Monday, April 18, 2005
Sauvage Noble discusses the new species of slime-mold beetles named after Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, with an emphasis on the Latinity of the scientific nomenclature. I once suggested that a Latin equivalent of George Walker Bush might be Agricola Ambulator Arbuscula.
Sauvage Noble also unearths an interesting ancient equivalent of "when pigs fly" in the pages of Varro's De Lingua Latina (7.39). It's a fragment of Naevius, "atque prius pariet lucusta Lucam bovem," meaning "and locust will give birth to Lucan ox (i.e. elephant) before..."
Philologists call this rhetorical trope an adynaton (impossibility). Examples are ubiquitous in ancient Greek and Latin literature. Among the earliest are these:
- Archilochus, fragment 74, lines 6-9 (tr. J.M. Edmonds): Let not any one of you marvel, nay, though he see the beasts of the field exchange pasture with the dolphins of the deep, and the roaring waves of the sea become dearer than the land to such as loved the hill.
- Sosicles the Corinthian, quoted by Herodotus 5.92.a.1 (tr. George Rawlinson): Surely the heaven will soon be below, and the earth above, and men will henceforth live in the sea, and fish take their place upon the dry land, since you, Lacedaemonians, propose to put down free governments in the cities of Greece, and to set up tyrannies in their room.
Dennis Mangan muses on the word philology. Without a qualifier it often means just classical philology. The American Philological Association consists only of Greek and Latin scholars, although you can find articles on other languages (Persian, Old English) in early volumes of its Transactions. Likewise the American Journal of Philology today confines itself mostly to Greek and Latin language and literature. Compare catholic (universal), which now usually means just Roman Catholic.