Latin Influences … Dr Seuss?

So less than a minute ago I tweeted how the Lorax (gen. Loracis) seems to be screeching to be translated into Latin right now and I had to check to make sure it hadn’t already … what I did come across was a somewhat esoteric paper about Dr Seuss which included:

Before he was Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel was a failed novelist. He was an English major, and he studied at Oxford (one of his professors was the eminent Emile Logouis, a specialist on the work of Jonathan Swift, author of works like “A Modest Proposal” and Gulliver’s Travels). He studied the psychology of advertising, and in his Botany and Zoology classes he amused himself by manipulating the Latin names for plants and animals. Seuss admitted that his study of Latin, particularly the insights it provided into the etymology and construction of words, was a great influence on his writing.

… I’ll let y’all read the rest of the paper and decide what to think about it.

Pompeii’s Stabian Baths Reopen

Some good news out of Pompeii for a change … Harry Mount writes in the Telegraph:

After three years, the Stabian Baths in Pompeii were reopened to the public this week, allowing access to the women’s baths for the first time.

It’s hard to overestimate quite how much the Romans loved their gyms, spas and baths, but a visit to the Stabian Baths makes for a pretty good introduction. The Thermae Stabianae, the biggest baths in the city, are built on a vast scale, strung along Pompeii’s main street, the Via Dell’Abbondanza, running from the forum to the amphitheatre and the great palaestra – the gym and wrestling school.

The Stabian Baths had their own palaestra, flanked by an elegant Doric portico. Much of the extravagant decoration survives – stucco work, coffered ceilings and highly-coloured frescoes. There was also a bowling alley and swimming pool. But the focus was on the baths: the frigidarium (cold bath), tepidarium (warmer bath) with a plunge-bath, and the calidarium – the warm room with a plunge-bath and a washing basin.

We like to think of ourselves as a pampered, thoroughly modern race, showering ourselves with treats, minibreaks and spa treatments. But, as so often, the Romans got there first, spending thousands of sestertii on hot air hypocausts, on apodyteria (dressing rooms) and the praefurnium – the furnace and boilers that heated the water.

The Romans realised, too, how effective luxury was in seducing their foreign subjects. As Tacitus wrote, of the invasion of Britain in the first century AD, “The British fell for our fashions and started wearing togas. Little by little, they were drawn to things with a touch of sinfulness to them: drawing rooms, hot baths, elegant dinner parties. In their stupidity, they called all this civilisation, when it was all part of their servitude.”

Folks will want to check out the Daily Mail’s coverage as well, which has some really nice photos:

Latin Rules!!!

Tip o’ the pileus to Uncle P of Farrago fame for alerting us to Tim de Lisle’s column in Intelligent Life on why Latin is the best language:

I studied Latin for 15 years, and this may well be the first time it has been of direct use in my adult life. There was one moment, long ago, when it nearly came in handy. I was reviewing an album by Sting that contained a stab at a traditional wedding song. There are many such songs in Catullus, whose elegant poetry I had spent a whole term plodding through. If ever there was a time to play the Latin card, this was it, so I described Sting’s wedding song as “Catullan”. Somewhere between the Daily Telegraph copytakers and the subs, “Catullan” was changed to “Catalan”. It probably served me right.

So, direct use: virtually nil. But Latin—which gives us both “direct” and “use”, both “virtually” and “nil”—has been of indirect use every day of my career. If you work with words, Latin is the Pilates session that stays with you for life: it strengthens the core. It teaches you grammar and syntax, better than your own language, whose structure you will have absorbed before you are capable of noticing it. Latin offers no hiding place, no refuge for the woolly. Each piece of the sentence has to slot in with the rest; every ending has to be the right one. To learn Latin is to learn rigour.

The price for the rigour is the mortis. Soon enough, someone will helpfully inform you that Latin is a dead language. In one way, sure, but in others it lives on. It is a vivid presence in English and French, it is the mother of Italian and Spanish, and it even seeps into German. More often than not, the words these languages have in common are the Latin ones: it remains a lingua franca. The words we take from Latin tend to be long, reflective, intellectual (the short, punchy words we didn’t need to import: live, die, eat, drink, love, hate). Business and academia, two worlds with little else in common, both rely more and more on long Latinate words. The European Union speaks little else. Ten years ago, for another article, I had to read the proposed European constitution. It was a long turgid parade of Latin-derived words. The burghers of Brussels were trying to build a superstate out of abstract nouns.

Management-speak and Euro-blather are Latin at its worst, but learning it will still help you cut through them to find clarity. It is a little harder to bullshit when you’ve learnt Latin (though quite possible to bluster, as Boris Johnson proves). And if you stick at it you discover, after no more than eight or nine years, that this is a glorious language per se.

Its literature has stood the test of millennia: Ovid is diverting, Lucretius is stimulating, Cicero is riveting. Horace can be a drag—like a bad weekend columnist, always wittering on about his garden and his cellar, except when coming out with quotable drivel about how sweet it is to die in battle. But his contemporary Virgil is majestic. He set himself the most daunting task—giving Rome its own “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, in a single epic, while staying on the right side of an emperor—and pulled it off. I did French and Greek too for years, and enjoyed them, but nothing quite matched up to the pleasure of reading the “Aeneid” in the original.

Love the focus on learning the language as a sort of intellectual exercise! No one ever asks the football player who’s working out in the gym “what’s that going to do for you?”  It’s readily apparent that it has application to other aspects of his career pursuits … so every department should be running out and buying a copy of Intelligent Life, laminating the article, and posting it in a prominent place where all potential students will see it, of course.