February 17, 2013

Inappropriate description

I'm taking a few classes in dead languages at Columbia University, and reading much more literary analysis by Classics and English department academics.  I read in Frederick Ahl, "Form Empowered: Lucan's Pharsalia" (in Boyle, ed. Roman Epic), p. 137:
"[Roman poet ]Lucan's moral symbol, [the Stoic philosopher] Cato, shares rhetorical ground with the shrewdly apolitical Christ . . ." 
Yes, that Christ.  Regardless of whether Christ was apolitical or not (I don't think he was) referring to the putative Messiah as "shrewd" and "apolitical" is an instance of tapinosis, unintentionally belittling one's subject with descriptive terminology.

February 15, 2013


"circumpotatio . . . must be calqued on περίδειπνον, which must originally have meant a meal consumed with the corpse placed in the middle [citing Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopaedie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft] as an Irish wake used to be (and perhaps still is)"  (Edward Courtney, Archaic Latin Prose (1999) p 25).

A calque is a word-for-word translation from another language for the same term, rather than importing the word in the original.  So circum = περί = "around" and potatio = "drinking-bout" and δείπνον = "meal."