Interdum stultus opportuna loquitur...

Friday, November 07, 2008

NonRant: Ancient Wisdom...

Note - from June 24th 2009, this blog has migrated from Blogger to a self-hosted version. Click here to go straight there.

I've spoken in the past of my love for the Wisdom of the Ancients... my favourite has always been Heron of Alexandria, who invented the aeolipile - a toy which was one venture-capital funding round short of the Steam Engine. That's not a joke - he tried to get money to advance his idea, and couldn't. This was in about 50 AD... imagine where we would have been if Heron's ideas had been funded?

Heron also invented the fisrt known wind-harnessing machine, but what impressed me most was an iterative algorithm for finding the square root of any number; so long as the seed value used is less than the number itself, Heron's algorithm is still the most efficient method of computing the square root - the accuracy of which doubles with each step.

People think that folks who are interested in Athenian or Roman political figures, or in Greek or Alexandrian inventors, must be a prissy lot. From time to time I like to dispel that sort of misconception; those who know me know that I am about as prissy as an IED.

Just now I made a comment on the Spectator site (which will probablly not make it past the scrutineers), about a post which I thought misattributed an insult written by Juvenal (or so I thought) to Martial. As it turns out, I was wrong - it was Martial.

In order to misdirect (in case I was wrong - I always wrote responses without Google-ing to see if I am right or not) I included two references from my all-tiome favourite Ancient - Catullus (Gaius Valerius Catullus).

I think you deserve to share them. Lucky you...

The first is known as Carmen 39 (each poem that survives is a Carmen). I'll put the Latin here (to see the English just click on the text - you will LOVE it)...

Egnatius, quod candidos habet dentes,
renidet usque quaque. Si ad rei ventum est
subsellium, cum orator excitat fletum,
renidet ille; si ad pii rogum fili
lugetur, orba cum flet unicum mater,
renidet ille. Quidquid est, ubicumque est,
quodcumque agit, renidet: hunc habet morbum,
neque elegantem, ut arbitror, neque urbanum.
Quare monendum est te mihi, bone Egnati.
Si urbanus esses aut Sabinus aut Tiburs
aut pinguis Vmber aut obesus Etruscus
aut Lanuvinus ater atque dentatus
aut Transpadanus, ut meos quoque attingam,
aut quilubet, qui puriter lavit dentes,
tamen renidere usque quaque te nollem:
nam risu inepto res ineptior nulla est.
Nunc Celtiber es: Celtiberia in terra,
quod quisque minxit, hoc sibi solet mane
dentem atque russam defricare gingivam,
ut quo iste vester expolitior dens est,
hoc te amplius bibisse praedicet loti.

This is the poem to which I was referring when I mentioned the other day that Catuillus took a dim view of Celtiberians (Spaniards). 

Anyhow - old Ignatius would not have been impressed. 

But by far my faveourite is Carmen 97 - perhaps the bawdiest bit of insult that you will ever find. Again, the Latin first...

Non (ita me di ament) quicquam referre putaui,
utrumne os an culum olfacerem Aemilio.
nilo mundius hoc, nihiloque immundius illud,
verum etiam culus mundior et melior:
nam sine dentibus est. hic dentis sesquipedalis,
gingiuas vero ploxeni habet veteris,
praeterea rictum qualem diffissus in aestu
meientis mulae cunnus habere solet.
hic futuit multas et se facit esse venustum,
et non pistrino traditur atque asino?
quem siqua attingit, non illam posse putemus
aegroti culum lingere carnificis?

I particularly love the bit about the she-donkey, and the typically Catulline 'sting in the tail' - the last lines, which claim that any woman who would touch Aemilius would be prepared to lick a rancid hangman's arse. Enjoy...