Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What is Vergil's Most Familiar Verse?

While aimlessly exploring Latin philology this morning, I stumbled on a rather curious quote. Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro, a classical scholar at Cambridge wrote the following in 1859 [emphasis my own]:

"cara deum suboles, magnum Iovis incrementum (Virgil Ecl. iv, 49)
Probably no verse of Virgil is more familiar to his readers than the above." 
"Lucretius, Catullus, Vergil," P. 290, in Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology 4, Cambridge University Press (2012, originally published 1859).

As a philologist writing in 2015, this quote struck me as nearly bizarre, since I had actually never even seen this quote until I happened on it through accidental research.

I mean, if you asked me what verse of Vergil is most familiar to people generally, I would say, by way of the well-known quote, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," timeo Danaos et dona ferentes (Aeneid 2.49).

But if the question is, which verse is most familiar to his readers (meaning people reading it in Latin), it would be most difficult to answer.

Certainly, the famous first line of the Aeneid, arma virumque cano, I sing arms and the man (Aeneid 1.1) would warrant consideration.

Just off the top of my head another personal favorite might be forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit, perhaps one day it will help to remember even these things (Aeneid 1.203). 

A scan through Wikiquotes for Vergil reminds me of many more:

Omnia vincit amor, et nos cedamus amori, Love conquers all, so let us yield to love (Ecl. 10.69)

audentes fortuna iuvat, Fortune helps those who dare (Aeneid 10.284)

sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt, These are the tears of things and mortal matters touch the mind (Aeneid 1.462)
Conington's translation is better, "E'en here the tear of pity springs, And hearts are touched by human things."

But what verse from Vergil does not appear at all on Wikiquote's list? The one that Munro states is the most familiar to Vergil's readers in 1859!

And here's the thing. We really shouldn't doubt Munro's opinion on this matter. He was then a considerably more accomplished classical scholar that I am now. He published that assertion in a well respected academic journal. If the statement would have been seen as bizarre by the editors, I would imagine it would not have made print even in 1859.

Which brings us to the curious apparent fact that we are reading Vergil quite differently today than they did in the mid-19th century. And a little research shows this, in fact, to be quite the case. 

In that same journal, Munro, reviewing Conington's then new edition of Vergil, wrote:

"...during the next half century, the reputation of the poet [Vergil] will stand much higher than it has done in that which has just elapsed, in the course of which it probably reached its nadir." (P. 286, Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology 4, 1859)

Frank M. Turner argues that a positive reassessment of the Emperor Augustus during the Victorian Age led to a parallel resurgence in interest for Vergil himself. (P. 297, "Virgil in Victorial classical contexts" in Contesting Cultural Authority: Essays in Victorian Intellectual Life, Cambridge University Press, 1993).

A rise in appreciation for Augustus likely also resulted in a new focus on the national epic Vergil wrote, commissioned by the Emperor himself. And in the course of time schoolchildren in Great Britain and the United States read Vergil's Aeneid as the pinnacle of their Latin education, and not, say, the Eclogues. I'm going to admit that, while I read the Aeneid in high school, and it's all of Vergil my Latin students ever see, I've never cracked open his other works at all.

Today's discovery makes me want to explore Vergil's Eclogues and Georgics. Apparently, for over a hundred years, many of us have really been missing something.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Sword of Julius Caesar

In the 2007 film The Last Legion, [spoiler alert, I'm about to give away the entire movie], a young Romulus Augustulus, dethroned as the final Roman Emperor in the West, finds the Sword of Julius Caesar hidden, mirabile dictu, on the Island of Capri, and travels to Britannia to locate the "Last Legion" of Rome. There's a final battle. The Romans win. And we find out that young Romulus is actually Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur. And the Sword of Julius Caesar, on which had been inscribed CAI • IVL • CAES • ENSIS CALIBVRNVS (Sword of Steel of Gaius Julius Caesar), is shown covered in moss, the only letters visible being ES CALIBVR. That's right, the Sword of Julius Caesar was Excalibur!

I actually enjoy the movie for what it is, and even show it to my Latin classes from time to time. I personally don't care if a

movie contains anachronisms or outright non-historical events. Either way I can make a teaching moment out of it.

And the movie has a surprisingly strong cast with Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, Thomas Sangster, and Aishwarya Rai.

But the movie does raise the interesting question of what sort of sword Julius Caesar himself really would have used.

Geoffrey of Monmouth, the author of the 12th century AD Historia Regum Brittaniae (History of the Kings of Britain), describes Julius Caesar has having a notable sword when he

invaded that Island in 55 BC. He tells the story of how Julius Caesar was in single combat with a British prince named Nennius. When Caesar's sword got stuck in Nennius' shield, the Briton took control of it. In the ensuing battle, every person Nennius attacked with the Sword of Caesar died, either beheaded or mortally wounded. Unfortunately for Nennius, he himself had received a head wound from this same sword while fighting Caesar and died fifteen days later. Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that Caesar's sword was named Crocea Mors, Latin for Yellow Death. And Crocea Mors was buried with Nennius (Historia Regum Brittaniae (4.3-4).

Even though Geoffrey of Monmouth is writing quite a long time after the events in question, the name of the sword he describes seems to preserve knowledge of a likely detail about the actual sword Julius Caesar would have used.

Many people assume that as soon as the Iron Age began, bronze weapons were replaced with the newer metal. But the fact is that iron is not really so superior to bronze that it won out based solely on its merits. Until later steel refinement became more commonplace, iron weapons had a number of disadvantages. They rusted. They lost their edge quicker. The only thing they had going for them was that they were cheaper than bronze. As a result, the common soldier would have been issued an iron sword, but people with money, such as the aristocratic Julius Caesar, would certainly have been carrying his own personal bronze sword. 

And so, what finally happened to the Sword of Caesar? The answer is, he probably had several of them, none of which he particularly favored. He probably lost some in battle from time to time. That's why he kept spares. And in the course of time they would have been melted down and repurposed. 

But if archaeologists in Britain ever dig up a 1st century BC Celtic tomb and find a bronze Roman gladius inside, there might just be a chance that the legend Geoffrey of Monmouth passed down had a basis in history.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fantastic Latin Themed Products!

I've dabbled in creating t-shirts, coffee cups, etc, on various themes. To this day I remain baffled as to why my Iguanodon Likes This idea did not make me a million dollars.

But I've stumbled today via Twitter on someone who has truly done Latin language themed merchandizing in a fashion that deserves promotion.

Meet Ginny Lindzey (@ginlindzey). She is a fellow Latin teacher and the inventory of products she has available on Cafe Press is simply extraordinary.

There's something for everyone.

Here's a very nice design featuring classic quotes from Vergil's Aeneid. It's available, like all her products, in numerous other styles of clothing and items.

"Latin students never decline SEX."
That's a provocative statement, if you don't know Latin. Latin students, however, know that "to decline" means to produce the other case forms of a noun or adjective. And the numeral sex (six) is indeclinable, meaning it only has that one form.

And if you love Catullus like I love Catullus, you will fancy Carmen 13 presented as it is on this t-shirt.

What I've shown here is just a tiny sample of Ginny's inventory. Please visit her site and explore the extensive and clever products available

Vivat Lingua Latina!

Linguistic Musings on Twinship

We were invited to dinner at the home of friends here in Romania, when one of their sons, Alex, dropped by. Alex and I have in common that we each have an identical twin. 

Here are my twin brother, Kevin, and I enjoying a cup of coffee. 

Now I speak excellent Romanian after ten years of considerable effort and forced immersion opportunities. But even so, there are native speaker instincts I simply don't have. As a result I will at times say something that no native speaker would.

I stumbled on a case of this in conversation with Alex. When I reference my twin, I frequently refer to him in English as "My Twin." But on two occasions last night, when I asked Alex about "geamănul tau" (your twin),  he asked me, "fratele meu" (my brother)? 

Now, I may reference Kevin as "my twin brother," but I would never just reference him as "my brother," since that simply doesn't, for me, include a key detail about our relationship. 

But Alex seemed to be unaccustomed to using the singular word geamăn. He certainly knows that together they are gemeni, but he consistently just calls him brother/frate.

I puzzled over this and asked my Romanian wife about this. And she felt that the singular as a substantive is not really used in Romanian. She indicated that a native Romanian would probably describe their family in terms such as, "And I have a brother Kevin. We're twins (suntem gemeni)" and not "And I have a twin named Kevin." Another option would be to use the word as an adjective and say, "fratele meu geamăn" (my twin brother).

I did a little research into the Latin antecedent of the Romanian and it really seems that the Romanian instinct is preserving the parent faithfully. Geminus in Latin is an adjective that describes something as "twinned." You have, for instance, the famous quote from Horace about starting stories in medias res (in the middle of things) and not ab ovo:

nec gemino bellum Troianum orditur ab ovo
Nor is the Trojan War recounted from the twin egg
(i.e., starting from the story of how Helen of Troy was born from a twin egg after her mother Leta was seduced by Jupiter in the form of a goose) 
Horace, Ars Poetica, 147

Here are my twin and I out on the town in matching jackets!

Now, there  are cases in which geminus in the singular describes a human twin, but always as an adjective:

soror gemina
A twin sister
Plautus. Mil. 2.4.30

Hic eius geminust frater
This is his twin brother 
Plautus Pers. 5.2.49

Geminus is only used as a full substantive in the plural:

Servilii, qui gemini fuerunt
The Servilii, who were twins
Cicero Ac. 2.18.56

But this got me to thinking about why the Latin geminus can be in the plural at all. Geminus should have been an excellent candidate for preserving the archaic dual. As we have it, the dual survives in Latin only in the words duo (two) and ambo (both). And the reason it got preserved there is that those are both words which, by pure definition, only occur in twos. But don't twins also, by definition occur in twos?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the word geminus, originally meaning twinned, was also put in service to describe further multiple births. Note, for instance, the famous Horatii and Curiatii are described by Livy (1.24.1) as trigemini fratres (triplet brothers).

Finally, for no academic reason whatsoever, here are my twin and I at our cousin's "purple-themed wedding." Hey, we were already dressed in purple. Someone had left some purple wigs lying around. It was not an opportunity to waste. I guess it's a twin thing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Deșteaptă-te, române!

The Romanian National Anthem, Deșteaptă-te, române!, is, my opinion, one of the most moving songs ever written.

The melody is hauntingly beautiful, and the lyrics stir a combination of nostalgic longing and hope for the future.

On my recent album, Vivamus, Amemus, Oremus, I include my version of this gorgeous song.  You can listen to it for free and see an English translation of the lyrics in this video and stream it on Spotify or download it on iTunes or Amazon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

She Walks in Beauty, Like the Night

Lord Byron's, She Walks in Beauty, is a lovely piece of poetry, filled with rich and emotional imagery.

Here is the poem.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.

On my recent album, Vivamus, Amemus, Oremus, I include an original song which uses She Walks in Beauty for its lyrics. You can listen to it for free in this video and stream it on Spotify or download it on iTunes or Amazon.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Story of My Beard

The video blog story of how I grew my beard and its precarious condition as of June 30, 2015.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Grin and Bear Eat

There is a Bear Hunt Season in New Jersey. They are not at all endangered. Indeed, I once famously saw a family of four of them walk across my lawn.

Someone from our Crossfit Gym (notice that anyone who does Crossfit doesn't just say "Gym"?) bagged a bear in the latest season and recently generously offered a sample of the meat to any of us interested in trying it out.

I describe myself as a "Human Supremacist."  The animals had a good run. But we've taken over this planet. And there's really not a one of the animals I wouldn't like to taste at least once.

And so, this evening, I made Bear Stew. I searched online and arrived at a recipe I used which was a hybrid of several I found.

I started with the meat, cut into stew sized pieces. You'll notice, it really just looks like beef, very red. 

I coated them in coconut flour and pepper and then browned them.

I then put the meat, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, and turnips into a pot. I poured in a can and half of Guinness Beer and water and cooked that down.

When it was nearing completion I added a can of cream of mushroom soup and a bag of assorted frozen mushrooms.

I took my twin's advice and removed a portion of the carrots, potatoes, and turnips and pureed that and reintroduced it to the stew, which gave it a nicer stew-like consistency.

And then, we ate.

I know what you're wondering. What does bear taste like?

In consistency, how it feels in the mouth, etc, it is identical to beef.

In taste, it's hard to describe. It tastes like meat, but I know that isn't exactly helpful. It maybe tastes in the direction of pork, but it isn't exactly like pork. 

I guess, truth be told, it tastes like bear.

And bear is delicious!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Journey of Otelius Grønli

Back in 2005, I was at Ellis Island with my late mother, her sister, and my wife. We were attempting to use the data base there to find information on my great-grandfather Otelius Grønli's transit through that location. And we were frustrated that there seemed to be no entries related to his name. 

I don't know whether the database at that time was not complete, but, using online resources, I have now been able to reconstruct my great-grandfather's journey in considerable detail.

First off, a Norwegian database documents his departure.

So, we learn the following. He was born in 1884. He departed on October 27, 1909. His stated occupation was that he was a painter (maler, of houses, not art). He was 25 years old as he emigrated.

Now, Norwegians at that time didn't really have last names. His father's name was Hans Corneliusen. And so he was known as Otelius Hilberg Hansen. Grønli is where he was originally from. 

He sailed from Trondheim, Norway on the Salmo. This was a ship that only sailed between Norway and Hull, England. Here's a newspaper clip from 1909 advertising this route.

On April 7, 1917, the Salmo was sunk by a German torpedo.

Migrants who arrived in Hull, England took a train to another port, usually Liverpool, for their onward travel. My great-grandfather left Liverpool and arrived at Ellis Island on November 12, 1909. Here's the record entered upon his arrival.

 He likely spoke no English and just handed some American official his travel documents from Norway, which were entered with errors, Othellius instead of Otelius and Gronlil instead of Gronli (or Hansen).

But what really struck my eye was the ship he traveled on. The Lusitania!!!! The ship he rode on from Trondheim to England was sunk by the Germans, and then the Lusitania was sunk by a German torpedo on May 7, 1915, with 1,962 fatalities.

My great-grandfather made his way to Wisconsin. On November 28, 1912, he married Dora May Thompson, who was born in America to Norwegian immigrants. 

On September 7, 1913, my grandmother Marie was born. Sadly, Otelius passed away on August 22, 1920. He was only thirty-five years old.

He had left behind everything he knew to seek a new life in the New World. He had just settled down, married, and started his family, when death suddenly took him. 

But what is the measure of a life? 

Today, there are scores of people descended from him and Dora. We are hard-working people in all walks of life. But we carry a spark of him and his energy, passed down in the manners of our own immediate parents. 

And I know that Otelius Hilberg Hansen (Grønli) is proud of us all.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Made in Wisconsin: The 2014-2015 Wisconsin Badgers Men's Basketball Team

As I write this, Wisconsinites await something that has not happened since 1941--the Badger Men's Basketball team plays tonight in the National Championship Game.

I'm proud to have been born and raised in Madison, WI. I'm proud to be a three degree alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

And, win or lose, I'm proud of what this basketball team accomplished this season.

But I'm precisely proud of them because, more than most teams that compete at that level, a significant portion of this basketball team are actually from Wisconsin!

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm well aware that without the contribution of Frank Kaminsky (from Lisle, IL), we simply wouldn't be there tonight!

But note the following comparison of the teams. 

Of the sixteen players on the UW's roster this year, seven of them are actually from Wisconsin! Another five, including Kaminsky, are from states that border on Wisconsin.

Compare those facts to the composition of the Duke team we will face tonight. Of the eleven players on Duke's roster this year, only one is from North Carolina. And not a single other player is even from a state that borders North Carolina.

Bo Ryan may not have been born in Wisconsin, but he has lived and worked in Wisconsin since 1976, so we're proud to claim him too!

I'll add the final point that athletes at the University of Wisconsin have a graduation rate well beyond most schools that play at this level.

 Good luck tonight, gentlemen. Win or lose, you have made us proud of our State and Our School.