Vir Prudens Non Contra Ventum Mingit

In theory, the modern university operates under the quodlibet principle that it is free to discuss and inquire into what (quod) it pleases (libet). Within its ivied walls, it would have us believe, there are no sacred cows and everything is fair game. In reality, however, the motto of every modern university is vir prudens non contra ventum mingit, which is the erudite way to say that a wise man does not piss into the wind. Continue reading

We are Marcomanni

In the Marcomannic Wars of the Second Century A.D., the Roman Empire struggled to hold its Danubian frontier against restless German and Sarmatian tribes centered in the Hyrcannian Forest to the north of the river. That the Rome response was listless and ineffective will not surprise those who have read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, who was emperor at the time. Although the name Marcomanni is often identified with one particular tribe centered in what is now Bohemia, and more particularly on the city of Budweis (home of Budweiser beer), I follow the authors who take marcomanni as a generic word denoting men of the border or frontiersmen.  It is a compound of the German “mark” (boundary) and “manni” (men). Among the Anglo Saxons the name “mark men” was given to those who dwelt in the border country, or “debatable land,” between England and Scotland. Their leaders were called marcher lords.


We are marcomanni,

Mark men all are we;

Our home is the debated land;

Here sleeps hostility! Continue reading

The Other Side of the Mountain

Until very recently, the prefixes “cis” and “trans” were mostly used as terms of art in geography.  The most common usage was Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul (or Europe).  The former meant “on this side” of the Alps (from the viewpoint of Rome), the later “on the other side.”  Transylvania is another very well-known geographical construction of this sort; it means, of course, the land “beyond the woods.”  Continue reading

Forgeries of Spoilage

When demand exceeds supply, there will be forgeries.  Paintings by Rembrandt are the locus classicus of this phenomenon, but a list of examples would be long and various.  If you’ve ever been disappointed by a “fine dining experience” or a “room with a view of the ocean,” it’s likely because what you got wasn’t really fine, or a view, but rather some crummy forgery or facsimile of the same. Continue reading