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Inspirational Reads

Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol. LXX

May 21, 2010

...And a happy Saint Constantine the Great Day to you, too.

Oh my. Can this be? Is it really? A venerated saint day AND a Latin lesson wrapped all into one? You bet your sweet bippies it is. Unless your bippies aren't so sweet, in which case, take them off the table.

Anyway, you might remember Constantine as being that chain-smoking cynic who could see angels and demons and dedicated his life to sending demons and half-demons back to Hell in order to atone for a botched suicide attempt earlier in his youth. Wait, no. That was a shitty movie titled Constantine starring Keanu Reeves and Shia LaBeouf. What? Those two in a movie together? How could it have possibly been shitty, right?

No, the Constantine of whom we speak (and celebrate) today was the Roman Emperor who served as Emperor (in various forms) from 306 AD until his death in 337. He was, mostly, a pretty good Emperor for the Romans, helping to reunite a nation that had begun to come apart under the tetrarchy. He is probably best known for being the man who "brought" Christianity to the empire, or at least tolerated its open practice by the citizenry.

Constantine himself most likely didn't convert until he was on his deathbed--he certainly didn't convert fully to Christianity until after he was 42--but he had been tolerant of Christians his whole life, mostly because his mother, Helena (who also is celebrated today, especially in the Eastern Orthodox churches), was Christian. The big event that tied Constantine to Christianity occurred at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, fought in 312 against his rival Maxentius. As Constantine was leading his army toward the fight, he looked up at the sun--most likely to judge the time--and saw a cross of light in the clouds. He wasn't sure exactly what it meant, but later that night he had a dream in which the man himself, Jesus H. Christ, showed up and explained the vision to him. Constantine, upon waking, ordered that his men paint the sign of the chi rho on their shields (it's that funny p superimposed on an x symbol), as the chi and rho were the first two letters of Christ's name, rendered in the Greek alphabet.

Remember, in the same way that we use Latin nowadays to sound more profound, the Romans used Greek. That's why Caesar's final words (reportedly) were in Greek (and not the Shakespearean version).

Anyway, the shields got painted, and Constantine went on to defeat Maxentius (with a little help from the Tiber river, in which Maxy drowned), putting him on the road not only to the Emperorship of the Empire, but also to the conversion to Christianity.

From this turn of events, we get one of the most familiar symbols of Christianity, one of the more readily-used Christian acronyms (IHS), and one of the most familiar phrases from Roman history:

In hoc signo vinces

Pronounced: "In hoke seeg-noh ween-case"

Translation in the hovertext.


In case you missed it, there is a cross in an inspirational location in that picture...

The acronym IHS is used often as a Christian symbol, usually tied with the cross in some manner. As I learned it growing up in the protestant church, it stood for "In His Service", because, you know, the only people who speak Latin are devil worshippers--I wish I was making this up. The acronym's true origin comes from the first three words of Constantine's motto, "In Hoc Signo" (in this sign, by this symbol). IHSV was also worked into several heraldic symbols, in order to call upon the same power from on high that helped Constantine achieve victory and reunite the empire.

Constantine later went on to do two more big things for which he should also be remembered. In 312, Constantine, along with Licinius (who, at the time, ruled the eastern half of the Empire) issued the Edict of Milan, which officially made the Empire neutral in regards to all religions. It didn't make Christianity the state religion, but neither did it allow for the persecutions seen under that rapscallion, Diocletian. Okay, "rapscallion" is probably not the right word; utter and complete douchebag might work, though he was probably a bit more like a colostomy bag that had been left on a little too long, if you know what I'm saying.

The other thing that Constantine did was found the city of Constantinople...right on top of the Greek city Byzantium. Seeing that it essentially sat astride the eastern and western halves of the empire as well as providing ready access to the Danube and the Euphrates cores of the Empire, as well as shipping lanes to Africa and the western Mediterranean, it was a perfect city to build an empire around...except the empire was already built. It also was an especially poignant influence for a certain They Might be Giants song.

Of course, Constantinople no longer exists, at least by that name. So, if you have a date this weekend, remember that she'll be waiting in Istanbul, not Constantinople.

10 comments:

MJenks said...

Wow. Latin lesson. A Saint post. References to Shakespeare and They Might be Giants. And insulting Keanu Reeves! All with a heavily (and borderline blasphemous) extraneous picture of a nearly naked chick with huge tits.

This might be the perfect post.

BigSis said...

I'm sure that my bippies are succulent! I love the reference to TMBG, although that nun is going to haunt my nightmares.

You are such a smart guy MJenks.

Gwen said...

You are correct, sir: this IS an excellent post.

This comment, however, is lame and not funny.

Moooooog35 said...

JESUS CHRIST!!

kate said...

Fuck. Now I'm going to have that song in my head all day.

SkylersDad said...

As a young boy sitting with my mom in church I always asked what IHS at the top of the cross meant. She always told me to shut up when in church. That's why I am such a religious fanatic these days...

Wynn said...

I love the movie Constantine. I know, I can't help it. I'm pretty sure John Constantine is good in bed and hell if he doesn't smoke I'm all in.

Eric said...

I made one of these symbols as a mosaic in imperial red porphyry and botticino marble(but I put the 'E' on the end of it, as they sometimes do in a reference to St. Pietro).

Hey did you ever read the Walsh book account on St. Peters tomb?
The vatican necropolis tour guide said the powers that be told the interns not to read it, but he did.

Scope said...

Truly she is blessed with a bounty, and her D-cups runneth over.

I could nestle in there, and make a little bird house in her soul.

MJenks said...

@ BigSis: I shall not pass judgment on your succulent bippies. And, I hope you got some nun-free sleep this weekend.

@ Gwen: Pfft. As if you could do anything UNfunny. Sheesh.

@ Moooooog35: Yes...that's who came to Constantine in his dream.

@ kate: Better than 'Triangle Man', right?

@ SkyDad: Are you suggesting I should be teaching religion to people, to get them excited about the Man, the Myth, the Legend, JC (and not Jimmy Clausen)?

@ Wynn: John Constantine is a good character. I just thought that movie was...meh. But I'm not a Keanu fan.

@ Eric: Have you posted a picture of that? It sounds somewhat familiar. I could envision it pretty easily. Maybe it's because you've done such a good job talking about your crafts.

I have not read that book. Is that a recommendation? Because, if it is, I'll run right out and...see if it's at the library. When I get a chance. *shifty-eyed*

@ Scope: And the Lord said, take these, and drink from them...

She's your only friend, but she's not your only friend, but she's a little glowing friend, but really she's not actually your friend, but she is.