Tag Archives: greek

The die is cast! Part IV

Charlemagne is crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, ad 800

(continued from the previous post) …in spite of the non-stop mayhem of Justinian’s rule he manages to achieve the ripe old age of 83 even surviving his beautiful young wife Theodora so the next emperor is his nephew Justin II then Tiberius then Maurice then Phocas who has Maurice and his whole family killed so you can guess Phocas is a pretty violent ruler and the eastern Byzantine Empire continues along the same lines for the next six or so centuries it’s run by despots and becomes a giant complicated overregulated corrupt slow-moving bureaucracy with a population attached so let’s switch back to the western half after all this is supposed to be a history of Western Civ okay since the 400s the Frankish Merovingian kings and Theodoric the Ostrogoth keep France, Italy, Germany & Spain running more or less the same way they had during the Empire one big unifying force is the Christian Church so as these kingdoms and duchies are turning into countries they have Christianity in common in France the Carolingian Dynasty gets started with Charles Martel who slaps down an Arab invasion next is his son Pepin and after him is Charlemagne—Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (as they’re calling themselves by now) from ad 800-814 Charlemagne rules over France, Spain, Italy, Germany, & Hungary and oversees a mini cultural renaissance (more about that in a minute)…

Whew! Time out. Let’s give Gibbon a rest here—after 4 Western-Lit-In-Only-One-Sentence ® posts of Decline & Fall it may be possible that I’m losing the room. My goal at any rate was to make the jump from the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages. So here we are! Mission accomplished, gang!

https://www.pallasweb.com/deesis/daily-life-in-constantinople.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Okph9wt8I0A
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtu8CveFBGw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNURBs091pk
https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-worldhistory/chapter/the-holy-roman-empire/
https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2019/09/18/may-we-be-frank/
https://www.instagram.com/p/B3-HCj-gCVs/
https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2019/10/24/charlemagne-pope-leo-iii-from-yesterday/
https://www.studentsofhistory.com/charlemagne-the-holy-roman-empire

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The die is cast! Part III

(I’m still giving Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire my patented Western-Lit-In-Only-One-Sentence ® treatment! Continued from the previous post)

The Byzantine power couple: Justinian & Theodora (or maybe it’s Boris & Natasha, or Gomez & Morticia…)

…so even though Romulus Augustulus surrendered his crown to Odoacer the barbarian it doesn’t mean Odoacer’s the new emperor in the west because let’s face it: the western Empire is over, kaput, yesterday’s news, stick a fork in it—there’s no imperial law enforced by imperial military any longer so Odoacer is king of a handful of kingdoms that will one day become Italy and Dalmatia the Vandals take over the African parts of the old Empire the Huns are still pillaging villages and killing everyone, the Visigoths, Goths, Burgundians and Franks are duking it out over Gaul, in the British Isles the Celtic Britons (like King Arthur) are trying to keep out the Angles and the Saxons but the Saxons take over so the Celtic Britons head for the frontiers (what are today Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and northern France), Visigoths take over Spain, the Lombards (long-beards!) conquer northern Italy then from 493-526 Theodoric the Ostrogoth reclaims a big chunk of the old western Empire by invading Italy then forming alliances with the Goths and Visigoths (during this time the philosopher Boethius is imprisoned and writes A Confederacy of Dunces*) meanwhile in the east we got Emperors Anastasius, Justin I, then in 482 Justin I’s nephew Justinian who more or less shares the throne with his wife the actress, Theodora (before Justinian it was illegal to marry actresses so good news for Hollywood) there’s violent rioting by sports fans who really really support their chariot race teams he builds a new beautiful cathedral, the Hagia Sophia, where an old one had burned down Justinian’s generals Belisarius and Narses fight the Persians, the Vandals in Africa, and the Moors Belisarius also gets back Sicily and Naples from the Goths—Rome too the Franks invade Italy and Belisarius fights them then fights the Persians in Syria Ethiopians ally with Justinian then the Goths revolt and re-recapture Rome until Narses beats them the Franks and Alemanni invade Italy again but get beat again Belisarius keeps out the Bulgarians there are comets and an earthquake a tsunami possibly a volcano whose smoke dimmed the Sun for awhile the bubonic plague famine Justinian codifies the Law everybody in the eastern half decides to speak only Greek except for the government who stick with Latin…**

* Please forgive my lame gag. Arianism—the heresy that says Jesus wasn’t really divine—had rattled Christianity and people were touchy about it. Boethius wrote using his knowledge of Greek philosophy and logic to explain the existence of G-d and the divinity of Christ. When he was (innocently) caught up in political intrigue, Boethius was imprisoned and later executed. While serving his sentence Boethius wrote his masterwork, The Consolation of Philosophy (which book is one character’s obsession in the zany novel A Confederacy of Dunces). https://www.britannica.com/biography/Anicius-Manlius-Severinus-Boethius
https://groveatlantic.com/book/a-confederacy-of-dunces/

** Even by the standards of the other emperors Justinian seems to have a whole lot of war and mayhem going on—Procopius wrote about it in his tell-all biography:
http://byzantinemilitary.blogspot.com/2016/05/procopius-how-justinian-ruined-his.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ius
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justinian_I
https://nefchronicles.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/justinian-theodora-rise-of-a-farmer-a-striptease/

https://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/arts/television/sam-denoff-tv-writer-is-dead-at-83.html

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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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We have a winner!



The big moment is here! Last week we announced our contest for funniest caption for this cartoon. Every caption we received was hilarious and I’m grateful to all of you who participated. Seriously. I was afraid I’d have to write a bunch of gags and submit them over fake names. Here are your submissions:

From Ilene:

Man: “Ooh, classy vase, dear!”
Woman: Yes, isn’t it? And NO, we are not putting it in the Vomitorium!

From JK:

He: I’ve got this urning, urning, yearning feelin’ inside me
Ooh, deep inside me, and it hurts so bad.
She: Olive me, why not take Olive me?

Three from Jim F:

Her: Look what Achilles just brought us from Athens!
Him: Well, it’s beautiful, but beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

Him: Very nice. Did you buy that in Rome?
Her: No, the legionnaires took it as booty when they captured Athens. They called it a vase-ectomy!

Him: Why do all of the Greek soldiers have beards?
Her: It’s obvious! The vase was made by a hairy potter.

Here’s one from Maddie:

Him: That’s nice.
Her: Use the one your mom sent.

Nathan submitted this one:

Him: I have no problem with your mother’s remains going on the mantle, I just don’t understand why the cremation urn is so big?
Her: Who said she was cremated?!

And so, after carefully reviewing all the entries, after agonized hours of deliberation, our panel of joke experts—Liz, Roxie and Gus—have rendered up a decision. And the winner of the funniest caption is…



…Nathan H! Congratulations! This crudely-drawn sketch will be winging its way to you soon.

Thanks, everybody, for your entries. I love you weirdos. Tell me if you didn’t receive your postcards.

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Serifs


‘Serifs’ are those pointy corners of a lettering stroke. It’s thought that stonecutters came up with them to add a little flourish to their letters. But if you watch the videos I link to in my previous post, you see that a serif (or a ‘grace’) is the natural way to end a letter stroke when you write with a brush. So who knows who invented serifs—the stonecutters or the calligraphers?

The chiseled stroke without serifs

Side view of the V-shaped chiseled stroke

I used to think that serifs came about because it was difficult for stonecutters to chisel the end of a letterstroke, and the serif made that job easier. Nowadays I believe serifs were added to chiseled letters because they provide more surface to catch the sunlight. They enhance the letter’s visibility. Watch the video linked below of a guy carving 2 Rs—with and without serifs. He has no trouble ending the stroke. If you compare the two letters, the serifs on the left show a bit more deep shadow or bright light. They accentuate the ends of a stroke and make it easier to see.

https://stoneletters.com/blog/cutting-in-the-clouds-architectural-lettering
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xBJdhexwug
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grace%20note

DON’T FORGET: Midnight tomorrow is the deadline to submit your Romans-looking-at-a-Greek-urn gag! The winner will be chosen Friday!

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Writ large


Meanwhile, big-shot Roman emperors needed to have inscriptions put up on walls and columns—letters were to be carved into stone. The letters had to be big and easy-to-read—legible. The guys carving the inscriptions must’ve sketched out the letters first. They mimicked the lettering you get from a broad nib by drawing their letters with two pieces of crayon in a holder.

Maybe it looked like this?

Aside—’Writ large’ is a pointy-headed way of saying something is bigger and easier to read than another thing. I think Plato used it first: “The State is the individual writ large.”
https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/writ-large
https://grammarist.com/usage/writ-large/
https://www.quora.com/What-Plato-meant-by-State-is-individual-writ-large

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Calligraphy

Calligraphy is a word that means ‘beautiful writing.’



Remember the Egyptians used reed pens to write, but since they were drawing images—pictures of things—the nib was kept narrow or else they used a fine-tipped brush. I’m not sure when it happened, but either Greek or Roman scribes began drawing letters with a broad-nibbed pen (a nib is the tip). They became concerned about the angle of the pen when they wrote. They kept their pens always at the same angle, so that a group of letters would have a pleasing consistency. Or maybe they used a chisel-tipped brush. Several calligraphers I link to below use a brush.*

https://www.behance.net/gallery/31572863/Broad-nib-calligraphy-exemplar
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jttJrajs4vw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Y1HId0XIWI
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-cQ5U3CLYo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6fsXkiUlgk
In Italian a serif is called a ‘grazia,’ a grace:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jklAtL-ytfU
You can even use a chisel-point marker for calligraphy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bc2gclT6CMw
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/calligraphy

* The idea of writing with thick and thin strokes may well have come from the Muslim world, where the Phoenician abjad was evolving into Arabic script. I’ll look into that.

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Greece’s savage conqueror

“Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latium” —Horace, that old smartypants

Don’t forget! We’re still looking for dialogue for these two Roman characters admiring a Greek vase. Deadline is midnight Thursday, February 25! https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2021/02/18/we-need-a-gag-writer/

Greek culture—and the Greek alphabet—flourished and got spread around the Mediterranean world by Alexander the Great, through his program of Hellenization. We talked about this a few posts back when I was yapping about the Rosetta stone. Eventually Alexander’s empire got taken over by the Roman Empire.



The Romans were crazy about Greek culture. They loved the architecture, the statues, the literature, the theater, their weird habit of painting on wet plaster—and the alphabet. They liked the alphabet so much they adopted it as their own. The Romans changed a few of the Greek letters. They didn’t have J, K, U and W. But the Latin alphabet is pretty much the one we use today here in good old Western Civilization.

https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/what-some-ways-romans-adopted-greek-culture-436508
https://www.thoughtco.com/roman-culture-117887
https://diasporatravelgreece.com/how-did-greek-culture-influence-the-development-of-roman-civilization/
http://www.antiquitatem.com/en/graecia-capta-greek-culture-quignard/

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