Saturday, June 12, 2004
CHATTER: Barbarians Inside the Gate
Regular readers of rogueclassicism will know that I bewail repeatedly the apparent demise of Latin instruction in this province of Ontario. Here's a piece which came to my notice via Laudator Temporis Acti. The originating blog is something called the Retired Choir Director and in this excerpt he explains why he is 'retired' (and, incidentally, he seems to be a Canadian somewhere in Southern Ontario):
There in the sacristy was my "boss" the Liturgy Co-Ordinator/Pastoral Minister and her buddy the Senior Citizen Ministry Director. There's nothing odd about seeing them in the sacristy, what was odd was that they were RIPPING PAGES OUT OF A HYMNAL AND THROWING THEM INTO A LARGE GARBAGE CAN! The looks on their faces were priceless. They were terrified (I'm 6'6 and have been told I'm scary looking). They explained that they thought I had left and that they were just ripping out the songs they didn't want me to use anymore.
Now for those of you not familiar with the Pius X Hymnal, it has a good selection of English hymns as well as the normal Latin. As I reached into the garbage can and picked out the pages (luckily they'd only ripped pages out of 4 hymnals by the time I got there), I found that they were leaving all the English hymns (unless they had Latin on the back side of them) and were ripping out all the Latin.
When I asked them why they were doing this, they explained that they "didn't want me doing the Latin anymore" and that we had to "get the kids into the pews!" As I stood their completely confused and wondering if they were planning on burning Catholic hymnals they just kind of awkwardly put the hymnals down and left.
The conspiratorial-minded (such as myself) will automatically think that there is a surrepetitious campaign going on in this province to ensure that kiddies are never exposed to Latin and I can't help but wonder why. I'll ponder that a while ... especially in light of our next article...
NUNTII: Vatican Prize for Classical Languages
Dappled Things points us to this interesting contest from the Vatican:
The Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences has announced a journalistic prize to promote the teaching and study of Latin and Greek.
Awards will go to articles published in newspapers and reviews that show how these two languages have had a decisive role for the scientific and cultural development of Europe and the West in general.
To be eligible for the competition, articles must be published between now and Dec. 31.
Authors entering the competition must send six copies of their newspaper or review article to the Secretariat of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences (at Piazza Pio XII 3, 00120 Vatican City), specifying the name of the newspaper and date of publication.
After studying all the articles received, the jury will assign a 5,000-euro ($6,000) prize. The occasion for the competition is the 50th anniversary of the pontifical committee.
Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, president of the pontifical committee, told ZENIT that the competition responds "to the progressive abandonment of the study" of the classical languages, in particular, Latin.
The main objective is "to recover Latin as a language and instrument of knowledge," he said.
This language is necessary to study the ancient and modern history of the world, "when Latin was, so to speak, the international language of political, economic and cultural relations," the monsignor added.
Monsignor Brandmuller applauds initiatives to promote this language, such as the "courageous decision" of Mel Gibson in "The Passion of the Christ" to use the original languages of Jesus' times, including Latin. [from Zenit]
rogueclassicism joins Dappled Things in bemoaning the lack of recognition of 'blog journalism' ... a few thousand Euros would definitely help on the financial side of maintaining this thing.
NUNTII: Africans on Hadrian's Wall
An interesting item from the Telegraph:
Families who have lived in the English-Scottish Borders for generations could be descended from African soldiers who patrolled Hadrian's Wall nearly 2,000 years ago.
Archaeologists say there is compelling evidence that a 500-strong unit of Moors manned a fort near Carlisle in the third century AD.
Richard Benjamin, an archaeologist at Liverpool University who has studied the history of black Britons, believes many would have settled and raised families.
"When you talk about Romans in Britain, most people think about blue eyes and pale complexions," he said. "But the reality was very different."
Writing in the journal British Archaeology, Mr Benjamin describes a fourth century inscription discovered in Beaumount, two miles from the remains of the Aballava fort at Burgh by Sands. The inscription refers to the "numerus of Aurelian Moors" - a unit of North Africans, probably named after the emperor Marcus Aurelius.
The unit is also mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum, a Roman list of officials and dignitaries. It describes the prefect of the "numeri Maurorum Aurelianorum, Aballaba".
The unit was probably mustered in the Roman province of Mauretania, in modern-day Morocco, by the emperor Septimus Severus and arrived in Britain in the second or third centuries AD. Aballava lay at the western end of Hadrian's Wall in Cumbria. [more]
NUNTII: Classics Under Fire in the UK
One of those 'exam boards' which dictates UK education has made the 'business decision' to drop Latin and Greek from its repertoire of exams, with the predicted reaction. Here's the coverage from the BBC (more in tomorrow's Explorator):
The UK's biggest exam board has outraged classicists by deciding to drop Latin and ancient Greek.
The decision by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) means only one examiner, OCR, will offer classics at GCSE and A-level.
The qualifications regulator says it is not concerned by AQA's decision because there is this alternative.
The decision was part of what AQA calls a "strategic review" - and other subjects may also be facing the axe.
'Behind closed doors'
"It's a business decision for the awarding body," said the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
But there has been an angry reaction from the National Co-ordinating Committee for Classics, which represents a group of interested organisations.
It said AQA had made the decision without inviting discussion on the matter with, or even informing, its external subject advisers, let alone the Joint Association of Classical Teachers (JACT), the subjects' main sponsoring body.
Spokesman Dr Peter Jones said: "There is a strong sense of outrage in the classical community at a policy that leaves only one board (OCR) to examine all classical languages.
"The AQA board clearly has no confidence in itself or in the propriety of the decisions it takes, if it has to conduct its business on a matter of public importance behind closed doors without reference to, or any discussion with, those the board is supposed to serve."
The secretary of the JACT Greek committee, Dr John Taylor - head of classics at Tonbridge School - said a major concern was that the AQA and OCR syllabuses were not comparable, particularly for GCSE classical Greek.
"In terms of vocabulary, it is almost twice as long for OCR and the set texts are considerably longer.
"It means schools that do Greek in limited time - which the majority do these days - would find it very difficult to do the OCR specification."
He said AQA could not claim it had a dwindling market for Greek. Because of its more accessible syllabus, its share had gone up from about 20% to about 55%, he said.
"They are effectively taking away more than half the market.
"It's difficult to keep Greek in schools and unless there's some solution it will deal it a death blow."
Another concern was the principle that no one board should have a monopoly on a subject.
AQA said it regretted the way its decision had leaked out before it had had a chance to inform schools of the changes it was making.
A spokesperson said: "We have done a strategic review of our portfolio of subjects and looked at what we offer schools and what is out there from all the awarding bodies.
"This is an area where we don't have large numbers of centres and candidates."
It was not the board's usual practice to consult schools first.
Asked what else had been considered in the review, she said there were "a few other changes" but declined to go into detail before letters go out to schools - probably at the end of next week.
But she added: "In some cases we may be looking at merging or closing specifications. One or two may be withdrawn."
The overall numbers of students taking Latin and Greek, though small, have been fairly constant in recent years - about 10,000 doing Latin and 1,000 doing Greek at GCSE.
Their results are extremely good. Last year, for example, 63% of those who did Latin GCSEs across the UK got A* or A grades, whereas the average across all subjects is less than 17%.
AQA intends to examine the subjects for the last time in 2006.
The other big examiner, Edexcel, does not offer Latin or Greek, nor do the Wales or Northern Ireland-based boards.
Someone should get Tacitean on these guys' collective rear ends and check out how well they did at Latin and/or Greek in school. I'm sorry, but personal experience has demonstrated to me that decisions like this are usually made by folks who either never had the opportunity to take Latin, or who had performed rather poorly at it. Of course, names aren't named ... we'll just endure 'decision by letter' (in Ontario we have the OCT, EQAO, QECO, yadda yadda yadda). Twits all around.
CHATTER: Say What?
A piece from the Boston Globe via the IHT begins thusly:
The necktie was a lousy idea. Yet the fashion has persisted at least since the Roman Empire, making men sweat and claw at their shirt collars rather than break with convention.
Neckties during the Roman Empire? You know I've got to track that one down ... well, Croatia online has them being invented in Croatia in the Seventeenth Century (cf. 'cravat'); ditto a chronologically-challenged History of Neckwear page. The awkwardly-written History of Neckties site seems to be defining anything worn around the neck as a 'tie' and so takes the origins back to China and indeed, the Roman army. The evidence, according to another site, is Trajan's column, on which :
The 2,500 realistic figures on the column sport no less than three different styles of neckwear. These include shorter versions of the modern necktie; cloth wound around the neck and tucked into armor; and knotted kerchiefs reminiscent of cowboy bandannas.
While Roman orators often wore cloths to keep their throats warm, soldiers did not cover their necks. In fact, writers such as Horace and Seneca said only effeminate men covered their necks.
Now I don't have the time to find the individual images on Trajan's column which have given rise to this claim (if you have time to kill, you can work your way through McMaster's Trajan's Column site), but it seems to me that the soldiers thereon would be donning cloth around their necks for reason other than 'fashion', so they can't be ties.
NUNTII: Adrienne Mayor in the New York Times
There's a nice feature on Adrienne Mayor in the Times, with details about her next project:
Adrienne Mayor, known as a folklorist, has a story for each of the objects inside her curio chest: the gila monster stuffed by her great-grandfather, the skeletons, a Zuni fetish in the shape of a dinosaur and casts of mastodon teeth collected by Abenaki Indians in 1739 along the Ohio River, among others.
The casts, though, are one of Ms. Mayor's favorite curiosities because they represent the first American fossils ever studied by scientists.
"It all comes back to the question that is at the center of my research: what are the first inklings of science?" said Ms. Mayor, a short 58-year-old with black wire-framed glasses, a gentle manner and a musical voice. "All these stories I collect are based on observation and interpretation, which is what science is. Science didn't just burst on the scene, but it wasn't noticed because it was written in mythological language."
Ms. Mayor was talking in the living room of her home on a quiet dead-end street in this leafy community. Although she lives in a university town, she came late to scholarship after spending most of her professional life as a printmaker and freelance copy editor. "I never even thought about writing a book until I was 50 years old," she said.
But when Ms. Mayor's first book, "The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times" (Princeton University Press), came out four years ago, this late-blooming outsider with no advanced degrees caused something of a sensation among high-ranking anthropologists, paleontologists, geologists and others. She used Roman and Greek texts to argue that some fossils were used to support or create myths about strange creatures in the ancient world.
"Art historians think that Ms. Mayor may well have solved the puzzle of the Corinthian vase depicting Heracles shooting arrows at the head of the monster of the Troy legend," John Noble Wilford wrote in The New York Times in 2000. She noticed that the mysterious monster's head closely resembled the skull of an extinct giraffe.
Now Ms. Mayor is at it again. She said her third and latest book, a combination of history, archaeology, folklore and old-fashioned detective work, would be the first scholarly attempt to set the record straight about Native American contributions to paleontology. [more]
Sidenote: for reasons I've never understood, but which are obviously connected somehow to my Ancient World on Television listings, I am regularly regaled with folks seeking someone to pitch a documentary to yadda, yadda, yadda, as if I had some 'in' with the folks who make such things. If I did, I'd be personally pitching a pair of documentaries based on Mayor's first two books ... they're made for television. I also wish (as I've expressed on the Classics list) that someone would build on A.M.'s work in Fossil Hunters and write a book aimed at kiddies in grade five or six. This is the sort of thing that has big draw potential for Classics as a discipline.
CHATTER: Calling a Spade a Spade
Your weekend anachronism from the Toronto Star (on the origins of the above-named phrase):
Its first recorded use was in Aristophanes' The Clouds, first performed in 423 BC. But "spade" goes back further, to the Greek writer Plutarch, who used the word "skaphe," which means trough, basin, bowl or boat.
His use of the word was thought to have been mistranslated into Latin by the medieval scholar Erasmus.
Sounds like someone has misconstrued the info from the original (Mark Israel's) alt.english.usage faq:
It derives from an ancient Greek expression: _ta syka syka, te:n
skaphe:n de skaphe:n onomasein_ = "to call a fig a fig, a trough a
trough". This is first recorded in Aristophanes' play _The Clouds_
(423 B.C.), was used by Menander and Plutarch, and is still current
in modern Greek. There has been a slight shift in meaning: in
ancient times the phrase was often used pejoratively, to denote a
rude person who spoke his mind tactlessly; but it now, like the
English phrase, has an exclusively positive connotation. It is
possible that both the fig and the trough were originally sexual
In the Renaissance, Erasmus confused Plutarch's "trough"
(_skaphe:_) with the Greek word for "digging tool" (_skapheion_;
the two words are etymologically connected, a trough being
something that is hollowed out) and rendered it in Latin as _ligo_.
Thence it was translated into English in 1542 by Nicholas Udall in
his translation of Erasmus's version as "to call a spade [...] a
spade". (_Bartlett's Familiar Quotations_ perpetuates Erasmus'
error by mistranslating _skaphe:_ as "spade" three times under
NUNTII: A Defense of Latin
Latin is facing a new threat in the UK, prompting this defense of the language by James Dahl in the Guardian:
studere linguis antiquis omnium hominum interest multas ob causas.
litterae et philosophia auctorum priscorum lectores e stultitia in sapientiam semper duxerunt. qui operibus Homeri, Vergilii, Ovidii, Ciceronis, Taciti non studuerunt, vitas maxime inanes agunt. praeterea, si historiam cognovisse tibi videtur, ut inter omnes constat, tum fabulae scriptorum priscorum sua ipsa lingua legendae sunt. qui suam rempublicam vult vere aestimare, fontem et originem debet animadvertere. haud satis est credere eis qui sermonem e Latino in alias linguas vertunt. nam is qui vertit non solum explicat, sed etiam corrumpit.
pueri puellaeque qui has linguas antiquas experti sunt, etiam litteras, philosophiam, fabulas, tabulas pictas, artem fingendi, res gestas degustaverunt.
o fortunati! omnia gaudia omnes voluptates vestrae sunt. ut dicit orator ìqui primoribus labris gustassent genus hoc vitae et extremis, ut dicitur, digitis attigissentî cursum suae vitae sapientissime deligunt.
sed via longissima est. industria, constantia, pertinacia praestanda est, etiam in adversis rebus, sed praemia maxima exspectant. pueri puellaeque sic eruditi mentem validissimam et acutissimam praebent.
quid iuvat enumerare ea tam trita commoda de linguarum antiquarum studio derivata? immo gravius est affirmare eum qui intellexerit quam cognatae omnes linguae sint et peregrinos et advenas qui linguis obscuris utantur facillime amaturum esse.
qui linguas antiquas amat, is etiam pacis amator.
There's a translation of same at the Guardian ...
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