Saturday, July 03, 2004
BLOGWATCH: @ Curculio
Curculio has an interesting little poemish thing by some Dr. Armstrong written back in 1986 on the subject of the usefulness of Classics ...
NUNTII: In Search of Roman Era Pirates
An anthropology professor at FSU is in Turkey, looking for evidence of piracy from Roman times ... inter alia at the Miami Herald:
But Cheryl Ward, an anthropology professor at Florida State University, hopes she's on the verge of rediscovering the ships of the pirates, a thorn in the side of the Romans 2,100 years ago who now may help provide a unique window on what the larger world looked like in late antiquity.
Ward is the main investigator in a major archaeological mission that will be trying this month to find evidence of the ships in the shallow waters off the southern coast of Turkey.
The dream find would be to actually locate one of their vessels, known as hemioliae - rowed ships that were the terror of the 1st century.
We know what they look like from Roman descriptions, but none has ever been discovered.
Ward and her colleagues are hoping to paint a picture of a different class of people from those we know lots about - adding to what we know about the Roman Empire. Much of our knowledge comes from what the educated, wealthy Romans left us in the way of writing and artifacts.
But the pirates were the underclass - the rest of the story.
"These were a bunch of unemployed guys," Ward said Friday, preparing to leave for Turkey next week. "They turned to piracy. It was easy money.
"What's the story of these people from what they left behind?" Ward wants to know.
First, her team has to find some remnants of their lives.
"We would love to find a shipyard," said Ward, who will be exploring nearshore areas of the Turkish coast that used to be dry before erosion shrunk the land.
But she'd settle for parts of just one ship.
Pompey had 120,000 men and 270 ships looking for pirates. Ward has a few graduate students and some fellow researchers from a Turkish university.
But the pirate project has become a big topic in the archaeological world.
Her work is part of a larger project that isn't confined to the sea. Researchers working on land also are studying the area of Turkey known as Cilicia - where many pirates were based.
Aside from the prospect of finding museum artifacts from the Roman era, Ward said modern man can learn a lot by more broadly studying societies of the past, including how people lived.
"Archaeology is telling the story of environmental degradation, of the collapse of civilizations, of the rise of ... new practices," Ward said.
And there may be some parallels to modern global relations as the world's 21st century super power tries to deal with less privileged people, just as Rome was vexed by piracy, said Meredith Marten, a graduate student working with Ward.
"If you can see how these people were subordinated or just kind of kept on the periphery, you can understand why these people would take such drastic measures," Marten said. [more]
Hopefully we'll hear more from this one. The article also has an url pointing to the Rough Cilicia Maritime Archaeological Survey Project which gives a few more details.
CHATTER: Arthur Flick
Since the current hype about the Arthur flick suggests we're dealing with a Romano-British version, it might be useful to point y'all to this piece at Deseret News which gives an overview of the legends:
According to legend, he slew 960 men, defeated the enemies of the Britons (which included the Romans), brought peace and prosperity and instituted an order of knights that would become the model for how chivalry would be defined worldwide.
The real Arthur
The King Arthur we recognize today is a composite of many heroes and legends that were compiled by storytellers and writers over the centuries. The real Arthur is much more difficult to pin down. History tells of a 6th-century Celtic warlord who united the Britons and repelled the invading Saxons at the Battle of Mount Badon. His prowess as a warrior and his wisdom brought a welcome period of peace and prosperity. Perhaps this leader was the real Arthur.
Some historians believe Arthur may have been a Sarmatian.* Sarmatians were among the soldiers sent by Rome to defend their interests in Britain. A commander, Artorius (Latin for Arthur), may have stayed behind when the Romans pulled out in 410 A.D. His knowledge of cavalry tactics had been instrumental in repelling the Saxons.Sarmatian legend tells of a hero who owns a magical sword that he threw in a lake upon his death. Other possible Arthurs include Riothamus, a warlord who led an army of Britons against Gaul, and Magnus Maximus, a Roman commander.
Early Latin and French sources tell how King Uther Pendragon fell in love with Igrayne, wife of the Duke of Cornwall. With the aid of his magician Merlin, Uther took on the form of the duke and conceived Arthur. Arthur was raised without knowing who his parents were. He became king after drawing Excalibur from a stone, thus proving he was the rightful ruler of England. The story of his reign and the deeds of his knights of the Round Table are taken from Celtic myths and a variety of Welsh legends. After defeating a Roman army under Emperor Lucius, Arthur returned to Camelot. This was the beginning of a period of peace and the quest for the Holy Grail.
Arthur's demise came about after the grail quest was completed. A love affair between Sir Lancelot (Arthur's champion) and Arthur's wife, Guinevere, started the downward spiral. The kingdom's energy was soon sapped by war against Lancelot. Mordred, who was either Arthur's son or nephew, took this opportunity to seize the kingdom. A battle for control left Arthur dead and Mordred mortally wounded. [more]
Cf. this piece from the Star, which plays up the Sarmatian connection a bit more clearly:
The new Jerry Bruckheimer film King Arthur embraces a theory that the Knights of the Round Table were Sarmatians, warriors from – roughly speaking – the area today known as the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The East European tribe had existed on the fringes of the Roman empire until 175 CE when they lost a key battle to Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
The conquerors offered the survivors a choice: fight for Rome or die. The Sarmatians chose to switch their allegiance to the Empire. Expert horsemen and impressive soldiers, they were sent to patrol the outposts of the Roman dominions.
In exchange for peace, Sarmatian boys were given by their fathers to be trained and drafted into the Roman army. These troops, some 3,000 of which were stationed in Britain, fought under a wind-sock style banner shaped like a dragon that could – it is speculated – have given rise to the Uther Pendragon association in the Arthur legend.
In the Bruckheimer-Touchstone Pictures production, which claims to be “more historically accurate”, Arthur is a half-Roman, half-Briton and Guinevere, a Pict living in the Dark Ages. Arthur is traditionally Celtic in popular literature, and a few in the film’s largely British (and European) cast were reportedly up in arms against some aspects of David Franzoni’s (Gladiator, Amistad) script. [more]
CHATTER: The Other Side of the 'Learn Latin' debate
Here's a piece from the Australian suggesting that learning Latin and Greek is not necessary because of Loebs and the like:
NOW and then we read some egregious rubbish about the need to learn the languages of our classical inheritance: Latin and Greek. With the Athens Olympics pending, brace yourselves for some special pleading on behalf of Ancient Greek. And ignore it.
There are far too many living languages - about 6000 at last count - to be bothered with the dead. And far too many of these living languages are on the verge of extinction: a product of English linguistic hegemony and global cultural homogeneity.
If you have a kind heart, sponsor a child in Central America and learn Pintubi, Provencal or Yiddish. At least you'll be doing someone, and something, a favour.
It is possible to mount a case in favour of Greek and Latin. But the argument is grounded in emotion and sentiment, not reason.
Latin is the most common object of these antique hankerings, for the simple reason that it is next of linguistic kin: we use the Latin script, and recognise the Latin roots in our loan words. Just two examples: cereal comes from the Roman goddess of the harvest, Ceres; intervallum, the space between palisades, gives us interval. In fact, a quarter of the words in a Latin dictionary have made their way into English. There are also the recognisably Latinate borrowings of many other languages: from Caesar the Russians get Tsar and the Germans Kaiser. Greek, which uses its own complex script, might look pretty on the page but it will do your head in. If you have a touch of the grammar-nut in you, why not German? At least you can speak to a German.
We have a lot of Ancient Greek in English, although much of it has been filtered through Latin. Both dead languages are, however, grouped together in the traditional school and university syllabus. They are subject to small fluctuations of fashion - a film such as Gladiator might produce a few fresh enrolments - but are essentially in long-term decline. Their diminishing popularity has done nothing to dim their prestige: quite the reverse.
In the UK a recent decision to drop Latin and Greek from general university entrance exams was met with howls of antiquarian outrage. The response is revealing. David Tristram, chairman of the council of the Joint Association of Classics Teachers, was quoted in The Guardian as saying: "The classical languages occupy an almost unique position in our education system ... There are many schools ... which still hold the classics in high regard and recognise their worth." Familiarity with the speeches of Pericles and Cicero has obviously not sharpened Tristram's rhetorical skills: if Greek and Latin are "almost unique", then presumably they are not unique.
James Dahl, head of classics at Brighton College, then offered this defence of Latin: "To study ancient languages is of profit for every person. The literature and influence of ancient authors have always led readers out of folly and into wisdom. Those who have not studied the works of Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Cicero, Tacitus, lead very empty lives". He also argues that these writers "must be read in their own languages".
There is wisdom in the classical tradition, to be sure. But it is perfectly accessible in translation. I can see that speakers of Afrikaans might have good grounds to take on Latin, for example, as a corridor to classical literature. But we English speakers are fortunate in having a fine and dynamic tradition of classical translation. Chose your verse translation of The Iliad, from Chapman via Pope, Lattimore, Fitzgerald, to Fagles. From the Loeb classics library to the Penguin classics series, the ancient writers are before us in accessible form.
Beware: the tradition also contains a lot of darkness and plain bad counsel. As the poet William Blake saw it: "The classics: it is the classics and not the Goths nor Monks that desolate Europe with wars". The Germans are the greatest of all European antiquarians - and what did the "influence of ancient authors" do for them? The ideal of racial purity, so much a part of the Nazi psyche, first took hold in golden age Athens; the noble light of Hellas did not shine on citizens and slaves alike. The argument about classical literature as a font of pure wisdom is, at best, only half-true. There is a special attraction in popular culture towards classical boffinism: as the classical ideal receded further into the past, it intensified as a dream, a desire, an aspiration.
When word leaked that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was to be published in Latin and Ancient Greek, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd couldn't contain her declensions. "My most indelible memory from high school is getting a Coke and peanut-butter cheese crackers from the vending machine at lunchtime and working on my translation of Julius Caesar's Commentaries," she reminisced. Really? "Latin and Greek reached a nadir in the greedy 1980s and '90s, when it seemed irrelevant for kids who wanted to grow up to be investment bankers and hi-tech millionaires," she continued.
We appear, in her view, to be seeing the fruits of a September 11-led classical recovery. After the tragedy, wrote Dowd, the classics - "with their illuminations on war, tragedy, death, love, philosophy, empire, transformation and transfiguration" - have been resurrected anew.
Once again this confuses classical literature with literature in translation. We should all read the classics of the ancient world, but we don't need classical languages to do so.
Spoken Here, by Canadian journalist Mark Abley, puts the argument against fetishising the classical in an even sharper light. Abley has travelled the globe exploring the world's disappearing languages and the efforts under way to maintain them. The erosion of our global linguistic stock he regards as a loss beyond estimation. Publishers Weekly says of the book: "Readers who think they get how languages work may be startled by the considerable deviation from Western norms: for instance, Murrinh-Patha, spoken in Australia, boasts a bewilderingly complex system of pronouns; Mi'kmaq, from eastern Canada and Maine, and Boro, a northern Indian tongue, all eschew nouns. To read these accounts of dwindling languages - and their often forlorn, marginalised speakers - is to gain insight into the powerful colonial forces still at play."
This is an example of special linguistic pleading from a genuinely humane perspective, for language is a cultural lifeline. Classical culture flows in our veins, having long ago entered the bloodstream of English. But the dying languages on our doorstop are the ones in need of nourishment.
If you'd like to regale the author with mail (I'm still trying to figure out how etymological awareness is an 'emotional' argument while 'Classical culture flows in our veins' is 'reason'), his email is at the end of the original article (hint hint).
CHATTER: IIII v IV
Some folks got their collective knickers in a knot over a clock. Here's an excerpt from an AP story in the Kansas City Star:
Library director Gail Landy learned that when it comes to Roman numerals on clocks, IIII equals IV.
Construction manager Tom Kondel, head of the Levi Heywood Memorial Library project, came to her recently and said, "Gail, we've got a problem with the clock," referring to the large clock installed over the west door of the new library building.
As Kondel said, the number four on the clock was IIII instead of the expected IV. Landy decided it wouldn't do to have what she called "an illiterate" clock.
"We called up the clock manufacturer and they said, `That's the way we do clocks,'" she told the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester in an interview published Friday.
When she looked at her watch, which had Roman numerals, she discovered that it too used IIII for the number four.
"People look at clocks, and they see what they expect to see," she said.
Doing a little research, Landy and Kondel found that most clocks use IIII. But the reason is uncertain.
The Horological Institute says that it may be that the Romans avoided the common four in favor of IIII because I and V are the first two letters of the Latin spelling of the name for the Roman God Jupiter (Ivpiter). The institute said it also may have to do with balance, as eight is denoted as VIII and the opposite number of four also would have four letters if it was IIII.
Wikipedia.org, an Internet encyclopedia, says that manuscripts from the 1300s are inconsistent on the use of IV and IIII to denote the number four. It also suggests that a Roman ruler at some point ordered the change to IIII, and it has come down through history as a tradition.
Hmmm ... well, the British Horological Institute doesn't quite say what the article says it does:
That in fact the Romans themselves up to the first couple centuries AD used IIII; and that IV is a "Late Latin" change, and numerous now-surviving classical Roman monuments with legends carved on them do use the IIII form. If we accept as fact the reality that the ancient Roman's did indeed prefer the use of IIII to IV for numbering (look in most museums at the statuary and other artefacts to be convinced), we need a viable explanation. The reason was probably religious in nature. Bear in mind the fact that in ancient Latin (i.e.: 2000 years ago), the language (and the carvers making statues etc.) used what we would recognise as a "V" for a "U", and they used "I" for what we now call "J". The Roman god Jupiter's name, when written in Latin, begins with IV, and it seems it would have been considered blasphemous to use it as a mere number.
I'm in a semi-generous mood this a.m. (even if the BHI can't spell Clepsydra) so we'll point out that the whole IV - Jupiter thing is clearly speculation. They are otherwise correct ... the Romans used both IIII and IV in manuscripts and inscriptions. Turning to the articles' other source, it's semi-surprising to find that Wikipedia is also clearly playing with speculation:
I thought we had a discussion of this on the Classics list once, but I can't seem to find it without my morning coffee ...
Clock faces typically show IIII for 4 o'clock and IX for 9 o'clock — using the subtractive principle in one case and not in the other. There are several suggested reasons for this:
- It has been said that the reason 4 o'clock is IIII (and not IV), is because IV is the first two letters of IVPITER, the supreme god of the Romans.
- The total number of symbols on the clock totals 20 I's, four V's and four X's; so clock makers only need a mould with five I's, a V and an X, in order to make the correct number of numerals for the clocks.
- IV is difficult to read up-side down and on an angle, particularly at the location on the clock.
- A particular roman ruler had a clock manufactured incorrectly (with IIII) and others started making their clocks that way in order to not offend him.
AWOTV: On TV Today
8.00 p.m. |HINT| Slings and Spears
Produced in partnership with England's Royal Armouries located in
the Tower of London, this series action-tests weapons and armor
through the ages. We construct an ancient slingshot and see why it
survives as a street-fighting weapon in the Middle East, and follow
the unbroken history of the spear from mere stick to Roman pilum to
HINT = History International