Trojan Origins


So I’m all marked out for the day and decide to catch up (again) on some email … immediately I’m met by the incipit to this thing in the Huffington Post:

Everyone remembers Homer’s Troy as the society the Greeks fooled into accepting the Trojan Horse — the gift that ultimately led to their demise. Yet, many fail to remember these same Trojans, led by Aeneus, went on to found the great city of Rome, perhaps the most influential empire in the history of civilizations. The ancient Trojans of Homer’s Iliad remind me of the accomplished Trojans seated here this evening. Each one of us has experienced failure just like the Trojans, yet each of us has marched on to found our own Rome. […]

via: Graduates, Put Your Beliefs Into Action (Huffington Post)

… sadly, I can’t be bothered to locate my Chapeau Pedantique, but I did suddenly remember that Don Buck — who earns a tip o’ the pileus, natch — had sent in something ages ago on why all those USC teams are called the Trojans; from the LA Times:

It was just one word, one brief thought from a dreamy kid about an upstart university, seven taps on a rattling typewriter, one word stuck deep in the first sentence of a thick first paragraph.

But for both the school and the sports columnist, it was one word that changed their worlds.

His name was Owen R. Bird, he was 25, and he had been with the Los Angeles Times barely five months when one of his influential readers made an unusual request. He was asked by Warren Bovard, USC’s athletic director, to end the circus of monikers given the school’s athletic teams — Methodists, Wesleyans and Cards — and find one powerful nickname that would stick.

One hundred years ago, Feb. 24, 1912, in a track preview in this newspaper, Bird began referring to USC as the “Trojans.”

It was one word that eventually defined an institution, created a culture and fostered an attitude that has endured for a century.

It was also one word that cursed the man who concocted it.


After naming the Trojans, Bird spent the rest of his life wildly and vainly trying to replicate the stature of that achievement while barely being remembered for it.

He fought in one skirmish and one war, married three women, worked at least a dozen jobs, lived in at least a dozen homes and continually sought greater thrills, until one day making the only memory more compelling than his Trojans creation.

On a winter evening in 1929, Bird returned to his Silver Lake home to find his wife, Laura, conversing with his best friend, Percival Watson. Bird pulled out a revolver and killed Watson with shots through his face, arm and abdomen.

Bird was convicted of manslaughter and sent to prison with a farewell that would serve as a template for the rest of his life. In its stories on the incident, the same Los Angeles Times that decorated its pages with nearly 800 of his bylined pieces during Bird’s three years as sports editor and columnist never once mentioned that he had worked there.

Upon returning to society after serving two years in prison, it was as if his previous life never existed. Bird finished out his life drifting through various jobs and homes, estranged from his children, ending his career as a security guard, dying at age 78 after a long battle with pulmonary emphysema.

One hundred years later, “Trojans” is one of the sports world’s most celebrated nicknames, associated instantly with USC, a name steeped with tradition and meaning and millions of dollars in merchandise sales.

The local keeper of the Owen Bird flame lives in appropriate obscurity, spending his last 34 years in a 240-square-foot apartment one block from Santa Monica beach.

Laury Bird is a retired cab driver who, like the other five Bird grandchildren, never knew the famous man. He has studied his grandfather’s records, collected some of his papers, and attempted to spread his legacy.

“Even when I had USC kids in my cab and I would try to tell them my grandfather’s story, they really didn’t listen or believe,” Bird said. “I’m not sure anybody did.”

Who would? It’s the story of a star Occidental athlete who hooked up with The Times even though he never officially graduated, and then celebrated his good fortune with daily sports accounts that read like action movies. Check out his 1911 story about the 16th and final round of a local boxing match in which Johnny Kilbane knocked out Joe Rivers.

“Joe staggered to the ropes a pitiful contrast to the strong young boy who just one minute before was itching for a fight…His knees were bending and his flashing brown eyes had lost their luster.”

Bird loved the underdog, and so, in covering the Southland sports scene, he came to love USC and its attempts to move into major-college athletics. In a rare interview decades later, he explained how he came up with “Trojans.”

“Owing to the terrific handicaps, under which the athletes, coaches and managers of the university were laboring at this time … appreciating their splendid fighting spirit and ability of the teams to go down under overwhelming odds of bigger and better equipped teams … it seemed to me that the name ‘Trojan’ fitted their case,” he said.

The name stuck so well and fit so perfectly that 100 years later it is arguably bigger than the university name itself. You are not simply a USC fan. You are a Trojan.

FWIW, my own high school team (William Aberhart High!) was also named the Trojans, along with myriad other schools, I suspect …

Honored Justices, We Respectfully Disagree

My spiders bring back some strange things from time to time … a case in point is an item from the Courthouse News Service regarding a suit brought by a Japanese baseball player … inter alia they suggest:

A divided Supreme Court vacated that decision Monday, finding that the statute that compensates prevailing litigants for “interpreters” is limited to the cost of oral translation, and does not include the cost of document translation.
“Based on our survey of the relevant dictionaries, we conclude that the ordinary or common meaning of ‘inter­preter’ does not include those who translate writings,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. “Instead, we find that an interpreter is normally under­stood as one who translates orally from one language to another. This sense of the word is far more natural. As the Seventh Circuit put it: ‘Robert Fagles made famous translations into English of the ‘Iliad,’ the ‘Odyssey,’ and the ‘Aeneid,’ but no one would refer to him as an English ­language ‘interpreter’ of these works.”

No one? I think every Classics person on the planet would automatically reply that all translations are interpretations. It’s one of the primary reasons we desire to read primary sources in their original language! But then they seem to be using ‘translation’ and ‘interpretation’ somewhat differently than we do; I guess we’re neither “ordinary” nor “common”.

Something That’s Been Bugging Me: Outreach II ~ The Conference

When my Explorator newsletter — and the internets — was still in its infancy, it was a common annual thing to read in most of the major newspapers some coverage of the annual Modern Languages Association shindig, most often with an aim of poking fun at folks. Over the years I have oft-opined at how little news coverage the major conferences in North America seem to garner, specifically the AIA/APA thing, and, to a lesser extent, the CAC thing. To be fair, there always seems to be one or two papers on the AIA side of things which gets attention, and in the past couple of years a pattern has emerged: first,  the papers at the AIA/APA which get coverage in the popular press are those which have already had some press attention in the form of a University press release and has some ‘sexiness’ as a topic (e.g. Simon James’ study of chemical warfare at Dura Europos started out as a University of Leicestershire press release: Ancient Chemical Warfare (the press release doesn’t seem to be online anymore , alas), although even something potentially obscure (to the public), such as a paper on Menander, might get some press attention if it has garnered some press release attention (e.g. UCincinnati’s treatment of Kathryn Gutzwiller’s work a year or so ago: Mulling Menander and Mosaics).

But it must be admitted that merely putting out the press release doesn’t guarantee press coverage. The Canadian Archaeological Association just had its annual meeting and put out a press release (400 Canadian and American archaeologists in Montreal), but near as I can tell, no significant news coverage resulted from it. This suggests that for a major conference to get some popular press coverage, the association(s) involved have to go a bit further.

So here’s a potential strategy: once a paper has been accepted for presentation at one of the big conferences,the association has to encourage the author to go to his/her university’s PR department and say so or, given the reluctance of Classics types to be self promoting, perhaps the association should have some sort of ‘form email’ that they can send to a university’s PR department themselves (I’m sure PR departments would love to have something from the Humanities to cover). Hopefully that will result in a few press releases for the mainstream press to take notice of.

That’s the first step. The second step is a bit more labour-intensive: once the program for the conference has been put together (or better yet, while it is being put together … this will become clearly shortly), the powers that be should be putting together an itinerary of select papers which would have some popular appeal. It could be just for a morning session, a day, or the whole conference (or combinations thereof). These itineraries would be sent to the editors of the local major newspaper and to some of the ‘big ones’ which have (inter)national readership. Essentially what I’m suggesting is to give a prospective reporter a reason to go/something already in mind to report on. If abstracts are available online (as they are for the APA … but strangely not for the CAC), links to those could also be provided to make the journalists’ job even easier.

Livetweeting and liveblogging such things should also be encouraged, but it must be admitted that all such treatments essentially are ‘preaching to the converted’. To reach the broader audience, we need to hit the ‘bigger papers’ … perhaps the next time one of the biggies is coming around someone might want to implement some/all of these suggestions just to see if they have any potential …

Hobbitus Ille

Another one that required a bit of poking around … last week Ginny Lindzey earned a tip o’ the pileus for alerting us (and the world) of an item at the Bookseller:

An edition of J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit translated into Latin and titled Hobbitus Ille, will be published in September by HarperCollins to mark its 75th birthday.

The publisher said the Latin version of the tale‚ which opens “In foramine terrae habitabat hobbitus” (In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit)‚ would be “great for students learning Latin, but also for fans who want to dip in and find favourite passages”.

The translation, by classicist Mark Walker, will also see Tolkien’s songs and verses translated into classical Latin metre. Previous Latin editions include Domus Anguli Puensis (The House at Pooh Corner) and Ursus Nomine Paddington (A Bear Called Paddington).

HC will publish in hardback priced £12.99

I’ve been trying to figure out whether this was just a UK thing. I could not find any mention of it at Harper Collins’ US site; I did find it at their UK site last week, but now can’t seem to locate it. That said, it is listed on the Canadian Amazon site, so it should be generally available.

Something That’s Been Bugging Me: Outreach I ~ Scholarships

It being Victoria Day and all, I’ve been able to do a bit of catching up blogging (as you can probably tell) and it also gives me the opportunity to gripe about a few things which are outreach-related. The first one has to do with a conversation currently unfolding on the Latinteach list wherein it has been asked what scholarships are available for students who are hoping to enter the Classics field. It boggles my mind at this point in the development of both Classics and the internets, but amazingly, there doesn’t seem to be a one-stop shopping list for this sort of thing. One would think, e.g., that the American Philological Association or the Classical Association of Canada would have a section of their websites devoted to this, but I’ve come up empty. They do, of course, highlight scholarships/prizes which their respective associations offer, but that’s a bit short-sighted for ‘(inter)national’ organizations. As a result, on the American side, Shelly McCormick’s list seems to have the most entries so far (she’s a Latin teacher). On the Canadian side, one can wade through the entries at, although it gets tricky where departments have merged with others.

So the obvious gripe is why haven’t the APA and CAC put something together in this regard? It seems to me that one of the most basic aspects of outreach — i.e. attracting high school students to enter the field — would be to show them that there is some financial assistance available to them to help pay for a program they might have difficulties convincing their parents is worth taking, no? I also notice — from the Canadian listings — that there are plenty of prizes and and the like at various universities for those who are already in-course. Knowing that such things are available before you even enter a program would obviously provide at least some incentive to ‘sign up’. Come on associations … let’s get on this thing!