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Sunday: January 22, 2006

Metablogging Puzzle

Filed under: — site admin @ 6:47 PM GMT-0500

For the last month or more, whenever I check my weblog statistics to see what countries my readers represent, I have gotten a list much like today’s: in order from 1 to 25, USA, Iceland, unknown, Germany, EU, Netherlands, Australia, UK, Canada, Switzerland, Hungary, Russia, China, Japan, Spain, Malaysia, France, Brazil, Italy, Belgium, Singapore, South Africa, Lithuania, Austria, and Poland.

In general, the list is unsurprising: these are all countries with a large number (though not necessarily a large percentage) of English-fluent computer-owners. France and Italy are a bit lower than I would have expected, Malaysia and Lithuania quite a bit higher, but the huge anomaly is in second place: Iceland is the source of more hits than country outside the US, and that is also true for my non-pseudonymous Classics site. What’s that all about? Are there that many ‘Dr. Weevil’ fans in Iceland, or is it just a few obsessives (or even one?) checking in every half-hour to see what’s new? I’m not unhappy, or unwelcoming, just puzzled.

Wednesday: January 18, 2006

An Epigram of Martial

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:27 AM GMT-0500

Amissum non flet cum sola est Gellia patrem,
    si quis adest, iussae prosiliunt lacrimae.
non luget quisquis laudari, Gellia, quaerit;
    ille dolet vere qui sine teste dolet.

In private she mourns not the late-lamented;
If someone’s by her tears leap forth on call.
Sorrow, my dear, is not so easily rented.
They are true tears that without witness fall.

This is Martial 1.33, not precisely a joke, but neatly translated by J. V. Cunningham. The meter is elegiac couplets.

Tuesday: January 17, 2006

An Ancient One-Liner

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:25 AM GMT-0500

This is number 104 in the Philogelos, an ancient Greek joke-book:

A greedy man writing his will made himself his own heir.

Philárguros diathékas gráphwn heautòn kleronómon étaxen.

Not very funny? It’s actually better than average for the collection.

Monday: January 16, 2006

Reading I: Pliny on the Murder of Larcius Macedo

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:09 PM GMT-0500

Dear Acilius,

1 A terrible thing, worthy of more than just a letter, has been suffered at the hands of his slaves by Larcius Macedo, a man of praetorian rank, a haughty and savage master who remembered too little — or rather too well — that his own father had been a slave. 2 He was bathing in his villa at Formiae. Suddenly his slaves surround him. One attacks his throat, another strikes his face, another his chest and belly, and even (disgusting to say) batters his private parts; and when they thought he was dead, they threw him down on the heated stone pavement to test whether he was alive. Either because he was unconscious, or because he was pretending to be unconscious, he lay outstretched and motionless and convinced them that he was entirely dead. 3 Only then is he carried out, as if he had been overcome by the heat. His more faithful slaves take him up, and his concubines come running with howling and shouts. Roused by their cries and revived by the coolness of the place he shows by opening his eyes and moving his body (as it was now safe) that he is still alive. 4 The slaves scatter; most of them have been captured, the rest are being sought. He himself, kept alive with difficulty for a few days, passed away, not without the consolation of vengeance, avenged while he was alive as those who have been murdered are avenged. 5 You see how many dangers, how many outrages, how many insults we are exposed to; nor is it possible for anyone to be safe just because he is lenient and kind; for it is not by rational calculation that masters are murdered, but by viciousness.

6 But enough about that. What else is new? Nothing, otherwise I would append it, for the page is not yet full, and the holiday allows further composition. I will add something that just occurred to me about the same Macedo. Once, as he was bathing in the public baths at Rome, a remarkable and (as the outcome showed) ominous thing occurred. 7 A Roman knight, lightly touched by a slave of his so that he would step aside, turned around and struck with the palm of his hand not the slave by whom he had been touched, but Macedo himself, so hard that he almost fell down. 8 Thus by a kind of gradation the baths were for him a place first of dishonor, afterwards of death. Goodbye.

(from The Younger Pliny, Letters, 3.14. Latin text here.)

Ancient Text of the Week

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:04 PM GMT-0500

Coming up shortly, as promised, the Younger Pliny on the murder of Larcius Macedo. This is a private letter, but no doubt polished up, since Pliny published it himself in his own lifetime. I have tried to translate it fairly closely. For instance, like other Latin authors, Pliny makes much use of the historical present for vividness, and I have translated these as presents whenever possible.

Questions, comments, and objections will be most welcome. These may be on the substance of the letter or the obscurities and infelicities in my translation.


Filed under: — site admin @ 10:22 PM GMT-0500

If anyone out there has the CD of the Studio der Frühen Musik’s Carmina Burana, Vol. 2 (Teldec 8.44012), and could burn me a copy, please e-mail. This is a reconstruction of the Mediaeval music, conducted by Thomas Binkley, not the Carl Orff modernization, and the last two cuts, Tempus est iocundum and Ne gruonet aver diu heide, are particular favorites. I still have the records, but no record player, and a malicious student stole the CD (but not the cover or booklet) at my previous teaching job. Since it seems to be out of print and entirely unavailable new or used, it seems to me that burning a copy would be only technically illegal and morally unexceptionable. I’ve already paid for the damned thing once and would gladly do so again if there were copies for sale anywhere.

Catching Up On My Listening

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:18 PM GMT-0500

With the help of the U.N.C. library and a helpful student, I’ve been catching up on (a) music I haven’t listened to in years decades, and (b) music I’ve never gotten around to checking out. Brief verdicts so far:

Category A:

  • The Beatles: Since selling off the records many years ago I hadn’t missed much. The early, unpretentious stuff is not bad, but what was all the fuss about? Their best stuff seems roughly as good as Buck Owens, and he’s a lot more consistently good.
  • John Lennon: Ditto, only more so. Ho hum.
  • Yoko Ono: Not as bad as I had remembered, which isn’t saying much. To put it another way, I probably have worse things on my iTunes, though I can’t think what. On the other hand, when one of her tunes comes up in shuffle play, I don’t immediately recognize it as trash: it’s more a gradual dawning of comprehension that this (oh no!) must be Yoko.

Category B:

  • The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds. Everyone says this is such a great album, and I rather like the relatively few BB tunes that I couldn’t avoid hearing over the years, but this album? A total bore.
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Wow! Why hadn’t I gotten around to checking her out (in more ways than one) before? I’m just annoyed that U.N.C. only gave me disc 1 of Ella Fitzgerald sings the Cole Porter Songbook, so I have to go back and get disc 2 — assuming they even have it.
  • Frank Sinatra: I thought I hadn’t really heard anything by him except “New York, New York”, which is annoying and annoyingly ubiquitous, but one tune on Frank Sinatra Sings the Select Sammy Cahn was totally familiar: the theme for Married with Children. Somehow I hadn’t connected that performance with anyone famous or talented. Despite my aversion to anything that could conceivably be classified as ‘Easy Listening’, I’m finding all three Sinatra albums (the other two are Songs for Young Lovers and Swing Easy, combined on one CD) worth hearing and even rehearing. Am I turning into an old fart, or just showing my good taste?

Having now gone through Terry Teachout’s recommendations in his four-part article “The Great American Songbook” (Commentary, February-May 2002), I was disappointed to find that U.N.C. has no only four or five of the fifty albums named, and only one or two can be checked out. Oh well, I guess I need to get a full-time job and buy them myself.


Filed under: — site admin @ 12:10 AM GMT-0500

The Pliny’s running a bit late. Fortunately, tomorrow (I mean today) is a holiday, so I’ll have plenty of time to polish up my translation and post it.

Sunday: January 15, 2006


Filed under: — site admin @ 11:52 PM GMT-0500

You might think that a Latin teacher would have gotten around to seeing Spartacus in his first ten or twelve years of full-time teaching, if he hadn’t seen it before. Not me: I’m not fond of blockbusters and costume dramas, and just got around to watching it earlier today. (My students have all seen it in previous Latin classes, which removes one incentive.) What pushed me to fill this embarrassing gap? I saw most of Quo Vadis Christmas Day, and was pleasantly surprised — either it’s a lot better than I had thought or my standards are slipping. My desultory and no doubt unoriginal thoughts on first viewing Spartacus:

  1. The gladiator-training equipment was very impressive, but I couldn’t tell whether it is authentically ancient or cleverly imagined or some combination of the two. (Maybe I should do some research? No, too much trouble.)
  2. Lots of good lines. When a distinguished guest arrives unexpectedly, the host orders “Second-best wine . . . no, best, but small goblets.”
  3. Were Lentulus the lanista (trainer of gladiators) in Spartacus and Nero in Quo Vadis played by the same man? (Pause to check IMDB.) Yes: Peter Ustinov. A famous name, so why don’t I know his face (and his googly eyes)? I really need to watch more movies.
  4. I try to avoid the usual classicist’s vice of counting up the historical inaccuracies, but I couldn’t help noticing one thing. What made the men look most modern and least Roman was their hairstyles. Also, in general, Rome and Italy and the actors were all far too clean.
  5. The cognomen of Marcus Publius Glabrus, the weenie who lost six cohorts by being too stupid to fortify his camp, includes a cruel joke. Glabrus is not a Latin word, but is obviously related to glaber, which is an adjective meaning “hairless” and a noun referring to a male slave whose body hair has been removed, no doubt at his master’s orders.
  6. Which reminds me: The wickedest Roman, Crassus, is (a) given some conventionally proto-fascist and palaeo-McCarthyite things to say, and (b) a predatory bisexual. The less wicked and less ‘right-wing’ Gracchus is promiscuous, but strictly heterosexual, and Spartacus himself is monogamously heterosexual. Hmmmm . . . .
  7. When Crassus forces Spartacus and Antoninus to fight to the death, with the winning prize crucifixion, why do they do go along? They could have run on each other’s swords simultaneously — some Romans committed suicide that way — or attacked the ring of soldiers surrounding them and taken a few with them as they died. After killing Antoninus, Spartacus has another chance to kill Crassus, who comes up close to taunt him before he has been disarmed. In short, why don’t they do as the Nubian gladiator had done earlier on, when he refused to kill Spartacus in the ring and instead tried twice to kill Crassus, first throwing his trident at him and then climbing the wall for a more personal attack?

Now I suppose I’d better find time to watch Gladiator. But not yet: I have Le Corbeau and The Revenger’s Tragedy out from U.N.C. library, and the combination of a 3-day loan period and a 55-mile round-trip to return them means that they come first.

(Point 7 added at 11:00 am the next day.)

A Squib Fit for a King

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:33 PM GMT-0500

Brutus, quia reges eiecit, consul primus factus est:
hic, quia consules eiecit, rex postremus factus est.

Brutus, because he threw out the kings, became the first consul.
This man, because he threw out the consuls, has become the latest/last king.

These lines of verse (trochaic septenarians) are irretrievably anonymous but securely datable to the first few months of 44 B.C. According to Suetonius in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars (Book I, 80.3), someone wrote them on Caesar’s statue shortly before he was assassinated. The point is that Caesar has added himself to the list of kings of Rome, eighth after – long after – Tarquinius Superbus, deposed by the first Brutus. But there is more to it than that: our anonymous patriot hopes that Caesar will be not only the latest but the last king of Rome because he will soon be assassinated, and no one will dare emulate him. He got half his wish: his target was soon ‘the late’ Julius Caesar, but was of course succeeded by dozens more kings-in-all-but-name.

Where To From Here?

Filed under: — site admin @ 2:44 PM GMT-0500

Now that I have my laptop back and have found a temporary and partial fix for my spam-comment problem (more on that soon), it’s time to start posting more regularly. I will continue posting occasional footnotes on events of the day, but only where I have something original, however trivial, to add. If you want to be informed of every passing event, go to the big dogs such as Instapundit. I will mostly try to cultivate my own little garden: ancient literature, the ancient world, Latin and other languages, and whatever bits of modern culture interest me. In other words, this will be even more of a cultureblog (mostly non-contemporary) than it already is, rather than a ‘warblog’ or politics blog.

On my apolitical non-pseudonymous blog for classicists, I’ve been posting an ‘Ancient Joke of the Day’, in PDF files, since half of the jokes are Greek and I like to include the original text with all the accents. There are 75 so far, covering all of November and December and the first half of January. (I actually started the project in November of 2000, and took it up again on January 2nd after a five-year gap.) I plan to post an ‘Ancient Joke of the Day’ here as well, starting today. These will be ordinary blog-posts, with the translation first and all Greek translated so it will appear in HTML. Anyone who wishes to read the new jokes and skip the rest of this site can link to the category archive (as soon as I create it). Warning: I will recycle some of the PDF jokes on this site.

The second new feature will be a weekly ancient or modern text, to be posted (in English) every Sunday afternoon. The first few will be letters of the younger Pliny, starting today with 3.14, his account of the murder of a cruel master by his own slaves. Like many of Pliny’s letters, it raises numerous issues worth pondering. The comment feature will allow a slow-motion virtual seminar.

Finally, I will be posting miscellaneous notes on whatever I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching (on DVD, since I don’t have a cable).

Friday: January 13, 2006

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Filed under: — site admin @ 6:15 PM GMT-0500

While I’m mocking those with whom I fundamentally agree, does anyone else see a rather obvious problem with the Porkbusters logo, as seen on Instapundit?

The diagonal bar is supposed to go in front of whatever you are trying to prevent or hinder! No wonder the movement hasn’t managed to push Congress into canceling anything yet. Despite his worried expression, Scrooge McPig is waltzing along in his top hat and tails — two on the coat, one more on his butt — entirely unblocked and unopposed by the red bar and circle that are already behind him. His only real worry is that he didn’t think to bring a big enough bag for his swag, but it looks like it still holds plenty, and the wasted money is as much our problem as his. (He doesn’t seem to be worried by his lack of pants, but that’s in character for some of the more porculent corpulent Congressmen.)

I Can. Can You?

Filed under: — site admin @ 4:56 PM GMT-0500

I shouldn’t mock, but the second comment on this post at Small Dead Animals reads, in full:

Can you spell W-E-S-T-E-R-N S-E-P-E-R-A-T-I-O-N

That would be a lot more eloquent if ‘Colin’ had spelled ‘separation’ right. None of the ensuing 104 comments (so far) has objected.

Rule 147 for blog commenters: Do not use the words “Can you spell . . .?” unless you can in fact spell the next word or phrase. Including the question mark always helps.

Update: (two hours later)

Rule 237 for bloggers: Do not hit ‘Save’ on a post with a trackback if you’re still fiddling with the text and title.

Monday: January 9, 2006

Tragic Anniversary

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:48 PM GMT-0500

From today’s (I mean the 9th) entry in The Oxford Companion to the Year: An exploration of calendar customs and time-reckoning, by Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens:

On this day in 1799 an income tax of two shillings in the pound was first introduced in Great Britain to finance the war against Napoleon; modern readers may better understand the rate as 10 per cent. The tax was a wartime expedient, and became permanent only in the later nineteenth century; at that date one still spoke of ‘the income tax’, in contrast to the modern ‘income tax’, constructed without the article as if were a force of nature.