G. IV.176-8)
Innatus…amor…habendi should be taken as the complete subject of urget; Cecropias - “Cecropian” identifies these apes as ones that buzz over Athens (Cecrops is the city’s legendary founder, and honey was one of Greece’s most important exports). Note how Vergil passes from the plural apes to the singular quamque - “each one (of which)".
The phrase almost sounds like Vergil is making a parenthetical apology for his unusual simile, since tiny bees and gigantic cyclopses might be too far out of proportion to produce an effective comparison.
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?
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.
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