What Must Be Done By Whom?

Cato, Dicta 34

“Whatever fate hands to you to be done, do it seriously.”

Instanter facias, sors quae tibi tradat agenda.

I am in the odd position of having to write the agenda for 3-4 different meetings a month this year. And while preparing to write an agenda–ok, really, while procrastinating–I find myself musing about this word agenda. See, when it comes time to write more than one the Latin-trained pedant in me quails at saying I need to write agendas because agenda is already neuter plural.

(To be fair, agendas is another plural form, but it means something different.)

For those not initiated into the mysteries of Latin borrowings in English, agenda is the Latin for “things which need to be done”.

From the OED

Agenda OED

Sallust, 2nd Letter to Caesar

“Since I have, as it now seems to me, spoken enough about how the people need to be renewed and corrected, I shall speak about what I think you need to do about the senate.”

Nunc quoniam, sicut mihi videor, de plebe renovanda conrigendaque satis disserui, de senatu quae tibi agenda videntur, dicam.

Now, when I see this word and turn the Latin part of my brain on, I automatically think of that most elegant of constructions of obligation, the passive periphrastic. This requires a gerund and a form of “to be” and is periphrastic because its meaning is greater than one might expect from a simple understanding of morphology and semantics.

passsive-periphrastic.jpg

There are many famous versions of this, but tops are Horace’s Nunc Est Bibendum (“Now is the time to drink”) and Cato’s Cartago Delenda Est (“Carthage Must be destroyed”).

Image result for passive periphrastic explained
From Slideplayer

Seneca, De Otio 4

“What if the delay comes not because of the wise person—if the actor is indeed not absent—but what if there are no things to be done? Will you still allow them to pursue their own soul? What outlook does the wise person take in turning to leisure? Well, the thought that what will be done will be an advantage to generations to come. Our school believes that Zeno and Chrysippus achieved more than if they had led armies, gained honors, or made laws. The laws they made were for all humanity, not merely one state.”

Quodsi per ipsum sapientem non est mora, si non actor deest, sed agenda desunt, ecquid illi secum esse permittes? Quo animo ad otium sapiens secedit? Ut sciat se tum quoque ea acturum, per quae posteris prosit. Nos certe sumus qui dicimus et Zenonem et Chrysippum maiora egisse, quam si duxissent exercitus, gessissent honores, leges tulissent. Quas non uni civitati, sed toti humano generi tulerunt.

But what really gets me going when thinking about the word agenda is that the passive periphrastic takes a dative of agent. So, Horace’s Nunc Est Bibendum is general, but with a mihi could just mean “I need to drink” or with an istis could mean “Those jerks really need to drink”.

When I look at that solitary Agenda at the top of the page, I slip into a reverie–who must do these things? Am I supposed to? Am I enjoining people to help? Should someone else do it? Oh, then I go back to running the meeting. The real secret to surviving lots of meetings is being the one to start them and end them.

Seneca, De tranquilitate Animi

“I imagine that Democritus was thinking of this when he started, “Whoever wants to live peacefully should not do too many things in private or public” when he was thinking about useless matters. For if they are necessary, we must pursue not only many but even endless things. But when our solemn duty does not summon us, are actions should be restrained.”

Hoc secutum puto Democritum ita coepisse: “Qui tranquille volet vivere, nec privatim agat multa nec publice,” ad supervacua scilicet referentem. Nam si necessaria sunt, et privatim et publice non tantum multa sed innumerabilia agenda sunt; ubi vero nullum officium sollemne nos citat, inhibendae actiones.

Seneca, EM 85.32

“It would be articulated correctly, if the state of the wise person and the pilot were not different. The wise person’s job is not to do whatever life offers, but to do everything correctly. A captain’s job, however, is to lead the ship into port in any way possible. Skills are assistants, they ought to do what they promise. Wisdom is the mistress and ruler; arts are the servants of life and wisdom commands.”

Hoc recte diceretur, nisi dissimilis esset gubernatoris condicio et sapientis. Huic enim propositum est in vita agenda non utique, quod temptat, efficere, sed omnia recte facere. Gubernatori propositum est utique navem in portum perducere. Artes ministrae sunt, praestare debent, quod promittunt. Sapientia domina rectrixque est; artes serviunt vitae, sapientia imperat.

Bad Manners, Worse Quotations: Some More Fake Socrates

In this week’s Globe Magazine piece “Why Kids Today are So Rude…” by Nicole Graev Lipson, we find a pretty piquant line uncritically attributed to Socrates.socrates (2)

Surprise! This does not actually come from ancient Greece.

The earliest attestation of this quotation I could find with a google search appears in The Massachusetts Teacher, volume 3 (1923), but quote investigator traces this back to 1907.

Luxury 1923

After this, it begins to appear widely in educational writing after the 1950s. The phrase certainly has words that occur in English translations of Plato with some frequency (“tyrant, Luxury” etc.). But essential ideas of disrespect in the passage such as crossing legs or not rising to greet  parents are wholly modern.

I searched a bit through Plato and there is a chance that something like this is somewhere, but for now this seems to be total nonsense. Bartleby got to that point, but buried the lede.

luxury 2

It is disappointing that there was no fact-checking on this one. The Boston area just might host the greatest density of Classicists in the United States. How hard would it be to reach out to someone about Classical quotations?

 

h/t to the peerless .@professormortis for pointing this out

Don’t Borrow Money from Catullus…Or Rihanna

Editorial note: while you procrastinate for another few weeks on your syllabus, this guest post from Theodora Kopestonsky can serve up some essential inspiration.

When I listen to the radio in the car, I am struck by the way modern songs reflect the same concerns that we see in antiquity. Different poems come to my mind and sometimes, if my brain is really tuned in and I’ve been reading a lot of Latin poetry, I’ll start to translate the lyrics. U2’s One (1991) does this to me all the time… “Ūnus amor, Ūnus sanguis, Ūna vīta…”

This got me thinking about how to incorporate pop music into the classroom and led to a pedagogy article about Latin love poetry. Beyond romantic relationships, Latin (and Greek) poetry talk about many other relevant issues like violence, war, loss, and more.  Catullus, one of my favorite poets, also addresses a more mundane issue: lending money to a friend. In Catullus 103, the poet complains about Silus’ delay in repaying a debt.

aut sōdēs mihi redde decem sestertia, Sīlō,
deinde estō quamvīs saevus et indomitus:
aut, sī tē nummī dēlectant, dēsine quaesō
lēnō esse atque īdem saevus et indomitus.

Either give me back the ten grand please, Silus,
And then you can be a prick or whatever:
Or, if the money makes you happy, I beg you, stop
Being a pimp and be a prick again.

That’s a lot of money to trust to another person which explains why Catullus got so riled up and starts calling Silus names. Whether or not he actually lent the money or is just imagining a situation (which is very possible) is not important here. The point is the irritation and lack of funds at his current moment. Anyone who has given money to a trusted friend and then been burned can relate to the frustrating rage. I found that Rihanna echoes this concern more explicitly and violently in her 2015 song, Bitch Better Have My Money.[1]

Y’all should know me well enough.
Bitch, better have my money!
Please don’t call me on my bluff.
Pay me what you owe me.
………………
Don’t act like you forgot, I call the shots, shots, shots
Like brrap, brrap, brrap (0:11-0:19, 0:43-0:50).

In posturing lyrics like Catullus, Rihanna calls out her friend, threatening violence, if the money is not returned. The deliberate spoken words emphasize the frustration of the singer. If the sentiment is that same, why not try to echo it in Latin. So, of course, I did.

Nunc bene mē cognōvistī
Scelesta, mea tibi redōnanda est pecūnia
Mē nē iubē dēmonstrāre, sōdēs
Da mihi quod mihi debēs.
……………….
Nōlī assimilāre tē oblīvitam esse, indīcō
ictūs, -tūs, -tūs, -tūs.

The first line echoes Catullus’ language in poem 72.5 where he says he knows Lesbia (nunc te cognovi). Scelesta returns from Catullus 8.15 to act as the invective, though canicula or canis could also be used. This line and the title of the song also provides the necessary pejorative name-calling also present in Catullus’ poem. I used a passive periphrastic (redōnanda est) to show obligation for the return of the money. Stationing pecunia at the end of the sentence also then mirrors Rihanna’s original placement of money.  Imperatives in the next two lines express Rihanna’s demands. The short words create a nice staccato effect similar to the manner in which Rihanna sings. Constructing the negative command with nolle allows for a recognizable construction which eases into an indirect statement.  The use of an onomatopoeia for gunshots in English creates an ominous mood. In order to reflect the similar repetition and emotion, I translated shot as an ictus which implies an arrow or spear hit as seen in verse (e.g. Ov. Met. 12.74).

Jumbled pile of Roman coins
Roman Coin Hoard, Portable Antiquities Scheme from London, England [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D
The repetition of the shot and the sound of a strike is expressed with –tus which acts as an echo to the full word, but it also imitates the staccato of multiple projectiles hitting the mark or the recoil of a weapon such as a ballista after firing. Rihanna herself utilized syllable echoing at the end of a lyric in repeating “-ella” in her hit, Umbrella (2008). Moreover, the term ictus is used to indicate a rhythmic stress in poetry (or music) so it plays with the concepts already discussed (Becker). The repetition of me and mihi highlights the singer’s agency or role as it is highlighted in the original. Grammatically, this translation is deliberately straightforward (I am not a poet) but I think it is accessible for students of Latin still learning. Obviously, I’ve lost the meter here but, the placement of words and word choices can be relevant as I have shown.

While I did this as an example, just thinking about these transformations and translations can be really rewarding in or out of the classroom. It is a mental (or even class) exercise which challenges you to think beyond the Classical corpus. Why not give it a try or even ask your students to try? You can ask for song-poem parallels, simple translations done as a group, or more analytical reflections on composition. Stephen Kershner has provided excellent detailed guidelines on how to formally incorporate this type of Latin composition to a class. (He also furnishes a translation of Taylor Swift’s 2014 hit, Bad Blood.) Really, most songs can be converted into Latin, if you are willing to be creative. The process makes students understand better translation and word choices.

So next time you are in the car listening to the radio or reading poetry, maybe you’ll see a new connection. In creating and explaining adaptions, we all (students, teachers, enthusiasts) can learn a little bit more about Latin, our own culture, and the fact that no one likes late payment!

[1] Rihanna’s song is responding to a topic in rap music about pimps, but she is flipping the paradigm

Theodora Kopestonsky is a senior lecturer in Classics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where she is a supervisor for the Beginning and Intermediate Latin program. Her research focuses primarily on Greek religion and practice, Corinthian studies, and nymphs, but she regularly teaches Latin, Classical archaeology, myth, and ancient civilization courses. 

The Ninth Gate: Movie Hell

There are no good movies about books and bibliomaniacs. Occasionally, some lover of the written word will be featured as a character in a film, but the delight in books as aesthetic objects or repositories of wisdom or even simply as a source of pleasure is relegated to the triviality of being merely incidental to the plot. (In Beauty and the Beast, Belle could have easily been an enthusiast for anything other than books; indeed, their stories really serve only as a counterpoint to the boredom of her quiet and provincial life.) Of course, the truly bookish movie would likely be a total failure. Undoubtedly the topic lacks sufficiently broad commercial appeal to make it palatable for studio executives, and those who already have a pronounced proclivity for books would just as soon read a book about books rather than watch a film.

It was with this understanding that Joel convinced me to watch one of the most execrable films in our apparently infinite treasury of media products, The Ninth Gate. Though he live-Tweeted my reactions to the movie, I nevertheless thought it worthwhile to set down some more articulate and continuous thoughts on the movie and its relation to reading culture more generally.

The plot is straightforward enough, and even for one paying as little attention as I did, it is entirely predictable after a few minutes. Totally lacking in energy or commitment to the project, Johnny Depp plays the rare book collector (detective and evaluator?) Dean Corso. He is hired by the ultra-wealthy Satan enthusiast Boris Balkan to determine the authenticity of his copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, a manual written in the 17th century by Aristide Torchia or, as rumor has it, the devil himself. Though there are three copies remaining in the world, it is rumored that only one is authentic – that is, only one of them has the power to summon the devil himself.

Each of these books possesses nine engravings supposedly crafted by Aristide Torchia, but Corso learns in comparing them that three of the engravings in each copy are not only different from the corresponding engravings in the other copies, but are in fact the work of Lucifer. As you might expect, the owners of these copies are mysteriously murdered as Corso pursues his line of inquiry, and Corso himself is nearly killed a few times, saved only by a combination of stout plot armor and the intervention of a mysterious (and obviously supernatural) green eyed woman. No surprise, Balkan had the owners of the other copies murdered, and attempted after collecting the nine true engravings to summon the devil and pledge his loyalty to the dark lord, only to accidentally burn himself to death. Corso then locates the last authentic engraving and goes to carry out the ritual himself.

As a film, it’s a total flop. If Balkan were going to resort to murder anyway, why not just murder the owners of the texts in the first place? The pacing is horrible, and the fights are worse than what a few kids could stage with a cell phone camera and a YouTube account.

Corso’s growing obsession with the authentic book is the main thread of the thinly-worn plot, and it is in effect simply a re-tooling of the Faust tale. He is an expert book collector, and in the opening minutes of the movie we see that he is able to score extremely rare editions of coveted works with little effort. While Faust summoned the devil out of boredom with the earthly disciplines he had mastered and in order to pursue more knowledge, Corso becomes obsessed with the rarest book in the world, and the attainment of the goal leads him to the devil.

What this suggests about bibliomaniacs and book culture is clear enough. In an age where science has created weapons which could annihilate all of human civilization within minutes, the dread specter of occult knowledge still has a tenacious grip on the collective mind. There’s something about all of those old tomes bound in leather, with mysteriously horrific engravings and (most mysterious of all) their impenetrable arcana locked in the secret vault of a dead language.

I suspect that the cultural associations of Latin have much to do with its frequent recurrence in movies like this. Indeed, we may only think that the devil speaks Latin because he did such a damn good job of it in Marlowe’s Tragedy of Dr. Faustus. Perhaps it makes sense that, in an age when learned doctors were apparently eager to summon the devil, and when all learned doctors knew Latin, that the devil might find it expedient for his business prospects to trudge through a grammar or two. Nevertheless, the idea that Latin is uniquely suited to spells and incantations is in fact entirely arbitrary, a sheer historical accident. One would expect that the devil exists in a kind of supralinguistic state, but even then, there is no reason for him or his demonic posse to speak and respond to Latin beyond the fact that Latin was widely employed by the Catholic Church. I strongly suspect that in places which were under not just the spiritual but also the linguistic influence of the Greek Orthodox Church there is no strongly pronounced association between demonic communication and the Latin language. The sole merit of the movie is that the production team had the decency to use grammatically functional Latin, and not the strange medley of Latin-like words which one sees most frequently either on screen or inked to someone’s skin.

Yet, as I think over the movie, it occurs to me that it really isn’t about bibliomania. Corso hardly seems like an enthusiastic intellectual, and did not appear to do much reading beyond the strict requirements of his job. Moreover, Hollywood apparently conceives of rare books as things which are regularly manhandled by any interested party. Throughout the movie, Corso carries the book with him everywhere (even through the rain), and it is rarely handled without a lit cigarette and/or drink in hand. Even reasonably rare but uninteresting books put together by second-rate hacks are guarded more carefully than this in archival rooms, but the book possibly written by the devil himself can be carted around like the latest James Patterson you picked up at the airport. (Then again, they may be rough equivalents.)

And so, you have here a movie that isn’t really about books or book lovers, and certainly has no appeal for anyone who is into cinema. I only made it through because Joel put me to it and seemed to be amused by my criticisms, and his cat kept me more or less distracted for the last horrific hour. Maybe one day Hollywood will give us a movie about bibliomania, but for now we just have to settle for the devil. I’d rather read anyway.

2019-08-10_16-39-01

Aeriportus Virumque Cano: Trump’s Revolutionary War Airports

An ancient Roman fragment about Revolutionary War airports was discovered buried under a liquefied bag of parsley and several desiccated carrots in a vegetable drawer. Here is the Latin text that Trump translated and quoted in his Fourth of July speech. Latin transcribed by Dani Bostick. Translation by Donald Trump.

Nostri milites caelum complent. Partes arietis arietant.  Aeriportus occupant. Peragenda peragunt. Et in monte Capitrolino, per falaricarum cruentam lucem, nihil nisi victoriam habent. Et cum Aurora venit,  Signum Sideribus Splendens ferociter fluitat.

Our Army manned the air, it rammed the ram parts. It took over the airports. It did everything it had to do. And at Fort McHendry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came, their Star Spangled Banner waved defiant.

 

Fort_McHenry_1812.jpg

 

Bellum Incivile: The Democrats Debate

torch

 

Another text tentatively attributed to Caesar was discovered along with the fragments of the De Silvis and an appendix to De Bello Gallico. This is almost surely the lost Bellum Incivile.

C. Julius Caesar (?), Bellum Incivile. Edited by Dani Bostick

Almost one hundred Democrats who were seeking the consulship gathered to fight among themselves until only one person was left standing. The young candidates kept begging the old man, who was holding power for too long, to pass the torch of power to them and that his time was up; but the old man said that the torch could not be wrested from his grip because it was stuck to his hands like pearls to a shell.

While some of the young candidates were trying to take the torch from the old man’s clutches, two other men spoke Spanish words badly and a certain woman was purifying the republic with the torch’s smoke while saying over and over again that love, not plans, will save us.

While this was going on, Manicula warned Puppet Master not to interfere with the matters of the republic, but he said these things with a hatred for dignity in such a way as to embolden Puppet Master. For Manicula even said Puppet Master was an ally and very close friend, although everyone else had considered him an enemy of the people for a long time.

Fere centum Democratici consulatum petentes convenerunt ut secum depugnarent dum una reliqua esset.  Iuvenes senem, qui potestatem diutius habebat, orabant ut facem potestatis sibi traderet eique tempus non esset, sed senex locutus facem de manibus extorqui non posse, quoniam in manibus velut margaritae in conchis inhaereret. Dum plures facem a manibus senis eripere conabantur, duo viri verba Hispana male loquebantur quaedamque femina, dictitans non consilia, sed amorem nos servaturum, rem publicam fumo facis purgabat.

Dum haec gerebantur, Manicula Pupuli Erum monuit ne rei publicae intercederet. Quae odio dignitatis ita dixit ut Pupuli Erum confirmaret. Nam ipse dixit etiam se illi esse socium atque amicissimum cum omnes eum pro hoste diu habuissent.

Of Ice and Fire I Sing

This text was discovered inside the hollow of a golden branch. On top was written, Pius Aeneas hoc scripsit (“Pious Aeneas wrote this”). On a separate document was a message written by one P.V.M. that said, carmen tam horribile est ut cum inhumata turba vagari malim.” (“This poem is so terrible that I prefer to wander with the unburied masses”). An earlier fragment seems obsessed with a certain Ioannes Nix.

It is thought that after Aeneas encountered Marcellus in the underworld, he received poetry lessons from Vergil himself. From a close reading of this text, we can also infer that Aeneas met the disembodied soul of George R.R. Martin and saw a performance of Game of Thrones. Edited by Dani Bostick.

“And just as constipated infants contort their miserable
Faces but cannot manage to liberate their bowels,
In this way, Jon Snow with a worried expression,
Miserable, looks on the overturned city and kills the
Mother of dragons in a sneaky way with his sword. Then, the
Unhappy monster carries her body on his toenail into the ether.
Snow speaks with these words: “Love is the death of duty.”
But Dido gave herself a wound voluntarily with a sword,
This queen is dead because of herself; it is not my fault,
For I am remarkable in piety, but Snow rules
In no kingdom.”

Ac veluti torquent ora infantes miseranda
Crudi sed nequeunt compressos solvere alvos.
Sic Nix sollicito vultu eversam miser urbem
Aspicit et matrem draconum ensi necat furtim.
Tum monstrum infelix corpus vehit ungula in aether.
Nix tali ore refert: “Amor est finis pietatis.”
At Dido vulnus dedit sponte sua sibi ferro,
Regina moritur propter se; non mihi culpa est.
Sum pietate insignis, et rex; Nix regit nullo
In loco.

« Messire Lancelot du Lac » de « GAULTIER MOAP ». « Messire Lancelot du Lac » de « GAULTIER MOAP ».
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