Monthly Archives: April 2013

Cosmo Magazine and Ovid’s Ars Amatoria: Sex hasn’t changed in 2,000 years

I’m not going to lie, I find Cosmo to be a hilarious magazine and it became even more hilarious the second I realized that Cosmo is just the modern, female, version of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. Ovid’s “Art of Love” is basically a guide to love, sex, adultery, etc. Contrary to popular opinion Ovid didn’t just gear his work towards men, rather, it also includes advice for women. The work is broken into three parts which would be found commonly in a magazine like Cosmo. Book 1 is about how to find a woman, book 2 how to keep her, and book 3 is about how women can obtain and keep a man in love. The book is a bit racy, in fact so racy it got Ovid exiled, or maybe it was just that little thing about Julia’s adultery, whatever it was, the poet calls it “a poem and a mistake.”

Ovid’s book is not just about sex, but also includes little things that can be done to keep someone interested. My favorite piece of advice Ovid gives is one that is also covered very regularly in Cosmo, the waiting game. This is basically how to make someone miss you, but not be gone for too long. In modern Cosmo terms that might be considered the three day rule of calling someone or “do you” which apparently translates to leaving time for yourself and not forgetting your friends. It is incredible to me that nothing really has changed in relationships in two thousand years.

Of course there is always the sex part of Cosmo and Ars Amatoria. Both pieces of literature (I use that term loosely) express advice on the physical nature of the relationship. This can be found in every issue of Cosmo and usually is full of things a lot of men might disagree with, but they’re the experts not me. As I went to the website for “research” for this post I found an article titled “The Sexy Body Parts Your Not Using Enough.” This turned out to be an article on how women should use their legs in bed. This reminded me greatly of a line in the Ars Amatoria where Ovid claims that tall women should not straddle their lovers: “quod erat longissima, numquam Thebais Hectoreo nupta resedit equo” (Book 3, ll 778).  This translates very roughly to “because she was taller, the Theban bride (refers to Andromache) never sat on Hector.” I left out the word equo which just describes Hector as a horse, yes that probably has the same meaning as when Cosmo refers to a man as a horse.

The only thing that might differ between Ovid and Cosmo is that Ovid never wrote a useless article like, “What did his weekend texts really mean.”   Although you can bet if text messages existed, Ovid would’ve written about it. Everything else seems to line up pretty well. I’m sure you’ve read Cosmo so if you don’t believe me that nothing has changed, pick up a copy of Ovid and see for yourself.

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OCTOPI is not a Latin Plural! End the madness!

This week I am going to be pretty nerdy by not only being a Classics nerd, but also a grammar nerd. The topic of the week is Latin plurals in the English language. For those classicists thinking you’ve read too much on this, stick with me because there will be a part for you too. There are many words in English that derive from Latin words and in some cases these words keep their native plural ending. I have found that people who are aware of this tend to follow the rule that if a word ends in “a” it is the plural and the singular must end in “um” like medium and media (there are exceptions!). These plurals are often considered also to be the singular in the English language because of common use; this is also the case with datum  and data. Here is a short list of words that follow the “um” and “a” rule, although in many cases the “a” ending can be singular or plural:

  • Medium, media (media can be singular)
  • Datum, data (data can be singular)
  • Forum, fora (can add “s” to forum for plural)
  • Memorandum, memoranda
  • Agendum, agenda (my favorite: “agendum” has become obsolete and I stand by my theory that this is only because nobody has only one thing that must be done)

Some at this point might be interested in why one would change the “um” to an “a” rather than just add “s.”  The reason for this is a holdover from the word’s ancient language origins. Latin is an inflected language in which nouns are declined to denote their function in a sentence as opposed to relying on word order. In Latin there are different cases for different functions. The nominative case is the one used for the subject of a sentence and it is also where these English plurals come into play. As if that isn’t confusing enough there are genders assigned to different words. The above example is the 2nd declension neuter gender. In this declension/gender the nominative singular ends in “um” and the plural ends in “a.” The 2nd declension masculine and 1st declension feminine have different nominative endings. In the masculine the endings are “us” and “i” (again be careful exceptions exist which will be named later). The following English plurals come from the 2nd declension masculine:

  • Alumnus, alumni
  • Focus, foci
  • Fungus, fungi
  • Radius, radii

The 1st declension feminine nominative endings are “a” and “ae.”

  • Alumna, alumnae
  • Formula, formulae (although commonly formulas)

Lastly there are some weird English plurals that come from the 3rd declension and tend to end in “es.”

  • Matrix, matrices
  • Index, indices
  • Axis, axes
  • Crisis, crises

Classicists and those just learning Latin and learning of this rule this part is for you. I commonly hear people who know Latin use the wrong plural because they think everything is a Latin plural. NOT ALL WORDS WORK LIKE THIS!

  • Status does not become stati. The proper plural is statuses. I see this one most frequently.
  • Campus while it has a Latin plural campi should be transformed to campuses because in some places campi is considered wrong while campuses is never considered wrong (well except in Latin class of course).
  • Octopus does not become octopi in the plural! While this is commonly used in speech it is wrong. Use octopuses because that is the commonly accepted term, but if you want to be really smart use octopodes (which MSword doesn’t accept as a proper word). Octopodes  is the proper Greek plural because this is a Latinized, Greek word.
  • Platypus works the same as octopus.

These are just some of my favorite Latin plurals that either get ignored or misused all of the time. There are, of course, many other words with funky plurals and not all of them are from Latin or, even, Greek. The best way to know about a word’s plural is to look it up in a dictionary (well search it on dictionary.com, I mean really who owns a dictionary anymore). Etymology.com is also pretty awesome for learning the origin of a word.

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Depletion of Fish Population: Not just a modern problem

After watching an episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats last night and the recent talk in the news about sushi and fish population depletion, I thought I would take on a less pop culture topic this week and get a little into the politics of sustainable fish. You may be asking yourself what this has to do with anything classical, but I promise you it has as much to do with the Ancient Greeks as it does the modern sushi trend. First let us look at the problem. Alton Brown lays the problem out pretty clearly in his Good Eats episode The Once and Future Fish (see it here). To sum up the problem though, we, humans, like to eat big meaty fish and we overfish them close to the point of extinction. We need to learn to eat smaller more common fish, something the Romans were actually fairly good at.

The depletion of fish populations around the world has been in the news often in the last two years, but it has not caught on as a popular cause yet (you know those popular causes that get beaten to death on college campuses across the nation). Actually it is quite the opposite. Sushi’s rise in popularity especially across college campuses in the US has led to even higher consumption of fish. The BBC reported that a record was set in 2011 for global fish consumption at 17 kg per person per year (for us Americans that’s 37lbs). For comparison the US estimated 57lbs of beef consumed per person per year in 2011. The same BBC article reports, “85% of global fish stocks are over-exploited.”

So again you are asking me what this has to do with the Ancient world. Thank you for staying with me. Here is the payoff. The same thing happened in Ancient Greece! In fact, the Ancient Greeks fished tuna (Greek: Thunnos) to near extinction.  In a great lecture at Temple University when I was there a couple of years ago, Dr. Daniel Levine spoke about the overwhelming popularity of tuna in Ancient Greece and the over fishing of these tuna. It was such a popular food source that even Aristotle mapped out the migration patterns of the fish. The tuna was linked to the god Poseidon and prayers were offered to him by fisherman. Lastly, an important link to today’s problem, the Ancient Greeks fished with large nets which caught not only mature fish, but young fish. This is the problem today. Many fish not suitable for markets are dying instead of remaining in the sea and reproducing.

For more information from Dr. Levine about the Ancient Greeks and tuna see his research here.

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