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Happy St. Valentine's Day!

February 14, 2011

Today is St. Valentine's Day, who is a saint who may or may not have actually existed, and if he did exist, he could have been one of fourteen different men. We're not even sure if we're celebrating the one guy or everyone named Valentine (a popular name at the time because valens is Latin for "strong, worthy, powerful"). Traditionally, it is said that Valentine was martyred because he would not deny Christ before emperor Claudius II (not to be confused with Cl-cl-claudius, Caligula's uncle and the fourth Roman emperor). Tradition states that Valentine was beheaded on February 14th, 269 AD.

There is a problem here, though. Claudius II (or Claudius Gothica) has no record of being a great persecutor of Christians. In fact, the rulers prior to Claudius Gothica had been rather tolerant of the Christians; it wouldn't be until Diocletian took control of the empire that Christians would be ostracized and summarily persecuted (about twenty years after Claudius Gothica). Now, most people think that the feats of "St. Valentine" were completely invented by Geoffry Chaucer. There are others who cling to the notion that the Catholic church had to create a holiday to offset the Roman Lupercalia, which was a springtime fertility celebration. You know how those Romans liked a good...or Or at least you should by now.

Speaking of Romans, let's talk about one of their gods! Cupid is inexorably linked with Valentine's Day (which is kind of funny, if you think about it) as being the bearer of bad news love. Cupid, of course, is the Roman God of love, desire, and lust, and he is the son of Venus (the goddess of love) and Mars (the god of war). Never mind that Venus was married to Vulcan. Oh, those saucy immortals!

Cupid is often--and mostly erroneously--associated with Eros, who was an embodiment of the power of love and sprang forth from the primordial ick known as Chaos. Hesiod, the other Greek poet, tried to backtrack and make Eros a son of Ares and Aphrodite, which would line up with the Romans (he did this prior to Roman influence). Cupid's name comes from the Latin cupido, which means "desire" or "lust" whereas Eros simply means "sexual love" in Greek. Eros, however, gives us the words "erotic" and related terms.

Cupid himself did not make it into too many of the ancient epics. He appears briefly in the Aeneid, wherein he causes Dido some added torment before she sets herself on fire (spoiler alert). The most famous myth in which Cupid appears is Cupid and Psyche. He was, however, widely worshiped as a fertility god and a god of sexuality, which sort of lends a certain delicious irony to him being associated with a Christian feast.

The depiction of him carrying a bow and arrow goes back to ancient times. His arrows, at one point, were only used to incite lustful feelings within one or more people. Eventually, he started carrying two quivers: one filled with golden-headed arrows for the love-making; the other was filled with lead-tipped darts and were used to cause war. This could be another reason why Hesiod rewrote Eros' parentage, so that he had both the power to cause love and to cause war, like his immortal parents. Despite this, he was not considered one of the fifteen twelve Olympian gods.

Of course, these days, if something is fun or "too mainstream", some assholes have to come along and try to ruin it for everyone else. Enter AntiCupid, who I can only assume is blue and needs to be trapped away in a special holding field. AntiCupid is the brainchild of all those people who feel spurned or unloved on Valentine's day. All failed relationships and dating problems are AntiCupid's fault, because, you know, it's not you, loser, it's clearly the work of some nefarious godling. AntiCupid's arrows lead to hours of whiny music, cutting and a predilection toward wearing black clothing. His Greek counterpart is "Emos".

Claudius Gothica would be proud.

Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol. XCVIII

February 11, 2011

Today, moviegoers, is the opening of the new Roman epic movie, The Eagle. In case you were wondering, in Latin, the title of the movie would simply be Aquila, that being the Latin word for "eagle". That might seem familiar to you if you're an amateur astronomer, as Aquila is the name of the constellation of the eagle. It might also be familiar to you if you have a particularly beaky, hooked schnozz, and we tend to describe such noses as "aquiline". To bring this crap-fest full-circle, the Romans were reputed for their aquiline features.

The Eagle is a movie adapted from a book by Rosemary Sutcliff titled The Eagle of the Ninth about a young man seeking the truth about the disappearance of his father's legion, the Ninth Spanish, in northern Britain.

Wait...the Roman legion named the Spanish disappeared in Britain? That sounds like a story!

The Roman legions were divisions in the army (unless you're a lazy fuck; if that's the case, you simply refer to the entire Roman army as "the legion"), usually varying in size, but they could be up to 6000 men. They were usually comprised of Roman citizens, but occasionally there would be men from outside the Roman state fighting in the legions in hopes that Roman citizenship would be granted to them and their families should they survive long enough to retire honorably. Wait, that sounds familiar...

Strictly speaking, legions were infantry units--the typical disciplined bands of soldiers that we envision when we think of the Roman army. They could be supported by cavalry, ranged troops, and skirmishers, who were essentially guys with spears who were sent out onto the field to die. Typically, the auxiliary troops were comprised of provincial soldiers. A typical legionnaire would have a spear (called a pilus), a sword sword (the gladius) a shield (scutum) and some light chain mail (lorica hamata).

During the years of the Republic, legions were created and disbanded as needed. This is how the Celts could sack Rome in 353 BC--the Romans had to hastily assemble a defensive force that was ill-trained and ill-prepared to face the onslaught of bands of wild savages from the north. It wasn't until the time of a fellow named Marius that anyone thought to create permanent, standing armies to serve the Roman Republic (this was late in the second century, BC).

Marius created a permanent army--again, divided into legions--and had the brilliant idea of paying them for their services. Soldiers were expected to serve for a minimum of six years (less in case of such things as dismemberment, permanent injury or death). Marius also saw fit to praise the soldiers, rewarding them for acts of bravery on the battlefield. In short, this led to bands of soldiers who became faithful to one man as opposed to Rome itself (though the man would often claim to be doing things for the benefit of Rome, to make his actions seem legit).

The legions were numbered...but since there had been so many legions created and disbanded, they took to giving themselves nicknames. The nicknames could come from any number of sources, such as where they were headquartered, i.e. Hispana (Spain), Macedonica (Macedonia, north of "Greece"), or Italica (ur, duh, Italy); from the emperor (obviously after the Republic turned into the Empire), i.e. Flavia, Augusta, Traiana; from the Gods, i.e. Minervia (Minerva), Iovia (Jupiter) or Herculia (Hercules); from some adjective describing them, i.e. Felix (lucky), Victrix (victorious), Fidelis (faithful) or my personal favorite, Rapax meaning "Devourers". Or there were the ones, like Aquila or Alaudae (larks) which were taken from animals.

So, to answer the question, the IX Hispana was a Roman legion stationed in the province of Hispana Terraconensis and sent to the island of Britain for support of the troops there.

As for what happened to them, perhaps this is the answer:

Veni, vidi, territus sum, curcurri.

Pronounced: "Way-nee, wee-dee, tare-ee-toose soom, coor-coor-ee."

I'm sure someone will get the subtle meaning here...hovertext for the translation

As the legions became faithful to the more powerful men in Rome, there began to become some strife among those men who collected power around themselves. One was obviously Marius, the dude who created the permanent legions. Another was a guy named Cornelius Sulla, who was a rival of Marius. Another was Marius' nephew, a fellow named Gaius Julius Caesar. The faithfulness of Caesar's soldiers allowed him to cross the Rubicon (a question on Final Jeopardy earlier this week) and, essentially, capture Rome. Since Rome was in a state of civil war, and the laws allowed for it, Caesar set himself up as dictator for life. This, in turn, allowed for his nephew (and adopted heir) Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus to seize power in the wake of Julius Caesar's murder on the Senate floor. Augustus, of course, would consolidate power, kill his two rivals, and become the first Roman Emperor.

And that, as Paul Harvey would say (if he weren't dead), is the rest of the story.

Plague of Frogs

February 9, 2011

I apologize for the length, but you and I both know that it's not the first time in my life I've had to apologize for my length. *tips cap* Anyway, most of the bulkiness of this post I blame on the pictures. It's still a pretty quick read.

The scene opens upon an idyllic vista of clouds, blue skies, flower-strewn meadows, and soft, yellow sunlight shining down. A warm and gentle breeze blows in through the windows, tossing the sheers gently upon its freshly-scented streams.

Jesus: Oh, man, what a delicious breakfast! I sure do love bagels. I could eat those for...eternity! smacks lips And the orange juice this morning is simply divine! You know what? He leans forward and takes another sip, setting cup on the table and smiling You were truly inspired the day you made oranges, pops.

God the Father: Well, you know, I had a feeling. folds hands behind head and leans back, propping feet on the table Why they insist on still eating grapefruit down there when they've got perfectly good citrus fruit that doesn't taste like ass, I'll never know. And that's saying something, coming from me.

Jesus: Whistles, impressed I don't get it either. So...waves hand, breakfast dishes disappear...what's on the docket for today?

God the Father: I dunno. I'm thinking about stirring things up down there a bit. You know, shake the ant farm. See how they respond.

Jesus: Oh, another snow storm for the northeast? God the Father shakes his head Oh, you sly old fox, are we going to threaten snow in the southeast? Watch them lose their collective shit?

God the Father: Think our backyard...

Jesus: We finally going to take down Ahmadinejad? Calls over shoulder Death!

Angel of Death: You rang?

God the Father: No, I was thinking something a little more fun than killing that bearded bag of gas.

Jesus: We're finally taking out Favre?

God the Father: No, nothing that direct. Just a little chaos, a little fun. I was thinking about doing something to Egypt.

Jesus: Egypt? But...why? Wait a minute! This isn't a hold over from that whole Pharaoh thing, is it?

God the Father: ...

Jesus: But I thought...points at either wrist...I thought you were over that.

God the Father: I have a long memory.

Angel of Death: there anything I can do?

God the Father: Well, stay close. You know how the Egyptians are, always taking it to the next level. I'm sure you'll have something to do.

Jesus: Alright, then. We'll do Egypt, but you have to promise no smiting.

God the Father: ...

Jesus: Dad?

God the Father: ...

Jesus: I mean it.

God the Father: I make no promises.

Jesus: Fine!

Holy Spirit: thick Cockney accent Is there anything you need from me?

Jesus: Holy me! Will you stop sneaking up on people?

Holy Spirit: Sorry, it's in my job description. Besides, shouldn't you know where I am at all times?

Jesus: Look, I don't even let my right hand know what my left is doing. I don't have time to worry about what you are doing.

Holy Spirit opens his mouth, smug look on his face

Jesus: Don't you dare drag Mary Magdalene into this.

God the Father: Boys. stern look

Jesus and Holy Spirit: Together Yes, father.

God the Father: That's better. Now, let's start with a little civil unrest.

Jesus: Ah, chanting and sloganeering, the two signs of a good, unruly mob.

God the Father: And...cue the rocks.

Jesus: Things are getting a little rough down there. Oh, is that Anderson Cooper getting beat up?

God the Father: Let's see if he remembers who I am now...

Angel of Death: rubs hands together

God the Father: No, let's just put the fear of me into him. Ah, son, did you see that? Shit just got serious!

Jesus: You know things are getting hot and heavy when guys on camels wielding scimitars show up. Ah, this is good theatre! I haven't had this much fun since the sacking of Rome. rubs wrists Bastards got what they deserved...

Rumble from God the Father's side of the table

Jesus: Dad, no.

A brilliant flash of light from God the Father's side of the table. He emerges, wearing different clothes and looking cantankerous.

Jesus: You said you'd behave.

Old Testament God: I made no promises. Now, let's get down to some smiting! We're back in Egypt, where I've done some of my best work!

Jesus: No first born slaughter this time. You're God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, of all things seen and unseen! You're not Anakin Skywalker!

Old Testament God: Please. I make him look like the puss he is. Now--wiggles fingers--it's plague time! flips through rolodex How about--

Jesus: No.

Old Testament God: shoots Jesus a dirty look Okay, fine. What about--

Jesus: No!

Old Testament God: I see you're going to be difficult. How about...number two?

Jesus: You're set on this, aren't you?

Old Testament God: ...

Jesus: I can't believe you'd be so cruel as to do that to them. What did they ever do to you?

Old Testament God: Capturing and enslaving my people and being general bag of dicks wasn't enough for you? How about I remind you of Osiris, who basically copied your act but without your special flare for the dramatic.

Jesus: Yes, well...fine.

Old Testament God: So, we're in agreement. Number two it is?

Jesus: Number two it is. But I don't like it.

Old Testament God: Nobody likes it. Think of two birds with one stone. pauses dramatically Release the Frogs! claps hands

Jesus: Hopefully they'll smother inside their invisible boxes in the desert heat.