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 (]
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. 

A New Musical Papyrus

The discovery of a new and substantial musical papyrus lifts the heart even as it raises the eyebrows.  The papyrus under discussion first came to light in California in the 1930s but seems mirabile dictu to have attracted no notice since then; this brief editio princeps, it is hoped, will serve as a stimulus to the learned readership of Sententiae Antiquae in the elucidation of the papyrus’ history and its place in the fields of ancient religion and music.

The text, I claim, preserves the transcript of a magical ceremony, one that has few outright parallels but many mysterious connections to those attested in Greek Macaronical Papyri.  The ceremony seems to involve an officiant performing an unusual baptism upon a layman, whom the officiant addresses throughout (λῇς ‘you desire’ 4, 8, 19; λαικέ ‘layman’ 5, 6, πάσσ’ ‘sprinkle’ 13-16) with particularly hydrological phrasing (σεῖν ‘piss’ 2, τέγγ’ ‘drench’ 4, 8, 9, 19, βρέχομαι ‘I’m getting wet’ 12, ἅμας ‘water-buckets’ 14, 16).  Syncretism is of course to be expected in a magical document of this sort, but the combination of Egyptian proper nouns (Neith 3, Ailou 15) with Pythagoreanism (καλὰ δέκα ‘the beautiful ten’, 18) and cryptic references to the sacred chickens of Roman divination (5, 7) bespeaks a wider spectrum of cultural borrowing than usual.

Perhaps most mysterious of all is the single line of Latin text (17).  Bilingual papyri are “very rare”;[1] the present example, however, seems to be unique in preserving, via a second language, not a simple translation of another part of the text but a comment from the text’s author on the nature of the text itself.  (Peculiar as the ceremony seems, there is no easy way to include the material of this line within the narrative of the baptismal events.)   Here the anonymous author proudly proclaims to his readership the excellence of his text and, in coining a maxim on the topic of wasted effort (cf. γλαῦκ’ εἰς Ἀθήνας, “coals to Newcastle”, vendre des coquilles à ceux qui viennent de Saint-Michel), he defies anyone to improve upon it.

What to make of the brief notation in line 20?  Unless the digamma—in other words, two gammas—is some sort of code by which to identify the composer of the music (though I do not know of any such use of initials in ancient papyri), perhaps it is best, as the following translation assumes, simply to interpret it as a vocalized comment on the nature of the papyrus itself.

I suggest that the four brief lines preserved at the bottom edge of the papyrus are a sort of index, providing the incipits of other magical ceremonies, perhaps even ones with music written by the same unknown composer of the music under discussion.  But whether any papyri preserving these other ceremonies will ever be discovered, only time or more heuretic papyrologists can tell.[2]

I have said that this papyrus preserves musical notation throughout the text—and so it does; for certain technical reasons, however, I have been unable to reproduce the notation in this edition.  Even so, those who take the time to speak the Greek text out loud may find themselves uncannily able to reproduce the original music on their own.

P.Hollywood.inv.2019 H x W = 29 x 22 cm California, ca. 1937 CE

ἰούσῃ ίθ’ ἦρ, ἀν’ αἴσῃ αἰθήρ
ἰοὺ σεῖν ίθ’ ἦρ, ἀν’ αἴσῃ ναὶ θήρ
ίθ’ ἦρ, αἰθήρ, Νηὶθ ἦρ, ναὶ θήρ
λῇς καλὰ θεῷ τέγγ’ ὄφ
ἰοὺ λαικὲ ποτητὼ ἄναι λαικέ ποτ’ ἄτω                                               5
ἰοὺ λαικὲ τομὴ θῶ; ἄναι λαικὲ τομὰ θῶ;
ποτητώ ποτ’ ἄτω τομὴ θῶ; τομὰ θῶ;
λῇς καλὰ θεῷ τέγγ’ ὄφ
βάτω ἰφύι καλὰ θεῷ τέγγ’ ὀφθὲν
νοῦ ἱμάς τε πάρ τε                                                                                 10
ἀνδῶ ἰφύι ἐφ’ ἧπαρ τεθὲν
θάττομαί τε βρέχομαι ἄρτε
σὼ ἶφι ἰοὺ λαικὲ πάσσ’ ἡμᾶς
ἄναι λαικὲ πάσσ’ ἅμας
Αἴλου ἦρ πάσσ’ ἡμᾶς                                                                              15
ἦν γ’ ἔφα πάσσ’ ἅμας
βῆτα καλὰ δέκα λίγγ’ ὂφ ὄφ
λῇς καλὰ θεῷ τέγγ’ ὄφ
Ϝ                                                                                                                  20
ἰδεῖν Νέσσος ᾖρ’· ἐλεήσω;
ἀλλά, Φύσι, τοὺς τῇ
ὦ αἶγά τε πλήν τι ἄνα τήν
ᾤμην ἔρριφα


Go, spring, for the lady who goes; heaven is upon destiny.
Whoopie! Piss! Go, spring! Yes, a wild animal is upon destiny!
Go, spring, heaven! Neith, spring, yes, a wild animal!
You desire beautiful things for the god; drench, ah!

Whoopie, layman! Two birds (fulfillments, layman!) were finally insatiate!
Whoopie, layman! Cutting; shall I set (it)? Fulfillments, layman! Shall I set sharp things?
Two birds were finally insatiate! Cutting; shall I set it? Shall I set sharp things?
You desire beautiful things for the god; drench, ah!

Let beautiful things go to the eyebrow; drench for the god what was seen;
both the mind-strap and together
Let me bind on the eyebrow what was put on the liver,
and I sit for myself; I’m getting wet, bread!

Your pair with strength: whoopie, layman! Besprinkle us!
Fulfillments, layman! Besprinkle the water-buckets!
The spring in Ailou; besprinkle us!
I said, he/she said, “Besprinkle the water-buckets.”
I speak via strength! I know! You would add some egg to the nests!
B, the beautiful ten, twang, ah, ah!


Nessus denied that he had seen (it); shall I pity (him)?
But, Nature, those (in) the
Oh, both the goat, only something along the
I thought, I have thrown

[1] Idunno, Oracles, Curses, and Risk among the Ancient Greeks (2007) 45.

[2] See Zeitschrift für papyrologische Enttaüschungen 36 (1979) 75-76.

File:Organist and horn player, the gladiator mosaic at the Roman villa in Nennig, Germany (9291661708).jpg
Organist and horn player, the gladiator mosaic at the Roman villa in Nennig, Germany

N.B. The papyrus under discussion may not be real.  This post is brought to you by Christopher Brunelle (@BrunelleMN), who taught Classics for decades and prefers Ovid to Vergil. Don’t you?

“Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down” in Ancient Greek

A student recently asked me how to say “don’t let the bastards grind you down” in Greek (and in my head I changed it to the ‘variant’ “wear you down”). I think the request stems either from the rather famous fake Latin illegitimi non carborundum or the appearance of the only slightly less problematic. Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum in Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Whatever the provenance of this question, it distracted me.

There are various Greek verbs and constructions one could use: prohibitive subjunctive or 2nd person imperative; third person imperative; impersonal constructions of obligation (δεῖ/χρή). The verbal adjective (to imitate the fake Latin Passive periphrastic seems unwieldy.

Someone also suggested a future wish construction:

1. I got hooked on the idea of bastards being burdensome, so here are some prohibitives and imperatives plurals playing with the root akhthos:

ἄγε δὴ μὴ ἄχθῃ νόθοις
ἄγετε δὴ μὴ ἄχθησθε νόθοις

ἄγε δὴ μὴ ἄχθῃ νόθοις
ἄγετε δὴ μὴ ἄχθεσθε νόθοις

2. Some third person imperatives

μὴ νόθοι ὑμῶν ἄχθοι ἔστων

I used the genitive here based on the usage in the Iliad: ἀλλ’ ἧμαι παρὰ νηυσὶν ἐτώσιον ἄχθος ἀρούρης, 18;104.

Here are some other verbs which might work:

μὴ νόθοι ὑμᾶς λυπέντων
μὴ νόθοι ὑμᾶς ἐπιτριβέντων
μὴ νόθοι ὑμᾶς δακνόντων
μὴ νόθοι ὑμᾶς ὁχλέντων

Another fine suggestion from twitter was to use ἐπιτρίβειν (as I did above). I think we could use the verb ἐάω + infinitive, but that construction is not as common, I think, as prohibitives and third person imperatives.

μὴ ἐᾶτε νόθους ὑμᾶς ἐπιτρίβειν

3. Impersonal/obligative constructions

οὐ δεῖ/ χρὴ τοὺς νόθους ὑμᾶς λυπεῖν
οὐ δεῖ/ χρὴ τοὺς νόθους ὑμᾶς ἐπιτρίβειν
οὐ δεῖ/ χρὴ τοὺς νόθους ὑμᾶς δάκνειν
οὐ δεῖ/ χρὴ τοὺς νόθους ὑμᾶς ὀχλεῖν

4. Wish

εἴθε μὴ οἱ νόθοι ὑμᾶς ἐπιτριβεῖεν* [ἐπιτριβοῖεν]

*this form occurs in Lucian

And a variant from the ever ready Armand D’Angour (in iambic trimeter, no less)

An object clause of effort variant:

5. Another idiom I like

μὴ νόθους χάλεπως φέρετε
μὴ νόθους χάλεπως φέρητε

A few grammatical notes:

Tense: for the imperatives and infinitives I have stayed with the present tense forms to express a durative or progressive ongoing resistance against bastards getting one down. I do think that the aorist could be substituted gnomically to express the timeless truth of the necessity of avoiding the burden of bastards.

Number: I have also mostly used the 2nd person plural in Greek. Although I think that if this were actually an archaic Greek sentiment it would likely use the second person singular to express something of an intimacy with the recipient, I wanted to keep it plural for general applicability in English.

Particles: Most of the statements above have insufficient flavoring for Ancient Greek. I kept the common ἄγε δή for strengthening commands, but I think there is probably more I could do.

There has been some uncertainty about my obsession with the ancient nothos (“bastard”) and some fine suggestions for other nouns. Beyond the fact that I like the Greek word, nothos does function metaphorically in ancient Greek as “spurious” or “illegitimate”.

Image result for medieval manuscript bastards
A royal bastard

How Do You Say Trick-Or-Treat in Latin and Greek?

from Last year, an important thread.

Send me more languages and more suggestions and I will add them.

Latin — Aut dulcia aut dolum

Modern Greek: φάρσα ή κέρασμα

Ancient Greek: δόλος ἢ μισθός (see below for citation)

I prefer: δόλος ἢ δῶρον (but will take some suggestion for candy or sweet)

But what I really like is δόλος ἢ ξείνιον because I think Odysseus is the original trick(ster)-treater.

Odyssey 9.174-76

‘After I arrive, I will test these men, whoever they are,
Whether they are arrogant and wild, unjust men
Or kind to guests with a godfearing mind.”

ἐλθὼν τῶνδ’ ἀνδρῶν πειρήσομαι, οἵ τινές εἰσιν,
ἤ ῥ’ οἵ γ’ ὑβρισταί τε καὶ ἄγριοι οὐδὲ δίκαιοι,
ἦε φιλόξεινοι, καί σφιν νόος ἐστὶ θεουδής.’

9.229: “So that I might see him and whether he will give me guest gifts”
ὄφρ’ αὐτόν τε ἴδοιμι, καὶ εἴ μοι ξείνια δοίη.

9.406 “Really, is no one killing you by trick or by force?
ἦ μή τίς σ’ αὐτὸν κτείνει δόλῳ ἠὲ βίηφι;’

9.408 “Friends, No one is killing me with trick or force.”
‘ὦ φίλοι, Οὖτίς με κτείνει δόλῳ οὐδὲ βίηφιν.’

14.330 “absent already for a while, either openly or secretly”
ἤδη δὴν ἀπεών, ἢ ἀμφαδὸν ἦε κρυφηδόν.

cf.  Dutch “treats or your life”

There is this too:


Image result for Ancient GReek odysseus in disguise


Facebook: How do you say trick or trick in Latin?

Euthyphro: How DO you say “trick or treat” in Latin?

Socrates: I’ve sometimes used “Aut dulcia aut dolum!”

Sententiae Antiquae Working on it…

Ion: ‘Dolus donumve’ or indeed ‘dolus nisi donum’

Thrasymachus: While I like the alliteration, I don’t think *donum* works here.

As a “trick”—in this sense—isn’t really a deceit (more like a joke), and as the “treat” is something trifling (not a *gift*, which carries a sense of formality), I am wondering on something like “nugas nucesve,” “jests or nuts.”

While nuces were strewn at wedding and festivals (I’m thinking of the throwing of small bits of candy at bar mitzvahs, etc.), they were also children’s playthings, which captures, I think the idea of “treat,” as something given informally, even anonymously, and without expectation of return

You need the accusative, not the nominative.

Cratylus:  Dulcia aut ludos?

Fronto’s Writing Advice to Aurelius: One Thought Should Follow Through to the Next

Fronto Laudes Fumi et Pulveris [Ambr 249 Caesari suo Fronto. [139 a.d.]]

“Many of my readers may perhaps hate my subject from the title because it is impossible for anything serious to be made of smoke and dust. But you, thanks to your outstanding intelligence, will judge whether these words are wasted or put well.

The subject does, however, seem to ask for a few things to be written about the logic of its composition, since nothing written of this kind of thing noble enough in the Roman tongue exists except for what poets touch in comedies or farces. Anyone who tests himself at writing of this kind will select a mass of ideas and put them together closely, joining them cleverly, but without including many useless and doubled words and then make sure to end each sentence with clarity and skill.

In legal speeches, however, it goes differently because we often pay special attention to sentences ending harshly and artlessly. In this matter, we must labor differently so that nothing is left rude and out of place, instead making sure that everything is interconnected as in a robe with clear borders and ornate edges. Finally, just as the final verses in epigrams should have some kind of shine to them, a sentence should be ended with some kind of a clasp or brooch.

Pleasing the audience, however, should pursued among the first goals. For this kind of address is not composed for defense in a capital trial nor to advocate for the passing of a law, nor to exhort an army, nor to enrage a mass of people, but for delights and pleasure. Nevertheless, we must speeches we do about serious and wonderful things—the small matters must be compared and equaled to great ones. And, finally, the greatest virtue in this kind of speech is the conceit of seriousness. Stories of the gods or heroes should be interwoven where they fit. At he same time, lines of poetry which pertain applicable proverbs, and even clever fictions, as long as the fiction is added by some kind of clever argument.

The chief challenge, then, is to order the materials so that their presentation has a logical connection. This is what Plato faults Lysias for in the Phaedrus, that he has combined his thoughts so carelessly that the first one could be exchanged with the last without any kind of loss. We can only escape this danger if we organize our thoughts in categories so that we do not mix them in an indiscriminate and disordered way like those mixed dishes, but instead arrange it so that the preceding idea reaches into the next one and then shares its boundary, where the second thought begins where the first one has ended, and a sequence emerges in this way, so that we seem to step rather than jump along our way.”

Plerique legentium forsan rem de titulo contemnant, nihil <enim> serium , potuisse fieri de fumo et pulvere: tu pro tuo excellenti ingenio profecto existimabis lusa sit opera4ista an locata. 2. Sed res poscere videtur de ratione scribendi pauca praefari, quod nullum huiuscemodi scriptum Romana lingua extat satis nobile, nisi quod poetae in comoediis vel atellanis adtigerunt. Qui se eiusmodi rebus scribendis exercebit, crebras sententias conquiret, easque dense conlocabit et subtiliter coniunget, Ambr. neque verba multa geminata supervacanea | in-ferciet; tum omnem sententiam breviter et scite concludet. Aliter in orationibus iudiciariis, ubi sedulo curamus ut pleraeque sententiae durius interdum et incautius1finiantur. Sed contra istic laborandum est, ne quid inconcinnum et hiulcum relinquatur, quin omnia ut in tenui veste oris detexta et revimentis sint cincta. Postremo, ut novissimos in epigrammatis versus habere oportet aliquid luminis, sententia clavo aliquo vel fibula terminanda est.

In primis autem sectanda est suavitas. Namque hoc genus orationis non capitis defendendi nec suadendae legis nec exercitus hortandi nec inflammandae contionis scribitur, sed facetiarum et voluptatis.Ubique vero ut de re ampla et magnifica loquendum, parvaeque res magnis adsimilandae comparandaeque. Summa denique in hoc genere orationis virtus est adseveratio. Fabulae deum vel heroum tempestive inserendae; item versus congruenteset proverbia accommodata et non inficete conficta mendacia, dum id mendacium argumento aliquo lepido iuvetur.

Ambr 247 4. Cum primis autem difficile est argumenta ita disponere ut sit ordo eorum rite connexus. Quod Ambr.ille | Plato Lysiam culpat in Phaedro, sententiarum ordinem ab eo ita temere permixtum, ut sine ullo detrimento prima in novissimum locum transferantur, et novissima in primum, eam culpam ita devitabimus, si divisa generatim argumenta nectemus, non sparsa nec sine discrimine aggerata, ut ea quae per saturam feruntur, sed ut praecedens sententia in sequentem laciniam aliquam porrigat et oram praetendat; ubi prior sit finita sententia, inde ut sequens ordiatur; ita enim transgredi potius videmur quam transilire.

From Roman de la Rose

“Can’t Hold [This] Back Anymore”: “Let it Go” in Ancient Greek, Part 1

The last few weeks–indeed, the last 18 months or so–have been generally stressful. So why not distract ourselves with a spirited debate about how to put “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen into Ancient Greek? This has been done before, but I find the translation generally uninspiring even if the performance is superb.

The following is the result of discussions at the end of a prose composition course. I considered trying t put it in meter, but unlike our friends in the UK, we don’t get much practice in this in the US. In fact, we don’t do much composition at all. (My sole experience was in a graduate composition course with the wonderful Hardy Hansen). The following is a work in progress. Please, post your responses, suggestions, complaints. But, please, consult the translation commentary first. Then, ἐρρέτω.

 ἡ μὲν χιὼν τῇδε νυκτ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ὄρει λευκῶς λαμπρύνεται·
ἐστ᾽ ἔτ᾽οὐδὲν ἴχνος τὸ φανερόν.
ἐν τῇ δὲ τῆς ἐρημίας ἀρχῇ
ἐμ᾿ ἄρα ποτνί᾽ εἶναι δοκεῖ.

ὁ δ᾿ ἄνεμος ὥσπερ ὅδε χείμων ἔνδον ἀναστρέφων ὀλολύζει 5
[τὸνδε] οὐχ οἵη τ᾽ εἰμι κατέχειν,
νὴ τοὺς Θεοὺς, ἱέμενή περ·

μὴ εἰσελθόντων·
μὴ ἰδόντων
ἴσθι ἐκείνη καλὴ κόρη ἣ ἀεὶ δεῖ σοι εἶναι.     10
κρύψασα τι μὴ ἔχε,
καὶ μὴ μαθόντων–
εἴεν νῦν μανθάνουσιν.

ἐρρέτω, ἐρρέτω
οὐκέτι οἵη τ᾽ εἰμι κατέχειν                                 15
ἐρρέτω, ἐρρέτω
ἀποτρεψαμένη μὲν πάκτου τὴν θύρα,
οὐ δὲ φροντίς μοι
τὰ [ύπὸ ἐκείνων] λεχθησόμενα
μαινέσθω ὁ χείμων,
ὁ ῥὰ ψύχος οὐδέπω μοι μέλει.                           20

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen,
A kingdom of isolation,
and it looks like I’m the Queen.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside 5
Couldn’t keep it in;
Heaven knows I’ve tried
Don’t let them in,
don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be 10
Conceal, don’t feel,
don’t let them know
Well now they know
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore 15
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care
what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway 20

[There is another verse and a bridge. So, some day, maybe I will post it…]

Some Notes

1. We considered ἡ νῦν/μὲν/ῥᾶ for the opening and καίει/λάμπει for the verb. There was division about the comparatively rare adverbial λευκῶς vs a predicative λευκή. Adverbial neuters were also on the table.

2. I suggested a genitive absolute here and am not completely convinced by the combination ἐστ᾽ ἔτ᾽ οὐδὲν ἴχνος τὸ φανερόν.

3. Originally students went with what I guess is a nominative absolute (ἡ δὲ τῆς ἐρημίας ἀρχὴ), but I was uncomfortable with the lack of syntactic connection, so I modified it. The adjective should probably be dative, but I guess we went for a genitive of description like the English.

4. We debated using φαίνομαι for the verb and βασιλὶς for the noun, but ποτνία carries a much stronger resonance with semi-divine power in the wilderness. Originally I had ἐγ᾿ ἄρα ποτνί᾽ εἶναι δοκῶ, but the elision is pretty severe. I took the current line from a friend on Twitter.

5. I was thinking about using κυλίνδων instead of ἀναστρέφων to recall Alcaeus fr. 326 (ἀσυννέτημμι τὼν ἀνέμων στάσιν/ τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἔνθεν κῦμα κυλίνδεται). But I like the use of the latter at Euripides Helen 1557 for a rolling eye (ἀλλ’ ἐξεβρυχᾶτ’ ὄμμ’ ἀναστρέφων κύκλωι).

6. There are many ways to do this. One clever suggestion altered the meaning a bit with ἄν μὴ κρύπτοιμι (but maintained the sense of Elsa as a dangerous goddess, cf. Calypso). Various impersonal constructions were considered.

7. This phrase was a little difficult. The student consensus was something likeοἱ θεοὶ εἴδονται μ᾽ ἐπιχειρεῖν, which might be better. But I wanted a concessive participle clause with an oath. “Heaven knows” is an English idiom which we just leveled out to “by the gods”. This might not be the best choice. We considered ἐπιχειρησαμένη/πειρασαμένη for the participle and both are probably better, but on a whim I went with ἱέμενή περ to echo Odyssey 1.6 (ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο, ἱέμενός περ·)

8-9. After considering other options, I went for the third person imperatives because they echo the Lord’s Prayer. I am conflicted about putting a subject in for the “they”. I chose not to.

10. We considered the imperative and infinitive: ἴσθι/εἶναι. I am not convinced that ἣ ἀεὶ χρῆ σοι εἶναι is the best way to do it. We considered ἀεὶ ἐσομένη and δεῖ.

14. I have thought this was the best way to translate “Let it go” for a while for a few reasons. For one, I think Elsa is really saying “fuck it” and that Archilochus’ shield poem best echoes this (5.4: ἐρρέτω· ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίω). Cf. Il. 20.349; Od. 5.139.

15-16. There are probably many better options for this.

17. οὐ δὲ φροντίς μοι: This is all about Hippocleides not caring. The δέ is not absolutely necessarily, but I didn’t want that previous μέν to be all solitary.

18. I went back and forth about this line, but if we are going to use οὐ δὲ φροντίς μοι in the previous, then, strictly speak, “what they are going to say” is a subject. I considered keeping it singular, ὅ τι ἐκείνοι λέγωσιν with the subjunctive for the indefinite clause.

19. I was distracted by what “let the storm rage on” means here. A student suggested θυμούτω, but I wanted something that was more externally destructive and out of control. So, I chose Μαινέσθω based on Il. 14.605-606 (μαίνετο δ’ ὡς ὅτ’ ῎Αρης ἐγχέσπαλος ἢ ὀλοὸν πῦρ / οὔρεσι μαίνηται βαθέης ἐν τάρφεσιν ὕλης·) For this form, see John Chrystostom: α′. Πολλὰ τὰ κύματα καὶ χαλεπὸν τὸ κλυδώνιον· ἀλλ’ οὐ δεδοίκαμεν, μὴ καταποντισθῶμεν· ἐπὶ γὰρ τῆς πέτρας ἑστήκαμεν. Μαινέσθω ἡ θάλασσα, πέτραν διαλῦσαι οὐ δύναται· ἐγειρέσθω τὰ κύματα, τοῦ ᾿Ιη-

20 For this, students suggested οὔ ἀμελῶς μοι φροντις περὶ τοῦ ψύχους. I don’t hate it. But I wanted something punchier.

There is a scholar in the UK who translates Disney songs into Latin and Greek much more competently:

Image result for Disney's frozen in Greek movie poster

How Do You Say Trick-Or-Treat in Latin and Greek?

The question of the title occurred to me as I dressed my children in their Halloween Costumes a week early (I have one Queen Amadala and one diminutive Darth Vader in my household. So, I asked twitter and Facebook and here are my favorites. In the spirit of inclusion, I have included the discussion below. I anonymized the names from FB because, while twitter is public, FB is not in the same way.

Send me more languages and more suggestions and I will add them.

Latin — Aut dulcia aut dolum

Modern Greek: φάρσα ή κέρασμα

Ancient Greek: δόλος ἢ μισθός (see below for citation)

I prefer: δόλος ἢ δῶρον (but will take some suggestion for candy or sweet)

But what I really like is δόλος ἢ ξείνιον because I think Odysseus is the original trick(ster)-treater.

Odyssey 9.174-76

‘After I arrive, I will test these men, whoever they are,
Whether they are arrogant and wild, unjust men
Or kind to guests with a godfearing mind.”

ἐλθὼν τῶνδ’ ἀνδρῶν πειρήσομαι, οἵ τινές εἰσιν,
ἤ ῥ’ οἵ γ’ ὑβρισταί τε καὶ ἄγριοι οὐδὲ δίκαιοι,
ἦε φιλόξεινοι, καί σφιν νόος ἐστὶ θεουδής.’

9.229: “So that I might see him and whether he will give me guest gifts”
ὄφρ’ αὐτόν τε ἴδοιμι, καὶ εἴ μοι ξείνια δοίη.

9.406 “Really, is no one killing you by trick or by force?
ἦ μή τίς σ’ αὐτὸν κτείνει δόλῳ ἠὲ βίηφι;’

9.408 “Friends, No one is killing me with trick or force.”
‘ὦ φίλοι, Οὖτίς με κτείνει δόλῳ οὐδὲ βίηφιν.’

14.330 “absent already for a while, either openly or secretly”
ἤδη δὴν ἀπεών, ἢ ἀμφαδὸν ἦε κρυφηδόν.

cf.  Dutch “treats or your life”


Image result for Ancient GReek odysseus in disguise


Facebook: How do you say trick or trick in Latin?

Euthyphro: How DO you say “trick or treat” in Latin?

Socrates: I’ve sometimes used “Aut dulcia aut dolum!”

Sententiae Antiquae Working on it…

Ion: ‘Dolus donumve’ or indeed ‘dolus nisi donum’

Thrasymachus: While I like the alliteration, I don’t think *donum* works here.

As a “trick”—in this sense—isn’t really a deceit (more like a joke), and as the “treat” is something trifling (not a *gift*, which carries a sense of formality), I am wondering on something like “nugas nucesve,” “jests or nuts.”

While nuces were strewn at wedding and festivals (I’m thinking of the throwing of small bits of candy at bar mitzvahs, etc.), they were also children’s playthings, which captures, I think the idea of “treat,” as something given informally, even anonymously, and without expectation of return

You need the accusative, not the nominative.

Cratylus:  Dulcia aut ludos?

Two Roman Notes of Encouragement for Procrastinating Authors

I suspect there are others are just like me right now, keeping busy and avoiding the start of summer projects. Alas, Martial’s words ring in my head every morning: “You will live tomorrow, you say? Postumus, even living today is too late; he is the wise man, who lived yesterday.” (Cras uiues? Hodie iam uiuere, Postume, serum est: / ille sapit quisquis, Postume, uixit heri, 5.58). Here are two Roman authors talking about writing and publication.

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 13-14

“Why do we need to compose work that will endure for generations? Why not stop driving to make sure posterity won’t be quiet about you? You have been born mortal—a silent funeral is less annoying! So, for the sake of passing time, write something for your use in a simple style not for publication. There is less need to work for those who study just for today.”

Quid opus est saeculis duratura componere? Vis tu non id agere, ne te posteri taceant? Morti natus es, minus molestiarum habet funus tacitum! Itaque occupandi temporis causa, in usum tuum, non in praeconium aliquid simplici stilo scribe; minore labore opus est studentibus in diem.


Pliny the Younger, Letters 10 To Octavius Rufus

“For the meantime, do as you wish regarding publication too. Recite it from time to time, then you may feel more eager to publish and then you may experience the joy I have long been predicting for you, and not without reason. I imagine what crowds, what admiration, what clamor then silence awaits you. (For myself, I like this as much as applause when I speak or read, as long as it shows a desire to hear me speaking). There is a great reward ready for you! Stop undermining your work with endless delay! When even this is excessive, we need to be wary of hearing the name of idleness, laziness, or even fear. Farewell!”

Et de editione quidem interim ut voles: recita saltem quo magis libeat emittere, utque tandem percipias gaudium, quod ego olim pro te non temere praesumo. Imaginor enim qui concursus quae admiratio te, qui clamor quod etiam silentium maneat; quo ego, cum dico vel recito, non minus quam clamore delector, sit modo silentium acre et intentum, et cupidum ulteriora audiendi. Hoc fructu tanto tam parato desine studia tua infinita ista cunctatione fraudare; quae cum modum excedit, verendum est ne inertiae et desidiae vel etiam timiditatis nomen accipiat. Vale.

Image result for Ancient Roman Book


Pliny the Younger, Letters 1.2

“Clearly, something must be published – ah, it would be best if I could just publish what I have already finished! (You may hear in this the wish of laziness.)

Est enim plane aliquid edendum — atque utinam hoc potissimum quod paratum est! Audis desidiae votum

(Re-Post with Updates) Happy Birthday in Ancient Greek

Here’s a re-post of thoroughly reckless speculation.

The following pursuit began a few years back when a simple realization came over me:


After tweeting in desperation last night, I awoke with a mission: to learn more about birthdays in ancient Greek (whether they observed them, how and what, if anything, they said). I sent some emails and then started in two logical places: a Greek phrase book and the Oxford Classical Dictionary.

H. W. Auden’s Greek Phrase Book provides a phrase for observing birthday sacrifices: τὰ γενέθλια ἑστιᾶν (1963, 44). And there is also a pretty awkward illustration of this when Priam and Hecuba get drunk while performing a birth sacrifice for Helenos and Kassandra in the temple of Apollo (they ‘forget’ their infants in the temple).

Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3rd Edition (s.v. Birthday): γενέθλιος ἡμέρα: The ancient Greeks celebrated the birthdays of some of the Olympian gods during the days of the month. Birthdays, according to this entry, became more significant along with ruler-cults and biographical traditions. The Romans seem to have celebrated birthdays from an early period.

Then the Homerist and all-around good-guy Erwin Cook told me via email that we know little about the birthday sacrifices held in the Archaic and early Classical periods, but he pointed me to Aeschylus’ mention in the Eumenides of giving a birthday gift to Apollo (8-9):

Φοίβη• δίδωσι δ’ ἣ γενέθλιον δόσιν
Φοίβῳ• τὸ Φοίβης δ’ ὄνομ’ ἔχει παρώνυμον.

Euripides also mentions birthday sacrifices (Ion 805): παιδὸς προθύσων ξένια καὶ γενέθλια.   Our friend, Platosparks, tells me that modern Greeks use καλά γενέθλια as a benediction, which seems like a nice derivation from the sacrifice. But multiple respondents have reported something like the following for modern Greek usage:

And recently, another twitter correspondent has added some modern and Byzantine twists:

All of which is good to know. Phrynichus tells us a little about the Athenian practice–but not enough (Eklogai, 75.1-3):

Genesia are not strictly speaking on the day of birth. Among the Athenians, the genesia are a festival. It is better to call them days of birth or birth-day sacrifices.”

Γενέσια οὐκ ὀρθῶς τίθεται ἐπὶ τῆς γενεθλίου ἡμέρας• Γενέσια γὰρ ᾿Αθήνησιν ἑορτή. λέγειν οὖν δεῖ τὰς γενεθλίους ἡμέρας ἢ γενέθλια.

But, as with many rituals from the ancient world, we know little about what they entailed and what they meant to the individuals who practiced them. The historian Appian gives us the kernel of the phrase ‘birthday’ (γενέθλιον ἦμαρ) as well:

εἰσὶ δ’ οἳ καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτὸν εἰσηγήσασθαι τὴν ἡμέραν θέσθαι τῇ πόλει γενέθλιον

Plato (Alcibiades 121c7) notes that all of Asia celebrates the birthday of the great King:

ὧν ἂν ἄρχῃ, εἶτα εἰς τὸν ἄλλον χρόνον ταύτῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ βασιλέως γενέθλια πᾶσα θύει καὶ ἑορτάζει ἡ ᾿Ασία• ἡμῶν

Lucian, Gallos 9.10 writes of gathering together to celebrate a daughter’s birthday: “Μίκυλλε,” φησί, “θυγατρὸς τήμερον ἑστιῶ γενέθλια καὶ παρεκάλεσα τῶν φίλων μάλα πολλούς• ἐπεὶ δέ τινά φασιν αὐτῶν. See also Hermotimus 11.12 for a daughter’s birthday feast.

But nowhere could I find an indication of how to wish good fortune on the birthday. We know (1) that a birthday gift was a thing; that (2) birthday sacrifices and eventually feasts were also culturally recognized phenomena. But no benediction was to be found. (which doesn’t mean that there isn’t one somewhere!)

So, using the Latin Felix Dies Natalis as a model (and the phrase γενέθλιον ἦμαρ from Appian, paralleled in the Greek Anthology as PlatoSparks notes in the comments) and choosing the neuter form to hedge as to whether this is accusative (in an absolute sense) or nominative, I decided to make it up myself (as Palaiophron comments, this is an anachronistic somewhat silly exercise, but once down the rabbit-hole….):

μακάριον γενέθλιον ἦμαρ [sc. εἴη σοι]
καλὸν (based on καλά γενέθλια)

Of the three, I think I like this combination the most: γενέθλιον ἦμαρ εὐτυχὲς
I also like the rhythm of this one: μακάριον γενέθλιον ἦμαρ.
But with the parallel καλά γενέθλια from PlatoSparks, perhaps καλὸν γενέθλιον ἦμαρ is good too.

And we can add particles for flavor and force:

εἰ γὰρ μακάριον γενέθλιον ἦμαρ!
μακάριον δὴ γενέθλιον ἦμαρ!


εἰ γὰρ καλὸν γενέθλιον ἦμαρ!
καλὸν δὴ γενέθλιον ἦμαρ!

To be sure, it is highly unlikely that any Ancient Greek ever said this. But no ancient Greek used twitter either. Any suggestions for improvement?

Or Youtube:

“Two Ears, One Mouth”: Some Greek Composition (in Prose and Verse and Latin Too!)

After seeing it tweeted more than once (and by some people I respect, some I don’t know), I have had Paul Holdengräber’s seven-word autobiography from‘s “The 7-Word Autobiographies of Famous Writers, Artists, Musicians and Philosophers” in my head for a few days: “Mother always said: Two ears, one mouth.” 

(The article features autobiographies of David Byrne, Don Delillo and Joan Didion too)..

I chewed its meaning over for a while and as I did, it seemed to me like the type of short, close-kept contrast a presocratic philosopher might employ. Without much rigor, I decided Heraclitus could say this.  I said as much to Paul over twitter, and his excitement at the prospect fed my own.

So I tried something deceptively simple, as follows

[Ἡράκλειτος γὰρ φησί] ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα

Of course, if we wanted to credit Holdengräber’s mother, we could always just write: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα

I made these choices based on (1) brevity; (2) style (separating the two nouns with the numbers in between, you know, chiasmus and all); and (3) antithesis. But I couldn’t help thinking I could do better. Or, more probably, that someone else could do better. I sent some emails, and put some open calls on twitter.

Our champion, the Fantastic Festus argues that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα

This gets us back to Paul’s seven words, but I am really uncomfortable with so few particles, so I put one back:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα

Some initial conversation regarded the interpretation of the English meaning and then moved to concern about the formal aspect of the translation

PIE Lexicon ‏@PIELexicon  1m1 minute ago

@sentantiq @ArmandDAngour How about reading out an idea that “(There) are two ears, but only one mouth” (i.e. much of said is not heard)?

Armand D’Angour ‏@ArmandDAngour  2m2 minutes ago

@sentantiq We have two ears for hearing, but only one mouth for speaking?

10:28 AM – 26 Sep 2015 · Details

Daniel Mendelsohn ‏@DMendelsohn1960  47s47 seconds ago

@sentantiq hexameters, perhaps?

10:28 AM – 26 Sep 2015 · Details

I must admit that one of the reasons I picked Heraclitus is that, unlike Empedocles or Parmenides, he is known for verse-like, ambiguous phrasing.  This means that I didn’t have to worry about meter. But Master Mendelsohn’s two simple words made me feel I was missing a real opportunity.

So I appealed to man I know has the ear for music and the proper training to do this up right. (Oh, he also loves limericks)–Armand D’Angour

Armand D’Angour ‏@ArmandDAngour  4m4 minutes ago

@sentantiq @DMendelsohn1960 ah I see! sorry to be slow – let’s see if we can do that in Latin, Greek, and English!

Armand, of course, came back with some English verse first that made me laugh aloud.

Armand D’Angour ‏@ArmandDAngour  18s19 seconds ago

@sentantiq ‘To grasp the Logos is not far to seek:/ We have two ears to hear, one mouth to speak’.

And, soon enough, Armand did not disappoint with his Greek elegiac couplet:

Armand D’Angour ‏@ArmandDAngour  28m28 minutes ago

@sentantiq @PIELexicon @holdengraber ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι· / τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

Literally, this is “it is easy to know the Logos and make it understood: Mortals have this [character]: one mouth and two ears”. The Greek elegiac couplet has six ‘feet’ in the first line and five in the second with a heavy pause in the middle.  The effect of the pause in this composition is to make us wait for the “one mouth, two ears” pronouncement. This is really well done.

I also like choice of Elegiac couplet–early in Greece, the couplet was used in what we today call epitaphs (whence the origin of the English adjective ‘elegiac’). I suspect that Paul will like the touch, given that he was eager to have his late mother’s words known. At the very least, I have taken these words to heart.

Note, as well, that he reverses the order of my ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα and eschews the men/de antithesis (which is something I read into the original lines). I don’t know if this is how Heraclitus would have done it, but this sounds almost like part of the Theognidea to me.

Any other suggestions? Any daring souls want to try this in the style of Demosthenes or Thucydides?

Of course, the inimitable Armand was not yet finished: he gave us a Latin Elegiac couplet too!

en clarum est rerum ratio, nam invenimus aures
esse homini geminas, os tamen unicum adest.

Since we have tweeted some of these lines, others have wanted to get in on the fun. Here is a tweet we received with a different attempt at the Latin:

illud (vera patet ratio) tibi mente tenendum:
auribus est geminis, unius oris homo

This version doesn’t have any elision and uses some fun grammar (for those learning Latin–passive periphrastic, genitive of characteristic…). Both Gerrit and Armand use the elegiac couplet in Latin too.

Any prose suggestions?

Coda: Twitter tales

So I put one version from above on twitter, and it received some positive feedback:

A strange and amazing thing happened later–the tweet was picked up by a writer of some eminence:

I have no idea where the ‘novel’ part came from, but if Salman Rushdie wants to consider this quote real, who am I to dispute it?

In reality, I considered this a tribute more to Paul’s mother than our poor forgeries, until twitter disclosed this bit:

διὰ τοῦτο … δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν, ἵνα πλείω μὲν ἀκούωμεν, ἥττονα δὲ λέγωμεν

“For this reason, we have two ears, but one mouth: so that we can hear more and say less.”

According to Diogenes Laertius, Zeno said something powerfully similar so many generations ago.

And, I suspect, the circle will only get larger: