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The journal of an average reader – Day 4 (Caesar at war)

I will not spend time talking about the chapter of the first book I read today, which was the 21st of John, where Jesus shows Himself again and eats with some of the disciples. There’s also the famous scene where He asks Peter if he loves Him, but with the famous words play in Greek (agapás me, filo se). Instead, I want to talk about something else. A couple of months ago I started memorising 2nd Timothy in Greek and besides the great feeling of knowing something by memory, there are other benefits that this practice has for you.

It’s no wonder the Greeks were so smart: they started memorising the Iliad and the Odyssey since their childhood. You know how much is that? Around 27.000 lines!!! Memorization is a great way of training your brain to remember all kind of things, not only the text you memorise, for it gains strength to retain more information. It’s exactly like going to the gym, more you lift, easier it gets. Another important ability that you develop is focusing. Studies have shown that the kids who were required to memorise from an early age, had less probability of losing focus in their posterior studies. If you are a person like me who never wants to stop learning new things, this might help you as well. For example, if you want to learn a new language, when it comes to memorising and using new vocabulary, sometimes you just feel like giving up (been there, lived that – kudos for German-). In these moments, if your brain is already trained to retain new information, it will be much easier. Do you know what’s one of the things that I fear the most? Memory loss by the time I’ll get old. The memory training can stave off cognitive decline and you will be able to maintain higher cognitive functioning and everyday skills. Practising memorization allows the elderly adults to delay typical cognitive decline by seven to fourteen years. If you start practising memory training now, you can stay sharp in years to come.

 

I was in my second semester of my first year of uni when I had in front of me what appeared to be one of the most known Latin sentence. “Gallia est omnis diuisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt belgae, aliam aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua celtae, nostra galli appleantur.” Yes, it’s Caesar! Exactly, the one stabbed in the senate! Whoops, I hope I didn’t spoiled anybody’s ending. Back then I was for the first time in contact with a Latin prose text that wasn’t adapted. Our professor picked a couple of fragments from Caesar’s De bello Gallico so we learn the well known accusativus cum infinitivo. Since we were focusing so much on the morphology and syntax, we kind of missed the point of the story we were reading. That’s the reason I feel very indebted to the narcissistic, sadic but super-smart general, self-declared dictator perpetuus, whose intelligence I can not, but admire, also known as Julius Caesar. I felt that I needed to read him again and get more into the story than into the grammar. That’s why today I decided to read the first book of The Gallic War, written in third person. (Yes, Caesar talks about himself in third person *cough* narcissistic *cough*).

 

(*Quick reminder – All the fragments I cite from the books I talk about on my blog are intended to raise your curiosity so you read them yourself.)

I found very interesting the determination the Helvetii had to leave their own lands and expand. They burnt their own towns just to be sure that they won’t be tempted to go back and started their crazy adventure of conquering the entire Gallia.

 

“…the Helvetii nevertheless attempt to do that which they had resolved on, namely, to go forth from their territories. When they thought that they were at length prepared for this undertaking, they set fire to all their towns, in number about twelve-to their villages about four hundred-and to the private dwellings that remained; they burn up all the corn, except what they intend to carry with them; that after destroying the hope of a return home, they might be the more ready for undergoing all dangers. They order every one to carry forth from home for himself provisions for three months, ready ground.”

I, 6

     History never forgets. So tells us Caesar, when he shows no mercy to the Helvetii who have not obeyed what he said.

“Attacking them encumbered with baggage, and not expecting him, he cut to pieces a great part of them; the rest betook themselves to flight, and concealed themselves in the nearest woods. That canton [which was cut down] was called the Tigurine; for the whole Helvetian state is divided into four cantons. This single canton having left their country, within the recollection of our fathers, had slain Lucius Cassius the consul, and had made his army pass under the yoke. Thus, whether by chance, or by the design of the immortal gods, that part of the Helvetian state which had brought a signal calamity upon the Roman people, was the first to pay the penalty. In this Caesar avenged not only the public but also his own personal wrongs, because the Tigurini had slain Lucius Piso the lieutenant [of Cassius], the grandfather of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, his [Caesar’s] father-in-law, in the same battle as Cassius himself.”

I, 12

     A lot of people are surprised when they find out how advanced was the Roman engineering for their times, and this is a great example.

“This battle ended, that he might be able to come up with the remaining forces of the Helvetii, he procures a bridge to be made across the Saone , and thus leads his army over. The Helvetii, confused by his sudden arrival, when they found that he had effected in one day, what they, themselves had with the utmost difficulty accomplished in twenty namely, the crossing of the river, send embassadors to him;”

I, 13

     There’s a scene that made me doubt a bit that cold-hearted Caesar that I knew about, that merciless and sadic man who he was. I guess in the end he was a man with a heart. Or was he? Wasn’t there only political and economical reasons behind his facts. After the next scene you might be wondering yourself the same thing. The scenario is the following: Caesar finds out that the brother of one of his allies, for whom he had a lot of respect, put in danger his military plans. After he begs Caesar for his brother, this is the reaction of the roman general:

“Divitiacus, embracing Caesar, begins to implore him, with many tears, that “he would not pass any very severe sentence upon his brother; saying, that he knows that those charges are true, and that nobody suffered more pain on that account than he himself did; […] As he was with tears begging these things of Caesar in many words, Caesar takes his right hand, and, comforting him, begs him to make an end of entreating, and assures him that his regard for him is so great, that he forgives both the injuries of the republic and his private wrongs, at his desire and prayers. He summons Dumnorix to him; he brings in his brother; he points out what he censures in him; he lays before him what he of himself perceives, and what the state complains of; he warns him for the future to avoid all grounds of suspicion; he says that he pardons the past, for the sake of his brother, Divitiacus.”

I, 20

     This man knew his way. He was a really good general and was aware that the victory didn’t only stand in a good handling of the spears and swords, but also in taking away one of the biggest human necessity: food. The Helvetii were already weak and hungry when this happened:

“After the battle about 130,000 men [of the enemy] remained alive, who marched incessantly during the whole of that night; and after a march discontinued for no part of the night, arrived in the territories of the Lingones on the fourth day, while our men, having stopped for three days, both on account of the wounds of the soldiers and the burial of the slain, had not been able to follow them. Caesar sent letters and messengers to the Lingones[with orders] that they should not assist them with corn or with anything else; for that if they should assist them, he would regard them in the same light as the Helvetii. After the three days’ interval he began to follow them himself with all his forces.”

    Then, it came the result:

“The Helvetii, compelled by the want of everything, sent embassadors to him about a surrender. When these had met him on the way and had thrown themselves at his feet, and speaking in suppliant tone had with tears sued for peace, and [when] he had ordered them to await his arrival, in the place, where they then were, they obeyed his commands.”

I, 26-27

     After all this happened, the entire Gallia was aware of the force of Caesar and tried to make him an ally, that’s why they organised an assembly thanking him for his help against the Helvetii, and asking desperately help in another situation they had. Ariovistus, the German general already made his way in Gallia and was suppressing some of the territories there. In the assembly, the Sequani didn’t have the courage to talk, and Divitiacus, the head of the Haedui took the word and said:

“…the lot of the Sequani was more wretched and grievous than that of the rest, on this account, because they alone durst not even in secret complain or supplicate aid; and shuddered at the cruelty of Ariovistus [even when] absent, just as if he were present; for, to the rest, despite of everything there was an opportunity of flight given; but all tortures must be endured by the Sequani, who had admitted Ariovistus within their territories, and whose towns were all in his power.”

I, 32

     When Caesar tried to talk with Ariovistus and ask nicely to leave Gallia, due to their past relationship, the German answered:

“That he had come into Gaul before the Roman people. That never before this time did a Roman army go beyond the frontiers of the province of Gaul. What [said he] does [Caesar] desire?- why come into his [Ariovistus] domains?-that this was his province of Gaul, just as that is ours. As it ought not to be pardoned in him, if he were to make an attack upon our territories; so, likewise, that we were unjust, to obstruct him in his prerogative.”

     In the same section, a few sentences below it comes an affirmation of Ariovistus that made me laugh, knowing what happened to Caesar years after all this conversation. He was talking about a possible war with them, and what would happen if he’d kill the Roman general. Can be this a sign of what would happen to Caesar later on ?

“And that unless he depart and withdraw his army from these parts, he shall regard him not as a friend, but as a foe; and that, even if he should put him [Caesar] to death, he should do what would please many of the nobles and leading men of the Roman people; he had assurance of that from themselves through their messengers, and could purchase the favor and the friendship of them all by his [Caesar’s] death.”

I, 44

     There are much more passages that I’d like to cite, but I will stop right here and encourage you to read it yourself. It’s such an interesting reading.

See you tomorrow,

Denis

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The journal of an average reader – Day 2 (The scholars help us know He has risen and Vergil’s political propaganda)

If yesterday started with a strong, thrilling passage, today was the calm after the storm. Do you know that moment when you think that everything is lost, but then you discover that it’s quite the contrary? John 20: He has risen ! Yesterday He was beaten up, crucified and left to die, now he disappeared from his tomb and showed Himself a couple of times to people He knew. Once again, the scene when Peter and the other disciple found out that He was not anymore in the tomb and started running like crazy was so alive in Greek thanks to the repeated καὶ juxtaposition, that created a state inside me which made me start reading faster like I was running with them. I imagine them rushing and arriving to the place where Jesus was buried without breath.

Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.”

     So many emotions are involved in the 31 verses of this chapter, especially in the 16th verse when Maria realized whom she was talking with, exclaiming “Rabboni”, then the time when Jesus shows Himself to Thomas. Every time I finish reading this episode I fully live strong emotions with a peaceful apogee.

    Next on the list was once again Scribes and Scholars. I started with a small chapter dedicated to the process of transition from the roll to the codex, the period from the second century to the fourth AD. It is a pretty impressive chapter talking about a very mesmerizing task that actually caused the loss of a lot of literature, which we would’ve lost anyways due to the deterioration of the papyrus. I was also well pleased in the next chapter with the erudition of the first Christians who, contrary to what the modern thinker would believe, did not destroy the pagan literature, but took what was applicable for their own beliefs and used it in their writings.

“Just as Ambrose in his De officiis ministrorum was able to produce an influential manual of Christian ethics by reworking the basically Stoic content of Cicero’s De officiis, so Augustine, writing at a time when he was least sympathetic to secular letters, in his De doctrina Christiana successfully adapted classical Roman rhetoric and in particular the theory of the three styles as elaborated by Cicero in the Orator to the needs of the Christian preacher. “

L.D. Reynolds (1968), p.38

     A thing I love about this book is that when it comes to those things that need a visual support, i.e. the critical signs, scripts, etc. at the end of the book there are pictures of different plates that gives you an example; e.g. this plate with an example of Rustic Capital script. Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 22.51.52

     Next book to read was Vergil’s Eclogae or Bucolics, in a Catalan translation from 1956 made by Miquel Dolç, of course, Bernat Metge editorial. The introduction to this version is around 100 pages long, but it helps you understand very much what Virgil intended with these ten short poems. I have to recognize that I struggled a bit with the translation, though, but since Vergil is not the easiest author to read and translate it’s totally fine (I guess). It was a delightful read and I enjoyed some parts more than the others. The 1st, 3rd, 4th,and 6th were my favorites. I don’t want to start commenting now every little aspect of this masterpiece since already flowed rivers of ink related to the subject. I do want to point two things that called my attention especially. My Romanian readers will definitely relate to the first one. In the first Ecloga there are a couple of times when Virgil uses his writings to worship the Roman emperor Augustus, calling him “god” . In the first lines we find:

Meliboeus:

…you, Tityrus, idling in the shade,

teach the woods to echo ‘lovely Amaryllis’.

Tityrus:

O Meliboeus, a god has created this leisure for us.

Since he’ll always be a god to me, a gentle lamb

from our fold, will often drench his altar.”

     What a great propaganda system the poets were! This makes me travel two thousand years in time and remembers Ceaușescu’s propaganda poets in the communist Romania. One of them, Vadim Tudor, at the 20th anniversary of Ceaușescu’s declaration as general secretary declared:

“We delight in the providential existence of this man, so profoundly attached to our ancient land; we should all rejoice in his neverending youth, we should all be grateful for we live in his times and thank him for all these. Only due to his will we are now truly masters in our souls’ home.”

Tismăneanu (2014), p. 256

     The second point that called my attention is the tremendous parallel between the Cumean prophecies from the fourth Ecloga and the prophecies of the Judeo-Christian religion. Also the parallel between the child who was to bring the new race. All these made Christian authors like Augustine or Lactantius think that Vergil was inspired by the Christian God.

“Now the last age of the Cumaean prophecy begins:

the great roll-call of the centuries is born anew:

now Virgin Justice returns, and Saturn’s reign:

now a new race descends from the heavens above.

Only favor the child who’s born, pure Lucina, under whom

the first race of iron shall end, and a golden race

rise up throughout the world”

     Today was a bit more intense than yesterday because of how deep everything I read was. Whenever I approach this kind of literature I take my time and read 3 or 4 times the same passage to be sure I get it. Especially Vergil’s Eclogae took a lot of time due to their density (a lot of things happen in approx. thousand verses).

See you tomorrow,

Denis

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Two Thousand Years of Flood (A comparision between The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Bible and The Metamorphoses)

          The Great Flood is a common subject to everybody with a minimum taste for general knowledge (or no taste at all). We are aware of the rich amount of research material in the field but we also felt the lack of reachable writings to the wide public especially when comparing original sources. The motivation behind this material is a systematic comparison between three major writings from the antiquity, that comprise the Great Flood issue including the anterior and posterior facts avoiding the philological and archaeological jargon. These three texts, with considerate periods of time apart from each other, are The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2100 BC), The Bible (circa 1445 BC) and Ovidius’ Metamorphoses (8 AD). In the first part, we will mark a set of similarities and differences between them, then, in the second part we will do the same, but with the three at the same time. All this is done in the form of an essay given that the writers are not experts in the field but curious outsiders. Our exploration relies mostly on the analysis of the original texts in translation (except the case of The Metamorphoses, for we used the Latin text as well) rather than on the scholars’ studies, without excluding their consultation either.

 

Similarities

 

          Concerning The Metamorphoses and The Bible, the first thing that’s calling the attention is the presence of giants in both books (Met. I, 151 and Gen. 6.4), followed by a feeling of regret. The Bible simply says that the Lord regretted (Gen 6.6), but Ovidius is covering this feeling with a sigh (Saturnius…ingemit; Met. I, 163). As a reaction to the regret, anger coming from the deepest makes its appearance. His soul conceived great anger (Met. I, 166.) and it grieved him to his heart (Gen 6.6). Another common point is the depravity of the human kind represented by Ovidius in the figure of Lycaon (Met. I, 162-251), but the Bible says that God saw that the wickedness of man was great on earth (Gen. 6.5). The effect of this depravity is the divinity’s desire to erase the human race from earth (Met I, 259 and Gen. 6.7). Both texts talk about one man and his family that was above the others and deserved to be saved. We’re talking about Deucalion in the Metamorphoses (Met. I, 322-323) and Noah in the Bible (Gen. 6.9). The last similarity that we could find is one posterior to the flood, i.e. the way it was stopped with the help of the wind. The Roman author tells us that Aquilo was sent and took the clouds away (Met. I, 328) while God made a wind blow over the earth, and the water subsided (Gen 8.1).

          Both the Bible and The Epic of Gilgamesh put an important stress on the continuity of the species after the flood. God says to Noah to take two pairs of every kind, male and female (Gen. 6:19) and Utanapishtim, telling his story to Gilgamesh, says that he loaded into the boat all the living beings that he had. (Gilg. XI. 084). After the storm, we’re being told that Ishtar wept with regret for causing the flood that destroyed the people and the other gods joined her in grief (Gilg. XI.117-127). The same kind of regret we see in God when He says “(Neither) will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.” (Gen 8.21). After the flood stopped, the very first reaction of Noah was to open a window (Gen. 8.6) and so was Utanapishtim’s (Gilg. XI.137). Last, but not least, as a conclusion to everything, a very natural ancient reaction occurred: the sacrifice (Gilg. XI, 157-160 and Gen. 8.20) that pleased the divinity with its aroma (Gilg. XI, 161-163 and Gen 8.21).

          Given the time gap between The Epic of Gilgamesh and Ovidius’ great opera (that follows the Greek tradition, but with a specific Augustan twist), we thought that the similarities would be insignificant or not existent at all, but although we only found one, it is compelling. The most important characteristic is the malicious element of the divinity that wants the surviving human to suffer, or doesn’t want it to live at all. After the flood, seeing the god Enlil that Utanapishtim and his family was alive, addressed to the goddess Ea with a choleric voice: “Where did a living being escape? No man was to survive the annihilation!” (Gilg. XI, 150-152). After doing all that was in his power, which was more than enough to destroy the humans, Jupiter’s wrath was still not content, so he asked his brother, Neptune, to help him and bring even more destruction upon the mortals through his control of the waters (Met. I, 276).

          Despite the elements that distinguish the three narratives, we clearly see common material among the accounts which really confirms that the Primeval Flood is a unique and important event in humankind’s memory. When studying the details, we don’t want to lose from sight that all of them speak about a Universal Flood, in all of them there is a human survivor and the event is the result of some kind of interaction between divinity and human. The divine punishment produces a fundamental disturbance in human’s quality of life. The tragedy of the flood is manifested when approaching the landing mountain (Nisir, Ararat or Parnasus) at the first sight of the destroyed world (Gilg. XI. 138-139); after leaving the boat, in the Metamorphoses the two survivors approach the temple with the cheeks full of tears. The nostalgia becomes clear when the divinity looks with pleasure or compassion towards the affected ones (Met. I, 381, Gen. 8:20,21, Gilg. XI. 158-163). Even though Utanapishtim and Pyrrha are granted eternal life, they must spend it in isolation (Gilg. XI. 205).

 

Differences

 

          In the present case we’re talking about a time gap of thousand years approx. between each of accounts and three different cultures, therefore the differences were expected from the very beginning.

          First of all, in the Metamorphoses the boat on which Deucalion and Pyrrha survived is a small and fragile boat (Met. I, 319), while Noah’s ark is a big and solid ark (300 cubits by 50 by 30, which means 158.7m long by 26.45m wide by 15.87m high; Gen. 6:15) and neither was Utanapishtim’s smaller (the exterior walls 120 cubits and the length of it 120 cubits as well). The size of the boat also implies that in the Roman’s epic poem there were no animals to be saved. The human depravity that we talked about before, referring to the Bible and the Metamorphoses we could not find in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

          Right on the moment the flood starts and the chosen ones were in the boat, God himself closed the door (Gen. 7:16), while Utanapishtim was ordered to close it (Gilg. XI, 90-93). Forty days after the flood stopped, Noah sends three times a dove to check whether the waters subsided (Gen. 8:6-12). In the Epic of Gilgamesh, we see Utanapishtim sending after only seven days, first a dove, then a swallow and last a raven which did not come back to the boat. (Gilg. XI, 115-126). The Metamorphoses is the only one who mentions the recreation of the humanity through stones (Met. I, 398-415).

 

Conclusions

 

          In the conclusions we would like to make a point about the purpose of the three writings with respect to the Flood:

The Epic of Gilgamesh

          The struggle of Gilgamesh of gaining eternal life when realizing that he will share the fate of his friend Enkidu leads him to the immortality quest. However, the only man that can decode for him this mystery is Utanapishtim the immortal. However, unexpectedly, the latter’s situation was an eternal life of isolation. The inner message of this chapter is the extent and limit to which the human can aspire to resemble the gods. For more information about this theological contradiction we have consulted the prologue to our version of the poem, pages 8 and 9.

Bible

          God hates sin and that’s why before destroying the earth the text iterates several times over the fact that the earth was corrupt (e.g. Gen. 6:11, 12). This corruption is correlated with the violence on the earth at that point and the sickness of human thought (every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually; Gen. 6.5). It is also correlated with some uncommon creatures for the post-Flood world like the “sons of God” (Gen. 6.2) which married human females, leading to the divine limitation of human age to 120 years.  Bizarre and evil creatures like the giants not only occur in the Bible but form the prototype of human depravity in the Metamorphoses. We won’t further speak about whether the sons of God are in fact the descendants of Seth or whether the giants are simply cruel land-owners. For further discussion on the topic see the interesting article of Keil in his biblical commentary [1]  given that the exact meaning of those creatures cannot be easily elucidated by philological means but by theological ones.

Metamorphoses

          Beyond describing the closing of another chapter in the human history, Ovidius also makes remarks the wickedness of humans before the Flood and the necessity of a new race of miraculous origins (Met. I,250). The contagious state (Met. I,250) of the humans is best represented in the image of Lycaon. One may consider Lycaon as a parallel to the uncommon creatures in the Bible because their association with the Flood episode, however The Metamorphoses exposes more features of this individual as a bloody being with anti-god aspirations (Met. I,250 220, 224-225). Lycaon is a clear image of the humans in the pre-flood world in places like Met. I, 215.

          Our comparison leads us to the conclusion that the red thread of the Primeval Flood is the guiltiness of the human kind before the divinity, either by trying to acquire a divine feature, like eternity, either by social disorder and immorality or by direct dishonor brought to the divinity, despite the syntax used for describing that.

 

 

Notes

[1] Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament. Gen 6.1-4.

 

Sources

Ovidio, N. P. “Metamorfosis. Libros I-V, Madrid: Gredos.” (2008)

Ovid. “Metamorphoses. Ed.Hugo Magnus. Gotha, Germany: Friedr. Andr. Perthes.” (1892)

Bible. “English Standard Version. Bible Gateway.” (web 15 Feb. 2016)

Biblia. “Traducerea Dumitru Cornilescu.” (1924 ediția revizuită în 2014)

El poema de Gilgamesh. “Madrid: Cátedra.” (2015)
Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament. Studylight (web 10 Mar. 2016)

 

Brumar, I. and Pleșa, D.C.

10 Mar. 2016

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