Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saving the World

I have a brilliant idea that just might save the world from impending doom.

On the one hand you have the death-planet Nibiru, hurtling towards Earth and on target to collide with it in 2012. On the other, the Large Hadron Collider is once again operational and will be producing a planet-gobbling black hole any day now.

Do I need to spell it out? Use the black hole to intercept Nibiru! Use Nibiru to plug up the black hole! This kills two disasters with one stone, literally. Two great apocalypses that go great together. Really I don't understand why I'm the first person to suggest this.

Fig.1: Diagram of my plan to save the Earth!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bad Movie Latin

It isn't difficult to find bad movie Latin, but the examples in the film Event Horizon are special.

The Event Horizon is a spaceship that vanished for seven years and then reappeared in 2047 transmitting a spooky distress message. No one on Earth could decipher it, until another ship travels out to Neptune to see what happened, the crew listens to the message again, and a cute, earnest guy (who is later violently eviscerated) says "Oh wait, that's Latin."
Liberate me
"It means, 'Save me,'" he says. Actually it means "Free me." You know, like "liberty" and such. (By the way, Latin doesn't have silent vowels, so that's leeb-er-AH-tay, four syllables.)

But the best part is later, when it turns out that he misheard the message and therefore mistranslated. The real message was:
Libera tutemet ex inferis.
This is supposed to mean "save yourself from hell." *sigh* If you're going to make a plot point in your horror film turn on Latin textual criticism–which I heartily approve of–why not ask a Classicist to come up with something clever for you? Or at least correct? tutemet isn't right, reader: it can't be a direct object.

And it's so easy to make it work, simply by removing a syllable. Here is what the captain of the Event Horizon actually said after getting sucked into the hell dimension and tearing his own eyes out:
Libera temet ex inferis.
Free yourself from hell.
This has the advantage of being grammatically correct. Also, now that the tu- is gone, it's more straightforward to get the initial, truncated version liberate me from the full version.

You could argue, I suppose, that getting pulled into the realm of ultimate chaos and evil might cause you to make elementary mistakes in your Latin. But that's a possibility too horrible to contemplate.

Infinite space. Infinite error.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Capering Catoblepas

In high school I'd sometimes frequent the chatrooms on AOL (it was the dawn of the internet, there was nowhere else to go), particularly chatrooms devoted to literary topics. People didn't so much chat in these rooms as try to one-up each other with bits of trivia and pithy one-liners. I'm not good at either of these, and after I made a particularly strained attempt at a joke someone wrote to me:
Your wit walks like a catoblepas.
Huh? I guessed it wasn't a compliment, and I was right. The catoblepas is a mythological animal, like a buffalo but with a skull so heavy that it has to stare downward and drag its head over the ground when it moves.

Fig. 1: Cranky catoblepas

The catoblepas may be plodding and heavy, but don't think you can take it lightly. Some Roman soldiers on an expedition in North Africa made that mistake: the animal was slow and had a mane of hair covering its eyes, but when they approached it, the mane bristled, its eyes were revealed, and it raised its head.

Fig.2: Curiously cuddly catoblepas

Turns out its gaze acts as a fiery death ray that kills anyone it looks at. Take that, Roman soldiers. Also it likes to eat poisonous plants, and when it opens its mouth noxious fumes come out that kill any birds flying overhead. (I am not making any of this up; it's all in ancient sources.)

The word catoblepas survives as the name of the genus that includes the gnu. There is even a Catoblepas gorgon, the brindled gnu or blue wildebeest; this is fun because the Greeks and Romans also associated the catoblepas with the gorgon (another animal that kills with a look).

Fig. 3: Catoblepas gorgon
(I think that's scrubby turf on the right rather than steak with parsley, which, however tasty, would be tasteless in this context.)