The original Museum was the “hall of muses” in Alexandria, and the original Mausoleum was a memorial to the Persian satrap Mausoleus at Halicarnassus, which was so impressive that it was designated one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Lyceum was a school founded by Aristotle in the grove of Apollo Lykeos, while the Athenaeum was a school in Rome that was named after a nearby temple to Athena. Finally, the Colosseum (also spelled Coliseum) was a venue for gladiatorial combat in Rome that took its name from a colossal statue of Nero.

All of these “-eum” words have become general words in English. Museums and mausoleums are all over the place, and a lot of cities have coliseums (although lyceum, as “lycée,” is much more common in French*).

Plenty of other such words have not become general ones. Either they still refer to specific buildings, or specify types of buildings, in the ancient world only. I jotted down a few:

Ramesseum – the memorial temple of Ramesses the Great
Mithraeum – a temple to the god Mithras
pyreum – a Zoroastrian fire-altar (from Greek pura = fire)
Serapeum – a temple to Serapis in Egypt

And -eum is simply the Latin equivalent of the Greek -eon, which we also see from time to time, as in Odeon (a venue for the singing of odes) or Pantheon (a temple for worshiping all gods).

* It’s interesting how “lycée” is common in French but “academy” is common in English. The Academy, of course, was Plato’s school, in opposition to which Aristotle founded the Lyceum. But I’ve always considered the French to be far more Platonic than Aristotelian, and the English more Aristotelian than Platonic.

Merry Christmas from First Floor Tarpley

Courtesy Tim Furnish, an article on a theme of mine:

Keep the X in X-Mas

The abbreviation offends 6 in 10 evangelicals, but its history is deeply Christian

Though the demand for “more Christ in Christmas” seems to be losing momentum, most evangelicals still believe the holiday—and its seasonal greetings—should more explicitly reference the Savior….

Over the years, LifeWay found the abbreviation “X-mas” to be just as controversial as “Happy holidays” or more, with 42 percent of Christians and 33 percent of Americans saying it was offensive in this year’s survey.

Nearly 6 in 10 of those with evangelical beliefs (59%) find the use of “X-mas” instead of Christmas offensive.

The great irony in the distaste for the term “X-mas” is that it is thoroughly Christian, rather than an effort to remove the word Christ from the holiday.

The “X” in X-mas is not really an “X” at all. It’s chi, the Greek letter at the start of the word Christ, or Christos (Χριστός). Since the earliest era of political Christendom, “X” has been used as a shorthand for Christ, as LifeWay’s own Facts & Trends pointed out.

Constantine, the first emperor to convert to Christianity and whose Edict of Milan sought to free Christians from persecution, instructed his soldiers to inscribe the letter on their shields before the landmark Battle of Milvian Bridge. The chi “X” was paired with “P,” representing the Greek letter rho, the first two letters of and a signifier for the name Christ. Legend has it, the chi rho symbol came to Constantine in a vision.

Using “X” as an abbreviation for Christ is also thought to have appeared in many Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.

Even incorporating “X” into an English-language abbreviation for Christmas dates back a millennium. In the year 1021, an Anglo-Saxon scribe condensed Christmas to “XPmas,” and eventually the “P” was dropped to shorten the term even further, First Things noted.

According to the Christian Research Institute, the church was substituting “Christ” with “X” in the middle of the fifteenth century to save space and money when using newly invented printing presses, and Webster’s dictionary recognizes “X-mas” as a common term by the sixteenth century….

“People seem to express chagrin about seeing Christ’s name dropped and replaced by this symbol for an unknown quantity X. Every year you see the signs and the bumper stickers saying, ‘Put Christ back into Christmas’ as a response to this substitution of the letter X for the name of Christ,” he said.

“There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.”

And from a while back now, a blog post from writer Blair Thornburgh on Christmas carols, with which I heartily agree:

I love Christmas carols. HOWEVER: I do NOT love what most of the idiot world considers to be a Christmas carol. Songs about sleighs, Santa, sugarplums, etc., are NOT carols, they are garbage that deserves to rot on the side of the street like so much crumpled wrapping paper.

No, the truly best Christmas carols fall into at least one of the following categories:

1. Songs in Latin
2. Songs about food
3. Songs about Hell and/or avoidance thereof
4. Songs about decidedly non-canonical adventures of Jesus, Mary, and/or Joseph
5. Songs that use the word “flesh”
6. Good King Wenceslas

Bonus points are awarded if the song was clearly hastily Christianized with a few macaronic verses or if it sounds good played on the bagpipe.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman

This is the only mainstream Christmas carol that mentions Satan, and IN THE FIRST VERSE, no less. (It was also my favorite as a kid for this self-same reason.) This is metal as heck.

The Holly and the Ivy

Two plants get uppity about which is better; also, Jesus was born. This carol gets major points for terrible rhymes (blood/good, grown/crown) which as we all know is a favorite territory of mine. I also like to think that this carol is directly responsible for the absence of ivy from conventional Christmas decorations.

The Cherry Tree Carol

If you do not know the lyrics to this one, go look them up, for verily they are BONKERS. A preggo Mary is wandering around and sees a bunch of delicious cherries growing on a tree. Being incapacitated due to her expectatory state, she asks Joseph to pick some for her, but he’s like “eh, why don’t you let the FATHER OF YOUR CHILD pick them” and then Jesus FROM INSIDE THE WOMB commands the tree to reach its branches down to Mary. I’m about 70% sure this didn’t actually happen in the Bible, but it probably should have.

In the Bleak Midwinter

This one is actually really annoying and smarmy (obviously, the lyrics are by Christina Rossetti) but it DOES contain the titillating phrase “a BREAST full of MIIIIILK” at which I challenge not to snort when the tenor soloist sings it plangently. (Tenors are always singing plangently.)

More at the link. Merry Christmas everybody!

Greek Letter Societies

It is a quaint American custom that university societies are often known by a combination of two or three Greek letters. Reinhardt has announced that “Greek Life” is coming to campus: the fraternity Kappa Sigma and the sorority Zeta Tau Alpha are now recruiting members. Of course, not only social societies take Greek letter names, but honor societies as well, and a number of these have existed at Reinhardt for some time. For no real reason, here is some commentary on the uses of Greek by these organizations:

If you must use Greek letters, then you should really follow the example of Beta Beta Beta, the biology honor society, or Pi Gamma Mu, the honor society for the social sciences. Their names stand for Greek mottos that describe what they do. “Blepein basion biou” means “to seek the basis of life,” as biologists do, and “Politikes gnoseos mathetai” indicates “the study of the social sciences,” something that political scientists do. This is how you’re supposed to do it! Phi Beta Kappa, the organization that inaugurated this silly custom (but of which no chapter could exist at Reinhardt right now), stands for “Philosophia biou kubernetes,” that is, “Philosophy, the helmsman of life.”

Slightly downmarket is a motto composed of three discrete words all in the nominative, as though it is difficult for people to compose a grammatical sentence. The history honor society Phi Alpha Theta stands for “Philia anthropos theos,” meaning “Love, humanity, God.” I suppose these are good words but they could apply to any society, not just one dedicated to history. Alpha Chi, our version of Phi Beta Kappa, stands for “aletheia character,” that is “truth, character.”

But that is better than the next category of name, which consists of the initials, in Greek, of a motto in English. Kappa Delta Pi is simply the first letters of “Knowledge, Duty, and Power,” suggesting that its founders knew no Greek beyond the Greek alphabet. In a similar vein, Phi Beta Lambda is simply the Greek equivalent of F.B.L., for “Future Business Leaders.”

The music fraternity Pi Kappa Lambda commemorates its first member, Peter Christian Lutkin, by rendering his initials in Greek (in which case they should have been Pi Chi Lambda, as “Christian” derives from “Christos”).

But worst of all was the Dartmouth custom of simply walking up to a slot machine, pulling the lever, and picking whatever comes up on the three reels.

Do “Zeta Tau Alpha” and “Kappa Sigma” mean anything? I assume they do – ZTA was founded in 1898, and ΚΣ in 1869, back when people knew Greek. The mottos of social societies (along with their grips, rituals, and the meaning of their insignia) are generally secret, and expulsion awaits any member who reveals them to outsiders, but a little googling reveals that the sorority’s motto is “seek the noblest,” which could mean that ZTA stands for “zeteite ta arista,” and that the fraternity:

evolved from an ancient order, known in some accounts as “Kirjath Sepher”, said to have been founded between 1395 and 1400 at the University of Bologna. The story says that the corrupt governor of the city, one-time pirate and later papal usurperBaldassare Cossa, took advantage of the students at Bologna, one of Europe’s preeminent universities which attracted students from all over the continent, by sending his men to assault and rob them; this motivated one of the university’s scholars Manuel Chrysoloras to found a secret society of students beginning with five of his most devoted disciples, for mutual protection against Baldassare Cossa. (Wikipedia)

I must say that I strongly approve of a fraternity’s theme being medieval (even if it’s highly doubtful that there’s any institutional continuity between a society founded in fourteenth century Bologna and one that became public in nineteenth century America – just as the Freemasons are not actually descended from the Knights Templar). But its name is not Greek – Kirjath Sepher was a settlement in Canaan allotted to the tribe of Judah, whose name might mean “City of the Book.” (And for extra style points, Kappa Sigma could become the first American social fraternity to be known by a pair of Hebrew letters, Qof Samekh, or קס.)