Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On Seneca

I have, for a long time, purposely avoided Roman drama, believing it was merely a cheap knockoff of the Greeks. However, I recently picked up some Seneca and was pleasantly surprised. Although in some sense they are a rip off of Greek tragedy, insofar as he uses Greek myth as his subject matter, Seneca's tragedies are completely different in tone and focus from Greek tragedy as a whole. He seems to be more inward in focus, concentrating more on the psychology of characters rather than a mere retelling of a story in dramatic form. The closest parallel in Greek tragedy is perhaps Euripides, who also has a psychological bent to him.

Take Seneca's play 'Hercules', for example. The "plot" of the play is actually rather lame: Juno is angry that Hercules has managed to get Cerberus from the Underworld, so she decides to set the Furies on him. Hercules goes bonkers, kills his wife and children, and then takes up an offer from Theseus to go to Athens to be purified. It is simple and, in terms of pure action, rather boring. What is interesting is the mind and attitudes of Hercules throughout the play. He is actually rather naive and innocent, while still being a bit of a megalomaniac, even prior to his manic episode. His quest, generally, seems to be the promotion of law and order and the extinguishing of injustice. But, when he returns, he prays that there be no violent storms, or poisonous plants (l. 931-936) . A noble sentiment, but this shows an ignorance of the way the world really works. (Incidentally, I think that Juno should have given Hercules a quest such as this: destroying all the hemlock plants would probably be harder for Hercules than leading Cerberus around on a leash; it would be more comic as well. But then I suppose this isn't exactly what Seneca was going for.)

Hercules' descent into madness is fascinating. At first, we think it is merely his megalomania asserting itself; he says that, "non capit terra Herculem / tandemque superis reddit." This is perhaps understandable given that he has just completed his last labor, and should then receive his entry into heaven as was promised. However, we soon find out this is much more than his egotistical notions. Right around line 975 we start to realize that Hercules has gone completely insane. He says, "Gigantes arma pestiferi movent", 'the pestilential Giants are in arms". He is apparently having visions of the Giants being armed and ready to fight; he then goes on to describe them. Then, his madness is confirmed: he thinks that his children are those of Lycus, who usurped the throne of Thebes, and that his wife is Juno and proceeds to slaughter them, which is described in all its gory detail by Amphitryon, eg.

dextra precantem rapuit et circa furens
bis ter rotatum misit; ast illi caput
sonuit, cerebro tecta disperso madent. (1005-1007)

in coniugem nunc clava libratur gravis:
perfregit ossa, corpori trunco caput
abest nec usquam est. (1024-1026)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

More on those Lectures posted below

So, that site on which the Kagan lectures are posted is FANTASTIC. There are many other courses on there, including an interesting looking one on the Old Testament. Along with the video lectures, there are syllabi, with readings from textbooks for the course! In essence, they are free university courses from Yale, etc.

The main site is here

There needs to be more things like this online.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Donald Kagan Lectures on Greek History

Here are a set of 24 video lectures delivered by Donald Kagan, who hails from Yale University, on Greek history. I have yet to watch them, but I imagine they can't be all that bad.

Kagan Lectures

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Possible revised paradigm of the verb 'to be' in IE

Here is possible paradigm of the verb 'to be' in PIE; I wonder if I can account for all the reflexes in the daughter languages.



You will notice that there is no intial *h1; indeed, this is the point. Now then, on to some reflexes.

This paradigm accounts for the Latin forms quite nicely; *esi > es; *esti > est. For the 3rd person plural, Palmer's argument (see this post below) still holds; *s-enti > *s-onti > sunt. Then, the first person plural was created by analogy to the third person plural *smes > sumus and, from this, the first person singular was spawned by analogy *esmi > sum. The second person plural was created by analogy to 2nd person singular form. Palmer's account of the development of the paradigm in Latin remains unchanged.

The Sanskrit reflexes can also develop from these roots with ease.

*esmi > asmi
*esi > asi
*esti > asti
*smes > smas
*ste > stha
*senti > santi

No problems here. Same thing with the Germanic forms; in Gothic and Old English, for example, the plural forms lack an initial vowel.

Given this new paradigm, the odd forms out seem to be the Greek and Anatolian forms, which show an inital 'e' in the plural. This, I believe, can be accounted for through analogy; they came about through analogy to the singular. This is not as strange as it may sound. This exact thing (albeit with an 'a' instead of an 'e') happened in the move from Sanskrit to Pali. Cf.:

Skt. asmi > Pali amhi 'I am'
Skt. asi > Pali asi 'you are'
Skt. asti > Pali atthi 'he/she/it is'
Skt. smah > Pali amha 'we are'
Skt. stha > Pali attha 'you (pl.) are'

The third person plural remained without the initial 'a'.

I have yet to see if I can account for reflexes in Balto-Slavic from the new paradigm. More, perhaps, on this later.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hurrian is Just Plain Weird

That is all.

Sweet Gothic Grammar

Anyone who is learning Gothic with a remote interest in Indo European (I can't imagine why else one would learn Gothic, except being interesting in Germanic generally) should buy this grammar. It includes graded exercises, as well as exercises which relate to the development of Gothic from IE. Fantastic stuff, and it's not terribly expensive either. We need more grammars like this, which go through the development from IE and provide exercises to reinforce the points.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Milton's Style: Brilliant Adaptation of a Latinate Style, or Tortured English?

So I'm rereading Paradise Lost, and am finding that I'm more keenly aware of Milton's style now that I have a bunch of Latin under my belt. In Latin, the verb most often comes at the end and things can be shoved up to the front of a clause for emphasis; both elements are difficult to copy in English, as it is a language which is heavily dependant on word order. This doesn't stop Milton, though, and I'm having trouble deciding whether, on the whole, Milton's efforts at adapting Latin word order to English were entirely successful.

There are passages in which this works quite well. Take this famous passage from Book 1:

Him the Almightly power
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereral sky...

The direct object is right up at the front, which is technically ungrammatical in English. But, one can make sense of it, and this move on Milton's part is on par with his attempt to render English in a manner similar to that of Latin. Another good example is from Book 7:

This also thy request with caution asked

From the point of view of standard English word order and syntax, this is hideous. We could normally say something like "Have your request, which was cautiously asked for..." or something to that effect. The words "This" and "thy request", which stand in apposition to each other, are separated by "also"; this is exactly paralleled in Latin, where you could have an "etiam" or something separating two things which go together. Note also that the verb comes at the end of the clause. Another one, for good measure:

For what god after better worse would build?

Again, from the point of view of standard English, this is tortured. I can't decide what to think of it; on the one hand Milton's style is a good attempt at rendering English poetry in a style like that of Latin, but on the other, English just doesn't lend itself well to constructions of the sort that Latin allows.

I suppose he's done the best with what he has.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Verb 'to be' in Latin and IE

It seems that in PIE the verb 'to be' had two different stems in the present, and e-grade as well as a zero grade. The conjugation proceeds as follows:



The ablaut grade was posited mainly to account for the reflexes in Latin and Sanskrit, which show an initial sibilant in a few forms: Lat. sum, sumus, sunt; Skt. smas 'we are', stha 'you (pl) are', santi 'they are'. According to Palmer (The Latin Language. 1954.), the development of the Latin forms are as follows:

The second and third person singular forms seem regular; *h1esi > es, *h1esti > est. By analogy with the singular forms a full grade was introduced in the second person plural (*h1ste > *ste > *este > estis). *s-enti > *s-onti > sunt, for the third person plural, and this apparently had some analogical bearing on the first person singular *somos > sumus. This new first person singular form in turn created a new first person singular, from an original *esmi (*esmi > sum).

Conclusion: the paradigm is an analogical mess in Latin, one which must be sorted out if my paper on the first laryngeal in the PIE verb 'to be' is going to be resuscitated.