This month's Gutenberg project has been a multi-volume work on Homer by W. E. Gladstone.  It took me a while to realize that the author was the same Gladstone who was Disraeli's famous Victorian rival.  Of course many of you have heard their famous exchange of insults:
Gladstone to Disraeli:  "Sir, I predict you will die by the hangman's noose or from some vile disease." 
Disraeli to Gladstone:  "Sir, that depends whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."
Gutenberg requires us to transliterate the Greek for the text versions of the ebook, which has led me to learn more about Greek than I've picked up in my whole life.  No Greek or Latin in my high school!  In fact, I don't recall its being offered at my university.

Because I always like to pick up Greek mottoes, I was pleased to run across the original of the Spartan mother's admonition to her warrior son, usually rendered in English as "Come back with your shield or on it." The original is more like "Either this or on it."  I've struck up an email correspondence with a experienced Gutenberg worker who really seems to know his Greek:
ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς--"either it or on it".  First time I've encountered the phrase in Greek!  τάν and τᾶς are the accusative and genitive respectively of the definite article. 
On googling it, the source is given as Plutarch, Moralia 241. But when I look that up in Plutarch, it reads ἢ ταύταν ἢ ἐπὶ ταύτας--"either this or on this".  Curious. 
Hmmm.  It looks like the ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς version, copied all over the web by people who don't know what they're talking about, comes from Dübner's edition of 1841.  That's long been superseded by Bernardakis' edition of 1889, which has ἢ ταύταν ἢ ἐπὶ ταύτας:  that's the version followed by all the complete online texts of Plutarch's  Lacaenarum Apophthegmata.
According to Gutenberg rules, ἢ ταύταν ἢ ἐπὶ ταύτας is transliterated as "hê tautan hê epi tautas."

More Googling tells me that Gladstone served 60 years in politics, while still finding time to write this very interesting work on Homer.  He apparently was the first to analyze Homer's puzzling use of color terms and to hypothesize that Ancient Greeks didn't see color the same way we do.  They seemed to classify colors by lightness and darkness, and perhaps shininess and dullness, rather than frequency.  Homer used the same term to describe the bright green of a young shoot and the bright red of fresh blood.

Gladstone took a double first at Oxford in Classics and Mathematics and, despite Disraeli's amusing taunt, by all accounts was a thoroughly upright gentleman of the old school.  He loved the Greek culture of the Iliad and the Odyssey and paid special attention to what those poems tell us of Ancient Greek political institutions, especially in contrast with the more Orientalized and despotic Trojan customs.  His own politics were a curious blend of liberal and conservative in the best Victorian tradition of each.  Queen Victoria herself, however, preferred Disraeli's clever, captivating manners; she complained that Gladstone always addressed her "as if she were a public meeting."


Lars Walker said...

The anecdote seems to have actually involved an exchange between John Wilkes, the Parliamentary reformer, and the Earl of Sandwich -- the same guy who invented America's favorite food.

Texan99 said...

But . . . my source is the Internet!

MikeD said...

"Never trust quotes you read on the Internet."
- Abraham Lincoln

Grim said...

If he's right about the color difference, that's a truly fascinating insight.

Eric Blair said...

I've seen that color issue debated before, and I suspect it comes from the way an oral culture talks about and remembers things. (Not like you can look it up in a book can you?) (or the internet for that matter)

Kind of sad that a "university" would call itself that and not offer Greek or Latin.

Texan99 said...

I've seen recent articles on the Internet talking about the color issue, not with respect to Ancient Greeks, but with respect to other primitive societies. The idea was to figure out whether having words for shades of color made people better able to distinguish them. Apparently the answer is "yes." Languages tend to distinguish some colors earlier than others; if I recall correctly, red is usually an early one.