Category: Languages

Mnemonic for Second Declension Vocatives

Here’s the mnemonic diddy to remember the morphology of the vocative singular of the second declension (slightly refined):

“If it ends in -us, then the voc. sing. is ‘e‘,

otherwise leave it be, unless of course it’s fili

And a variant:

“If it ends in -us,

then the voc. sing. is ‘e‘,

otherwise don’t make a fuss,

unless of course it’s fili

Marginalia 3.25.2012

An exciting week around and about the World o’ Classics!

  • The Virtual Tour of the Acropolis “is an interactive website that allows various aspects of the historical site to be explored in a unique way. It consists of high-resolution gigapixel images and panoramas of the four main monuments – the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike – as well as a detailed photographic representation of the inner and outer ancient walls surrounding the hill, all accompanied by historical information and a descriptive map.” h/t Austin!
  • Via Boingboing: Lapham’s Quarterly has an interesting (and saucy!) “collection of rude and complaining messages left by monks in the margins of medieval manuscripts… Depictions of sexual consort are frequent, among men and women, among various species of animals, and enough other combinations to make even contemporary readers blush.”

Sappho: the great poet of the personal

Over at The Guardian, Charlotte Higgins ponders introducing her poetry group to the pleasures and challenges of reading the fragmentary poems of Sappho, the most famous woman poet of Classical antiquity:

What will I be saying about her? Well, to me one of the most interesting things about Sappho is the way she’s been read: the transmission of her works, and her reception. She was massively admired in antiquity, and her works were edited into nine books (ie papyrus rolls) in the great library at Alexandria. She was known variously as “the tenth muse” and “the female Homer”. She was a huge influence on Roman lyric poets: Catullus famously translated a poem of hers, Horace wrote in her distinctive “Sapphic” stanzas, and Ovid in his Heroides (a collection of poems purporting to be love letters by jilted lovers to their ex-boyfriends) has one by Sappho to her certainly apocryphal lover, Phaon, on account of whom she was legendarily supposed to have killed herself.

Now, hardly any of Sappho’s work remains.

There’s the rub. Yet, the careful work of papyrologists continues to bring more Sappho to light, as in 2004 when a new, perhaps complete, poem emerged:

In 2004, Michael Gronewald and Robert Daniel announced the identification of a papyrus in the University of Cologne as part of a roll containing poems of Sappho. This text, recovered from Egyptian mummy cartonnage, is the earliest manuscript of her work so far known. It was copied early in the third century bc, not much more than 300 years after she wrote (M.W. West. “A New Sappho Poem” TLS 6/21/2005).

Click here for more on the “New Sappho”.

The World’s Most Difficult Languages

A recent article in The Economist (“Tongue Twisters,” Dec 17 2009) recently tackled the question, “what is the world’s most difficult language?” English, despite its admittedly insane orthography, is quickly dismissed as “pretty simple: verbs hardly conjugate; nouns pluralise easily (just add “s”, mostly) and there are no genders to remember… English is a relatively simple language, absurdly spelled.” The complexity of Latin and Greek, although possessing more challenging morphology than English, likewise pale in comparison to other languages.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1563). Wikipedia.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1563). Wikipedia.

What follows is a whirlwind tour of the complexity and diversity of human speech: the tonal system of Chinese, the sonic complexity of !Xóõ, a “click” language spoken in Botswana, Estonian’s 14 (!) cases, or the 50-140 declensions (!!) of Tuyuca, a language spoken in the eastern Amazon basin.

All these delicious linguistic details, however, point to a more fundamental question: does one’s language shape and constrict one’s thought, or are the observable complexities simply superficial variance over deep structural similarity? I lean strongly towards the former, but read the rest of the article and decide for yourself.

A Random Latin Factoid

Latin could still function as the language of international diplomacy into the late Seventeenth Century. In 1689, Russian and Manchu diplomats signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk, which for a time demarcated the boundary between Russian and China. Because the Manchu forces had had two Jesuit advisors, the authoritative version of the treaty was drafted in Latin and then translated into Russian and Manchu.

Interpretation of Catullus 16 at Issue in English Lawsuit

The notorious first (and last) line of Catullus 16, inscribed in a sidewalk near UPENN

The notorious first (and last) line of Catullus 16, inscribed in a sidewalk near UPENN


If you’ve taken LATN101, Catullus 16 needs no further introduction. The vulgar yet clever poem is now part of a high-profile lawsuit:

In London, a poem by the first century B.C. poet Catullus has been the focus for lawyers trying to prove that investment banker Mark Lowe illegally dismissed one of his female employees. Mary Beard, the eminent professor of classics at Cambridge University, discusses the story with host Guy Raz.

Check out the NPR story or Mary Beard’s further comments on the poem.

Vox Romana VI

The Sixth Edition of Vox Romana, is a free bi-monthly podcast about all things Roman. In this edition:

1. Introduction (Hortensia) | 2. Classical News (Hortensia) | 3. The Roman Calendar part 1 (Saturninus) | 4. Plinian Rough Mix (Meredith Bragg) | 5. Aeneid (Anna) | 6. Sign off (Hortensia)

“Father of History” on the PR circuit

Herodotus and Robert Strassler’s new Landmark Herodotus took center stage yesterday on NPR’s “On Point with Tom Ashbrook” (program available in archive). No word on whether that inveterate Herodotus-hater Plutarch, author of “On the Malice of Herodotus”, was available for comment.

“Festina Lente” for the 21st Century

Jeff Bezos (of Amazon.com fame) has a new venture, a space company called Blue Origin, which promises affordable space flights. In a recent article in the Seattle Times about the unveiling of the secretive company’s launch vehicle, we learn that this cutting-edge firm has a decidedly old-school motto:

blue origin motto

Nuntii Latini

De Augusti Pinochet interitu

Diem summum denique obiit unus ex ferissimis dictatoribus Americae Latinae, cui Civitates Americae Unitae faverant.

Turcia et Unio Europaea

Die Lunae civitatibus Unionis Europaeae placuit, ut aliquot consultationes de Turcia in unionem asciscenda in posterius differrentur.


Fuglesang astronauta Suetus

Scandinavi iam suum proprium astronautam habent, cum Christer Fuglesang Suetus et Robertus Curbeam Americanus naviculae spatiali Discovery insidentes in spatium cosmicum emissi sunt.


Multi mafiosi in Italia capti

Custodes publici Italiae, dum duos impetus in criminalitatem ordinatam faciunt, amplius centum homines comprehenderunt.


De condicione fluminis Rheni (15.12.2006, klo 12.44)Sepulcrum S. Pauli inventum (15.12.2006, klo 12.44)Sollemnitas Sanctae Luciae (15.12.2006, klo 12.43)

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