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Ovid’s mini-Aeneid: a hidden gem

aeneasandfather

A man great in war, second to none in piety,
Aeneas, oppressed by the hatred of hostile Juno,
Seeking Italy, went astray on Sicilian waves…
Ovid, Decastich arguments of the Aeneid, I.1-3

It’s not every day that we stumble across a beautiful, hidden gem like this work. In my head I call it the mini-Aeneid, because it is the only surviving poetic summary of the Aeneid which truly captures the epic proportions of the work in miniature. Ten lines of epic verse (dactylic hexameter) are dedicated to each of the twelve books of Vergil’s Aeneid – no more, no less. The work hits the highlights of action in each book, but sensitively, without being carelessly brief.

In honour of the work and the huge amount of creative energy that went into it, I’ve written the first publicly accessible English translation of this work (as far as I can tell, it doesn’t have any published English translations). Click here to read the Latin text alongside my English translation (link opens a small pdf document), which comes with its original preface – and as extra goodies, a set of monostich or single-line summaries of the books of the Aeneid from a separate author.

This work should properly be called Ovid’s Decastich arguments of the Aeneid, or in ordinary words, his ten-line poetic summary of the Aeneid. Tune in below for a quick summary of what we mean by ‘arguments’, the history of the work, and a discussion of why I am persuaded that the ten-line summary is a genuine work of Ovid and not a spurious attribution.

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Keep calm, taxonomic Latin lives on

Calliste fastuosa; Calliste tatao

Calliste fastuosa
Calliste tatao

As of this week, taxonomic descriptions need not be written in Latin. But wait a moment – contrary to what some news reports have implied, the names of plants and animals actually still do need to be written in Latin (or, Latin with an expanded Greek vocabulary, with some loan words from English cleverly snuck in). The only things that change are the official descriptions of new species. These ‘descriptions’ are a few paragraphs that detail things like how many toes a sloth has, or whether a plant is ‘herbaceous’ or not. All known species are currently described in Latin officially (with translations generally available in major languages), and none of these current Latin descriptions will change as a result of the new standards – the change in rules only applies to new, unknown species.

But does that mean the field of taxonomy is ‘Ditching Latin’, as the headlines say?

Minime! Not in the least!

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Homer grabs you by the ears

For years I’ve been trying to get myself to read through the whole of Homer’s Iliad from start to finish. And lately I realised how to do it in the most painless way possible: I plugged in my earphones and listened to an audiobook of Homer’s Iliad on my half-hour daily bus rides to and from work. I was all the way through in about a month or two.

Jean-Baptiste Auguste Leloir, Homère. Oil on Canvas, 1841.

Jean-Baptiste Auguste Leloir, Homère. Oil on Canvas, 1841. (Source)

Listening to Homer on audiobook worked well for me, and I strongly recommend you take advantage of this audiobook format. As Classicists we’re prone to take reading for granted as the default method of absorbing literature. But it is good to remind ourselves that Homer’s great epics were probably passed down orally for centuries before they hit pen and ink. And even in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, most Greeks would have considered listening to be the default way of experiencing Homer, and would not have seen the Iliad or the Odyssey primarily as ‘books’ to be read silently off the page in your head.

But listening to Homer on audiobook does not just give you the fun of feeling more authentic. It offers a better aesthetic experience, too. As I will explain below, many of Homer’s characteristic literary devices are much better suited to the aural format than to the print book, and so listening to Homer rather than reading him gives you a better appreciation for Homer’s art.

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How to read an ancient manuscript: 11th century Vergil’s Aeneid (Part 2)

aeneid picture2

Welcome back to the task of reading a real 11th century Latin manuscript of Vergil’s Aeneid. In Part 1, we launched straight into the task of deciphering this delightful Carolingian Minuscule manuscript, learning some of the most frequent scribal abbreviations. But there are still many more devices to go. Firstly, though, I realise I hadn’t properly explained what was in our manuscript before, so I drew up a neat chart for what sections of the Aeneid it covers, along with links to plain text versions of everything you can find in the manuscript. And secondly I’ve provided a short chart which summarizes all the devices we learned in Part 1, in case you wanted to quickly check them up. In the third segment, we resume learning scribal abbreviations until we’ve exhausted all of the ones which occur in this manuscript.

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How to read an ancient manuscript: 11th century Vergil’s Aeneid (Part 1)

How would you like to read a genuine medieval manuscript?

aeneid picture4

In this two-part series we will do just that. I’ve selected a very handsomely written 11th century Carolingian manuscript of Vergil’s Aeneid. The writing is quite clear and it has a decent number of scribal abbreviations, but it is quite manageable for those trying to read Latin on parchment for the first time. At some point I might make similar posts for Ancient Greek and Middle English, so even if you don’t know Latin, I hope I can introduce you to the joys of reading medieval manuscripts.

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Septimus: a Latin novella from the 1930s

Septimus: A First Latin Reader, by R. L. Chambers and K. D. Robinson.

Septimus: A First Latin Reader, by R. L. Chambers and K. D. Robinson.

My neighbour Pat has recently given me her Latin textbook, a 1950s reprint of a beautiful 1930s classic, which may actually have been the forerunner of a revolution in Latin textbooks. First published in 1936, it is titled Septimus, not because it is the seventh book in a series, but for its main character, a young British schoolboy named Septimus. When I first received the book, it was wrapped in the kind of thin brown paper that old parcels used to be covered in. I suspected that the greasy, battered brown paper was hiding something beautiful underneath, and on removing the paper I was not disappointed. As you can see above, the original cover design is perfectly preserved in yellow, green and red.

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How to write Greek Uncial

Have you ever wondered how to write in one of earliest Ancient Greek calligraphic scripts? Wonder no more! I’m happy to present the first video I’ve made for Found in Antiquity, so that you can see first hand how to write the alphabet in Greek Uncial.

What exactly is Greek Uncial?

Greek Uncial hails from the first few centuries of the Common Era. Unlike Ancient Greek cursive, Uncial is surprisingly readable even if you’re mostly used to reading modern Greek letter forms. While most of the surviving examples were written on parchment, Greek Uncial started life on papyrus and was generally used for literary texts like Homer’s Iliad (below).

2nd century AD, Greek Uncial on papyrus. From Thomson, An introduction to Greek and Latin palaeography (1912), p142.

2nd century AD, Greek Uncial on papyrus. From Thomson, An introduction to Greek and Latin palaeography (1912), p142.

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