Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Some ancient words.

I'm fortunate to be blessed, I think, with a demanding mind. A lot of things interest me and I take great joy in learning. It's vexing sometimes because I have so much I want to read next to decide what to read. The world is a rich place for me, with much to offer.

One of the subject areas I return to with frequency is Greek and Roman history. My interest in these matters stems from my childhood inculcation with Latin. There is very little I've ever read that's more gripping than Thomas Macauley's "Lays of Ancient Rome."

Lars Porsena of Closium
By the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin
Should suffer wrong no more.
By the Nine Gods he swore it,
And named a trysting day,
And bade his messengers ride forth,
East and west and south and north,
To summon his array.
East and west and south and north
The messengers ride fast,
And tower and town and cottage
Have heard the trumpet's blast.
Shame on the false Etruscan
Who lingers in his home,
When Porsena of Clusium
Is on the march for Rome.

I think about Virgil or Homer or eve Macauley when I read about the binaryists among us who relish in claiming that digital communication has changed everything.

Right now I am reading Classicist Philip Matyszak's latest book "The Classic Compendium: A miscellany of scandalous gossip, bawdy jokes, peculiar facts and bad behavior from the ancient Greeks and Romans."

Matyszak peppers his breezy volume with Elithio Phoitete jokes. (Elithio Phoitete means, in Greek, "idiot student.") The jokes are thousands of years old yet their construction is not much different from how we tell jokes today.

"Elithio Phoitet is talking with two friends. One says: 'We are wrong to slaughter sheep for they provide us with wool for our clothes and blankets.' The other adds: 'We should not kill the cow, which provides us with milk and cheese.' Elithio agrees: 'And we should not kill the pig either, because it provides us with such choice cuts of meat.'"

Now, that reminds me of another joke:

Julius Caesar walks into a bar and says to the bartender "I'd like a martinus."
The bartender says, "You mean a martini."
Caesar replies, "If I wanted more than one, I would have asked for it."

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