Sicilian Ears of Wheat

Reverse of RRC 69/6c. 1969.83.264
Reverse of RRC 69/6c. ΑΝS 1969.83.264

“The issue with com-ear occurs in the Serra Orlando hoard; here as on the denarius and bronze the com-ear is a symbole parlant for Sicily.”  (Crawford 1974: 16)  Clearly, the ear of wheat is a symbol of Sicily (Hersh 1993: 141).  But there is some difference between the selection of the symbol because of a canting pun or because already by the Hannibalic War the Romans were thinking of Sicily as a ‘bread-basket’. See, for example, this discussion of the symbol in a chapter on Sicilian identity. Crawford doesn’t explain how he thinks the visual pun works and so what follows is only speculation.

The Latin word for wheat is triticum.  

There is a tradition that the ‘original’ name of Sicily was Trinacria.  “(Τρινακρία/Trinakría, Hellanicus FGrH 51 F 79b), later Sicania (Σικανίη/Sikaníē, Hdt. 7,170; Σικανία/Sikanía, Thuc. 6,2,2) and only then Sicelia (Σικελία). The change of name reflects the successive immigration of the Sicani and Siculi; however, Trinacria is probably an unhistorical construction from the Homeric Thrinacia (Hom. Od. 11,107; 12,127; 12,135; 19,275), taking into account the triangular shape (tría ákra) of the island.” (So Olshausen in Brill’s New Pauly).

Maybe the adjectival form of triticum in the feminine, triticia, is close enough for a canting pun, but I’m not one hundred percent convinced.

Would the name Trinacria be widely known?  Jacoby’ collection of the fragments of Timaeus suggests it was in use in the West (FGrH vol. 3b.566, F164 ln.4)  But when we go to the source text, Diodorus, it’s hard to be sure that particular word was actually Timaeus’ contribution.  [I give the big block quote at the end of this post.]

In Latin authors its mostly used in poetic authors, and not before Catullus.  By contrast the early poets Ennius, Naevius, and Plautus all just use the name Sicilia.

But perhaps Crawford has a different Latin or Greek near homophone in mind which I just have yet realized.

An aside. One of my favorite Turkish phrases is jeton düştü!  The penny dropped!  In this case, perhaps I should say, jeton düşmedi. The penny has not dropped.  I’m not really sure the idiomatic phrase really carries over from English to Turkish but my Turkish teacher seemed to suggest as much and as a numismatist how can I resist using it.

Timaeus, for example, bestowed, it is true, the greatest attention upon the precision of his chronology and had due regard for the breadth of knowledge gained through experience, but he is criticized with good reason for his untimely and lengthy censures, and because of the excess to which he went in censuring he historian given by some men the name Epitimaeus or Censurer. Ephorus, on the other hand, in the universal history which he composed has achieved success, not alone in the style of his composition, but also as regards the arrangement of his work; for each one of his Books is so constructed as to embrace events which fall under a single topic.Consequently we also have given our preference to this method of handling our material, and, in so far as it is possible, are adhering to this general principle. And since we have given this Book the title “On the Islands,”in accordance with this heading the first island we shall speak about will be Sicily, since it is both the richest of the islands and holds first place in respect of the great age of the myths related concerning it.

The island in ancient times was called, after its shape, Trinacria,then Sicania after the Sicani who made their home there, and finally it has been given the name Sicily after the Siceli who crossed over in a body to it from Italy. …


309 out 410 days: Language Choices


This morning, I was reading through all the goodies that ILL has delivered electronically during the post-Passover flood of activity back in Brooklyn and was just dead impressed (again) by the types of connections Michael Crawford can make.  This paragraph above is from a relatively hard to find conference volume:

M. H. Crawford, ‘The Oscan inscriptions of Messana’ in Guerra e pace in Sicilia e nel Medlterraneo antico, VIII-III sec. a.C.; arte, prassi e teoria della pace e della guerra (2006), 521-525, at p. 525.

The rest of the article will be of interest to numismatists for his comments about the choice to use Greek on the coinage being a reflection of coinage as a ‘Greek phenomenon’.  He also has some good comments on the choice of types by the Marmertini.

I’d love to have a photo of the front of the altar in the passage quoted above.  I’ve put the Rix on ILL order.   In case you’re unfamiliar with the awesome Pompeii inscription here are my comments on it in print:



Here’s an old pic I took when writing that article:


The one point I’m a little fuzzy on is did anyone actually record seeing a Latin inscription on the plaster over the Oscan one in Pompeii?   Or are we just assuming it must have had one?  Also could some high tec imaging process allow us to see under the Mamertine stucco inscription to let us read what if anything it is covering up?


Left to Right, Right to Left

Bronze Coin, Frentani. ANS 1957.172.36. SNG ANS 1.129. HN Italy 621.

Check out the legends on each side of this coin.  They are both FRENTREI, but with the Rs looking for all the world like Ds and the F like an 8.  Oscan isn’t really that far off the Latin or Greek alphabet:

It’s main difference is that its written right to left (like Hebrew and Arabic), rather than left to right (like English and kin).  I like the above specimen because it has the same name written in different directions on each side.  L>R on the obverse; R>L on the reverse.  It’s as if we get a little window into the moment of evolution of the language among the Frentani.

It uses a locative ending like the first coin of Larinum to show a Roman influence.  The coins of Larinum during the Hannibalic War period continue to be of influence for the swap between Oscan and Latin and the D/R letter forms (see Rutter in HN Italy, no. 624).

post script.  Doesn’t the little beanie hat style of Mercury’s wings remind you a little of how they were rendered on Suessa’s bronzes… or at Teanum ?

162 out of 410 days: Translation and ‘Modern’ Prejudices

as in many particulars the desire of the multitude and the whim of the people were at variance with the interests of the republic

That is Yonge’s 1891 translation of a clause of chapter 103 of Cicero’s Pro Sestio.  Here is the Latin:

cum multis in rebus multitudinis studium aut populi commodum ab utilitate rei publicae discrepabat

The problem is commodum.  Cicero was a cranky old fart who had no time for the scum of Romulus’ cesspit, BUT he does not here speak of their whims.  [He’ll get to that topic just a few lines later.]  The English connotations of whims include: trivial matters not well thought out of perhaps only fleeting relevance.  That just isn’t how commodum is connoted in Latin.  It means something good and advantageous perhaps arriving at just the right moment.   It is very closely related in meaning to the next noun in Cicero’s passage “utilitate”.  Cicero’s point isn’t that the people don’t know what’s good for them.  It’s that what is good for the people is not good for the state.  It separates the identity of the people from the state.  That’s a pretty important idea to get across in the translation.  Yonge brings his own assumptions about the poor and their relationship to the upper classes to his reading of Cicero and thus sees implications that just aren’t there in the original.  

Now thanks to the public domain.  Many (most?!) readers of Cicero in translation will take Yonge’s prejudices for Cicero’s.