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...