Taunts on Ancient Greek Sling Bullets

I came across a very interesting image on Wikipedia a few weeks ago (yes, I use Wiki. Compulsively). I was reading about slings (the weapon), and there was an image of an Ancient Greek lead sling bullet. Take a look:

According to Wikipedia, the image said, “Take that!” or “Catch!”. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. While Wikipedia isn’t as bad as people say it is, I’ve been fooled before (Turns out Rick Steves did not fight a bear in the woods. In my defense I was in early high school…).

I did do some digging, and was able to confirm that Wikipedia is actually right this time. Check this out. First off, the sling bullet says, in Ancient Greek, “ΔΕΞΑΙ” or “δέξαι” (Ancient Greek was written completely in what we would call capital letters, although the proper term is “majuscule”. “Lower case” (miniscule) Greek writing did not develop until the 9th and 10th centuries AD in the Byzantine Empire).

My first step of digging was to confirm the translation. I used the wonderful Perseus Hopper word study tool. Perseus confirmed that “ΔΕΞΑΙ” is 2nd person singular aorist imperative middle of  δέχομαι, meaning “take, accept, or receive”. Don’t worry if you’re not a linguist or grammarian. That basically means “ΔΕΞΑΙ” can be translated (literally) as, “[You] take!”, “[You] receive!”. So it is pretty acceptable to translate this as, “Take [this]!” I don’t know if I’d translate it as “Catch!” but I would agree that it’s in the spirit. (Translation is a tricky thing).

My second step was to confirm that the image of the sling bullet was authentic. One of my colleagues is an actual Classicist (not a Johnnie Classicist like me), and he was curious where it came from. Fortunately the Wiki page provided a link to the British Museum, where the artifact is kept. It was excavated or acquired in 1851 from Athens. It is made of cast lead. I think the fact that it was cast is particularly interesting, because to me that suggests that “ΔΕΞΑΙ” was included in the mold. Did every bullet cast by this craftsman include “ΔΕΞΑΙ”?

The artifact is dated to the 4th century BC (400 BC-301 BC), which is right in the Golden Age of Classical Greece. This time period starts just after the end of the Peloponnesian War (404 BC) and right around the time Socrates was executed in 399 BC. The 4th century includes the lifetimes of Plato, Aristotle, and Xenophon, the birth and death of Alexander the Great (d. 323 BC), which lead to the struggle for power known as the Wars of the Diadochi (starting 322 BC), leading to the reigns of his generals Ptolemy I Soter (founder of Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt) and Seleucus I Nicator (founder of Seleucid Empire). So, that’s a lot of ground!

Okay, so, I confirmed that the object was authentic and that the translation was accurate. What does this mean? What really struck me is that writing “Catch!” or “Take this!” is very much in the spirit of behaviors we have seen in modern warfare. I’m sure you’ve all seen the images of soldiers writing on bombs during the 20th century, especially during World War II. Here’s a more recent example.

Maybe we aren’t so much more advanced than them as we think we are…



Exploring Sicilian Towns With Google Maps

I had the pleasure of exploring some ancestral hometowns in Sicily today, without every leaving my chair.

I am, of course, an outspokenly proud Italian-American, but my relationship with Sicily is more complicated. It is a love-hate relationship. I love the food that’s been passed down to me; I love the piety and emphasis on family. But the more I learn about Sicily, the more I understand why many Sicilians left. Let’s just leave it at that for now.

Being a history buff, librarian, and sort of family historian, I have always wanted to return to my ancestral homes to visit. Now, with something as simple as Google Maps Street View, I can!

I had explored some of Sicily before using Street View, mostly “driving” through the countryside, and viewing a few shots of Palermo. I looked at one of my ancestral towns a little bit. Today I spent more time in the two towns I know of: Burgio and Castelbuono. My great-grandfather was from Castelbuono, and my great-grandmother was from Burgio. They later met in Palermo or maybe New York, and I know for a fact they married at Maria di Ausiliatrice (Mary Help of Christians) in Manhattan.

Burgio is a comune in southwest Sicily, in the province of Agrigento. It’s about 25 miles from Corleone, of Godfather fame.


Location of Burgio (Burgiu)

Castelbuono is located in north-central Sicily, in the province of Palermo, very close of Cefalù, home of the famous Norman-Byzantine-style Cefalù Cathedral.

castelbuono location.PNG

Location of Castelbuono (Castiddubbuonu)

Google has mapped a great many roads in Sicily, even ones in small towns such as Burgio and Castelbuono. It was pretty amazing to “walk” the streets, trying to follow the signs. In Castelbuono I tried to follow the signs to the police, the castle, and a few other attractions. I was only successful with the police and the castle.

One thing I noticed was how often the Street View captured people looking at the Google car. Maybe it’s because these are small towns, with very narrow streets. Partly I think it’s just that old Italian neb-nosing. I also enjoyed seeing some of the fliers posted to the walls of the buildings. There were even ones for a circus! Another interesting find was a memorial above the Banco di Sicilia in Castelbuono that commemorated (I think) the Risorgimento (Italian Unification). Alas, no ancestors listed.

castelbuono memorial.PNG

Memorial above Banco di Sicilia

I’m very glad to have been able to get to know my towns before possibly going over there. It allows me to have more realistic expectations, and also to explore without breaking the bank. I’d encourage anyone interested in their geneology to talk to their family members, find out where you came from, and see if you can view it on Google Maps. You might be surprised at what you find!



First Post!

Hello Pittsburgh!

This will be my professional blog regarding Library and Information Science (LIS), issues pertaining to it, and much more!

I have interests in archives, special collections, library advocacy, serving under-served users, Pittsburgh history, paleography, book binding, book collecting, book history, world history, digital humanities, the Classics, and linguistics. I plan on using this blog to showcase how these issues relate to LIS.

Please feel free to comment on my posts and especially to share any articles you might find relating to the above subjects. At St. John’s College (see About Me), we talked about “the Great Conversation”. I am excited to see where our great conversation will go!