This week, the Oxford Etymologist answers readers questions in his latest etymology gleanings.
Romans sometimes worried that you couldn’t tell enslaved and free people apart. By the second century CE, many senators were descended from Gauls and Iberians, Carthaginians, Greeks, and Syrians—the very peoples Romans had conquered as they extended their empire. So, was the Roman empire unusually inclusive? Or even a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic civilization? None of that seems very likely.
Roman civilization is one of the foundation stones of our own western culture, and we are often exposed in newspaper and magazine articles, books, and even TV documentaries to the glories of Roman art, architecture, literature (the chances are you’ve read Virgil’s Aeneid), rhetoric (we’ve all heard of Cicero), even philosophy. Yet in the late first century BC the Roman poet Horace wrote: “Captive Greece captured her rude conqueror and introduced her arts to the crude Latin lands” (Epistle 2.1.156). Did he really mean that Rome owed its cultural and intellectual heritage to the Greeks?
Glastonbury Festival, England, June 2019 AD: the spoken-word poet Kate Tempest performs her poems before a huge, enthusiastic audience. Panathenaia Festival, Athens, June 419 BC: the Greek rhapsode Ion performs the poems of Homer before a huge, enthusiastic audience. Is there a historical connection between these events 2,400 years apart? Western poetry had its beginnings […]
We have been telling stories about machines with minds for almost three thousand years. In the Iliad, written around 800 BCE, Homer describes the oldest known AI: “golden handmaidens” created by Hephaestus, the disabled god of metalworking. They “seemed like living maidens” with “intelligence… voice and vigour”, and “bustled about supporting their master.” In the Odyssey, Homer […]
Despite his foundational status in today’s academy, William Shakespeare was not particularly welcome in the early modern English universities. In the 1570s and 1580s, just as the commercial playhouses were gaining steam in London, the authorities of both Oxford and Cambridge Universities enacted statutes banning “common stage players” from performing within university precincts. Chancellors lacked the […]
In December and January, the ground, as we know from the poem about two quarrelling little kittens, was covered with frost and snow, so that there has not been too much for me to glean, but a few crumbs were worth picking up.
How much would you be prepared to pay for a library of forged books? In 2011, the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University acquired (at an undisclosed price) the so-called ‘Bibliotheca Fictiva’, one of the largest collections of forged books and documents.
Several people chuckled when they walked past Room 513B during 2009 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, held in Montréal. The title of the session within was simply “Idolatry,” held by the AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group Papers such as “Materiality and Spirituality Aren’t Opposites (Necessarily): Paganism and Objects” were presented. The nervous laughter at the session’s title shows that even among scholars of religion, topics of polytheism and idolatry seem quaint, antique, and even trivial.
From tales of Medusa’s wretched gaze turning men to stone to the cunning Sphinx torturing the city of Thebes, supernatural creatures and beings have long been a part of poems and children’s stories for centuries. The Greeks’ and Romans’ fears and superstitions informed their culture, and have long fascinated scholars intrigued by the extant corpus of mentions of witches, ghosts, and monsters in Greek and Roman literature.
Homeric word-order is unusually accommodating towards its English equivalent. Verbs usually come where you expect them, adjectives sit near their nouns. Compared to, say, the complex structures of a Pindaric ode, or the elliptical one-line exchanges of dramatic dialogue, Homer’s largely paratactic progression of ‘…and…but…when…then…’ presents his translator with few immediate problems.
Violent sports like American football, ice hockey, rugby, boxing and mixed martial arts are perennially among the most popular. Their status is a frightening indication of the flowering of violence in sports in the 21st century, booming to a level unknown since ancient Greece and Rome. In the ancient Mediterranean, the audiences both in the Greek East and in the Roman West mutually enjoyed Greek athletic contests and Roman spectacles.
I’m 15 years old and I have just thrown up in the lavatory at the movie theater. Shaking too hard to reach the paper towels, I need to hide out there for the entire intermission of the third installment of Sergei Bondarchuk’s epic 1967 film adaptation of War and Peace.
Only Oscar Wilde could be quite so frivolous when describing a matter as grave as the punctuation of poetry, something that causes particular grief in our attempts to understand ancient texts. Their writers were not so obliging as to provide their poems with punctuation marks, nor to distinguish between capitals and small letters.
The OUPblog has been a part of my working life for something like eight years. These days I am mainly ‘just’ a reader, but for a long time, the blog was something I worked with on a daily basis.
Playing Man (Homo Ludens), the trail-blazing work by Johan Huizinga, took sport seriously and showed how it was essential in the formation of civilizations. Adult playtime for many pre-industrial cultures served as the crucible in which conventions and boundaries were written for a culture. Actions were censured for being “beyond the pale”, a sports metaphor for being “out of bounds”.