So my friend, a poet (who’s not a classicist but who nearly was once upon a time in college), picked up a translation of Juvenal and had a few questions for me. We naturally made a few jokes about his name, and even the content of his satires, and this one (perhaps the most obvious) made its way into my sketchbook.
I titled it ‘Bad Roman Humor’ so you wouldn’t have to.
I’ve argued before that Michael Choniates (archbishop of Athens at the time of the 4th Crusade) was a true scholar, and I’d like to point out something I’ve just spotted in his famous poem lamenting the state of the city he had inherited against the one he’d loved in his study of the past.
He cries out for the missing face of his lost love, calls himself another Ixion (who embraced an image, a cloud, rather than Hera herself), and wishes even for the courts and assemblies of the ancient city. Near the end he says this:
The glory of Athens has entirely passed away;
nor can one see a faint trace of it.
What interests me most here is the meter. The poem is written in the iambic trimeter, and τις must be long. Do you know why?
Choniates seems to know about the digamma before ἴδοι. I don’t know much about Byzantine knowledge of the digamma, and this could be a sign that he recognized not the presence of a missing consonant but a metrical ‘irregularity’ in poets before this particular word. Still, that makes him a sensitive and careful reader of ancient verse.
I have seen gamma used in place of digamma in Hesychius, for example, so that’s something. Still, it was exciting to me as I read the poem today.
Italian archaeologists have found the ruins of a 6th-century BC Greek temple-like structure in southern Italy that came with detailed assembly instructions and is being called an “ancient IKEA building”.
Massimo Osanna, head of archaeology at Basilica University, said that the team working at Torre Satriano near Potenza in what was once Magna Graecia had unearthed a sloping roof with red and black decorations, with “masculine” and “feminine” components inscribed with detailed directions on how they slotted together.
Professor Christopher Smith, director of the British School at Rome, said that the discovery was “the clearest example yet found of mason’s marks of the time. It looks as if someone was instructing others how to mass-produce components and put them together in this way”” he told The Times.
“As my old Latin professor used to say, ‘If it weren’t for Marathon, it’s highly likely we’d all be speaking Farsi,”‘ said Matthew Gonzales, a classics professor at Saint Anselm College and contributor to a History Channel feature on the battle.
Then why are we not speaking Greek?
But here’s what I really think of this tired claim:
“Generosity is the habit of giving.” Philanthropy is the habit of giving to others. The OED says that generosity comes from the Latin word genus which means kind, as in ilk not nicety. Thus, giving to our own kind. Any one of us could be in need at any time. Generosity means that we reach out to those we recognize as of our own kind.
So what is our kind? Everyone. In the whole world. No exceptions.
Actually, no. Latin generosus comes from genus in the sense of descent or ‘stock.’ There’s an implied epithet, like ‘good’. It’s perfectly analogous to the English word ‘breeding’ as it was once used, e.g., ‘he’s a man of breeding.’ A person of breeding or a generosus person is supposed to have certain favored qualities lacking in others. They do not give to their own kind, but giving may be one of those favored qualities. Very little thought is required to see that there is not ‘giving’ in the root, and evidently even less thought went into Corso’s explanation.
This may be news to many readers of the blog, as I haven’t blogged about skepticism (except perhaps in my post on chiropractic, Herodotus: the father of handiwork) but I am a longtime skeptic. (Brian Dunning’s concise statement, What is Skepticism?, will give you a good idea of what I mean when I use the term.)
For my money, the one thing students need above all else is the ability to develop critical thinking skills, which encompasses such things as knowing how to assess information and being aware of common pitfalls to understanding (e.g., logical fallacies, emotional appeals, etc.). Too often my own students show a willingness to believe whatever I tell them, a tendency I exploit on a regular basis with humor in an effort to promote more critical thinking.
I don’t want to say much more right now, though I’m sure my position will be clear in the poll options below, but I’m interested to hear from others on the issue of critical thinking in the humanities, its relationship with the sciences, and potentially those in the humanities who are sympathetic to or interested in the skeptical viewpoint.
So without further ado, my (admittedly) awkward poll:
‘Everyone loves you on your deathbed’ (omnes te moriturum amant), or so says the inscription on the fictional Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, seen just before the closing credits of tonight’s episode of House on Fox.
As my wife pointed out, this bears an uncanny resemblance to that familiar gladiatorial phrase, morituri te salutamus. (EDIT: Keen readers have pointed toward the correct form: ‘have imperator, morituri te salutant,’ which comes from Suetonius, 5. 21.)
We think director/star Hugh Laurie was having a bit of a laugh.
UPDATE: My wife tells me that a commenter at the AV Club claimed this to be the motto of the Cambridge Footlights, but the internet tells me their motto is ‘ars celare artem est’, a version of a common theme (compare Quintilian, Inst. Or. 1.10, ‘ea prima [ars] est, ne ars esse videatur’).
Searching today, I’m delighted to see that my translation ‘everyone loves you on your deathbed,’ has cropped up in a few places around the web.
Does anyone have any real insight on the phrase’s inclusion in the show?
INTERPRETATION: Now that I reckon most people have seen the episode I’ll tell you what I think. This is House, and so we should be a little cynical in our reading. TE MORITVRVM means (literally) ‘you being about to die,’ and while my translation (‘on your deathbed’) was called poetic on Wikipedia, all translation should be. The ultimate judge in translation should be sense wedded with style. How do you say in English what the Latin said, in the way the Latin said it? I gave a colloquial translation, but what does the context of the episode tell us about sense?
Throughout the episode various of the characters derived great pleasure from tormenting others. House and the dying Classics professor from Princeton trading barbs and cutting insights, Taub and Foreman digging into one another’s pasts or trading physical blows, Wilson and 13 extracting ‘truths’ and issuing humiliating dares, the boy pinching his baby sister. I think much of this depends on the English idiom which I suspect is behind the phrase, namely the metaphorical use of ‘dying’ and ‘killing’. Everyone takes pleasure when you are on the verge of death, metaphorically or not. They enjoy watching you squirm.
That was the entertainment, and the common theme. But in the literal sense, and seen in the episode’s more serious counterpoint, House connected with the dying Classics professor, and though he maintained his shell for much of the exchange, showed his humanity, encouraged him to express his love—however distantly— to his estranged daughter, opened his own soul, and apologized for not taking his case. He connected with him, eased his pain, and waited with him while he died.
If House is capable of doing that, everyone is. Death humanizes all of us. And when the missing baby, feared dead, was reunited with her family by Dr. Cuddy, there never was a more perfect image of joy.
In honor of the 6th birthday, of this, our humble blog, I wanted to share with you some clips from NBC’s great comedy 30 Rock, which have some great classics content.
In the first, Alec Baldwin—faced with the prospect of a business model that produces nothing, but simply collects money (a brilliant skewering of Comcast)—demonstrates the benefits of a pop culture education:
‘”And Alexander wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.” Hans Gruber, Die Hard.’ Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock.
‘When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.’ Benefits of a classical education.
Read more to find out why it’s not.
Elsewhere on 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin’s character is at it again, this time with a bit of cryptic Latin. Taking the resident handsome actor under his own handsome wing, Jack Donaghy plots this bit of revenge against the nerds of the writing staff, retaliation for a prank they’d pulled. It’s a classic 80s style Preps vs. Nerds showdown:
‘Surculus et pruna. Surculus et pruna.’ I won’t translate it, but it does have a suggestive meaning. It’s the Latin form of a code word in his collegiate secret society, and though its revelation brings him a bit of danger, he has the last laugh. The handsome always do.