First Floor Tarpley

The Reinhardt University History Program Blog

First Floor Tarpley


The Areopagus, according to Wikipedia, “is a prominent rock outcropping located northwest of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Its English name is the Late Latin composite form of the Greek name Areios Pagos, translated “Ares Rock” (Ancient Greek: Ἄρειος Πάγος). In classical times, it functioned as the court for trying deliberate homicide, wounding and religious matters, as well as cases involving arson or olive trees.”

John Milton’s Areopagitica (1644), an impassioned defense of unlicensed printing, argues that “the censors of ancient Athens, based at the Areopagus, had not practiced the kind of prior restraint of publication being called for in the English Parliament of Milton’s time.”

Dionysus the Areopagite “was a judge at the Areopagus Court in Athens, who lived in the first century. As related in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 17:34), he was converted to Christianity by the preaching of Paul the Apostle during the Areopagus sermon.” The French in the Middle Ages liked to argue that their St. Denis was in fact a transplanted Dionysus the Areopagite.

What I did not realize is that Πάγος in Greek is not “pagus” in Latin. In Greek it means mountain peak or rocky hill. In Latin it means district, area, or countryside – thus the English word “pagan,” which refers to the idea that the old religion held on in the countryside after the cities had converted to Christianity. So the Areopagus is not Athens’s equivalent of the “Field of Mars,” as I wrongly assumed, but of “Mars Hill,” of which there are plenty of examples throughout the world. 

The more you know!

Queen Elizabeth and Tacitus

News of an interesting discovery from Reuters:

LONDON (Reuters) – Elizabeth I, one of England’s best-loved monarchs, has been revealed to be the translator behind an English version of an ancient text by Tacitus who described the high politics, treachery and debauchery of the Roman elite.

A 16th Century translation of the first book of Tacitus’s Annals – written in elegant italic hand on ruled paper – has been shown to be Elizabeth’s after an analysis of handwriting, her style of writing and the type of paper used.

“The manuscript translation of Tacitus Annales now preserved at Lambeth Palace Library is the work of Elizabeth I,” John-Mark Philo wrote in The Review of English Studies.

“Elizabeth goes to some lengths to retain the density of Tacitus’s prose and his celebrated brevity,” Philo wrote. “She follows the contours of the Latin syntax with remarkable commitment, even at the risk of obscuring the sense in English.”


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.

The Latin Word for “With”

Tim Furnish comments: “This, dear readers, is why young people should take Latin.”

Publix supermarket in South Carolina censors high school graduate’s ‘Summa Cum Laude’ cake

Well, we’re guessing the folks at this particular Publix supermarket didn’t graduate summa cum laude.

The story starts with a proud mom ordering a cake online for her son’s graduation party. On it she wanted the words “Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude Class of 2018.”

But then she found that the software at the Publix near their home in West Ashley, S.C., refused to include the word “Cum” in the decoration on top of the cake because it considered it to be profane.

Undaunted, Cara Koscinski used a special-instructions box to explain that the offending word was part of a Latin phrase for academic honors and meant “with” (laude translates as “honors” or “distinction” and summa as “highest”), according to a report by local TV station WCIV. She even included a link to a website explaining the meaning, reported the Washington Post.

And so the box containing a frosted sheet cake arrived for the Saturday celebration of Jacob Koscinski’s 4.89 grade point average and admission to a pre-med program at college.

“And when we opened it, it was a huge shock to all of us,” Cara Koscinski told the station.

Yes, instead of the word “Cum,” there were three hyphens. ‘‘Congrats Jacob! Summa – – – Laude Class of 2018.’’

“The cake experience was kind of frustrating and humiliating because I had to explain to my friends and family, like, what that meant. And they were giggling uncontrollably. At least my friends were,” said Jacob Koscinski, 18.

I suppose that, technically, Publix is in the right here – as long as “highest” and “honor” are in the ablative, the preposition “with” can be understood. But “Summa Cum Laude” is a pretty standard expression, and I agree with Mrs. Koscinski: “I can’t believe I’m the first one to ever write ‘Summa Cum Laude’ on a cake.”

It’s always depressing to see the triumph of ignorance, like the author whose work featured a “fireman” (i.e., someone responsible for shoveling coal into a boiler on a steam ship), and which was changed to “fire fighter” upon publication, because we don’t want to be sexist. Maybe not, but “fire fighter” is precisely the opposite of what that sort of fireman was about. (I can’t remember where I read this, but I insist it’s true.)