Posted by Eric » 1 Comment »
I think that I’m going to bring back the random fact(s) of the day (or every couple of days, or…you get the idea) from the Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed.), in which I flip the book open to a page and reproduce an entry that is brief enough that I don’t mind typing it out. I’m hoping that it will be an easy way to learn new things or re-learn old ones. Today’s entry is demos:
The Greek word means originally ‘district, land’, hence particularly (in Attica and elsewhere) the villages or demes (demoi, plural of demos) which were the main units of country settlement. From ‘the place where the people live’ the word comes to mean ‘the people’, as in compounds like demo-kratia, ‘people-power’ or ‘democracy’; demos sometimes means ‘the sovereign people’, sometimes ‘the common people’. Demos personified was glorified with a cult (Athens) and frequently depicted (male, youthful, or bearded) in Athens and other poleis: LIMC 3/1 (1986), 375-82.
Posted by Dennis » 1 Comment »
Working with students who’ve previously learned from another teacher can make some things about one’s own approach really stand out, and possibly seem a bit odd (or least idiosyncratic). Today I’m wondering how strange I am in regard to the treatment of infinitives.
Students recognize the infinitive as ‘the to form of the verb,’ and this seemingly innocuous phrase is one I’ve run into many times in the past. I say ‘seemingly innocuous’ because I think it lays a poor foundation. Students are led to think of the infinitive as a verb, which in turn leads to confusion about what exactly a verb does, and they will stumble later when they encounter other verbals (i.e., participles, the supine, etc.).
I like to tell students up front that the infinitive is a neuter noun formed from the verb stem. As a noun it is not limited (infinitivus) by person or number. It is the name (nomen) of the verb just as puer is the Latin name for what we call ‘boy.’
For example, currere names the action ‘running,’ and can be used as the subject of a sentence. Currere est salubre means ‘running is (a) healthful (activity)’ or ‘to run is (a) healthful (activity).’ (Compare errare est humanum.) I don’t see how any use of the infinitive is clearer by ignoring the fact that it is really a neuter noun.
You can teach the so-called impersonal verb ‘necesse est’ right away, too. The infinitive is really the subject, and necesse is just an old neuter adjective now frozen into a stock expression. Students have no difficulty seeing immediately that necesse est currere, ‘it’s necessary to run,’ says the same thing as ‘running is necessary.’ This is the same construction as ‘facile est,’ etc.
Normally students learn the complementary infinitive first and other uses later, but isn’t this still best understood as a noun, and not necessarily distinguished from other infinitives? Verbs that take a complementary infinitive can be compared best with transitive verbs: where a transitive verb requires a direct object to complete its sense, these verbs require (complementary) infinitives.
If I say that Marcus pulsat, the sentence is incomplete. But if I say Marcus ianuam pulsat or Marcus Sextum pulsat, the sense become clear. The thought is now complete.
Likewise if I were to say that Marcus vult, the sentence would be incomplete (What does he want?), but if I were to say Marcus currere vult or Marcus Sextum pulsare vult, I’ve completed the sentence as the verb requires, i.e., with an infintive. This usage is analogous to the other, and reinforces for students the notion that the infinitive is a noun: a verbal noun, but a noun nonetheless.
It’s not ‘the to form of the verb.’ How many times has that notion led a student to confuse the infinitive with the dative?
Posted by Eric » 3 Comments »
I enjoyed the following brief passage on Plato and Aristotle by John Duncan (1796-1870), a minister in the Free Church of Scotland and chair of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at New College, Edinburgh. So I thought I’d share it here. (The passage is found in Colloquia Peripatetica.)
[Plato And Aristotle.]
In the Cave under Macduff’s Castle, Wemyss.
THAT’S a wonderful illustration of Plato’s about the cave, and the shadows on the wall . A better symbol of the contrast between the permanent and the transitory could not be found: the moving shadows seen, while that of which they are the adumbration is not seen. But as a writer I prefer Aristotle to Plato. Aristotle’s Greek is very amazing. It is the exactest Greek I know. He is by far the compactest and most precise writer we have, in any literature. He is the beau ideal of the precise. Two things I wonder at in Aristotle—the extent of his acquirements, and the exactitude of his writing. He had gone over the encyclopaedia of knowledge. And the “Organon” is marvellous Greek. So is the ” Nicomachean Ethics.” He is not so great I think in his ” Metaphysics,” either in the matter or its form. —I sometimes wonder if we have much of his Esoteric—those peripatetic disclosures to the initiated. It is mostly the exoteric I suppose. But if that was the exoteric, what must the esoteric have been! His aesthetic doctrines too have not yet been superseded, though they have been supplemented. And we have a curious fragment of his own poetry, a piece peri areths. It is Smollett-like; very like Smollett’s ” Ode to Independence.” But I never could love Aristotle. Admiration is the beginning, middle, and end of my feeling towards him He could see, but could not soar. He could see, I suppose, as far as a mason could see into a wall that he had built, and that is a good deal farther than other people see into it. Plato, on the other hand, I love. He is more of the mystic, and he soars sublimely. Plato goes peering up, often into cloudland; yet I like to follow him into the mist, for when I don’t see through it, I generally think he does. It is a good thing to go up now and then into the mist, if we do not, like Ixion, embrace the cloud. . . . Philip of Macedon had been a wise man in getting such a tutor as Aristotle for Alexander. The tutorship may account a little for the greatness of both men. Each benefited the other. But what a petty ambition was that of the ward ; and what a low Empire compared with the tutor’s, in worth and duration both. To conquer the world! Alexander Magnus was, after all, Alexander Parvus too.