Thursday, 16 March 2006

Martial's blog

I recently came across a rather interesting blog, written by Mark Keith, a high school Latin teacher in America. The day I discovered his blog, Mark was describing his classroom. But in an earlier post, he quoted a snippet of the Roman poet Martial (in the original Latin, of course).

Feeling lazy, I launched an internet search for a translation, ... and found nothing. First port of call was the Perseus Project, but in its list of 489 ancient texts, Cornelius Nepos follows straight after Lysias, omitting Marcus Valerius Martialis entirely. The Latin text is certainly available in The Latin Library, but why are there no on-line translations? Surely not because of Martial's reputation for scurrilous (not to say disgusting) verse?

Well ... maybe so. The Artful Dodge magazine presents, on its web site, three of Martial's Epigrams, with an introduction by translator Joseph Salemi, where he reveals that not one of the 54 magazines he approached would publish his translations. This, he attributes to "our neurotic fear of offending anyone or any group".

But today, serendipity brought the Martialis blog to my browser. Beginning in June 2004, the author ("Nick") intended to translate one of Martial's poems every day. Although he ran out of steam last year, having managed 287 poems from Books I-III, there, in all its tiny glory, was Epigram I.61, the snippet quoted by Mark Keith: "Verona loves the syllables of the learned poet, Mantua is fortunate in Maro, ... as for you, Licinianus, our Bilbilis will boast of you, and will not be silent about me".

Postscript: If there are any Latin teachers looking for Advanced Higher tasks to set, how about continuing the on-line translation of Martial? I'm sure the pupils would enjoy it!

Sunday, 12 March 2006

In search of a search engine

I have a history of championing the underdog. Or, more accurately, boycotting market leaders, out of sheer stubbornness.

For example, I avoided Microsoft products for a long time. In truth, it wasn't difficult in 1991, when I was using WordPerfect (versions 5.1/6.0), Lotus 1-2-3 and dBase III+ (with Clipper). As the WWW took off, I again sidestepped the Microsoft product as a point of principle, moving from Netscape Navigator to the more W3C-friendly Opera browser. Of course, the irony is that, since 1992, I've been using various flavours of Microsoft Windows, when I should really have embraced Linux.

My latest ploy, as a fully paid-up Microsoft Office-user (the shame!), is to avoid Google. Actually, I have always been an AltaVista user, so I rarely feel the urge to "Google". But I used to occasionally use an "ancient world" specialist search engine called Argos. Sadly, when I tried to access it last week, I found that it had long since ceased to function.

Click to see bigger version of this image

Withdrawal of service notice for the Argos ancient world search engine

So I am now on the look-out for a suitable alternative. Any suggestions will be gratefully received.

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring

I recently came across a book entitled Warfare in the Ancient World by Brian Todd Carey. According to the jacket blurb, Professor Carey is a history lecturer in the American Public University System and vice-president of the Rocky Mountain World History Association. He tells us that the book is intended to accompany his undergraduate course at the American Military University: as he puts it, "unable to find a suitable text, I decided to write my own".

How peculiar. Isn't it school children who require text books? Shouldn't undergraduates be encouraged to read widely? "A little learning ...", as Alexander Pope said. Unfortunately, not even the author seems to have read widely. There are, on average, three end-notes per page (429 notes in all, spread over 149 pages). Something like 10% refer to primary sources: Thucydides, Polybius, Caesar - the actual descriptions of events surviving from antiquity. The rest borrow extensively from a core of modern American popular works: Arther Ferrill's The Origins of War: from the stone age to Alexander the Great; Richard Gabriel & Karen Metz's From Sumer to Rome: The military capabilities of ancient armies; Richard Gabriel & Donald Boose, Jr.'s The Great Battles of Antiquity: a strategic and tactical guide to great battles that shaped the development of war (phew!). He has consulted a similarly small cadre of modern British works, too: Warfare in the Ancient World, edited by General Sir John Hackett; John Warry's Warfare in the Classical World; and (of course) Peter Connolly's Greece and Rome at War.

But (and herein lies the problem) Professor Carey appears not only to have consulted, but to have borrowed heavily, while excluding more specialist works. How, for example, can anyone discuss Gaugamela, the great set-piece battle at the centre of Oliver Stone's recent movie, without referring to Eric Marsden's classic 1964 monograph, The Campaign of Gaugamela?

Academic disciplines like archaeology and ancient history are built on the study of the primary sources: the actual remains, supplemented by a reading of contemporary or near-contemporary textual accounts. For ancient warfare, we think of works like Victor Hanson's The Western Way of War, where the index of ancient citations runs to 11 pages; or Adrian Goldsworthy's The Roman army at War and Hugh Elton's Warfare in Roman Europe, AD 350-425, each based on the respective author's PhD research. To give Professor Carey his due, these works certainly appear in his bibliography, but I wonder whether he has read them.

For example, in the chapter entitled "The Roman Empire at War", we are informed that "the role of Roman cavalry on the battlefield increased because of prolonged contacts with cavalry-based tactical systems in the east" (p. 123). What does this mean? That the emperor Augustus suddenly discovered how useful cavalry could be? Isn't Professor Carey aware, for example, of the frequent cavalry skirmishes during Caesar's African war of 48-46 BC? Or does he mean to imply that the characteristic infantry legions were supplanted by the forerunners of the medieval knight? Elton, for one, has estimated that "at Strasbourg in 357 [the future emperor] Julian had 10,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry". Very similar numbers are found in Arrian's array of AD 132, in his plan to repulse an invasion of the Alans. So, where's the "increased role"?

Also, shouldn't we mistrust any military historian who cannot get the names of famous Roman generals right? It was P. Quinctilius Varus (not Quintilius) who lost three legions in the Teutoburger forest in AD 9, and T. Quinctius Flamininus (not Flaminius) who defeated Philip V of Macedon at Cynoscephalae in 197 BC. And "Scipio the Younger" (younger than whom?) is usually known as Scipio Africanus, and sometimes even Scipio Africanus the Elder!

It seems to me that Professor Carey has done his undergraduates a disservice. He has attempted to distill the contents of a few books which are already themselves distilled. In this digital age, it is surely more appropriate to post an annotated reading list as a web site, perhaps with a discussion forum to stimulate some intellectual activity. Then, indeed, Professor Carey's undergraduates can enjoy more than the shallow sip he has offered them.