Tuesday, 2 July 2019

The ‘FCM’ scandal: a timeline

Last week several statements emerged about various under-the-table dealings concerning ‘FCM’. This is the papyrus formerly known as ‘First Century Mark’, published last year as P. Oxy. 5345, and also known to New Testament scholars as P137.
P. Oxy. 5345
We now know that the papyrus actually dates to the second century. So while it is the oldest copy of Mark, it is not the oldest New Testament papyrus. Its text is not significantly different from the standard received text.

The recent revelations relate to a purchase contract that was agreed in 2013 between Dirk Obbink and Hobby Lobby, which owns the Green Collection and which established the Museum of the Bible. According to the contract, Obbink sold four papyri in his own name, including the Mark papyrus, to Hobby Lobby. It seems he did this without the knowledge or consent of the Egypt Exploration Society, which was and still is the owner.

Various parties over the last seven years have said that the Mark papyrus had been sold from one unnamed party to another unnamed party. It now seems they had good reason to believe that. However, after 2013 the purchase remained shrouded in obscurity, and there are still open questions over who had a hand in keeping the story obscure and why they did so. Some of the actions documented below do not seem like actions with honest motivations.

The main public pieces of information in this saga emerged in 2012 (the Wallace-Ehrman debate); 2018 (the publication of the papyrus, and statements from Scott Carroll, Dan Wallace [1, 2], and the Egypt Exploration Society): and 2019 (statements from Michael Holmes, the Egypt Exploration Society, Jerry Pattengale, and Scott Carroll).

A few points are worth making clear in advance:
  • ‘Egypt Exploration Society’ is abbreviated as EES.
  • The EES has a vast backlog of unpublished papyri. Over 100,000 papyri were excavated at Oxyrhynchus in the 1890s and 1900s. If all of them were to be published, the backlog would take several centuries to clear. In that context, decades-long delays are unsurprising.
  • In 2013-2015, much of the public discussion focused on the practice of retrieving papyrus from mummy cartonnage, which is a destructive process, heavily used at the Green Scholars Initiative. Some of the people involved in that scandal are also involved in this story, but with the information that is currently public there is no particular reason to suppose that P. Oxy. 5345 came from cartonnage.
Addenda, written a day later:
I had misreported the catalogue number of the papyrus in some places: this is corrected now. Mike Holmes has contacted me to clarify a point relating to a photo taken on 24 Nov. 2017, and with a correction of another point.

Also, a belated thank you to Theo Nash for casting his eye over this to make sure it was reasonably impartial.


1903: papyrus found at Oxyrhynchus

According to the EES (24 May 2018), this is the most likely date for when Grenfell and Hunt found the papyrus at Oxyrhynchus.

Early 1980s: preliminary dating to 1st century

According to the EES (24 May 2018), this is when Dr Revel Coles provisionally dated the papyrus to 'I/II' (i.e. first or second century CE), but without identifying it.

2011: papyrus identified as Mark

According to the EES (24 May 2018), this is when ‘a researcher working for Professor Obbink’ identified the papyrus as the gospel of Mark.

2011: Obbink shows the papyrus to Carroll and Pattengale

According to Dr Jerry Pattengale (28 June 2019), in 2011 Dr Dirk Obbink showed four papyri to Pattengale and Scott Carroll in his rooms at Christ Church, Oxford, which later became part of a purchase agreement (see below, 17 Jan. 2013). On 1 Dec. 2011 Carroll tweeted that P. Rylands 457 (P52) was no longer the earliest known NT manuscript.

1 Feb. 2012: the Wallace-Ehrman debate

In the debate Professor Dan Wallace states:
The oldest manuscript of the New Testament is now a fragment from Mark’s gospel that is from the first century. How accurate is the dating? Well, my source is a papyrologist who worked on this manuscript, a man whose reputation is unimpeachable. Many consider him to be the best papyrologist on the planet. His reputation is on the line with this dating and he knows it. But he is certain that this manuscript was from the first century.
Wallace goes on to say, later on in the Q&A:
I’m afraid I can’t tell you [the extent of the manuscript or who dated it], and the reason is because this whole project is rather hush-hush right now until the publisher comes out a year from now. I can tell you the publisher is E. J. Brill, and so it’s a reputable publisher, and I’ve been sworn to secrecy on the rest of the data.
Later Wallace states (23 May 2018) that, just prior to the debate, a representative of the purchaser ‘urged me to make the announcement at the debate’ and assured him that the date was reliable. He adds that ‘at some point along the line’ he learnt that the representative already knew that the source of the date was not as certain as all that, and ‘that the rep knew, two weeks prior to the debate, that the papyrologist had changed his views. But I was told none of this.’

Pattengale (28 June 2019) identifies this representative as Scott Carroll. In Carroll’s version of the conversation (29 June 2019), Carroll only mentioned the papyrus to Wallace in passing; Wallace asked Carroll for permission to make the announcement; and Carroll told Wallace that Hobby Lobby did not own the papyrus.

Later in February and March similar reports came out, stated by Carroll, Wallace, and Wallace again, with certainty about the 1st century dating, but no new information.

2012: Wallace’s NDA and inspection of the papyrus

According to Wallace (11 June 2018), in 2012 he was informed that the papyrus was being sold, and was asked by the purchaser to vet it. For this purpose, he was informed by Pattengale that the seller required Wallace to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The NDA may have happened before the debate (above), since in the debate he mentions being sworn to secrecy. However, he also says (25 May 2018) that he only got to see the papyrus later, after the debate.

17 Jan.-4 Feb. 2013: purchase agreement signed

A scanned copy of the purchase agreement was made public by Dr Michael Holmes (June 2019). The agreement is signed by Obbink and a representative of Hobby Lobby. Six items are sold in Obbink's name, including four NT papyri dated to ‘circa 0100 AD’.

6 Sep. 2013: Carroll describing new papyrus finds

In a presentation, Carroll discusses recent finds of biblical papyri and refers to ‘a first-century text of the Gospel of Mark ... that dates between 70 and 110’, and shows a list of several papyri on screen. The list seems to have some overlap with the ones listed in the purchase agreement (above) and in Obbink’s handwritten list, kept by Pattengale (see below, 24 Nov. 2017).
Carroll’s list of recent finds of biblical papyri, 6 Sep. 2013 (my highlighting)

October 2015: Carroll reports Obbink’s dating

Carroll, interviewed by Josh McDowell, states that
  • Hobby Lobby tried to acquire the papyrus in 2012-2013 -- Carroll wanted it to be part of an exhibit for the Vatican Library -- ‘but they delayed and didn’t.’
  • ‘It has since been acquired, I can’t say by whom. It is in the process of being prepared for publication’, and in the publishing process ‘the most important person of note is Dirk Obbink.’
  • Carroll saw the papyrus twice; on both occasions ‘it was in [Obbink’s] possession’.
  • Obbink ‘was wrestling with dating somewhere between 70 AD and 120, 110’.

2015: Obbink’s statement to The Daily Beast

The Daily Beast reports (25 May 2018) that in communications dating to 2015, Obbink refused to discuss ‘FCM’ or the Green Collection, and told them that he was ‘not involved in the study of [the Green] collection’.

Spring 2016: EES inventory of unpublished NT papyri

According to the EES (24 May 2018), this is when the EES decided to review NT fragments in their collection that had been identified but not published. They made this decision, they say, in response to social media discussion of the purchase of 'FCM'.

It was in the course of this review that the EES identified P. Oxy. 5345 as the ‘FCM’ being publicly discussed, and they instructed Obbink to prepare it for publication quickly.

In a later statement, the EES reports (7 Mar. 2019) that among the unpublished material they identified 20 NT papyri, 10 patristic texts, and 80 Septuagint papyri.

August 2016: Obbink steps down as general editor of the Oxyrhynchus papyri

This date is given in the EES statement of 25 June 2019.

14 July 2017: Carroll’s report made public

At this point Peter Curry posted online a transcript of Carroll’s statement in October 2015.

16 Nov. 2017: Pattengale realises there is a problem

Pattengale states (28 June 2019) that in November 2017 he realized that a serious ethical breach was being discussed at the opening gala of the Museum of the Bible. He took a photo of the people having the conversation, and he ‘immediately’ sent communications to the museum management.

Pattengale’s photo
(metadata removed)

24 Nov. 2017: Pattengale’s photo of Obbink’s list

Pattengale takes a photo of a handwritten list of four papyri, apparently the same ones listed in the 2013 purchase agreement. The handwriting matches Obbink's signature in the purchase agreement.

The photo was in the material that Mike Holmes released in June 2019. Holmes says that the hand holding the list is Obbink’s: this seems to be a misperception, perhaps coming from someone saying that the list was ‘in Obbink’s hand’ or similar, referring to the handwriting. [Addendum, a day later: Mike Holmes has contacted me directly to confirm this supposition.] Pattengale himself states that he took the photo (28 June 2019), and the file metadata show that the photo was taken on this date at 8.52 pm, in a residential area a few minutes from Indiana Wesleyan University, where Pattengale works.

Pattengale goes on to say that he carried the list with him for several years, and he sent the photo to the Museum of the Bible ‘before [his] retirement’ (in 2018). His motivations for taking his photos, and for his treatment of this list, are open to speculation.
The timestamp of Pattengale’s photo

May 2018: publication

The Mark papyrus is published as P. Oxy. 5345, edited by Obbink and Colomo.

23 May 2018: statement from Carroll

Scott Carroll states that
  • Obbink tried to sell the papyrus to the Green Collection in 2011 and 2013;
  • Obbink said that the papyrus was ‘in his possession’;
  • Obbink said it dated to the first century.

23 May 2018: statement from Wallace

Wallace states that, in 2012,
  • just before the Wallace-Ehrman debate, a representative of the organisation that he believed to be the owner ‘urged me to make the announcement at the debate, which they realized would make this go viral’ (this representative is identified as Scott Carroll in statements by Pattengale, 28 June 2019, and by Carroll himself, 29 June 2019 -- though Carroll describes the conversation quite differently);
  • he had been required to sign an NDA before being allowed to see the papyrus in 2012;
  • someone had told him that a collection had already bought the papyrus;
  • the same person had told him that ‘a high-ranking papyrologist had confirmed that FCM was definitely a first-century manuscript.’
Further details were added to all of these statements in Wallace’s second statement of 11 June 2018.

24 May 2018 (currently available version dated 4 June 2018): statement from EES

The EES states that
  • they have ‘never sought to sell this or any other papyrus’;
  • they have no knowledge of the NDA that Wallace describes, and ‘Obbink too says he has no knowledge of it’;
  • they Obbink ‘insists that he never said the papyrus was for sale, and that while he did receive some payments from the Green Collection for advice on other matters, he did not accept any payment for or towards purchase of this text.'

11 June 2018: statement from Wallace

Wallace states:
  • His understanding was that the 1st century dating was Obbink's. (This corroborates that Obbink was the 'unimpeachable' papyrologist he was referring to in the 2012 debate.)
  • He was required to sign an NDA by ‘Jerry Pattengale, who represented a major collection that was interested in purchasing the papyrus.’ Pattengale was one of the ones who told Wallace that the papyrus was definitely for sale, and this is corroborated by Pattengale’s own statement (28 June 2019).
  • He was informed by Pattengale that the NDA ‘was requested by the seller’.
  • Wallace’s source for the 1st century dating wasn’t Pattengale, but another representative of the same collection, who is also the person who indicated that Obbink was certain of the date. Pattengale (28 June 2019) identifies Wallace’s informant as Scott Carroll.
  • Someone -- Wallace doesn't say who -- told Wallace that a ‘condition of the sale was that the seller ... would be free to choose who would edit it.’ That doesn’t appear in the purchase agreement made public by Holmes; [Addendum: in fact it does -- I missed this previously. Thanks to Mike Holmes for pointing it out] but the purchase agreement shows that Obbink himself was named as the seller.
  • It was Wallace's understanding that the sale continued to be treated as ongoing for some years after 2012.

23 June 2019: statement from Holmes

Brent Nongbri announces that he, and other papyrologists involved in a forthcoming conference panel on the papyrus, have been sent an e-mail about the papyrus from Michael Holmes at the Green Collection. Nongbri publishes the e-mail, which explicitly gives him permission to do so.

Attached to the e-mail is a PDF file with a scanned copy of (part of) the 2013 purchase agreement, and Pattengale’s Nov. 2017 photo.

25 June 2019: statement from EES

This states, ‘We note that Professor Obbink has not been a General Editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri since August 2016.’

28 June 2019: statement from Pattengale

Pattengale says many things, including:
  • Obbink had shown the four papyri to Carroll and himself in his rooms at Christ Church in 2011.
  • Obbink said on that occasion that the Mark papyrus was ‘very likely first century’.
  • The papyri were purchased in 2013 ‘at a fraction of their value’.
  • It was Carroll that ‘prematurely informed Wallace that it was okay to announce’ the Mark papyrus in the 2012 debate.
  • Pattengale ‘recruited Wallace’ and others who were not ‘willing to vouch with any confidence for a pre-second century date on any of the pieces’.
  • ‘[N]ondisclosure was a non-negotiable’ from the party selling the papyri in 2013.
  • Before the EES became aware that it possessed the ‘FCM’ being publicly discussed, ‘Obbink reported to Steve Green (chair of the Museum of the Bible’s board) and [Pattengale] that the EES gave him an ultimatum to sever all public ties with [the] museum or be fired’.
  • In November 2017, at the opening gala of the Museum of the Bible, Pattengale inferred from a conversation between Edwin Yamauchi and David Trobisch that illicit activity was about to be uncovered, and he took a photo of Yamauchi and Trobisch at the dinner table.
  • Following this incident, he communicated a version of these events to the Greens and the museum leadership.
  • ‘[B]efore [his] retirement’ from the Museum of the Bible (in 2018), Pattengale sent his photo of Obbink’s list to the museum.

29 June 2019: Carroll’s comment

In a comment on a blog post by Elijah Hixson, in the wake of Pattengale’s statement, Carroll writes:
  • Carroll repeats that Obbink showed him the Mark papyrus in his office in 2011, and told him that it dated to the late 1st or early 2nd century.
  • Carroll never signed an NDA.
  • He describes his conversation with Wallace in 2012 in a way that differs from Wallace’s account: he told Wallace that ‘the dating was based on the opinion of a renowned Oxford scholar’, and says that Wallace asked him if he could mention the papyrus in the debate; he told Wallace that Hobby Lobby didn’t own the papyrus, and that Wallace should use his own discretion. (In Wallace’s account, 23 May 2018, Wallace was ‘sworn to secrecy’, and Carroll urged him to make the announcement.)

Friday, 21 June 2019

Bad Latin in the movies: Life of Brian (1979)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian contains a Latin lesson that Latin students find unforgettable. When the film got released in other languages, though, how did the dubbing process deal with this scene?
Note, a couple of days later: I’ve made some minor edits to try and clear things up: apparently some readers interpreted this post as though I had translated the scene into other languages myself. I didn’t, and I’m not sure what the point of that would be! I’m looking at officially released dubs of the film.
How many Romans? (Life of Brian, 1979)

The English version

Video: link 1, link 2, link 3
Centurion. What’s this then? Romanes eunt domus? ‘People called Romanes they go the house’?
Brian. It -- it says ’Romans go home!’
Centurion. No it doesn’t. What’s Latin for ‘Roman’? Come on, come on!
Brian. Ahh! Romanus?
Centurion. Goes like?
Brian. annus?
Centurion. Vocative plural of annus is ...?
Brian. anni?
Centurion. Ro ... ma ... ni. eunt? What is eunt?
Brian. ‘Go’!
Centurion. Conjugate the verb ‘to go’.
Brian. Uh, ire. Uhh, eo, is it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. So eunt is ...
Brian. Uh, uh, third person plural, present indicative! ‘They go’.
Centurion. But ‘Romans go home’ is an order, so you must use the ...
Brian. Aaaaahh, the imperative!
Centurion. Which is ...
Brian. Uuumm, oh! um, i, i!
Centurion. How many Romans?
Brian. Aaahh plural, plural, ite, ite!
Centurion. i ... te. domus? Nominative? ‘Go home’, this is motion towards, isn’t it boy?
Brian. Uh, uh, dative!
[Centurion draws sword and holds it to Brian’s throat.]
Brian. Oooohh, not dative, not the dative sir! No, ah, oh, the accusative, accusative! Uh, domum, sir! ad domum!
Centurion. Except that domus takes the ...
Brian. The locative, sir!
Centurion. Which is?
Brian. domum!
Centurion. domum. dom ... um. Understand?
Brian. Yes sir!
Centurion. Now write it out a hundred times.
Brian. Yes sir! Thank you sir, hail Caesar sir!
Centurion. Hail Caesar. And if it’s not done by sunrise, I’ll cut your balls off.
Brian. Oh, thank you sir, thank you sir, hail Caesar and everything sir!
-- Life of Brian (1979)
When I show this to a beginners’ Latin class, the students love to see Graham Chapman suffering like they do, and John Cleese’s horrible old schoolteacher, but there are some bits I have to explain. In my classes students don’t learn what a noun ‘goes like’: I think that expression is specific to England. Here they learn which ‘declension’ it belongs to.

Then there’s the bit about domus. A movie audience that doesn’t know any Latin won’t mind, but for students who have encountered the niceties of how to deal with ‘to’ in Latin, the route by which Brian gets to domum is confusing. Here’s the reasoning, if you’d like to learn a little Latin grammar. In Latin, ‘to’ is translated with a dative form only if you’re giving something ‘to’ someone, or telling, or showing something to someone. If you want to talk about motion to a place, you have to use the word ad, then the accusative form of the noun: ad urbem ‘to the city’, ad tabernam ‘towards the pub’. But there’s a select group of nouns that use the accusative by itself, without ad, and domus is one of them. A characteristic unique to nouns in that select group is that they can also take another special form, called the locative. So Brian is right to say that he should use accusative domum -- his error is using ad. When the Centurion gets him to remember that domus can take the locative, he says that Brian should use the locative form -- but that would be domi, and it would be wrong. The underlying idea is that because domus can take a locative form, therefore it belongs to that select group of nouns, therefore the correct expression is accusative without ad.

Brian gets the correct result, but the explanation is designed around comic pacing, not pedagogy.
Explanations in various Latin textbooks: Oxford Latin Course vol. 2 p. 122; Moreland and Fleischer p. 103; Kennedy’s Revised Latin Primer §§268-275; North & Hillard p. 32; Bradley’s Arnold pp. 207-208.
And now for something completely not different. I think it’s interesting to see what happens to this scene in dubs of the film into other languages. How do they explain the Latin? We’ll look at the German, French, Italian, and Spanish dubs.

The German dub

Video: link 1, link 2

First, I have to praise the marvellous job done by the actor for the Centurion’s voice. He’s wonderful. I’ve no idea who he is, though, because there are no credits for the dubbing.
Centurion. Was haben wir denn daaaaaaaa?! Romanes eunt domus? ‘Menschen genannt Romanes gehen das Haus’?
Brian. Es soll heißen ‘Römer geht nach Haus!’
Centurion. Heißt es aber nicht. Was ist lateinisch für ‘Römer’? Na komm schon, komm schon!
Brian. Romanus!
Centurion. Deklinieren.
Brian. annus?
Centurion. Vokativ plural von annus ist ...?
Brian. anni?
Centurion. Ro ... ma ... ni. eunt! Was heißt eunt?
Brian. ‘Geh’.
Centurion. Konjugiere das Verb ‘gehen’.
Brian. eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. Also ist eunt ...?
Brian. Dritte Person Plural Präsens Indikativ! ‘Sie gehen’.
Centurion. Aber ‘Römer geht nach Haus’ ist ein Befehl, also musst du was gebrauchen ...?
Brian. Den Imperativ!
Centurion. Der lautet ...?
Brian. i, i!
Centurion. Wie viele Römer?
Brian. Plural! ite! ite!
Centurion. iiiii ... te! domus ... Nominativ? ‘Geht nach Haus’ ist eine Bewegung auf etwas zu, nicht wahr, Junge?
Brian. Ja. Dativ, Herr? Ahh, ahh, ahh, oh nein nein nein nein! Ahh, Akkusativ, Akkusativ! domus, Herr, ad domus!
Centurion. Nun fordert domus den ...?
Brian. Den Lokativ, den Lokativ!
Centurion. Welcher lautet?
Brian. domum! Aaahhh!
Centurion. domum! dom ... um. Hast du verstanden?
Brian. Ja, Herr!
Centurion. Du schreibst das jetzt hundert mal.
Brian. Ja, Herr! Vielen Dank, Herr! Heil Cäsar!
Centurion. Heil Cäsar. Wenn du bis Sonnenaufgang nicht fertig bist, dann schneide ich dir die Eier ab.
Brian. Ahh, Danke Herr! Danke sehr, Herr! Heil Cäsar und alles andere!
In place of the English school expression ‘Goes like?’, the Centurion uses the technical term: he asks Brian to ‘decline’ the noun annus.

When we get to the bit about domus, the German dialogue screws up the grammar worse than in the original. In the original the Centurion asks Brian for the locative, and he gives it as domum (the correct form, but not locative). In German, Brian initially tries to use the expression ad domus, claiming that it’s the accusative, when in fact it’s nominative. What a mess. I wonder how Latin teachers in Germany explain this to their confused students. Maybe they just don’t show it ...

The French versions

Video: link

Thank you to Dr Jutta Günther for deciphering some bits that I couldn’t follow. A French dub was only made for the DVD release in 2003: it’s closer to the English than the subtitled version. This Centurion is a right bastard of a schoolmaster, even more than in the other versions: he’s constantly interrupting Brian’s correct answers with his next question.
Centurion. Qu’est-ce que tu as barbouillé là? Romanes eunt domus? ‘Des promeneurs nommés Romanes, qui vont la maison’?
Brian. Non ... ça veut dire ‘Romains, rentrez chez vous!’
Centurion. Mais non, pas du tout. C’est quoi ‘Romain’ en Latin? Alors, alors!
Brian. Romanus?
Centurion. Ça décline comment?
Brian. annus?
Centurion. Le vocatif pluriel du annus, c’est ...
Brian. anni?
Centurion. Ro ... ma ... ni. eunt. D’où ça vient?
Brian. Du verbe ire.
Centurion. Conjugue le verbe ‘rentrer’.
Brian. ire: eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. Donc eunt, c’est ...
Brian. Troisième personne du pluriel du présent l’indicatif! ‘Ils vont’.
Centurion. Mais ‘Romains rentrez chez vous’, c’est un ordre, donc nous devons utiliser ...?
Brian. L’impératif!
Centurion. Qui est ...?
Brian. i, i!
Centurion. Combien de Romains?
Brian. Pluriel! Pluriel! ite!
Centurion. i ... te. domus? C’est un nominatif! ‘Rentrez chez vous’, c’est un expression d’un mouvement, hein, jeune homme?
Brian. ... datif? Ahh non, non, pas datif, monsieur! L’accusatif, accusatif! domum, monsieur, ad domum!
Centurion. Excepté la domus se décline aussi en ...
Brian. Le locatif!
Centurion. Lequel est ...?
Brian. domum!
Centurion. do ... mum. uuummmm! Compris?
Brian. Oui monsieur!
Centurion. Donc la copiera cent fois.
Brian. Oui monsieur, merci monsieur, avé César!
Centurion. Avé César. Si c’est past fait au lever du soleil je te coupe les baloches.
Brian. Oh, merci monsieur, merci monsieur! Avé César et tutti quanti, monsieur!
The subtitled version, however, captures the grammatical logic of the domus bit better than any of the other versions here:
Centurion. domus? Nominatif? ‘Rentrez chez vous’, c’est là où l’on va, c’est ça?
Brian. Le datif! Non, pas le datif! L’accusatif! domum! ad domum!
Centurion. Mais domus prend le ...
Brian. Le locatif!
Centurion. Alors?
Brian. domum!
In the original and the French dub, the logic sounds like ‘domus takes the locative, therefore we should use the locative’ -- and that’s wrong. In the subtitled version, the logic is ‘domus takes the locative, therefore the correct form is domum.’ And that’s correct.

As in the German version, the Centurion doesn’t ask what Romanus ‘goes like’: instead he asks how it declines.

I’m vaguely pleased that the Latin domus is given its correct gender in French.

The Italian dub

Video: link
Centurion. Cosa stiamo facendo qui? Romanes eunt domus. ‘Certi chiamati Romanes vanno la casa’.
Brian. Vuol ... vuol dire ‘Romani andate a casa.’
Centurion. No, carino. Come si dice ‘Romano’? Forza, in latino.
Brian. Romanus!
Centurion. Della?
Brian. Seconda.
Centurion. La desinenza del vocativo plurale ...
Brian. i, i!.
Centurion. Quindi, Romani. Che vuoi dire con eunt?
Brian. ‘Andate’.
Centurion. Coniuga il presente indicativo di ‘andare’!
Brian. ire. eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. Quindi eunt è ...?
Brian. Ahh, ahh, terza persona plurale, presente indicativo. ‘Essi vanno’.
Centurion. Ma ‘Romani andate a casa’ è un ordine, quindi devi usare che cosa?
Brian. ... l’imperativo!
Centurion. E cioè?
Brian. Eh, oh, oh, um ... eh, i, i!
Centurion. Ma quanti sono i Romani?
Brian. Ah, già, plurale! ite, ite!
Centurion. iiii ... te. domus. Nominativo? ‘Andate a casa’ è moto a luogo, giusto, giovanotto?
Brian. ... dativo, signore? Ahh, no no, no! Non dativo, signore, no! No! Ahh! Accusativo! Accusativo! domum, signore! ad domum!
Centurion. Solo che domum vuole il ...?
Brian. Il locativo, signore!
Centurion. E cioè?
Brian. domum!
Centurion. dommmm .... dom ... um. Hai capito?
Brian. Sì, signore!
Centurion. Allora scrivilo cento volte.
Brian. Sì, signore! Grazie, signore! Ave, Cesare!
Centurion. Ave, Cesare. E se all’alba non hai finito, ti taglio le palle.
Brian. Grazie signore, troppo buono! Ave, Cesare! Ave, Cesare!
Once again, we have the telescoped bit about the locative, sticking close to the original.

The Italian dub handles the declension of Romanus differently from the others. Here, the Centurion doesn’t ask for a paradigm, and Brian doesn’t answer with annus. Instead, the Centurion simply asks ‘from which (declension)?’, and Brian answers ‘second (declension)’. Then he gives the correct ending, without bothering with a stem, and without bothering to use annus as a paradigm. I’m intrigued that the Italian doesn’t even use the word ‘declension’, just the number.

The Spanish dub

Video: link 1, link 2

A big thank you to Dr Tatjana Schaefer for copying this out (my Spanish is nearly non-existent). And a shout-out to the actor for Brian, who’s easily the best Brian in these dubs. His squealing of ‘El imperativo!’ is gold.
Centurion. Qué describes ahi? Romanes eunt domus ... ‘Gente llamada Romanes ir la casa’?
Brian. Dice ‘Romanos marchaos a casa!’
Centurion. De eso nada. Como se dice Romanos en Latin? Vamos, vamos!
Brian. Romanus.
Centurion. Y se declina como?
Brian. annus!
Centurion. El vocativo plural de annus es...?
Brian. anni.
Centurion. Ro ... ma ... ni! eunt. Qué es eunt?
Brian. Ir.
Centurion. Conjuga el verbo ir.
Brian. ire. eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. Luego eunt es ...?
Brian. Te-te-te-tercera persona del plural del presente indicativo. ‘Ellos van’.
Centurion. Pero ‘Romanos marchaos’ es una orden, asi que hay que usar ...?
Brian. El imperativo!
Centurion. Que es ...?
Brian. i, i!
Centurion. Quantos Romanos?
Brian. Plural! ite, ite!
Centurion. i ... te. domus -- en nominativo? ‘Marcharse’ indica movimiento, no, muchacho?
Brian. Dativo, señor! -- no no no no no no, no es dativo! Acusativo! domum, domum!
Centurion. Solo que domus lleva el ...?
Brian. El locativo!
Centurion. Que es ...?
Brian. domum!
Centurion. domum. do ... mum. Has comprendido?
Brian. Si señor.
Centurion. Escribelo cien veces.
Brian. Si, señor! Gracias señor! Hail César!
Centurion. Hail César. Si no esta escrito al amanecer te corto los cojones.
Brian. Gracias señor, gracias señor! Hail César y todo los demas.
Brian barely squeaks out the word annus: the Centurion should probably have double-checked that he had the right paradigm.

In this version the business of domus makes no sense at all. Brian offers the correct form, domum, only to have it corrected to ... domum. I don’t think the translator understood the reasoning. Which is fair enough, given that it doesn’t quite make sense in the original.

Other versions

Links to other languages, for the curious.

Dubbed/voice-over: Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian
Subtitles: Croatian, Greek, Hebrew, Serbian

Friday, 14 June 2019

Titans and Olympians

The twelve Olympians are the most important gods in the Greek pantheon. There’s some variation in their membership, depending on who you read. But there are generally twelve, and they’re always headed by Zeus, along with his brothers Poseidon and Hades, each associated with a third of the cosmos (sky, surface, underworld).

Greek myth has other bunches of divinities too. Some are minor local divinities: river gods, nymphs, and so on. Some can be just about as important as the Olympians, like the Dioskouroi (Castor and Polydeuces) or the Great Gods of Samothrace. And then there’s the Titans.

With the Titans, it can be tempting to think we’ve got two orders of gods: elder gods and younger gods, Titans and Olympians.
The Disney version of the Titans (Hercules, 1997)
No no no, not like the Titans in the Disney Hercules. Not like Clash of the Titans either -- a film that’s rather conspicuous for not actually having any Titans in it. (That applies to both the 1981 original and the 2010 remake, by the way.)

If it’s a popular depiction you want, you’ll find a closer match in Rick Riordan’s series of Percy Jackson novels. There, as in ancient Greek myth, the Titans are the arch-enemies of the Olympians, but they’re also the Olympians’ ancestors and parents.

Titans and Giants

Actually there’s one area where the Disney Hercules does represent ancient sources very well. It does an excellent job at steering around a confusion between Titans and Giants -- a common confusion among ancient writers.

The Titans and Giants were both colossal beings who fought the Olympians. The Titanomachy is the primordial war between the Olympian gods and the Titans, cosmic order vs. cosmic chaos. After ten years of fighting the Olympians finally win, aided by the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers, and they banish the Titans to the eternal void of Tartaros, the bottomless pit at the bottom of the cosmos, beneath even Hades. The Gigantomachy is the battle between the Olympians and the Gigantes or ‘earth-born ones’, spurred to attack Olympus by their mother Gaia: this time the Olympians are aided by the hero Heracles.

So we’ve got one battle at the beginnings of time, and one in the relatively recent legendary past, just one generation before the Trojan War. And yet ancient writers regularly mix them up. Several sources refer to a ‘Titanomachy’ poem as a ‘Gigantomachy’; in Orphic myth, Dionysus is sometimes killed by Titans, sometimes by Giants; one source glosses the Titans as 'Giants beneath the earth’ (sch. Eur. Hec. 471).

The general impression is that the Titanomachy was at root a poetic narrative, while the Gigantomachy belonged more to the visual arts. There were at least three Titanomachy poems: they seem to have had limited success, and the complete poems have all been lost, but we still have an episode in the Hesiodic Theogony dealing with the story. The Gigantomachy, by contrast, had no poetic treatments that we know of, but it was central to the decorations of two of the most important temples in the Greek world: the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and the Parthenon in Athens.

If you know the Disney film you’ll see how it navigates this ancient confusion. Zeus has imprisoned the Titans in Tartaros, as per the Titanomachy; but they get released, and Hercules intervenes to defeat the bad guys and save the Olympians, as per the Gigantomachy. The film synthesises both variants without ever dragging attention away from its main story. Rather well thought out, really.

Which Titans?

Most of the Titans aren’t even particularly evil. The trio of Kronos, Iapetos, and Okeanos are generally grouped together as the ones opposed to the Olympians. The Homeric Iliad groups Kronos and Iapetos together, imprisoned in Tartaros:
                  ... the nethermost extremes
of earth and sea, where Iapetos and Kronos
sit and never enjoy the rays of Hyperion the Sun,
nor the winds, and deep Tartaros is around them.
-- Iliad 8.478-481
But you notice Hyperion isn’t imprisoned with them? -- even though he belongs to the same generation of divinities. So: are only some Titans imprisoned? Or do only some divinities of that generation count as ‘Titans’? That’s not how Hesiod thinks of it (Theogony 205-6 makes them all ‘Titans’; at 424 Hekate seems to be counted as an ex-Titan).

There are plenty of Titans moseying around outside Tartaros. Elsewhere in Homer we find Phoibe, the moon, shining in the sky too. Dione appears on Olympus in Iliad book 5. Mnemosyne (‘Memory’) regularly gets invoked by poets. In Hesiod, Prometheus and Epimetheus are obviously still kicking around after Zeus becomes king of the universe -- though Prometheus goes on to be imprisoned too, in a separate story. Hekate gets to keep the prerogatives she had from the Titans.

Even Kronos himself wasn’t always the bad guy. Or, at least, not simply the bad guy. Athens and Rhodes celebrated festivals in honour of Kronos -- and, given that these two places belonged to distinct ethnic groups within the Greek world, that kind of suggests a pretty widespread observance. There were occasions, separate from the festivals, when cakes were offered to Kronos in Athens and in Elis. We know there were temples dedicated to Kronos at Athens and Olympia, both of them in precincts of Olympian Zeus.
For the Kronia festival in Athens and temples of Kronos, see New Pauly s.v. ‘Kronos’. For the Rhodian festival see Theodoret, Cure of the Greek maladies 7 (p. 108,46 = p. 294 Gaisford).

Van Dongen 2010: 192 thinks that Kronos and co. were originally separate from the Titans, pointing out that the Titans aren’t named in the Hesiodic Titanomachy. I don’t buy that. First, the idea of separating a single myth into two distinct ‘original’ myths is too close for comfort to the ‘two cultures’ interpretation I look at below. Second, the story is stable enough across both Hesiod and the Iliad (cf. Il. 5.897-898, 8.478-481, 14.278-289, 15.225) to point solidly to a much earlier origin.
Why celebrate Kronos, the arch-nemesis of Zeus? Not an easy question. Some modern theorists go for an agricultural explanation: the Kronia was a harvest festival, the Titans were harvest gods, and that’s why Kronos uses a sickle to cut off Ouranos’ genitals. Well, supposedly. I’m skeptical: I have a sneaking suspicion that some theorists have been taking their ideas about Kronos from Saturn, his Roman counterpart.

There are other ways you could interpret a festival in honour of the enemy of the gods. It might be a celebration of his imprisonment in Tartaros. It might be apotropaic (‘let’s honour Kronos so he doesn’t come back’). I’d prefer not to assume in advance that it’s just a peaceful, innocent harvest festival -- not unless there’s some evidence I’m just unaware of.
Kronos as depicted in the execrable film of Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters (2013). But read the books instead -- please, for the love of Zeus, read the books instead. (I hate that Surtr in Thor: Ragnarok reminds me of this godsawful film.)

Two families of divinities?

When you see a pantheon with two ‘orders’ of gods, one popular interpretation is that two pantheons, from different cultures, have been combined. For example: we might say that at some point there was a Minoan pantheon consisting of just the Titans, and when the Mycenaeans conquered the Minoan civilisation, they imposed their own gods -- the Olympians -- as a kind of superior caste. This is wrong, by the way.

But this binary interpretation, that Olympians and Titans originated as a superimposition and a substrate, had a lot of currency among theorists of the early 20th century. Here’s how Walter Burkert puts it.
Historians have long sought to understand Greece and Greek religion as a synthesis of an indigenous substratum and Indo-European superimposition. How far this idea holds good and can be verified in detail is another question. Global dualisms which exaggerate the distinctino between Indo-European and non-Indo-European assert themselves all too easily: male and female, patriarchy and matriarchy, heaven and earth, Olympian and chthonic, and intellect and instinct. The interaction of the two poles is then supposedly reflected in Greek religion as the new gods overthrow the Titans, or as the Indo-European Sky Father takes the mediterranean Mistress as his bride.
-- Burkert 1985: 18 = 2011: 37.
In the work of Georges Dumézil, this division takes on classist tones too: the newer gods are worshipped by the upper class, the older gods by the proles. That seems to be coming more from the Romans than from anything Greek: the Romans with their division of patrician and plebeian, and the worship of Jupiter and Ceres.

younger gods elder gods
Olympians Titans
Mycenaean Minoan
Indo-European non-Indo-European
patriarchy matriarchy
celestial earthly
intellect instinct
culture nature
upper class lower class

Important note: everything about the above table is wrong. (We’ve got no reason to think of the Minoans as matriarchal. That idea still has some currency, thanks to Friedrich Engels, but it’s an extremely tendentious interpretation of very indirect, and very thin, evidence. It comes from Johann Jakob Bachofen’s 1861 book Das Mutterrecht: Bachofen’s theory of an even earlier ‘hetairistic’ phase, where everyone was sexually promiscuous, kind of suggests that the whole idea has its roots in his sexual fantasies. No archaeologists or anthropologists have taken it seriously for many decades.)

But this theory boils down to a thinly-veiled nationalism. ‘Indo-European’ versus ‘non-Indo-European’? Just say what you mean: Aryan versus Untermensch.

(Incidentally, Burkert goes on to point out that when it comes to ritual practice, it’s earthly libations that are related to Indo-European religion, while the rising smoke of Olympian sacrifices is more closely linked to Semitic practices.)

The idea that two castes of divinities reflect two ethnic groups has been suggested for other bodies of myth. In Norse myth, figures like Gro Steinsland have suggested that the two orders of divinities -- the Æsir, with Odin, Thor, Tyr, etc., and the Vanir with Njord, Freyr, and Freyja -- are a result of two distinct mythological traditions coming into contact with each other. So the war of the Æsir and the Vanir supposedly reflects a historical war.

As with the Olympians and the Titans, it may sound like a reasonable working hypothesis. Let’s just emphasise the word hypothesis, though. There’s never any direct evidence to support this kind of thing. And there’s good reason to doubt it.

The parallel between the Greek and Norse pantheons sounds suspiciously like something systematic: it’s integral to the design, baked into each pantheon from the start. That impression gets even stronger if you draw comparisons to other pantheons: Indian myth has the devás warring against the ásuras, Irish myth has the Tuatha Dé Danann as successors to the monstrous Fomorians.

pantheon younger gods elder gods
Greek Olympians Titans
Norse Æsir Vanir
Hurro-Hittite Kumarbi karuilies siunes
Indian Devas Asuras
Irish Tuathe Dé Danann Fomorians
Mesopotamian gods ilani kamûti

For more on this, see West 2007: 162-164.

We certainly don’t have enough evidence to draw genetic links between any of these cases. If the idea of two orders of gods is one that the Greeks inherited, it’s best to assume it came via the Hittites. The Hittite former gods, or karuilies siunes, are incarcerated in the underworld, and there are usually twelve of them, just like the Titans.

But that isn’t to say we know how the myth developed. The Greek and Hittite pantheons have the closest link of any pair in this table, but no one’s going to suggest that Hesiod had a copy of the Kumarbi cycle in front of him. The date and means by which Anatolian and Near Eastern mythical patterns made their way to Greece are obscure.
There’s a similar sentiment in Clay and Gilan 2014: 5-6. Van Dongen 2010 suggests a relatively late date for mythical narratives spreading from Anatolia to the Greek world, with contact between Greeks and Phrygians and Lydians around the 8th century: personally I’d be very happy with a much earlier date, even in the Bronze Age. We have Greek gods in the Bronze Age, but alas, no direct evidence of Titans. See also Bachvarova 2016 for a more luxurious discussion.
I find the parallels compelling enough to accept that a two-generation structure is generally going to be something baked into the pantheon, not a result of two cultures having a war.

But not compelling enough to conclude there are genetic links. M. L. West, too, thinks the parallels are ‘suggestive’, but not so close ‘as to make the hypothesis [of a common heritage] ... irresistible.’ OK, for the Olympians vs. Titans, we’ve got Kumarbi and the Hittite ‘former gods’ to point to as a possible influence. But we don’t have anything like that for Indian, Irish, or Norse myth. There, the ‘two orders of gods’ structure seems more likely to have been created from scratch, rather than inherited from older traditions.
Another view of the Disney Titans -- this time, from the game Kingdom Hearts III (2019). Here Hercules isn’t teaming up with the Olympians, but with (left to right) Goofy, Sora, and Donald Duck. I wonder what Hesiod would think.
That doesn’t mean we have to revert to the ‘Mycenaeans absorb the Minoan pantheon’ model, or the ‘Æsir absorb the Vanir’ model -- let’s call it the ‘two cultures’ model. That model isn’t impossible. But it is euhemerism, and euhemerism has never been a useful guide to any myth’s development over time.

Another good reason to be skeptical of the ‘two cultures’ model is that when people are interested in the elder gods, and don’t know much about the historical background, they regularly go for the exact same interpretation. It’s a repeating pattern -- just like the ‘two orders of gods’ is a repeating pattern. Myths are really good at falling into similar patterns, whether or not they have a genetic relationship to each other.


  • Bachvarova, M. 2016. From Hittite to Homer. The Anatolian background of ancient Greek epic. Cambridge University Press
  • Burkert, W. 1985. Greek religion. (Translated by John Raffan.) Blackwell.
  • ---- 2011 [1977]. Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche, 2nd edition. Verlag W. Kohlhammer.
  • Clay, J. S.; Gilan, A. 2014. ‘The Hittite “Song of emergence” and the Theogony.’ Philologus 2014: 1-9.
  • van Dongen, E. W. M. 2010. Studying external stimuli to the development of the ancient Aegean. The ‘Kingship in Heaven’ theme from Kumarbi to Kronos via Anatolia. PhD dissertation, UCL. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/817439/
  • West, M. L. 2007. Indo-European poetry and myth. Oxford University Press.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Bad Latin in the movies: Constantine (2005)

Keanu Reeves. Yup, he’s hot stuff right now. And his films do seem to have a fair bit of Latin. His latest, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019), has a Latin subtitle, a short form of ‘if you want peace, prepare war’ -- a motto favoured by the alt-right, and also Parabellum was the official brandname of the Luger pistol.

Looking back further: in the first John Wick (2014), the gold coins used by professional assassins have Latin inscriptions -- on one side ens causa sui, ‘existing for its own sake’ -- I’m not sure that’s the intended meaning, but it’s what it does mean -- and on the other ex unitae vires, an error for ex unitate vires ‘strength from unity’. In The Matrix (1999), the Oracle has a Latin motto over her kitchen door, temet nosce ‘know yourself’. And Bill & Ted (1989) -- well, there’s no Latin, but we do have Socrates speaking ancient Greek. In a British accent.
John Constantine consults the archangel Gabriel. Left: Hellblazer 43 (1991); right: Tilda Swinton and Keanu Reeves in Constantine (2005).
And then there’s Constantine (2005), loosely based on a storyline in the comic book Hellblazer. Yes, there’s the good old tradition inherited from The Exorcist of repeating ‘in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit’ in Latin as an incantation for dispelling demons.

But there’s a more substantial chunk too. At one point we get to see a passage from a demonic bible, with an extra chapter at the end of 1 Corinthians. The original text, Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, was in Greek ... but, well, I guess demons do love them some Latin.

Here’s the text shown on screen.
The surrounding text has nothing to do with 1 Corinthians, by the way. The verse above the chapter heading is actually Isaiah 1.23.
Ad Corinthios XVII

Amor enim patris modo Satanae possessionis, atque potestatis et voluptatis eius excessus fuit. Atque in lumbis et ex lumbis eius conceptus est filius. Filio de quo fierit damnatio mundi. Hoc modo solo homines orbis terrae verum fatum suorum, certam vocationem, verum dolorem sub calce veri Domini explere poterunt per potestatem veri fili poterunt. Animas enim suas homines in fornace semper ardente sub pedibus verorum angelorum invenient.

Filius, in lucis ardore Patris conceptus, in umbra eius qui cecidit naturus est, nec umquam luce creatoris contaminatus erit. Et lux ignis veri sui patris flammae ardentes in cordibus hominum erint.

Peccata patris modo peccatis fili excessa erint.

Mammon erit nomen eius qui caput patris percutuit. Vires suae desuper patrem descendunt et potentia sua tanta erit ut lucem soli extingueret. Et tenebrae super Terram et super homines descendent.
The interpretation given out loud in the film is related to the Latin text, but isn’t a direct translation.

This isn’t exactly good Latin. OK, I’ve seen worse in students’ homework. This is good enough to work out the intended meaning -- mostly -- and it’s certainly way better than anything you’d get from Google Translate. (That’s setting a very low bar: Google Translate is notoriously bad at Latin. I guarantee you are much, much better at Latin than Google is, even if you’ve never studied any Latin at all.)
Never, ever, ever use Google Translate for Latin. Here’s its attempt at the first bit of Latin I ever read. This is day one material: you’ll be able to follow it even if you’ve never considered learning Latin.
But it’s very obviously translated from English, and translated by someone with a very shaky idea of verb tenses and noun cases. Here’s my best effort at working out the intended meaning:
For the love of the father was exceeded only by Satan’s lust for possession and power. And in his loins and from his loins a son is conceived. From that son will come about the damnation of the world. In this way alone will humans be able to fulfil the true destiny of their world, its assured calling, its true agony, beneath the heel of their true Lord: through the power of his true son they will be able (to do this). For humans will find their souls in a furnace, ever burning, beneath the feet of the true angels.

The son, conceived in the heat of his Father’s light, is to be born in the shadow of him who fell, never tainted by the light of the creator. And the light of the true fire of his father will be flames burning in people’s hearts.

The sins of the father will be exceeded only by the sins of the son.

Mammon will be his name, the one who beheaded his father. His strength descends upon his father, and his power will be great enough to extinguish the light of the sun. And shadows will descend upon the Earth and upon humans.
There’s an awful lot of mistakes in the Latin. Not historically plausible mistakes, mind: we’re talking classic mistakes made by English-speakers who just don’t get how noun cases work.

The first sentence, for example, is mangled enough that I’m not confident it was meant to say what I wrote in my translation. Here’s a literal version of what the Latin actually says:
For the love of the father had been had exceeded only of Satan or of possession and of power and of his desire.
Yeah. And verb tenses are all over the place. The phrase excessus fuit would be a kind of more-pluperfect-than-pluperfect, if that were a thing. My impression is that the translator forgot that Latin doesn’t really do tenses with auxiliary verbs, and shoved in English expressions in their place. In the second paragraph, contaminatus erit is literally ‘he will have been tainted’, not ‘he will be tainted’, which is what I think the writers were going for. Naturus est is clearly a translation of a faux-biblical English phrase ‘he is to be born’: authentic Latin would just use the future nascetur.

There are other problems. They’re all typical of an English speaker with dodgy Latin.

Reflexive possessives are used where ordinary possessives ought to be used. The phrase ‘of the son’ (paragraphs 1 and 3) is misspelled, so that the text actually means ‘oh my son!’. When humans ‘find’ their souls in a furnace (paragraph 1), the choice of words implies that they hit upon a research finding, not that they awake to a realisation. In paragraph 2, the ‘light of the true fire’ is singular, but the verb is plural -- another classic student’s mistake, agreeing with the complement instead of the subject. In paragraph 4 the Latin for ‘sun’, soli, is given a second-declension form when it should be third-declension.

Just for the sake of it, here’s a re-written version of the passage with some better Latin.
Amor enim patris solo Satanae possessionis atque potestatis voluptate exceditur. Atque in lumbis et ex lumbis eius concipitur. Quo de filio fiet damnatio mundi. Hoc modo solo homines verum fatum mundi sui, certam vocationem, verum dolorem sub calce veri Domini explere poterunt, per potestatem veri filii. Homines enim animas suas in fornace semper ardenti reperient sub pedibus verorum angelorum.

Filius, in lucis ardore Patris conceptus, in umbra illius qui cecidit nascetur; nec umquam luce creatoris contaminabitur. Et lux ignis veri sui patris erit, flammae ardentes in cordibus hominum.

Peccata patris modo peccatis filii excedentur.

Mammon erit nomen eius qui caput patris percutiet. Vires eius desuper patrem descendent et tanta erit potentia eius ut lucem ipsius solis extinguat. Et tenebrae super terram et super homines descendent.
You just can’t have demon stuff going on without some bad Latin. (Rich Burlew, The Order of the Stick 635 [2009])

Monday, 13 May 2019

Quotations and history

Quotation isn’t history. But it can be a tool for suggesting history. Like any tool, it can be used -- and misused -- in lots of ways.

Films, books, and games have many tools for evoking a sense of history. In films like Braveheart (1995) and Robin Hood (1991, 2010) the main tool is false archaism: a mash-up of tropes from different historical periods, combined to create a flavour of oldness that has nothing to do with the actual setting. Tolkien’s tool is language: he uses invented languages shaped by historical sound-shifts, similar to ones that happen in real languages, to create a historical backdrop for his novels. In games like Tomb raider (1996) and Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time (2003), it’s about interactive archaeology. Lara Croft is always diving into trap-filled ruins; the Prince starts out in a supposedly Abbasid-era palace, and later descends into an underground ruin with cuneiform-style writing on the walls, suggesting something Assyrian or Achaemenid -- past layered upon past.

Quotations are another tool. Quotations don’t send a story into the past, they bring the past into the present. Often the idea is to claim a kind of inheritance from the past. Sometimes it’s ironic. Sometimes you just want to claim that Abraham Lincoln or Albert Einstein would have been on your side.
Quit, don’t quit -- noodles, don’t noodles -- you are too concerned with what was, and what will be. There’s a saying. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift: that is why it is called the present.
-- Master Oogway (Kung fu panda, 2008)
Let’s look at some variants. I’ll stick to two themes: quotations in video games, and Alexander and his conquests.
Entrance to Rapture (BioShock, 2007)

Video games


All good things of this earth flow into the city.
-- BioShock (2007)
This quotation is openly political. The line is indirectly based on Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 2.38 -- Thucydides, that hero of alt-righters who either haven’t read him or haven’t understood him. (The Melian dialogue isn’t an instruction manual, guys, it’s a lesson about the immorality of power.)

In BioShock, the line is set over the entrance to Rapture, the underwater city where the game is set. It plays on a double meaning of ‘flow’. First, a boast about Rapture’s affluence, and the supposed superiority of its libertarian economic system; second, a quiet joke on the fact that Rapture is at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and its resources come washing in on the ocean currents.

But the use of a classical allusion also feeds into Rapture’s ideological set-up. The founder of the city in the game, Andrew Ryan, intended the city to be a libertarian utopia. But, when the player actually arrives there, it turns out to be an objectivist nightmare, a monster from the lowest circles of Ayn Rand’s malevolence.

The quotation plays on the way that alt-righters often cast themselves as heirs of Greek and Latin culture. If you see people quoting taglines like si vis pacem para bellum (‘if you want peace, prepare war’, paraphrased from Vegetius), or μολὼν λαβέ (‘come and get them’: Herodotus on the battle of Thermopylae), or Deus vult (a modern Latin motto translated from a mediaeval French one associated with the Crusades), or calling themselves ‘the Spartans’ (Thermopylae again) -- well, then, you know exactly where they sit on the political spectrum. You know what colour their skin is, and what they would like to do to people from the Near East.

So when Rapture’s entranceway quotes Thucydides’ line about Athens at the height of its power and wealth, it seems that the fictional Ryan intended to evoke Athens’ ‘golden age’ and his own politics, both at once.

But it’s a bit of genius from the game’s writers, because it’s also ironic. Athens was obsessed with the purity of its democratic constitution. But if you know your history you’ll know that Athens didn’t owe its prosperity in that period to its democracy, but to its tyrannical imperialism and disregard for the autonomy of other states. The ‘greatness’ of Athenian democracy goes hand-in-hand with ideological puritanism, and flagrant violations of human rights. Just like Rapture.

The BioShock quotation isn’t directly from Thucydides: it comes from the film City hall. There Al Pacino speaks the line, as the mayor of New York: he attributes it to Pericles, as ‘the first and perhaps only great mayor’ --
All things good of this earth flow into the city because of the city’s greatness.
Thucydides’ wording is more literally ‘because of the size of the city, all things come into it from the whole earth’ (ἐπεσέρχεται δὲ διὰ μέγεθος τῆς πόλεως ἐκ πάσης γῆς τὰ πάντα). The minor distortion ‘good things’ for ‘all goods’ (τὰ πάντα) comes from Rex Warner’s translation of Thucydides --
Then the greatness of our city brings it about that all the good things from all over the world flow in to us ...
-- Thucydides 2.38 (tr. Warner)
I’m guessing the writers of City hall read Rex Warner’s version. Then, later on, BioShock inherited the phrasing.

An Aesop quotation about archery, without any context or relevance to the role of archery in the game (Civilization V, 2010)

Sid Meier’s Civilization

Some entries in the Civilization series (1991 to present) display quotations at moments when the player’s civilisation discovers a new technology or completes a world wonder. Many of them are attributed to ancient sources, and many of them are genuine.

That isn’t praise. Civilization generally has a casual approach to history. The quotations are there precisely to give an appearance of historical content, without any historical method. It’s a veneer of history-flavoured ganache on a dry cake. Some very bad misunderstandings of history have come from Civilization.

I can’t go through all of the quotations because there are too many. Ancient Greco-Roman sources account for sixteen quotations in Civilization VI (2016), seventeen in Civilization V (2010), and fifteen in Civilization IV (2005). Another four appear in the spin-off Alpha Centauri (1999).

As a first impression, generally the older games are the more careful, and pay more attention to nuance and context. The quotations in Alpha Centauri are exact quotations from Plato’s Republic, Symposium, and Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics, and are chosen to reflect the ideological positions of factions within the game. In Civilization VI, the quotations are a blend of accuracy and inaccuracy, and are chosen merely because they’re roughly related in some way. These quotations are accurate --
‘And first Hephaestus makes a great and massive shield ... And he forged on the shield two noble cities.’ -- Homer (Civ VI, ‘Metal Casting’ technology)
= Iliad 18.478 and 490-491 (tr. Robert Fagles, uncredited)

‘At Rhodes was set up a Colossus of seventy cubits high, representing the Sun ... the artist expended as much bronze on it as seemed likely to create a dearth in the mines.’ -- Philo of Byzantium (Civ VI, ‘Colossus’ building)
= Philon of Byzantium, On the seven wonders §4 (tr. Denys Haynes, uncredited)
-- but the game obviously has zero interest in the purpose of Hephaestus’ shield, or in the irony that the historical Colossus collapsed in just a few decades. And these ones are just wrong --
‘It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.’ -- supposedly Aristotle (‘Education’ tech)

‘I sprang upon the swift ship in the form of a dolphin, pray to me as Apollo Delphinius; also the altar itself shall be called Delphinius and overlooked forever.’ -- supposedly Homer (‘Oracle’ building)
The first one starts out with some real Aristotle, but everything after the word ‘mind’ is made up. The second one isn’t Homer, and if you’re thinking it doesn’t make sense, that’s because they missed out part of the sentence.
It is characteristic of an educated man only to look for precision in each class of things so far as the nature of the subject admits. Getting an argument from likelihood from a mathematician would be like asking for theorems from a rhetorician.
-- Aristotle, Nicomachean ethics i.1094b.23-27 (§1.3)

Since, when I was first seen in the murky sea and I leapt onto the swift ship, I was in the form of a dolphin, so you should pray to me as Delphinian. And the altar will itself be ‘Delphinian’ and ‘Overlooking’ forever.
-- Cynaethus, Hymn to Apollo 493-496
Civilization is, in a limited way, good for the public understanding of history, to the extent that it gets people interested in history. But the game’s overall structure is antithetical to history. Every aspect of gameplay revolves around technologies, and every branch of the ‘tech tree’ is teleological, guiding every civilisation to a pre-determined goal, which looks exactly like the technologies available in present-day western countries -- or, in the ‘futurist’ stage of the game, something that looks like western science fiction.

The whole thing presupposes that anything that doesn’t get us towards modern Mechanized Infantry and Mobile SAM isn’t a valid part of history, and isn’t worth knowing about. The point of history, according to Civilization, is to lead towards us. Ever heard anyone ask ‘What has Africa done for us’? Or ‘Why study the Byzantines, when it’s the western Roman Empire that gave us roads, Vergil, and Catholicism’? I have. And that’s teleological history. Or, to put it another way: not history.
Right to left: Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, James Shigeta as Joseph Takagi, Alexander Godunov as Karl (Die hard, 1988)


Hans Gruber vs. Plutarch

‘And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.’ {chuckle} Benefits of a classical education.
-- Hans Gruber, Die hard (1988)
The idea behind this ‘quotation’ is to cast Gruber (Alan Rickman) as an opposite to the hero John McClane (Bruce Willis). Gruber is educated, McClane relies on street smarts; Gruber is evil, McClane is good; Gruber wears a suit, McClane looks like a redneck for most of the film; Gruber is European, McClane is John Wayne (‘yippie-ki-yay’).

It’s a pretty straightforward message: education corrupts.

Now, I put ‘quotation’ in scare-quotes, because it isn’t one. ‘Hans baby’ may be an exceptional thief, but I’m afraid his classical education was shonky. In this case, though, I don’t think that’s what the writers intended. This misquotation is more a reflection of America under Reagan than it is of Gruber’s morals. The line echoes something Plutarch wrote (though Gruber doesn’t attribute it to Plutarch, as WikiQuote claims). Die hard gets its version of the line from The Twilight Zone -- ‘he cried because he had no more worlds to conquer’ (‘Of late I think of Cliffordville’, 1963) -- but both of them reverse it: it’s the exact opposite of what Plutarch says.
When Alexander heard Anaxarchos speaking about an infinity of universes, he wept. His friends asked what was wrong. He said, ‘Isn’t it worth weeping if there are infinite universes, and we haven’t yet become the masters of even one?’
-- Plutarch, On tranquility of mind 466d (§4)
Plutarch’s fictional Alexander doesn’t weep because he’s run out of conquests, he weeps because there’s too much to conquer and he can’t get the job done.

(The variation between ‘worlds’ and ‘universes’ is fine, by the way. The Greek word kosmos is just like ‘world’ in English: it can mean the universe as a whole, but also ‘the (human) world’, that is, earth. Plutarch’s Alexander is pretty clearly thinking about conquering the earth, not the entire universe.)

The point of this misquotation isn’t to showcase the laziness of the writers, though: no one cares about that. It’s the notion that education is a sign of moral depravity. And that’s a pretty clear reflection of Reaganism.

‘The Great’

Any time you call Alexander ‘Alexander the Great’, you aren’t doing it because that’s his due title. Because it never was. What you’re doing is supporting the Great Man theory of history.

That’s the theory that the course of history is driven by outstanding individuals, movers and shakers, heroes: Alexander, Caesar, Washington, Napoleon. Historians tend to be very, very hostile to that theory, and for good reason. The famous individuals of history don’t emerge into the limelight because they create limelight around themselves, but because they encapsulate historical ideas and forces that are coming to a head in their lifetimes. That doesn’t mean they aren’t exceptional individuals -- just that history doesn’t revolve around them.

Nowadays the Great Man theory mainly serves to keep the ‘right’ people at the centre of everyone’s attention: it makes sure people talk about rich powerful men. It’s a way to prevent you from thinking about women, minorities, and people who are enslaved or poor.

It’s especially artificial because it isn’t real. Wikipedia names Alexander
Alexander the Great (Ancient Greek: Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας ...)
as if it’s a formal title, but there’s nothing to suggest he was called ‘the Great’ during his lifetime. Evidence for the nickname only starts to mount up 250 years after his death, towards the end of the 1st century BCE.

Here’s a whole article on the subject by Professor Catherine Rubincam. She agrees with earlier scholarship that ‘the Great’ was actually originally used for the Seleucid king Antiochus III, around 205 BCE, over 100 years after Alexander died. But after a thorough look at the evidence, she concludes that the popularity of Alexander’s title doesn’t come from Antiochus: its popularity comes from Roman writers talking about Alexander.

Rubincam thinks that process did begin around Antiochus’ time, shown by a reference to ‘great Alexander’ in one of Plautus’ plays (Mostellaria 775-777). I have my doubts. In Plautus it could just be a general term of adulation. Rubincam herself shows that the main support for ‘the Great’ as a title comes from books written centuries later, around the time of Augustus: Trogus, Livy, and Velleius Paterculus. Not that it’s conspicuous that Alexander isn’t called ‘the Great’ any earlier -- I’m just suspicious of granting so much weight to a passing reference in Plautus. Evidence of Alexander being called ‘the Great’ in Greek doesn’t start to pop up until another 200 years later. The earliest references are in Plutarch and Athenaeus, in the mid-to-late 100s CE.
References: Plutarch, Life of Aemilius Paulus 23.5; Life of Pyrrhus 11.2, 19.2; Life of Pelopidas 34.2; On the fortune of Alexander 336e9, 340b4, 341c11; Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 6.19 p. 231 = FGrHist 76 F 37a. The reference in Athenaeus cites a much earlier author, Douris of Samos, but Douris is lost and Athenaeus’ text is a paraphrase, not a quotation. Another early author, Timaeus, is paraphrased in a similar way with a reference to Alexander ‘the Great’ in Longinus On the sublime 4.2.