Battle of the Latin Dictionaries

A very short blog, today, to go with the Latin Dictionary review videos–-mostly written by Aven.

When we filmed these videos, we both included a lot of background on the dictionaries, and talked about the personalities involved with editing and publishing them. When we started editing the videos, we realised that they were going to be way too long if we included everything. So we decided to focus on the differences between the two dictionaries, and who would find each one most useful; and in the case of the OLD, I also wanted to include information about how to read and use it, to show people why they would want to bother consulting it instead of just sticking to the cheap and easy pocket dictionaries all the time.

What that meant was we had to cut out most of the history from both videos, and also cut out Mark looking up some words. But we both think that the information that we cut out is interesting, especially if you’re interested in the history of Classics as a field or the history of lexicography. So we’ve posted longer versions of both reviews, as unlisted videos, for anyone who wants to watch them (Lewis & Short Extended, and OLD Extended). They include stories about people involved with the deciphering of Linear B, a pioneer in women’s education, and a writer and scholar’s worst nightmare: a lost manuscript!

I also didn’t include some things I now wish I had–-specifically, a few ways that the new edition has updated the language from the first edition. After all, what does any sensible person do as soon as they open a dictionary? Why, look up rude words, of course! And that’s one place that there do seem to be a few changes in the new edition, to update the language for modern readers. Here, for example, are the entries for “irrumatio” and “irrumator” in the first edition*:

And here’s the new edition:

Not a huge change, but definitely clearer! 

And just for the sake of comparison, here’s the same word in the Lewis & Short:

Now that I'm reading this entry over, it occurs to me that I think the OLD definition for this term is, in fact, wrong! My understanding of irrumo, and the way I've usually seen it translated, is that it describes the action of forcing another person to perform oral sex on the irrumator (or perhaps something more violent than that). That certainly is how it seems to be meant in Catullus 16. But that's not what the OLD says--it suggests the opposite role, in fact. Which doesn't make any sense in my reading of Catullus, for instance. I think I'm going to have to investigate further; but this definitely demonstrates the importance of clear definitions and careful lexicography, since the Lewis & Short definition is certainly not helpful at all!

You can access the Lewis & Short dictionary (and a number of other useful Latin and Greek dictionaries) online at Logeion. If you want to read more about the history of these dictionaries, Francis Jacques Sypher's article "A History of Harpers' Latin Dictionary" (Harvard Library Bulletin 20.4 (1972): 349–66 or online here) gives a detailed history of the Lewis & Short, and there's a short blog post on the history of the OLD here. Finally, if you want to read the preface to the 2nd edition of the OLD that I mention in the video, it’s here.


*No, I didn’t realise how topical those words would be when I took the pictures! I was just thinking of Catullus, as always (poem 16).

The Classical Bedrock of Fossil

This week's video is about the history of the word "fossil", and the study of fossils from the ancient world to the 19th century:

The basic theme of this one is, of course, the importance of Latin and Greek to scientific terminology, and beyond that the larger debt science owes to the classical world, as for instance with the Latin-derived words fossil and strata themselves, the many scientific names for organisms drawn from Latin and Greek,  and the metaphorical reference to the Roman gods Neptune, Pluto, and Vulcan in the geological terms neptunism, plutonism, and vulcanism. It made a convenient starting point, therefore, to mention the reception of fossils themselves in the ancient world, for which I drew on the research of Adrienne Mayor -- she gives a fuller treatment of this in her book The First Fossil Hunters. On the subject of sources, for the later history of geology and palaeontology, I've drawn on Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, James Burke's The Day the Universe Changed episode 8 “Fit to Rule: Darwin’s Revolution” and the corresponding chapter in his book of the same name, and the excellent website Strange Science: the Rocky Road to Modern Paleontology and Biology. As always, a fuller list of sources can be found on the show notes page. The etymological trigger for this story is the fact that fossil and bed come from the same Proto-Indo-European root word, and this tied in nicely to the additional etymology focussed on in this video "strata", which in addition to its geological sense in English, could in Latin refer to a bed cover, and this further tied into the recent find of the earliest known bed, itself a demonstration of the principles of stratigraphy. I also took the opportunity to tie in another recent development, the recent revival of the name Brontosaurus, and I suppose I could have mentioned recent work on analysis of the mammoth genome.

There are of course many details I had to leave out, especially since my main goal was to tell the story of the linguistic and classical backgrounds to the study of fossils (so do check out main sources I listed above for a fuller story).  For instance, there's the 17th century scientist Nicolas Steno who proposed the Law of Superposition, that each stratum was newer than the one below it. And the Comte de Buffon, only briefly mentioned, was also very significant for being one of the first to really argue for an age of the earth much longer than the Bible accounted for (though he was still orders of magnitude under).  Or the evolutionary debate between Charles Darwin's natural selection and Lamarckism, proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, that suggested new characteristics developed during an organism's lifetime could be passed on to its offspring. Bone Wars enemies Cope and Marsh were on opposite sides of this debate, and though Darwin's model obviously won the day, interestingly Lamarckism presaged resent research into epigenetics. And it was Thomas Henry Huxley, nickname Darwin's Bulldog for his fierce defense of Darwin's theory, who was particularly concerned with bird evolution from dinosaurs, was the conduit between O.C. Marsh and Darwin. But aside from this scattershot list, there are few additional elements I want to mention here in a little more detail.

It's notable how important dining clubs were to the progress of science in the 18th and 19th centuries. I mentioned the Oyster Club in the video, important for transmitting Hutton's work via John Playfair (whose brother William, by the way, invented the line graph, the bar chart, and the pie chart), and in my previous video "Gimlet" I mentioned the Lunar Society, of which Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) was a founding member. And speaking of Erasmus Darwin, by the way, he wrote a long poetic adaptation of the plant classification system of Carl Linnaeus (which you can read here if you wish). And in the Gimlet blog post I mentioned how Linnaeus mishandled the botanical name of the cinchona tree, the source of quinine, so there's another circular connection for you! Worth adding to the list here then is the Poker Club, also central to the Scottish Enlightenment, and the X Club, whose members were all supporters of Darwin's natural selection and which was founded by Huxley. No doubt the dining club scene will crop up again.

But this also highlights the fact that men of a certain class and standing were at the centre of scientific progress, for the simple reason that they had education and the leisure time to devote to such work, and the efforts of those of lower class or of women were often side-lined. For instance, William "Strata" Smith, due to his lower class background and education, was often dismissed or even screwed over by the geological in-crowd, in particular by one George Bellas Greenborough who plagiarised and then undercut the selling price of his map. Eventually Smith spent time in a debter’s prison, only later in life receiving real recognition for his work. And the work of fossil hunter Mary Anning was often downplayed by the scientific community, though she is particularly important to this story for putting William Buckland onto coprolites (as well as for her role in the discovery of the Ichthyosaur, meaning "fish-lizard", a marine reptile, not to be confused with Marsh's Ichthyornis, the toothed bird).

Buckland's coprolite table

Buckland's coprolite table

And it's with Buckland that I most want to add some details, but not William Buckland, but his wife Mary Buckland née Morland. Mary and William shared an interest in palaeontology and geology. The story goes that they met in a coach in Dorset while both were reading the same book by Georges Cuvier. They struck up a conversation and one thing led to another. As Mary and William's daughter Elizabeth Oke Buckland Gordon records in her biography of her father:

Dr. Buckland was once travelling somewhere in Dorsetshire, and reading a new and weighty book of Cuvier's which he had just received from the publisher ; a lady was also in the coach, and amongst her books was this identical one, which Cuvier had sent her. They got into conversation, the drift of which was so peculiar that Dr. Buckland at last exclaimed, "You must be Miss Morland, to whom I am about to deliver a letter of introduction." He was right, and she soon became Mrs. Buckland. She is an admirable fossil geologist, and makes models in leather of some of the rare discoveries.

Mary was herself an avid fossil hunter and a notable scientific illustrator in her own right, producing drawings for Georges Cuvier, William Conybeare, as well as her husband, and was as keenly interested in the sciences of geology and palaeontology as William:

Mary Morland, whose mother died when she was only an infant, was the eldest of a large family of half-brothers and sisters. The greater part of her childhood was spent at Oxford, where she resided with the famous  physician Sir Christopher Pegge, whose childless wife took great delight in the lovable and intelligent child. In the University City, and, perhaps, through her acquaintance  with the learned Professor of Mineralogy, she acquired that love of natural science which was such a joy to her through all her life. Within a few hours of her death she was working at the microscope, ever looking expectantly for a clearer light in the next world to be shed on the wonders learnt here. Sir R. Murchison, writing of the happy union between Buckland and his wife, calls Mrs. Buckland " a truly excellent and intellectual woman, who, aiding her husband in several of his most difficult researches, has laboured well in her vocation to render her children worthy of their father's name.
Megalosaurus fossil drawn by Mary Buckland

Megalosaurus fossil drawn by Mary Buckland

Indeed their honeymoon was a year-long geological tour, and Mary often helped William with his research and writings, which he dictated to her and she edited, and famously assisted with an experiment involving a flour paste and the family's pet tortoise to identify fossilized footprints. She was also William's curator, mending fossils and making models. So her own contributions to this story should not be underestimated (you can read her Wikipedia entry here or her biography in the ODNB here). One of their children, Frank Buckland, became a celebrated naturalist in his own right, purportedly able to identify fossils as a child, and also inherited his father's habit of zoophagy, eating his way through the animal kingdom. So a notable and interesting family all around. Here's Frank's account of his mother (quoted from here) and a family silhouette:

Not only was she a pious, amiable, and excellent helpmate to my father; but being naturally endowed with great mental powers, habits of perseverance and order, tempered by excellent judgement, she materially assisted her husband in his literary labours, and often gave to them a polish which added not a little to their merit … Not only with her pen did she render material assistance, but her natural talent in the use of her pencil enabled her to give accurate illustrations and finished drawings … She was also particularly clever and neat in mending broken fossils … It was her occupation also to label the specimens.

But getting back to the word "fossil", there was in fact an earlier 16th c. use of the word in English to refer to fish, not as the petrified remains of fish, but living fish that were thought to live in underground water. Here's the first citation of this sense, and later one that clarifies what's being described: "The auncient Philosophers affirme, that there haue bene founde fishes vnder the earth, who (for that cause) they called Focilles"; "Where these Fossil fishes are found, there are subterraneall waters not farre off, by which they are conveyed thither." A curious belief that there were underground bodies of water populated by fish. And of course there's the figurative use of the word to refer to a person or thing that is out of date, first used by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Government has been a fossil; it should be a plant." And here are a couple of other literary uses of this metaphor too interesting to leave out: "When a man endures patiently what ought to be unendurable, he is a fossil" (C. Brontë, The Professor); "The working or serving man, shall be a buried by-gone, a superseded fossil" (H. Melville, The Confidence-Man). So I suppose older scientists with outmoded ideas become fossils themselves!

There's another nice set of connections I didn't mention in the video, and it starts with the etymology for the word volcano. Volcano comes into English in the early 17th century from Italian. The word, as I said, comes from the name of the Roman god Vulcan, as it was believed that this god of fire and metalworking resided in Mount Etna, and as chance would have it, it was the study of Etna that afforded Charles Lyell the evidence of fossil shells in strata that ran under the mountain, which allowed him to estimate the great age and slow process of both geology and the fossilized remains. Fitting then that it was Vulcan's abode! Interesting, too, that the name Vulcan is itself not Latin in origin, but possibly borrowed from Etruscan, or connected to the Minoan Welkhanoc, ultimately from Hittite Valhannasses. But back to Lyell; though friends with Charles Darwin, he didn't immediately fully accept his friend's theory, and also proposed the idea that geological and biological history might be cyclical, and earlier forms of life might return, a notion ridiculed by fellow scientist Henry De la Beche in a cartoon called "Awful Changes", in which Lyell is depicted as a lecturing Ichthyosaur:

It's significant that he's an Ichthyosaur, as De la Beche was a close friend of Mary Anning (remember her role in the discovery of the Ichthyosaur), and De la Beche also produced a picture titled "Duria Antiquior" of Anning's various discoveries -- the proceeds from the prints to benefit Anning who was having financial difficulties --  which came to be one of the first popular artistic depictions of ancient life:

And as a final amusing sidenote for De la Beche, he once took the role of test-vomiter in the investigation of overflowing privies conducted by Lyon Playfair, whom I've previously mentioned as the being the first to propose the use of chemical warfare.

There's one last footnote to this story, in relation to the story of Thomas Jefferson's mammoth cheese. Jefferson was another of these 19th century polymaths, and in addition to his interests in natural science and palaeontology, he was also linguistically talented -- in addition to Latin and Greek, as well as several modern European languages, he studied Anglo-Saxon and even wrote an essay on the teaching of the Anglo-Saxon language -- so he would probably have been quite interested in both the linguistic and scientific elements of this video. The mammoth cheese in question was made in Cheshire, Massachusetts and presented to Jefferson in recognition of his stance on religious tolerance.

Cheshire Mammoth Cheese Press Monument

Cheshire Mammoth Cheese Press Monument

The mammoth cheese was kept in the White House for a couple of years until a mammoth loaf, this time made by the US Navy to rally support for the war against the Barbary States, was similarly presented to Jefferson to accompany it (and you can watch my earlier video on the word 'loaf' and the metaphorical implications of bread here). Apparently this kicked off something of a tradition of mammoth cheeses, with later president Andrew Jackson also receiving a giant cheese:

And so the making of mammoth cheeses became something of a tradition, even here in my home country Canada (see here for a brief write up), and one such giant cheese even inspired James McIntyre to write "Ode on the Mammoth Cheese", regarded as the worst ever poem in Canadian literary history; this distinction notwithstanding, the poem is celebrated by an annual cheese poetry competition in his hometown of Ingersoll, Ontario.

Ode on the Mammoth Cheese
We have seen the Queen of cheese, 
Laying quietly at your ease, 
Gently fanned by evening breeze -- 
Thy fair form no flies dare seize. 
All gaily dressed soon you'll go 
To the great Provincial Show, 
To be admired by many a beau 
In the city of Toronto. 
Cows numerous as a swarm of bees -- 
Or as the leaves upon the trees -- 
It did require to make thee please, 
And stand unrivalled Queen of Cheese. 
May you not receive a scar as 
We have heard that Mr. Harris 
Intends to send you off as far as 
The great World's show at Paris. 
Of the youth -- beware of these -- 
For some of them might rudely squeeze 
And bite your cheek; then songs or glees 
We could not sing o' Queen of Cheese. 
We'rt thou suspended from baloon, 
You'd cast a shade, even at noon; 
Folks would think it was the moon 
About to fall and crush them soon. 

Story Time

This week it's story time on The Endless Knot YouTube channel:

This video marks the final part of the "Ways of Knowing" series of videos, which were the starting point to this video project, so you can now watch the whole set of four videos together on this playlist. These four videos together describe the foundations on which many of my videos will be based. From now on, the videos will mostly follow the pattern of starting off with a word and its etymology, and then from that jumping off point explore the web of history and culture that follows from the word. These webs draw on all three of these cognitive tools our brains use to make sense of the world, the stories we construct to manage the information, the metaphors we use to understand the unfamiliar, and the interconnective associations that tie it all together. And our use of language is at the heart of all of this. Furthermore, I try to use these three elements to make the information in the videos more memorable, by telling stories, pointing out metaphors, and making connections.

Unlike the other "ways of knowing" videos, this one wasn't adapted from an old blog post, but once I had started putting together the others I realised that narrative was the missing piece. The ideas here grew out of my teaching actually, first an English course in narrative (which was also the origin of "Paddle Your Own Canoe" which I've talked about before), and then later a course I developed on theories of mythology, which looked at both classical and world myths from a variety of different theoretical perspectives. What sparked the idea in particular is the etymology of the word "narrative" itself, since it's related to the word "know", a fact that I always point out to my students when beginning any discussion of narrative. I can't remember where I first ran across Walter Fisher and the narrative paradigm idea, but it was probably in some discussion of narratology. In any case, this idea dovetails nicely with my etymological observation, and also fits well into my broader interests in cognition, and the way language fits into this. Joseph Campbell, of course, comes out of the focus on myth -- and as well there are numerous other theoretical approaches to myth, such as those of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Otto Rank, Carl Jung, Vladimir Propp, Lord Raglan, Sir James Frazer, and many others, which all have a bearing on this topic. Robert A. Segal's Myth: A Very Short Introduction is an excellent brief rundown of the many theoretical approaches to myth (see the shownotes page for this and other useful sources). Of course I've mentioned Campbell, Raglan, and Frazer in a video already, "A Detective Story".

By the way, the story of Persephone has been in the news recently since a beautiful mosaic depicting her abduction by Hades has been uncovered in a tomb at Amphipolis. The tomb is particularly famous because it's thought to be connected to Alexander the Great (having perhaps been built for one of his family members). The presence of this story in a tomb makes sense given the association between Hades, Persephone, and death, and it raises the interesting question of how much the element of resurrection is implied by its inclusion in a tomb. A further point to note is that this tomb was probably created for Macedonian royalty, showing the spreading influence of Greek myth outside of its original area. For a more detailed rundown of the discovery see here. This discovery came too late for me to use the images in the video, so I've included them here.

The urban legend stuff about the alligators in the sewers also came out of teaching narrative and myth. The Snopes website is a useful repository for urban legends. In addition to the alligators, other urban legends which can be understood in terms of our contemporary cultural preoccupations include stories about vermin found in fast food and the babysitter receiving threatening phone calls which turn out to be from within the house. It's an interesting exercise to think about these sorts of stories and what they tell us about ourselves and the world we live in. I'd love to receive comments on any "modern myths" or stories that you think can tell us a lot about our culture and ourselves.

From Naval Gazing to Navel Gazing: Thinking about and with Metaphor

With this week's video we're back to the "ways of knowing" miniseries, and a look at metaphor, and how it connects the development of sailing technology and "the journey of life":

This one has quite a long history. It was originally a series of three posts on my very first blog (1 2 3), which I later updated and combined into one long post on my second blog, and you can now also access that version here on my current website. Basically the backstory is that I was teaching a course in narrative, and one of the thematic groupings of texts I put together was travel narrative. As I was preparing this, I noticed that there was an interesting parallel between the way the "journey of life" metaphor was used in many texts and the development in sailing technology from the ancient world into the 20th century. I've always been interested in the relationship between science and technology on the one hand, and literature and culture on the other, and I've sometimes worked this into my lectures a bit; that's the genesis for this idea.

There weren't many stipulations for this narrative course other than that we were to consider narrative from fairly broad terms. I decided to divide the course into two parts. First we would survey some of the major narrative genres of western literature — myth, folktale, legend, etc.; epic and saga; romance; the novel; the short story — and then we'd spend the rest of our time on thematic units. I wanted to consider narrative broadly speaking as a way human beings tend to organise information and make sense of their world. Starting off with myth was a particularly good way of introducing this idea. We compared parallel stories such as creation myths, destruction myths (like flood myths), and so forth from the Bible, Greek myth, and Norse myth. This also gave us the opportunity to do a bit of comparative mythology and consider the differences in religious beliefs and some of the different world views these reflect, for instance the very personal relationship between humans and God in the Judeo-Christian world and the relationship based on fear in the Greco-Roman world.

I also wanted to spend some time on some of the fundamental narratives of western culture, and the first thematic unit that I settled on was travel and exploration. As I was prepping my lectures on this topic it occurred to me that there was an interesting parallel pattern between the travel and exploration literature and the world views reflected by this imagery on the one hand, and the development of sailing technology on the other. I suggested to the class that the travel and exploration metaphor could be seen as reflective of cultural change from the ancient world to the modern. This narrative metaphor often describes humans' relation to the world in which they live — the narrative is symbolic of people's place in the universe. And the use of this narrative metaphor changes over time to reflect different beliefs about people's place in the world.

I've held on to this idea over the years, and when I started to work on this web series, it was one of the first things I wanted to come back to and adapt for video, since it would be nicely visual. Indeed the concept map is figured here as an actual map, and the chronological journey of the development of this metaphor is figured as a journey.

The centrality of metaphor to our language and our cognition is perhaps most importantly explored in the groundbreaking book Metaphors We Live By (1980), by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Though Lakoff's useful index of conceptual metaphors, the Conceptual Metaphor Homepage, no longer seems to be available at its old ulr, it's mirrored here (at least for now), so have a look. Here is the relevant section that includes the "life as a journey" metaphor. Interestingly, the idea of fundamental cultural metaphors was explored earlier by Ernst Robert Curtius in European Literature of the Latin Middle Ages (1948). I first encountered Curtius while writing my doctoral dissertation, and, after constructing the appropriate footnotes for that project, I filed him away as something I should come back to later. More recently, there's the very exciting The Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus project at the University of Glasgow, which is drawing on the Oxford English Dictionary's Historical Thesaurus to map out how metaphors in English have developed and changed over the history of the English language. I'm very excited to see the (ongoing) results of this excellent project. You can read more about the project and see some fascinating visualizations on their blog.

And one final link for those interested in reading a little further: if you want to know more about the development of sailing technology in the ancient world (and beyond) a good starting place is this useful overview.

Programming note: in two weeks we'll go back to looking at word origins with the first of a very special two-parter about an interesting etymology and the surrounding cultural connections. The final part of the "ways of knowing" miniseries, looking at narrative, will be coming later, so stay tuned...