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Tag Archives: Greek

List of Epigraphical Resource Abbreviations

VIII 18042 Ca (CIL)

VIII 18042 Ca (CIL)

Collections of inscriptions are very useful but a little intimidating for budding Classicists to get their teeth into. These collections are almost always referred to by their acronym, which appear as a meaningless series of letters to the uninitiated. And since epigraphy is a somewhat arcane topic, it is surprisingly difficult to find the full titles of epigraphical resources online.

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Moving words: which languages have the closest word order to Ancient Greek?

There’s an art to translation. It involves moving concepts from one language into another while trying to refit the same thought into a different set of grammar rules. In this study I’d like to look at one obvious part of the translation process: word order change. In studying this, I don’t mean to suggest that the inevitable changes in word order are necessarily bad or represent the degree to which information is lost in the act of translation. Quite the opposite. Where it is needed, the word order should change so that the meaning can be properly conveyed. Otherwise, there would be no point in translating anything.

Art of Conversation II (L'Art de la conversation II), Rene Magritte, 1950

Art of Conversation II (L’Art de la conversation II), Rene Magritte, 1950

What I want to investigate is how much the word order changes when translating a passage from Ancient Greek (specifically Koine) into various other languages. For instance, how closely can a Latin translation mirror Greek word order? Are Romance languages any closer to Greek word order than Germanic languages? Was medieval English more similar to Koine Greek syntax than contemporary English? And roughly how close is Modern Greek to its ancestor?

In this study, I’ll explore how much word order change occurs in several published translations of the same Koine Greek sample text, analysing eleven translations spread out over six languages: Latin, English, German, French, Mandarin Chinese, and Modern Greek. What I like about studying word order is that it’s a fairly obvious part of the language and you can see it move around. This is not a subtle study about ineffable shifts in semantics. It’s a crude, chunky experiment looking at how blocks of data move positions in different languages to express more or less the same thing according to different syntax rules. Although the sample text is short, at least this exercise can give a taste of how similar and distant the various languages are to Ancient Greek in this particular respect.

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The Melitan Miniature Dog: The most popular lapdog in antiquity

Chous, Melitan dog with grapes, ca. 450 - 435 BC (Source

Chous, Melitan dog with grapes, ca. 450 – 435 BC (Source)

There is something so disarming, so human, about reading that the ancient Greeks and Romans kept dogs as pets – not just as hunting hounds, but also as tiny companions. The Melitan, while it is not the only kind of miniature dog mentioned in surviving texts (a “Gallic miniature dog” was named once in Martial’s epigrams),[1] it is by far the most the most prolific miniature dog in artistic depictions and literary sources.

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The Weasel in Antiquity: Pet or Pest?

Hand colored engraving, published in Edinburgh, 1838. (Source: Art Resource)

Least Weasels. Hand colored engraving, published in Edinburgh, 1838. (Source: Art Resource)

It’s a nice time for a light-hearted piece, and I’ve been dying to write this article for a while. It’s about pet weasels in antiquity. A surprising amount of respectable scholarship all the way from 1718 to 1997 has claimed that the Greeks and Romans kept tame weasels as household pets. At the very least, there is good evidence that weasels lived and nested in the houses of ancient Greeks and Romans. But to claim that weasels were kept as tame, domesticated pets requires more evidence from the sources than simply evidence that they wandered around in human houses. This article will examine the evidence for the taming of various members of the weasel family. Remarkably, the marten seems to have been tamed at least once before Aristotle. There is also evidence that the polecat, the ancestor of our ferret, was tamed for hunting purposes by at least the first century AD. But what of the little red creatures we know and love as “weasels”? Were they pets or pests in the eyes of the Greeks and Romans?

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Greek words for love, in context

A while ago, I tallied up the Latin words for kill. Today I’m doing something different: I’ll be studying the Greek words for love. Can I hear an “aww” from the audience? Or… was that a sigh of impatience?

010 agape_detail

Because to be honest, I’m tired of people talking about the Greek words for love.  It’s a staple of church sermons, and I think in the course of time a lot of misconceptions have developed around the Greek words. Etymology (or often folk-etymology) is one of the oldest rhetorical devices for moving into a meditative discussion of the “real”, “true” or “original” concepts behind words. Talking about the concepts is good, but I’d like it if people made less fudgey mistakes about the language in the process. What I take issue with is the unwary and unthinking focus on the exact meanings of individual words outside of their context. And the endless talk of two Greek verbs for love, agapaō and phileō, is possibly the most meticulously bungled case of them all.

Because no matter what language you speak, love makes more sense in context than on a vocab list. Let’s explore.

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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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