Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Finding the Holy Grail: Part Two, Where is the Holy Grail?

In my previous post, I described how evidence from the New Testament and other ancient sources allows us to conclude that the original grail was very probably a silver goblet, comparable in size to a Kiddush Cup. In this video, I will explore the evidence from ancient sources and the New Testament itself concerning what likely happened to the Grail and where it may be found today. 

Earliest References to the Grail 

The earliest witness to the veneration of an object that people believed was the original Grail comes to us from the travelogue of a man named Antoninus of Piacenza, describing Jerusalem in approximately AD 570. He writes about the Church at the site of Golgotha in this way: 

Also there is that reed and sponge concerning which it is read in the Gospel, with which sponge we drank water. And the onyx Chalice, which the Lord blessed in the dinner, and many other worthy things. 
[Etiam ibi est canna et spongia de quibus legitur in Evangelio,  cum qua Spongia aquam bibimus, et Calix onychinus quem benedixit Dominus in cena, et aliae multae virtutes.]
Antoninus of Piacenza, Itinera Hierosolymitana 20.

The problem with the testimony of Antoninus is that, by his own admission, his memory of the things he saw and experienced is hazy. And some of what he describes elsewhere is simply incorrect. 

For example, a bit later in his account he writes that at another church he saw: 

The Chalice of the Apostles (calix apostolorum), with which, after the resurrection of the Lord, they were doing masses. and I saw many other wondrous things, which I do not remember (quae non recolo).
Antoninus of Piacenza, Itinera Hierosolymitana 22.

The fact that he admits he saw things he has forgotten implies that some years have passed since his visit and the time when he was writing these things down. 

Antoninus further reports that at the Dead Sea: 

Neither sticks nor straw can float there. Nor can a human swim there (neque homo ibi natare potest). But whatever is thrown in there, sinks to the bottom.
Antoninus of Piacenza, Itinera Hierosolymitana 10.

It is common knowledge that the exact opposite of what Antoninus reports regarding the Dead Sea is true. I personally have swum there, in fact floating on my back with my arms and legs out of the water, held afloat by the extreme buoyancy produced by the high salinity of that water. What Antoninus relates here casts serious doubt on his value as a witness to anything he describes during this trip to the Holy Land. 

About a hundred years after Antoninus, around the year AD 680, a Frankish bishop named Arculf visited the Holy Land. He also described having venerated the Chalice of the Lord as follows: 

Also between that basilica of Golgotha and the Martyrium, there is a certain hall, in which is the chalice of the Lord (calix Domini)...The chalice is silver (argenteus calix).
Reported in Adamnanus, De Locis Sanctis 8

The problem with believing either of these accounts is that they are both at least 500 years after the resurrection of Jesus. And these two accounts are clearly not describing the same object at all. 

There was a nun named Egeria who wrote a detailed account of the Holy Land, describing what she saw while living there for three years around the year AD 380. She describes the Church built on the location of the crucifixion and tomb of Jesus. But she makes no mention of the Holy Grail in her account. I believe the reason she does not describe venerating the Holy Grail is that there was no Holy Grail being venerated there while she was visiting. So let’s jump back to the arrest of Jesus and examine what very likely happened to that object. 

The Grail after the Arrest of Jesus 

After the Passover meal, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. And there, Jesus was arrested. And the following day, he was crucified and died. There is no New Testament evidence that the disciples, who were now in fear for their lives, went back to that same Upper Room where they had been the previous night. In Acts 1:13 we read, in English bibles, that the Apostles were later staying in an upper room, but the word for upper room there is different from the one describing where they were on the night in which Jesus was betrayed.. 

After Jesus and the disciples left that room to go to the garden of Gethsemane, it is very likely that the table was cleared and the implements washed and put away by the people who had furnished and prepared it before they celebrated the Passover supper. 

So what became of that original chalice? It was probably a silver cup in the private collection of a man asked to prepare a Passover meal for Jesus. Even if that man himself became a Christian later, and learned that the Eucharist had been instituted at the meal he prepared that night, he did not put any thought into which of the cups in his cupboard was “the Grail.” 

Because that specific object was never believed by the early Church to hold any particular power. Rather, from the first moment the Apostles were fulfilling the charge to “Do this in memory of me,” they understood that what within their communion vessels held immeasurable value and power, not the vessels themselves. 

In fact, the evidence of the New Testament and other ancient sources teaches us that, from the very beginning, the early Church believed something even more wonderful than an original Holy Grail invested with mystical and miraculous powers. 

St. Paul tells the Corinthians that Jesus had said, “This cup, in Greek, touto to poterion, is the new covenant in my blood.” (1 Cor 11:25). Then he tells them that “for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, to poterion touto, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor 11:26) 

This cup! With those words, he is telling them that the cup they use to celebrate the Eucharist in Corinth, is no less important a cup than the one that Jesus held at that first Eucharist. 

He also told them, the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). The blood of Christ is of infinitely greater value than silver cups. 

The Latin Eucharist prayers of the ancient Roman Church even go so far as to say that every chalice is somehow mystically that original poterion of Jesus. As the priest lifts the chalice for the consecration of the wine he prays: 

Taking also this precious chalice (hunc praeclarum calicem) in his holy and venerable hands, again giving thanks to you, he blessed it and gave it to his disciples. 

Tridentine Mass

This cup. This chalice. It is as if Jesus, when he lifted that original poterion, was mystically lifting every chalice that would ever be used to celebrate a Eucharist in the future. 

A final word on the Holy Grail. The original cup was very probably recycled for its precious metal at some point. There’s a reason we don’t have a hundred thousand gold and silver goblets from the ancient world. Whether they knew its history or not, someone fell on hard times and sold that cup. That cup was melted down and turned into something else. But it doesn’t matter. 

Because the Holy Grail survives to this very day. In the video you can see  a picture of it. This is the cup of blessing that we bless at my little Russian Orthodox Church. This cup is the Holy Grail. And from the rising of the sun to its setting, this cup is on thousands of altars around the world.

Finding the Holy Grail: Part One, What was the Holy Grail?

  The Quest for the Holy Grail has captured people’s imaginations for centuries. It was the subject of the third Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In that movie, Dr. Jones locates the original Grail amidst dozens of more attractive and extravagant chalices because of his assumption that Jesus, a simple carpenter from Galilee, would not have used a cup of gold encrusted with jewels. 

The search for the Holy Grail has tended to focus on enigmatic clues contained in various medieval legends. 

But in this post I will demonstrate that key evidence from the New Testament itself and other ancient sources can tell us everything we need to know about what the original grail probably was and also where the Holy Grail may be found today. 

Now, before I go any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a practicing Eastern Orthodox Christian. I actually believe in Jesus and the institution of the Eucharist, the event that created what is known as the Holy Grail. I am also a PhD scholar of ancient languages and literature. And in the interest of scholarly integrity, I will be giving you full references to everything I assert, so that you can confirm the accuracy of my claims. 

The Grail in the New Testament 

In all of the New Testament references to the cup Jesus used when he instituted the Eucharist, (the Synoptic Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and St. Paul’s 1st Epistle to the Corinthians), the object in question is called a poterion (ποτήριον; Matthew 26:27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:17, 1 Cor 11:25). 

Now the word poterion itself tells us absolutely nothing about the shape and composition of the item in question. For instance, in Matthew 10:42, Jesus uses that word when describing a cup of cold water (ποτήριον ψυχροῦ).  This would seem to make a poterion a fairly ordinary vessel. On the other hand, the word poterion translates the Hebrew word kos in Genesis 40:11, when the cup in question was the Pharaoh of Egypt’s own drinking glass. It’s safe to assume he drank from something a bit more elegant than that cup of cold water. 

In Classical Greek itself, poterion is a relatively rare word and denotes a drinking vessel within a primarily religious context. For instance, Herodotus describes, among the religious customs of the Egyptians, that: 

They drink from cups of bronze (ek chalkeon poterion; ἐκ χαλκέων ποτηρίων), which they clean out daily;
Herototus, Histories 2.37.1 

Elsewhere Herodotus describes, among the possessions of Maeandrius: 

...cups both silver and gold (poteria argurea te kai chrusea) ; ποτήρια ἀργύρεά τε καὶ χρύσεα) 
Herototus, Histories 3.148.1 

While there did exist earthenware poteria, they were apparently for only common use and even potentially held a social stigma. Note the following quote: 

But let us pass on the subject of earthenware cups (τὰ κεράμεα ποτήρια); for Ctesias says, “Among the Persians, the one whom the King dishonors uses earthenware cups.” 
Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 11.464a 

The Poterion of Jesus 

On the night in which he was betrayed, according to the gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover meal together. And during that event “Jesus took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” 
(Mark 14:23-24)

Some clues from the New Testament tell us more about what the poterion used that night was like.  First off, notice that it is apparently large enough for him to give it to 12 men and each of them to have a drink from it. Now, granted, they may have taken just a tiny sip, but, even so, this can not have been a small glass or cup. 

As I said earlier, the word poterion itself will not tell us what it was made of. But the available evidence from ancient times allows us to make a very good guess. And the first question to consider is, where did that particular poterion come from? 

Jesus had told his disciples that they would meet a man and he would lead them to “a large upper room, furnished, ready." (ἀνάγαιον μέγα ἐστρωμένον ἕτοιμον) Mark 14:15. 

This strongly implies that the poterion was already on the table when they arrived. It, along with the other dishes, was provided by whomever it was that prepared the large upper room for this Passover dinner. 

Jesus and his disciples did not celebrate a Passover Seder as we know it today. The Passover Seder evolved over time following the destruction of the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the Passover Seder certainly preserves elements and traditions that would have been current in the Passover meal celebrated by Jesus. Passover implements can be earthenware, glass, or metal. But there is a strong tendency, if one’s budget allows it, to prefer the use of silver. This preference may derive from the Silver Cup (
גביע הכסף ) of the Patriarch Joseph, described in Genesis 44. The ancient preference for silver is also in keeping with the principle known as Hiddur Mitzvah, The Beautifying of the Commandment. In other words, while an earthenware vessel is permitted, a silver vessel is preferred when possible to provide the rituals with dignity. The source text supporting this idea is Exodus 15:2, zeh eli, ve-anvehu. This is my God and I will beautify him. In other words, if I have the means to fulfill the commandments and also infuse them with aesthetic beauty and dignity, I should do so. 

Description of the Grail 

My conclusion is as follows. The man who furnished and prepared that large upper room knew it was for Jesus and his disciples. And he would have furnished it with his best implements. And for the reasons I just explained, that cup was very probably made of silver. We will never know one hundred percent, but the available evidence from the New Testament and other ancient sources allows us with some confidence to describe that original poterion as a silver goblet comparable in size to a traditional Kiddush cup still used today at a Passover Seder. 

In my next post, I will demonstrate that evidence from the New Testament and other ancient sources tells us definitively where the early Church believed the Holy Grail could be found.

Friday, August 21, 2015

How I almost didn't work at the NSA

I served as an Arabic linguist at the National Security Agency for four years after 9/11, after which point I resigned to the quieter, but no less stressful, life of a public high school teacher. Here's the story of how I tried, failed, and then succeeded in becoming an Intelligence officer at the NSA.

Like so many people, I sat watching the news on September 11, 2001 in pure shock. I gave blood the next day, like thousands of concerned citizens around the country who simply wanted to do something, anything, in response to this senseless tragedy.

I also saw that the major television news outlets were running a ticker at the bottom of the screen, telling anyone with expertise in Arabic language to consider sending their resumes to the intelligence agencies. I just happened to have expertise in that area. I had my PhD in Biblical Hebrew with a minor in Arabic from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

And so, out of duty and patriotism, I sent my resume online to the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. It was the least I could do. I mean, after all, we had been attacked and we also expected a follow-on attack imminently.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. I sent my resume online to the NSA that Thursday the 13th. On Sunday, I received a reply. I got an email from the NSA asking me to call a number within 72 hours for an initial interview.  I assumed that this initial interview would involve some test of the language abilities I had claimed in my resume.

I left nothing to chance. I didn’t call immediately, because I wanted to brush up on my Arabic skills and be the best I could possibly be for the test I assumed I was about to face. And so, after 48 hours of non-stop study, I called the number I had been sent. I was ready for anything.

“Yes, um, I was sent an email to call this number for an initial interview.”
“Your Social Security Number, please?”
I provided it.
“You’re Keith Massey?”
I braced myself. The language test was surely about to begin.
“I just have a few questions for you. First, are you a US Citizen?”
“Okay, good. Secondly, have you ever sold illegal drugs?”
“Um, no. Never.”
“Good. We’ll be getting in touch with you to arrange for your formal language testing here at the NSA as soon as possible.”

And that was it! Here I was assuming they would test my language abilities over the phone, but all they were really doing in that first call was weeding out unacceptable candidates. Notice, they didn’t ask me if I had ever used illegal drugs. Youthful indiscretions do not necessarily disqualify one from a Top Secret clearance. But trafficking in the stuff, well, that invalidates one forever.

They sent me an email with all the information I needed to make arrangements to travel to the NSA for my language testing. I seemed to be dealing ostensibly with a travel agency, but I imagined that the enterprise was probably something devoted solely to NSA recruitment activities. Over the phone with this travel agency, someone proposed potential dates of travel, less than a month in the future. I was informed that a shuttle at the airport would then take me to a hotel not far from an NSA facility called the Friendship Annex (FANX), where my testing would take place.

Still leaving nothing to chance, I studied hours on end in the couple of weeks I had before my formal testing. I particularly spent considerable time working on my listening and comprehension skills, which had always been the weakest part of my language abilities.

First Visit to the NSA

Flying in the month immediately after 9/11 was somewhat surreal. There were armed National Guard soldiers all over Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, something I had never seen there before. Recall that prior to 9/11 there was no TSA. Each airport ran its own provincial security operation with little consistency or even rigor. I used to have a large jackknife attached to my keys. And every time I flew before 9/11, I would put that thing with my keys in a little bowl to pass around the x-ray machine before I went through. You see, they were only trying to screen for guns and bombs. And I can remember wondering why in the world it was okay for me to be bringing a large blade onto the plane. It took a disaster to make America realize that we shouldn’t have allowed such things on planes after all.

As we were taxiing to the runway for my first flight, from Madison to Chicago, a man went berserk and was screaming that he needed to get off the plane. We taxied back and he was removed. This, of course, prompted all the other passengers to become concerned that the man in question might know something the rest of us didn’t. We were told that the man would be detained at the airport until we had safely arrived in Chicago.

From Chicago it was direct to Baltimore/Washington International Airport. After getting settled into my hotel room, I did some last minute language study in preparation for the next day.

The tests were two-fold. First, I translated a written passage. I had access to a dictionary, which both surprised and relieved me. Then there was a listening passage to translate. I’ll admit that I was additionally surprised that at the Top Secret and technologically advanced National Security Agency, this portion of the test used cassette players and tapes. I was physically hitting rewind on a machine to roll tape back to re-listen to the passage!

When it was all over, I felt very good about the text translation and not so good about the listening portion. There had been several spots in the recording where, despite listening to it over and over again, I couldn’t make out anything that seemed to make sense. And with time running out, I ended up putting down something I knew wasn’t completely correct, but that was better than leaving a hole in my translation.

The Results Come In

About a week after my testing, I got an email from the NSA. The message informed me that I had passed the graphic part of their exam (reading and translating), but that I had not passed the listening portion. And for that reason they would not pursue my potential employment any further.

I’m going to admit that I was deeply disappointed by this news. I had come to really anticipate serving my country at the NSA. It had been a few years since I finished my PhD and I had tried to keep up my Arabic skills, but I guess it wasn’t enough.

Then everything suddenly changed again. A few days after the bad news, I got a call back that they were creating a program for certain select people that had passed only one of the required skills. They would hire us and then strengthen the deficient skill once we started work at the NSA. On the basis of my advanced degrees and other scholarship, I had been selected for this program. And so, they sent me all the documents I needed to fill out for the security background check.

What a roller-coaster of emotions the whole experience had been up to that point! I mean, first off, this was all happening in the days following 9/11, with the fear of follow-on attacks, and then the Anthrax Scare. What I’ve described thus far was also happening against the backdrop of preparations for and execution of the US invasion of Afghanistan. I had experienced the stress of immediately post-9/11 air travel. There was the excitement of the whole application and testing process. Then there was the crushing disappointment of failure. And now there was the sudden elation that this adventure was back on track.

Second Visit to the NSA

In January I was flown back for my polygraph test. I was once again at the FANX. I’ll admit, I was very nervous, since I had never experienced such a thing before. My polygrapher wrapped this stuff like coiled telephone wire around my chest to measure my respiration. There was a little cuff on my finger to test perspiration. A blood pressure cuff was put on me as well.

And he proceeded to ask me questions such as “Are you now or have you ever been a member of an organization plotting the overthrow of the United States Government?”

“Nope, I am not.”

I answered everything truthfully, but at one point the guy tells me that the test indicated that I was evasive on questions regarding whether I had ever sold illegal drugs. We even had a little showdown in which he said he would wait as long as it took for me to just admit that I had once sold illegal drugs. And I wasn’t going to, since it simply wasn’t true.

He eventually unhooked me and I assumed my chances of working at the NSA were finished. Just as I left the room, however, a man stopped me and told me that failing an initial polygraph is not uncommon and he would rebook my flights to keep me there an extra day so I could try again the next day.

For that first polygraph test, I had dressed in slacks, a shirt, and a tie. The second time, I went in a t-shirt and sweat pants. I knew I just needed to relax. I had a different polygrapher, which is standard practice. And I passed.

I was informed in the middle of February that I had my Top Secret clearance, but that they would not be equipped to bring in new employees until the middle of June. I was in one of the very first new “classes” of NSA agents after 9/11. I was sworn in on Monday, June 17, 2002.

And I could not possibly have imagined, as I raised my right hand and took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, that just two years later, on June 17, 2004, I would be standing in Iraq looking at the first of three moons I would see there.

Life Lessons on the Way to the NSA

I had studied Arabic very intensely while working on my PhD. But from the time I was last formally in an Arabic class until the moment I sat down for the NSA tests was a period of eight years. If I had done nothing with my Arabic in the intervening time, I would not have succeeded. But I had regularly reviewed everything I learned and even managed to expand my vocabulary base.

Even so, as I described, it still nearly wasn’t enough! If they had not decided to admit people passing only one of the linguistic skills, well, I guess I wouldn’t be writing this post!

A part of me thinks that subconsciously I knew the day would come when Arabic would change my life. There would be a few months in which I would kind of let things slide. And then, as if in a panic, I would head back into my studies. Perhaps God was whispering in my ear that I needed to stay sharp for the momentous time to come. But after the fact, I knew that nothing truly valuable comes easily. I had kept my language skills strong through long hours of hard work. Whatever you want in life, you must be prepared to work hard for it and earn it.

I also certainly had to learn how to cope with disappointment. I had initially applied out of duty, but I soon wanted very badly to succeed in the application process. And I would spend a couple of days needing to come to terms with my failure to achieve that goal, before I then learned I was being given a second chance.
A final lesson I had to learn in the process of applying for government service was patience. Like so many Americans after 9/11, I wanted in the fight. I wanted to do my part. And it would turn out that I happened to have skills of crucial importance to that cause. But the reality is that the world sometimes just moves very slowly. The NSA got by in the early days after 9/11 by calling a bunch of retired people back into service part time. And they did indeed mobilize immediately to ramp up for a major effort. But the sheer logistics of it—where would these new employees have their desks, how to buy and install all the infrastructure these people would work with—these things took time. Indeed, these things took months.

When I finally came in the door, some of those returned retirees were still around. And the fact is, I learned many important lessons about the mission of being an Arabic linguist at the NSA from them before they were phased out as the new hires were coming in. So it all worked out for the best.

Starting Work on the Inside

I would confirm the confidence they placed in me by hiring me after failing one of their pre-employment tests. Just a month after I started, following a month-long course they sent me to, I passed that failed test with a 96%. 

The NSA took a chance on me. I mean, what if they had hired me and then I never did develop the ability to perform listening skills operationally? And the takeaway is that, in both our personal and professional lives, it pays off to have a certain tolerance of others’ weaknesses. Giving people the chance to improve, even after they have failed, can be a wise investment in potential resources for the future.

But another lesson I learned for myself is that one really can hone a skill by intense and intentional practice. Here I am reminded of a Latin quote:

assiduus usus, uni rei deditus, et ingenium et artem, saepe vincit. Constant practice, given to one thing, often beats both genius and talent.[1]
My linguistic strengths still primarily reside in grammar and translation. I just don’t have a natural talent for listening and comprehending a foreign language. But I was able to make up for that deficit by applying myself specifically in the area of my weakness.

So whatever skill you believe would advance your personal and professional life, get to work! Work on it even a little bit each day. Take personal responsibility that it is up to you to sharpen your skills, and become the person who will succeed.

[1] Cicero, Pro Balbo 45.

This post is an excerpt from my latest book, Top Secrets: Lessons for Success from the World of Espionage. It is available on Kindle and paperback.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

I'm Coffeed Out!

I just made the statement, "I'm coffeed out," when my wife asked me if I would like another cup. 

And I suddenly found myself wondering whether this phrase, which I am certain I learned from my late father, might be an idiolectic utterance specific just to my family.

A simple Google search revealed that it's in wide use, Note the following example:

"I'm coffeed out. Would you like a soda, something cold?"
(P. 146, Deja Vu (Sisterhood Novels) by Fern Michaels)

As a linguist, the phrase is quite curious and worthy of discussion.

First off, it seems to have been coined by analogy to "I'm tired out." Or "I'm tuckered out." And so it means, "I am in the state of having drunk so much coffee that I am tired of the stuff and do not want any more of it currently."

 (I add, "currently" because anyone who can drink so much coffee that they get coffeed out will certainly be drinking more of the stuff within another day.)

I am assuming that the phrase "Coffeed Out" is the original coinage. As I reflected on the phrase, it didn't seem to me, at least by personal usage, that it had extended to other beverages. But a Google search showed me to be quite mistaken. Note the following examples.

"Maybe a Rémy, just to cap it off? I mean, I'm wined out; but just, I don't know, a taste of cognac?"
("Balto", p. 9, in Wild Child and Other Stories by T.C. Boyle)

And check out this double treat on the paradigm:

"How's your day at work?" Dan says when he rings me later that afternoon.
 "I'm completely champagned out," I laugh, already battling a headache from drinking far too much in the middle of the day. "Yours?"
"I'm beered out," he says. "Taken out for celebratory drinks at lunchtime.
(P. 57, The Other Woman by Jane Green)

The phrase seems to find its natural boundaries only with beverages one over-drinks to physical detriment. You really would never say "I'm milked out" to mean that you can't drink one more glass of the state beverage from my native Wisconsin.  Nor is anyone "watered out" when they no longer need to hydrate.

Anyway, as I've been writing this, I've been sipping shots of tsuica, a distillation made from plums that we smuggled in our checked luggage from Romania. 

And since I'm now tsuicaed out, I'll close here. And a Google search has revealed that there is about to be only one place on the Internet or published world where the phrase "tsuicaed out" can be found.

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.