Category Archives: Classics

Want to work on the Oxyrhynchus fragments?

In 1896 there was no way that Grenfell and Hunt could have guessed just how enormous their discovery at Oxyrhynchus would become. I was just speaking with a friend the other day about my surprise when I had just recently learned than only 1-2% of the Oxyrhynchus fragments have been assembled and translated. Now, Oxford is looking for help to speed up this process.  The article reads:

Now Oxford University is hunting for volunteers with a penchant for puzzles to help them speed up their study and decode the Greek letters.

But if the phrase ‘it’s all Greek to me’ seems apt, armchair archaeologists do not need to know a word of the classic language.

So what are you waiting for? Go help!


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The Reader

Tonight I watched “The Reader” on campus with a friend because the author (Bernhard Schlink) who wrote the book upon which the movie is based is on campus for the next few days delivering talks and reading from his other book(s). While watching the movie, I noticed that the edition of the Odyssey which young Michael reads (supposedly in the 1950’s or so) is actually Fagles’ translation, which was first published in 1997. Someone needs to fire the props guy. They should have spent the money to find a 1940’s translation of the Odyssey so that Classicists can’t pick out things like this.


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Friday is for Funny Words

This week I don’t have a particular word, but a funny exchange from Aristophanes’ Clouds, one of my favorite plays. Strepsiades, whose name is related to the Greek word στρέφω, which can mean to turn back and forth, to twist, or to guide (in the case of horses), goes to the The Thinkery (φροντιστήριον) to meet Socrates. One of the disciples answers the door and begins to tell Strepsiades about all the wonderful things Socrates spends his time thinking about, one of which is whether a gnat buzzes from its mouth or anus. The disciple tells Strepsiades that Socrates has realized that it is through the anus (of course, we’re talking Aristophanes here) that the gnat makes its sound and Strepsiades replies thus:

σάλπιγξ ὁ πρωκτός ἐστιν ἄρα τῶν ἐμπίδων.
ὦ τρισμακάριος τοῦ διεντερεύματος.
ἦ ῥᾳδίως φεύγων ἂν ἀποφύγοι δίκην
ὅστις δίοιδε τοὔντερον τῆς ἐμπίδος.

Then the anus of the gnat is a trumpet!
Oh thrice-blessed is his ass-ray vision(1)!
Quite easily would the one seeking to flee from justice escape it
who can examine the intestines of gnats!

(1) The word used here by Aristophanes has to do with looking at entrails, but is used to mean ‘sharp-sightedness’ here, poking fun at the fact that Socrates the lofty thinker spends his time discerning such things as gnat intestines. If you have never read Clouds, you really should. You could read it this weekend in one sitting and laugh your πυγή  off.

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Friday is for Funny Words

This week’s funny word is βρεκεκεκὲξ, a sound meant to imitate that of the frogs in Aristophanes’ “Frogs.” It is followed by “κοὰξ κοάξ” (ln. 209).

The chorus of the frogs is:

βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ
βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ
λιμναῖα κρηνῶν τέκνα,
ξύναυλον ὕμνων βοὰν
φθεγξώμεθ’, εὔγηρυν ἐμὰν ἀοιδάν,
κοὰξ κοάξ,
ἥν ἀμφὶ Νυσήιον
Διὸς Διόνυσον ἐν
Λίμναισιν ἰαχήσαμεν,
ἡνίχ’ ὁ κραιπαλόκωμος
τοῖς ἱεροῖσι Χύτροισι
χωρεῖ κατ’ ἐμὸν τέμενος λαῶν ὄχλος.
βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ.

Brekekekex Koax Koax
Brekekekex Koax Koax
Marshy children of the water
Harmonious crying of hymns
Let us sing, my sweet sounding song,
Koax Koax,
which we roared for Nymphian
Dionysus of Zeus
at Limnae
When the crowd drunk in revelry
During the holy feast of pots
Comes to my precinct
Brekekekex Koax Koax

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Friday is for Funny Words

This Friday’s funny word is my favorite Latin word: pullarius or “chicken master.” Cicero in his De Divinitate (On Divination) talks about the duties of the pullarius and his skepticism concerning the efficacy of their omens. In the morning, a pullarius would go out to feed the chickens in silence. If the chickens ate with fervor, it was a good omen. If not, it was received as a bad omen. One of the most famous instances of this type of augury in antiquity was when Publius Claudius Pulcher, during the First Punic war (mid-3rd century BC), sailed out against the Carthaginians even though the chickens did not eat with vigor that morning. He lost the battle (probably because the men were so frightened they were incapable of fighting well) and was subsequently exiled for his sacrilege.

Tum ille: “Dicito, si pascentur.” “Pascuntur”. Quae aves? Aut ubi? Attulit, inquit, in cavea pullos is, qui ex eo ipso nominatur pullarius. Haec sunt igitur aves internuntiae Iovis! Quae pascantur necne, quid refert? Nihil ad auspicia; sed quia, cum pascuntur, necesse est aliquid ex ore cadere et terram pavire (terripavium primo, post terripudium dictum est; hoc quidem iam tripudium dicitur) – cum igitur offa cecidit ex ore pulli, tum auspicanti tripudium solistimum nuntiatur. Ergo hoc auspicium divini quicquam habere potest, quod tam sit coactum et expressum?

My translation is thus:

Then he said: “Tell me if they eat.” “They are eating” responds the Augur. “What birds? And where?” He says, “A man brings the chickens into the birdcage and on account of this is called the chicken master (pullarius).” These chickens are therefore the mediators of Jove! And whether they eat or not, what does it matter? Nothing to the auspices; but because, if they eat, it is necessary that something will fall from their beak and strike the ground (this was at first called terripavium, afterwards called terripudium, and now it is indeed called tripudium [a favorable omen when chickens eat greedily]) – therefore when the food falls from the beak of the chicken, then it is said that the most perfect chicken omen has begun. Therefore how is this omen able to have anything divine, which is so forced and strained?

Come to think of it, tripudium solistimum (the most perfect chicken omen) is pretty funny too.

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A Perfect Example of Thucydides’ use of Preposition with a Genitive

Today’s “Perfect Example Of” comes once again from Thucydides’ Book II of The Peloponnesian War. This comes from an indirect speech of Pericles recorded by Thucydides. Thucydides likes to place between a preposition and its genitive another dependent genitive.

…λέγων τὴν ἰσχὺν αὐτοῖς ἀπὸ τούτων εἶναι τῶν χρημάτων τῆς προσόδου

My translation:

…saying to them that their strength was in the offering of monies….


So here’s a visual of what’s going on:

Thucydides does this elsewhere in Book I.32 where he has a preposition separated from its genitive by another dependent genitive:

μετὰ τῆς ξυμμαχίας τῆς αἰτήσεως

Which I translate as:

After the request of their ally…

Also, notice that Thucydides often uses ξ instead of σ in words like συν and compounds that have that as a prefix.

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Latin vs. Mandarin

Thanks to Darrell Pursiful who thanks the author at Rogue Classicism (an excellent blog!) for pointing out this great article on why it’s a good thing to learn Latin.

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Thucydidean Dating in Book II

In Book II of his Peloponnesian War, Thucydides gives us the date and time for when the Thebians invaded the town of Plataea. The way he goes about it, however, is interesting. He uses typical Hellenic ways of dating (the Priestess at Argos, the Ephor at Sparta, the Archon at Athens). But he works his way down from the year, the month, all the way down to the very hour at which the Thebans entered Plataea. Here’s a little outline of how he dates it:

1 He tells us his history is written in order according to the winters and summers
-γέγραπται δὲ ἑξῆς ὡς ἕκαστα ἐγίγνετο κατὰ θέρος καὶ χειμῶνα.

Now onto the event. It happened:
2. After the fourteen years of the Thirty Year treaty had gone by
-τέσσαρα μὲν γὰρ καὶ δέκα ἔτη ἐνέμειναν αἱ τριακοντούτεις σπονδαὶ.

3. Which was made after the capture of Euboea
-αἵ ἐγένοντο μετ’ Εὐβοίας ἅλωσιν

4. Thus in the fifteenth year
-τῷ δὲ πέμπτῳ καὶ δεκάτῳ ἔτει

5. In the forty-eighth year of Chrysis being Priestess in Argos
-ἐπὶ Χρυσίδος ἐν Ἄργει τότε πεντήκοντα δυοῖν δέοντα ἔτη ἱερωμένης

6. When Ainesias was the Ephor in Sparta
-καὶ Αἰνησίου ἐφόρου ἐν Σπάρτῃ

7. In the second-to-last month of the Archonship of Pythodorus in Athens:
-καὶ Πυθοδώρου ἔτι δύο μῆνας ἄρχοντος Ἀθηναίοις

8. Six months after the battle at Potidaea
-μετὰ τὴν ἐν Ποτειδαίᾳ μάχην μηνὶ ἕκτῳ

9. At the very beginning of spring
-ἅμα ἦρι ἀρχομένῳ

10. The Theban men entered the city at the first watch of the night
-Θηβαίων ἄνδρες…ἐσῆλθον περὶ πρῶτον ὕπνον

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