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God’s Will

Leofranc Holford-Strevens: Do you speak Punic?, 22 May 2003

Bilingualism and the Latin Language 
by J.N. Adams.
Cambridge, 836 pp., £100, January 2003, 0 521 81771 4
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... A poor gardener in Macedonia was riding a donkey when a soldier addressed him in Latin, asking him where he was taking the beast; unable to understand the question, he said nothing, whereupon the soldier knocked him off his mount. The gardener humbly explained in Greek that he did not know Latin; the soldier repeated his question in Greek, and received his answer ...

‘They got egg on their faces’

Leofranc Holford-Strevens: The Oxford English Dictionary, 20 November 2003

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary 
by Simon Winchester.
Oxford, 260 pp., £12.99, October 2003, 0 19 860702 4
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... Like a Member of Parliament, I must declare an interest: I am employed by the publisher of both the OED and Simon Winchester’s account of its genesis. However, I have had no involvement with the latter, whose author’s qualities are well known to readers of his previous books, most relevantly The Surgeon of Crowthorne, and little with the former, which hardly needs my twopenn’orth of praise and whose faults, as revealed over the years, are being addressed in a new edition ...

Dithyrambs for Athens

Leofranc Holford-Strevens: The difficulties of reading Pindar, 17 February 2005

Soliciting Darkness: Pindar, Obscurity and the Classical Tradition 
by John T. Hamilton.
Harvard, 348 pp., £17.95, April 2004, 0 674 01257 7
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The First Poets: Lives of the Ancient Greek Poets 
by Michael Schmidt.
Weidenfeld, 449 pp., £20, April 2004, 0 297 64394 0
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... The Theban poet Pindar (c.520-446 BC), though he wrote much else, is principally known for his magnificent odes, known as epinicians, in praise of athletic victories by aristocrats and tyrants, nowadays esteemed less than Athenian democrats and Macedonian monarchs, but no worse than their counterparts in later ages who patronised poets, painters and composers still admired ...

Peter opened Paul the door

Leofranc Holford-Strevens: The Case for Case, 9 July 2009

The Oxford Handbook of Case 
edited by Andrej Malchukov and Andrew Spencer.
Oxford, 928 pp., £85, November 2008, 978 0 19 920647 6
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... English-speakers who have not had the good fortune to be exposed early to Greek or Latin, or even to their own language as it existed before the Norman Conquest, tend to find the notion of grammatical case baffling despite the survival in English of a genitive case (renamed possessive) and the distinction between subject and object pronouns in the first and third persons ...

Eating or Being Eaten

Leofranc Holford-Strevens: Animal Grammar, 8 October 2015

The Origins of Grammar: Language in the Light of Evolution 
by James Hurford.
Oxford, 791 pp., £37, September 2011, 978 0 19 920787 9
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... How did​ human beings develop the capacity to speak, and to speak such complex languages? That is the question that James Hurford, emeritus professor of general linguistics at Edinburgh, has sought to answer. The Origins of Meaning, published in 2007, looked at animals’ cognitive representations of the world, their part in the evolution of abstract thought, and the limits of their communication with each other ...

Learned Pursuits

Peter Parsons, 30 March 1989

Aulus Gellius: An Antonine Scholar and His Achievement 
by Leofranc Holford-Strevens.
Duckworth, 284 pp., £35, November 1988, 0 7156 1971 3
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... chief among his virtues; there are incidental studies, but no monograph. Now Gellius lives again: Leofranc Holford-Strevens has dedicated to him a full-scale study, acute, erudite and affectionate, a tour de force of fact and phrase. Gellius has served as landscape and as quarry. As a landscape, he shows the contours of his time. The high empire looked ...

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