Magazine article Humanities

Curio

Magazine article Humanities

Curio

Article excerpt

HOUSES OF SPIRITS

Traversing southern Kentucky's byways, an unsuspecting motorist may happen upon a country cemetery with gabled sheds over a gravesite and its tombstone (see facing page). Other states have a few remaining grave houses, too, but many of Kentucky's have been especially well maintained and have been recorded for posterity by Bowling Green's peripatetic Jonathan Jeffrey.

Writing in the Fall 2011 issue of Kentucky Humanities, Jeffrey notes that the phenomenon may have its origins either in England or in American Indian tradition. What motivates the grieving to build the structures is, understandably, and according to Jeffrey, the concept of "posthumous exhibition of affection." Mourning by another name, perhaps, but with a touch of veneration thrown in.

Another explanation may come from the fear of a mythical creature that was sometning of a cross between a weasel and an anteater that would burrow into the graves. More likely is the simple desire to protect the site from erosion and grazing livestock that may happen by.

Far fewer of the sheds are built these days than had been the case in the early twentieth century, what with the "ground" rules imposed by many municipal cemeteries, but knowledge of the tradition hasn't entirely passed, thanks to the, uh, undying curiosity and enthusiasm of folklorists like Jeffrey.

LATIN GOES LIVE

"If Latin were dead," says Matthew Potts, formerly of the University of Notre Dame, "every Western culture and language would also be bereft of life." Gregory Crane, founder of the Perseus Digital Library, would concur. Since the mid 1980s, he's been working to improve users' personal access to digital collections in an increasingly networked world. The flagship collection at the Perseus Digital Library, with NEH funding, has been covering the literature and culture of the Greco-Roman World since the library's inception but has more recently expanded to provide a dynamic site for other digital collections as well, mcluding Arabic and Germanic materials, documents from nineteenth-century American history. Humanist and Renaissance Italian poetry in Latin, and, farthest afield from the rest of the group, text of the Richmond Daily Dispatch, from November 1, 1860, to December 30, 1865.

The liveliness of the site and its potential to resuscitate the study of Latin for one thing rest in no small part on something called the Perseus Hopper, "a suite of services for interacting with textual collections," including linguistic support, contextualized reading, searching, and extensibility.

To illustrate, take the word "asparagus." You may remember that there's a quote with that spring vegetable figuring prominently somewhere in Roman history, but who said it? And who attributed it to the speaker? The searching capability on the site will come in handy here. It turns up the word "asparagus" a surprising twenty-seven times in the collection, but only once is it used figuratively. The quote most readers remember, whether vaguely or with certainty, is attributed to the Emperor Augustus by the historian Suetonius in The Twelve Caesars. Augustus, according to Suetonius, used it among a number of pet phrases. To "describe anything in haste," Augustus would say, "it was sooner done than asparagus is cooked" ("Life of Augustus," chapter 84).

Another handy feature is linguistic support. Call up what are probably the four most highly recognized words among current and former Latin students: "Arma virumque cano" ("que" is the third of the four words, meaning "and" and combined with "virum" here in a kind of verbal coupling sometimes permitted in Latin). …

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