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Monthly Archives: July 2013

What would happen if Vesuvius erupted again?

Here’s the deal. Vesuvius has erupted dozens of times since its last massive eruption in AD 79. But news reporters and documentaries, the most easily consumable sources of expert advice (that phrase badly needs inverted commas), tell me the volcano is overdue for another catastrophic eruption.[1] I haven’t got a background in the earth sciences, so I won’t comment on the likelihood of impending classical déjà vu in the near future. But I am curious – what would happen if Vesuvius had another eruption in our lifetime, the kind that Pliny the Elder witnessed and ultimately died from?

Pierre-Jacques Volaire, View of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, ca. 1770.

Pierre-Jacques Volaire, View of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, ca. 1770.

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Far too many Latin words for kill

Far too many Latin words for kill

How many words does Latin have for kill? One of the quirky, somewhat morbid attractions of Latin is that it has many, many words for kill. If you’ve ever studied Latin, you’ll probably remember interficere and necāre, two very classic verbs for kill. But it seems that the more literature you read, the more creative the language gets when it talks about killing. As far as I’m aware, no one on the internet has yet attempted to compile a list of Latin verbs meaning “to kill” longer than about five or six words, or tried to convey a sense of their shades of meaning. So! After much sifting through Perseus’ Latin word study tool, I have here thirty-three words where “kill” is either a primary or a secondary meaning. I’ve also tried to give a potted history of each word, and a little taste of their semantic range.

Feast your deadly curiosity!

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Ancient scrolls: where are the wooden handles?

We all know what an ancient scroll should look like. Most of us haven’t actually seen a scroll from the first century AD, but we know what they look like in movies and stage productions. They should look something like a rolled up cylinder of paper with attractive wooden knobs poking out at either end.

Image

There, like that. These were the prop scrolls used in the movies “Alexander” and “Agora”. Nothing screams ancient and legitimate like wooden handle thingies. Nothing could be more genuinely scroll-like. It’s beautiful, it’s antiquated. You can just imagine Julius Caesar casually picking one of these up and reading it with a British accent.

But I’ve recently been surprised by the lack of wooden knobs in artistic evidence from the Roman Empire.

Where are all the handle thingies?

Could we have been overestimating the prevalence of cool-looking-rolling-pin-shaped-sticks this whole time?

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Ancient Atheism

Ancient Atheism

We take atheism for granted today; the ancients took theism for granted.

Of course, that’s a sweeping generalisation. But the first part holds true for most university students today, and it has often led students to assume that the greatest ancient philosophers, politicians and authors were atheists at heart too. That is, until they find evidence to the contrary. The assumption – and I may be treading on some toes here – even pervades scholarship, particularly in studies on Roman religion, where well-respected scholars have treated Roman religion as little more than a convenient charade for the elite, a tool they cynically used to manipulate the masses.[1]

But how prominent was atheism in Greek and Roman thought?

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A word in Latin

fritillus, -ī m dice box.

Example sentence:

Marcus shook the dice box again. “Argh!” he said. “The lowest roll possible!”

Marcus iterum fritillum iecit. “Heu!” inquit. “Canis!”

Bird feeds chicks her own blood

So I was flicking over a manuscript in a digital collection, and saw a scene of Adam and Eve in Paradise. I looked up and saw birds in the trees.

'Holkham Bible Picture Book,' British Library, Add MS 47682, Folio 3v

‘Holkham Bible Picture Book,’ British Library, Add MS 47682, Folio 3v

And I thought, that’s beautiful. I love birds.

But then I saw blood…

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A word in Latin

pūnītor, -ōris m avenger.

Example sentence:

“Have you seen the new Avengers movie?”
“No, I haven’t even seen the first one.”

“vidistine pelilculam cinematographicam novam ‘Punitores’?”
“immo, peliculam cinematographicam primam etiam non vidi.”