Greek in Italy

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A calque ‘under the sea’ ?

… with apologies to fans of The Little Mermaid.

The adjective ὑπό-σαλος ‘under the sea’ is suspicious as a Greek word. It functions, so it seems, as an equivalent to a prepositional phrase such as ὑπὸ τοῦ ἁλός (‘under the sea’, but more likely to mean ‘because of the sea or salt’). The chief cause of suspicion is that Greek ἇλς ἁλός, ‘salt’, did not begin with a [s], at least not in historical Greek. We should find ὕφαλος (see also Buck-Petersen, p. 357 i), as, indeed, we do in Sophocles’ Antigone and subsequently. Indeed, the adjective occurs as a name in the context of ὑπόσάλος.

Before the Greek language was even written down, it lost the sound [s] at the beginning of words and between vowels. By contrast, Latin kept [s] at the beginning of words, so we get sets like ἇλς, Latin sal, and English ‘salt’, ἑπτά, septem, and seven, etc. ([s] between vowels in Latin is a story for another day…). The loss of [s] in both enviroments means that there was no Greek stem sal– on which to build our compound adjective and, if there had been such a stem at the time of that compound’s creation, the [s] between vowels would have been lost subsequently.

Where we find Greek words that begin with a sigma, that sigma cannot be original (one problem is that σῦς, ‘pig’, appears in Homer alongside the expected ὗς; cf. Latin sus, English swine). Explanations include the simplification of a cluster of consonants or that the word in question came into Greek after the loss of initial [s] had ceased to operate. As examples of the latter, consider σιμικίνθιον (semicinctium an apron), σουδάριον (sudarium a towel), and συμψέλια (subsellia seats of a certain kind), words that were borrowed from Latin by Greek speakers alongside what we may call the lexical residue of the Roman Imperial jackboot, or sandal: e.g., κεντυρίων (centurion), λεγιονάριος (legionarius), and πραιτώριον (praetorium).

Here’s the context for that sole instance of ὑπόσαλος as ‘under the sea’ in the Periplus Maris Magni or ‘Voyage around the Great Sea’ (aka Stadiasimos or ‘Measuring by Stades’), as quoted by one third-century Hippolytus in his Chronicle:

(72) Ἀπὸ τοῦ Εὐσχοίνου ἐπὶ τοὺς Ὑφάλους στάδιοι οʹ· νησίον ἐστὶν ὑπόσαλον· ἔχει δὲ καὶ αἰγιαλὸν βαθύν.
‘From Euschoinos to Hypaloi, seventy stades; the islet is under water; and it has a deep (or thick) beach.’

Before we try to explain how the sigma in ὑπόσαλος could be the [s] lost from the Greek equivalent of English ‘salt’ and Latin sal, let us consider whether salt or the sea needs to be involved in the word at all.

The sigma in ὑπόσαλος is so suspicious that the other analysis given in the same LSJ entry is worth considering:

II. shaken underneath, undermined, γῆ Plu.2.434c (ὑπὸ σάλου codd.); ὀδόντες ὑ. loose teeth, Dsc.1.105.5′ [also in Dsc.5.102.2, but that’s the lot] .

On that analysis, the sigma is unimpeachable: it was always there in σάλος, σαλεύω, etc., whatever the origin of the word (Beekes, true to character, classifies it as ‘Pre-Greek’), and, hence, could be justified in an adjective like ἐπίσαλος, which is also used by our Stadiasmos:

(55) Ἀπὸ Ναυσίδος εἰς Πτολεμαΐδα στάδιοι σνʹ· πόλις ἐστὶ μεγίστη· ἐπίσαλός ἐστιν ὁ τόπος, καὶ νῆσον ἔχει· Ἶλος καλεῖται· ἀσφαλίζου.
‘From Nausis to Ptolemais two-hundred and sixty stades: the city is very big; the place is rough (subject to storms), and has an island; it is called Ilos: go carefully!’

Could the islet in (72) — named Ὕφαλοι ! — simply mean ‘shaken underneath’ or ‘undermined’, or even ‘slightly shaken or storm-tossed’, since ὑπο- can add the notion ‘slightly, a bit, somewhat,…’ (trust me, I am/was a lexicographer)?

There are only a few other compound adjectives in -σαλος (ἀ-, εὔ-, and κονί-; very different are βήσαλον and φύσαλος: see Buck-Petersen, p. 359 ii) and none support the idea that the -σαλος part could be the salt sea rather than ‘shaken’.

So, it is likely that since ὑπό with χρῡσός means ‘with gold underneath’ (of the ground), ‘underneath/covered by gold, gilded’ (of an iron ring), or ‘containing a mixture or proportion of gold‘ (so LSJ, for some of the children in Plato’s Republic), ὑπό with σάλος could describe the islet as ‘with turbulence below’, ‘covered by rolling swells’, or ‘somewhat storm tossed’. There might be some sense in that in the Stadiasmos, a guidebook for sailors. If so, we can delete the first section of ὑπόσαλος from LSJ and make an improvement on its Supplement and Revised Supplement.

If not, can we explain why a salty word in Greek has a sigma? Does any help come from the long-term contact between speakers of Greek and speakers of Latin, especially in nautical contexts in texts from the time of the Roman Empire?

Could the sigma reflect a Latin (partial) origin for our ‘under the sea’ adjective? If so, how?

One possibility is that we have a ‘hybrid compound’: one part of the word is from one language, another from another. If that seems strange, it is no stranger than a tele-vision or an auto-mobile  or a hetero-, homo-, or metro-sexual, all of which with a Greek start and a Latin finish. Perhaps, a seafarer who used Latin and Greek with some degree of mixture took Latin sal as the root of a new adjective and then qualified it with an element from his knowledge of Greek word-formation. Real ancient parallels would be ὑπο-καμίσ(ι)ον or ὑπο-καμάσιον ‘a shirt (Latin camisa) that is worn underneath (Greek), an undershirt’ and ὑπο-νοτάριος ‘a notary (Latin) who is underneath or subordinate (Greek), a deputy or sub-notary’.

Can we go a step further and see a ‘calque’ here? A ‘calque’ is an element-by-element translation of a term from one language into another. The Paradebeispiele or ‘Parade-Examples’ (or, in English, the ‘oft-cited examples’, if not ‘examples on parade’) are Modern Greek ουρανοξύστης, German Wolkenkratzer and French gratte-ciel, both based on English ‘skyscraper’, but not necessarily with the elements in the same order as in English.

In our case, the Latin term behind ὑπό-σαλος would be sub-salsus, ‘slightly salty’ (Oxford Latin Dictionary, p. 1848, s.v.), which is found in the medical writer Celsus and the encyclopaedist Pliny the Elder, respectively of water and of a plant. The calquer did not think to drop the [s] in his element-by-element translation: ὑπό- for sub-, Latinate σαλ(ο)-, not ἁλ- for sal, and then adjusting the formation to a Greek pattern (without sigma before the ending). It migth be a problem that σάλος is a noun, but salsus is an adjective. Should we expect ὑπ(ο-σ)άλιος as a calque of sub-salsus (cf. ἐνάλιος)? That said, a compound adjective ending in -αλ-ο-ς would be fine. Indeed, as we saw, ὕφ-αλος is attested — as is ἔναλος.

As a further complication, could the direction of calquing be the other way round: from Greek into Latin? Pliny the Elder is a major source of evidence for us of Latin borrowings of Greek words and of Greek words known only (or chiefly) from Latin authors and their texts. Celsus, as a medical writer, is exactly the kind of borrower and calquer of Greek words that we would expect to meet. (I know nothing about how much Greek influence Celsus actually shows…) An element-by-element translation of the Greek adjective would give a Latin adjective — something like sub-sal_sus. Besides, compounding is so restricted in Latin that Greek is normally involved at some level. I do not know how common it is for Latin sub- to add the notion of ‘slightly’, whereas for ὑπό- it is somewhat ubiquitous. The Oxford Latin Dictionary, p. 1835, s.v. sub- prefix., notes, ‘Before verbs and adjectives it indicates a reduced intensity in the action or quality…’. When and why sub- does so and in which authors are questions for another time. Even if the calquing happened into Latin from Greek, the sigma in ὑπόσαλος would remain unexplained.

Further, if, in ὑπόσαλος, we do have a calque from Latin and if ὑπόσαλος, ‘shaken underneath’, was already in use by the same speakers and/or in nautical registers (the writer of the Stadiasmos also used ἐπίσαλος…), we have a loan-shift or a semantic calque. That is, a Greek word gained a meaning through the use of a Latin counterpart or near-counterpart. For example, the Roman Republican historian Sallust used amare as ‘to be in the habit of’ (as well as ‘to love’), because Greek φιλεῖν could mean ‘to be in the habit of’ as well as ‘to love’. One of my suspicions about the entry in LSJ, second to the sigma between vowels in a salty word, was how the same word could have two meanings that were so different: ‘under the sea’ and ‘shaken underneath’. If one meaning is to do with salt and the  other is to do with σαλός ‘shaking’, we have homonyms and should have two entries.

One final angle: with the meaning ‘under the sea’, ὑπόσαλος would be a ‘prepositional governing compound’, one, that is, that originated in a prepositional phrase. Let us suppose that a bilingual seafarer wanted to say ‘under the sea’ and began in Greek (ὑπό), then started to continue in Latin, either with sale (ablative of sal) or with the dative sali with the genitive salis (because Greek did not have an ablative for him to use), but finished with a Greek ending. Such a hypothetical prepositional phrase would be a peculiar kind of code-switch: a speaker’s (or writer’s) switch from one language to another mid-sentence, mid-phrase, or even mid-word. My favourite code-switch is still that in the title of a paper by Poplack: ‘Sometimes I’ll start a sentence in Spanish Y TERMINO EN ESPAÑOL’.

The last word: as St Paul was on his way to Italy by sea, the Acts of the Aposles 27:14 (a turbulent text) names a wind as εὐρ-ακύλων, which has a counterpart in Latin script in euro-aquilo (CIL VIII 26652: see below) a east-north wind. The first part is Greek, the second Latin (whatever the script). The Bauer-Danker Lexicon quaintly calls it ‘a hybrid formation of Lat.-Gk. sailor’s language’. Was the Greek element ‘borrowed’ into Latin and then the whole borrowed into Greek or was the Latin element borrowed into Greek and then the whole borrowed back into Latin?


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‘Greek in Italy’, the Lexicon of Liddell and Scott, and the ‘what’s-its-name, thingumbob’

Please scroll down for the lighter and less technical part of this post…, namely the ‘thingumbob’…

Recently, a colleague and friend asked me why it was that Liddell-Scott-Jones (from hereon ‘LSJ’ and, as available through the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, ‘TLG LSJ’) accented τριακντακις ‘thirty-times’ proparoxytone, not τριακοντκις paroxytone like all other adverbs in -κις, ‘-times’. The short answer is that LSJ doesn’t. The misaccentuation suggests that TLG LSJ was tripped up by the abbreviated headwords of the printed edition of LSJ. All that was printed of the headword was -κ̆ις, its accent inferred from τριακοντά-δραχμοι to give τριακοντάκις (rightly). The classic rant on the abbreviation of headwords is John Chadwick’s own in BICS 11 (1994) 1-11, at 2. Whether the accent was placed on TLG LSJ’s headword automatically or manually, I do not know.

It was then that the entry for τρῐᾱκοντάμερος came to my attention:

Dor. word, dub. sens. in IG14.256.27 (Phintias Geloorum); cf. Jahresh.4 Beibl.21.’.

This inscription is from Phintias of the people of Gela, which was the settlement that ‘replaced’ Gela, the Rhodo-Cretan colony where Aeschylus had his lethal encounter with a tortoise: something of a hotspot of Greek in Italy).

Entries that contain ‘dub.sens.’ are always intriguing, and this one is especially so in that its general meaning, if not its precise application and referent, are clear from the elements that form this compound: the two stems seen in τριάκοντα ‘thirty’ and ἁ̄μέρᾱ (or, as here, ἀ-) ‘day’ [Attic ἡμέρᾱ]. All this was put right in the 1996 Revised Supplement, which adapted a comment in the 1968 Supplement: (as a new word) ‘τριακοντά̄μεροι, οἱ, prob. a board of officials performing duties for thirty days,…; cf. πεντάμεροι’. The original entry is then signalled for deletion.

Of greater interest (and amusement) and of no less relevance is the entry for τραγέλαφος ‘goat-stag’. Apart from ‘a what’s-its-name, thingumbob‘ (s.v. I 3), there is also the quaint charm of the transition from (s.v. I 1) ‘a fantastic animal, represented on Eastern carpets and the like‘ to (s.v. II) ‘later, a real animal of Arabia, or on the Phasis, prob. a kind of wild goat or antelope, LXX Jb.39.1, D.S.2.51, Plin.HN8.120, etc.‘.

This word is thought by some to have appeared on the Nile Mosaic of Palaestrina (s.v. Wikipedia), whose captions were published as IG XIV 1302 (but see also SEG XLV 1452)  and feature other lexical and animal rarities, including the non-standard form ἄρκος, ‘bear’, known from the Zenon papyri, a Carthaginian curse tablet, and the Greek Bible. The mosaic has been dated either to 120-110 BCE or to the time of the Emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE). A large and high-resolution image of the mosaic is available through Wikimedia Commons.

In the detail below, the ‘lynx’, ΛΥΝΞ (not the standard spelling, λύγξ), is clear, as are the letters ΔΓΕΛΑΡΥ (underline for underdot to mark a letter as difficult to read). However, that label is not closely associated with a depiction of any animal.


Georg Kaibel, the editor of IG XIV 1302, conjectured [ΤΡ]<Α>ΓΕΛΑ<ΦΟ>[Σ], which requires a certain amount of charity from the viewer-reader and their acceptance of an invisible ‘thingumbob’.

The re-reading, <Α>ΓΕΛΑΡΧ[ΟΣ] (see SEG XLV 1452), the ‘leader of the pack’, makes better use of the letters that are visible. But, a pack of what, exactly? Perhaps, the leader (bottom left of the following detail) of the relatively-distant three hunters (bottom right).

leader of the pack

An amusing alternative is that this label continues that for the lynx, who, then, is the leader of the pack of monkeys depicted elsewhere.

For more on the mosaic itself as well as its captions, see P.G.P. Meyboom, The Nile Mosaic of Palaestrina: Early Evidence of Egyptian Religion in Italy (Leiden, New York, and Cologne: E.J. Brill, 1995). For the reading and re-reading, see Meyboom, The Nile Mosaic, 25 and 238-239.

Since the mosaic is thought (at some stage) to have depicted an elephant (Meyboom, the Nile Mosaic, 25), we may recall that some time ago, Katherine posted about words for ‘elephant’. I encountered those boves lucas while teaching Lucretius last term (DRN 5.1302) in relation to the remarkable compound anguimanus, ‘such that has a snake for a hand’: itself a lexical rarity (an accusative plural of a fourth-declension adjective to boot!) and once described, as one of my supervisors used to quote, as ‘an atavistic zoonym harking back to a protohabitat, proper to an animal with an prominent appendage of ophidian resemblance’.


Hypermobile Mamertines?

At last year’s Laurence Seminar (‘Migration, Mobility, and Language Contact‘), Nick presented a paper about ‘the Mobile Mamertini’, mercenaries from Campania or Samnium who captured Messina circa 288 BCE.

While investigating the earliest appearances of Italians in Egypt, I found that Csaba La’da, one of my papyrology teachers, had reported an instance of the ethnic Μαμερτῖνος in his Foreign Ethnics in Hellenistic Egypt (2002). Thanks to the amicitia papyrologorum, I have obtained a copy of the original edition. I have not yet seen an image or the inscribed surface itself…

The funerary inscription (TM 47467), which remains in situ in Hadra in Alexandria (ad Aegyptum), is still cited from its 1915 (re-)publication as SB I 419f and is dated between 199-30 BCE. It reads:

Μαραῖος Βακείου | Μαμερτῖνος.

‘Maraeus, son of Baceus, a Mamertine’.

So, we have another Mamertine, but outside Italy this time and later than expected (the items in Nick’s dossier are all assumed to belong to the third century BCE, the latest being coinage c. 225 BCE).

The content follows the Greek pattern of the deceased’s name in the nominative case, his father’s name in the genitive case, and, then, the deceased’s ‘ethnic’ (or equivalent for the context). The orator Demosthenes illustrates this pattern, but with his Attic demotic rather than this ethnic Ἀθηναῖος: Δημοσθένης Δημοσθένους Παιανιεύς (D.18.187). (The Latin pattern, in full, includes the tria nomina and F(ilius) after the father’s name in the genitive.)

Maraeus, Nick informed me, is a good Oscan name: Marahis. It is rarely attested in Greek texts. The Lexicon of Greek Personal Names (LGPN) knows nine instances, all more-or-less Late Hellenistic in date, several from Asia Minor, and two, comfortingly, from Naples in Campania (e.g.). The nine instances include two father-son pairs. Trismegistos People (TM), as a whole, adds only two more bearers of this name (from two Petrie papyri, both found at Gurob and both written in the last decade of the third century BCE). One of them was a τακτόμισθος (as LSJ puts it, ‘a rank in the army of the Ptolemies‘…). That term is confined to papyri and, on the face of it, might have something to do with soldiers for hire (μισθός). Fischer-Bovet suggested ‘(mercenary) with a fixed wage’ as a gloss.

The father’s name, Βακεῖος is hard to parallel. LGPN’s online search silently corrected it to Βακ<χ>εῖος (the printed edition is transparent on this point), a name that seems unremarkable except that it has only one other attestation: Baccheius of Tanagra, a third-century BCE Hippocratic commentator. Trismegistos People treats the father’s name as a spelling variant of Βάκιος, a name attested on a Roman-period ostracon , whose most recent editors instruct ‘l. Βάκχιος’. (Simplification of <κχ> to <χ> in βακχ- words is illustrated by Gignac (1976:100) and by Threatte (1980: 542f.) and the interchange of <χ> and <κ> between vowels by Gignac (1976: 92) and Threatte (1980: 453ff.). Mayser-Schmoll (1970: 186) provides comparable Βακχ-, Βαχχ-, and βαχ- data, but not βακ-. The simplification of <κχ> to <κ> is not illustrated. <κ> may have been written for <κκ> or Latin .)

Since Greek and Latin texts provide no supporting evidence for the father’s name and the alternative readings proposed in the databases both have weaknesses of their own, what are we to do? Nick drew my attention to the abbreviation BAK() at Pompeii in L BAK() inscribed right to left in Oscan script on a (small) black slip bowl (uasculum) after it had been fired. Whatever name was so abbreviated could give us a point of comparison with the father of our Maraeus and Southern Italy.

However, our knowledge of that inscription is very shaky because it depends entirely on H. Dressel’s drawing and description, which underlie CIL X (1883) 8055.67. On the basis of that drawing, some have read BAD with Oscan <R> for /d/ (Rix, ST Po 88), while others maintain that the final <K> cannot be an incomplete Oscan <R> (Crawford et al., Imagines Italicae, Pompei 86: L(ucius) Bac(culeius) is suggested there, with the Pompeian M. Bacculeius of CIL IV, Supp. 3 (1963) 9256 as a comparison).

Whatever is going on with ΒΑΚΕΙΟΥ, we have a Mamertine with an Oscan name buried in Hadra in Alexandria in the Ptolemaic period.

What about later Μαμερτῖνοι in Egypt? Connections with the Mamertine mercenaries faded and Μαμερτ(ε)ῖνος (LGPN and TM) remained in use only as a cognomen (and hence, from an agnomen, Μαμερτινιανός), Marcus Petronius Mamertinus, the second-century statesman, being its most well-known bearer.

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A new member for a new year

Happy New Year to everyone. We’re very pleased to welcome to the project Patrick James, who is joining as a post-doctoral research associate. Patrick previously worked for the Greek Lexicon project in the Classics Faculty here in Cambridge, and comes to us via the Tyndale House Institute for Biblical Research. He will be working on Greek loanwords in Latin, and we’re very much looking forward to seeing what he comes up with as we work together on the project. Look out for him introducing his work in more detail here on the blog!

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Gambling in Greek

A new article by James has just been published on ‘The language of a Pompeian tavern: submerged Latin?’.* He discusses the ‘captions’ on a set of four wall-paintings from Pompeii, depicting two men chatting, getting drinks, playing a dice-game, and having a fight and being ejected. These paintings are now quite well-known, having featured prominently in the British Museum’s Pompeii exhibition a few years ago (our colleague Mary Beard has mentioned it in her blog a couple of times, with helpful pictures). James’ focus in the article is what the words tell us about sub-elite Latin, and whether there are similarities to the language of the Roman playwright Plautus, two or three centuries earlier. No spoilers here: you’ll have to read the article to find out the answer.

But the inscriptions also show how commonplace Greek words were in Latin, even (or especially) at social levels for whose language we have less literary evidence. The first panel has one man saying to another ‘nolo cum Murtale uasu’, which probably means ‘I don’t want a drink with Myrtale’. Myrtale is a Greek name and the final -e is probably meant to represent the Greek dative singular ending -ηι (the final -ι would have been lost in speech by this time). In the third panel, one speaker says to the other ‘non tria, duas est’, ‘that’s not a three, it’s a two’, using the Greek word duas ‘a two, deuce’. This word doesn’t appear again for centuries, and there are no other examples of it being used in the context of numbers on a dice. If it weren’t for this inscription, we’d have no idea that it had this meaning in Latin, or that it had been borrowed so early.

This inscription is also particularly interesting for me, because I’ve been thinking lately about Roman spelling, and in particularly how features that tend to be described as ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘archaic’ actually had a much longer after-life than we probably give them credit for – perhaps especially in the sub-elite educational tradition. These scenes can be quite accurately dated to between 62AD, when an earthquake hit Pompeii, and 79AD, since that is when Vesuvius exploded and destroyed/preserved Pompeii. Latin inscriptions had started using the letter y to represent Greek υ by the early first century BC, but here they are still using u 150 years later! And that’s not even the record; the captions spell the word ego ‘I’ eco, a mere three hundred years after the letter g was invented. But maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised: spelling can be a remarkably conservative practice –  after all, English spelling largely carries on as it was established several centuries ago, often reflecting pronunciation from even before that, despite an almost-complete failure to match how we actually speak nowadays.

*The article is published in Early and Late Latin: Continuity or Change, edited by Jim Adams and Nigel Vincent, published by Cambridge University Press

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Sicily in Oxford and London

Last week I visited exhibitions on Sicily at the Ashmolean in Oxford (Storms, War and Shipwrecks), and at the British Museum (Sicily: Culture and Conquest). Both were a lot of fun, but perhaps unsurprisingly, I felt the British Museum came out on top. This was largely because the Ashmolean’s exhibition was focussed on underwater finds, and there are only so many anchors and amphoras that I can see before my eyes start to glaze over. Of great interest for me, though, were three of the rams from the sea battle near the Egadi Islands that I mentioned in an earlier post and which Katherine has also discussed over at her blog. Two had Latin inscriptions and the other one was the one with a Carthaginian inscription. I was very excited to see them in the flesh, although I have a bit of a gripe: as is very common, museums often seem to think that any writing on an object is of minor importance, and position it so that it is hard to see. In this case, one of the rams was placed so that the inscription was upside down relative to anyone looking at it, and quite far away, so hard to get a close look at – since the inscription was incised rather than in relief, and the metal was somewhat degraded, it was hard to make out anything at all.

The British Museum exhibition was far better than the last couple I’ve been to there. Not least because, in the main, I could actually see the objects on display. Recently, in the Museum’s exhibitions, the general lighting has been practically non-existent, with the objects being lit by very small spotlights. The effect has been to cast weird shadows over much of the stuff, and, occasionally, to make the information boards impossible to read. Although some of the lighting was somewhat eccentric at the Sicily exhibition, in the main it was far better. And there are some lovely objects: a fourth ram, and beautiful decorations from the island’s Norman period. The thing that struck me most, however, was a bilingual inscription, in Greek and Latin, which read (you can see a picture here):

ΣΤΗΛΑΙ                    | TITVLI

ΕΝΘΑΔΕ                  | HEIC






Which means: ‘signs are arranged and carved here for sacred temples along with public works’

According to the Museum, this came from Palermo, and is to be dated between 100 BC and 50 AD. The information suggested that, as there were mistakes in both the Greek and Latin, and Palermo was originally a Punic settlement, the person who wrote it may have had Punic as their native language. Personally, I’m not so sure: while the use of cum plus the genitive in the Latin is clearly ungrammatical, I can’t see any mistakes in the Greek (apart from the use of Doric ναός ‘temple’ rather than Attic νεώς, which is not really a ‘mistake’). But I’d be delighted to have them drawn to my attention.

Apart from this nice example of Greek and Latin being used in tandem in ancient Sicily, what I also find interesting about this inscription is the use of ‘archaic’ spellings in the Latin, which the museum’s sign also drew attention to. From the point of view of ‘Classical’ spelling, the use of Q instead of C before V to represent [k], EI for long [i:] and AI for the diphthong [ae] all look pretty old fashioned. But I’ve just started to have a look at these kind of spellings, and quite a lot of them seem to have carried on well into the first few centuries AD, at least among certain writers. So I’m not sure that these spellings would necessarily have been particularly old fashioned at the time this sign was written.


James Clackson has kindly advised me of an article by our friend Olga Tribulato on this inscription. The article is called ‘The stone-cutter’s bilingual inscription from Palermo (IG XIV 297 = CIL X 7296): a new interpretation’ and was published in Zeitschrift für Payrologie und Epigraphik, 177 (2011) 131–140. It’s available online free here (NB opens as a .pdf). The mistakes in the Greek which I didn’t recognise, and which Olga discusses, are the use of ἐνέργειαι rather than ἔργα in the sense of ‘works’, and the use of σύν ‘with’ as a conjunction – which is not unheard of, but is uncommon. This use of σύν could be influenced by the Latin use of cum as a connective, but the person who wrote the Latin clearly wasn’t a native speaker either! Olga suggests that the writer was a Punic-speaker, in whose language the preposition ‘et ‘with’ could also be used as a conjunctive. She has various other ingenious suggestions of how the other oddities can be explained by being written by a non-native speaker –  you can read the article yourself if you want the details.


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Lingue dello Stretto

It’s been a couple of months since I trailed mine and Livia’s upcoming trip to Messina to take part in ‘Lingue dello Stretto nella Documentazione Materiale dall’Ellenismo alla Tarda Antichità‘ (Languages of the Strait in Documentary Material from Hellenic Times to Late Antiquity), and I’ve been remiss in reporting back (it’s been a busy time! We had the Laurence Seminar in Cambridge the next week, on which James has already blogged).

There were far too many interesting papers, taking a wide range of approaches to the languages spoken around the Strait of Messina for me to talk about all of them (you can see the whole programme here – it opens as a .pdf). Particular highlights for me were Paolo Poccetti giving a tour-de-force analysis of the way linguistic, onomastic, literary and numismatic evidence could be combined to demonstrate how peoples in the area created a self-image; and Jonathan Prag’s demonstration of his amazing online corpus of inscriptions from Sicily (to go live soon. Follow updates at the project blog here), which is clearly going to redefine the state of the art (our very own Katherine McDonald has been involved in editing the entries on the Oscan inscriptions, which you can read about on her blog). And Livia’s talk on ‘Contact and linguistic prestige in the Hellentistic Doric of Sicily’ – but I’ll spare her blushes.

Apart from the brilliance of the talks, and the friendly and collegial atmosphere, the conference was one of the best organised I’ve ever been to: accommodation booked on our behalf, a bus laid on to take us to and from, and superlative food at lunch, dinner (and granita con panna e brioche in the coffee breaks!). We’re very grateful to Giuseppe Ucciardello, Alessandro De Angelis, Annamaria Chilà and Silvia Cutuli, who were the perfect hosts.

After the conference finished I popped across the strait to Reggio Calabria, but I’ll say more about that in my next post. I’ll finish here with an inscription I spotted in my wanderings in Messina: it’s a great example of how the spelling conventions used to write a text need not necessarily match up with thelanguage the text is written in.


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