Thursday, March 26, 2009

The CAMPVS has a new home

We're making the move to a new site:

the CAMPVS (rss)

I've successfully migrated all of our old posts and comments, and am in the process of cleaning up the design etc.

Please redirect your readers and bookmarks to the new site as we quickly approach our five year anniversary.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Old Etymology Game

Charlotte Higgins mentions two etymologies that she wishes she'd known for her book It's All Greek to Me, and which she'd gotten from the recent Why Socrates Died by Robin Waterfield and A Woman Scorn'd by Michael Burden, but I have to dispel these notions:

To paraphrase Waterfield: one of the vagaries of the classical Athenian judicial system was that it gave people the opportunity to make money out of threatening to take others to court.

These blackmailers were called sycophants. The origin of the word is this. Since the beginning of the 6th century it had been illegal to export food, except olives, from Athenian territory. Sometimes, though, people would try to smuggle figs over the border. If someone denounced you as a fig-smuggler, he was a sykophantes – a "tale-teller about figs". Waterfield: "If it was part of his purpose to ingratiate himself with the authorities, he was close to being a sycophant in the modern sense of the word."

Others have tried to link this with the fig sign as though the verb in Greek could be read as "to give the fig sign to."

But it is entirely clear to me that the word is built on sukon as it referred not to a fig but to a fig-like growth on the skin (e.g., a wart, a tumor). The verbal root phant- then adds the notion of revealing someone's 'warts', a metaphor that we still use. A sycophant to an ancient Greek was probably easily understood as someone who made known another's shortcomings or sins, whether real or trumped up.

As to the other etymology, namely for sardonic, the usual ancient etymology is derived from the plant sardanios, with reference to the contorted faces of those who've ingested the poisonous herb. The notion that it is named for the feigned joy of the victims of ritual child-sacrifice in Carthage is unthinkable on so many levels.

Each of these smacks of folk-etymology, and more than that the sort of folk-etymology that lends credence to the old saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

New Housman Book

I received the Duckworth catalog for 2009 in the mail today, and I see that there is a new book on Housman as a classical scholar (as opposed to a study of Housman the poet or Housman's private life), edited by David Butterfield and Christopher Stray. It is scheduled for publication in the UK in August of this year, and in the US in November. I just did a quick search of their website and couldn't find anything about it there yet, but thought that, at the very least, Dennis and our 1-2 readers might want to know if they didn't already.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Fox and the Hedgehog

In the last paragraph of her column yesterday, Peggy Noonan says the following:

These are the two great issues, the economic crisis and our safety. In the face of them, what strikes one is the weightlessness of the Obama administration, the jumping from issue to issue and venue to venue from day to day. Isaiah Berlin famously suggested a leader is a fox or a hedgehog. The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing. In political leadership the hedgehog has certain significant advantages, focus and clarity of vision among them. Most presidents are one or the other. So far Mr. Obama seems neither.

I haven't attempted to track down the Isaiah Berlin reference, but, of course, the idea about the fox and the hedgehog is much older. Remember Archilochus (fr. 201 West)?
πόλλ’ οἶδ’ ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ’ ἐχῖνος ἓν μέγα.

'The fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog only one. One good one.' (Lattimore's tr.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Latin Hexameter Pangrams

I'm sure most of us remember the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," which we saw over and over again as children learning to write or to type. But if you're like me you didn't know that it's called a pangram, a name which makes perfect sense once you know it.

I intend to focus on proper pronunciation this week in Latin II and had the novel idea of finding such a sentence in Latin, to have my students memorize it, and to have them recite it back to me individually for a grade.

My search turned up little at first, until I stumbled upon the following by Pedro Madariaga (published as an illustration for handwriting in 1565):

gaza frequens Libycum duxit Karthago triumphum

This has caused those who've discussed it online no end of difficulty, and I think I know why. Others want to take Libycum as an accusative singular with triumphum, which leads them to read gaza as an ablative, or to make other unnecessary changes that destroy the meter as well as the sense.

But gaza must be nominative singular, and the progression of thought leads one to read Libycum as a poetic genitive plural (for Libyc(or)um). Read it like this:

gaza frequens Libycum: duxit Karthago triumphum!

At once the ellipsis of est is clear, as is the sense: "The treasury of the Libyans is full: Carthage has led a triumphal procession."

(Incidentally, variants appear with the forms "libycos ... triumphos", a sort of hyper-correction following the common misreading.)

Following upon this I devised my own, though I've omitted K and Y:

heu Zama, quam Scipio celeber dux frangit inique!

"Alas (poor) Zama, whom the famed general Scipio is shattering unequally!"

Here our make-believe poet apostrophizes Zama in his sympathy at the heavy losses on the Carthaginian side. With inique I was aiming at the imbalance in losses between the two sides.

I think I'll offer both lines to the students, teach them in meter and with proper pronunciation, and give them a choice as to which they recite for credit.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


My AP students are about to read the Jupiter's prophecy (and yes, we are behind, but blame block scheduling, standardized tests, and now snow days).

And I can't help but wish that someone would recreate the image that inspired the scene. Vergil's description is a apparently an ecphrasis of a painting by a certain Apelles, a painting that showed Alexander essentially gloating over the bound figure of raging Furor.

Now there's a theme for a neoclassical painter. Or some talented kid with lots of time on his hands. Any takers?

Eh. It was worth a shot.

Monday, March 02, 2009


Chapter 16 of the popular textbook Lingua Latina finds the author very explicitly advocating for his own faith in the events that beset his characters. I'll admit that the manner in which Medus' prayer to Neptune is silenced is funny, but I'm not comfortable with a narrative in a Latin textbook offering proof of Christ's divinity, and so I've adapted the text to include a bit about other religions without giving primacy to any, and rather than allowing the textbook to feel preachy to my students, it'll provide a nice branching-off point to talk about religions under the Roman empire.

Just after Lydia prays to her 'dominus', prompting a dismissive response from her boyfriend, the runaway slave, I have the following:

Lydia: “sed dominus meus est deus!”
Mēdus: “iam satis deōs habeō, et Neptūnus me servāre potest!”
Lydia, tollēns manūs ad caelum, Chrīstum invocat, et Mēdus iterum magnā vōce Neptūnum invocat. Omnēs nautae, quī ex multīs terrīs sunt, deōs suōs invocāre incipiunt. Aliī Magnam Mātrem invocant, aliī Sōlem Invictum. Sed vocēs omnium vix audiuntur propter tonitrum.
Don't get me wrong: I would never censor an authentic text. But when a textbook author tries to slip in an inauthentic proof of his own religious beliefs (in this case making it clear that Christ is real and Neptune a figment) I have to draw the line. Nothing in my version prevents a Christian from assuming that Christ stopped the storm, nor does it instruct any of the other students that their faith (or lack thereof) is inferior.

Pindaric Metre

I've finally received my copy of Kiichiro Itsumi's hot-off-the-presses Pindaric Metre: The Other Half. I managed to get an amazing deal at the APA meeting in Philly, but after more than a month we decided that the first shipment was lost in the mail. This time they used UPS and it arrived within four days.

I see that the book is on offer from the BMCR, but maybe I'll manage to post a review of my own here at the Campus.

I have a great love of metrics and am really looking forward to this book.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Ancient markup language?

I've begun Rick LaFleur's methodologies class, and I'm sure this blog will see a resurgence as a result of my new focus on matters pedagogical. For anyone who's still following, Eric has been very busy being a professor and obtaining a proper degree (applause all around), while I actually silently left the blog some months back. I'm no longer affiliated with Bryn Mawr College, but the Campus Mawrtius is too much a part of me, so I've come back.

And the first thing I want to tell you about is something I found in reviewing a few sites for my first assignment: a ten year old program for creating your own Latin and Greek pages marked-up for Perseus-style glosses.

I can't believe I didn't know about this already, but now I've got ideas for how this might applied both to homework assignments and in mobile labs (i.e., laptops in the classroom). It's something I've always wanted to be able to do, especially with odd little texts that would never make their way to Perseus. There are contexts in which this is not a crutch, but a tool for confirmation or correction, and I'm looking forward to using it.