Friday, May 31, 2019

Latin, Greek, and an American Pastime

Moe Berg: Catcher, Linguist, Spy
Imagine the quintessential baseball game: it’s a warm, languorous summer day, the scent of freshly mowed grass wafts in the breeze, vendors are hawking hot dogs and roasted peanuts, and then you hear it . . . someone calling out in what at first seems an unfamiliar tongue. Listening more closely, you wonder—could that possibly be ancient Greek?!

If you were attending a Chicago White Sox game in the 1930s, experiencing this scene was a real possibility. As the story goes, whenever Hall of Fame White Sox pitcher Ted Lyons teamed up with catcher Moe Berg, the two relied on communicating in ancient Greek when an opposing runner was on second base. Berg’s own words from his essay “Pitchers and Catchers” (in which he also describes the catcher as the “Cerberus of baseball”) reveal why he and Lyons resorted to this rather unusual practice:

The catcher gives the signals only because he is in a better position than the pitcher to hide them. In a squatting position, the catcher hides the simple finger, fist, or finger-wiggle signs between his legs, complicating them somewhat with different combinations only when a runner on second base in direct line of vision with the signals may look in, perhaps solve them, and flash back another signal to the hitter.

In ancient Greek, Lyons and Berg found an ingenious way to signal each other secretly.

Berg had a history of using ancient languages in the context of baseball. As an undergraduate at Princeton University, he studied Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Sanskrit and later attended the Sorbonne in Paris to study experimental phonetics. While playing on Princeton’s baseball team, Berg (playing shortstop) and second baseman Crossan Cooper used Latin as their own “secret language” to communicate who would “cover the bag” in the presence of an opposing base runner.

An abiding interest in the ancient Greeks and Romans—as well as cultures and languages from the world over—revealed itself in various aspects of Berg’s life both on and off the baseball field. Sports Illustrated quotes an anonymous teammate as saying, “We'd all sit around and listen to him discuss the Greeks, Romans, Japanese, anything. Hell, we didn't know what he was talking about, but it sure sounded good.” Toward the end of his baseball career, Berg made several appearances on the popular radio quiz show Information Please, successfully answering an array of questions on Latin and Greek etymology, among other topics. Later, during World War II, Berg’s linguistic skills and extensive knowledge of international affairs aided him in his spying efforts for the United States. He played an important role in atomic counterintelligence, relaying information about the development of Germany’s nuclear program.

A. Bartlett Giamatti: Scholar, Leader, Commissioner
The history of the relationship between classical languages and baseball does not stop with Moe Berg. Perhaps the most famous Latin enthusiast in baseball was A. Bartlett Giamatti, seventh commissioner of Major League Baseball. Formerly a professor of Renaissance literature, and then the president of Yale University, Giamatti eloquently expressed the continued relevance of Latin in a letter responding to the query of a junior high school student:

Ask not, noble Dunn, what prompts us to study a “dead language,” for the language is not dead. We study Latin because without it we cannot know our history and our heritage. And without that knowledge, we cannot know ourselves. Nosce teipsum, brave Dunn. If one can read that, one can—in one's life—begin to do that. The link between Latin and our lives is deep, and abiding.

Giamatti wrote several articles affirming his deep love of baseball prior to becoming baseball commissioner. His praise for baseball linked the sport together with his scholarly interests, particularly his celebration of the color green. For Giamatti, the green of the baseball diamond was “the color of hope,” symbolism that he noted is particularly meaningful in Dante’s Divine Comedy. He also commented on the significance of the word park, derived from the Persian word for paradise, further observing that the first “true” baseball game was played in Hoboken, New Jersey, at a place popularly called the Elysian Fields. It’s almost as if the perfection of the baseball park can only be properly expressed in the language of epic.

Try It Yourself
Are you a fan who’d like to try calling a few baseball plays in Latin? Check out some Latin baseball vocabulary, courtesy of John Traupman’s Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency, listed below. If you have any other vocabulary that you typically use to describe baseball—Latin or Greek—please share in the comments!

baseball: (the ball itself) basipila -ae f, (the sport) ludūs -ī m basipilae
     play baseball: basipilā lūdere
base (first, second, third, home): basis -is (acc. -im) (prīma, secunda, tertia, summa or domestica)
baseball game: basipilae lūsus -ūs m, basipilae certāmen -inis n
baseman (first, second, third): (prīma, secunda, tertia) basiārius -ī m (-a -ae f)
bat: clava -ae f
batter: clavātor -tōris m (-trīx -trīcis f)
catch: excipiō -ere excēpī exceptus
catcher: exceptor -ōris m, exceptrīx -trīcis f
fly ball: pila volāns
glove: digitābulum -ī n
hit: pulsāre
     hit the ball out of the park: pilam extrā campum lūsorium pulsāre
hit a home run: circuitum basium facere
inning: missus -ūs m
outfielder: externus (-a) custōs -ōdis mf
pitcher: coniector -ōris m, coniectrīx -īcis f
shortstop: intermedius (-a) basiārius -ī m (-a -ae f)

–Amelia Wallace, Editor

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Nike Wins: Martia Dementia 2019 Recap

A bas relief of Nike at Ephesus
(courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
From the very beginning of Martia Dementia 2019, the Greek gods proved themselves to be all-powerful, handily beating their hero, author, and politician rivals. Caesar was no match for Ares, Augustus was no match for Poseidon! The Olympians seemed like they might go all the way to the finish, with Zeus as a particular favorite, until Nike, goddess of victory, proved true to her name. Among the mythological creatures, the chthonic entities were the ones to beat: Python and Cerberus vied in a close contest, with Cerberus winning. The three-headed hell hound, however, ultimately bowed his head in defeat to snake-tressed Medusa. While Medusa made a valiant effort in the championships, she couldn’t quite overcome Victory herself, who was crowned with the Martia Dementia 2019 laurels. Sadly, some early fan favorites didn’t make it far, but perhaps they’ll find some success next year.

Thank you to all who participated this year in Martia Dementia—your enthusiasm is what makes this contest a success! And now, let’s recognize our bracket winners. This year’s contest resulted in a tie for first place: with fifty-four correct picks, Michael Mangel and Will Joseph, both of New Trier High School (Winnetka, IL), crushed the competition. Each will receive a first place $100 book prize. Our third place winner and recipient of a $25 book prize is the Frontier Regional School (Deerfield, MA) Latin II class, which submitted a bracket with 49 correct picks under the aegis of student teacher Becka Pomeroy. According to Becka, the key to success in Martia Dementia is to have a big class (and then, of course, encourage them all to vote!). Congratulations to our three winners!

The award for most abysmal bracket goes to David Jaffe, Latin teacher at Belmont High School (Belmont, MA). His poor showing—only eleven correct picks—resulted from some intricate and rather involved methods of selecting winners for each round. Here, David explains his strategy:

My first priority was to contrive funny match-ups: Taraxippoi vs. Nessus, Ovid vs. Augustus, Scylla vs. Charybdis, etc. But there was really no question that in the end I had to have Homer win. Sure, he's a blind old poet who probably never existed—but have you read the Iliad? That's not the work of a loser. I wasn't actually trying to get most abysmal. I do, however, generally prefer more obscure characters, or those who seem like more of an underdog, so in hindsight I'm not really surprised.

There you have it—your Martia Dementia 2019 winners! Once again, thank you to all participants, who helped make this year’s contest a resounding success. Have strong feelings about this year’s winners? Hope to see a particular ancient figure featured in next year’s contest? Tweet @BCPublishers what and who you would like to see and include the hash tag #MartiaDementia or give feedback in the comments below. We would love to hear from you!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Martia Dementia 2019

The fifth annual Bolchazy-Carducci Martia Dementia is upon us, and plenty of madness is in store for all participants! In the contest’s first years, ancient authors, philosophers, and politicians battled it out to reign supreme. Then, the Greek and Roman gods got in on the action. Mythological heroes and heroines, not to be outdone, joined the fray next. Now, thirty-two legendary monsters will show their mettle as they contend with last year’s top thirty-two ancient figures.
With your help, one of these figures will emerge as champion of the Mediterranean. To the victor—whoever finishes with the best bracket—belong the spoils. Before getting to the prizes, here is the way the competition will work.
The Bracket
Starting today, complete and submit a bracket to be eligible for wondrous prizes. 

The preferred method: Download the bracket and save it as a PDF file. Then, starting from the “Round of 64,” go through each pairing and select your candidates. Type the names of these candidates in their corresponding “Round of 32” slots. Continue through the remaining rounds until one individual reigns supreme. Send your completed bracket to the email provided on the right side of the bracket. 

The alternate method: Download and print the bracket. Complete the bracket, writing instead of typing your candidates. Scan or take a picture of your completed bracket and send it to the email provided on the right side of the bracket.

Brackets will be accepted through Wednesday, March 20.

The Survey
A survey will be made available on Thursday, March 21, where you can vote for your picks. Whichever ancient figures have the most survey votes by the time the survey closes will advance through the round. Actively participating in the survey betters your chances at winning. Fresh surveys will be posted for each round, so there will be many opportunities to make your mark on the contest. 

We cannot stress enough the importance of voting early and voting often. When the survey goes live, cast your votes! Get your friends to vote for your picks. Teachers, get your students to stuff the survey with favorable votes!

Victori Spolia
This competition is not solely for bringing glory to your favorite ancient figure. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers is offering book prizes for the brackets that most closely resemble the final results; a $100 book credit will be awarded to the first-place participant, a $50 credit to the second-place participant, and a $25 credit to the third-place participant. Feeling like you no longer stand a chance? Do not give up! There will also be a $25 credit for having the most abysmal bracket! 

Stay Connected
Be sure to bookmark this post and check it frequently, as we will post the survey links for each round here as they become available. Also, follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates as the competition progresses.

Remember, brackets close Wednesday, March 20, and the first round of voting will begin Thursday, March 21.

-Amelia Wallace

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Dolus aut Dulce 2018 Winners

Mercedes Barletta as Thetis dipping Achilles into the river Styx.
During this year’s Dolus aut Dulce Twitter costume contest, we avoided the doli but received quite a few dulcia—submissions in the individual and group categories were excellent! Plurimas gratias to everyone who participated! We loved seeing your take on Greco-Roman history and myth, whether you were a (nice) Roman imago, fierce Artemis bending her bow, Daphne in mid-transformation, a Dionysius/Polyhymnia duo, or Dr. Who (who, in this version, seems to have been the true author of Ennius’s Annales).

A special round of congratulations goes to our winners, whose efforts were truly spectacular. Mercedes Barletta of Harvard-Westlake School sent in a photo series depicting Thetis dipping baby Achilles in the river Styx. Her attention to detail and commitment to the role is laudable. As a bonus, Mercedes sent in a throwback photo showing her as Daphne becoming a laurel tree. See both of Mercedes's photo series here and here.

UMass MAT students created a judgment of Paris tableau.
The winners of our group contest photo offered a humorous take on the judgment of Paris. Latin MAT students at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst submitted this creative twist on the story: Chloe Kolbet dressed as a very Parisian Paris, while Steven John assumed the role of Athena, Joe Stern represented Aphrodite, and Forrester Hammer played Hera.

Did you miss out on this year's Halloween contest? Plan to participate next year and encourage your students to participate—this year’s winners received a $50 book credit! Be sure to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up to date with upcoming contests, new books, and conference and webinar schedules!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Classics Halloween Link Roundup

Our October eLitterae offers a free excerpt:
the werewolf story in The Satyricon.
Looking for some spooky classics articles and blog posts to read this Halloween? Then look no further. Whether you’re interested in the strange, the arcane, or the absurd, these links should have you covered.

     The blog Sententiae Antiquae is fulfilling many of our classics Halloween needs. Some choice posts include:
      How Do You Say “Trick-or-Treat” in Latin and Greek?
      Werewolves galore! A roundup of selections dealing with versipelles (and a few other   supernatural creatures from the ancient world).

     Atlas Obscura looks into Greek funerary practices involving celery—yes, celery.

     Forbes explores how a zombie predicted the death of Julius Caesar.

     Smithsonian explains the tragic circumstances that led to a “vampire burial” in fifth-century Rome.

     Eidolon tackles the relationship between zombies and gender roles in ancient Greece.

Additionally, if you’re looking for a quick Halloween lesson for your Latin classes, make sure to check out the October issue of eLitterae. Under “Resources & Teaching Tips,” you’ll find some “Halloween teaching treats”: three free selections from Bolchazy-Carducci books!

— Amelia Wallace, Editor