Rhesus Pieces

The Standard Freeholder ponders the meaning of pH and Rh … the latter is of interest to us:

The technical “Rh factor” refers to a protein characteristic of blood.

The blood of about 85 percent of the world’s population is Rh positive while that of the other approximately 15 percent is Rh negative (lacking the protein). The two blood properties are not compatible.

That insight came came in 1937 from the research in New York by Austrian-born biochemist Karl Landsteiner (1868-1943) and American forensic pathologist Dr. Alexander Wiener (1907-76). Together, they studied blood-based diseases and refined blood-typing techniques for transfusions. Landsteiner had received a 1930 Nobel Prize for his previous work on polio.

The Rh positive protein creates antibodies against Rh negative blood which negate the benefits of such transfusions.

In their experiments, the two blood experts were doing transfusions between rabbits and monkeys (of a type called Rhesus macaques) when they noted the particularity of that protein in the monkeys. Thus, they called their discovery the “Rhesus factor” -a tag later shortened to “Rh factor.”

“Rhesus” macaques were so named by French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Audebert (1759-1800) when he sketched them while also doing drawings of birds, the latter skill being what he had been hired for by French ornithologist Guillaume Antoine Olivier (1756-1814) on a research trip through Southern Asia (also those macaques’ habitat).

Some word analysts have attributed Audebert’s naming that type of macaque to his interest in the Trojan War of antiquity in which King Rhesus of Thrace had a small part.

Another likely possibility could be that, as customary for scholars of his time, Audebert had a knowledge of ancient Greek in which the word “rhesis” (related to “rhetoric”) means “talkative” -a descriptive readily applicable to the screechy gibbering abundantly done by those lively little simians.

I Can Has Autograph?

In a piece about the sorts of folks who hound celebrities for autographs, Barry Koltnow writes in the Orange County Register, inter alia:

After all, autograph-collecting (philography) has been practiced since the ancient Greeks, although I doubt whether any Greek would have asked Paris Hilton for an autograph.

Unlike most of our ‘origins’ commentary, this one has some basis in fact, but it is clear that it is a major misunderstanding among the philographic community. A quick scan of the web will turn up numerous instances of the first “autograph” being sought as Aristotle’s (hence, I suspect, the ‘Greek’ origins for this). But the intro of a page on collecting autographs pretty much clarifies things, if you’re a Classicist:

In ancient times, the autographs of great men were regarded with reverence. The Athenians considered the original manuscripts of their poets the chief treasures of their city, their cultural patrimony, and displayed them in their temples. Aristotle collected manuscripts and maps, and formed the first considerable library of antiquity as well as a museum of natural objects.

Aristotle’s own manuscripts are perfect examples of both the perceived value of manuscripts and the fact that secretarial autographs are an ancient problem indeed. Aristotle died in 322 BC leaving his papers to his successor Theophrastus, who in turn willed them to one Neleus. Neleus took the writings from Athens to Scepsis, where his heirs let them languish in a cellar until the first century BC, when Apellicon of Teos discovered and purchased the manuscripts, bringing them back to Athens. When the Romans under Lucius Cornelius Sulla occupied Athens in 86 BC, he carried off the library of Appellicon, complete with Aristotle’s papers, to Rome. There they were published by philosopher Andronicus of Rhodes, who, while reviewing them, determined that most did probably not represent works which Aristotle himself prepared for publication, but appeared to be notes of his lectures taken by his students.

etc.. What is clearly being confused/conflated is the idea of an autograph in the modern sense (i.e. a signature of a celebrity, athlete, whatever) and the idea of an autograph in its proper sense (i.e. a manuscript written in the author’s own hand). They aren’t quite the same animal …

Soccer Origins — Not

At UEFA.com there’s an interview with Ukrainian football/soccer star Anatoliy Tymoshchuk … towards the end he sez:

These days, some consider the role of captain as just a nod to tradition. But remember that Herodotus described a game in ancient Greece, where soldiers played to develop their fighting capacities and used the head of the defeated team captain as a ball. It’s a historical fact that extra responsibility for a team’s result lies with the captain.

… er … stick to soccer.

Hopscotch Origins

Every now and then, this story about the purported Roman origins of hopscotch pops up … most recently in the East London Advertiser:

The game involving hopping between squares on a chalk grid dates back to Roman times.

It was used originally for military training when foot soldiers ran in full armour and field packs along hopscotch grids 100ft long to improve their footwork.

Roman children imitated the soldiers, drawing their own smaller grids on the ground.

It appears in too many websites to mention, but always seems to be tied to the UK somehow. I think I’ve managed to find a possible indirect origin for the tale … in the 1870 edition of the Journal of the British Archaeological Association we read:

Text not available
The Journal of the British Archaeological Association By British Archaeological Association

Later, in the same proceedings:

Text not available
The Journal of the British Archaeological Association By British Archaeological Association

I invite folks to click on those links to read the full thing … as often, I don’t think there really is any evidence for Roman hopscotch (I seem to remember once discussing this with someone online … specifically, that there is a ‘hopscotch court’ somewhere in Rome on some Roman monument (and I seem to recall that Augustus’ horologium is also involved) … does anyone recall such things?)

Lupercalia …NOTHING to do with Valentine’s Day

Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh. The older I get the less patience I have with this one … every year in the first couple of weeks of February, piles of journalists and/or their editors parade their stunning lack of critical thinking throughout the world (but mostly in the North American press) by claiming some sort of link between Lupercalia and Valentine’s Day. This year, I had determined I was not going to comment on this idiocy, and indeed, was just complaining on Twitter t’other night that I had to wade through piles of such digital detritus. But then I found myself at a health and safety meeting, idly deleting similia and I came across this in a student newspaper called the Pine Log:

Valentine’s Day started off as a Roman festival where men stripped naked, grabbed goat- or dog-skin whips, and spanked young maidens in hopes of increasing their fertility, according to Noel Lenski, classics professor of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Say it ain’t so Dr Lenski! Then I poke around a bit and find an interesting little news item from U of C from back in 2002:

On a snowy February 15, Professor Noel Lenski sponsored a traditional Roman Lupercalia using students in his course on Paganism to Christianity as participants. Several students volunteered to play the role of Luperci, traditionally naked male priests who ran around the Capitoline Hill striking maidens with strips of goat hide every February 15.

Fun stuff! But then it went on:

The festival, designed to honor the god Pan and to ensure fertility for young maidens, forms the basis for the modern festival of St. Valentine.

Alas … I think it goes beyond salutory to point out something I also mentioned on the Classics list a few days ago. As noted above, Lupercalia was a festival held on February 15 … some newspaper sources also give February 13 as a date for Lupercalia, then connect it to Valentine’s day. It’s probably time that someone pointed out that THE DATE ISN’T THE SAME! It’s close, but no Romeo y Julieta Churchill. So let’s be charitable and ponder (briefly) what went on at Lupercalia … a bunch of folks sacrificed beasties, smeared themselves with blood, then ran a route where they went around whipping women. If we take the February 13 date, that’s the beginning of a long period where folks honoured their dead ancestors. I think most logical-thinking people (except, perhaps, sado-masochistic necrophiliacs) would be hard-pressed to make any connection between such activities and the romantic sort of love which is celebrated on Valentine’s day. What makes it worse is that we have a Classics professor (a department head, no less!) who appears do be promoting this — come on people!  Let’s take this to its illogical extreme and claim a Roman origin for St. Patrick’s day, where at least the date connection is bang on! The Romans celebrated Liberalia on March 17 and this was one of the days where it was common, we are told, for young Romans to don their toga virilis. OBVIOUSLY there must be a connection between that and holding big parades and drinking green beer. No … wait … April Fool’s Day must be Roman in origin because on April 1 Roman women would sacrifice to Fortuna Virilis , which clearly is connected to playing pranks on people (I know there are cynical women out there who might buy that).

Come on people (and Classics professors in particular) … our discipline is not so attention-deprived that we have to buy into this ‘ad hoc ergo propter hoc’ reasoning!