Greek in Italy

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The epigraphic gallery of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples is now open!

This is wildly exciting: when I went there in 2007, it was opened only on special application, and when I went in 2013 there was no electric light, and I had to examine the inscription I was interested in by the light of my own torch and a lamp obligingly held by a member of the Museum’s staff: there was certainly no possibility of looking at any of the other objects, as I had hoped. I’m extremely grateful to the Museum for kindly allowing and facilitating both my previous visits, but it must be said that it is much better now that one can just swan in and revel in all the epigraphy. I’ll post a few things from my latest visit in the coming weeks.

This time, I’ll focus on one inscription in particular, which is the rather nice column supporting a water basin (basin supplied separately) with an Oscan inscription which is published in Imagines Italicae as ma.heíis.de.me.v.ínim. me x.ekak.flit<e>am.emmens (Cumae 3/Cm 5) and translated as ‘Ma(is) Heiis, son of De(kis), meddix of the vereiia, and the X meddix (or the 10 medices) bought this flitea‘. A meddix is a type of magistrate. Apart from the fact that it’s not clear exactly what a me x is, especially as X is not a regular letter of the Oscan alphabet, the main problem is flit<e>am, which clearly has to be the name of the object on which the inscription is written. So far, the only semi-plausible suggestion is that it is somehow a borrowing of the Greek word πλινθεῖον /plintheion/ ‘brickwork’. There are a number of problems with this idea, though: a) it’s unlikely that Greek pl- would be borrowed into Oscan as fl-, which otherwise has no problem with the sequence pl-; b) we would probably expect the Greek sequence -εῖ- to be borrowed as Oscan –ei– or –í-; c) the Greek word is neuter, the Oscan one is feminine.

 

And, actually, there is a further problem, which is that, according to Imagines, the fifth letter of flit<e>am is actually v on the stone (hence the pointy brackets). Now, as emendations go, e for v is really pretty reasonable: in the Oscan alphabet is written E, while v is just an E without the middle horizontal stroke. You can see the (other) instance of v, fourth letter from the right, in this inscription below (note that Oscan is written right to left). But, given the many problems we already have in connecting flit<e>am to πλινθεῖον, perhaps we should just give up the connection, and accept that we have a word flitvam whose origin is obscure, and at any rate is nothing like πλινθεῖον.

So, is it really a flitvam? Well, I’m not sure. Rix, in his edition Sabellische Texte, prints an e with a dot under it. Unfortunately, in his edition, this dot means two different things: a damaged letter, or a letter conjectured from a broken or mistakenly written letter on the object. So it is not clear whether he sees a damaged e, or, like Imagines, a mistaken v which he replaces with e. There is definitely some kind of horizontal-ish stroke in the middle of the letter. It’s more or less visible in the photos below; in person, with a raking light, it looks deeper, firmer and more intentional. On the other hand, the object has clearly been damaged, and the stroke is less well-made than the other es in the inscription (you can see one as the second letter from the right in the picture above): it is not precisely parallel to the upper and lower horizontals, beginning rather low on the vertical and straggling diagonally upwards. At the moment I’m leaning towards seeing it as an e, but it just shows how much difficulty can be involved in reading even a clearly-written inscription.

 

fliteam or flitvam?

 

 

 

 

 


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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?

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE


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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.

ΑΓΕΛΑΦΥ

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’.


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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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Pompeii

An unreadable Oscan inscription - complete with uninterested bystander

An unreadable Oscan inscription – complete with uninterested bystander

Back in September, I said I would write about my trip to Pompeii, which happened in June: and now, six months later, I’m finally getting up to date!

The last time I’d been to Pompeii was back in 2001: I’d just finished the first year of my BA. So I was pretty excited to be back. And I was lucky enough to be shown around by Michele Stefanile, of the University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’, who has done a lot of work at Pompeii, in addition to his main research as an underwater archaeologist. Apart from getting us in for free, he was also an incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide – despite taking time from the last-minute preparations for his upcoming wedding.

Apart from generally reacquainting myself with the town (I’d forgotten just how big it was!), I was naturally keen to look at inscriptions, especially the Oscan ones. Because, although Pompeii is generally seen as being a quintessentially Roman town, during the Social War of the 90s and 80s BC its inhabitants were Oscan-speakers, and it actually fought against the Romans. After the war, when the Romans made it a colony, the official language of the city changed to Latin. But a lot of Oscan incriptions remained, either because they were inscribed on stones that were part of the fabric of buildings (or stones which were later re-used in buildings), or because they were painted in relatively inaccessible places and remained on show until 79 AD, when the explosion of Vesuvius preserved the town.

But there are a number of difficulties involved in finding these inscriptions, even armed with a partial map and Michele’s help. For one thing, parts of the site were closed off the day we visited, so we couldn’t see anything there. And even when you find an inscription, it’s often hard to read: the painted inscriptions are high up, and (quite rightly) covered in plexiglass to prevent damage. Unfortunately, the plexiglass also tends to prevent easy reading, especially looking from below (see above).

But the need for plexiglass protection becomes clear when you look at the following picture (courtesy of Michele). We spent a happy 20 minutes or so looking for the inscription on the column below, which is supposed to say vaamunim, which may be a borrowing of Latin uadimonium ‘bail’. But we were completely unable to find it. Even in the picture, the eye of faith is required to see a letter or two in red paint.

colonna-pompeii

 

Another unanticipated difficulty was the sheer number of people on site – while there were surprisingly few people spending entire minutes staring intently at columns (and trying to work out which was the fourth from the north), probably the biggest draw at Pompeii these days is the brothel, which Mary Beard has written about on her blog. This has arguably one of the last Oscan inscriptions scratched into the wall, but there was no chance of getting in: the queue filled the street some distance from the building itself.

Despite these issues, which served to remind me just how difficult it can be to find and read inscriptions, let alone interpret them (a recurring theme on this blog!), I had a great time in Pompeii, and am looking forward to my next visit.


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Did what with Hannibal?

From Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hannibal3.jpg)

Hannibal Crossing the Alps, by Heinrich Leutemann. Note the unfortunate elephant.

As I write, the final stages of the Second Punic War have begun. It’s not looking good for Hannibal – he’s holed up in the toe of Italy, his brother’s been killed, the Romans have taken control of most of Spain, and they’re preparing to attack Carthage itself. It all looked so promising earlier on, as he climbed over the alps with his elephants and swept through Italy (although, unfortunately, all but one of the elephants was killed in his first battle against the Romans). As he went he picked up allies from the local peoples, who were not necessarily particularly enamoured of Roman power (despite being officially ‘allies’ of Rome). Eve McDonald gives a nice example of this on p.115 of ‘Hannibal, a Hellenistic Life’, from a gravestone of an Etruscan man, Larth Felsnas, who lived to be 106 (a mere stripling, compared to Ahvdio from Teanum Sidicinum) and who claimed to have fought with Hannibal.

Now, apart from the fact that anyone who says they are 106 may well be inclined to telling tall tales, is that really what he says? The appropriate part of the inscription reads murce capue tleχe hanipaluscle (it is number Ta 1.107 in Rix’s Etruskische Texte ). I’m no expert on Etruscan, but it seems as though no-one actually knows for certain what either of the verbs murce and tleχe means: the best that can be said is murce is an active past tense verb, and tleχe (probably) a passive past tense verb. So the most conservative translation is ‘Larth Felsna did something at Capua and was somethinged in (?) the something (?) of Hannibal’. Clearly – if we’re to trust the inscription at all – something happened to him in the Hannibalic war: but which side was he on?.


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Allusions of grandeur

On Friday night I had a nice chat with Helen Zaltzman about alphabets, Oscan, Greek etc. She recorded it for her podcast, The Allusionist, which is about all things to do with language and languages. The conversation lasted about an hour, but she’ll be editing it down significantly, so hopefully I’ll sound a lot more articulate than I really was. That will take a while, so I think the podcast won’t be released for a couple of months – I’ll let you know when it’s available. In the meantime, keep an ear out for other editions featuring friends of ‘Greek in Italy’: Rachele De Felice and Lynne Murphy talking about politeness in British English and American English, and Miriam Wagner on the differences between German in East and West Germany.