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.