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.