Monthly ArchiveMarch 2014

Ancient Rome in So Many Words: Liberi

Chris Francese No Comments

Mummy Portrait of a girl, AD 50-70, Roman Egypt. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

Mummy Portrait of a girl, AD 50-70, Roman Egypt. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

LIBERI: freeborn, legitimate children (of either sex)

I want you to take a wife to your house so you can produce liberi. (Plautus, Aulularia 148)

You had liberi not just for yourself but for the fatherland, children who could be not just a source of pleasure for you but also who would one day be useful to the state. (Cicero, Against Verres 2.3.161)

Quite a few men are stingy in the raising of their liberi—which were the original objectives of their marriages and prayers—nor do they tend to their education or to the development of their physical faculties. (Columella, On Farming 4.3.2)

You made a contract regarding the manner of your marriage. The writing of that contract rings clear, “for the sake of bearing children” [liberorum procreandorum causa]. Therefore do not approach her, if possible, unless for the purpose of bearing liberi. If you pass this limit, you act against that agreement and that contract. (Augustine, Sermons 278, PL 38.1272.)

Terms of affection for children are not as numerous in Latin as in English, but they include pullus (“chickadee”), parvulus and putillus (“little shaver”), and pupus (“puppet,” “doll”). The most idiomatic and Roman of endearments is pignus. A pignus is whatever one gives as bond or security for a debt, or to assure appearance in court, good conduct, etc. By extension, a person who is a pignus can serve as a “collateral” or “hostage”—for example, in diplomacy between two states. When applied to children, as it sometimes is in epitaphs, in poetry and other emotive contexts, pignora casts them as “sureties” or “pledges” of the love of the parents, assuring the reality of their marriage. But in such contexts it has no legalistic flavor. Often the best translation is simply “dear ones” rather than something more literal, like “little guarantees.”

Liberi is not a term of affection, but, like pignora, it has legalistic roots and lacks any real equivalent in English. It designates children born free (liber) from the legitimate union of a free man and woman. Liberi were the goal of marriage, and raising them properly was seen as a serious responsibility to the state, as Cicero reminds a courtroom adversary. For St. Augustine, they are the only possible reason for having sex. Not spurii (of unknown father), or “conceived promiscuously” (vulgo concepti) from a slave girl, concubine, or courtesan, they were instead certain (certi) and legitimate (legitimi) and provided an indisputable heir. Roman educational advice concerned itself exclusively with liberi, probably on the assumption that other children would be prevented by prejudice from pursuing a public career that was the point of education in the first place. As the Greek writer Plutarch says in this context, “I should advise those desirous of becoming fathers of notable offspring to abstain from random cohabitation with women; I mean with such women as courtesans and concubines. For those who are not well-born, whether on the father’s side or mother’s side, have an indelible disgrace in their low birth, which accompanies them throughout their lives, and offers to anyone desiring to use it a ready subject of reproach and insult.”

The word liberi has a solemn tone that derives from its use in legal and ceremonial contexts, especially in the standard marriage contract. The words liberi and filii are often interchangeable; but in moments of high drama, such as when children were being threatened or dishonored, the solemnity of liberi might be used for emotional effect. “I myself have seen,” says St. Ambrose, “the wretched spectacle of liberi being led off to the auction block to pay a father’s debt, and being kept as heirs to his calamity, though they had no part in his success, and the creditor not even blushing to commit such an outrage.” Another church father says, “You must work hard and take risks in order to keep your children [pignora], your home and your fortunes safe, and to enjoy all the good things of peace and victory. But if you prefer peace now to the hard work . . . your fields will be laid waste, your house plundered, your wife and children [liberi] will become the spoils of war, and you yourself will be captured or killed.” In these passages liberi, with its connotations of legal legitimacy, honorable marriage, and secure inheritance, emphasizes the dastardliness of the moneylender and the threat posed by the enemy. On the other hand, when referring casually to one’s children, it would not be necessary to use a word of such precision, and nati or filii would do.

Filii, as we can see from the French and Italian descendants (figlio and fils), won out in the long run. Liberi seems to have gone out of currency in later Latin, and it left no trace in the Romance languages. Writing in the early seventh century, Isidore of Seville seems not quite to understand it fully when he says, “In the laws, filii are called liberi to distinguish them from slaves.” But of course one could be freeborn without necessarily being a liber in this sense, provided that one’s mother was free. To be a true liber was to be free and also not a bastard.

Given the care with which classical Latin defines the legal status of children, a curious gap in the lexicon is an insult meaning “bastard.” Of the recorded terms, spurius was a rare legalism referring to any child conceived out of lawful wedlock, or one whose father was not known; nothus was the insulting ancient Greek word for bastard, and it is occasionally borrowed by Roman writers. But neither spurius nor nothus ever became a common insult. Illegitimi, while a theoretically possible formation in Latin, is not recorded. Quintilian notes the lack of a good word for bastard in Latin and says that when necessary Romans used the Greek term, nothus. One would think, prone to invective and obsessed with birth and lineage as the Romans were, that spurius would have been a handy stone to throw. But no.

At some point now impossible to determine, bastardus emerged. This mysterious but fertile Romance root yielded Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish bastardo, French bâtard, and passed into all the continental Germanic languages, including English, by the late thirteenth century. But it has no recorded existence in Latin. One theory of the etymology of this non-classical insult says that it comes from the French word bast, as in fils de bast, meaning “son of the packsaddle.” This compares with the British English usage of someone being “born the wrong side of the blanket” or being “the son of a gun” (as in a “shotgun wedding”).

Bibliography: Thesaurus Linguae Latina 7.1301–1304. Plutarch: On the Education of Children 2. Ambrose: On Tobias 8.29. Another church father: Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6.4.15. Isidore of Seville, Etymologies 9.5.17. Quintilian: On the Orator’s Education 3.6.97.

ARSMW_coverAdapted from the book Ancient Rome in So Many Words (New York: Hippocrene, 2007) by Christopher Francese.

Reviewing Digital Projects

Chris Francese No Comments

It is often difficult for digital projects to get any detailed critique outside of the grant writing process, or even then. So I was delighted to see Patricia Johnson’s thorough and thoughtful review of William Turpin’s DCC edition of Ovid’s Amores, Book 1 in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review. It was full of good suggestions from Prof. Johnson and her students. She highlighted some problems of which we were already aware, especially the insufficiency of the vocabulary lists. These exclude the DCC core of the 1000 most common Latin words. The problem is that students normally do not have anywhere near that much vocabulary under their command, and access to the core items through the core database is not as easy as it should be. The solution we plan to adopt going forward is to provide two vocabulary lists, one core and one non-core. Bret Mulligan’s edition of Nepos’ Life of Hannibal has these segregated core and non-core lists, and they have proven to have real pedagogical utility. One can say to students at the lower intermediate level, “you don’t have to learn all the words right now, just the high frequency ones,” then hand them that list. One can also make reading texts in which non-core items are glossed.

She also pointed out the problems of using Google Earth for maps of places mentioned in the text. This was an expedient based on the resources we had available, but for many people having to download Google Earth is not worth the trouble, and this constitutes a real barrier to usability. We have some GIS capability to make static maps (Dan Plekhov’s excellent maps for Caesar’s Gallic War), but at the moment true interactive maps that you can dive right into seem to be beyond our budget. But I would welcome ideas about how to achieve this easily.

Prof. Johnson’s use of this resource in a classroom setting yielded some good insights and ideas from her students:

My students propose a notetaking/highlighting feature, with the ability to save both text and notes to use in class, and/or better printing capability for in-class use of the text. Some envisioned a feature allowing the creation of a unique class forum on the site where grammatical and translation questions can be posted and answered by their professor. My seminarians discovered an unanticipated advantage of the electronic format in class: I could project the text from my iPad onto a white board (in our case, green, so font color options would be useful) for in-class scansion exercises without spending precious class time writing out the Latin on the board.

Better printing capability is definitely something we need to work on. Most simply we could just provide a .pdf of the text, notes, and vocabulary. But then we get into version issues. Every time we make corrections (as I did to the Amores 1 edition yesterday based on notes sent to me separately by Prof. Johnson) we would have to go back in and fix the .pdf. Not realistic for our workflow, alas. On the other hand, Nimis and Hayes’ editions of Greek texts are a good model for print-on-demand, and I would still like to see all out commentaries appear at some point as books.

The question of social features is one that we on the editorial board discussed a lot in the early stages. Online user annotation is a fascinating area, but one in which platforms are evolving fast. It’s a moving target, and we felt it was preferable not to do it than to try, and do it badly. Luckily, possible salvation has recently emerged in the form of a developing collaboration with Rap Genius/Poetry Genius, a brilliant social annotation format. Jeremy Dean at Poetry Genius has shown interest in developing some kind of partnership with DCC so that our content can be socially annotated at their site–fine because all our content is under open license (CC-BY-SA). Such a partnership is already proving successful between Poetry Genius and another Dickinson digital humanities site, House Divided (more on that).

The idea of projecting the text on screen is a superb one, for the reasons Prof. Johnson mentions, and because it greatly alters the quality of attention in a classroom setting. If DCC can encourage this growing trend, I would be very happy about that. DCC exists within an academic culture, and within an ecosystem of print and electronic resources. Reviews like Prof. Johnson’s are a much-needed aid to help us explore this new and uncertain territory. I encourage you to read the review in full here, and more importantly to go out and write similar reviews of digital projects yourself if you can. I have started editing a little review series called DH Direct on a different blog, and would be pleased to receive contributions from scholars or students in any field, in classics or beyond.

–Chris Francese

Ancient Rome in So Many Words: Crepundia

Chris Francese No Comments

CREPUNDIA: a child’s toy rattle, sometimes used for identification; infancy

Marble bust of a sleeping child wearing crepundia (amulets and charms) on a cord across his chest. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Marble bust of a sleeping child wearing crepundia (amulets and charms) on a cord across his chest. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Ebony comes from India and Ethiopia, and when cut it becomes hard as stone . . . it is also attached to crepundia, so that the sight of the color black will not scare the infant. (Isidore of Seville, Etymologies 17.7.36)

All too transitory and fragile, like the crepundia of childhood, are the so-called power and wealth of human kind. (Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings 6.9 ext. 7)

From infancy [a crepundiis] he gave equal attention to courage and to eloquence. (From an inscription honoring Flavius Merobaudes, an imperial official and writer of poetry of the fifth century, CIL 6.1724.)

Now in here are the crepundia you had when that woman brought you to me years ago. She gave them to me so as to make it easier for your parents to recognize you. (The madam at a brothel, to one of her courtesans, in Plautus’s comedy Cistellaria 635–636.)

She had already given an indication that she was destined for heaven and not for the couch of marriage: she had rejected her very crepundia, a little girl who knew not how to play. No interest in amber, she wept at roses, disdained aureate bracelets, was sober of expression, modest of gate and, though of all-too-tender years, her character imitated that of gray-haired age. (Prudentius, on the twelve-year-old martyr Eulalia, killed in Merida, Spain in AD 304, Crowns of the Martyrs 3.16–25.)

Crepundia derives from the verb meaning “to rattle” (crepare) and refers in the first instance to the metal charms jingled to try and calm fussing babies. From there crepundia comes to stand in as a symbol for early childhood itself, as in the comment of Valerius Maximus and the inscription quoted above. Unlike today, when such things are generally mass-produced, a Roman tot’s crepundia were homemade and individualized. They might be inscribed with the name of the mother or father, or include some distinctive figurines. Archaeologists have found bells, clappers, letters of ivory, children’s utensils for eating and drinking, and many other objects that served this purpose.

Since they were individualized, crepundia could be used to identify babies who got misplaced. Special crepundia could be given to children by mothers who were compelled by poverty to expose them or give them away, in hope that, when they had grown up in someone else’s care, they might by some chance return and be recognized using the crepundia. Such improbable recognitions of lost or abandoned children, duly verified by crepundia, were a common plot device in Roman and Greek comedy, as in the line from Plautus quoted here.

But this does not mean it never happened in real life. The real rate of child abandonment in ancient Rome is unclear. By one estimate, impossible to verify, 20 to 40 percent of all urban children were abandoned in the third century AD. This is a very high figure, and probably not a normal situation, but it is well paralleled in pre-industrial Paris, Vienna, Milan, and Florence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The comparative evidence corroborates the impression we get from Roman sources, that the prototypical abandoner was an urban woman, perhaps from a peasant background in the city as a domestic servant, for whom taking care of an infant interfered with the necessity of urban employment. The modern evidence suggests that, unlike the happy endings of Roman comedy, however, abandonment was often tantamount to infanticide. Eighty percent mortality and higher in the first year was regular, even when foundling homes were in place (which they were not in ancient Rome).

Bronze Roman necklace fragment with crepundia from the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Bronze Roman necklace fragment with crepundia from the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Just as crepundia were fragile and fleeting, childhood itself was seen as a time of immaturity and imperfection. Roman children were often praised by adults for not acting like children—that is, for being serious, responsible, and sober, like adults—the so-called senex puer or “old-man boy” phenomenon. Prudentius follows in this tradition when he praises the young martyr Eulalia for wanting to have nothing to do with her crepundia, and “not knowing how to play.”

Bibliography: Thesaurus Linguae Latinae 4.1174–1175. J. Marquardt, Das Privatleben der Römer (repr. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1980) 1.120. Susan Dixon, The Roman Family (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992) 98–132; David Kertzer et al., “Child Abandonment in European History: A Symposium,” Journal of Family History 17 (1992) 1–23.

ARSMW_coverAdapted from the book Ancient Rome in So Many Words (New York: Hippocrene, 2007) by Christopher Francese.

Latin in a New York Times Ad, 1962

Chris Francese No Comments

From the days when Latin was still very commonly taught in American schools . . . Check out this ad for the prominent department store chain Abraham & Straus (1865-1995), June 10, 1962, p. 59. Thanks to James Dee for the reference.

Abraham and Straus Latin NYT ad 6-10-62 p.59

Annotating with Poetry Genius and House Divided

Chris Francese No Comments

David Foster Wallace’s annotated copy of Don Delillo’s Players, from the Harry Ransom Research Center in Austin, TX. http://bit.ly/1ef5ziL

David Foster Wallace’s annotated copy of Don Delillo’s Players, from the Harry Ransom Research Center in Austin, TX. http://bit.ly/1ef5ziL

From scribbled marginalia  to full-scale scholarly treatises that gobble the works on which they comment, text annotation is one of the most basic and diverse activities of the humanities. Its purposes embrace the intensely personal, the didactic, and the evangelical. It serves all kinds of communities, from the classroom to the law court, from the synagogue to the university research library.

The movement of text annotation to an online environment is still very much a work in progress. There are many platforms attempting to marry original text and a stream of added comments, some attractive and functional, some awkward. Crowd-sourced annotation is being tried in many corners, and sometimes it catches on (check out the remarkable wiki commentaries on the novels of Thomas Pynchon), sometimes they build it and nobody comes.

Rap Genius and its sister sites Poetry Genius and Education Genius are the most exciting recent entrants into this field. What distinguishes these sites is first the astonishing ease and flexibility of the interface. The mere selecting of a chunk of text allows one to add not just a typed comment but audio, video, links to parallel passages, embedded tweets, virtually anything digital. The other good thing about the Genius sites is the way they tap into existing communities of fans, readers, teachers, and students. Education Genius is well-funded by venture capital and has a staff that talks directly to teachers, works to make the site useful to students, and builds bridges with other sites and institutions.

A case in point is the emerging collaboration of Education Genius with Dickinson’s House Divided Project. An annotated version of Abraham Lincoln’s 1859 autobiographical sketch is now available at Poetry Genius, and represents the beginning of partnership between the House Divided Project and the Genius platform spearheaded by Dickinson College student Will Nelligan (’14). There is a general annotated guide to the sketch, which was originally written for a Pennsylvania newspaper when Lincoln was a presidential candidate, and also a version especially designed as an open Common Core platform. This is in keeping with the  strong educational outreach of House Divided and its director, Associate Professor of History and Pohanka Chair in American Civil War History Matthew Pinsker.

There is an audio recording of the sketch in the voice of Lincoln as recreated by Todd Wronski, part of a larger multimedia edition of Lincoln’s writings being undertaken by House Divided. In the Genius platform clicking on different colored text brings up an annotation. Here is one with an embedded video player. Note that annotations are fully “social,” in that one can give them a thumbs up or down, share in various ways, and leave a comment on the comment.

Clicking on different colored text brings up the annotation, in this case one with an embedded video player.

Clicking on different colored text brings up the annotation, in this case one with an embedded video player.

Some annotations simply add contextual information. Others, like the one above, hint at an interpretation, as a teacher might, in an attempt to get the reader thinking beyond the surface of the text. Others amount to polite essay prompts:

Lincoln Genius Screenshot 2

One can easily create an account and start annotating.

Lincoln Genius Screenshot  3

House Divided’s annotations often take the form of questions.

The idea of annotating with questions, in addition to statements, is a fine one, helpful to teachers and students alike. Note also the ability to brand annotations with the House Divided logo, which marks them as more authoritative and “verified.” The folks at Poetry Genius understand the power of reputation, and unobtrusively include it in the platform in a variety of ways.

The ease of annotation—one can sign up for an account in a moment and fire away—makes this platform well-suited to “class-sourcing,” the adding of content by students under academic supervision, and in fact that is how these particular annotations were created. High quality content created collaboratively for a well-defined audience in an attractive, open, and flexible format: digital humanities doesn’t get much better than that.

I am delighted to say that Jeremy Dean of Education Genius will be visiting Dickinson on April 17, 2014 to speak with a group of faculty and students about text annotation and to further develop this collaboration between the Genius sites and Dickinson College. If you would like further information about this event please contact me (francese@dickinson.edu).

–Chris Francese

 

Categories

Archives