This week I would like to talk a little about legal terms, but more so about The Big Bang Theory. I know that this is not a new episode, but I saw it again recently and thought it perfect to write about. In this episode Sheldon must go to traffic court because he was caught on a traffic cam running a red light while driving Penny to the hospital. His first use of Latin as he approaches the judge is to tell him that he is appearing in pro se, or in representation of himself.  Se is the reflexive pronoun referring back to the invisible subject of this sentence, Sheldon.  Continuing his great use of classical rhetoric and a three legged argument, Sheldon states that he will argue the legal doctrine of quod est necessarium est licitum, “That which is necessary is legal.”  The first thing I must do is applaud the pronunciation as he used the hard “c” in both necessarium and licitum. While this defense has in fact worked in certain cases throughout history, it did not work for Sheldon.  An interesting note about this though is that I cannot find an origin for the Latin phrase in Ancient Rome (if someone finds one please let me know). Instead it seems to be one of those things that has come about and translated into Latin to give it more prestige.  I must say I was very disturbed while trying to find an origin by the overwhelming number of Law websites, journals, and other publications which said quad instead of quod, a word which doesn’t even exist in the Latin paradigm of qui, quae, quod.

Sorry for the short post this week, but there was not a lot to say about this since it didn’t in fact have an ancient origin I could find, and I didn’t have a lot of time today. I will be back with a bigger post next week.

Big Bang Theory: Quod Est Necassarium Est Licitum

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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, I mean really who owns a dictionary anymore). 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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Battle of the Ultra-Athletes: Tarahumara vs. Spartans

The Tarahumara is a tribe of indigenous people in Central America, more specifically in the Copper Canyons of Mexico; they are known for running incredible distances. I think we all know who the Spartans are at this point since that historically inaccurate movie came out.  Ultra-athletes are people who compete in insane endurance competitions which can take place over a variety of disciplines.  I discovered the Tarahumara and Ultra endurance competitions just recently when I began reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It is a great book (so far) and I will venture to say from what I have read, it should be on every must read list whether you are a runner or not.

Early on in the book McDougall makes a claim that there have not been better athletes since the Spartan warriors. This, of course, quickly got me scouring my knowledge of the Ancient Greeks and wondering if that was a fair comparison. First I should note that there are plenty of other tribes in the world which have shown excellence in endurance activities such as the Bajau people of Indonesia who are incredible apneists (great greek root there), holding their breath for long periods of time and showing great free diving ability.  So it is probably not the case that there have not been better athletes since the Spartan warriors, but the comparison still intrigues me.

The Spartan warriors are famous in modern times because of the 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae who are legends for their military prowess. Most scholars agree that it was not just 300 Spartans at this battle, but I will leave it at that as to not burst the bubble of myth lovers. That being said there is a lot of evidence of the amazing athletic ability of Spartans. Those selected to be warriors were put into training at the age of seven. The Tarahumara start running as soon as they can although it is not exactly regimented training as was the case in Sparta. The Tarahumara are not an attacking people. They choose to retreat into the hills and use the terrain to stay hidden from enemies. Many will jump and say that is the main difference between the Spartans and the Tarahumara, but I want to remind you of Herodutos’ account of Thermopylae (book 7 around 222).  He talks about the retreat into the hills and ensuing battle in a narrow pass advantageous to the Spartans.  At the same time the poet Tyrtaeus claims that men in Sparta were trained neither to run away nor surrender.  Born to Run says that the Tarahumara have people who are very old running alongside people who are very young without notice of a difference in step. The Spartans were enlisted until age 60 and had to maintain fitness up through the age of 65 because they could be called upon up to 65 in war times.

Both groups wore a sandal-like footwear while doing their athletics for those of you on the barefoot running train.

As for comparing the actual athletic ability of the two it is a very difficult thing to do. The Spartan warriors are in fact warriors and are known for their athletics in terms of war. When we talk about distances they can march or run those numbers must be considered differently than marathon runners since they are weighed down by armor and equipment.  I have looked all over the texts I have for anything referencing a numerical value that I could use to compare the speed of the Spartans to that of the Tarahumara and I can’t. Pure athleticism will have to be left debatable, however the comparisons above should give an idea in terms of lifestyle about how the two measure up.

NOTE: The Athenians are actually granted credit for the term Marathon as they sent a messenger, Pheidippides, back to Athens from the battle of Marathon, a reported distance of 26 miles. The messenger collapsed dead upon completion, obviously not an ultra-athlete (Plutarch, On the Glory of Athens).  It is said that the last two tenths of a mile were added to accommodate a viewing box for the Queen of England many years later. I have no source for this information; I know it only as a legend passed around some running circles.

SECOND NOTE: I have not included any of Thucydides comments on the Spartans, but he provides a very different view, in fact he calls them weak a lot. The reason for this is most likely his historical bias, but I should note that his opinion on the Spartans is out there and can be found.

For more on the Bajau people see

Born to Run


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Worcestershire Sauce and Ancient Roman Garum

I love to cook and this week I was making a great venison recipe which called for Worcestershire Sauce. After about 15 minutes of debating the proper pronunciation (Lea & Perrins website lists multiple pronunciations), I went in search of the sauce and found that I had none.  Stupidly I thought maybe I could find a way to substitute the sauce and realized that I actually had no idea what Worcestershire sauce was made of or honestly tasted like on its own. Upon further research (ie Wikipedia) I learned that it is a fermented sauce. My first thought was of Ancient Rome and garum, which was apparently wiki’s thought too as I scrolled down and found out they started the history of Worcestershire Sauce with the Ancient Greeks. Wiki got something right!

Fermented sauces go back far into history. The most important of them was probably garum. Garum is a fermented fish sauce, some say it is probably similar to Indian fish sauces. It was used by both the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Romans and was an important part of trade in the Ancient Mediterranean. Amphorae have been tested through some awesome processes and found to contain garum dating back as far as the 5th century BCE. The production and export of garum gave towns around the Roman Empire a certain level of prestige, especially those that produced the best garum; one of these towns was Pompeii.

The reason garum was a such a popular condiment for Roman nobility, besides its tradition of prestige and its Greek roots, was that it retained a high protein content. However there is something intriguing about the literature surrounding garum. Many authors write about how terrible and disgusting garum is.  Pliny the Elder called it, “that secretion of putrefying matter.” Plato called it, “putrid garum.” And Martial praised a man for still loving a woman who had eaten many helpings of garum. Although it was criticized so much in literature it was in fact used heavily and transported all around the Mediterranean. While most of the popular mentions of Worcestershire sauce are to the pronunciation of its name, it is still interesting that this sauce shows up in pop culture like garum did. Take this clip as a great example of the humor  They are definitely from the same family, although I’ve had garum and I will stick with the evolved Worcester version.

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Happy Birthday Douglas Adams: Hitchhiker’s Guide and Greek Tragedy

As Google animated so perfectly, today is Douglas Adams birthday. When I think about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I can only think one thing: DON’T PANIC! I remember my excellent Greek professor using this reference whenever he introduced a new grammar rule. “There are exceptions to the rule, but as The Guide says, ‘Don’t Panic.’” In Ancient Greek if you panic you are screwed. The whole system is based on exceptions. There is only one entirely regular verb and I say that hesitantly. The words “Don’t Panic” kept me going through many late nights with a Greek textbook, but enough of my nostalgia. The reason I am writing about Douglas Adams and this great work is because of the way he composed this work.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker’s Guide from here on) was composed in a way which an Ancient Greek playwright would probably relish. At first Hitchhiker’s Guide was a series of six episodes for the radio. Later a second and third series were released. The work was rewritten many times from many view points and focal points. It was slowly adapted for several different media. This is the part that I find interesting. There are novels, movies, radio series, TV series, LPs. The whole story takes on so many forms and so many different episodes.  This reminds me of Ancient Greek plays. In most Greek plays the audience is given only a small episode in a very large story. The larger story is written episode by episode by different playwrights with different focuses.

Aeschylus was one of the earliest playwrights whose works survive. He wrote an Oedipus play of which very little survives, but Euripides and Sophocles also wrote Oedipus plays, the most famous being that of Sophocles. Euripides’ Oedipus is also a fragmented work, but it is known that there are some major differences like Oedipus being blinded before the truth is revealed that Laius is his father.

Another play covered by all three of these writers is Philoctetes. This compares perfectly to the way Hitchhiker’s Guide was written because Douglas Adams discovered that the central point of his series was the book while writing the first series. The hitchhikers guide comes out of a small plot point made in his original series about an alien looking for a special book. This very minute point was then expanded to become a huge work of its own. The same happened with Philoctetes. Philoctetes was a character mentioned in passing in Homer’s Iliad. Each of these playwrights expanded on the passing mention made by Homer to create a new story, and certainly borrowed from those who had written the plays before them.  It is also important to note that since the plays were performed at a yearly competition they were sometimes rewritten and performed again in order to gain better favor in the contest.

For commentary on the 3 Philoctetes plays see the writings Dio Chrysostom. Aeschylus and Euripides plays are in fragments and most of what is known about them comes from this source.

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The Walking Dead, Gladiator Games, and Roman Empire Politics

SPOILER ALERT!  Don’t read further if you have not seen at least to the mid-season break of the current Walking Dead season!

I have been dying to find a link between The Walking Dead and the classical world for some time now and this season the creators of the show decided to just lob in a softball for me. In this season with the addition of The Governor of Woodbury, there have been some awesome twists and a couple of potential references to the Classics, but none more obvious than the arena fighting. Depending on the way things turn out I may come back to this season to discuss some similarities to Roman Empire politics, but that will have to wait. For now let’s jump into The Walking Dead’s version of the Colosseum. First some Colosseum facts, this is not Coliseum the punk rock band (I don’t know of them, but MS Word tells me this is the correct spelling, I say it is the rock spelling not the amphitheater spelling, and Colosseum gets an underline even though I know it’s correct, bizarre).  The COLOSSEUM was built in 72AD under the emperor Vespasian and was finished in 80AD. Some scholars say, and I believe it is commonly accepted now, that it was built by four different “architecture firms” and that is why parts are deteriorating at different rates. It is also known as the Flavian Amphitheater in case the whole Colosseum and Coliseum debate bothers you.

The important part of the Colosseum, for this posts purposes, is that gladiatorial games took place there as well as in many smaller amphitheaters throughout Italy. In the most recent season of The Walking Dead, The Governor decided that similar bloodshed was a great way to entertain the people of Woodbury. In Rome the gladiators were often slaves, criminals, or (as seen in the famous Russel Crowe movie) prisoners of war. The Governor makes a similar decision when he places Daryl and Merle in the ring against each other. I think we can call Daryl a prisoner of war now that a true war has broken out between the prison and Woodbury.

The parallels between Woodbury and Ancient Rome after the fall of the republic are quite striking. The people are living in a time of great fear and panic in both situations. A “great” ruler leads them into a peaceful time and earns the respect of the people he governs. Both hold over his people the power of life and death (we’ve seen this a handful of times with the governor). The governor like some emperors of Rome decided the best way to please the people was to hold these bloodbaths. He does add an interesting component by placing the walkers (zombies) in the arena although since the walkers are often seen as animalistic and not human I would say this compares to putting lions and other animals in the Colosseum.  After the scene of the arena style fighting in The Walking Dead it is revealed that the winner of fights was often predetermined. This was known to occur in Ancient Rome as well.  The arena fighting in this show was clearly meant to evoke the gladiatorial games.

During the decline of the Roman Empire Juvenal wrote that the Roman people only wanted two things, “Panem et circenses” or “bread and circuses.” He actually says, “The common people-rather than caring about their freedom-are only interested in bread and circuses” (Satire 10.81). This is also true of the people of Woodbury. They will follow their leader as long as he provides them with the comforts of home, food and entertainment. It is incredible that we continue to show the same scenes of what happens in times of great instability, but in most cases people are put in power who take advantage of that situation. We shall see how The Walking Dead turns out, but I think The Governor is just a serial killer, psychopath who had enough charm and guns to make people follow him. Charm and an Army got Julius Caesar pretty far, and even put his (adopted) son in power for years after his assassination.

Juvenal Book IV Satire X ll 78-81:

nam qui dabat olim
imperium fasces legiones omnia, nunc se
continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,
panem et circenses

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Criminal Minds quotes Plato, or do they?

Criminal Minds was definitely one of my favorite shows for a while and sadly I only stopped watching new seasons because of time issues; unfortunately I can’t schedule my life around the TV schedule. I still watch the reruns every time I notice one is on, which is about every hour of the day if you use enough channels. I saw a rerun not too long ago and knew I had to write a post about it. It was season 2 episode 6 The Boogeyman. This is the episode after Elle gets shot and she misses her psych evaluation. The team is after someone who is murdering children in Texas.

One of my favorite parts about Criminal Minds is the quotation at the beginning and end of the show. I always try to catch these and I (nerdy, I know) would actually get mad if I turned the TV on just a minute too late. The quotation at the beginning of The Boogeyman episode is, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” The narrator, Hotch, attributes it to Plato. This like many other quotations said to be from Plato is a misattribution. While the phrase is all over the internet and can be found on T-shirts, there is not one site that gives evidence of where the quotation came from. No one can state the book and line of Plato’s works from which this quotation was pulled. Don’t get me wrong I love the phrase and I think it has so many great meanings in it, but it is not from Plato. If anyone has or can find it, please let me know, but I have been over all of the works I have (which is most of them) and I have searched a lot of scholarly discourse and I still have not found it. Some sites attribute it to Socrates which would mean it is attributed to Plato since all of Socrates’ words are written by Plato.

Criminal Minds is a great show and the quotations add intelligence and depth to many of the episodes which aren’t exactly lacking in those categories anyway. You just missed the boat on this one, Criminal Minds. Research would have allowed you to step further into the light on this one and learned that it is a statement without a source.

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Eris Quod Sum on Twitter

Follow Eris Quod Sum on Twitter now! @ErisQuodSumblog. I will tweet about little things now and then that are not substantial enough for full posts as well as give updates when new posts have been published.