Archive for the ‘Scholarship’ Category


A ramble on Latin scholarship

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What editing looks like

At least this is what it looked like when I worked a certain Greek textbook a few years ago. This may just be my experience, but this is the kind of note I wrote to my boss as I worked through the text. I probably argued with the author on similar points a few dozen times, but I happened upon this note by chance and thought I’d share it. (Note on the ‘Greek’ below.)

“I still have a problem with the etymology of a)reth/, etc. The notion that it is related to a)/rshn is unsupported. a)/ristos actually comes from PIE *ar- relating to ‘fitness’ (lots of obvious Greek and Latin words from this root). a)/ristos then means ‘most fitting, most suitable,’ not ‘most manly.’ a)reth/, if related to a)/ristos, may just mean something like ‘fitness,’ i.e., virtue as a particular kind of fitness, not manliness. As for a)rsh/n, I haven’t a clue as to its derivation (is it even Indo-European?), but I see no reason to suppose that it’s connected to a)reth/. Likewise Ares. Thus, the notion that a)reth/ was originally sexist and later became less so is dependent upon dubious etymology.”

I was thanked in the introduction for entering the text, but in reality I made major contributions to the integrity of the text, in places arguing for linguistic science, and elsewhere against emotionalism. Here I did both, and I feel no shame in taking more credit than I was offered for improving the book.

That weird text, by the way, is so-called Beta Code, which is a way of representing ancient Greek in ASCII text. It was sort of standard in the days before Unicode Classical Greek became relatively easy to produce, and we used it while editing for simplicity and to ensure no encoding issues with mail servers, etc. It’s still used by many today (but it’s worth the small effort to learn to type in Greek).


Hypermetric verses

I thought others might find it useful to have collected in one place all instances of hypermetric verses in classical Latin poetry (i.e., lines that have an ‘extra’ syllable at the end that elides with the opening vowel of the following line).

Lucilius, fragment 17. 6: (cf. Vergil, Aeneid 5. 422)

  1. … magna ossa lacertique
  2. apparent homini …

Lucretius, De rerum natura 5. 849–50:

  1. multa videmus enim rebus concurrere debere,
  2. ut propagando possint procudere saecla
Catullus, carmen 64. 298:

  1. inde pater divum sancta cum coniuge natisque
  2. advenit caelo, te solum, Phoebe, relinquens

Catullus, carmen 115. 5:

  1. prata arva ingentes silvas saltusque paludesque
  2. usque ad Hyperboreos et mare ad Oceanum?
Horace, Satires 1. 4. 96:

  1. me Capitolinus convictore usus amicoque
  2. a puero est causaque mea permulta rogatus

Horace, Satires 1. 6. 102:

  1. et comes alter, uti ne solus rusve peregreve
  2. exirem, plures calones atque caballi
Vergil, Georgics 1. 295:

  1. aut dulcis musti Volcano decoquit umorem
  2. et foliis undam trepidi despumat aeni.

Vergil, Georgics 2. 69:

  1. inseritur vero et fetu nucis arbutus horrida,
  2. et steriles platani malos gessere valentis,
Vergil, Georgics 2. 344:

  1. si non tanta quies iret frigusque caloremque
  2. inter, et exciperet caeli indulgentia terras.

Vergil, Georgics 2. 443:

  1. navigiis pinus, domibus cedrumque cupressosque;
  2. hinc radios trivere rotis, hinc tympana plaustris
Vergil, Georgics 3. 242:

  1. Omne adeo genus in terris hominumque ferarumque
  2. et genus aequoreum, pecudes pictaeque volucres,

Vergil, Georgics 3. 377:

  1. otia agunt terra, congestaque robora totasque
  2. advolvere focis ulmos ignique dedere.
Vergil, Georgics 3. 449:

  1. et spumas miscent argenti vivaque sulpura
  2. Idaeasque pices et pinguis unguine ceras

Vergil, Aeneid 1. 332:

  1. iactemur, doceas. Ignari hominumque locorumque
  2. erramus, vento huc vastis et fluctibus acti
Vergil, Aeneid 1. 448:

  1. aerea cui gradibus surgebant limina, nexaeque
  2. aere trabes, foribus cardo stridebat aenis.

Vergil, Aeneid 2. 745:

  1. quem non incusavi amens hominumque deorumque,
  2. aut quid in eversa vidi crudelius urbe?
Vergil, Aeneid 4. 558:

  1. omnia Mercurio similis, vocemque coloremque
  2. et crinis flavos et membra decora iuventa

Vergil, Aeneid 4. 629:

  1. imprecor, arma armis: pugnent ipsique nepotesque.
  2. Haec ait, et partis animum versabat in omnis
Vergil, Aeneid 5. 422:

  1. et magnos membrorum artus, magna ossa lacertosque
  2. exuit atque ingens media consistit harena.

Vergil, Aeneid 5. 753:

  1. robora navigiis, aptant remosque rudentisque,
  2. exigui numero, sed bello vivida virtus.
Vergil, Aeneid 6. 602:

  1. quos super atra silex iam iam lapsura cadentique
  2. imminet adsimilis; lucent genialibus altis

Vergil, Aeneid 7. 160:

  1. iamque iter emensi turris ac tecta Latinorum
  2. ardua cernebant iuvenes muroque subibant.
Vergil, Aeneid 7. 470:

  1. se satis ambobus Teucrisque venire Latinisque.
  2. haec ubi dicta dedit divosque in vota vocavit

Vergil, Aeneid 8. 228:

  1. ecce furens animis aderat Tirynthius omnemque
  2. accessum lustrans huc ora ferebat et illuc
Vergil, Aeneid 9. 650:

  1. omnia longaevo similis vocemque coloremque
  2. et crinis albos et saeva sonoribus arma

Vergil, Aeneid 10. 781:

  1. sternitur infelix alieno vulnere, caelumque
  2. aspicit et dulcis moriens reminiscitur Argos.
Vergil, Aeneid 10. 895:

  1. clamore incendunt caelum Troesque Latinique.
  2. advolat Aeneas vaginaque eripit ensem

Vergil, Aeneid 11. 609:

  1. substiterat: subito erumpunt clamore furentisque
  2. exhortantur equos, fundunt simul undique tela
Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 11:

  1. turaque dant Bacchumque vocant Bromiumque Lyaeumque
  2. ignigenamque satumque iterum solumque bimatrem

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 780:

  1. perque vias vidisse hominum simulacra ferarumque
  2. in silicem ex ipsis visa conversa Medusa
Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 507:

  1. inter seque datas iunxit natamque nepotemque
  2. absentes pro se memori rogat ore salutent

Do with that what you will. (Including, of course, correcting me if I’m wrong or missed anything.)


A scholar’s riposte

Richard Porson, who — along with Bentley and Housman, makes one third of the trinity of British textual critics — was apparently as much a wit as he was a critic. And as often happens with scholar’s of famous wit, stories are told (whether true or not). I really like this one:

“Dr. Porson,” said a gentleman to the great “Grecian,” with whom he had been disputing — “Dr. Porson, my opinion of you is most contemptible.” ” Sir,” returned the doctor, ” I never knew an opinion of yours that was not contemptible.”

Oh snap!


Pseudologus: Bowra in the buff

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.


Become a tech-savvy classicist in four simple steps

It seems that we classicists are often stuck in the past beyond just our interest in all things ancient. Fashionable theories in literary criticism finally emerge in our journals ten years after most modern language folks have (nearly) given them up, and many would-be tech-savvy classicists still hold to the long-dead notion that Macs beat PCs when it comes to dealing with Greek texts, etc.

But in many ways technology proves (or has proven) insufficient for us. It’s far easier and more comfortable to pull a book off the shelf than it is to fire up a web browser and ensure that the text encoding and fonts are properly set. This is to say nothing of the relative quality of texts available in printed, scholarly editions (with app. crit., etc.) and the myriad, problematic texts we find online, even from reputable sources. We have a certain revulsion to the ways that a clever user can ‘read’ challenging texts with the aid of morphological tools and parallel translations, and fear that such crutches will keep our students from becoming genuine Latinists and Hellenists. We may even fear that such technology will make us lazy, and that we’ll become lesser readers and scholars ourselves.

There are some legitimate concerns there, but ignoring technology does not remove them. Learning what’s available and learning how to use it well — that should be our goal.

For the cost of a simple USB flash drive you can enter the age of digital scholarship and become a more productive scholar from any computer with an internet connection. You can access virtually any file you need, keep all of your references at hand, and read an overwhelmingly large number of texts at virtually no cost.

Are you ready?

Access your stuff from anywhere

First, get yourself a free Dropbox account, and install the software to your personal computer. You’re given 2GB of online storage space, and whatever you place in your Dropbox folder on any computer on which it is installed will be synced with your online storage space. (Following my link will earn you an extra 250 MB.) You can access this space via the web, make changes, add or remove files, and everything will be synced in all locations. You can earn extra storage by spreading the word, and can purchase storage as well, but you shouldn’t need to. Just be judicious in what you place in the Dropbox.

Get mobile

USB drive
Next you’ll want to make sure you have a USB flash drive (or just about anything else you can use as an external drive, like an mp3 player). Make sure to keep this handy at all times. If you have access to a computer (virtually any computer, anywhere) you’ll be able to use this flash drive (in concert with your Dropbox) to maintain access to your most valuable resources, to keep your research up-to-date, and to read any Greek or Latin text available online without lugging around any dictionaries.

Here’s what you’ll need to do all that:

Firefox Portable
Install Firefox Portable to your flash drive. Whenever you’re not on your own computer, you can run this version of Firefox from your flash drive and maintain access to some resources that you would not be able to use otherwise: resources that make research and the reading of classical texts easier in odd places (like high school libraries, coffee shops, or anywhere where your PC and personal library of grammars and lexicons is not at hand).

Don’t forget to bookmark your Dropbox on the web!

Get organized

Get Zotero

From within Firefox Portable, install the Zotero extension. This will enable you to keep your scholarly citations (and so much more) always at hand. This browser add-on has the potential to help you become a better, more productive, and more organized researcher, less likely to lose references or double past research efforts.

That graphic should give you a quick indication of the range of things you do with zotero, which allows you not only to collect your sources, but to access them from other locations where zotero has been installed (e.g., on your home computer), to generate bibliographies in multiple formats, and to share research and references with colleagues.

Stay well-read

Also from within Firefox Portable install the Alpheios library extension and both the Greek and the Latin tools extensions. These will allow you to quickly and easily see Perseus-style pop-ups on Greek and Latin words on virtually any classical text online, showing both definitions and morphological analyses.

Simply double-clicking on a word brings up the information you need to work through a text quickly when your usual materials are not available.

These tools, if properly used, should help to make you more productive at times when you might otherwise feel at a loss without your usual resources.

ADDENDUM: Typing in Greek

A very good question from Lydia in the comments has alerted me to something I take for granted. I used an old version of Tavultesoft Keyman for several years, but it seems that all of the newer versions need to be purchased after a month. This utility allows you to install various keyboards to allow you to type in virtually any language with ease by downloading and installing various keyboard files.

A better option for classicists, though, is to give your money instead to the APA by purchasing GreekKeys:



Greek Coin Ban– Action Needed!

In January of 2007, archaeologists and other concerned citizens had an opportunity to have their voice heard by the US Department of State Cultural Property Advisory Committee about adding Cypriot coins to an import ban (see my post).  We have that opportunity again, as Greece has requested that the US impose import restrictions on all coins of Greek type.  The State Department is accepting comments on the proposed ban, and they’ve made it easy, creating a submit comment page, where we can let the committee know how important bans like this can be in reducing the looting of ancient sites.   The deadline is very soon– Wednesday, September 22, so please write soon.  Your comment does not need to be long, but I am sure that the more voices heard, the stronger our case will be.  In my comment, I intend to emphasize how valuable the archaeological significance of coins can be when found in context, and how much damage looting can do to cultural sites.  The coin collecting hobbyists are rallying to comment as well, so please take a moment to make your voice heard.


Defending Vergil

It’s difficult to imagine a time when a scholar might feel the need to defend Vergil against the notion that he was derivative, artificial, or less than a classic, but that’s what Henry Nettleship felt compelled to do in his Suggestions Introductory to a Study of the Aeneid (1875):
Portrait of Henry Nettleship

The following remarks are offered as a contribution to the interpretation of a poem to which a great deal of recent criticism has, I venture to think, been unjust. Much has been said of the artificial and borrowed element in the Aeneid, very little of the original element; and yet it is clear that a poet who won the ear of his nation so soon as Vergil, and became at once one of the most popular poets and the most classical poet of Rome, could not have gained this position without great original power. Because Vergil chose a vast and multitudinous material to work upon some critics have supposed that he showed no creative power in handling it; as if he had not created a new kind of epic and a new poetical language; as if any other Roman poet before him had attempted so vast and so difficult a problem, and as if any epic poet of his nation after him had succeeded in anything like the same way in holding the attention of mankind. Mere rhetorical skill has never made and can never make a work immortal.

The same criticisms have been leveled against poets like Apollonius of Rhodes and Nicander of Colophon, but only Vergil has on his side a defense like that outlined by Nettsleship.

Nettleship’s little book is relatively short and should still be read by both teachers and students of Vergil.

His conclusion:

The sum of what has been said is that the main thread of ideas running through the Aeneid is Roman, but that its form is that of the Greek epic, and much of the spirit of its action is that of the Greek tragedy: that the Aeneid reflects in a poetical form the multitude of beliefs which thronged the literary atmosphere of Rome at the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire, and is in this way the most complete and classical monument of its age.

This work is available for online viewing or downloading from Google Books.



“Words mean things, and the study of words is the natural introduction to that knowledge of ancient life, social and political, which it is the object of the scholar to attain.”
–H. Nettleship, from the preface to Passages for Translation into Latin Prose (1887)


George Grote on myth and allegory

There’s a lot to be learned from texts that might seem out of date, and while it seems odd to say that to anyone interested in ancient texts, it’s easy to forget that the latest scholarship isn’t necessarily the most instructive. I think that one of the greatest obstacles to the past is the ever-increasing wall of interpretation and with it the endless branching of every field into a thousand specialties.

Classics of history and scholarship endure, despite—and in part because of—the criticism and revision they inspire (think of Gibbon), but equally instructive is the way in which classics help you to see how others see things.

George Grote produced such a classic in his History of Greece (1846–1856), and from the start his method is clear and his reason is sound, at least on a topic that frustrates many students and produces mountains of useless conjecture. Here he is on legends regarding the gods:

I maintain, moreover, fully, the character of these great divine agents as Persons, which is the light in which they presented themselves to the Homeric or Hesiodic audience. Uranos, Nyx, Hypnos and Oneiros (Heaven, Night, Sleep and Dream), are Persons, just as much as Zeus and Apollo. To resolve them into mere allegories, is unsafe and unprofitable: we then depart from the point of view of the original hearers, without acquiring any consistent or philosophical point of view of our own. For although some of the attributes and actions ascribed to these persons are often explicable by allegory the whole series and system of them never are so: the theorist who adopts this course of explanation finds that, after one or two simple and obvious steps, the path is no longer open, and he is forced to clear a way for himself by gratuitous refinements and conjectures. The allegorical persons and attributes are always found mingled with other persons and attributes not allegorical; but the two classes cannot be severed without breaking up the whole march of the mythical events, nor can any explanation which drives us to such a necessity be considered as admissible.

Would that Robert Graves (and many others since) had felt the same.

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