Greek in Italy

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Greek in Italy sine fine

DSC05957Today is the last official day for the AHRC funding for the Greek in Italy project, but the project’s work and associated talks, presentations and publications (and this blog) will continue. Our edited volume Migration, Mobility and Language Contact in and around the Ancient Mediterranean will be published next year, and further books and articles resulting from work done under the auspices of the project are in various stages of preparation and production. We can look back for the moment on what we have achieved over the project. In quantitative terms, we have so far published 30 books, articles, chapters and reviews, given 41 talks and seminars to academic and non-academic audiences, undertaken two research trips, hosted two international conferences (one in Cambridge, one in Rome), put on two exhibition displays, one in the Fitzwilliam Museum and one in the Museum of Classical Archaeology in Cambridge, and hosted one project intern (Valentina Lunardi, soon to be starting a PhD at UCLA). Livia Tagliapietra, the PhD student on the project, passed her PhD (without corrections) in March. The 76 (now 77) posts on this blog have been viewed over 30,000 times by over 20,000 people (and the most popular time to view is 11 on Wednesday morning, perhaps with a cup of tea or coffee in hand).

Numbers don’t really tell the story of what we have achieved. Perhaps the major publications of the project are the books: Katherine McDonald’s book Oscan in Southern Italy and Sicily has brought to life the particularities of Greek influence on Oscan, particularly the corpus of Oscan written in Greek letters, showing how a fragmentary corpus can be used to unearth the workings of social interactions between different language communities. Nick Zair’s book, Oscan in the Greek Alphabet, looking at roughly the same corpus from a different angle, has traced the way Oscan speakers adapted the Greek alphabet to their native sound system. His work has changed the way these Oscan spellings are interpreted, and has had important consequences for the dating of Oscan inscriptions. Livia Tagliapietra’s thesis will make an easy transition into a third project monograph, which will give a new account for the changes in Greek dialects in Magna Graecia. For myself, I’m still working on what will be the fourth project book, a work on Greek loanwords in Latin, but a chapter on Greek loans in Republican Latin will be coming out next year in the CUP volume A Critical Guide to the Early Latin Language.

Our articles, notices, reviews and conference papers, and the forthcoming edited book, have also met our larger goal of refocusing scholarly attention on the linguistic impact of Greek on all the languages of Italy. People are generally well informed about the spread of Greek material culture to the western Mediterranean, but we have shown that the linguistic influence is as pervasive, affecting all the languages for which we have records. Careful attention to linguistic evidence can reveal new aspects of cultural contacts. As Patrick James has shown in his work on the project, understanding those links can have ramifications for how we read Greek texts outside of Southern Italy as well as the Latin, Italic, Etruscan and Greek texts from Italy. The illustration at the top of this blog, a photograph of an inscription from the museum in Taranto, taken on our trip there three years ago, gives a micro-example of some of the complexities of the linguistic interchanges that we have looked at. It’s a memorial for a woman called Vibia Cleopatra, who died aged 50. Vibia is an Oscan name in origin, Cleopatra is Greek, and the whole text is written in Latin, although with a Greek -s added to the Latin genitive case ending Vibiaes Cleopatraes. Oscan, Greek, Latin and a morphological borrowing in just two words—not bad.

Finally, it’s my job as Project PI to end with some thanks to individuals. We’ve been very fortunate to have had a very supportive management committee for the project, and excellent local administrative and technical support (with particular thanks to Nigel Thompson, Lucyna Prochnicka, Steve Kimberley and the much missed Jane Fisher-Hunt). I couldn’t wish for a better colleagues than the project team: Geoff Horrocks, Patrick James, Katherine McDonald, Livia Tagliapietra, and Nick Zair, and I wish them all the very best for the future, with heartfelt thanks.


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On Friday, I was very fortunate to be invited to a wonderful conference at the University of Verona (“Beyond Lexicon: Diachronic language contact on the structural and systemic level”), brilliantly organised by Paola Cotticelli and Federico Giusfredi. After a series of excellent papers and before a particularly pleasant evening dinner, I walked to the nearby Museo Archeologico al Teatro Romano, open till 7 pm most nights, to enjoy its spectacular views over the city. There is also a good selection of inscriptions, and this third century mosaic caught my eye.


As you can see from the photo below of the museum label (I learned always to photograph the label from Katherine),  the text is said to read ROROPES ZETA meaning ‘Roropes lives’. This attracted my attention at first because I thought it seemed a nice parallel to the modern habit of pronouncing letter-names of abbreviations rather than spelling out the whole phrase: people now say ‘oh em gee’ for OMG, the abbreviation of ‘Oh my God/gosh!’, and ‘double u tee eff ‘ for WTF, even though the abbreviation is no shorter, indeed in the second case longer than what is being shortened. In the Museum’s reading, ZETA would stand her for Z, the abbreviation for Greek ζήσῃς, which is not uncommon in the formula pie z (also written out in full pie zeses) ‘drink and may you live’ found on a number of Latin drinking cups from the later Roman Empire. There are other examples of Romans using the letter name to stand for a Greek word: a fragment of Varro’s Menippea has labda as a cover term for the obscene verb λαικάζειν (probably following Aristophanes who has the same euphemism).


But a bit of further reflection made me think that there was a better explanation for this text. After all, ‘may you live’ would be a typical sentiment on a goblet, but less usual on a private mosaic. Furthermore, the name Roropes is, as far as I can tell, unparalleled anywhere in Greek and Roman texts, and isn’t built out of any recognizable elements. I would read RODOPES (note that the right hand leg of the second R of the mosaic is entirely drawn in), genitive singular of the well-attested Greek name Rhodope (34 examples from Rome alone according to Solin Die griechischen Personennamen in Rom). ZETA has nothing to do with the Greek letter, but is a later Latin way of writing the Greek loanword diaeta, which means not only ‘way of life’ (hence our modern diet) but also ‘room’. So the text just means ‘Rhodope’s Room’—incidentally, a nice example of a Latin text containing only Greek words and Greek morphology.

I should say that this was the only slip I found in the museum labels, and I hugely enjoyed the wonderful displays and stunning layout of the Museo. Highly recommended as a prelude to dinner for anyone visiting the beautiful town of Verona.

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Greek in Italy at the BSR

Wednesday 29 March saw the Greek in Italy team in Rome for a one-day workshop looking at the impact of the Greek language on the languages of ancient Italy. I think I can speak for everyone in the Greek in Italy team, and for our invited speakers, in saying that the conference was a huge success. We were extremely fortunate to be able to make use of the excellent offices of the British School at Rome, and to make use of their fabulous lecture hall, accommodation and dining facilities. Thanks go especially to the Director, Christopher Smith, and the residence manager, Christine Martin for their superb generosity and efficiency.

JpegWe were very pleased to have enjoyed excellent papers from our three invited speakers. Marina Benedetti discussed the treatment of Greek terms in Latin grammatical works, and included a fascinating discussion of the Ars of Dositheus, a grammatical work written in Latin with interlineal translation into Greek. The Greek terms include those which seem to be calqued back from Latin, such as συζευκτικός for coniunctivus, and show that grammarians understood there to be an equivalence between the Latin suffix –ivus and Greek -ικός, a relationship that doesn’t seem to hold in other domains, such as medicine.

Albio Cassio spoke about some Greek dialect terms of Magna Graecia which we know mainly from ancient glossaries. These show not only how much we don’t know about the Greek dialects spoken in the area, but also some fascinating glimpses of the interactions between Greek and local languages. One case in point is a word for bread, πανὀς (and related terms), found in Greek comic playwrights, including the intriguing Blaesus, born in Capri in the second or first century BC and whose attributed works include a Saturnus and Mesotribas (meaning something like ‘The man who rubs his genitals’).

As Albio Cassio pointed out, Blaesus has a fascinating name: in Greek βλαισός means ‘distorted’ or ‘splay-footed’, but in Latin blaesus means ‘lisping’ (it is thought to be borrowed from Greek with shift in application from the feet to the tongue). Blaesus is not uncommon as a Roman cognomen (and Blaesius as a nomen), and is also found used as a cognomen in a fourth-century Oscan curse-tablet (in the form Blaisiis). In Greek, however, excepting Romans recording their names in Greek, the playwright Βλαῖσος is the only instance of the name recorded. The example of Blaesus was an appropriate taster for Paolo Poccetti’s paper, a tour de force of linguistics and onomastics, in which he gathered many examples of interaction between Greek and local languages from personal names. As with the name of Blaesus, in many cases it was difficult to be sure about whether a feature was local or a Greek import, and in some cases it is probably impossible to disentangle the two.

2017-03-29 18.10.48The Greek in Italy presentation (which attracted famous bloggers from the other side of Rome) showcased some of our recent work, and the event was a very enjoyable opportunity for the whole team to get back together. All six current and former project members were there, so we nearly filled up an entire table in the BSR dining hall and made serious inroads into the BSR’s stocks of limoncello.


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Greek in Italy Rome Workshop

We are delighted to announce that we will be hosting a workshop “The impact of Greek on the languages of Ancient Italy” in the British School at Rome, Via Gramsci, Rome, on the afternoon of Wednesday 29 March, 2017. We are very pleased that three of the leading Italian scholars of the Classical and Italic languages have kindly agreed to speak at this workshop. The  programme will be as follows:

3.00 Prof. Marina Benedetti Università per Stranieri di Siena

Latin loan translations from Greek: suffix conversion in the grammatical terminology.

3.45 Prof. Albio Cesare Cassio Università di Roma “La Sapienza”

Doric Identity and Linguistic Melting Pot in Ancient Tarentum:  Evidence from Some Italiotic Glosses.

4.30 Break

5.00 Prof. Paolo Poccetti Università di Roma “Tor Vergata”

Language contacts in the light of morphological adaptation of proper names in Southern Italy and Sicily

6.00 Prof. James Clackson and members of the “Greek in Italy” project

Greek in Italy – the Cambridge project

Please get in touch we me ( if you would like to know more or are interested in attending.

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Party Games

A colleague asked me about the inscription on a Greek vase painting earlier this week. The pot in question is of a type known as a psykter – or wine cooler, designed to sit inside a larger bowl containing cold water; it was found in a tomb in Cerveteri in the nineteenth century and is now in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. The red-figure painting around the sides shows four naked hetairai drinking and playing the after-dinner game known as kottabos. According to Athenaeus, who devotes a good chunk of Book 15 of his Deipnosophists to the topic, the game involved expertly throwing the dregs of wine (λάταξ or λατάγη) from your cup at some sort of target. Our pot is signed by the painter Euphronios, active in Athens at the end of the sixth century. The charming female making the throw, named as Smikra, says (in Doric Greek, written from right to left) τὶν τάνδε λατάσσω Λεάγρε ‘I am making this throw for you, Leagros.’


There are many vase paintings depicting the kottabos, and four other Attic examples have shorter forms of the same formula, although in a different dialect, starting τοὶ τήνδε.

Why does Smikra speak Doric? The other inscriptions on this vase are all Attic (note names such as ΑΓΑΠΕ = Ἀγάπη with η not α). Kretschmer suggested that this was because the game of kottabos was invited by the Sicilians, and so the players used the Doric of Sicily, much as the sport of fencing uses French terms such as ‘Allez!’ and ‘En garde’. But then why do the other vases have τοὶ τήνδε – which isn’t even completely Attic (which would be σοὶ τήνδε)? Smikra’s Doric has a literary feel to it (dative τίν ‘to you’ is only otherwise attested in Alcman, Pindar and Doric epigrams), and indeed the dative τοί is found in Ionic poetry (I don’t buy Csapo and Miller’s theory (Hesperia 60, 1991) that this is to be read as the article τῶι). Is it possible that the painter is alluding to Doric literary traditions that might be known by the eventual buyers of the pot in Etruria? We know from archaeological finds that the Etruscans also played kottabos, and they may well, like Athenaeus’ philosophers at the dinner table, have capped each other’s poetry as they did so.

Finally, another puzzle. Greek λάταξ seems to turn up in Latin as latex, a poetic word meaning ‘water’ or ‘liquid’. A distant memory of the party games?

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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!


Join the team: post-doctoral opportunity with Greek in Italy

Post-doctoral Research Associate, AHRC Greek in Italy Project

Salary range: £28,982 to £37,768 per annum

Limit of Tenure: 01 January 2017 to 30  April 2018

Applications are sought for a fixed-term, fully funded Post-doctoral Research Associate on the AHRC-funded Project ‘Greek in Italy’.  The scholarship will run from 1st January 2017 to 30th April 2018.

The successful applicant will form part of the Greek in Italy project team which is focused on research into aspects of the linguistic impact of Greek settlement and colonisation in Italy in the first millennium BCE.

The successful candidate will undertake to write and submit for publication at least two academic articles relating to the impact of the Greek languages on the languages of ancient Italy and assist in the editing of the publication arising out of the 2016 Laurence Seminar ‘Migration, Mobility and Language Contact’.  They will be expected to assist in the organisation of the one-day workshop in the British School at Rome in March 2017, participate in regular seminars and workshops related to the project and give talks and presentations as appropriate in national and international conferences.  They will also contribute in access and outreach events, such as the Cambridge Festival of Ideas and University Open days.

Candidates with a good first degree and a doctorate in Greek historical linguistics, Latin historical linguistics or the languages of Ancient Italy (or clear evidence that completion of such a doctorate is imminent) are highly desirable.

Fixed-term: The funds for this post are available for 16 months in the first instance.

You can find out more and apply here.