Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hoffner and Melchert's Hittite Grammar

A Grammar of the Hittite Language, 1: Reference Grammar

A Grammar of the Hittite Language, 1: Reference Grammar
Part I: Reference Grammar
Languages of the Ancient Near East - LANE 1/1
by Harry A. Hoffner Jr. and H. Craig Melchert
Eisenbrauns, 2008
Pp. xxii + 468; CD-ROM, English
Cloth, 7 x 9 inches
ISBN: 1575061198
List Price: $59.50
Your Price: $53.55

Above is the info for Hoffner and Melchert's new Hittite Grammar. My friend showed it to me today and it seems like the best resource out there for learning Hittite. There is a tutorial included in the CD which would be excellent for learning the language; it is also available separately. The only other ones I've seen are one called Beginning Hittite which, judging from the peer reviews and my experience with it, is the worst thing out there, and Johannes Friedrich's Hethitisches Elementarbuch which is only useful if you read German. Hoffner and Melchert's will no doubt be the standard English language grammar for a while. If you're crazy enough to learn Hittite, this is the best thing out there right now.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Homeric Hymn 20: To Hephestus

Here's my hackneyed translation of the Homeric Hymn 20: To Hephaestus. The Greek text can be viewed here, at the Perseus site. If you don't have a Greek font, like SPIonic installed, I think you can still view the text in just plain Unicode.

Of Hephaestus, famously skilled, sweetly sing Muse,
who, with grey-eyed Athena, taught men to use
their shining art upon the Earth, men who used
to dwell in hill caves, like animals reduced.
But now, the shining skill having been learned through
Hephaestus, famous for his art, years renew
easily for men, at ease in their dwellings.
But, be gracious, Hephaestus; give us earnings
and most excellent virtue.

The translation is not completely literal; I translated some things as adverbs when they weren't, and in the 4th last line I translate sense, not words.

I think the last 2 lines are the most interesting. The poet has said that Hephaestus, along with Athena, gave men the "shining art". This, presumably, was a rather gracious measure, from men's point of view, on the part of Hephaestus. However, there is apparently a concern that Hephaestus will not continue to be gracious; there is some concern about a change of heart. Thus, the poet asks him to "be gracious"; the will of the gods was a rather shifty and thus the poet asks for graciousness. All that Hephaestus did does not necessarily entail his continuing to be well disposed towards the human race. These last two lines bring out a nice contrast between the graciousness of Hephaestus and Athena in giving men the "shining skill", and the ever-lurking possibility that his attitude could shift at any time. The poet can appreciate all men have, but is also aware of the transitory nature of all men have. Incidentally, this is a common theme in archaic lyric poetry; it's rather pessimistic stuff.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Origins of the Etruscans

The Etruscans, from the time of the Romans to our own, have remained a rather enigmatic people. No one really knew, or knows, where exactly they came from. Hesiod, in the Theogony, says that the Etruscans were descended from the children of Odysseus and Circe:

"Circe, the daughter of Hyperion's child, the Sungod, loved Odysseus, famous for his endurance, and bore Agrius and Latinus, the strong man with no stain. This pair rules over all the famous Tyrrenians in their faraway retreat deep in the sacred islands" (Thg. 12, 101ff)

The 'sacred islands' are probably the Lipari islands, which are just north of the toe of the boot of Italy. Herodotus relates that the Etruscans were of Lydian descent, and both Virgil and Horace refer to the Etruscans as Lydian. The Lydians were a group of Greeks in Asia Minor and neighbors of the Ionian Greeks. For Herodotus this correlation fits well into the one of the thematic facets of his Histories: barbarian 'truphe', luxurious living. Both the Lydians and the Etruscans had a reputation among the Greeks for decadant living and morals, which is also attributed to the Persians and ties into the theme of hubris that runs through the Histories.

Dionysus of Halicarnassus also had a go at trying to place the origins of the Etruscans. Writing in 7 B.C., he claimed that the Etruscans were simply the 'natives' of Italy. In his work the Roman Antiquities, Dionysus attempts to show that the Romans were originally Greeks who migrated over to Italy by comparing Greek and Roman customs, institutions and rituals. If it is the case that the Romans were originally Greeks, then the Etruscans, according to Dionysus, must have been the "barbarians". Interestingly, though, he does analyze Herodotus' claim that the Etruscans were Lydians and more or less arrives at the same conclusion that most scholars now hold, namely that the Lydians and Etruscans are completely unrelated. He notes that the Tyrrhenians and the Lydians do not use the same language, do not worship the same gods, don't make use of similar laws or institutions. In short the Etruscans must be "a very ancient nation, and...agrees with no other either in its language or in its manner of living".

Lydian, being a dialect of Greek, is an Indo European language. Etruscan, however, is not. Thus, Herodotus' migratory theory does not work. Moreover, archaeological work in Lydia has failed to unearth anything that remotely resembles Etruscan pottery or the like. Over in Italy, archaeology has shown a clear continuity between the 7th century Etruscans and the prehistoric populations that preceded them in every major Etruscan center.

So, Dionysus' theory seems the most plausible, except that it still does not tell us where the Etruscans came from. It's possible we may never know; perhaps they were part of a prehistoric migration from somewhere that, due to its age, would bear no traces in the archaeological record. Nonetheless, it is interesting that the Etruscans were a pocket (and a rather powerful pocket at that) of non Indo European speakers in an area where every other tribe spoke an IE based language. This adds to the mystery, I think. Here we have a bunch of non IE speakers who settled in the middle of Italy on some of the best land there is in Italy. One can perhaps understand how the Basques in Spain, due to their being surrounded by high mountains and thus cut off from the rest of the world, could have developed a language unrelated to those surrounding them. But, this was not the case with the Etruscans. They were literally surrounded by people completely unrelated to them, with no natural barriers to isolate them. A rather curious state of affairs.

All we can really say is that linguistically the Etruscans influenced others, and were perhaps influenced by the Italian tribes around them. Latin picked up some Etruscan vocabulary and the Etruscans picked up their script from the Phoenicians. None of this can answer the real question, though: who were the Etruscans and from where did they come?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More on Spoken Latin

A short while ago I wrote a little post on the benefits of spoken Latin. Today, as I was wandering through the library stacks, I came across a little book which was published in 1669 entitled A New Way of Teaching Children the Latin Tongue by Use Alone. Originally published in French under the title Examen de la Maniere d'Enseigner le Latin aux Enfans, it was translated into English or, as the title page says, "Englished out of French". I flipped it open and, lo and behold, he was arguing that spoken Latin was the best method of learning the language. The standard "grammar/translation" method, the author argues, is not the right way to go. He cites the example of a small child whom he met and who, at the age of about four, "knowing no other Language, but Latin, [used] the same as other Infants do their Mother-tong". The author apparently talked to him twice and found that "it hath ev'n the dexterity to vary the expressions, when it is oblig'd to say often the same thing. It commits no fault in the Inflexions, and is not only exact in what it speaks, but with a strange quickness taketh up and corrects those, that speak not right" Imagine having your Latin corrected by a four year old!

The author's point is basically that, this kid has a greater command of the language than those who learned Latin the standard way, and, since he [the kid] learned Latin through mere use and conversation alone, that this appears to be the best method. For, we learned our mother-tongue without being drilled on declensions and conjugations, moods and voices. Why not employ the same approach with second languages? Montaigne's first language was, apparently, Latin: he was only spoken to and could only respond in Latin when he was a child. Moreover, this in no way impaired him from learning French: he is considered one of the finest writers in the French language. Though, to be fair, we have to take Montaigne at his word in this; he relates this in one of his essays.

Languages were made not only to be read, but also to be spoken. I see no reason why Latin should be any different: using a language makes learning it a heck of a lot easier. Anyone who can find this little book should read it; rather humorously he treats some objections to his views, one of which is that "mothers shall not understand their own children"; the author thinks that one's first language should be Latin and their "vulgar" tongue learned later. To be fair, this is a bit extreme, perhaps. However, he does see the immense benefit of speaking the language, which is something I can definitely appreciate.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Short Bit on Tacitus and a Translation of Some Tacitus

Tacitus is probably the hardest Latin author you will ever read. His style is rather abbreviated and rather obscure, as will probably come through in the translation further on in the post. Most interesting, however, is Tacitus' views on the Roman Empire and how he presented them in his works. He was fervently opposed to Roman Imperialism, which is all fine and good (depending on which Emporer you lived under and how well you masked it). However, Tacitus wrote a biography of Agricola, who was a relative by marriage of Tacitus, and most famously took over Britian in the name of Roman Imperialism. How, then, does one be critical of Roman expansion whilst writing a complementary biography (because Agricola was a family member--and a famous one at that) of someone who played a role in Roman expansion? Simple: put your views in speeches of the enemy. Here is presented an excerpt from one such speech; one can only handle so much Tacitus at once.

Quotiens causas belli et necessitatem nostram intueor, magnus mihi animus est hodiernum diem consensumque vestrum initium libertatis toti Britanniae fore: nam et universi co[i]stis et servitutis expertes, et nullae ultra terrae ac ne mare quidem securum inminente nobis classe Romana. Ita proelium atque arma, quae fortibus honesta, eadem etiam ignavis tutissima sunt. Priores pugnae, quibus adversus Romanos varia fortuna certatum est, spem ac subsidium in nostris manibus habebant, quia nobilissimi totius Britanniae eoque in ipsis penetralibus siti nec ulla servientium litora aspicientes, oculos quoque a contactu dominationis inviolatos habebamus. Nos terrarum ac libertatis extremos recessus ipse ac sinus famae in hunc diem defendit: nunc terminus Britanniae patet, atque omne ignotum pro magnifico est; sed nulla iam ultra gens, nihil nisi fluctus ac saxa, et infestiores Romani, quorum superbiam frustra per obsequium ac modestiam effugias. Raptores orbis, postquam cuncta vastantibus defuere terrae, mare scrutantur: si locuples hostis est, avari, si pauper, ambitiosi, quos non Oriens, non Occidens satiaverit: soli omnium opes atque inopiam pari adfectu concupiscunt. Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. (Tacitus, Life of Agricola, ch. 30)

How often do I contemplate the reason and our neccesity of war, I think that today, this very day, and your gathering together, will be the beginning of liberty for all of Britian: for you all came together, inexperienced in slavery, and no land beyond and not even the sea is secure, the Roman fleet being near. Thus, a battle and weapons, which are honorable to the brave, in the same way are safest for cowards. Prior battles, in which it was contested with varying success against the Romans, held hope and troops in our hands because we, positioned far inland, not gazing at the shore of servitude, had eyes unviolated from the contact of domination. The remote position itself and the land of rumor defends us of this land and of liberty to this day: now the limit of Britian lies open and every unknown thing is for the sake of a splendid thing; but, there are no tribes beyond, nothing except seas and rocks and the rather hostile Romans, whose arrogance you would flee in error through compliance and respect. Robbers of the earth, they are, when all of the earth falls short, being in emptiness, they search through the sea: if the enemy is rich, they are greedy, if they are poor, ambitious, neither East nor West have satisfied them: they alone out of all people covet wealth and poverty with the same disposition. Stealing, destroying, plundering are for the false name of an empire: and when they make desolation, they call it peace.

I've translated some parts of the passage rather literally to get across how obscure Tacitus can be sometimes. Remember that this is more or less Tacitus speaking though the mouth of a general of a coalition of Celtic/Scottish tribes who are fighting the Romans. In the first line, where I translated "I think that..." in the Latin is actually, "there is great mind to me...". He seems to personify the "prior battles", stating that they "held hope, etc"; this is extremely confusing at first glance at the Latin. The verb "to be" (esse) is often omitted. The passage "every unknown thing is for the sake of a splendid thing" is rather hazy in meaning. I think what Tacitus is trying to say is that the Romans greatly desired the "unknown", which, upon discovery, was for the sake of "glory" or the Empire, or what have you. Just a bit further on, the clause that starts "whose arrogance..."; I believe he is saying that fighting is the only option and that submission to the Romans is the wrong way to go.

One can also see the anti-Roman stance in this excerpt. Romans are called "robbers of the earth" and are portrayed as greedy, malicious conquorers. There are more "implicit" critiques of Romans in Tacitus' writings; I'll perhaps present them in another post and comment more fully.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Syria, Trade, & Near Eastern Influences on Greece

Ancient Syria is an interesting place for me, primarily due to its cosmopolitan nature. Ugarit, for example, due to its being a major trade center, was host to a great number of different peoples, including native Syrians, Hittites, probably Egyptians, and perhaps merchants from Mesopotamia further west. All the major trade routes seemed, at one time or another, to convene in Syria. A merchant travelling west from Babylonia would start by going up the Euphrates to Emar, then over land to Aleppo, then south to Canaan; the journey south would be through Syria. Merchants going north would begin from Northern Syria, probably Ugarit, and then travel through the Amanus and Taursus mountains to the Anatolian plateau; Hittite merchants would make the journey in reverse. For Egyptians, the safest route would be by sea up the coast, making stops at Byblos, Tyre, and then most likely Ugarit, in northern Syria. Merchants from Crete would sail in a counter-clockwise direction (winds and currents generally favoured this direction); first they would stop in Egypt and then go up the coast following the route of the Egyptian traders.

There was, in a way, a circular trade route around the Aegean, with branches coming from the west, in Mesopotamia, and from the north, in the Hittite kingdom. M.L. West, in his book The East Face of Helicon, states that in the Neolithic Age, there were already established trade networks in the Near East though he argues that Greece had little influence and was influenced little during this period. I am inclined to agree. Around the 17th century BC, however, we begin to see objects of oriental manufacture on the Greek mainland. The Shaft Graves of Circle A at Mycenae sported Mesopotamian glass beads, tusks from Syria, an Egyptian jug and vase, and a gold pin from Anatolia. This obviously suggests the presence of a circular trade network around the Aegean Sea; it is most likely from this network that the so called “Near Eastern influences” of Greece came about. From the 15th century BC onwards, Mycenaean pottery was arriving in substantial quantities in Cyprus, Syria, and Palestine. West points out, quite correctly, that it was not necessarily the Greeks that carried it that far, however, it does attest to a wide ranging trade network that went both directions because of its circular nature.

The “Near Eastern influences”, however, did not directly follow the “circular” pattern; they more or less moved westward, not around. First, there was no where else for them to go; about 3/4 of the circle was comprised of places from which the influences would come. First, we see them on the island of Cyprus, then in Minoan Crete, and then finally on the mainland. The trade moved in a circle, but the influences moved linearly across the Aegean towards Greece. Influences are, for the most part, seen first in Minoan or Mycenaean civilization, which is obviously due to the fact they antedated significant settlements on the mainland. Take some aspects of religion, for example. In both Minoan and Mycenaean art many scenes of cultic worship are depicted taking place in the countryside, sometimes by a large tree; trees and groves were considered sacred. Here is a cult scene from Mycenae:

Note the tree on the left. There are parallels to this in the Near East. In the Old Testament it seems that Judaism had to combat tree worship. It was common in Near Eastern religions to hold trees, rocks, etc as divine, as idols to be worshipped; it is this that the Israelites had to contend with, for worship of idols in any form was deemed not appropriate. In the Old Testament itself, though, David received an omen from the rustling of the trees:

And let it be, when thou [David] hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the Lord go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines. (2 Sam. 5.24)

In a way, the trees become sacred insofar as they bear the sign of the divine.

A sacred stone or column was also a feature of Minoan and Mycenaean art. The god Hermes, incidentally, received his name from the Greek word for a cairn, ‘herma’. Again, if one looks in the Old Testament, a 'massebah' (stone pillar) was a feature of Canaanite sanctuaries. Also, Jacob sets up a stone pillar:

And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it (Gen. 28.18)

And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him [God], even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon. (Gen. 35.14)

The term for a cult site in older Canaanite religion is ‘bamah’, which means “high place”. The word could perhaps be connected with the Greek ‘bomos’, meaning altar.

Not the temples themselves, but the principle of the temple came from the Near East, via Cyprus. An interesting linguistic connection is the Greek world leskhai, which refers to a public dining hall, at Delphi, for example. This can be compared with the Hebrew 'lishkah', which means basically the same thing, though, there is no known Semitic etymology for the word.

All these influences passed westward, most likely brought along with the trade goods and were slowly integrated into the 'Greek' society we think of today. Along with the influences from Syria and Mesopotamia, there were perhaps Hebraic ones, as outlined above. For more detail see M.L. West's The East Face of Helicon

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Utility of Hebrew

I've discovered that, if one wants to learn any ancient Near Eastern language, Hebrew is not only useful, but essential. First of all, it makes learning the languages easier; some grammatical points, as well as the phonetic equivalents for the scripts, can be related to Hebrew and thus make for easier comprehension. Secondly, most of the grammars for ancient NE languages presuppose knowledge of Hebrew for precisely the reason above. Often equivalents for constructions or cuneiform signs, etc will be given. Even examples will be given in Hebrew of certain constructions.

On that note, since I'm taking a course on Middle Egyptian next year, I've started looking at Hebrew. I at least want to have a handle on the script-- this will most likely make learning the "alphabetic" equivalents in Egyptian easier, leaving me only to worry about the Hieroglyphic (by which I mean the picture of water actually meaning "water") and phonemic (by which I mean a sign representing more than one letter; Consonant+Consonant, eg.) aspects. When I was learning Ugaritic, I found myself wishing I had knowledge of Hebrew; it would have made learning the cuneiform signs as well as verb structures easier. In short, not only is Hebrew a beautiful language, certainly worth learning in its own right, but it also makes learning other NE languages a heck of a lot easier.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Recreation of Ciceronian Oratory

Here's a link to a recreation of sections from some of Cicero's speeches produced and put together by UCLA.

They're interesting to watch; I don't know enough about Ciceronian rhetoric to make a judgement regarding how historically accurate these modern attempts are, though, I wonder how "historically accurate" one can actually be when dealing with the spoken word. Rhetorical handbooks from the ancient world can only go so far, though, to be fair, they can take us a fair ways in terms of gesture, some aspects of delivery, and pacing. No doubt some nuances will be missed, however, these UCLA videos give, I would guess, a fairly accurate portrait of what Roman oratory was like.