Those Politely Swearing Romans

Tip o’ the pileus to the folks at History of the Ancient World (fellow Canucks!) for pointing us to this press release from the University of Reading which we completely missed:

Feck! Codswallop! Most of us swear at some point during our lives but we adapt our bad language to different audiences so as not to cause offence. However new research from the University of Reading shows that the Romans had already perfected the art of less offensive swearing in public, something we continue to use today.

Despite the fact that foul language is generally considered to be unacceptable, it is an everyday phenomenon. Most people use expletives if the situation warrants it, or perhaps even when not. However there are occasions when adding profane emphasis to our words is unavoidable, yet we feel hindered to do so given certain circumstances, such as in the work place or when around young children.

In these cases the English language, as with most other languages in the world, offers less offensive, often even humorous alternatives. These types of replacement profanities – from ‘blooming’ to ‘feck’ – appear to be acceptable to some extent, even in the public sphere and among educated people.

Professor Peter Kruschwitz, Head of the University’s Department of Classics, has found that these types of concealment strategies can already be found in Roman times. By systematically examining Latin exclamations that were used in the Roman world in public situations, Professor Kruschwitz has established that the Romans, too, employed similar techniques to escape falling hostage to foul language use in public.

Professor Kruschwitz said: “The notion of words being ‘just words’ certainly does not apply to curses and swear words. Casual swearing does not normally belong in the public sphere and, if it has to be used, its impact needs to be lessened by concealment strategies which reduces the obscenity of the swearing. We have our own way and words of dealing with these scenarios – but this is nothing new. My research shows that the principles we, in the main, uphold regarding swearing in public were already in use over 2000 years ago.

“The Romans employed a host of minced oaths to escape using foul language in public. Where in English one might wish to say ‘Judas Priest’, instead of blasphemous ‘Jesus Christ’, a Roman playwright had used the less of offensive O Apella, o Zeuxis, the names of two famous Greek painters, for ‘by Apollo and Zeus’. Interestingly enough, even the most boorish of Roman plays, full of verbal abuse, do not really resort to expletives to do with sexual organs, activities, or other bodily functions.

“They also used onomatopoetic terms such as butubatta or spattaro, perhaps close to something like ‘blah blah’ or ‘codswallop’, which conveyed someone’s contempt for another person. Dramatised expressions of contempt and dismay were also popular such as attatae or as we might say ‘shoot’ or ‘dang’.”

Professor Kruschwitz’s research is published online in Fabrizio Serra editore, Italy’s foremost publisher of scholarly journals.

… sadly, of course, the article isn’t free … the standard (it seems) 30 bucks. Sounds like it would be very interesting and I’m kind of surprised that this hasn’t been picked up by a pile of newspapers yet (it’s from a couple weeks ago).

Classical Cigar

I have long been plotting that we should be ensuring that all our meetings are well-stocked with Pliny the Elder beer, Bloody Caesars, and the like and I think we can now ensure that we have an official cigar, via the Torano folks (who haven’t listed it on their website as of this bloggin) … Cigar Afficionado has the label:

via Cigar Afficionado


If you’re wondering about the ‘victum’, Whitaker’s Words says sigarum, sigari is neuter

Classical Words of the Day

Apologies for neglecting this feature the past few days … I’m in the process of cleaning up and organizing links etc. in Netvibes in anticipation of the demise of my iGoogle page in the near future. I still don’t have a proper update for y’all, but my spiders brought back a page from something called Wordnik which is featuring ten Greek sorts of words that have popped up because of some big shindig going on in London:

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem iii kalendas sextilias

ante diem iii kalendas sextilias

  • ludi Victoriae Caesaris (day 11)
  • after 101 B.C. — dedication of the Temple to “The Fortune of  this Day”  (Fortuna Huiusce Diei) and subsequent rites thereafter; presumably this is one of the temples vowed prior to the Battle of Vercellae
  • 69 A.D. — destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (Av 9)

Remains of Roman Massacre of Jews in Jerusalem Found?

This one’s obviously in its very early stages, but we’ll mention it and see where it goes … tip o’ the pileus to Jim West (Have The Remains of Jews Killed by the Romans in Jerusalem in 70 a.d. Been Discovered?) who alerts us to Antonio Lombatti’s post (Scheletri del massacro del Monte del Tempio?) pointing to this item in Israel Hayom:

Remains of thousands of Jews massacred by the Romans on the Temple Mount at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple may have been uncovered in Jerusalem, according to a veteran archaeological journalist.

During a conference on Thursday at Megalim – the City of David Institute for Jerusalem Studies, journalist Benny Liss screened a movie recorded a few years ago that clearly shows thousands of skeletons and human bones in what appears to be a mass grave.

Liss, veteran archaeological correspondent for Israel’s Channel 1, told the amazed audience that the film had been shot in a spacious, underground cavern in the area of the Mercy Gate, near the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, but just outside it. Liss raised the possibility that the skeletons were the remains of 6,000 Jews, mostly women and children, killed on the Temple Mount when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, as described in the writings of Flavius Josephus, who witnessed the destruction.

The movie shows a group of people accessing the cavern with construction tools. Liss goes in first, followed by a lighting technician and cameraman. The three first pass through a narrow passage and then enter the cave with the skeletal remains. Liss says he tried to work out the size of the pile of remains by putting his hand in as far as he could, but he could not reach the bottom. The movie shows Liss crumbling some of the carbonized materials near the skeletons. As soon as Liss left the cave, Antiquities Authority staff resealed the cave, he says.

During the lecture, Liss also cites historical sources that show that in the area of the Old City where the Muslim cemetery now stands, there was once a Jewish neighborhood and cemetery, which was moved to the Valley of Josaphat. He basis his theory that the skeletons are the remains of the people killed on the Temple Mount on the site of the mass grave, the soot in the cave and the written history.

“The Romans stayed on the Temple Mount for a month after the destruction of the temple until going on to conquer the upper city [today's Jewish Quarter],” says Liss. “They had to get rid of the thousands of decomposing bodies and the most obvious place to do this would have been the natural caves on the upper slope of the mount, around Mercy Gate.”

The veteran journalist emphasized that this was just a theory. “Now, after publishing this information, the experts should go into the field and examine what we found back then, evaluate it and publish their own findings,” he says.

Liss does not believe that the remains are Christian since on the lower levels of the mount he has documented systematic Christian burials where crosses, sandals and buckles clearly attest to the religion of the dead. The same cannot be said about the burial site closer to the Mercy Gate.

Asked why he waited until now to release his findings, Liss said that he was worried that they would ignite the situation and wanted to wait for a better time.

A host of senior archaeologists approached by Israel Hayom said that photographs were not enough to determine the history of the cave and that samples need to be taken from the site and dated.

Professor Dan Bahat, a former Jerusalem District archaeologist, said the bones could be Jewish, but also just as easily be Christian or Muslim. Prominent archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkai said that Muslim mass graves had been found in the area in the past, though he does not discount other possibilities. Archaeologist Dr. Ayelet Mazar said that such a finding was unprecedented, but refused to come to any conclusions without further investigations being carried out.

The chances of the site being reopened are very slim as it is located in a particularly sensitive area, where the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf keeps a close watch and interprets every movement by Jews or Israeli authorities on the mount.

The Antiquities Authority said in response that it was unaware of the findings presented in Liss’ movie, and it would be happy to receive the materials. One official told Israel Hayom that he was aware of unsubstantiated reports of a cave with a large amount of human remains in the area, but because of the extreme sensitivity of the location and its close proximity to the Muslim cemetery, the cave had never been explored.

The article includes a grainy photo from the movie … kind of odd how Liss claims the cave was sealed by IAA people while the IAA denies any knowledge what was inside; seems unlikely that they’d stand around outside while someone else was poking around inside. We’ll do some poking around of our own on this …

UPDATE 1 (the next day): it also strikes me as suspicious that Arutz Sheva doesn’t appear to have been at this news conference, but consciously cites the above article second hand: Remains of Jews Massacred on Temple Mount Found?

CJ Online Review: Morgan, Musa Pedestris

posted with permission:

Llewelyn Morgan, Musa Pedestris: Metre and Meaning in Roman Verse. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. x + 412. £78.00/$130.00. ISBN 978-0-19-955418-8.

Reviewed by John Henkel, Georgetown College

This ambitious book aims to convince Latinists that meter is not just a category for formal analysis, but an important constituent of meaning in Roman poetry. Each meter, Morgan argues, constitutes a literary tradition with its own distinct character, or “ethos.” As distinct from its formal characteristics, a meter’s ethos accrues from its association with one or more distinctive authors and/or subjects. Often this association is with its eponym or perceived inventor, but further associations accrete over time. So, for Catullus, the Sapphic strophe conveys vulnerability, privacy, and domesticity through its association with Sappho, but for Horace it also carries an association with Catullus, and for Statius with Horace. To recover the ethos of a meter, Morgan looks at ancient metrical practice in light of ancient metrical theory; and although moderns often disdain the metricians as historically inaccurate, Morgan shows their value as evidence of ancient perceptions of a meter’s origin and associations. Morgan applies this methodology through numerous and detailed close readings, in chapters on the hendecasyllable, the non-dramatic iamb, the Sapphic strophe, and the hexameter. The individual readings vary in elegance and success, but they demonstrate the value of this new approach to meter in Roman poetry.

After an introduction that demonstrates his method on Priapeans (which share an ethos with Priapus) and Sotadeans (which connote sexual deviancy because of the κιναιδολογία of their namesake Sotades), Morgan attempts in each chapter to reconstruct the ethos of one meter. The chapters are long (65–103 pages), because they combine close reading with a survey of relevant evidence from the metricians. At his best, Morgan uses these to present a general overview of a meter’s history and development. Where the evidence is less congenial to overview, however, his organization can be difficult to follow. The book ranges widely over Latin literary history—this is one of its virtues—but in doing so, it often moves in unexpected directions. Nevertheless, some of its obiter dicta are quite interesting, like the claim that ἡσυχία as part of the Sapphic ethos may help explain Catullus’s remarks about otium in his translation of Sappho fr. 31 (Cat. 51.13–16).

Chapters 1 and 2 are the book’s shortest (65, 67 pages), but do the best job combining close reading with overview. Chapter 1 treats the hendecasyllable, the history of which is hazy before Catullus and the Neoterics (its consequent malleability, Morgan suggests, may be one reason the Neoterics favor it). Among other findings, Morgan here shows the usefulness of metrical theory by examining Catullus’ use of this meter in light of rival theories about its origins. Although the dominant critical tradition (Varro, Bassus, Quintilian) regards the meter as ionic and therefore effeminate, Catullus apparently knows about another theory (also in Bassus) that regards it as iambic, since he represents his hendecasyllables as iambi and therefore as aggressive (truces vibrare iambos, 36.5). In Chapter 2, Morgan discusses the Romans’ highly artificial use of iambic meters other than the trimeter: the choliamb, known for its metaliterary limp; the so-called pure iambic trimeter, which is delicately Hellenizing in Catullus 4 but elsewhere charged with iambic aggression; and the epodic meters of Horace, which imitate those of Archilochus. This chapter provides an excellent overview of these meters, which variously exploit what ancient critics saw as the iamb’s originally aggressive character (lost from the trimeter because of its adoption for tragedy).

Chapters 3 and 4 are longer (103, 94 pages) and less cohesively organized. Chapter 3 treats the Sapphic strophe, which, as noted above, projects an ethos of vulnerability, privacy, and limitation. Chapter 4 addresses the dactylic hexameter, which Morgan rightly claims is the standard of comparison for other meters, just as epic is the standard of comparison for other genres. Because of its association with Homer and the epic tradition, the hexameter projected grandeur and achievement. In Italy, it also represented artistic refinement on the model of Greece, as seen when Ennius contrasts it with the native Italian Saturnian meter (fr. 206–7 Sk.). Morgan’s chapter deals mainly with the genres/meters that oppose themselves to the epic hexameter, especially satire (epic’s “evil twin”), which turns the tables and uses the same meter to decry Hellenizing and Greek influence as pretension. It also treats Saturnians, which project nationalism and archaism after the introduction of the hexameter, and the elegiac couplet, in which Ovid and others are well known to play on the tension between alternating hexameter and pentameter lines.

This is not an easy book to read, and it sometimes oversimplifies complex phenomena. It pays very limited attention, for example, to the relationship between meter and genre. But although readers will not agree with Morgan at every point, there is much here that is intuitively right, and Morgan’s methodology is clearly valuable. In approaching meter, Morgan makes arguments similar to those that Hinds and others have made about genre: Roman poets tendentiously reinterpret the rules of decorum, finding in a genre or meter some new and original capability, which is nevertheless firmly rooted in literary history and theory. This book, therefore, will be valuable not only for those who work on meter, or on Catullus, Horace, Statius, and Martial, but also for Latinists who work with issues of genre as well.

In Today’s Explorator (15.15)

Intro: as I wade through my mailbox, I note tons of things which I have put in my Explorator newsletter but which never seem to make it to rogueclassicism for hecticity reasons; accordingly, I think I’ll resume posting the Classics section every Sunday … for daily readers of rogueclassicism, there will be many duplicates, but there will likely be a few items I missed (and definitely additional coverage of things I have) …

Archaeologists have reconstructed/raised the roof at the House of the
Telephus relief:

Interesting course in Rome to learn Latin and Greek:\

Posthumous honours for John Geyssen:

Interpol thinks items stolen from Olympia last year might show up at the

Earlier this week I collated a pile of news items on the Ancient

…  to which can be added a couple of items from History Today:\

Boris Johnson recited Armand D’Angour’s ode:\

… and here’s the text, if you want to try yourself:

Latest journalist foray into Roman numerals:

A mini-feature on that head of Claudius found at Suffolk years ago:\

Police have recovered a Roman sarcophagus which was stolen some
20 years ago:\

Review of Michael Kellogg, *The Greek Search for Wisdom*: