Monday, 31 May 2010

Sparta history, innit?

You remember the man who took his torn trousers to the Greek tailor? The tailor asked, Euripides? Yes, said the man, Eumenides?

Every now and again the Guardian letters column sports a series of punning contributions on some particular theme. Just at the moment the theme is Greek.

For pitta’s sake! Have we not been punnist enough by all these ill-bread Guardian readers ouzo lack a sense of houmous?

I can’t understand the calls for an end to the Greek letters. We know the Guardian enjoys themed correspondence. Sparta the letters page ethos.

I hope you Argoing to stop these Greek letters. Some take a minotaur so to understand. Others made me feel so Iliad to stop reading.

This last one doesn’t work for those of us who pronounce ˈmaɪnətɔː rather than ˈmɪnətɔː — which means it doesn’t work for most Brits, or at least most British classicists. I imagine Americans, though, will twig minute or with no hesitation.

Here’s Saturday’s effort. As always, you do have to know how the relevant names from Greek mythology and history are pronounced in English.

There are Menelaus of subtlety to Dis Greek correspondence. Please maintain it or Alcibiades newspaper no more.

In RP the difference between Menelaus and many layers may be no more than the difference between s and z. Scandinavians would find the two perfect homophones.

Alcibiades is ˌælsɪˈbaɪədiːz, and I think you have to be generous to interpret it as I sh’ll buy this (?).

In other news, the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge has egg on its face because the Greek inscription on the glass doors of its new building is misspelt: it has a Latin S instead of a Greek sigma Σ.
O tempora, O mores!


  1. I don't remember the man who went to the tailor's, but I remember the man who avoided the necessity by crying warning Euripides trousers, I calla da police!

    I was a small boy at a time and place where the dramatist was still a moderately familiar name but only the classically educated had heard of the Eumenides.

    Your (superior) version sounds like playground humour from a certain type of school. I suspect my less demanding version came from the British version of Minstrel Shows.

  2. The Telegraph article you link to just says the university declined to comment. But the Faculty's face is saved. The Times reports the University as saying the sign was only a transfer and has been removed with a razor blade. Phew! They say it will be replaced in a few days. Now why did the whole thing have to be scraped off and replaced, I wonder, instead of just that letter.

    A pity we can't see the whole inscription. What else did they get wrong? At least the other sigma in πάντες, I should think.

  3. I've been sorely disappointed by the treatment of Greek names in recent epic movies. In Troy they pronounced Menelaus as /ˌmɛnɪˈlaʊs/, and in 300 they pronounced Leonidas as /ˌli:əˈnaɪdəs/. The former could maybe be defended as being a bit closer to the original, but the latter is completely indefensible.

  4. That's funny; /ˌli:əˈnaɪdəs/ is the way I've always pronounced it (probably because of that movie). Would you prefer to hear actors say /liˈɒnɪdəs/?

  5. I read "or Alcibiades" as "or else I buy this".

  6. What, just recent epic movies, Lazar? The chaos in the media is universal. Let's not talk about it. It's too ghastly.

    Did you observe how unsatisfactorily some of the fonts you were asking about for ᵻ, ᵼ, ᵽ, ᵾ, ᵿ on last Thursday's thread display some of those symbols? I have just noticed this site makes no difference that I can see between ᵻ (1D7B) and ᵼ (1D7C), although there was a difference between them in the text box, and I can see that difference as I compose this. Apparently what the site uses for them is Trebuchet MS, which neither David nor I mentioned on that thread.

  7. Here’s Saturday’s effort. As always, you do have to know how the relevant names from Greek mythology and history are pronounced in English.