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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Ovid’s mini-Aeneid: a hidden gem


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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