Posted by Dennis » 5 Comments »
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?
Posted by Eric » Add Comment »
As Venus tells Aeneas the story of Dido, she tells him how Dido and her allies (socios, 360) acquired the territory of Carthage: they bought as much land as they could surround with a bull’s hide:
- mercatique solum, facti de nomine Byrsam,
- taurino quantum possent circumdare tergo.
Again, word-order reinforces the sense: the words for “bull’s” (taurino) and “hide” (tergo) themselves surround or encircle “how much land they could surround/encircle” (quantum possent circumdare). The repeated “t” sound at the beginning of these two words that go together and begin and end the line gives extra balance.
Incidentally, Pharr notes that the famous line-ending dux femina facti (364) was “stamped on the medals struck to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the British in 1588, while Elizabeth was queen of England.” I’m not sure if this is true: see here, for instance; though it at least seems to have been used in such a way retrospectively. Anyone out there know if such medals were made during Elizabeth’s reign?
Posted by Dennis » 2 Comments »
I’m a hunter by nature, but what I hunt are words and meanings in books and now on the internet. One of the things I like to pursue is the origin of popular attributions, but the game is often quite elusive.
This one has been quoted often enough, and declared apocryphal:
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
I’ve found the source, and he was a learned and interesting man who was an admirer of Darwin, a defender of archaeological sites, and most famously the man who gave Bank Holidays to the U.K. (We’ll ignore his opposition to Irish Home Rule.)
The young Cicero reading (in a soulful nook?)
Sir John Lubbock wrote an essay for the Contemporary Review vol. 49 (1886) under the title ‘On the Love of Reading.’
He opens with a sentiment that could be echoed today:
Of all the privileges we enjoy in this nineteenth century there is none, perhaps, for which we ought to be more thankful than for the easier access to books.
It’s funny that I was able to access his essay through Google Books, which bypasses the physical object to make access even easier. But early in the essay he says the following, which is the source of the popular quotation:
Cicero described a room without books as a body without a soul. But it is by no means necessary to be a philosopher to love reading.
This essay was reprinted in several other publications, and was evidently so widely-read that some had false recollections of reading the line in Cicero.
So how could an accomplished polymath get something like this so wrong? Was he a fraud?
If he was anything in this instance he was probably too reliant on memory or too free in his interpretation, but it’s not a far leap from Cicero’s words:
postea vero quam Tyrannio mihi libros disposuit mens addita videtur meis aedibus.
— Cicero, ad Atticum IV.8
Translations tend to differ and take the word mens in quite different senses. (For example, a ‘soul’ has been added, according to E.O. Winstedt’s Loeb translation.) Heberden’s translation in the old Bohn edition, which seems a likely source for someone like Lubbock, says that ‘a new spirit has seemed to animate my house.’
To me it seems to say that an ordered library is like the brain of a house, but whether you think of as a soul, a spirit, or a mind, the comparison is clear: the home is endowed with a human property. And if it was no empty of books before, the books were of little use in their disordered state.
So let’s emend the thought (acknowledging that it isn’t a quotation) and say that a home without a library is like a body without a mind.