Tag Archives: art

Edward Gibbon, 1737 – 1794

 Edward Gibbon published The Decline and Fall in 1776

Edward Gibbon tells the whole sad story in his fascinating six-volume book, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I do recommend it. It’s not for everybody. You probably want to wait until you’re a senior in high school to read it. You need to be a reader who really enjoys reading—it takes a little while to catch on to the rhythm of Gibbon’s writing and the slightly different meanings of some words written two and a half centuries ago. Once you manage that, I promise it’ll be a rewarding experience. It will also be a horrifying experience if you pay attention to what our own idiot political & cultural elites are up to. Having read Gibbon, you’ll view each day’s top news stories with mounting panic and maybe do something drastic like start writing a history blog.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19400.The_Decline_and_Fall_of_the_Roman_Empire
Decline and Fall is available in an abridged (shortened) version, which is the one I read: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/59496/the-decline-and-fall-of-the-roman-empire-by-edward-gibbon/
and in audio: https://www.audiobooks.com/audiobook/decline-and-fall-of-the-roman-empire-vol-i/244636 It costs 40 bucks so check with your librarian to see if you can borrow it. Librarians are helpful people and can save you a buttload of cash.
A thoughtful entry by a Wiki editor—worth the read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_History_of_the_Decline_and_Fall_of_the_Roman_Empire

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The sack of Rome

Alaric and the Visigoths sack Rome in ad 410

Welp, once again I’ve gotten ahead of myself by focusing with laser intensity on a single subject: how Romance languages were born from Latin. I think we should back up a bit and look at the big picture.

The big picture is: the Roman Empire had gotten too big. It was really difficult for one guy to manage. At its startup, the Empire had Augustus and then the 5 ‘good’ emperors who had the necessary skills to run the show. After that, there was a slow decline brought on by corruption, everybody-in-the-government’s lust for power, political instability, mismanagement of the economy (debasement of currency), over-reliance on a work-for-hire military, use of slave labor, religious intolerance, weak morals, and the ever-present threat of invasion from kingdoms and tribes at the Empire’s borders. Those tribes sacked the city of Rome in ad 410 and by 476 the Empire was over. I’m speaking of the western half of the Empire. The eastern Byzantine half carried on after the western half’s fall for a thousand more years.

https://www.ancient.eu/Western_Roman_Empire/
https://www.ancient.eu/article/835/fall-of-the-western-roman-empire/
https://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-05-29/new-data-reveal-the-hidden-mechanisms-of-the-collapse-of-the-roman-empire/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sack_of_Rome_(410)

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Today’s post is brought to you by the letters I, J, U, V, W and Y.

The Volkswagen—my first car

Want more? The letter J eventually replaced I as a consonant and is pronounced Y. Before that, Jesus (Joshua/Yeshua in Hebrew) was IESVS in Latin and pronounced YEH-zoos (the V is a vowel: U). When Pontius Pilate had ‘INRI’ posted on the Cross it was short for: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudæorum—Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews (it was meant to mock Him). Which reminds me: in Spain they pronounce J and soft G as H: Jesus=hay-ZOOS or Julio=HOO-lee-o or George/Jorge=HOR-hay. J replaced Y, too. G-d’s name, YHWH eventually got vowels and became Jehovah—because when W was added to the Latin alphabet people couldn’t decide whether to pronounce it W or V. In Italy, they pronounce V and W at the same time—vincere=VWIN-che-reh. In Germany, Vs are Ws or Fs. They pronounce the name of their own car, designed in Germany for Germans, the Volkswagen, as ‘FOLKS-vagen.*’ The Austrian town of Vienna and the sausage made there is pronounced ‘WEE-ner’—think ‘wiener schnitzel.’


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-OQojS_aVw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLLQz78w6Bo
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah
Your one-stop shop for canned Vienna sausage:
https://www.amazon.com/Libbys-Vienna-Sausage-4-6-oz/dp/B01NGZ050U/ref=asc_df_B01NGZ050U/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=416696927952&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=6906383959846779699&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9005171&hvtargid=pla-871853311415&psc=1&tag=&ref=&adgrpid=93865725557&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvadid=416696927952&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=6906383959846779699&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9005171&hvtargid=pla-871853311415
https://www.thespruceeats.com/wiener-schnitzel-recipe-1447089

Check the comments in the previous post for a Jim F’s list of Letters With Multiple Pronunciations!

* Thanks for the pronunciation help, Heidi K!

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Today’s post is brought to you by the letter C

A chivalrous caballero chanting a sea-shanty

Not only did P get pronounced F in the Roman Empire’s northerly boondocks, C stopped being K and got softened to CH or S. In Germany Caesar is still Kaizer but in the British Isles (and so in North America) it’s pronounced SEE-zer. Over in Russia it got shortened to Czar. Even in Italy the name became Cesare (CHEZ-a-ray). Chalk and calcium mean sort of the same thing but which of those sounds is the real C? A song is a canto or a chanson or a chant or a shanty. In a card store you can buy paper to draw a chart on. A caballero can be chivalrous or cavalier—all 3 words are about guys who ride horses. Which reminds me: in Spain they harden V to B.

Can you think of any more?

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Today’s post brought to you by the letter P, or maybe F

Gradually, the Roman Empire grew old and split into two. The western half became the Holy Roman Empire; the eastern half became the Byzantine Empire. Regions of the western half mixed Latin into languages that would eventually become English, French, German, Spanish, Italian. When we speak English today, we use words that originated from Latin. F’rinstance, I just now used the words ‘gradually, empire, region, language, would’ and ‘originated.’ Those words have Latin roots. ‘Gradually’ means step-by-step. You devoted readers who’ve been following along since we were talking about Time & Space may remember that ‘gradus’ is a Latin word to measure a step. https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2019/07/04/measuring-distance-in-rome/

Yup, they’re Grimm

And here’s something interesting: as you get further away from Rome headed north, Latin words that use the letter ‘P’ switch to the letter ‘F.’ Pisces becomes fish; pater=father/vater; pode=foot; poultry/pollo=fowl.* This replacing a hard P with a fricative F is known in linguistic circles as Grimm’s Law. That’s right, Jacob Grimm of the Brothers Grimm who tramped all over the German countryside looking for folk fairytales in the ad 1800s. It turns out they were tracking the history of the German language. The brothers needed to collect old words—the older the better. They reasoned the best place to find old words was in old folk tales, the stories handed down from generation to generation. The language of fairytales provides clues to how words evolve. After accumulating all those stories, they published them in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The rest is history—er, linguistics.

https://daily.jstor.org/the-fairytale-language-of-the-brothers-grimm/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brothers_Grimm
https://www.amazon.com/Original-Fairy-Tales-Brothers-Grimm/dp/0691160597/ref=pd_sbs_2?pd_rd_w=yOiJx&pf_rd_p=651d64d1-3c73-45b6-ae09-e545600e3a22&pf_rd_r=KHXPKWB3ZSJXXZ1G6Z7N&pd_rd_r=c24e0194-4b22-4c6f-9e94-d56782a9a82c&pd_rd_wg=lSo2R&pd_rd_i=0691160597&psc=1
Here’s a great article about the brothers—the writer also wonders if there were a Mother Tongue, a language on which all the others are based.
https://lflank.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/linguistics-and-the-brothers-grimm/

* Something I wonder about: Rome battled the Phoenicians in what they called the Punic Wars. Which pronunciation came first?

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Fringe Romans and country men

Ancient Roman cell phone

I made a point of saying that kids who spoke Latin and Greek were taught to read & write Latin and Greek. Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire and if you wanted your kids to succeed in life, by Jupiter, you taught ‘em Latin. But maybe Latin wasn’t the kids’ first language after all. Let’s face it, the Roman Empire was a big place. As you travel away from the city of Rome, toward the frontiers of the Empire, people were less fussy about speaking Latin. Those regions had had their own native languages before Julius Caesar showed up. They adopted Latin and its grammar as it suited them. They mixed it in with the language they’d already been speaking.

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Learning Latin

I think we got it right this time!

UPDATE! The title of this post is more apt than I knew. I drew this quick sketch (above) of Julius Caesar writing his Commentaries (you can pick up a paperback copy here) and scribbled in his famous line: “Veni, vidi, vici” “I came, I saw, I conquered.” I did it in a hurry and got it wrong. I’d say I was nodding, like that guy Homer Bonus, but in my case it was more like a coma. Lucky for me, my pal Jim F (a newly-minted Western Civ Irregular) is a Latin master. He caught my goof not once, but twice when I corrected it wrong (see comments below). There’s a lesson here, gang. You don’t have to be smart—just be sure to have plenty of smart friends. I’m blessed with quite a few.

You still hear and read “I came, I saw, I conquered” occasionally today. A few years ago American Secretary of State Clinton joked about deposing the Libyan dictator Qaddafi:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlz3-OzcExI “We came, we saw, he died.” Vastly less cringe-worthy are Eric Maschwitz’ lyrics to These Foolish Things: “You came, you saw, you conquered me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mshV7ug8cdE  Here is Ella Fitzgerald singing it. If her voice and this song aren’t the pinnacle of Western achievement, I don’t know what is.

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/classical-quarterly/article/veni-vidi-vici-and-caesars-triumph/2EA3991576722595B28F33D54D8BAB9B

<p>During the Roman Empire, kids went to private schools. A teacher would set up a school and the parents paid him tuition. Not everybody went. Roman citizens—and freemen who could afford it—went to school. Poor freemen and slaves didn’t. <br /><br />Naturally, the students learned to read and write Latin and Greek. These are called ‘classic’ languages. Believe it or not, Latin was a regular part of everybody’s education in Great Britain and the United States up until less than a century ago. In the Sixties they taught Latin in New York City public schools. <br /><br />https://trisagionseraph.tripod.com/literacyf.html<br />https://erenow.net/ancient/ancient-greece-and-rome-an-encyclopedia-for-students-4-volume-set/257.php<br />https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Status_in_Roman_legal_system<br />https://classicalacademicpress.com/blogs/classical-insights/10-reasons-to-study-latin<br />The Latin master was a familiar feature of British education—enough so that the audience got John Cleese’s bit in Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAfKFKBlZbM<br />Do they still teach Latin in Italy? Renzo Arbore tells his mamma that he prefers singing rhythm to studying Latin: “Il Latino non va giù, aritmetica è tabu…(Latin’s no good, arithmetic is taboo)” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZV0XFzKxO0<br />https://medium.com/@gentryalex13/how-learning-latin-changed-my-life-3554969eb293</p&gt;

Rome-schooling

Livius and students.

With all these scrolls and codex books there must’ve been a fair amount of people who could read and write back in the latter days of the Roman Empire. It’s hard to know exactly because they didn’t keep statistics like that. At least I can’t find any. Based on who could afford to send their kids to school, maybe a third of the population was literate? Boys, mostly, learned to read and write—but girls learned, too. You can find the occasional fresco or statue of a girl reading. There weren’t government schools like we have today. Up until the 3rd century bc kids were home-schooled by their dad, the paterfamilias. As I mentioned earlier, the Romans sure did love Greek arts and literature. Once they saw Greek education, they glommed onto that, too.

The Roman Republic, and then Empire, was all business. They were set up as an organized military that also farmed. No time for frivolities. At least at first, Rome didn’t have arts or literature of her own. She imported ‘em from other cultures—mostly Greece. One Roman dad bought himself a Greek slave, Livius Andronicus, to tutor his kids. Livius likely introduced a system of teaching that resembled the Trivium (3 parts): Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. At the Grammar stage students learn subjects that are memorized, like the rules of reading & writing. At the Logic stage they learn how to think and understand. At the Rhetoric stage they learn how to persuade other people using logic and speaking skills.

Livius was wildly successful at teaching and so won his freedom. He opened his own school after that and is known for translations of Greek works into Latin as well as his original plays. Livius is thought to be the first to write literature in Latin.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_ancient_Rome
https://ihomeschoolnetwork.com/classical-education-trivium/
https://veritaspress.com/the-trivium
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trivium
I enthusiastically recommend recorded lectures offered by The Great Courses, but goodness, they need a proofreader for their newsletter. It’s ‘Plato’ not ‘Pluto.’ https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/the-education-system-in-ancient-greece/
https://greece.mrdonn.org/education.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Livius_Andronicus
Here is a tiny chunk of what kids had to learn: 30 conjugations of the word ‘this’—
https://www.latintutorial.com/videos/hic-haec-hoc

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Gall and vitriol!

In the world of art supplies, a liquid medium like ink is pigment + binder + solvent. Pigment is color. In iron gall ink, the black pigment is created by the chemical reaction when vitriol (iron sulphate) is added to water that had gall-nuts steeping in it.

The binder holds the ingredients together. You might remember the Egyptians got the sap, or gum, from acacia trees which they dried and ground into powder—Gum Arabic. Gum Arabic is the binder for iron gall ink. The powder is mixed with vinegar before adding it to the inky water.

The acid from gall-nuts (and vinegar, too) eats into the vellum very slightly, so the pigment stays put.

Water is the solvent. You can thin iron gall ink with water. After it dries, though, it’s waterproof. If you goof you have to scrape it off with a knife.

Here are links to iron gall ink recipes:

https://recipes.hypotheses.org/8935
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7k4-wj8mZ8
Isn’t she wonderful? This lady found a medieval recipe for iron gall ink and decided to cook it up herself:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xo9rbRRCBv8
https://www.medievalists.net/2015/09/how-to-make-ink-in-the-middle-ages/

Here’s where you can get the ingredients online. CHECK WITH YOUR PARENTS before you start playing with caustic chemicals that can burn a hole through the kitchen counter, you weirdos!
https://www.etsy.com/listing/786632766/oak-gall-35-oz-brownish-white-gallnut?gpla=1&gao=1&&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=shopping_us_b-craft_supplies_and_tools-paints_inks_and_dyes-dyes&utm_custom1=_k_Cj0KCQiAj9iBBhCJARIsAE9qRtDhCL1puzg69VQp90T-th542MUw5Rc1l2Z5-FqHllw8I1s_u-575mgaAifyEALw_wcB_k_&utm_content=go_11502762686_119128326464_476190472988_aud-966866687014:pla-297542836984_c__786632766_12768591&utm_custom2=11502762686&gclid=Cj0KCQiAj9iBBhCJARIsAE9qRtDhCL1puzg69VQp90T-th542MUw5Rc1l2Z5-FqHllw8I1s_u-575mgaAifyEALw_wcB
https://www.gumarabicusa.com/buy-now#buy-gum-arabic
https://www.homesciencetools.com/product/iron-ii-ferrous-sulfate-30-g/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAj9iBBhCJARIsAE9qRtA45C0COBF4UGN4E3CaUx5wSoVZbTfHQatWuNOSqgsmAtYzz-jg4xwaAp40EALw_wcB

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_gall_ink

There’s a charm in the old words of these recipes. They were once used to describe chemicals and today they describe attitude or a way of speaking or acting:
vitriol https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vitriol
gall https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gall

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Iron gall ink

Hatched gall wasp leaving its nut

The ink the Egyptians used was great for papyrus. Not as good for parchment. Writing on parchment calls for a different kind of ink. This new ink needs acid that will bite into the surface while staying nice and black. Not a whole lot of acid—just enough so the ink interacts with the surface of the parchment.

Where do you find acid? Somehow, somebody observed that when wasps lay their eggs on the tree bark, the eggs irritate the tree which reacts by growing a round gall-nut around the eggs to isolate them. If I were a tree I’d do the same thing myself. After the eggs hatch the baby wasps leave behind gall—a bitter, caustic chemical. Ink-makers collected those gall-nuts to make a slightly acidic ink. To get the gall out of the gall-nuts, they steeped them in water for a week.

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/trees/oak/oak-apple-gall-info.htm
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39Fdxx_J3K8
https://earthstar.blog/2018/04/14/andricus-kollari-maybe/180414-andricus-kollari-1/

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