Sunday, November 25, 2012

Latin in the Real World

I frequently do an assignment in my beginning Latin classes called "Latin in the Real World." I ask my students to collect examples of Latin that they find in their daily lives. This fall I've started collecting images of Latin I find in the real world around me via Instagram. I'll periodically post my images here.

The "Rostrum" dedicated by the 1914 graduating class at the University of Utah. I've been digging around into the history of this senior class gift and will write it up at some point.

Carpe diem! from Horace's (65-8 BCE) Odes 1.11:

"You should not ask (to know is forbidden) what end the gods will give to me or to you, Leuconoe, nor try out Babylonian astrology. Whether Jupiter allots us many more winters or this one last winter, which now wears down the Tyrrhenian sea on the exposed rocks. Be sensible, strain the wine and hold back distant hope for a short time. While we talk, hateful time flies: seize the day, trusting tomorrow as little as possible." (my translation)
Tu ne quaesieris (scire nefas) quem mihi, quem tibi / finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios / temptaris numeros. Vt melius quicquid erit pati! / Seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam, / quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare / Tyrrhenum, sapias, uina liques et spatio breui / spem longam reseces. Dum loquimur, fugerit inuida / aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero. (via the Latin Library)

Semper Fidelis! Always faithful. The United States Marine Corps motto.

Some of the trees on the University of Utah campus have been identified by their Linnaean classification. This system has been used to classify all living things since Carl Linnaeus developed the system in the 18th century. As of this January, the International Botanical Congress has ruled that plant species no longer need to be given Latin names, (read about it here).

Is this really Latin? Who knows what the author intended, but it definitely seems to have a bit of Latin in it. One possible reading, if we read EHAB for ERAB, is "Thracian consider rehab!" Romans weren't perfect spellers and their inscriptions frequently break words at the end of a line, so this would be a reasonable reading, if only it was painted by a Roman!! Maybe it's a message to Spartacus.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

5 Dinners You Can Be Thankful That You’re Not Responsible For Preparing This Thanksgiving

I suspect that everyone has a Thanksgiving preparation anecdote in which preparing the “big meal” didn’t go so smoothly. Mine occurred just a few years ago. We had gone to spend the holiday with my grandfather, who had a small cattle ranch on the Great Plains. We brought the turkey and other fixin’s with us, most of it pre-made, except the turkey. When I went to pre-heat the oven, we discovered that it no longer worked. “No problem,” my grandfather said, “try the one in the trailer.” So I carried the turkey across the yard to the trailer, cleared off the stuff that had been “stored” around the stove and turned on the oven. It didn’t work either. We next contemplated the oven in the camper, but decided it was too small. In the end, I cooked the turkey on the gas grill, hoping the whole time that we had enough propane to get it cooked. It actually turned out quite nicely, in the end.
Here is my top 5 list of dinners from ancient Rome that I wouldn’t want to have to prepare. Enjoy while you wait for the guests to arrive or recovering from a food coma!
Potluck Extreme: I love the Roman poet Catullus (ca. 84-54 BCE); he may be my favorite in fact. But be wary if he invites you over for dinner, as he plays the poor poet image to its fullest. In Carmen 13, Catullus invites his friend Fabullus to dinner, asking him to bring just a few things with him: 

“You will dine well, Fabullus my friend, at my place in a few days, (if the gods are in your corner), if you bring along a good, big dinner, including a pretty girl and the wine and some salt and all the laughs. If, I declare, you bring these things my charming friend, you will dine well; for the wallet of your buddy Catullus is full of cobwebs. But in return you will receive undiluted love, or whatever is sweeter and more choice: for I will give you a perfume, which the Venuses and Cupids have given to my girlfriend, and when you smell it, you will beg the gods to make you, Fabullus, all nose.” (my translation)
Least Appealing Menu: The story of the original “Thyestean Banquet” has its origins in Greek myth, but it is perhaps most vividly related by Seneca the Younger (ca. 4 BCE – 65 CE), a Roman philosopher, tragedian, and tutor to the emperor Nero. In his Thyestes (lns 759-783), Seneca describes how Atreus sought revenge against his brother Thyestes, who had stolen his kingdom and his wife, (there might have been a curse at work):

“…[Atreus] is now free to prepare his brother’s banquet. With his own hands he cuts the body <of his nephew> into parts, severs the broad shoulders at the trunk, and the retarding arms, heartlessly strips off the flesh and severs the bones; the heads only he saves, and the hands that had been given to him in pledge of faith. Some of the flesh is fixed on spits and, set before slow fires, hangs dripping; other parts boiling waters tosses in heated kettles. The fire overleaps the feast that is set before it and, twice and again thrown back upon the shuddering hearth and forced to tarry there, burns grudgingly. The liver sputters on the spits; nor could I well say whether the bodies or the flames made more complaint. The fire dies down in pitchy smoke; and the smoke itself, a gloomy and heavy smudge, does not rise straight up and lift itself in air – upon the household gods themselves in disfiguring cloud it settles. O all-enduring Phoebus, though thou didst shrink afar, and in mid-sky didst bury the darkened day, still thou didst set too late. The father rends his sons and with baleful jaws chews his own flesh; with hair dripping with liquid nard he sits resplendent, heavy with wine; oft-times the food sticks in his choking gullet. In the midst of these thy woes, Thyestes, this only good remains, that thou knowest not thy woes." (translation by F.J. Miller, via
Most Painstaking Preparation: The emperor Vitellius (15-69 CE) was a well-known glutton. In his Life of Vitellius (13), the Roman biographer Suetonius (ca. 70-130 CE) describes the ingredients of the “Shield of Minerva,” a dish of his own design:

“<Vitellius> himself actually exceeded this by the dedication of a platter which, by reason of its great size, he called the shield of Minerva, protectress of cities. On this he combined the livers of parrotfish, the brains of pheasants and peacocks, the tongues of flamingoes, and eels’ intestines, sought from Parthia and all the way from the Spanish strait by trireme captains.” (my translation)

The Biggest Guest List: In his Silvae, the Roman poet Statius (ca. 45-96 CE) recounts several banquets hosted by the emperor Domitian. Silvae 1.6.11-50 describes an elaborate festival and feast provided by Domitian for the people of Rome at the beginning of December. The feast is staged in, or perhaps adjacent to, an amphitheater, probably the Colosseum, which could seat ca. 50-90,000 people:

“…And already good things rained down:
These the dews the easterly sprinkled:
Whichever are best of Pontic nuts,
And dates from Idume’s fertile hills,
And plums pious Damascus grows,
And figs Ebusos and Caunos ripen,
Freely the lavish spoils descend.
And pastries and ‘little Gaiuses’
Ameria’s un-dried apples and pears,
Spiced cakes and ripened dates,
Shower from an unseen palm.
Not stormy Hyas drenches Earth
Nor the Pleiades with such showers
As rattled down on the Latian theatre
Like bursts of hail from a clear sky.
Let Jupiter cloud the whole world
Threaten to deluge the open fields,
So long as our Jove brings such rain.
Look, along the aisles comes another
Crowd, handsome and finely dressed,
No less in number than those seated!
These bring bread-baskets and white
Napkins, and elegant delicacies to eat,
Those pour out mellow wine freely:
So many cupbearers down from Ida.
The fourteen rows, now virtuous, sober,
Are fed, with the people wearing gowns;
And since you nourish so many, Lord,
Annona, the price of corn’s, outweighed.
Ages, compare now, if it’s your wish,
Old Saturn’s centuries, golden days:
Never flowed wine so, even then,
Nor did harvest anticipate new year.
Every order eats here at the one table:
Women, children, knights, plebs, Senate:
Freedom has set aside reverence.
Why you yourself (which of the gods
Issues and accepts his own invitation?)
Have come to the feast along with us.
Now all, now whoever, rich or poor
Can boast of dining with our leader…”
(translated by A.S. Kline)

Biggest Logistical Nightmare: In his Satyricon, Petronius (ca. 27-66 CE) describes a banquet hosted by a nouveau riche, freedman by the name of Trimalchio. The dinner is a master piece of stage craft from the food to the entertainment. It really must be read in full (which you can do here) to fully appreciate it, but here is a preview of some of the menu highlights:
  • Pastry peacock eggs filled with fig-peckers in peppered egg yolk
  • Wild boar garnished with dates and pastry piglets, stuffed with live thrushes
  • Pastry Priapus accompanied by cakes and fruit
  • Pastry doves filled with raisins and nuts
  • Goose, fish and other birds modeled from pork
Happy Thanksgiving to all!! May your dinner preparations go smoothly!!!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Spring 2013 Courses & Textbooks

Although it is hard to believe it, we are almost finished with fall semester courses and students are registering for spring courses. I'll be teaching a whopping four courses! Second semester Beginning Classical Greek, The Romans, and Trojan Wars for the Classics Section and Medieval-Renaissence Intellectual Traditions (IT) for the Honors Program. I'm looking forward to them all for different reasons.

This will be only my second time teaching second semester Greek and we're using a new textbook this year and so I get the fun of tweaking things and improving upon the first time. I also suffered through a bout of pneumonia the last time I taught the course, so I'm hoping not to repeat that experience!! I'll also be teaching the IT course for a second time. The Romans is essentially Roman civ and I've taught it a number of times here at the U of U and elsewhere. The Romans are my own research focus, so I especially enjoy this course and this semester I am planning some new things. The Trojan Wars course is completely new and I am very excited to teach it. We'll cover the Homeric version of the war, but also look at the archaeological/art historical side of things and reception issues.

For students looking to do some comparison shopping for textbooks, here is a list of the required texts I have asked the bookstore to order. Many of them are available as ebooks as well.

GREEK 1020 - Beginning Classical Greek II (same text as fall semester)
Introduction to Greek
by C. Shelmerdine
Focus Publishing, 2008
ISBN 1585101842

CL CV 1570 - The Romans
Ancient Rome: An Introductory History
by P. Zoch
University of Oklahoma Press, 2000
ISBN 0806132876

Catiline's War, The Jugurthine War, Histories
translated by A.J. Woodman
Penguin Classics, 2008
ISBN 0140449485

Essential Aeneid
translated by S. Lombardo
Hackett Publishing CO., 2006
ISBN 0872207919

Four Comedies
translated by E. Segal
Oxford University Press, 2008
ISBN 019954056X

translated by S. Ruden
Hackett Publishing Co., 2000
ISBN 087220510X

HONOR 2102-006 - Intellectual Tradiations II: Mediaval-Renaissance
Arabian Nights
translated by H. Haddawy
W.W. Norton & Co., 2008
ISBN 9780393331660

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
translated by S. Heaney
W.W. Norton & Co., 2001
ISBN 0393320979

Consolation of Philosophy
translated by J. Relihan
Hackett Publishing Co, 2001
ISBN 0872205835

translated by S. Lombardo
Hackett Publishing Co., 2009
ISBN 0872209172

The Lays of Marie de France
translated by E. Gallagher
Hackett Publishing Co., 2010
ISBN 1603841881

The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches
translated by N. Yuasa
Penguin Classics, 1967
ISBN 0140441859

translated by D. Wootton
Hackett Publishing Co., 1999
ISBN 087220376X

CL CV 4580-002 - Trojan Wars
Age of Bronze, Vol. 1: A Thousand Ships
by E. Shanower
Image Comics, 2001
ISBN 1582402000

translated by R. Lattimore
University of Chicago Press, 2011
ISBN 0226470490
[n.b. any edition of the Iliad, except S. Mitchell's, will be fine]

In Search of the Trojan War
by M. Woods
University of California Press, 1998
ISBN 0520215990

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Catiline & Cato Get Out the Vote!

I've always been fascinated by these two pots. They are in the Museo Nazionale Romano - Terme di Diocleziano which houses an excellent epigraphical collection. These are just small (ca. 4 inch diam.), common ware dishes that would have been used for individual servings of food.

Bols de propaganda electoral a favor de Cató el Jove i de Catilina (63 a.C.), Museo Nazionale Romano nelle Terme di Diocleziano, Roma
Photo by Sebastia Giralt, 2009

The things that makes them interesting are their inscriptions:

Casius Longinu(s) quei Catilinae <su>  | sufragatur (CIL VI 40897 = AE 1979, 63)
Cassius Longinus who gives his support to Catiline (My translation)

M(arcus) Cato quei petit tribun(at)u(m) plebei (CIL VI 40904 = AE 1979, 64)
M. <Porcius>  Cato who is running for tribune of the plebs (My translation)

These inscriptions, assuming they are authentic, indicate that these bowls were used as election propaganda in 63 B.C.E.. They would have been filled with food and give out to the people to remind them to vote for the candidate whose name was scratched into the interior. In his defense of L. Licinius Murena, consul-elect for 62 B.C.E., against charges of electoral bribery (ambitus), M. Tullius Cicero argues that the provision of entertainments, gladiators, and banquets are traditional and should be viewed as generosity rather than bribery, (Pro Murena, 77).

We know that in 63 B.C.E L. Sergius Catilina was standing for the consulship of 62 B.C.E. He had also run the previous year, 64 B.C.E. and lost to Cicero and G. Antonius Hybrida. L. Cassius Longinus had also run for consul in 64 B.C.E., but he seems to have stood down in 63 B.C.E. and thrown his support over to Catiline. We know quite a bit about Catiline thanks to the fact that, after the elections in 63 B.C.E, he resorted to an attempted coup, which was ferreted out by Cicero and cost Catiline his life. This conspiracy is recorded for us in Cicero's own speeches against Catiline (In Catilinam) and Sallust's history of the events (Bellum Catilinae).

Also in 63 B.C.E., Cato the Younger was running for the office of tribune of the plebs. Things turned out rather better for Cato. He won. Plutarch, (Life of Cato the Younger, 20-23), tells us that Cato made a point of learning and remembering people's names while campaigning, rather than use a nomenclator to remind him. Cato also supported Cicero against Catiline. Sallust provides us with a speech by Cato endorsing the execution of the Catilinarian conspirators. After the elections in 63 B.C.E., Cato prosecuted Murena, consul-elect for 62 B.C.E., for ambitus.

So we have here two bowls that would have been used not as electoral bribes, but to "get out the vote" for Cato and Catiline in the elections of 63 B.C.E.. These are tangible evidence of Roman campaigning practices. Or are they? I've known about these bowls for a number of years and thought it odd that they haven't made it into popular handbooks on the Romans, but I have never really looked into the scholarship on them. It turns out that there isn't very much available. The inscriptions are listed in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) and there is a bit of discussion of them in L'Année épigraphique (AE 1979, 63-64). They are said to have come from the Monte Sacro quarter of modern Rome, at the northern edges of the city, just east of the Tiber River and identified as a type of pot that is commonly handed out as gifts during festivals, gladiatorial games and banquets. But their authenticity is called into question ("si elles sont authentiques!"). This sort of inscription could be easily forged, as it is scratched into the surface of an already fired pot. Also, the diminutive size and common fabric of these bowls would make them likely candidates for surviving intact for roughly 2000 years. So, it wouldn't be hard to imagine someone acquiring a couple of uninteresting, little bowls and making them much more interesting by inscribing the names of two famous Romans, Cato and Catiline, on them.

[gratias maximas tibi ago to H. Conley for talking pottery with me on these!]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Academic Writing Month...

I've decided to make the leap and commit to Academic Writing Month (#acwrimo). You can check out the details here. I have several things I need to be writing, but I have decided to focus on getting my paper for the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) conference at the beginning of January finished. I'll be presenting on the Sangro Valley Project (SVP) excavations from 2011-2012. Since this is a conference paper, the written text ends up at about 10 pages.

Goal: write conference paper in one month


Mondays: heavy teaching load, so nothing required
Tuesdays: read and/or edit as much as possible
Wednesdays: heavy teaching load, so nothing required
Thursdays (6 hours/day): (1st, 8th, 15th) research/data analysis; (22nd, 29th) writing
Fridays (4 hours/day): (2nd, 9th) research/data analysis; (16th, 23rd, 30th) writing
Saturdays  (4 hours/day): (3rd, 10th) research/data analysis; (17th, 24th) writing
Sundays (2 hours/day): (4th, 11th) research/data analysis; (18th, 25th ) writing

So, if you see me around in November or follow me on Twitter (@ProfChristensen) or are a friend on Facebook, feel free to ask me how it's going!

Witches, Werewolves & Ghosts...Oh My!!!

Last year for Halloween I threw together a handout on ghastly and spooky beings for my Latin students and I’m updating it here with a little extra background info (and less Latin). The Romans, and Greeks, had their share of witches, werewolves and ghosts. Cemeteries were spooky places where witches gathered ingredients for potions and werewolves transformed.

Larva Convivialis from the Museo Nazionale Romano - Palazzo Massimo
(photo by author)

Witches were lamiae or strigae, particularly known to harm children and suck their blood. The term venefica could also be used for a witch; it specifically refers to one who makes/uses poison, but of course witches are the prime demographic for poison marketing! There are a number of famous witches from the ancient Greek and Roman world. Medea and her aunt Circe are perhaps the most famous, coming from far distant Cholchis on the eastern end of the Black Sea. Thessaly, in northern Greece, was also a hotbed of witches. Lucan's description (in Book 6 of his Bellum Civile) of Erichtho, as she revives the corpse of a dead soldier to foretell the future for Pompey the Great's son before the battle of Pharsalia, is absolutely terrifying. A number of Thessalian witches feature in Apuleius' Metamophoses, where we see them changing into animals, cutting out men's hearts and cutting off their ears and noses.

I give my students a passage from Horace's Epode 5 (lines 16-55) in which the witch Canidia prepares a love potion with the help of her friends Sagana, Veia and Folia. The main ingredient: 1 boy, buried and starved to death. Canidia makes an appearance in a few other of Horace’s poems, especially Epode 17. Here is David West's translation (Oxford University Press, 2008) of the passage (maybe by next Halloween I'll have had a chance to do some nice polished translations myself!):
"…Canidia, with tiny vipers binding her tangled
hair, commanded them to dig out the fig trees from
the graves, to bring her funeral cypresses, to gather
eggs and feathers of the screech-owl, bird of night,
and soak them in the blood of loathsome toads, to
pick whatever herbs Iolcus grows and poison-rich
Hiberia, and rip the bones from starving bitches’
jaws and burn all this on Cholchian fires.

But Sagana was rushing through the house,
sprinkling the waters of Avernus as she went. She
looked like some sea urchin, with her bristling hair,
or like a wild boar on the charge.

And Veia, conscienceless, scooped out the earth
with the iron-bladed mattock. Groaning she worked
to bury him, where each long day the boy would
three times see the rich fare served to him, and
seeing it, would die, only his face above the ground,
like swimmers treading water - all to cut out his
liver and the marrow of his bones and dry them as
an aphrodisiac, when once the pupils of his eyes,
long fixed on food forbidden him, were wasting
into nothing.

And Folia was there from Ariminum - her lusts
were those of men - so went the idle gossip in
Neapolis and all the neighboring towns. She can
bewitch the moon and stars with her Thessalian
chants and pluck them from the sky.

Savage Canidia now, with blackened teeth gnawing
her long-nailed thumb, what did she say? What did
she fail to say? 'O faithful witness of my this my life,
dark Night, and you, Diana, queen of silence when
the secret rituals are performed, be present now,
turn now your wrath and holy power against the
houses of my enemies...."

Werewolf stories, or versipellis (literally "skin changer") stories, seem to be less common. There is of course the werewolf origin story of Lycaon, transformed into a wolf by Zeus for his impiety, which gives us our word "lycanthropy". Arcadia, the home of Lycaon, had a certain reputation for lycanthropy according to Pliny the Elder (NH 8.80-82). Pausanias (6.6.11) describes a painting he once saw that depicted a possible werewolf, named Lycas, being driven from Temesa in Italy. There is also a nice plate in the Villa Giulia Museum in Rome depicting a wolf-headed man. But Petronius provides perhaps the best werewolf story in his Satyricon (62). At Trimalchio's dinner party, Niceros recounts how he once took advantage of a business trip to visit his girlfriend Melissa and persuaded a soldier to travel with him part way. I particularly enjoy Sarah Ruden's (Hackett Press, 2000) translation:

“…He was a soldier, strong as hell. We get our butts moving when the cocks are starting to crow, but the moon was shining bright as noon. We came to a graveyard, and this pal of mine went off to the tombstones to take a piss while I say a spell or two to keep off evil and count how many stones there are. But when I turned back to him, he’d taken off all his clothes and put em in a pile beside the road. That sure knocked the wind outta me. I stood there like I was dead. He pissed around his clothes, and all of a sudden he turned into s wolf. I’m not joking. I wouldn’t lie for all the money in the world. But like I was saying, once he was a wolf he started howling and ran off to the woods.
“First I was so scared I didn’t even know where I was. Then I went up to get his clothes, but they’d turned to stone. I was just about ready to fall over dead. But I drew my sword and jumped on every little shadow, and I finally got to my girlfriend’s place. By that time I looked like a ghost myself, I was practically takin’ my last breath, sweat runnin’ down through my crotch, blank eyes. The people there had some hard work bringin’ me around.
 “But my Melissa was amazed that I was out so late. She said, “If you’d come a little earlier, you could of helped us out. There was this wolf that got into the stockIt looked like a butcher’d been here. Well, he got away, but at least he don’t have nothin’ to laugh about. Our slave stuck his neck through with a spear.” “When I heard that, I wasn’t gonna sleep that night, that’s for darn sure. But when the sun was up I ran home fast as an innkeeper runs after the guy that’s gone without paying the bill. When I got back to the place where the clothes turned into rocks, I didn’t find nothing but blood. Then when I got home the soldier was lying in bed helpless like a sick ox, and a doctor was looking at his neck. I knew then that he was a werewolf, and I wouldn’t of sat down at the table with him if you’d killed me. You can have any opinion you want about what I’ve said. If I’m lying, your guardian spirits can get me for it.”

The Romans had a bunch of words for ghosts. Most of them reflect the fact that ghosts are ephemeral images of the deceased: idolon, phantasma (both of these were borrowed from the Greeks), similacrum, spectrum, and umbra. The terms larva and lemures seem to reflect spirits intent on doing harm to the living (see my post on the lemuria), while the manes are protective spirits of the dead. In a letter (VII.27) to his learned friend Licinius Sura, Pliny the Younger recounts a classic haunted house ghost story:

“...In Athens there was a large and roomy house, but it had a bad reputation and an unhealthy air. Through the silence of the night you could hear the sounds of metal clashing and, if you listened more closely, you could make out the clanking of chains, first from far off, then from close by. Soon there appeared a phantom, an old man, emaciated and filthy, with a long beard and unkempt hair. He wore shackles on his legs and chains on his wrists, shaking them as he walked. And so the inhabitants of this house spent many dreadful nights lying awake in fear. Illness and eventually death overtook them through lack of sleep and their increasing dread. For even when the ghost was absent, the memory of that horrible apparition preyed on their minds, and their fear itself lasted longer than the initial cause of that fear. And so eventually the house was deserted and condemned to solitude, left entirely to the ghost. But the house was advertised, in case someone unaware of the evil should wish to buy or rent it. 
“There came to Athens the philosopher Athenodorus. He read the advertisement, and when he heard the low price, he was suspicious and made some inquiries. He soon learned the whole story and, far from being deterred, was that much more interested in renting the place. When evening began to fall, he requested a bed for himself to be set up in the front of the house, and he asked for some small writing tablets, a stylus, and a lamp. He sent all his servants to the back of the house, and concentrated his mind, eyes, and hand on his writing, lest an unoccupied mind produce foolish fears and cause him to imagine he saw the ghost he had already heard so much about. “At first, as usual, there was only the night silence. Then came the sound of iron clashing, of chains clanking; yet Athenodorus did not raise his eyes or put down his stylus. Instead he concentrated his attention on his work. Then the din grew even louder: and now it was heard at the threshold – now it was inside the room with him! Athenodorus turned, saw, and recognized the ghost. It was standing there, beckoning to him with its finger as if calling to him. Rather than answering the summons, he motioned with his hand that the ghost should wait a while, and he turned back to his writing. The ghost continued rattling its chains right over the philosopher’s head. Athenodorus looked around again: sure enough, the ghost was still there, beckoning as before. With no further delay, the philosopher picked up his lamp and followed the phantom. The specter walked very slowly, as if weighed down by the chains. Then it walked to the courtyard of the house and suddenly vanished, abandoning its comrade. Athenodorus, now alone, plucked some grass and leaves to mark the spot where the ghost had disappeared. In the morning he went to the local magistrates and advised that they order the spot to be excavated, which they did. Bones were found, entwined with chains – bones that the body, rotted by time and earth, had left bare and corroded by the chains. These bones were gathered and given a public burial. After these rites had been performed, the house was no longer troubled by spirits....”
(translation by Deborah Felton, University of Texas Press, 1999)

If you find yourself in need of some basic Latin monster vocabulary this Halloween, monstrum and belua will suffice.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Augustus' "cupboard under the stairs"...

This week my upper level Latin students are working through the beginning sections of Suetonius' Divus Augustus, (a.k.a. The Life of Augustus). Suetonius is rather more difficult for them than Augustus' own Res Gestae, which we read during the first half of the semester. But he provides a more compelling read, with his sometimes tabloid-esque narrative, than Augustus does in his ledger-like account of his accomplishments.

As we have arrived at that time of year when the supernatural lurks about with witches, werewolves and ghosts, I thought I would share a short passage about a supernatural phenomenon from the beginning of the Divus Augustus that we are reading in class tomorrow. It's a nice passage that illustrates Suetonius' style and methodology well, and the power of place in the Roman (and Greek) world.

Div. Aug. 6: "A room, very small and like a storage closet in appearance, where [Augustus] was raised in his grandfather's villa near Velitrae is still displayed, and it is believed locally that he was born there. To enter this place, except as required and then in a pious manner, is a religious offense, according to a long-held belief a certain dreadful terror is inflicted upon those coming to the room by chance, and this has now been confirmed. For when the new owner of the villa, whether by chance or to test the rumors, proceeded to bed down in that room, it happened that a few hours into the night he was discovered, and with his covers as well, almost half-dead in front of the doors, having been thrown from the room by a sudden invisible force." (My translation based on the text from The Latin Library)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Res Gestae 22: Augustus' Gladiatorial Shows

My upper level Latin students have been working through Augustus' Res Gestae (RG) and Suetonius Divus Augustus this fall. We've finished with the RG and started in on Suetonius with a quick read through his Divus Iulius in English translation. The development of gladiatorial spectacles from Julius Caesar to Augustus is quite important in the transformation of such spectacles from funerary displays to public entertainments. In 65 B.C.E. Caesar staged extravagant gladiatorial combats in honor of his father, who had died in 85 B.C.E.. Suetonius (Div. Iul. 10) reports that Caesar had brought so many gladiators to Rome causing his enemies to fear for their safety that a limit was imposed on the number of gladiators that could be used in a spectacle. Augustus himself imposed further limitations on the number of gladiators, but we see that he must have made exceptions to these limits when staging spectacles himself or on behalf of his heirs. Although limitations were being placed on the number of gladiators, the first permanent amphitheater was constructed in 29 B.C.E. by Statilius Taurus, one of Augustus' most successful generals.
In RG 22 Augustus recounts the entertainments he sponsored for the people of Rome, including gladiatorial combats (munus, sing./munera pl.), Greek style athletics, chariot races, and animal hunts. Approximately 10,000 gladiators fought in eight different show, an extremely high number per show no matter how the math is worked out in light of the restrictions that had been placed on the number of gladiators. Presumably Augustus staged at least some of his spectacles in the amphitheater of Statilius Taurus, but this passage suggests that there were other, temporary amphitheaters available as well. A.Cooley (Res Gestae Divi Augusti (2009) 203) identifies four of the five gladiatorial spectacles as follows:
  • 16 B.C.E. as part of the rededication of the Temple of Quirinus.
  • 12 B.C.E. as part of the Quinquatria, a festival in honor of the goddess Minerva, in the name of his grandsons Gaius and Lucius.
  • 7 B.C.E. in memory of Agrippa, possibly in the name of Gaius and Lucius.
  • 6 C.E. in memory of Drusus the Elder in the name of his grandsons Germanicus and Claudius.

Here's what Augustus has to say in Res Gestae 22:
"Three times I gave gladiatorial shows in my own name and five times in the name of my sons or grandsons; approximately 10,000 men fought in these shows. Twice I offered the people spectacles of athletes invited from every part of the empire in my own name and for a third time in the name of my grandson. Four times I celebrated games in my own name, twenty-three times more on behalf of other magistrates. As head of the college, together with M. Agrippa, I celebrated the secular games for the College of Fifteen in the consulship of C. Furnius and C. Silanus (17 B.C.E.). In my thirteenth consulship (2 B.C.E.), I first celebrated the games of Mars, which afterward in following years the consuls held successively by senatorial decree and by law. In my own name or in the name of my sons or grandsons, I sponsored hunts of animals from Africa twenty-six times for the people in the circus, in the forum or in amphitheaters, in which approximately 3,500 animals were killed." (My translation.)
And the Latin:
"Ter munus gladiatorium dedi meo nomine et quinquiens filiorum meorum aut nepotum nomine, quibus muneribus depugnaverunt hominum circiter decem millia. Bis athletarum undique accitorum spectaculum populo praebui meo nomine et tertium nepotis mei nomine. Ludos feci meo nomine quater, aliorum autem magistratuum vicem ter et viciens. Pro conlegio XV virorum magister conlegii collega M. Agrippa ludos saeclares C. Furnio C. Silano cos. feci. Consul XIII ludos Martiales primus feci quos post id tempus deinceps insequentibus annis s.c. et lege fecerunt consules. Venationes bestiarum Africanarum meo nomine aut filiorum meorum et nepotum in circo aut in foro aut in amphitheatris populo dedi sexiens et viciens, quibus confecta sunt bestiarum circiter tria millia et quingentae."
More to come on Augustus' gladiatorial shows as my Latin students make their way through Suetonius...

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Offered Spring 2013

Contact Prof. Christensen at if you have any questions.

Spring 2013

It's hard to believe that we are already looking ahead to the 2013 spring semester; it seems like we just got started on the fall semester! But the registrar has published the course offerings and next month students will start registering for classes and faculty will start ordering textbooks.

I had a relatively late change to my teaching schedule for spring 2013, but it's one I am very psyched about. I'll be teaching an upper level course on the Trojan War. This sort of course is not uncommon in classics programs and it's one I have wanted to teach for a while. I get the chance to do bits and pieces of Trojan War related myth in lit and myth courses and I always drag the excavations at Hissarlik and Mycenae out in my Greek civ courses, but now I get to spend an entire semester exploring the meanings and motifs of the Trojan War!! The trouble will be deciding exactly what I can reasonably fit in and what I will have to let go.

I'll also be teaching Roman civ and second semester classical Greek. I'm looking forward to both classes just as much as the Trojan Wars classes; it just has that "new toy" thrill at the moment!!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

On Using Twitter As a Course Supplement...

I'm relatively new to Twitter. I signed up for an account about a year ago in conjunction with my other blog on amphitheatrical and gladiatorial stuff, Amphitheatrum ad Infinitum. At the time I was rather short sighted and chose @amphinitum as my Twitter handle. I found that there are a bunch of great classics folks out there in the Twittersphere and I've learned a lot from them. (Liz Gloyn has compiled a list of "Classicist Women on Twitter" over on her blog Classically Inclined; anyone know of any other compilations out there?) I largely use Twitter to keep up with research and academic stuff, but I do have a few friends and family members who use Twitter and it's a nice way to keep up with them too.

I found that the was a lot of "news" worthy stuff on Twitter related to topics that I teach and decided that incorporating Twitter into my classes might be a nice way to introduce students to wider classics networks, public reception of classics stuff, and promote continued dialogue on course related material outside of class. I've also found that using Twitter has made me more conscious of my writing. Cramming what you want to say into 140 characters and maintaining coherency and some semblance of nuance requires some real thought sometimes! 

So I signed up for another Twitter account as @ProfChristensen, generated some hash tags for my spring 2012 courses, and away I went! Except my students didn't really follow. I had a small number of students who actively used Twitter already and they came along, I had a few more who had Twitter accounts, but hadn't used them in months, and they signed on too. But by and large my first experiment with Twitter was a not a resounding success. I have no doubt that it failed because I did not require all of my students to engage. I didn't and still don't want to incorporate Twitter into my graded assignment structure, so I don't really feel the need to make Twitter a course requirement at this point. This is not to say that Twitter can't work wonderfully inside and outside of the classroom and I've seen a number of examples of this (check out Prof Hacker for some examples like this one in a Shakespeare course).

I have not however given up on Twitter and the classroom. Instead this fall I am continuing to tweet class related tidbits and I have picked up a few followers. But I have also started collecting my tweets with Storify and have posted the links to these collections on my course web pages, so non-Tweeps can access them as well. So we'll see how it goes this semester!

If you want to see what I'm tweeting about feel free to check out my course hash tags on Twitter or the collected versions at

My ancient sports course tweets can be found with #CLCV2780

My classical myth tweets via #CLCV1550

My upper level Latin courses, in which we are reading Augustus' Res Gestae and Suetonius' Divus Augustus, get their tweets via #LATIN4610

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Migrating from tumblr...

I've decided to move Nescio Quid from tumblr to blogger. The main reason for the switch is that I find I have more to say and greater formatting needs than tumblr provides. Luckily for me, I haven't posted that many things on tumblr so I will migrate all my posts over here in the near future.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

PDFs of the Loeb Classical Library...for FREE!

The hot news this weekend among classicists in the Twittersphere and on Facebook is  that all out of copyright editions of the Loeb Classical Library texts are available for free at Loebolus. You can download individual texts or a zip file of them all.

For those who don't know, the Loeb Classical Library is a series of translations of ancient Greek and Latin texts. Harvard University Press (HUP) has been publishing Loebs since 1911 and they have a nice account of their history here. The series includes texts ranging in date from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey in the 8th century B.C. to the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation in the 8th century A.D. Each volume includes an authoritative edition of the original text on the left page and an English translation on the facing page. They are easily recognizable by their green and red covers.

Since 1990, HUP has been updating their translations. The older translations, which are available at Loebolus, often seem rather out of date and some of the texts were bowdlerized to remove potentially offensive material. This is especially obvious in authors like Aristophanes and Catullus who often used sexually explicit language.
Still the older versions of Loebs are a great resource for anyone wanting to read an ancient Greek or Latin text in translation or the original.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Planning a Trip to See the Wonders of the Ancient World with Orbis

Stanford has new geospatial networking tool, Orbis, that lets you calculate travel times, distances and costs in theRoman Empire based on data for the early 3rd century A.D. Think of it like Google Maps and Travelocity rolled into one.Prices and routes vary according to time of year and mode of travel, all of which can be selected in the Orbis dashboard.
I played around with it a little and decided to see what it would be like to plan a summer vacation travelling fromRometo see all seven of the wonders of the ancient world. I used the traditional list of wonders (see below), but our first extant list of wonders by Antipater of Sidon (late 2nd century B.C.E.) mentions the walls of Babylon instead of the light house of Alexandria:
"I have seen the Walls of rock-like Babylon that chariots can run upon, and seen Zeus on the Alpheus, and the Hanging Gardens, and the great statue of the Sun, and the huge labour of the steep Pyramids, and the mighty Tomb of Mausolus; but when I looked at the house of Artemis soaring to the clouds, those others were dimmed, <  > apart from Olympus, the sun never yet looked upon its like." (The Greek Anthology, 9.58; translated by A.S.F. Gow & D.L. Page, 1968)
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World:
  • The colossal gold and ivory statue of Zeus in theTemple of Zeus at Olympia(5th century B.C.E.)
  • The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (6th/4th century B.C.E.)
  • The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, burial place of Mausolus, King of Caria (4th century B.C.E.)
  • The Colossus of Rhodes (3rd century B.C.E.)
  • The Lighthouse at Alexandria (3rd century B.C.E.)
  • The Pyramids at Giza (ca. 2500's B.C.E.)
  • The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (6th century B.C.E.)
[Image via Wikipedia]
Since one almost surely would have passed through Alexandriato get to the pyramids at Giza, and the walls were in Babylon with the Hanging Gardens, using Antipater's list wouldn't make much of a change to the route. Not all of these places are available in Orbis, so I selected the closest point possible. In particular, for Olympia I chose the mouth of the Alpheus River, for Giza I chose Memphis, and Dura for Babylon. I also chose what seemed like the most logical route to me: starting with Olympia, jumping over to Asia Minor for Ephesus and Halicarnassus, then down to Rhodes, before crossing the Mediterranean to Egypt and finally heading east toward Babylon.
[Screen shot from Orbis of tour of the wonders of the ancient world.
[Screen shot from Orbis]
When planning these routes I chose to use the price list for travel by donkey. Under speed options I selected the slower means of sea travel for the cheapest route, but for the shortest and fastest routes I went wild and selected the private transport speed option!
Distance and time are pretty self-explanatory. But how much is a denarius worth in modern terms? Conversions from ancient to modern currencies are fraught with difficulties and most scholars will warn you away from such attempts. It is possible, however, to get a sense of how much one of these travel options would have cost by comparing known prices for common goods and salaries. The denarius was the Romans' most common silver coin. When the denarius was first introduced in the 3rd century B.C.E. it was the equivalent of 10 asses, small denomination copper coins, but in the 2nd century B.C.E. the denarius was valued at 16 asses, which remained the standard throughout much of the Imperial Period. At the beginning of the 3rd century A.D., contemporary with the data used by Orbis, a Roman legionary earned about 400 denarii per year. Living in Romean individual would have spent about 60-90 denarii per year on grain/bread which was the staple of the Roman diet (see an example of wages and prices here).  So a trip to see the wonders of the world would have been quite an expense for most people inRome.
Looking at the results, if you only wanted to be able to say you saw all seven of the wonders, the fastest route seems to be the best choice.  Not only is it faster, but probably much more cost efficient in the end. It is more than double the price of the cheapest route, but by cutting out an extra month and a half of travel time one could save on other travel expenses. Nowadays those expenses would be food and lodging, but in antiquity travelers frequently stayed as guests in private homes. Networks of friends, family, friends of friends/family provided room and board, but these often times included exchanges of gifts. There would undoubtedly still be times, on a trip such as this, when travelers would be compelled to rent accommodations and buy food, not to mention souvenirs.
Orbis is a great tool and lots of fun to play around with. It will be interesting to see how it develops and how people make use of it. I can also say from my own experience that they are extremely prompt and helpful when responding to questions.