Category: Pop Culture

Latin in the Simpsons

A surprisingly thorough account of Latin in the longest-running scripted television show in America: The Simpsons.



Over the past quarter-century, almost everything has been referenced on “The Simpsons,” and Latin is no exception.  However, no one has ever compiled a list of Latin references on the series, so here’s my catalog with commentary.

Probably the most famous Latin phrase in “The Simpsons” is the motto on Mayor Quimby’s seal, “Corruptus in extremis,” which appears in multiple episodes.  Quimby is infamously corruptselling the school’s milk contract to the Mafia, using taxpayer dollars to have his enemies killedso the intended meaning is obvious, “Corrupt in the extreme.”  The Latin phrase “in extremis” usually means “at the farthest reaches” or “as a last resort,” so this could arguably have the opposite meaning, that Quimby is corrupt only as a last resortthough no one other than Quimby’s press secretary is likely to spin it that way.

Read more…

Marginalia 4.29.2012

From my own personal Mt. Olympus (aka my living room), let’s take a look at the new and notable in the world of antiquity on-line:

  • Sortes Vergilianae & Sibylline Oracle for iOS! “This app provides to you the same opportunity as the Romans, except now it’s truly random: press a button and you’ll be presented with one passage from the Aeneid or from the Sibylline Oracles. What does it mean? That’s for you to decide, but if you don’t like it just press the “burn it” button to get a new prophecy!”

  • Ovid’s Metamorphoses & Art History (via The Guardian): “The National Gallery is putting on its show Metamorphosis to celebrate the two great Titians it has purchased in partnership with the National Gallery of Scotland. Diana and Callisto and Diana and Actaeon both depict scenes from Ovid. But if Titian was the greatest visualiser of Ovid he had a lot of competition. Such marvels of art as Correggio’s Jupiter and Io, Michelangelo’s Fall of Phaethon, and Carravaggio’s Medusa all draw heat from Ovid’s imaginative fire. The exhibition Metamorphosis, an Olympic special tied in with new opera productions, involves works by contemporary British artists – including Chris Ofili and Mark Wallinger – that respond to Ovid’s myths. The gallery is also publishing newly commissioned poems after Ovid by writers who include Seamus Heaney….”
  • David Bianculli talks “I, Claudius” on the occasion of its 35th anniversary: “The miniseries boasts impressive performances from several key British actors. Patrick Stewart, long before Star Trek: The Next Generation, shows up here. So does John Hurt, as a memorably unhinged Caligula. And the women, including Sian Phillips as Livia and Sheila White as Messalina, are deadlier, and even more fascinating, than the men. John Hurt (Caligula) and Derek Jacobi (Claudius) square off in the miniseries I, Claudius.Except, that is, for Claudius himself. Played by Derek Jacobi, it’s a performance that spans wide-eyed youth and weary old age…”
  • A nifty collection of podcasts about ancient medicine (via Love of History Blog)
  • Taylor S. (BMC ’14) reviewed Anne Carson’s memorable performance at Haverford last week.

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.”

Sophocles… that plagiarist!

h/t rogueclassicism

SNL: Greek Gods on the Greek Economy

In a sketch from a few weeks back, Saturday Night Live imagined the Greek gods trying to devise a plan to overcome the Greek economic crisis. May be worth a few chuckles…

“To Anacreon in Heaven” or a Star-Spangled Hangover

Does this tune sounds familiar? (video is a little lewd but mostly SWF)


“To Anacreon in Heaven” was the official song of the Anacreontic Society, a gentlemanly club of amateur musicians in 18th-century London.

Anacreon, a Greek lyric poet of the 6th century BCE whom Peisistratus brought to Athens with great fanfare, was famous for his poems on love and intoxication. His poetry spawned a slew of imitators in antiquity, who wrote in the voice of Anacreon or claimed they were inspired by his example. After they were rediscovered and published in 1554, these poem, or Anacreontea, inspired numerous imitators from the 16th through 19th century. And among these homages is “To Anacreon in Heaven.”

Here are the saucy lyrics:

To Anacreon in Heav’n, where he sat in full glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a petition;
That he their Inspirer and Patron wou’d be;
When this answer arrived from the Jolly Old Grecian;
“Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
No longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And besides I’ll instruct you like me, to intwine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

The news through Olympus immediately flew;
When Old Thunder pretended to give himself airs.
If these Mortals are suffered their scheme to pursue,
The Devil, a Goddess, will stay above stairs.
“Hark”, Already they cry,
“In transports of joy,
Away to the Sons of Anacreon we’ll fly.
And besides I’ll instruct you like me, to intwine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

“The Yellow-Haired God and his nine lusty Maids,
From Helion’s banks will incontinent flee,
Idalia will boast but of tenantless Shades,
And the bi-forked hill a mere desert will be.
My Thunder no fear on’t,
Shall soon do it’s errand,
And damme I’ll swing the Ringleaders I warrant,
I’ll trim the young dogs, for thus daring to twine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Apollo rose up and said, “Pry’thee ne’er quarrel,
Good sing of the Gods with my Vot’ries below:
Your Thunder is useless”–then showing his laurel,
Cry’d “Sic evitable fulmen’ you know!
Then over each head
My laurels I’ll spread
So my sons from your Crackers no mischief shall dread,
While snug in their clubroom, they jovially twine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Next Momus got up with his risible Phiz
And swore with Apollo he’d cheerfully join-
“The full tide of Harmony still shall be his,
But the Song, and the Catch, and the Laugh, shall be mine.
Then Jove be not jealous
Of these honest fellows,”
Cry’d Jove, “We relent since the truth you now tell us;
And swear by Old Styx, that they long shall intwine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Ye Sons of Anacreon then join hand in hand;
Preserve Unanimity, Friendship, and Love!
‘Tis yours to support what’s so happily plann’d;
You’ve the sanction of Gods, and the Fiat of Jove.
While thus we agree,
Our toast let it be:
“May our Club flourish Happy, United, and Free!
And long may the Sons of Anacreon intwine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

Lyrics: Ralph Tomlinson
Music: John Stafford Smith

Tariq Ali rereads Hesiod’s Works and Days

This week in The Guardian, Tariq Ali muses on the wisdom of Hesiod, which ranges from the value of an honest day’s work to the importance of a clean pair of underwear:

As Greek economic problems intensify, it’s worth remembering the first economist, Hesiod, a poet whose Works and Days was written against the backdrop of agrarian crisis…

[Read more…]


A Day at the Spartan Races

The Wall Street Journal relays the remarkable story of a 34-year-old air conditioner technician who is angling to win an unprecedented 14 “Spartan Races” in a single year. Not impressed? What are Spartan Races you say?

Details of each Spartan Race course are kept secret so competitors can’t specifically train for them.

Organizers force racers to do just about anything, including crawl through muddy troughs covered in barbed wire, jump through flames, solve puzzles, chop wood, carry water and learn Greek. It also helps to be very fast. The Death Race, the longest of the Spartan races, usually covers 45 miles. It lasts at least 24 hours, but has gone on for as long as 72. (Participants won’t know exactly how long until it’s over; they are given instructions during the race.)

The Spartan Race website has videos and more information. And look there’s a Spartan Sprint coming to Pennsylvania on September 10th. It’s only 3 miles! What would Leonidas do?

Spartan Sprint

Quick Links for the Start of the Semester

A number of interesting articles have come over my transom in the last few days. Enjoy!

  • “Do as the Romans did, then overdo it again”: inspired by the release of Centurion (has anyone seen it?), the Boston Globe looks at some classic Roman films and other projects on the horizon (CORIOLANUS directed by Ralph Fiennes sounds promising).
  • “Does Your Language Shape How You Think?”: this feature in the New York Times provides an accessible and balanced look at recent research on how different languages shape our perception of our lives. You’ll learn why a German is more likely to describe a bridge as graceful and elegant while a Spanish-speaker will describe it as strong and powerful (hint: grammatical gender), and encounter languages like Guugu Yimithirr, which lacks words for front, back, left and right and gives all directions using the cardinal points on the compass. Fascinating stuff and useful for anyone taking Latin or Greek–or any other language–this semester.
  • And, oh yeah, Odysseus’ palace was discovered on Ithaka: Greeks ‘discover Odysseus’ palace in Ithaca, proving Homer’s hero was real’ | Telegraph. Gold stars to all who can identify the questionable assumptions and logical leaps in this article, or head over to Rogueclassicism for the untold backstory.

Have a wonderful start to the semester!

Summer Reading: If Rome Never Fell…

Rogueclassicism notes several items of Classic-Con at, including this list of alternate histories (or speculative fiction) that take as their premise the survival of the Roman Empire.

Great moments in alternate history: the non-fall of the Roman empireFor example, there’s Jacek Inglot’s Quietus in which a Roman Empire that has rejected Christianity has steamships by the 8th century and goes to war with a Christianized Japan. Or James White’s The Silent Stars Go By, where the plans for the Aeolipile survive the fall of Rome and result in a starship launch in the 15th century.

Another great example is Frederick Pohl’s The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass. Conceived as a response to L. Sprague de Camp’s classic Lest Darkness Fall, (making, I believe, its third appearance in this column) Pohl’s story concerns a time-traveler who brings modern medicine to the Roman Empire, thus creating a population explosion and forcing a second time-traveler to relieve the overpopulation by going back and assassinating the titular Snodgrass.

Thomas Harlan’s The Oath of Empire series concerns an alternate Roman Empire protected by magic since the time of Augustus. The world’s magic is elemental in nature, and Rome — in addition to surviving past its original expiration date — creates its own peculiar culture and habits based around that magic.

Great moments in alternate history: the non-fall of the Roman empirePerhaps the most depressing possibility is that a world with an extended Roman Empire would end up as a world-spanning dystopia with no real advantages over our timeline. A prime recent example of this idea is Sophia McDougall’s Rominitas trilogy. In this series, the Roman Empire controls almost the entire world and has still not abandoned slavery in the present day. The world of Robert Reed’s Hexagons isn’t explicitly dystopian — however, his modern Roman Empire seems to be largely in decline and to has fallen behind against the still relatively simple technology of China and Japan.

A final, less depressing, and much more exotic divergence comes from Scot[t] MacKay’s Orbis, which is set in a world where the entire world fell to an alien invasion force 2000 years ago. The Romans, canny thinkers that they were, managed to steal some of the alien ships and escape off planet. In the book’s present, a rebellion arises on Earth and humanity needs the help of the Romans who created an intergalactic empire.

Send an email to David Daw, the author of this post, at

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