Latin WORDS + Lion

The lovable crutch, Latin WORDS for Mac (the studious Latin student shouldn’t use it!) is not supported with the new Mac OS X Lion upgrade.  If you rely on this application, the web version will have to be the default choice until there is an upgrade for Whitaker’s WORDS. I doubt it will happen.*

* Update: Read the comments below about Interpres (or click here).

On the Dating of the Vesuvius Eruption (2)

Part 1.
Manuscripts continued…

Among the manuscripts, one of the most well-known of Pliny’s letter 6.16 is Codex Laurentianus Mediceus 47.36, a ninth century manuscript currently residing in Florence, Italy:

Codex Laurentianus Mediceus 47.36, 9th century C.E. With the date nonum Kal · Septembres (24 August). Taken from Pappalardo, 210. (Click to enlarge)

The dating of the eruption in the codex reads as nonum Kal · Septembres (24 August), which standard texts of Pliny’s letters include.  One critical text, following the usual date, footnotes in its apparatus Septembres as coming from manuscript M (Mediceus), but the reading is omitted in another medieval manuscript, γ (codex Veronensis deperditus). [1]  Although the manuscript citation is brief, this is another indication that the conventional dating of 24 August relies entirely on the reading in the ninth century codex M.  This certainly raises uncertainty concerning the date widely accepted, especially when it is dependent upon one late codex within a number of medieval manuscripts which are not homogenous concerning the dating of the eruption of Vesuvius.  One, therefore, must look further into other evidences to gain a more accurate picture of the dating.

To be continued in part 3.

[1] C. Plini Caecili Secundi: Epistularum Libri Decem, R.A.B. Mynors, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963), 174.  Unfortunately, no other critical notes are given in this edition, except that a (editio Aldina anni 1508) follows M.

On the Dating of the Vesuvius Eruption (1)

This is the first in a series on which I’ll be posting.

In many publications, we read that the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius happened on a hot summer day in August of 79 C.E. (see, e.g., Wiki under Eruption of AD 79).  Recent research, however, is beginning to challenge this traditional view with a later date in the autumn of that year.  If this is so, this may paint a more accurate picture of the chronology of the disastrous events which took place in the area of the Bay of Naples in the year 79.  I will survey (surveys usually cannot do it justice!) some of the evidences which reveal a more determinative view for an autumnal date for the eruption.  Some of the items for discussion are Pliny the Younger’s account of the eruption (Letter 6.16), autumnal harvests, clothing, literary, numismatic, and inscriptional evidences.

The Plinian record
In the early years of the second century C.E., writing at the request of his friend Tacitus, Pliny the Younger retells the account of his uncle’s rescue operation and death during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in the year 79 C.E. [1]  The conventional dating for the eruption, which primarily comes from Pliny’s account (Ep. 6.16.4), is 24 August. [2] Pliny writes,

  • On 24 August, almost the seventh hour, my mother points out to him (Pliny’s uncle) that a cloud appears of both an unusual size and appearance.
  • Nonum kal. Septembres hora fere septima mater mea indicat ei apparere nubem inusitata et magnitudine et specie (Pliny, 6.16.4).

This given date has been published in many modern works without question.  On a popular level, a booklet published for the Pompeii exhibit A Day in Pompeii, having recently been concluded in Charlotte, North Carolina with its 4-city tour, opens with, ‘Pompeii is one of the most famous and tragic cities of antiquity.  On August 24, A.D. 79, Pompeii and the surround area vanished under a thick layer of volcanic ash when nearby Mount Vesuvius suddenly erupted.’ [3]  This dating, however, is entirely dependent on Pliny’s account–an account only extant in medieval manuscripts.  Scholars have noted that, among the Plinian manuscripts, there are variations of the actual dating. [4]  Berry writes that in the manuscripts the various dates are IX Kal. Semptembres (24 August), IX Kal. Decembris (23 November), Kal. Novembris (1 November), and III Kal. Novembris (30 October).  [5]  As it is very common for scribes to make matters confusing, whether accidental or intentional alterations made through the process of transmission, Roman dating within itself can be confusing.  Mary Beard comments that, ‘Pliny certainly describes the eruption, but as with almost all dates in Latin literature they get awfully mangled in the process of centuries of copying by hand.  We don’t actually know what Pliny wrote (or, of course, even if he remembered right).’ [6]

To be continued….

[1]  Pliny’s extant letters of the eruption and his uncle’s death during the rescue are letters 6.16 and 6.20.  For a printed Latin-English edition see Pliny, Book VI in Letters, Books I-VII, vol. 1 (Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969).

[2] A.N. Sherwin-White, The Letters of Pliny: A Historical and Social Commentary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 372, writes that this dating is dependent upon Pliny.

[3] A Day in Pompeii (Seattle: Documentary Media, 2007), 4.  Casually browsing another popular-level work, by Benedicte Gilman, Ashen Sky: The Letters of Pliny the Younger on the Eruption of Vesuvius, illustrated by Barry Moser (Los Angeles: Getty Museum, 2007), one can easily find the traditional August dating (7, 8, 9, 11).  Many more examples can be given, but these are simply two current examples.

[4] A few examples, Umberto Pappalardo, ‘L’eruzione pliniana del Vesuvio nel 79 d.C.: Ercolano,’ in Volcanology and Archaeology, Pact 25, C.A. Livadie and F. Widermann, eds. (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1990), 210; Joanne Berry, The Complete Pompeii (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007), 20; Mary Beard, The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2008), 17.

[5] Berry, 20.  G. Rolandi, A. Paone, M. Di Lascio, and G. Stefani, ‘The 79 AD Eruption of Somma: The Relationship Between the Date of the Eruption and the Southeast Tephra Dispersion,’ Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 169 (2007): 94, note that the manuscript indicating the date 30 October is ‘now lost.’  See the Wiki article under ‘Date of the eruption’ for a reference to this research.  The article abstract and PDF purchase can be found here.

[6] Beard, on her weblog, A Don’s Life: ‘10 Things You Need to Know About Pompeii.’

Latin verbs updated

At the Latin page I’ve updated the verbs with a ‘makeover.’  Full color and in Skia texttype.  The type may be too small, but we’ll see how you like it.  Please post a comment below if you’d like to say what you think of it.  Thanks

Phalaris and Perillus

0,1020,1522878,00.jpgAlthough I haven’t been tagged with the meme of funny moments in ancient literature (see son of the fathers, Sitz im Leben), I thought it would be fun to post on the brief story of Phalaris and Perillus in Ovid’s Tristia 3.11 (and mentioned very briefly again in 5.1).  As it is known, Ovid had been exiled by the emperor Augustus (for some ‘error’ he wrote).  3.11 has often, as in other places in the Tristia, been taken as a swipe against Augustus.  This time Ovid tells a story of one of the cruelest tyrants, Phalaris, well known for roasting men alive in a bronze bull.  Ovid may very well be comparing Augustus to Phalaris.  Although it is a gruesome story, I admit that I did chuckle while translating the passage a few months ago.  Here is Peter Green’s translation of 3.11.39-54:

harsher you are than grim Busiris, harsher even
than he [Perillus] who heated the brazen bull at a slow
fire, and presented this bull (so it’s said) to Sicilian
Phalaris the tyrant, touting his handiwork thus:
‘In this gift, my lord, there lies more usefulness than appearance
might suggest: it’s not just my art’s beauty merits praise.
Do you observe, here, how the bull’s right flank will open?
Thrust in any man you want
to destroy, shut him up, then bake him over slow-burning
coals, hear him bellow just like a real bull.
For this invention, to balance one favour with another,
give me, please, a reward
commensurate with my talent.’  ‘Most noteworthy purveyor
of torture,’ Phalaris answered, ‘handsel your own
oustanding invention in person!’  And straightway, cruelly roasted
by the fire he’d set up, he bellowed in double wise,
man and bull both. …

Green takes a step further by saying ‘man and bull both.’  Literally it is, ‘he produced double sounds with a groaning mouth’ (line 54, exhibuit geminos ore gemente sonos)!  The inventor’s ingenious creation backfires on him.  Maybe it isn’t as funny as it seems but it sure was when translating it.  Maybe I have a streak of dark humor..  At any rate, Ovid again briefly mentions the episode (my translation) in 5.1.51-54:

Do you require that no groans should follow my torments,
and do you forbid me to weep with a serious wound taken?
Phalaris himself allowed Perillus in the bronze
to emit moans and to bewail through the mouth of the bull.

Ministrae in Pliny 10.96

Ben Witherington recently wrote a ‘postlude’ for his series of reviews on Frank Viola’s and George Barna’s work, Pagan Christianity.  In the latter part of the post he mentions Pliny’s comments on the Christians in Pontus-Bithynia as an outsider investigating some of their practices.  After quoting Pliny’s famous passage Ben notes that the two female servants “were tasked with the serving of the meal, since diakonia in its root meaning is ‘to wait on tables’.”

I bring this up not so much concerning the servants’ function, but rather the translation of ministrae.  Here, Ben’s comment seems a bit misleading, implying the letter was written in Greek when, in fact, it was written in Latin.  Here are my comments I made on his post, followed by a few additional thoughts:

I’m sure you know that Pliny’s letter to Trajan was written in Latin; so the word translated, in my opinion awkwardly, as ‘deaconesses’ isn’t diakonia, but rather ministrae.

Also, very recently (in April during my course on Tacitus and Pliny) I had a conversation with classicist Miriam Griffin about this passage and the awkwardness of deaconesses as the translation for ministrae. Pliny certainly knows of some of the practices, but he admits in 10.96.1 that he had never been present at ‘trials of Christians.’ With the women, Pliny is dependent on what they’re saying to him. We don’t know what they said. But they must have given Pliny some explanation concerning the status of these Christians.

We both concluded that Pliny, although he was aware of these Christian practices (how much did he know?), might not have known the particular nuances of the specific function of these ministrae. We settled on a more general translation such as ‘servants.’  We were trying to see things from a Roman point of view as Pliny wrote about his investigations.

This is not to detract these women’s function in their own church context, but it seems safer to keep it generic and understand Pliny is writing from his point of view as a Roman.


It’s interesting that Sherwin-White, Radice, Walsh, and W. Williams translate ministrae as deaconesses.  Even the OLD has that as a gloss translation.  Commenting on the Latin, Williams (Pliny: Correspondence with Trajan from Bithynia, p. 143) writes, “The Latin word ministrae is probably used to translate the Greek word diakonoi, for Paul refers to Phoebe as the diakonos (servant) of the church at Cenchreae (Romans 16, 1).” There certainly may be a reason for giving that sort of translation–even connecting the dots (anachronistically?) with Paul.  But as I try to see it from a Roman’s point of view, as I mentioned, although he knew some of their basic practices, I don’t think Pliny would have known the intricacies of these Christian people’s function and organization.  Again, I think it may be better to translate the word more generically.  (I tend to repeat myself a lot!)  It really isn’t a huge issue but I’m just nit-picky sometimes. 🙂  Does anyone else have an opinion on the passage?

New Pages

I haven’t been able to blog as I would like, but I do have a couple things to mention.  I’ve created two new pages (see tabs above or pages in the side menu) for Greek and Latin.  For the Greek I have uploaded pdfs for verbs and participles.  For the Latin, nouns, pronouns, verbs, and a vocabulary list section.  When these pages are updated I’ll make sure to mention it in the postings.  Enjoy!

Pliny-Trajan 10.96-97

I have uploaded a vocabulary word list for the correspondence between Pliny the Younger and emperor Trajan, letters 10.96-97, concerning the matter of Christians whom Pliny had encountered in the Roman province of Pontus-Bithynia in Asia Minor (ca. 112-114 CE).

  • For the text go to the Latin Library.
  • Vocabulary word list (.pdf) [to be updated]
  • Update: for the latest click on Latin Pages in the side menu.

Virgil’s Aeneid on iTunes

va1.jpgFrom a recent browsing through iTunes U, I discovered Standford University has available a series of lectures on Virgil’s Aeneid by Susanna Braund. So far the lectures I’ve heard are very informative and worth hearing. Take a look, listen and download.