Monday, November 5, 2012


[Mt Athos]

I notice that one of the horses racing in today's Melbourne Cup is called Mt Athos. It just so happens I was translating this passage from Aeneid XII with my year 12 class today:

quantus Athos aut quantus Eryx aut ipse coruscis
cum fremit ilicibus quantus gaudetque nivali
vertice se attollens pater Appenninus ad auras.

Aeneas was as great as Athos, or as great as Eryx or as great as father Apenninus himself with his quivering pine trees, when he roars and rejoices in his snowy peak, lifting himself up into the sky.

Mt Athos is in Macedonia, Mt Eryx (these days Monte San Giuliano) on Sicily and Appenninus in central Italy. Here is a map. I recall a few years ago there was a horse in the Melbourne cup called Sirmione - I wonder if they're somehow related. helps to know the language.

Apart from English, classical languages are the only subjects which focus on the study of great literature.
The books you get to read by the last year of high school are the best of their kind. (Over the centuries, the mediocre stuff just got lost.) Epic, history, tragedy, comedy, satire, oratory and philosophy - all yours to analyse, discuss and enjoy, not second-hand, but in the very words of the composer, speaking to you in 21st century Australia, to you, their cultural descendant.
All right, it's not for everyone. But for many intellectually curious teenagers, the ancient world is a fascinating place, and when you travel to a new place, it helps to know the language.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Livy's engaging style of history

In case anyone is interested, here is a sample extended response answer I wrote for the Livy extended response from my trial HSC paper this year. I welcome all comments, corrections or criticisms!

Sed dique et homines prohibuere redemptos vivere Romanos. Nam forte quadam priusquam infanda merces perficeretur, per altercationem nondum omni auro adpenso, dictator intervenit, auferrique aurum de medio et Gallos submoveri iubet. cum illi renitentes pactos dicerent sese, negat eam pactionem ratam esse quae postquam ipse dictator creatus esset iniussu suo ab inferioris iuris magistratu facta esset, denuntiatque Gallis ut se ad proelium expediant. Suos in acervum conicere sarcinas et arma aptare ferroque non auro reciperare patriam iubet, in conspectu habentes fana deum et coniuges et liberos et solum patriae deforme belli malis et omnia quae defendi repetique et ulcisci fas sit. Instruit deinde aciem, ut loci natura patiebatur, in semirutae solo urbis et natura inaequali, et omnia quae arte belli secunda suis eligi praepararive poterant providit. Galli nova re trepidi arma capiunt iraque magis quam consilio in Romanos incurrunt. Iam verterat fortuna, iam deorum opes humanaque consilia rem Romanam adiuvabant. Igitur primo concursu haud maiore momento fusi Galli sunt quam ad Alliam vicerant. Iustiore altero deinde proelio ad octavum lapidem Gabina via, quo se ex fuga contulerant, eiusdem ductu auspicioque Camilli vincuntur.

Analyse the ways in which this extract is typical of Livy’s engaging style of history.

Livy’s history, and especially the first ten books, is characterised by dramatic, often significantly embellished, episodes, vivid descriptions and moral exemplars which seek to both engage and inspire his audience. This episode, in which Camillus appears at the last moment to save Rome and drive off the Gauls is in many ways typical of this style of history.

The character of Camillus provides this extract with its most engaging feature. His entrance onto the scene is made more dramatic by Livy’s periodic style. The abrupt announcement of his arrival (dictator intervenit) is postponed, coming after a subordinate clause and extended ablative absolute. This has the effect of taking the reader almost by surprise, capturing the reader’s interest and providing a strong note of hope after the bleak scenes previously described. Camillus is also portrayed as a compelling, authoritative figure. His actions are described in the present tense (iubet… negat… denuntiat etc.) which give them a sense of immediacy, and the polysyndeton of auferrique… et… submoveri conveys the speed and decisiveness with which he acts. The simple language with which Camillus dismisses the Gauls’ objections also shows his authority, and contributes to the picture of a compelling and engaging character.

Livy also highlights Camillus’ skill as a military leader. Camillus’ speech to his troops, reported in indirect statement, is simple but effective in inspiring his troops. The assonance of arma aptare, the juxtaposition of ferro… non auro and his emotional appeal to the soldiers’ religious devotion (fana deum, ulcisci fas sit), to their love for their families (coniuges et liberos) and to their patriotism (solum patriae) gives his speech a very moving tone, and would have been successful in engaging his Roman audience. Livy also remarks on Camillus’ sound battle tactics (ut loci natura patiebatur, omnia… providit) and emphasises the totality of his victory in not one but two battles (fusi Galli sunt, altero deinde proelio… vincuntur). This highlights Camillus’ skill as a military leader, and further adds to Livy’s portrayal of Camillus as a compelling and engaging character.

That the character of Camillus, as portrayed in this extract, is largely fictional is also a typical element of Livy’s style of history. Livy does not here record direct speech of Camillus as he does elsewhere in Book V, but his recount of Camillus’ orders and actions is certainly invented, and aims to portray Camillus in a particular way in order to add drama and interest to his narrative. Livy’s embellishment of the basic story found in the annalistic tradition perhaps even extends as far as changing the outcome of the siege of Rome; other versions of the story suggest that the ransom was paid to the Gauls, who were then defeated on their way home. Livy’s version which has Camillus turn up in the nick of time to prevent the ransom being paid (nondum omni auri adpenso), is a much more dramatic, engaging and patriotic version, typical of Livy’s stated purpose to show the greatness of Rome.

Another typical feature of Livy’s style which helps him to hold his audience’s attention is his use of religion and religious language. In this extract the religious elements of the story suggest that the gods are at work in the history of Rome, giving the events a significance that goes beyond the human level. This can clearly be seen in three places in the extract, where Livy says firstly that both gods and humankind (dique et homines) were responsible for the saving of Rome, secondly that the power of the gods was helping the Roman army (deorum opes… adiuvabant) and finally that victory over the Gauls was achieved not just by the leadership of Camillus, but by the kindness the gods showed to him (auspicio). Livy’s ambiguous mention of chance (forte quadam) also suggests that fate is at work behind the scenes, as does his assertion that fortune was on the side of the Romans (verterat fortuna). The use of religion in this way is typical of Livy’s style and helps him to invest this episode with greater meaning and significance, and therefore make it more engaging for his Roman audience.

Lastly Livy’s periodic style, that is his construction and arrangement of sentences, is typical of his engaging style of history. Livy’s extensive sentences, made up of multiple subordinate clauses, arranged in a logical and orderly way (e.g. cum… dicerent…, negat… ratam esse quae postquam… creatus esset… facta esset, denuntiatque… ut… expedient) and finely balanced (e.g. dique et homines, ferroque non auro, iraque magis quam consilio) help his prose to flow smoothly in a way which is pleasing to the ear and engages the reader with the beauty of his language. Livy’s use of poetic or archaic (e.g. deum for deorum) or figurative language (fusi Galli sunt) and rhetorical techniques such as tricolon (defendi repetique et ulcisci, fana deum et coniuges et liberos et solum patriae), chiasmus (Galli nova re trepidi) and alliteration (praepararive poterant providit) also achieve a similar effect, raising the register of the passage and drawing particular attention to certain elements of the story in order to create a more memorable and engaging history.

(851 words)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Roman Sites in Northern Italy

I think I'm going to be in Munich towards the end of October for a friend's wedding (the wedding is confirmed, it's my attendance which is still a bit uncertain). If I go, I'd also like to visit some friends in Innsbruck, and spend a few days in northern Italy as well. I'd particularly like to see the Grotte Di Catullo. I'm aware that it's not the actual house Catullus lived in, but I feel the pilgrimage would be worth it all the same. I've been to Rome a few times, but have never made it very far north and this seems like a good opportunity to do so.

While I'm there are there any other nearby sites I should make an effort to get to? The amphitheatre in Verona sounds worth a visit, but I have no idea what else is around that part of Italy. Padua and Mantua (the birthplaces of Livy and Vergil respectively) aren't too far away, but in my brief internet investigations it doesn't seem like there's actually much to make it worth going there.

Any recommendations?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Martin Amis and Satire

I read a Martin Amis novel for the first time this year, and so this interview with him caught my eye. It's super long, and interesting only in sections, but there were numerous times when I was reminded of Juvenal's (and to a lesser extent Horace's) satires. Here are a few bits that piqued my interest:
...the book is a kind of satire of contemporary England—a member of its underclass wins the lottery and enters its tabloid class. Satire is—I wonder how helpful it is as a category. It was once defined in apposition to irony, in that the satirist isn’t just looking at things ironically but militantly—he wants to change them, and intends to have an effect on the world. I think that category just doesn’t exist in literature. No novel has ever changed anything, as far as I can see. And the great satirists, like Swift and Dickens, tend to write about abuses and injustices that have already been partially corrected—you write about it after it’s over. I would say I’m an ironist not a satirist. All you do is you take existing tendencies and crank them up, just turn up the volume dial.
It’s not class anymore. It’s money... And plenty of people got it who don’t deserve it.
Juvenal feels the same way. Here for example is a passage from near the start of Satire III:

cedamus patria. vivant Artorius istic
et Catulus, maneant qui nigrum in candida vertunt,
quis facile est aedem conducere, flumina, portus,
siccandam eluviem, portandum ad busta cadaver,
et praebere caput domina venale sub hasta.
quondam hi cornicines et municipalis harenae
perpetui comites notaeque per oppida buccae
munera nunc edunt et, verso pollice vulgus
cum iubet, occidunt populariter; inde reversi
conducunt foricas, et cur non omnia? cum sint
quales ex humili magna ad fastigia rerum
extollit quotiens voluit Fortuna iocari.

Let's get out of here. Let Artorius and Catulus live on here, those who turn black into white, who see no problem with tendering for temples, rivers, harbours, cleaning up floods, carrying corpses to the morgue, or even selling themselves into slavery. These people used to musicians and permanent fixtures at second-class sporting events, and their faces were known in all the country towns. Now they put on shows themselves and with their thumb turned whenever the vulgar crowd demands it, they kill for the sake of popularity. Then they turn around and tender for the sewers, and why shouldn't they do all this? After all these are the kinds of people whom Fate raises from humble origins to great heights of wealth whenever she's looking for a bit of a joke.

I don’t think I’d like Manhattan anymore... It’s a fantastic sight—every time, it awes me. But it’s too noisy. The city that never sleeps—yeah, that’s right. The city where you never sleep, because there’s some self-righteous municipal vehicle doing something incredibly noisy at three in the morning outside your window.
Compare that to Juvenal III.232-238:

Plurimus hic aeger moritur vigilando...
...nam quae meritoria somnum
admittunt? magnis opibus dormitur in urbe.
inde caput morbi. raedarum transitus arto
vicorum in flexu et stantis convicia mandrae
eripient somnum Druso vitulisque marinis.

Most sick people here in Rome die from being kept awake... for what accommodation actually allows you to sleep? You can only buy sleep in the city with great wealth. This is the source of the illness. The toings and froings of wagons in the narrow bends of the neighbourhoods and the cattle-hand cursing his stalled flock are enough to snatch sleep from Drusus, or even seals.

One of the things that pleased [my friend Christopher] Hitchens most during his last months was... how many young people are in the audience. And it’s very heartening if you find yourself attracting the young. Heartening more than anyone knows because it means your stuff is going to live, at least one more generation. If you feel you have a strong constituency among the young, you can really die happy, because the great unanswered question, the only valid value judgment is whether you’re going to last, and that tells you that you are, for a bit at least... My father always claimed to be completely uninterested in posterity. I said, it doesn’t mean anything to you, whether you’re going to be read in 50 years’ time? And he said, it’ll be no fucking use to me, will it? I’ll be dead. But I think that was sort of bravado, I think it did matter to him. When I see a lot of young faces in the audience, it’s just sort of sinking in how important that is.
Horace writes some contradictory things about posterity. Most famously in these lines from Ode III.30:

Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei
vitabit Libitinam; usque ego postera
crescam laude recens, dum Capitolium
scandet cum tacita virgine pontifex.

I shall not die completely, but a great part of me shall avoid death; I shall grow ever fresh with the praise of subsequent generations, as long as the chief priest ascends the Capitol together with a silent maiden.

I have often marvelled with my students that Horace's fame outlived even his own boastful predictions and he is still read by students (admittedly only the most gifted and fortunate) in schools today. However this passage from Satire I.X puts a slightly different, less triumphal spin on things:

saepe stilum vertas, iterum quae digna legi sint
scripturus, neque te ut miretur turba labores,
contentus paucis lectoribus. an tua demens
vilibus in ludis dictari carmina malis?
non ego;

If you would often set your pen to write things which are worthy of being read, don't struggle to gain the admiration of the crowd, but be content with a few readers. Or are you so crazy that you would prefer your poems to be studied in cheap schools? I am certainly not.

Friday, June 29, 2012

lego, legere

The Nicholson Museum at Sydney Uni have a lego colosseum on display. It's amazing, and I will be taking my daughter to see it these school holidays for sure.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


I have to give a talk in a week (actually less than that - *panic*) to year 12 Latin students on how to prepare for and do the 'unseen translations' in their final examination. I have some idea of what I would like to say, but I turned to youtube to see if there was anything useful on there.

All I could find was this guy, who apart from being incredibly dull, was also (in my humble opinion) incredibly wrong. I couldn't bear to watch the whole thing, but he started off by saying how important it was to analyse every word - first deciding what part of speech it was, then working out the case/number/gender or tense/voice/mood/person etc., and, where more than one possibility existed, making a list of all the potential forms.

This kind of method would be ok, if you are a computer, but it has serious flaws. Firstly, from a purely pragmatic point of view, it is far too time consuming. It's not a sensible strategy for an exam context with limited time, even when you are only translating a short extract. And can you imagine (as my uni professor used to say) trying to read all 53 extant speeches of Cicero in this way? It would take forever, and it would be mind-numbingly, soul-destroyingly boring.

Secondly, and more importantly, it doesn't help you to understand the mechanics of a Latin sentence, or the way in which Roman authors crafted their writings. If you approach translation in that way, I think you will forever be trying to 'fix' the Latin - to put it into some kind of 'proper' (i.e. English) word order. Or to put it another way, it makes Latin into a puzzle to solve, a code to crack, rather than a language to be appreciated. Perhaps a code-cracking approach is appopriate for an exam, where all that matters is your final mark, although even then I think a more well-rounded approach has the potential to be more beneficial. If you're relying on a strictly analytical method, what will you do when an author breaks the rules, as they often do, or when you come across a usage with which you're not familiar? If on the other hand you are able to develop a feel for the Latin language, if you become used to the balance of flexibility and structure in herent in the language, and for the way in which different authors write, even if you can't give an exact grammatical analysis of every word, you will be able to understand the whole and to come up with a more faithful translation.

This raises the question of whether students should be taught to translate at all, or just to read and understand, but leaving that aside, what advice should I give to the students in my talk? What trick or strategy do you find most helpful? What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


One of my students asked me yesterday if the Romans had a word for fun. I didn't know. I still don't. The concept of fun is a... well, a funny one I suppose. Easy to recognise, but hard to define. Romans played and laughed and enjoyed themselves just like humans throughout history, I assume, but did they have a specific word for fun? I suspect that someone like Cicero would have been a bit scornful of the notion of fun (virtue is much more important), while for an Epicurean such as Lucretius pleasure had a much more nuanced meaning than simply fun. No doubt Catullus or Ovid appreciated the concept, but what words did they use to express it? How would you say 'This is fun!' or 'I am having fun!' in Latin?

Here is a list of some fun related words (thanks to William Whitakers Words), none of which I'm sure suit the meaning of the English perfectly:

delicia, deliciae: pleasure/delight/fun (usu. pl.), activity affording enjoyment, luxuries; toys;

ludus, ludi: game, play, sport, pastime, entertainment, fun; school, elementary school;

delicius, delicii: pleasure/delight/fun, activity affording enjoyment; curiosities of art;

ludibundus, ludibunda, ludibundum: having fun; carefree;

derideo, deridere, derisi, derisus: to mock/deride/laugh at/make fun of; be able to laugh, escape, get off scot free;

irrideo, irridere, irrisi, irrisus: to ridicule, mock, make fun of; laugh at;
Any thoughts?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The most multi-lingual student in Britain

Here's an article about Britain's most multi-lingual student, who at the age of 20 is fluent in 11 languages.

Alex, who was brought up in London and went to Latymer School – one of the country's leading fee-paying schools – reckons he had a head-start. "My mother is half Greek and she spoke to me in Greek and a little bit in French when I was young," he says. "My dad had a job in Japan at a university for four years and we went out to visit him."...

For the record, the 11 languages he speaks fluently are English, Greek, German, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, Afrikaans, French, Hebrew, Catalan and Italian. He took A-levels in German, Spanish and Ancient Greek – and also studied French and Latin at GCSE level.
 That's an impressive list, although it should be noted that four of the languages in which he's fluent are really just modern Latin, which he studied to the GCSE (roughly the equivalent of the old year 10 School Certificate in Australia).

And in related news, this article explains why bilinguals are smarter.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

(Belated) Ides of March

To celebrate missing the Ides of March yesterday, why not read the Top Five Random References to Julius Caesar over on the Pop Classics blog.

I've often wondered who is the most famous Roman of them all - Pontius Pilate or Julius Caesar. Pilate has got to be one of the best known to Christians, and millions recite his name every week, if they happen to belong to a denomination that recites the Nicene Creed regularly. But outside Christian culture, Julius Caesar must be the best known Roman of all time. In addition to a month which either he or Augustus had named after himself (July), he's had all sorts of things named after him, from political positions (Kaiser, Tsar) to methods of child delivery, to salads.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Romae ningit

ningit or ninguit, ebat, nxit, 3, v. n. [Gr. nifei; cf. nix…], it snows. I Lit. ningit… cum ninxerit caelestium molem mihi… – (b) in the pass. form: torum istud spatium, qua pluitur et ninguitur… * II. Transf. to shower down, scatter: ningunt rosarum Floribus Lucr. 2, 627.
*ningor, oris, m. [ningo], a fall of snow

ninguidus, a, um, adj. [ninguis], full of snow, snowy (post-class.)… II. Transf., falling like snow: cibus, i.e. manna
ninguis, is, f. [kindr. with nix], snow (ante- and post-class.): albas descendere ningues, Lucr. 6, 736
nivalis, e, adj. [nix], of or belonging to snow, snowy, snow-. I. Lit.: nivalis dies, a snowy day, Liv. 21, 54, 7: nivalia (sc. loca), Plin. 26, 8, 29, § 46: Hamonia, Hor. C.1, 37, 19: venti, Plin. 2, 47, 48, § 126: axis, the region of snow, Val. Fl. 5, 225: Hebrus nivali compede vinctus, Hor. Ep. 1, 3, 3: undae, water filled with snow, Mart 14, 118, 1.: aqua nivalis, snow water, Gell. 19, 5, 3:terrae et pruinosae, Amm. 23, 6, 43. – IITransf. A. Cold: dies, a cold, dull day: diclimus nivalem diem, cum altum frigus et triste caelum est, Sen. Q. N. 4, 4, 3; Flor. 2, 6, 12: osculum, cold, frigid, Mart. 7, 95, 2 – B. Snow-like, snowy: equi candor nivali, Verg. A. 3, 538. – Trop.: nivalis Pietas, Prud. Symm. 2, 249.
nivarius, a, um, adj. [id.], of or belonging to snow: nivarium colum, a strainer filled with snow, through which generous wines were filtered, whereas the commoner sorts were merely passed through a linen cloth, filled with snow, Mart. 14, 103, in lemm.; Dig. 34, 2, 21: the latter called nivarius saccus, Mart. 14, 104 in lemm.
nivatus, a, um, adj. [id.], cooled with snow: potiones, Sen. Q. N. 4, 13, 10: aqua, Petr. 31; Suet. Ner. 27.
nivesco, ere, v. inch. n. [nix], to become snow-white, Anth. Lat. tom. 2, p. 406 Burm.; Tert. Pall. 3 med.
niveus, a, um, adj. [id.], of or from snow, snowy, snow- (poet) I. Lit: aggeribus niveis informis, Verg. G. 3, 354: aqua, cooled with snow, Mart. 12, 17, 6; cf. id. 14, 104 and 117: mons, covered with snow, Cat. 64, 240. – II. Transf., snow-white, snowy (mostly poet.): a similitudine sic: corpore niveum candorem, aspect igneum ardorem assequebatur, Auct. Her. 4, 33, 44: lacerti, Verg. A. 8, 387: lac, id E. 2, 20: hanc si capite niveae agnae exorari judicas, Sen. Q. N. 2, 36: Briseis niveo colore, Hor. C. 2, 4, 3: vestis, Ov. M. 10, 432: candidior nivei folio, Galatea, ligustri, id. ib. 13, 789: dens, id. H. 18, 18: qua notam duxit niveus videri, Hor. C. 4, 2, 59: panis, Juv. 5, 70: flumen, clear, pellucid, Sen. Hippol. 504: undae, Mart. 7, 32, 11.: tribuni, clothed in white togas, Calp. Ecl. 7, 29; so, Quirites, Juv. 10, 45.
*nivifer, era, erum, adj. [nix-fero], snow-bearing, covered with snow: niviferae valles, Salv. G.D. 6, 2.
*nivit, ere, v. impers. [nix], it snows; poet. transf. of a great quantity of missile weapons: sagittis plumbo et saxis grandinat, nivit, Pac. ap. Non. 507, 27
nivosus, a, um, adj. [nix], full of snow, snowy: hiems gelida ac nivosa, Liv. 5, 13, 1: tantum nivosae grandinis, id. 21, 59, 8: Strymon, Ov. Tr. 5, 3, 22: Scythia, id. H.12, 27: loca praegelida ac nivosa, Col.2, 9, 7: Pliadum nivosum sidus, Stat. S. 1, 3, 95.
nix, nivis, f. [cf. Gr. nifa(acc.), snow; Lat. ningit, ninguit], snow. I Lit.: Anaxagoras nivem nigram dixit esse, Cic. Ac. 2, 23, 72: pars terrarium obriguit nive pruinaque, id N.D. 1, 10, 24: miles nivibus pruinisque obrutus, Liv. 5. 2; Lact. 3, 24, 1: opposuit natura Alpemque nivemque, Juv. 10, 152: duratae solo nives, Hor. C. 3, 24, 39; 4, 12, 4: alta, Verg. G. 1, 310: nives solutae, Ov. Am. 3, 6, 93: horrifera, Val. Fl. 6, 306; Plin. 2, 103, 106, § 234. – II. Transf., white color, whiteness: capitis nives, i.e. white hair, Hor. C. 4, 13, 12; Prud. preaf. Cath. 25 (dura translation, quint. 8, 6, 17): eboris, App de Mundo, p. 69, 21. – B. Plur.: nives, snows, i.e. a cold climate, Prop. 1, 8, 8.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lessons from Greek mythology

[Orestes, middle, attacks Clytemnestra, right]

I spotted this in the sports section of the paper last year, but what with one thing and another didn't get around to posting it. It just goes to show how useful a knowledge of our classical heritage can be in everyday life.
In June, in reference to the adultery committed by the English soccer player Ryan Giggs with his brother's wife, TFF posed the throwaway question, "Is it worse for a man to sleep with his brother's wife, or his wife's sister? Discuss." Well, I never. I was overwhelmed with responses. Most tended to agree with me that "brother's wife", is worse; some said I would have to ask an AFL player of the ilk of Wayne Carey; although David Scott identified that the worst of all would be when your brother's wife is also your wife's sister.

The last word, however, goes to reader Bruce Hyland, who has what I think is an uncomfortably well-thought-out and referenced position on this. "The Greeks," he writes, "held that an offence against a blood relative was far more serious than an offence against a relative who was not blood-kin. Hence, Clytemnestra's murder of her husband, Agamemnon, was less heinous than Orestes's revenge killing of Clytemnestra, because Clytemnestra and Agamemnon were not blood relatives, whereas Orestes was Clytemnestra's [and Agamemnon's] son and, thus, the closest blood-kin. It follows that sleeping with one's brother's wife is beyond the pale, whereas sleeping with one's wife's sister may be regarded as a trivial peccadillo."