Roman Numerals and that Big Game on Sunday ~ A Different Spin

Every year I get more and more bored with the apparently obligatory rants from sports writers about the use of Roman numerals in regards to the Super Bowl (to say nothing of my annual conversation with mater in which I have to reteach her how Roman numerals work, but that’s different). And so, after paging through myriad exempla of such schoolboy rhetoric, I have to tip my pileus to Ben Cohen at the Wall Street Journal, who actually came up with something original to say on this … here’s the incipit:

The NFL is four years away from its 50th Super Bowl, which means it is already trying to plan around a peculiar self-inflicted marketing nuisance: How can the world’s most powerful sports league get around putting a big, fat “L” on hundreds of thousands of souvenir T-shirts?

The first thing the winning players will do when Sunday’s game ends is drape themselves in celebratory gear emblazoned with the Super Bowl logo. This year, that logo consists of the Lombardi Trophy above the silver Roman numerals XLVI.

But come 2016, the Roman numeral for Super Bowl L happens to be the lone letter that most connotes losing.

“Wouldn’t that be a nice time to switch over to Arabic numerals?” said Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director for Baker Street Advertising.

… alas, I strongly suspect that might be the year the Roman numerals disappear, although one really should think of the marketability of champions’ hats with the L emblazoned on it, thus saving the winners the effort of making that ‘L’ gesture with their hands towards the team that came in second place (which is something the rest of the article almost reaches, but not quite).

CFP: Theories of the Past

Via Dan Diffendale:

Theories of the Past: The Role of History in Archaeological Approaches
An Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference
Sponsored by the University of Michigan Collaborative Archaeology Workgroup

Date: March 23-24, 2012
Where: University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, MI

Understanding the human past is the goal of both archaeology and
history, yet the methodologies and theoretical approaches they
implement intersect in both complementing and contrasting ways. This
conference will provide an opportunity for junior researchers to
present innovative research and provide a forum for discussing the
gaps, bridges, shared goals, and incompatibilities of archaeological
and historical approaches to the human past.

We are calling for papers of 20 minutes in length that deal with the
relationship between archaeology and history and tackle broad themes
through specific case studies and applications. Papers will be
presented in panels with other graduate students working on similar
themes or approaches. While engaging with these panel themes,
presenters should situate their research in particular archaeological
or historical case studies. The following themes will structure these
panels and provide a starting point for contributed papers and larger

The Formation of Texts
Archaeologists often employ written evidence to provide accounts of
processes not materially visible. These sources may include
ethnography and ethnohistory, administrative documents, journals and
personal accounts, and ancient historical records. Textual scholars
must wrestle with questions of authorship and consider the context and
conditions in which texts are produced—a process we can think of as
text formation. How does the production and preservation of texts
affect how they are employed by archaeologists in the analysis and
interpretation of the past?

Contemporary Issues as Historic Processes
Many issues of contemporary political, social, and economic interest
have deep histories in the human past. How can contextualizing
contemporary problems like debt, inequality, cultural interaction, or
environmental impacts with a long-term perspective help us understand
the genesis and dynamics of these issues?

Events and Processes in the Past
Different lines of evidence, both material and textual, engage with
multiple tempos – from singular events to the longue durée.
Archaeologists must consider tempos of archaeological formation
processes that produced these lines of evidence, but also consider
short and long-term scales of change. How can we synthesize multiple
lines of evidence to provide a more complete understanding of the
impetus for and implications of change?

Comparative Approaches
The comparative approach continues to find widespread use in the study
of the past. In addition to using narratives from different places
and/or times, archaeologists and historians also use comparison to
approach methodological and evidentiary problems. What do comparative
approaches add to our understanding of the past? What are the
similarities and differences in the ways archaeologists and historians
deploy comparative examples?

Presentations will be followed by a moderated discussion of the papers
and their relationship to the panel’s central theme as well as the
broader subject of the conference. All fields of archaeology and
history (Anthropological, Classical, Near Eastern, area studies, etc.)
are welcome.

To facilitate a ‘workshopping’ atmosphere and to promote informed
discussions, participants are asked to submit a paper copy of their
presentation one week before the conference (March 16, 2012).
Pre-circulated papers should be of presentation text length only
(approximately 10-12 double-spaced pages); polished written copies are
not expected.

Abstracts of no longer than 200 words should be submitted by February 15, 2012.
Please submit abstracts and direct questions to

Although travel stipends will not be available for this conference,
accommodations (with Michigan archaeology graduate students) for
Friday and/or Saturday night(s) will be arranged upon request.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be provided on the day of the

The Collaborative Archaeology Workgroup (CAW) is a group of graduate
students from several departments at the University of Michigan
(including Anthropology and Classical Art and Archaeology) who share
an interest in archaeological research, theory, and methods. We are
dedicated to promoting interdisciplinary research and facilitating the
exchange of information among all students interested in studying the
past through archaeological techniques.

The conference is co-sponsored by the Rackham Graduate School,
International Institute, Museum of Anthropology, Kelsey Museum of
Archaeology, and Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and

Camels in Greece? Really Gizmodo? Source?

A potentially interesting item in Gizmodo begins thusly:

The ancient Greeks called the thapsia garganica plant “deadly carrot,” because their camels would eat it and quickly die. The Roman emperor Nero mixed it with frankincense to treat bruises.

hmmm … I’d really love to have a source for this claim, especially as regards camels (the Nero claim is possibly in the same section). I strongly suspect Theophrastus’ plants tome (9.20 or so), but there doesn’t seem to be a copy available on the web. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t refer to camels and I honestly can’t recall ever reading of the ancient Greeks keeping camels around …

UPDATE (an hour or so later) … tip o’ the pileus to JR Strang who pointed me to an online source for Theophrastus’ plants thing at the Open Library (very useful; not sure how I missed this) … 9.20.2  f was indeed the section of interest and via the Loeb is:

The root of thapsia has emetic properties : and,
if one retains it, it purges both upwards and down-
wards. It is also able to remove bruises : and it
restores other contusions to a pale colour. Its
juice is stronger and purges both upwards and
downwards : the seed is riot used. It grows especially
in Attica, but also in other places : the cattle of the
country do not touch it, but imported cattle feed on
and perish of diarrhoea.

Here’s the source

I can’t seem to get the Greek here on my netbook, but the word used is ‘bosketai’ which usually refers to cattle but in theory could be any ‘grazing beast’. Even so, I don’t think ‘camel’ is a likely candidate in Attica. JR Strang also just alerted us to the Nero passage coming from Pliny NH 13.43-125-126 (via Lacus Curtius):

quibusdam tamen morbis auxiliari dicunt medici permixtam aliis, item alopeciis suggillatisque ac liventibus, ceu vero remedia desint, ut scelera non tractent. sed ista praetexunt noxio instrumento, tantumque inpudentiae est, ut venenum artis esse persuadeant. thapsia in Africa vehementissima. quidam caulem incidunt per messes et in ipsa excavant radice, quo sucus confluat, arefactumque tollunt.

alii folia, caulem, radicem tundunt in pila et sucum in sole coactum dividunt in pastillos. Nero Caesar claritatem ei dedit initio imperi, nocturnis grassationibus converberata facie inlinens id cum ture ceraque et secuto die contra famam cutem sinceram circumferens. ignem ferulis optime servari certum est easque in Aegypto praecellere.

… in case you’re not up to speed in your Latin, the skinny here is that Nero apparently was a sort of ‘sleepwalker’ and got into trouble while sleeping, which resulted, apparently in assorted beatings from ne’er-do-wells and would use a mixture of this thapsia, wax, and other things which apparently cleared things up over night!

Blurbum Romanum

Tip o’ the pileus to Nigel Webb (via Twitter) for pointing us to an item on the history of book blurbs at The Millions … inter alia, of course, there’s the link to ancient Rome:

If you needed beach reading in ancient Rome, you’d probably head down to the Argiletum or Vicus Sandaliarium, streets filled with booksellers roughly equivalent to London’s Paternoster Row. But how to know which books would make your soul shriek with delight? There was no Sunday Times; newspaper advertising didn’t catch on for another 1,700 years, and neither did professional book reviewers. Aside from word of mouth, references in other books, and occasional public readings, browsers appear to have been on their own.

Almost. Evidence suggests that booksellers advertised on pillars near their shops, where one might see new titles by famous people like Martial, the inventor of the epigram (nice one, Martial). It’s safe to assume that even in the pre-codex days of papyrus scrolls, a good way to assess the potential merits of Martial’s book would have been to read the first page or two, an ideal place for authors to insert some prefatory puff. Martial begins his most well-known collection with a note to the reader: “I trust that, in these little books of mine, I have observed such self-control, that whoever forms a fair judgment from his own mind can make no complaint of them.” Similar proto-blurbs were common, often doubling as dedications to powerful patrons or friends. The Latin poet Catullus: “To whom should I send this charming new little book / freshly polished with dry pumice? To you, Cornelius!” For those who weren’t the object of the dedication, these devices likely served the same purpose that blurbs do today: to market books, influence their interpretation, and assure prospective readers they kept good company.

… to which we might add an excerpt from a piece written by Mary Beard on the same subject a few years ago for the New York Times (which I don’t think I linked to), again, inter alia:

All the same, there’s a lot in the Roman literary world that seems quite familiar two millenniums later: money-­making booksellers, exploited and impoverished authors, celebrity book launches and career-making prizes.

Like Martial, most Roman writers knew that the profits of their writing ended up in the pockets of the booksellers, who often combined retail trade with a copying business — and so were, in effect, publishers and distributors too. At best, the author received only a lump sum from the seller for the rights to copy his work (though once the text was “out,” there was no way of stopping pirated copies). Horace, the tame poet of the emperor Augustus, made the obvious comparison: booksellers were the rich pimps of Roman publishing and authors, or even the books themselves, were the hard-working but humiliated prostitutes. He refers to his slim volume of poetry being “on the game, all tarted up with the cosmetics of Sosius & Co.,” his publishers. Not that Horace did so badly from his writing. In the absence of royalties he was, like most of the best-known authors in Rome, taken under the wing of a patron. In fact, Maecenas, Augustus’ unofficial minister of culture, set him up in a house.

Bookstores in Rome clustered in particular streets. One was the Vicus Sandalarius, or Shoemakers Row, not far from the Colosseum (convenient for post-gladiatorial browsing). Here you would find the outsides of the stores plastered with advertisements and puffs for titles in stock, often adorned with some choice quotes from the books of the moment. Martial, in fact, once told a friend not to bother to venture inside, since you could “read all the poets” on their doorposts.

For those who did go in, there was usually a place to sit and read. With slaves on hand to summon up refreshments, it would have been not unlike the coffee shop in a modern Borders. For collectors, there were occasionally secondhand treasures to be picked up, at a price. One Roman academic reported finding an old copy of the second book of Virgil’s “Aeneid” — not just any old copy but, the bookseller assured him, Virgil’s very own. An unlikely story maybe, but one that persuaded him to part with a small fortune to acquire it (rather more, in fact, than the combined annual wages of two professional soldiers). The risks on cheaper purchases were different. A cut-price book roll would presumably have fallen to pieces as quickly as a modern mass-market paperback. But worse, the pressure to get copies made quickly meant that they were loaded with errors and sometimes uncomfortably different from the authentic words of the author. One list of prices from the third century A.D. implies that the money needed to buy a top-quality copy of 500 lines would be enough to feed a family of four (admittedly, on very basic rations) for a whole year. If you settled for an inferior job, you could get a 20 percent discount.

Even if ancient writers did not make money from sales, many still wanted to announce to the world that their new volumes were now on the shelves. The Roman launch party took the form of select readings from the work, given semi-publicly or at exclusive invitation-only events, perhaps in the home of a rich patron. These could be just as frustrating for the author as the modern book launch where only half the expected guests turn up, drink a polite glass of wine and beat a hasty retreat without buying a copy. Pliny, writing in the early second century A.D., complained that in Rome “there was scarcely a day in April when someone wasn’t giving a reading,” and that the poor authors had to put up with small audiences, most of whom slipped out before the end anyway.

… and just for fun, we’ll end this post with the incipit of Lucian’s address to an illiterate book collector, who likely relied on such blurbity to choose the works he collected for appearances’ sake (via Sacred Texts: REMARKS ADDRESSED TO AN ILLITERATE BOOK-FANCIER … the whole thing is good for a larf):

Let me tell you, that you are choosing the worst way to attain your object. You think that by buying up all the best books you can lay your hands on, you will pass for a man of literary tastes: not a bit of it; you are merely exposing thereby your own ignorance of literature. Why, you cannot even buy the right things: any casual recommendation is enough to guide your choice; you are as clay in the hands of the unscrupulous amateur, and as good as cash down to any dealer. How are you to know the difference between genuine old books that are worth money, and trash whose only merit is that it is falling to pieces? You are reduced to taking the worms and moths into your confidence; their activity is your sole clue to the value of a book; as to the accuracy and fidelity of the copyist, that is quite beyond you.

And supposing even that you had managed to pick out such veritable treasures as the exquisite editions of Callinus, or those of the far-famed Atticus, most conscientious of publishers,–what does it profit you? Their beauty means nothing to you, my poor friend; you will get precisely as much enjoyment out of them as a blind lover would derive from the possession of a handsome mistress. Your eyes, to be sure, are open; you do see your books, goodness knows, see them till you must be sick of the sight; you even read a bit here and there, in a scrambling fashion, your lips still busy with one sentence while your eyes are on the next. But what is the use of that? You cannot tell good from bad: you miss the writer’s general drift, you miss his subtle arrangements of words: the chaste elegance of a pure style, the false ring of the counterfeit,–’tis all one to you. […]

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem iv nonas februarias

ante diem iv nonas februarias

… it’s also Candlemas Day … And for all you Latin teachers out there … you can present this Latin ‘distich’ quoted by Thomas Browne in Robert Chambers Book of Days (the quoting of) which predates Punxsutawney Phil (and Wiarton Willy, and the plethora of other large rodents that probablyreally  aspire to be beavers, but that’s a different tail):

Si sol splendescat Maria purificante,
Major erit glacies post festum quam fuit ante