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The Weather Channel has decided to name winter storms, and the choices are sometimes hilarious.
Here are the classical choices, with the official explanations:
Athena: The Greek goddess of wisdom, courage, inspirations, justice, mathematics and all things wonderful.
I think one of my former students ‘wrote’ this after doing a quick web search. Gods are always summed up as ‘the god of X,’ which quickly becomes ‘X, and, Y, and Z,’ and on and on, often including synonyms and bizarre interpolations.
Brutus: Roman Senator and best known assassin of Julius Caesar.
Okay. But why not mention both Lucius and Marcus Junius Brutus? For that matter, why Brutus, and not a real monster, like Briareus?
Caesar: Title used by Roman and Byzantine emperors.
Is there anyone in the world who thinks of the title Caesar before the most important bearer of the name?
Draco: The first legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece.
Come on! Make it fun! Talk about the fact that he gave his name to the adjective ‘draconian’ because his penalties were so harsh. As harsh as a wicked winter storm? Hmm?
Euclid: A mathematician in Ancient Greece, the father of geometry.
Well, he lived in Alexandria, not on the Greek mainland. But make a connection … maybe to the geometric patterns in snowflakes.
Helen: In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy was the daughter of Zeus.
Ah, yes: Helen, the one and only daughter of Zeus. If only there was an interesting story or two one could tell about her.
Jove: The English name for Jupiter, the Roman god of light and sky.
Right. Because it’s not the Latin root or anything (Iuppiter, Iovis, Iovi, Iovem, Iove). Also, the god of light and sky? This sounds like vaguely barbarian religion in bad fantasy fiction. Or a song by Sting.
Luna: The divine embodiment of the moon in Roman mythology.
Also known as the moon.
Magnus: The Father of Europe, Charlemagne the Great, in Latin: Carolus Magnus.
Why Charlemagne and not Pompey? And why not mention that it means big or great, which might apply to a storm?
Nemo: A Greek boy’s name meaning “from the valley,” means “nobody” in Latin.
I suppose there could be a modern Greek name derived from τὸ νέμος, but I think it’s an erroneous claim for the source. Clearly they were thinking of the film Finding Nemo, and latched onto whatever vaguely classical connections they could find. They got lucky with the Latin.
Plato: Greek philosopher and mathematician, who was named by his wrestling coach.
While the Academy did apparently bear a sign barring the “un-geometried”, I think it’s a stretch to call Plato a mathematician.
Saturn: Roman god of time, also the namesake of the planet Saturn in our solar system.
Saturn is linked with Kronos, but Kronos (the god) is not chronos (time).
Triton: In Greek mythology, the messenger of the deep sea, son of Poseidon.
Is Triton a messenger? I thought he was a sort of nebulous sea god (or gods, the Tritones), blowing a conch to calm the sea.
Virgil: One of ancient Rome’s greatest poets.
Ahem: one of the world’s greatest poets. And it’s spelled Vergil. This isn’t the 19th century.
Zeus: In Greek mythology, the supreme ruler of Mount Olympus and the gods who lived there.
So who ruled over the rest of the world?
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Since we didn’t use any snow days this year we’re having a second little spring break next week, and after today’s mini-test on verb tenses I was going to play a little Latin Jeopardy. But the kids wanted to watch Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Greek Myths. I couldn’t find the DVD, but luckily Netflix on the iPad wasn’t blocked on the school’s network.
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Christopher Hitchens, who (I must confess) is a personal hero, recently used an anecdote about the venerable (and notorious) C.M. Bowra (Slate: ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’), who was a real-life member of the real Order of the Phoenix (unlike that Harry Potter character).
The anecdote is one of those great stories that people like to tell about distinguished types. It’s humorous and humanizing and suits his reputation as a wit. And as one of those stories that people like to tell, Hitchens has told it before (Slate: ‘The Cult of ID’):
At Oxford, where two rivers meet, there is a private stretch of the bank (or there used to be) called “Parson’s Pleasure.” Since Victorian times, this shaded resort was reserved for male dons who wished to swim and sunbathe in the nude. A barrier prevented any stray punts or boats from interrupting this idyll, and women and girls understood that this retreat was off-limits. One day, however, while the river was higher and faster than usual, a ladies’ boating party was swept through the barrier and into the all-male backwater. Shrieks and giggles from the boat, and a sudden, protective downward reaching of the hands on the part of all bathers on the bank. All but one. The late Sir Maurice Bowra, Hellenist and epigrammist, raised his hands to shield his craggy visage. There they all stood or sat until the fair intruders had sailed past, whereupon a general outbreak of sheepishness occurred, punctuated by Bowra saying: “I don’t know about you chaps, but I’m known by my face around here.”
You needn’t look very hard to find the anecdote here and there, with the quotation changed, or even the subject. It’s been told of others, for example Dundas, whom ‘Mercurius Oxoniensis’ provocatively referred to as ‘the late Master Robin Dundas, of Christ-Church and Parson’s Pleasure.’
(Try googling +“Parsons’ Pleasure” +“my face”. Then try the same search on Google Books, though not all references include the supposed words of the don.)
In Leslie Mitchell’s biography, Maurice Bowra: A Life, we find a very good explanation, that includes this:
Wadham men found it ‘pleasant to hear all the Jowett stories being told about you.’
The Parsons’ Pleasure story is briefly mentioned as one of the many apocryphal tales ascribed to Bowra as ‘oral myths intended to describe what a great academic might have done.’
It’s still a nice story, but let’s be skeptical.