Ancient Athenians were Hipsters???

I bet you never would have put “Athenians” and “hipsters” in the same sentence. Well, suspend your disbelief! It will make sense in a moment.

I suspect that nobody REALLY knows what a hipster is. We have a whole list of characteristics, such as the man-bun, or gigantic glasses, or eccentric clothing choices.

But just as boils are a symptom of the plague and not the plague itself, so it seems true that man-buns and avant-garde clothing are but symptoms and not the thing itself. This never ceases to puzzle me whenever I do think about it, which isn’t often.

Regardless of the fact that I have NO IDEA what a hipster is in any real, graspable sense, I have nevertheless been acquainted with the characteristics.

Hence, I was very amused when I was reading Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War Book 1 and I came across a word, “krobulon.”

According to Thucydides, men in ancient Athens had begun wearing a “krobulon,” along with their expensive and ornate clothing. What is a krobulon? Well, I tell you, with the LSJ as my witness, it means “a knot of hair on the top of the head.” Somehow, I wasn’t all that shocked.

Worth noting however is that Thucydides doesn’t support this change in fashion among the Athenians, since it made them soft and unprepared for battle. The Spartans were much more sensible, sticking with basic black and classic cuts.

Conclusion: the ancient Athenians were wearing man-buns. Corollary: the Athenians were the REAL hipsters, whatever hipsters are.

In case visual aid is required, we have the Athenians (I don’t know who the guy in the picture actually is, I found it on Google images):

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And then we have the Spartans (from the wonderfully accurate historical documentary, 300):

SpartaWarrior

Yeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, I’m siding with Thucydides on this one.

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Junior Year

I’ve been terrible at keeping up my blog. My excuse, as always, is that I’m busy. My junior year is almost over, which is actually terrifying.

This past semester has been the busiest yet, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any easier from here on out.

This last semester, I gave a junior recital, which took a decent amount of time to prepare, especially considering the fact that I don’t spend much time practicing anymore. It went about as well as I could have hoped. I played a LOT of music for one recital. The picture below is a professional shot I had taken before the recital. I’m just a little proud of it.

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I also had a paper accepted for panels at two separate conferences, one of which happened at the beginning of April. My paper on Thucydides from last semester was apparently good. It was also well-received when I actually presented it, so I was very encouraged.

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Not a great photo, but hey, it’s at least proof that it happened. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed presenting the paper. I’ll be presenting the same paper in Toronto, Canada in January 2017.

At the same conference pictured above, I also found out that I had won 2nd place in translating Koine Greek, which was a nice surprise. My college had two other winners as well.

I also won a scholarship so I can go travel in Italy this summer, which will be happening in July. I’ll be seeing Rome, Pompeii, Cumae, Capri, Herculaneum and some other places. That will be my first overseas travel experience, so I imagine the pictures and blog posts will be very interesting.

That’s my life, crazy, busy, and full of dead languages, papers, and exams. More updates will be forthcoming, as I have more time to keep up with my blog.

On My First Introduction to Paleography

Paleography is one of the branches of scholarship, and one where I’ve had comparatively little experience.

Paleography is essentially the study of old manuscripts, and one of the most fascinating branches of literary study.

I was actually shocked at how wildly inaccurate my impression of paleography was when I first began to examine old texts (or rather, detailed scans of old texts). The text in question is a medieval text that has survived in relatively good condition in multiple manuscripts, which makes things much easier.

One of my on-campus jobs is proof-reading for an English professor, who recently began to induct her assistants into the world of HTML and old manuscripts. We received a little training on how to read old scripts and then were turned loose to figure the rest out for ourselves.

I have never before appreciate the work of transcribers and the good scholars who produce learned editions of old texts. When I first looked at this page of text, I could barely comprehend any of it. It is Middle English, first of all, so there are plenty of unfamiliar words. Secondly, literally every other word is an abbreviation for something else, and the use of symbols rendered things even more incomprehensible.

Diphthongs such as “ie,” “ea,” or “ou” are often written as tiny little dots above the word, or as slashes above the word. Sometimes, a single slash can indicate up to three options. There are also many standalone symbols such as & that indicate entire words, some of which are peculiar to the scribe.

There are also many variations of scripts that different scribes would use, which can be rather idiosyncratic. Scribes then adopt a script and then make it even more idiosyncratic with their own personal writing style.

Hence, my respect for scholars who produce the texts that I study so obsessively have had to spend many, many painstaking hours transcribing the texts and sometimes guessing as to what word they’re looking at because the original text is so incomprehensible.

I encounter corrupt texts pretty often in reading Greek tragedy. There are many, many examples in all three tragedians where transcribers had to guess at what a word was, and thus the meaning of the text is forever a mystery unless someone happens to stumble on a likely emendation.

Yet, at the same time, the fact that we do still have vestiges of ancient texts that are as accurate as they are is an amazing thing. We can still know what most of the text is saying, even if parts of it are questionable.

Nevertheless, this is largely owing to the painstaking labor of those scholars who consider things these worthwhile and have spent their entire lives learning how to read old texts and decipher them.

This is yet another reason why studying the classics is worthwhile. Modern scholars stand on an incredible edifice that represents thousands of years of painstaking labor to preserve what thousands of generations have considered worthwhile and beautiful.

An Apologia for the Passive Voice

Ironically, I have learned more about English by translating dead languages than I have in actual English classes.

Everyone ought to learn another language simply for the experience of having to translate from one language into another. And it should not be mere stilted translation, but real, elegant translation from one idiom to another.

One of the things that I find most irritating about English classes and their approach to writing is their attempt to abolish the passive voice in the English language.

Granted, our passive system is absurd and awkward, but I don’t believe that we should abolish it. Rather, I believe we should embrace it and emphasize the proper use of the passive voice.

One of the virtues of Latin or Greek is its flexible word order, which allows for a greater flexibility in how authors can present information. One of the best features of Latin is its ability to place the important character or subject at the beginning of a sentence. “Topic fronting” is an extremely useful rhetorical device which can increase the comprehension of a reader. Ancient authors do this constantly, and English often lacks the flexibility that would allow a translator to reflect this.

Another feature of both Latin and Greek is its ability to present information in logical or even chronological order. The nouns and their modifiers could be radically displaced to indicate chronological order of events, and yet English insists that we must put everything into a nice subject-verb-object order, or else use cleft sentences.

However, some of these features indeed CAN be preserved through proper use of the passive voice, such as preserving the “topic” if it is at the beginning of a Latin or Greek sentence. The “topic” very well may be the object of the verb, which means that an author might have placed the object at the beginning of the sentence.

To use a simple example: Hectorem Achilles occidit. Literally, it means “Achilles killed Hector.” This is probably a gross oversimplification of what can be ridiculously complicated, but I want to illustrate that by putting Hector first, the author draws our attention to Hector as the main focus of the sentence, even though he his not the grammatical subject of the verb. So, if we want to be perfectly correct in our English, one translates, “Achilles killed Hector.”

However, another option that we have is translating the sentence passively to preserve the fronted topic. “Hector was killed by Achilles.” The meaning is essentially the same, but we retain Hector at the front of the sentence, just like the original. From there, you can debate whether it is acceptable or not to convert an active to a passive, but that’s another debate.
The point is: sometimes we NEED to use the passive voice.

Another equally important thing worth noting about the passive is that most languages don’t like to “subjectify” inanimate objects. E.g. we don’t think it is acceptable to say, “An arrow killed Achilles.” Now, I suppose in the heights of poetic fervor one might think that is an acceptable thing to say, but in most contexts, it isn’t really good English. Rather, it is more appropriate to say, “Achilles was killed by (means of) an arrow.” This can be used in a number of highly rhetorical ways. For example, if Achilles were killed by an anonymous bowman, we could emphasize that with a passive.

It is very regrettable that the passive voice has been all but abolished in usual English classes, but it is very possible to use a passive to good effect. Instead of telling everyone to stop using it altogether, perhaps teachers should explain how passives ought to be used.

Once I realized that the passive voice is actually a very useful tool, it seemed like there were new avenues of expression that I had never realized before, and new subtleties to explore. Instead of focusing on how not to use a passive constructive, I focus on whether a passive construction would help me get my point across more effectively. My ability to write English improved almost instantly.

But I have a Latin professor to thank for that.