13 December 2007

Huffing Web 2.0: The "Web OS"

If you write a pile of AJAX and server code which fills our browsers with something that looks vaguely like a windowed desktop, congratulations on your innovation, and good luck rising to the top of the ever-growing pile of these. If your marketing people tell you to advertise this as a "Web OS" bop them on the head with a wiffle bat and tell them to try again. If you, the developer, are tempted to call it a Web OS, change professions this instant.

A desktop-looking thingie running in a browser is just a GUI app. It's an operating system as much as my first cell phone's a Cray supercompter.

10 December 2007


It's amazing what you can find randomly opening a book! Yet another gem from the Greek proverbs book. Dan'll love this one, and Laudator may want to add this to his collection, as well (p. 447):

πρωκτὸς λουτροῦ περιγίνεται· ὅταν τις μὴ δύνηται ἀπονίψασθαι, ἀλλ’ ἡ κοιλία αὐτῷ ἐπιφέρηται· * * τῶν ἀνωφελῶν.

Τhe anus overwhelms the bath: whenever someone is not able to wash, but the feces accumulates on him. [ * * ] of worthless/harmful things/people.

The editors think there's text missing where the asterisks are.

The verb περιγίγνεται, which I am used to seeing in battle accounts, makes this proverb especially vivid for me.

There is an extensive footnote on this one which people with Latin and Greek both may find interesting. Several of the scholia seem to point to more precise, if somewhat contradictory, senses of the proverb:

παροιμιακὸν τοῦτο ἐπὶ τῶν ἐπὶ κακῷ τῷ ἑαυτῶν νικώντων· ἢ ἐπὶ τῶν ἀεὶ μολυνομένων καὶ βιαζομένων καθαίρεσθαι.

This proverb is about those conquering their own problems; or about those who constantly defile themselves and are forced to clean up.

Καλλίστρατος δέ φησι· παροιμία, πρωκτὸς λουτροῦ περιγνίνῃ, ἑπὶ τῶν βιαζομένων εἰς κακὸν ἑαυτούς· ὡς εἴ τις βιάζοιτο μὴ ἀποπλύνεσθαι.

Callistratus says, "a proverb, 'the anus overcomes the bath,' used about those compelled to do themselves ill, as if someone were forced to not wash."

There is a huge ambiguity in the first quote concerning the infinitive καθαίρεσθαι. The base sense is "cleanse, wash off" but it also has a specific medical sense, "purge, evacuate," which might include pharmacological aid (see the LSJ entry on καθαίρω).

Scholiastic Greek, even with the help of Dickey's book, is still often a puzzle, so I'll happily accept other suggestions for translation.

A Particular Proverb

I recently ran across an old collection of Greek Proverbs (Corpus Paroemiographorum Graecorum, Ernst von Leutsch, Friedrich Wilhelm Schneidewin, at the googleborg). It's great for random browsing. Most of the time the proverb is listed with with explanatory material, usually short but sometimes quite extensive. Some of them, however, are self explanatory, such as this one that comes in two variants:

οὐδὲν ἦν τἄλλα πάντα πλὴν χρυσός (p. 285)
It was all nothing else except gold.

The variant collected from Plutarch, however, is more interesting:

οὐδὲν ἦν ἄρα τὰ ἄλλα πλὴν ὁ χρυσός (p. 335)
It was nothing except the gold after all.

Both versions are appropriate to politics of all periods, but the second one is especially nice, demonstrating as it does a special use of ἄρα which indicates the new perception of a previously unrecognized truth. It frequently does this in the company of imperfects of εἶναι, as here. This use of ἄρα seems to have been fairly persistent. I cannot think of any Homeric examples, but Hesiod starts off his Works and Days with an example:

οὐκ ἄρα μοῦνον ἔην Ἐρίδων γένος, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν       11
εἰσὶ δύω·

There wasn't only one race of Strife after all, but upon the earth
there are two.

Sadly, the index nominum didn't deem ἄρα worthy of indexing.

05 December 2007

Metrical Fanboys at the APA Annual Meeting

On a less cranky note than the previous post, I just finalized arrangements to attend the 2008 annual meeting of the American Philological Association. I'll be the balding guy with AOIDOI.ORG for the affiliation field of his name tag. Perhaps I'll do some conference blogging if I can get someone to lend me a laptop for a few days. I hope some of my non-commenting readership will stop me and say "hi" or "that December translation of Xenophon was disastrous" or something.

Those Pesky Single People

Do the pitying looks no longer properly motivate the future spinster? Do the condescending "we just want you to be happy"s no longer get suitably enthusiastic agreement from the creepy bachelor uncle? Does "be fruitful and multiply" not motivate your secular single friends? Well, now you have another way to intrude yourself into that single person's life and lay on the guilt: single people are unecological!

27 November 2007

Before officers had pistols

Xenophon's Anabasis 1.3.1:

ἐνταῦθα ἔμεινεν ὁ Κῦρος καὶ ἡ στρατιὰ ἡμέρας εἴκοσιν· οἱ γὰρ στρατιῶται οὐκ ἔφασαν ἰέναι τοῦ πρόσω· ὑπώπτευον γὰρ ἤδη ἐπὶ βασιλέα ἰέναι· μισθωθῆναι δὲ οὐκ ἐπὶ τούτῳ ἔφασαν. πρῶτος δὲ Κλέαρχος τοὺς αὑτοῦ στρατιώτας ἐβιάζετο ἰέναι· οἱ δ᾽ αὐτόν τε ἔβαλλον καὶ τὰ ὑποζύγια τὰ ἐκείνου, ἐπεὶ ἄρξαιντο προϊέναι. Κλέαρχος δὲ τότε μὲν μικρὸν ἐξέφυγε μὴ καταπετρωθῆναι, ὕστερον δ᾽ ἐπεὶ ἔγνω ὅτι οὐ δυνήσεται βιάσασθαι, συνήγαγεν ἐκκλησίαν τῶν αὑτοῦ στρατιωτῶν.

There Cyrus and the army remained for twenty days, because the soldiers said they would would not go forward. They now suspected that they were going against the great king, and they said they hadn't been paid for that. Clearchus was the first to try to make his army go. They pelted him and the pack animals whenever they tried to go forward. Clearchus then fled for a bit so as not to get stoned to death, and later, when he realized he'd not be able to force them, called an assembly of his own troops.

Greeks! What can you do with these people?

23 November 2007

Pseudo-Callisthenes Enwebbened

In case my own blogging is too impossibly obscure, I offer up much lighter reading: the Alexander Romance in blog format. It's in Greek, of course, transcribed from an offering of the GoogleBorg. Where the scan has a bug-squish instead of a letter I supplement from Leif Bergson's 1965 Der Griechische Alexanderroman Rezension β. The Greek is very easy and it's already divided into lots of teeny chapters, so the blog format seemed like a good way to transcribe it for now.

As far as I can see there are no online editions of this yet. When I finish each book (there are three) I'll take the blog posts and turn them into a single, nicer document.

15 November 2007

The Astronautilia and the shadow of Homer

A bit more than a year ago I mentioned the Astronautilia and its author, Jan Křesadlo. Thanks to the help of his son, who very kindly sent me a PDF copy of the Greek portion of the manuscript (all of it), I can now present the opening to that work: Astronautilia (PDF).

As in the Ode to Stalin, Křesadlo's use of the heroic hexameter is sometimes a bit of a shock. When I first started reading the Astronautilia I found this a bit off-putting. Now I'm inclined to look on this more favorably, even if not all of his verses are things you'd want to show to a tutor at Oxford, say, for fear of inducing a stroke.

Based on current web logs, the commentary I did on Theocritus 13 may go down in Aoidoi.org history as the least popular effort ever — worse even than the notes on Pindar. I myself came away from working on that with a sense that Theocritus, and the Alexandrian poets in general, were on the near edge of artistic panic thanks to the overwhelming shadow of Homer. Part of this impression may come from my choice of reading to prepare for Theocritus, but it's hard not to see the dialect, the curious twisting of Homeric words and phasing, and the bucolic digressions as a desperate attempt to get out of that massive shadow. Right now I'm not sure I want to read Theocritus again, but I have some sympathy for the guy. He made a good effort to make the hexameter his own.

Having seen Theocritus' struggles, I'm now a lot more kindly disposed toward Křesadlo's sometimes radical innovations in his Epic hexameters. He observed the licenses Homer allowed himself and then ran with those ideas. The manuscript as sent to me — I don't know if it appears in the edition with the facing Czech translation — has a glossary of "unusual forms and words." In that you can really see Křesadlo taking hold of Epic Greek and making it serve his own purposes. Excepting the imports from Modern Greek, his process is clearly modeled on variations found in standard Epic Greek. The very first line announces he's not producing a school exercise in the style of Homer:

ἀρχόμενος πρῶτον Μουσῶν χορῷ εἰξ Ἑλικῶνος

In Epic the preposition represented in Attic by ἐν, "in," has two additional metrical variants, ἐνί and εἰν. There is no metrical reason at all to lengthen the preposition ἐξ, "out (of)," but Křesadlo has produced a free Homerism, εἰξ, unexampled in any Greek I've ever seen.

There are curiosities of declension:

ἄνηρες = ἄνερες = ἄνδρες (influenced by Modern, Greek, evidently)
κύωνες = κύνες modeled on ἄνηρες

He produces numerous doublets, giving him several metrical choices for a single word:

ἑλκήθρος -ου ὁ = ἑλκήθρον -ου τό "sledge"
ἐξίσωσις -εως ἡ = ἐξισώοσις "equation," a shocking reinterpretation of Epic distraction

"Robot" got special attention, as is appropriate in science fiction, with no fewer than four forms: ῥόβοτος -ου ὁ, ῥοβότης -ου ὁ, ῥόβως -ωτος ὁ, ῤουβώτης -ου ὁ, as well as ῥοβότη ἡ “she-robot.” My favorite definition is φεῖσρος -ου ὁ “fazer - an established sci-fi weapon shooting pernicious rays.” The resulting mix of Homeric phrasing and robots is interesting (Αν. ι. 25, p.89):

βῆν ἴμεν πρὸς πτολίεθρον ἐγὼ καὶ Φράντα ῥοβώτης

His freedom with the hexameter is also on display in this line. And he hasn't just used the Epic dialect for his art. He grabbed the scholarly apparatus of ancient texts and turned that into part of the work, too — sometimes he marks his own lines as doubtful, putting them [in square brackets.]

With the possible exception of Nonnos' Dionysiaca, the Astronautilia has to be the most wild and even disorienting appropriation of Homeric language I have ever seen, and am ever likely to see. I simply cannot imagine what motivated Křesadlo to produce such a work, and my innocence of the Czech language leaves me with little chance to compare this with his other works. But even with the shocks of meter I can't help but be delighted the Astronautilia exists.

13 November 2007

On accenting first declension genitive plurals in adjectives

In the course of editing Theocritus 13 one of my proof-reader and sanity-checkers raised red flags about the accenting of the adjective in this line (citation form κυανέος):

      ἅτις κυανεᾶν οὐχ ἅψατο Συνδρομάδων ναῦς,     22

Now in first declension nouns, no matter where the accent is in the nominative, in the genitive plural the accent is perispomenon, νίκη, νικῶν. This is presented as a rule in most textbooks, but if you know Epic then it's clear that the accent is the result of the contraction of -άων (long alpha).

In Attic, first and second declension adjectives have forms and accenting identical to the nouns except for the feminine first declension genitive plural, which is accented like the masculine/neuter form. Thus, in Attic ἀξίων γυναικῶν not *ἀξιῶν γυναικῶν. Homer, however, keeps the full -άων ending (or derivatives of it, -έων, or after vowels -ῶν).

So what's going on with κυανεᾶν? Not one of my grammars has anything to say about this. From the form it's clear that this is a Doric (or Aeolic) contraction from -άων, so I was prepared to accept the accenting in all the editors of Theocritus I could find. I still wanted some clear statement about this, however. Finally I had to resort to an accenting manual, Chandler's A Practical Introduction to Greek Accentuation (GoogleBorg), which is actually a massive work. The very large section 203 (p.55) starts with,

Feminine adjectives and participles following the first declension (which in the oblique cases of the singular and in all cases of the plural are subject to the rules laid down for oblique cases in the first declension) present some peculiarities.

He then goes on to citations from the ancient grammarians. Then, section 204 (p.56),

The Aeolic and Doric genitives in αν are circumflexed, as κυλιχνᾶν, Τηϊᾶν, ...

So there you go. You need never worry about this perplexing matter again.

11 November 2007

Aoidoi: Theocritus 13 — Hylas

Another longish poem, Theocritus 13, also known as the Rape of Hylas (taking the sense of "seizure" for rape rather than sexual violence, though the poem is perhaps ambiguous on that point). For amusement and edification I also made use of an old volume from Google Books and transcribed the ancient scholia on this poem.

17 October 2007

Sci-Fi Surf Rock

A barely noticed musical interlude during Morning Edition somehow wormed itself into my brains some weeks ago, so today I find myself poking around the likely places looking for — instrumental Surf music. Lucky for me that revival already happened in the 90s, so research is easy.

What strikes me is that there's a little subgenre, Space Rock, which uses effects even more than Surf already does, and has, of course, sci-fi themes. "The Ventures in Space," Ziggy Stardust, The P-Funk Mothership, Man... or Astro-Man? — what is it about sci-fi and rock?

In case anyone is curious, the song that got this started is "La Planche," by The Vanduras.

26 September 2007

Happy Fun Time with the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice

If I were more philosophically advanced perhaps I wouldn't take quite so much joy in this, via Ash-sharq al-awsat:

According to Dr. Al-Marshood, the two commission members approached the girls in order to "politely" advise and guide them regarding their inappropriate clothing.

Consequently, the two girls started verbally abusing the commission members, which then lead to one of the girls pepper-spraying them in the face as the other girl filmed the incident on her mobile phone, while continuing to hurl insults at them.

Most excellent.

24 September 2007

Wm's Improvised Beet Salad, Thai Flavor

  • several medium roasted beets

  • one large-ish cucumber, or most of one of those European "burpless" ones

  • cayenne pepper

  • one lime

  • fish sauce

  • cilantro, if you're not one of those people for whom it tastes like soap

The best way to roast the beets I've found is to trim, wash and wrap them individually in foil and bake at 350 until tender, about 50-70 minutes for medium beets, 90 for the big daddies we're getting this late in autumn. Peeling them after roasting is a greater danger to clothing, but much easier.

After the beets are cooled and peeled, medium dice the beets and the cuke — seed the cuke if it it's one of the watery varieties. Toss in a bowl with the juice of the lime, several sturdy dashes of the cayenne and at least 1 tsp of fish sauce, more if you share my fondness for it. If you're afraid of the fish sauce, you may want add some salt. Chill for a bit, toss in a handful of cilantro before serving.

There are in both Thai and ancient Roman cooking simple recipes which pair melon and fish sauce. Beets aren't quite like melons, but it's hard to lose with the the sweet + tart + salty combo. Here's the Roman recipe, from Apicius (85):

pepones et melones: piper, puleinum, mel vel passum, liquamen, acetum. interdum et silfi accedit.

Cantaloupe and melon: pepper, pennyroyal, honey or passum, fish sauce , vinegar. Sometimes also silphium is added.

Passum was a sweet wine made from raisins. Sylphium is a probably extinct plant about which ethnobotanists dearly love to speculate. It may have been like a milder asafoedita.

24 August 2007

Travel Anxiety

In addition to the usual worries about air travel most people have — schedules, did I remember to pack enough socks, where will my luggage end up this time? — I have another massive decision to make. With my reading material do I include the big and useful Greek dictionary or the crappy but less heavy one?

19 August 2007

Some Archilochus

Worked up for Aoidoi: Archilochus 13, mourning recent deaths at sea, reportedly including his sister's husband.

13 August 2007

No Roses in Homer

Someone posted a brief poem on the Textkit forum as a verse composition challenge. Unfortunately, the opening stanza is mostly a list, which is always a nightmare in verse translation. I decided to check Homer to see if there are any epithets with rose I could use to save me some metrical pains. There aren't, because Homer not once uses the word rose, ῥόδον. Nor does Hesiod, nor any of the Homeric Hymns except one, the Hymn to Demeter, where it is part of — ta-dah! — a list:

ἄνθεά τ' αἰνυμένην, ῥόδα καὶ κρόκον ἠδ' ἴα καλὰ       6

There are compounds and derivatives involving roses — ῥοδόεις, the famous ῥοδοδάκτυλος. Just no roses themselves. This is surprising to me.

06 August 2007

Aoidoi.org: Pindar's Isthmian 2

Using the new house style made possible by XeTeX I worked up (rather, finished working up) the famous poem with the "Mercenary Muse," Pindar's Isthmian 2.

28 July 2007

Ratatouille, or, What do the critics know?

If you fear spoilers, you should probably just stop reading right now.

When I saw Ratatouille earlier this week, after I left I felt that some editor somewhere needed a bit more backbone to stand up to Brad Bird. Now I'm not quite so sure.

I was feeling a little bit ambivalent about Bird after his last film, The Incredibles, which has the very in-your-face message that excellence is better — "everybody's special" means nobody is. Aristotle would have grokked this, but in contemporary culture this out-loud aristocratic sentiment all too often keeps company with odious political movements. But there was nothing else in the film worry me about Bird's agenda, unlike the most recent Star Wars movies, which are full of the worst sort of divine-right, aristocratic nonsense.

More than one reviewer has complained about the scene in Ratatouille where Rémy — our heroic little chef — and his father go on a trip to see what humans do to rats. They go to what I assume is supposed to be a rat-catcher's business and see dead rats hanging above boxes of poisons in the store-front window. One reviewer thought this pointless. I think it's absoultely vital for the message of this film.

The scene is at night and dark, so I wouldn't say it's gratuitously bloody or violent. But there certainly is something alarming about the scene: a dozen rats all hung from ugly, outsized traps. The arrangement is tidy and one could, if feeling a bit overheated, call the presentation ritualistic. Rémy's father has brought him to witness an atrocity.

The entire movie is about Rémy escaping the identity imposed on him by an accident of birth. Near the end of the film there's a brief scene where he declines to go home either with his family or his human companion, Linguini. The parting is friendly, and Rémy walks down the street in his own direction. For him to go his own way — being a chef and a rat — requires him to be able to not be hindered by the terrible history between humans and rats. Perhaps in the film Rémy forgives faster than any but a saint in real life could manage, but this idea, that we don't need to be enslaved by imposed identities or by history, is a powerful one I can endorse whole-heartedly.

I don't think I'm reading too much into this. The same film ends with a remarkable monologue on art criticism.

Edit: And now I see that the original work on the film was done by Jan Pinkava. What don't the Pinkavas do?

25 July 2007

A Cynic's Internet Dictionary: wise

wise adj., of statements, commonplace or banal sentiment expressed in a manner advocates of the sentiment have not previously encountered; giving the impression of insight though obscure, elevated or metaphorical language; adj., of people, prone to expressing banalities in novel language.

16 July 2007

XeTeX equals classicist joy

When I first started Aoidoi.org, before Unicode was yet widely available, I used a very ugly combination of an HTML templating engine and long Unix pipelines to turn Betacode in fake tags (thanks to the template system) into GIF images of Greek. The pipeline started with the production of a LaTeX file, which was run through latex, then dvips, then ps2gif, after which all the LaTeX goo was cleaned up.

After not too many years of that I decided to go with PDFs, which let me actually save the work of LaTeX. Over time I have accumulated a lot of extra styles to do things like metrical symbols, and multiple levels of footnotes — which I hijack into something like what Pharr's Aeneid and many other student editions look like. But until now I have had to use a very nasty encoding scheme to represent the Greek:

\GRK{o>i m`en >ipp'hwn str'oton, o>i d`e p'esdwn,}
\bgrk{o>i} $=$ \bgrk{o< i}. \SP
\bgrk{o>i m`en ... o>i d'e}, ``some... others...'' with the main verb in
line 2, \bgrk{fa~is(i)}.

Nor have I ever found a usable polytonic Greek font that I could use in LaTeX which had a bold font available. Normally the headword in vocabulary notes or comments is in bold. It makes it a lot easier to find when you're moving back and forth between the text and the help.

But now I have XeTeX, a version of LaTeX that understands Unicode, so I can use real Greek in LaTeX source now. And, better yet, XeTeX is capable of using any TT or OT font installed on your system. So now I have several usable polytonic Greek bolds to use in commentaries. There's no single family that really makes me happy — either I like the Greek side, or the Latin side, not both. When Gentium finally has the promised bold, I'll be very happy. In the meantime I'm still trying to find the best mix of fonts to get something non-awful. Here's a current attempt, Sappho PMG 976, using Gentium for the main body Greek, all the Latin, and for the bold in the notes the lovely Greek Font Society (GFS) Neohellenic Bold. I'm very partial to their Didot face on the Greek side, and it has a nice bold, but something is wonky with the Latin side.

For amusement I used the GFS font inspired by a 16th century face, GFS Complutum, to typeset the first book of the Odyssey, Rhapsodia A. The backwards "y" looking thing is a nu.

If any Hellenist reading this post decides to grab XeTeX and play around, note that 1) you really want the fontspec extra and 2) you cannot use it with metre.sty. I have hacked at fontspec.sty so that it and metre.sty play nice. Contact me if you want a copy.

05 July 2007

Copular Intrusion

A recent question on the Textkit Forum sent me rummaging through Perseus XML files of Greek texts, looking for a rather surprising construction. I wonder how many other people hunt for Ancient Greek comparanda using grep and emacs? In any case, the original question was about Plato's Apology 18c,

οὗτοι, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, <οἱ> ταύτην τὴν φήμην κατασκεδάσαντες, οἱ δεινοί εἰσίν μου κατήγοροι.

The entire underlined phrase is the predicate, and the puzzle is the bold-faced εἰσίν — this is the verb, smack in the middle of a noun phrase. In English it'd be like saying "the small is dog mean" instead of "the small dog is mean." Well, not exactly, given Greek word order, but it's still a bit of a surprise. The enclitic μου is less a surprise, and a number of other enclitics and postpositives could appear in the middle of a noun phrase without anyone but rank beginners batting an eye (δέ, γε, κτλ.) I already knew forms of εἰμί, including εἰσι(ν), are enclitic. I hadn't fully appreciated that they can be postpositive. Sir Kenneth Dover (Greek Word Order, p. 13):

(xi) The verb εἰναι cannot be classed as q without many qualifications and reservations, not all of which admit of a satisfactory classification. εἶναι as a copula tends, in most authors, to be treated as q; when it is first word in a clause, we import into its translation nuances which the context does not always demand and sometimes scarcely justifies. I use the symbol Mq for εἶναι in its copulative sense.

He uses q to mean postpostives and M to mean non-prepositive, non-postpositive "mobiles," mostly what we'd consider content words (nouns, verbs, etc.). He invents a special sign for εἰμί to indicate its dual status as both mobile and postpositive. Nonetheless, it doesn't seem to fall in the middle of noun phrases very often. Though I didn't search all of Plato, I did check the Republic where I found only one case that seems similar, with an articular infinitive phrase (just a snazzy noun phrase, really), 339c:

τὸ δὲ ὀρθῶς ἆρα τὸ τὰ συμφέροντά ἐστι τίθεσθαι ἑαυτοῖς, τὸ δὲ μὴ ὀρθῶς ἀσύμφορα; ἢ πῶς λέγεις;

"Correctly" then is to lay down [laws] for their own advantage, and "not correctly" their disadvantage? Or what did you mean?

This was an upsetting find. I had first assumed that the odd placement of εἰσίν was due to the danger of garden path confusion, where the participle phrase might be construed as the predicate if the verb went after the demonstrative or the participle. In the Republic sentence other word orders are possible which could accomodate ἐστι outside the noun phrase. In my somewhat random searching of other texts I finally found a magnificent example from Aeschines, Against Timarchus 117:

ἔστι δ᾽ ὁ μὲν πρότερός μοι λόγος προδιήγησις τῆς ἀπολογίας ἧς ἀκούω μέλλειν γίγνεσθαι, ἵνα μὴ τοῦτο ἐμοῦ παραλιπόντος ὁ τὰς τῶν λόγων τέχνας κατεπαγγελλόμενος τοὺς νέους διδάσκειν ἀπάτῃ τινὶ παραλογισάμενος ὑμᾶς ἀφέληται τὸ τῆς πόλεως συμφέρον. ὁ δὲ δεύτερός ἐστί μοι λόγος παράκλησις τῶν πολιτῶν πρὸς ἀρετήν.

My first point is anticipation.... My second point is exhortation...

A compliant corpus is so agreeable. Here we have perfectly parallel, contrasting phrases of the sort Greek dearly loves, one with an expected use, one with an intruding ἐστί. I've been a big fan of the work of the Dutch classicists investigating Greek grammar from the standpoint of Functional Grammar, especially Helma Dik's work on word order. When I saw the Aeschines example I was immediately reminded of the paper On Unemphatic “Emphatic” Pronouns in Greek: Nominative pronounsin Plato and Sophocles (APA abstract and handout). Unfortunately I'm really out of my depth here, in that my knowledge of Functional Grammar is fairly superficial. I have a basic understanding of its operation at the level of the clause. What I don't know is if the Topic-Focus elements are recursive and one can reasonably speak of Focus in a phrase part of a larger clause — because right now I'm pretty sure the intrusive forms of εἰμί indicate Contrastive Focus on the word they follow. What I'm not sure about is whether this Focus motivates, or is motivated by, the placement of the copula.

31 May 2007

ἄλλα δ’ ἔτι λολικά

It has been fun watching the lol* phenomenon explode wildly out of control. For a while last night I watched the IRC chat for lolcode — including feature votes — with great interest. I expect a lolcode metacircular evaluator within the week.

Truly, we are approaching the lolsingularity. I wonder what supplements Ray Kurzweil will be popping for that.

24 May 2007

Aoidoi: Sappho 16

New for Aoidoi.org, Sappho's fragment 16:

οἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον, οἰ δὲ πέσδων
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ' ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔμμεναι κάλλιστον· ἔγω δὲ κῆν' ὄττω τις ἔραται.

Some say it's an army of cavalry, others the infantry,
and others the navy, that's the most beautiful thing on
the black earth. But I say it's that which one loves.

That's only the opening of the poem. It also got a recitation in Greek and English in the recent In Our Time episode, "Greek and Roman Love Poetry" (RA of podcast).

23 May 2007

λολικὸς αἴλουρος

In response to some testiness on a forum that seemed in danger of escalating, I was inspired to create a lolcat in ancient Greek —

26 April 2007

Perseus is not a new kind of crutch.

Technology is anything that wasn't around when you were born. — Alan Kay

Early in April 2007 one of the few redeeming web sites on the entire internet, Perseus, had a security compromise. For two weeks the site was completely down, and as of this writing, three weeks later, it is still barely usable on those occasions when it is even capable of answering a HTTP GET request. It wasn't exactly overpowered before the security problem.

The absence of Perseus drew comment in all the expected places, but Mark Goodacre made a comment on his blog which I confess I find completely baffling:

Useful as these are in teaching and research, and grateful as we are to their developers, perhaps we should all sponsor "electronic free April" every year and insist that everyone has a good month each year when they are only allowed access to print resources for Greek. Perhaps we could institute it as a kind of compulsory Lent abstinence for all NT scholars and students?

Unless one believes that tedious labor (κάματος) is a worthwhile goal in itself, I cannot see how this is a good idea.

There is not a single resource Perseus offers which doesn't exist in print. The Greek and Latin texts of course have been around a good long while, but the commentaries and lexica for them have existed nearly as long. I don't know how long concordances have existed, but several centuries at least. There are interlinears available for the most popular texts, and parallel translations have their own publishing industry (Loeb, Budé). I can wander down to my local bookstore and buy a brand new copy of a work with the morphology parsed for me — Vergil comes in for this treatment especially — and numerous dictionaries will provide parsing help for beginners, plus you can always get one of those verb books for Greek.

The only thing new thing Perseus offers is speed. I have spent many, many hours of my life paging through dictionaries. The vast majority of the time I know exactly what the lemma is (modulo declensional class), so there's no intellectual work in this at all. Further, using the Perseus lexica is probably superior for most people because it gives us access to the largest editions of these works. At home I have only the Middle Liddell. With Perseus I can spend a lot more quality time getting full range of a word's use from the Great Scott — a far better use of time than flipping pages.

It has been quipped that computers allow us to make errors faster than ever before. They certainly make it possible to indulge in poor study habits more easily and more quickly than before. That problem is not in the computers, but in us. Instead of giving up Perseus for Lent, we should give up checking translations from Perseus and Loebs. Instead of relying on Perseus word lookup, the impoverished dictionaries at the end of student editions or marginalia, let us build lists of words to memorize.

Driving home a point in the Works and Days, Hesiod addresses his brother Perses:

σοὶ δ’ εἰ πλούτου θυμὸς ἐέλδεται ἐν φρεσὶν ᾗσιν,
ὧδ’ ἔρδειν, καὶ ἔργον ἐπ’ ἔργῳ ἐργάζεσθαι.       382

But if the spirit in your own soul wants wealth,
do as I say, and upon work pile work with work.

The Greek word for work, ἔργον (ergon, earlier *wergon) is cognate with English. Hesiod plays with phonetics, and issues the command to do with a very similar sounding word, erdein. What he doesn't do is recommend κάματος, wearying toil. That word is frequently paired with words for "pain" and "woe" in Epic. Learning these difficult languages, and reading the refined and literary works in them, is a lot of work in the best of circumstances. Why add needless toil?

02 April 2007

Callipygian Aphrodite

From Athenaeus 12.555 (text via Google Books, whose top-notch quality control is responsible for the doubtful readings at the end):

οὕτω δὲ ἐξήρηντο τῶν ἡδυπαθειῶν· οἱ τότε, ὡς καὶ καλλιπύγου Ἀφροδίτης ἱερὸν ἱδρύσασθαι ἀπὸ τοιαύτης αἰτίας. ἀνδρὶ ἀγροίκῳ ἐγένοντο δύο καλαὶ θυγατέρες. αὗται φιλονεικήσασαί ποτε πρὸς ἑαυτάς, προελθοῦσαι ἐπὶ τὴν λεωφόρον διεκρίνοντο, ποτέρα εἴη καλλιπυγοτέρα. καί ποτε παριόντος νεανίσκου, πατέρα πρεσβύτην ἔχοντος, ἐπέδειξαν ἑαυτὰς καὶ τούτῳ· καὶ ὃς θεασάμενος ἔκρινε τὴν πρεσβυτέραν· ἧς καὶ εἰς ἔρωτα ἐμπεσὼν, ἐλθὼν εἰς ἄστυ, κλινήρης γίνεται, καὶ διηγεῖται τὰ γεγενημένα τῷ ἀδελφῷ ἑαυτοῦ, ὄντι νεωτέρῳ. ὁ δὲ καὶ αὐτὸς ἐλθὼν εἰς ἀγροὺς, καὶ θεασάμενος τὰς παῖδας, ἐρᾷ καὶ αὐτὸς τῆς ἑτέρας. ὁ οὖν πατήρ, ἐπεὶ παρακαλῶν αὐτοὺς ἐνδοξοτέρους λαβεῖν γάμους οὐκ ἔπειθεν, ἄγεται ἐκ τοῦ ἀγροῦ τὰς παῖδας αὐτοῖς, πείσας ἐκείνων τὸν πατέρα, καὶ ζεύγνυσι τοῖς υἱοῖς. αὗται οὖν ὑπὸ τῶν πολιτῶν καλλίπυγοι ἐκαλοῦντο, ὡς καὶ ὁ Μεγαλοπολίτης Κερκιδᾶς ἐν τοῖς ἰάμβοις ἱστορεῖ, λέγων·

    ἦν καλλιπύγων ζεῦγος ἐν Συρακούσαις·

[α]ὗται οὖν, ἐπιλαβόμεναι οὐσίας λαμπρᾶς, ἱδρύσαντο [Ἀ]φροδίτης ἱερόν, καλέσασαι Καλλίπυγον τὴν θεόν, ὡς ἱστο[ρ]εῖ καὶ Ἀρχέλαος ἐν τοῖς ἰάμβοις.

In limping Old High Translationese:

They so loved their pleasures that they once set up a temple to Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks in this way: a farmer had two beautiful daughters. They loved disputing with each other and once went to the public road to judge which had the most beautiful buttocks. And when a young man with an old father came near they showed themselves to him. And after seeing them, he picked the elder. He even fell in love with her and went to the city, became bedridden, and went through what happened to his brother, who was younger. And then he [the younger one —wm] went to the country himself, looked at the girls and he fell in love with the other one. Therefore their father, since he couldn't convince them to make a more suitable marriage, brought the girls from the country for them, after convincing their father, and married them to his sons. So these girls were called "callipygian" [having beautiful buttocks] by the citizens, as the Megalopolitan Cercidas relates in his iambics:

    There was a pair of callipygian [girls] in Syracuse.

And these girls, after getting a lot of property, set up a temple of Aphrodite, calling the goddess "Callipygian" as Archelaos also relates in his iambics.

I'm not sure I've got ἐξήρηντο right. And I'm very puzzled by the elder brother becoming bedridden after seeing these beautiful young ladies. I don't know if that's normal love-sick behavior for ancient Greeks.

31 March 2007

Aoidoi: a Description of Winter

Worked up for Aoidoi, Hesiod's description of Winter from the Works and Days, lines 504-535.

14 February 2007

More on those acorns in Hesiod...

There have been two posts in response to mine at Laudator Temporis Acti regarding human consumption of acorns, Eating Acorns and More on Eating Acorns, which last brings in Don Quixote.

08 February 2007

Hesiod Works and Days 230-233

Hesiod is naming some of the rewards from Zeus for acting justly (please forgive the Old High Translationese):

οὐδέ ποτ᾽ ἰθυδίκῃσι μετ᾽ ἀνδράσι λιμὸς ὀπηδεῖ       230
οὐδ᾽ ἄτη, θαλίῃς δὲ μεμηλότα ἔργα νέμονται.
τοῖσι φέρει μὲν γαῖα πολὺν βίον, οὔρεσι δὲ δρῦς
ἄκρη μέν τε φέρει βαλάνους, μέσση δὲ μελίσσας:

Nor does famine ever follow after men giving right judgement,
nor folly, but in abundance they attend to the fields in their care.
To them the earth bears much sustenance, and on the mountains
the oak bears acorns on all branches and within it (it bears) bees.

I'm disappointed in West's commentary. "βαλάνους: used as pig-fodder in Homer (Od. 10.242, 13.409), but it looks as if Hesiod sees some greater value in them. Some varieties of acorn, at least after roasting, are supportable by the human digestion, ..." Discussion about human acorn consumption follows, and then an attempt to suggest the word βάλανος might mean "chestnut" here — not completely unlikely, though it seems unnecessary.

Acorn mast is still used to fatten up pigs (Serrano ham!), who will eat that nearly to the exclusion of all else when it's available. Homer certainly recognized the value of acorns for a good pig:

δήεις τόν γε σύεσσι παρήμενον: αἱ δὲ νέμονται
πὰρ Κόρακος πέτρῃ ἐπί τε κρήνῃ Ἀρεθούσῃ,
ἔσθουσαι βάλανον μενοεικέα καὶ μέλαν ὕδωρ
πίνουσαι, τά θ᾽ ὕεσσι τρέφει τεθαλυῖαν ἀλοιφήν.       410

You'll find him [a swineherd] with the pigs, who pasture
beside Korax Rock near Arethousa Spring
eating plentiful acorn and drinking dark water,
which makes pigs fat with dripping lard.

(For "dripping" for θάλλω, see The Meaning of IE *dhal- by Steven Lowenstam, TAPA Vol. 109 (1979) pp. 125-135.)

Nice fat pigs are a valuable commodity, not to mention tasty. We don't eat bees, but the honey they produce. We don't eat fields, but the grain they produce. I don't see why Hesiod cannot then list acorns as a good, not as a food for us, but for their value for growing fat pigs.

07 February 2007

Hesiod, Pigeons and Neil Gaiman

I have been taking a university class in Hesiod this semester. After being treated to a Freudian interpretation, or at least the start of one, of the Ages of Man section of the Works it occured to me that anyone about to embark on reading mythology of any sort should have to read Neil Gaiman.

If, say, you were wandering through the (in)Humanities Building on UW campus one day, and suddenly found yourself transported to a parallel, Gaimanesque world — and who's to say this doesn't happen all the time? — things are just going to run a certain way, and you'll know better than to question it. You take tea with a disheveled madman in one of the music practice rooms. You try to leave when done, and he calmly informs you that you must of course offer your shoes to the door to exit. To do anything but hand your shoes over is pointless. Any attempt to get out of this obligation — and it is an obligation even the gods themselves are subject to — can only turn out badly. So you hand over your shoes to the damn door, and out you go. No explanation will ever be forthcoming.

I was watching Gaiman's Neverwhere again recently, and the Nightsbridge incident seems to capture the essence of this. After Hunter and the dreamy and hapless Richard Mayhew cross the Nightsbridge and find their rat-speaker companion missing, Richard wants to go back to get her. Hunter says, "She's gone. The bridge takes its toll. Be grateful it did not take you, too." And that's that.  No pity and no explanation — just like life.

To the arbitrary hostility of the world now add the human facility for superstition. Any creature capable of learning is probably susceptible to superstition. It seems to be a natural outcome of that ability. In the 1940s B.F. Skinner showed that if you give a hungry pigeon food at random times it will develop a number of overtly "superstitious" behaviors (the paper's a classic, 'Superstition' in the Pigeon). Any sufficiently rewarding experience is a potential creator or reinforcer of superstition, from lucky rocketship underpants to sync; sync; sync; reboot.

The Greeks did have a mania for aitia, explanations for why this or that feature of their religion was so. But I can't help but think that some of the modern interpretations offered to explain, say, oddities of the Pandora story, are just as wrong-headed as the lucubrations of the ancient scholiasts who so often come in for mocking. Some things are just inexplicable.

25 January 2007

From cold storage: The Stillsuit of Elendil

Lightly edited, a post from my old blog. I find it convenient to refer to when I want to explain Old High Translationese.

While on the subject of genre authors with a taste for archaic prose...

I have been known, from time to time, to say rude things about Tolkien's writing and his writing style. China Mieville has done the same with a lot more panache than I can manage and David Brin has a lenghty article: J.R.R. Tolkien -- enemy of progress. So none of my grouching is new or interesting.

But while thinking on the puzzle of Frank Herbert's sometimes archaizing style, my thoughts naturally turned to Tolkien's tortured prose. And I had a revelation.

Tolkien, or Professor Tolkien as Peter Jackson calls him constantly on the special features tracks on the LOTR DVDs, was a philologist. He studied dead languages. You can, from time to time, still find his academic work cited in articles on historical linguistics. In both Latin and Greek, which were certainly central to Tolkien's education, sentences can tolerate word orders that English would never put up with. Homer, for example, regularly puts adjectives some distance from the noun they go with. It's stylish, and because of the grammar of these languages, perfectly clear (or nearly so).

When you first study Greek and Latin, your teacher might expect you to produce fairly literal translations. I've been an instructor for several ancient Greek mailing list groups, and I also plead with the students to stay close to the Greek as possible when we start. I need to make sure they're understanding the grammar correctly, and aren't just fudging it. Once their command of Greek is more solid, then I'll generally tolerate quite free translations. But that initial habit of the literal translation leaves its mark. I produced this clunking monstrosity just this week for the Odyssey translation group (Od.2.81-83):

All the people felt pity.
And there all the others sat in silence, nor did anyone dare
to answer Telemachus with strong words.

This very literal translation is nearly a gloss - hardly English at all. And yet I continue to produce English like this because if all of us in the group were to work too freely no one else could use our translations to check their own work.

My revelation: Tolkien's natural language is Old High Translationese*!

* Old High Translationese corr. Classicist Translationese ms.

14 January 2007

Scented at the Symposium

I have never been a fan of oils and unguents and I really can't stand to have them on me for very long. Even the thought of it is a little annoying, which means that from time to time — more often than you might think — reading Greek poetry causes me a mild mental distress. Evidently, dousing yourself in scented oil was a standard part of symposium culture. Alcaeus mentions it at least twice:

κὰδ δὲ χευάτω μύρον ἆδυ κὰτ τὼ
στήθεος ἄμμι. (Z 39)

and pour sweet unguent down
our chests.


        χέε μοι μύρον
καὶ κὰτ τὼ πολίω στήθεος. (B 18)

pour unguent also
on my grey chest.

Even pious Xenophanes indulged:

νῦν γὰρ δὴ ζάπεδον καθαρὸν καὶ χεῖρες ἁπάντων
    καὶ κύλικες· πλεκτοὺς δ’ ἀμφιτιθεῖ στεφάνους,
ἄλλος δ’ εὐῶδες μύρον ἐν φιάλῃ παρατείνει· (B 1 West)

For now the floor is clean, and the hands of all
and the cups (are clean); one person puts on a woven garland,
and another hands out sweet-smelling unguent in a bowl.

Now Xenonphanes and Alcaeus were both from the Levantine side of the Greek world, where the use of scented oils had been going on a good long time. The Egyptians were heavy users of oils from the Levant, too. Of course they wore it as perfume but it could also be used as an offering. While reading the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt recently I learned that the tomb of Semerkhet (~2950 BC) had so much scented oil poured down the entry ramp that the oil soaked into the stone to a depth of about three feet. Nearly 5000 years later the aroma is still detectable.

Another thing I learned while reading the Oxford book is that climatologists describe Egypt's current climate as hyperarid, and suddenly I figured out why people in the region might be coating themselves in oil, apart from the luxurious aroma: to stop itching. In dry climates (southern California) and in winter (heating systems) my overreactive skin dries out and makes life a little difficult for me. Dermatologists recommend bath oil, an idea I'm still trying to come to terms with. How much of that early oil use in these dry Mediterranean climates was therapeutic, how much a luxury?

04 January 2007

A Midwinter Ramble

While walking home today I saw a caterpillar crawling onto the sidewalk. It's in for a very nasty surprise when Wisconsin's Winter recovers its wits — which it surely will manage at least once before spring arrives.

After nearly two years of bureaucratic obstacles, surprise retirements and general disorder, I am finally registered to take a class in the Classics department at UW this spring. Actually, I'm registered as a "special student" which means mostly that I pay full tuition and my grade will be recorded. In every other way I'm a second-class citizen. For example, I only get to sign up for class a few days before it starts.

I take it as a sign that the Little Gods of Bureaucracy have been propitated that I got a giant, and very stylish, packet of mail today from University Housing. The cover letter starts, "Congratulations on your recent acceptance into Graduate Student program at UW-Madison!" Ok, so some Little God wasn't sufficiently appeased.

02 January 2007

Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite

Homeric Hymn Six has gotten the usual Aoidoi.org treatment: to Aphrodite.