A possible etymology of the name “Acilius”

I’ve long used “Acilius” as my screen-name, in tribute to Gaius Acilius, a Roman historian who was alive and doing interesting things in 155 BC.  It never occurred to me that anyone would know the etymology of the name “Acilius”; it was quite an old name among the Romans, and they did not really keep track of that sort of thing in those days.

A couple of months ago, I happened onto a post on the blog “Paleoglot” which led me to wonder if there might not be a way to explore the question of where the gens Acilia found its name.  Blogger Glen Gordon analyzes various occurrences of a stem acil- in Etruscan.  In his conclusion, Mr Gordon offers these definitions to cover the occurrences he has discussed:

I think we could define the English translations of the whole word family much better as part of a grander morphological design:

*aχ (v.) = ‘to do, to make, to cause’
> acas (v.) = ‘to craft, to make’
> acil (n.) = ‘thing, act; rite, holy service’ (> acil (v.) = ‘to do rites, to worship’)

The implied underlying verb here, *aχ, reminds me very much of the Indo-European *h₂eǵ-, as if borrowed from Latin agere ‘to drive, lead, conduct, impel’.

This intrigues me very much.  If the Etruscans borrowed such a word from Latin, that would suggest that the usual story about the relationship between Etruscan religion and Roman religion is misleading.  Rather than a situation in which the Etruscans molded the religious practices and ideas of their subjects, the early Romans, the presence of a Latinate word in Etruscan religious vocabulary would suggest a reciprocal relationship between the hegemonic Etruscans and their vassals.

On the other hand, if the similarity between acil- and agere is a mere coincidence, another possibility presents itself.  This is where the Acilii come to mind.  Perhaps the name “Acilius” is a combination of the Etruscan root acil-, with its sense of performing holy service, and the Latinate suffix -ius.  A fairly exact equivalent could be suggested, as chance would have it, in the English name “Priestley,” where the borrowed word priest is combined with the indigenous suffix -ley.  So perhaps all these years I’ve been unwittingly associating myself with such distinguished polymaths as Joseph Priestley and J. B. Priestley.

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The Battle of the Acilian Chuckle

Victor Mair is one of the most distinguished scholars of Chinese language and literature in the United States.  Among his many services to the enlightenment of his countrymen are Professor Mair’s frequent contributions to Language Log.

I mention Professor Mair’s great eminence because he and I recently engaged in a remarkably absurd conflict.  (more…)

Where the action is these days

I haven’t posted much here lately, though I’ve been quite active at our sister site, Thunderlads After Hours (our tumblr.)  Just today, I put up three pictures of dogs riding tricycles, as well as a post that starts with an old Peanuts strip, continues with a quote from Oliver Cromwell, and concludes with a remark about the purpose of theology.  Also today, I put up a quote from Franz Kafka and added a comment in which I tried to explain my attitude towards mysticism.  In fact, I posted a total of fifteen things there today.  Aside from the five I’ve listed, the rest are just photos to which I added little or no comment when I saw them on my dash and hit “reblog.”    That’s the thing about tumblr, it’s so easy to slap stuff up there.

 

Some comments that have appeared on the backup site

I maintain a site on blogspot that consists almost entirely of reposts from this site.  This site is a backup, so that I won’t lose too much of my work in case something happens to WordPress.  As of now, there is little reason for anyone to read that site.

Every so often, a person offers a comment on the blogspot site.  I rather feel for these people, since there is virtually no chance that anyone but me will see what they have written, and I will occasionally go for weeks or even months on end without checking.  So, early in July, someone posting under the screen name “erplus” wrote this, in reply to my notes on an essay on theoretical studies in biology that Miriam Markowitz wrote for The Nation magazine last year:

please see the reader letter below which The Nation refused to publish neither in print nor online; tell me about esprit du corps.
====================
Miriam Markowitz did not do her home work for an article that contains way too many platitudes imported from secondary sources. Just two examples.
A) Markowitz writes that Darwin’s “only explanation for the evolution of sterile insects was the good of the group.” This is a lie long peddled by Hamilton and his sycophants. In the The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote clearly that “This difficulty, though appearing insuperable, is lessened, or, as I believe, disappears, when it is remembered that selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the individual, and may thus gain the desired end. Breeders of cattle wish the flesh and fat to be well marbled together. An animal thus characterized has been slaughtered, but the breeder has gone with confidence to the same stock and has succeeded” [www.classicreader.com/book/107/59/]. Here “the family” does not stand for the mafia and “stock” does stands for a kin group. These passages and others by Darwin about “kin selection” are highlighted and justly celebrated in DJ Futuyma’s textbook of reference Evolutionary Biology and in EO WIlson’s Sociobiology. This intellectual heist by the late Hamilton and his sycophants is perhaps the most brazen ever, since it’s literally Darwin whom they insist(ed) in trying to rob!
B) Markowitz treats Dawkins as a scientist but he is not. In the said “Evolutionary Biology” textbook, e.g., Dawkins’ popular-science books are cited for the metaphoric syllogism about genes with intentionality; otherwise there is only a citation for a paper with trivial applied math. Dawkins indeed has never made a discovery. Had Markowitz talked to say E.Sober or even Futuyma, she would have written a much better article.
Given the above and much much more, Nation readers stand warned that almost nothing in Markowitz article has any depth, especially her cheapo-melodramatic pieties towards the end (albeit certainly not because Dawkins and Co. are right about anything).

I didn’t see this comment until Sunday, almost two months after erplus posted it.  I felt bad about that, especially since he had asked us about the original posting before turning to the blogspot site.  I apologized for my negligence there, and repeat that apology here.  Sorry, erplus!  I hope you find it in yourself to forgive me.

I have served a couple of other commenters slightly better, at least to the extent of reading their comments in a timely fashion.  Charles J. Shields gave us the following:

Just a note to let you know about a book blog I’ve started with a different twist: “Writing Kurt Vonnegut.” Every Saturday, I post another excerpt from my notebook as Vonnegut’s biographer— profiles of the people I met, the difficulties encountered, and the surprises, such as finding 1,500 letters he thought he had lost forever. It’s a blog written in episodes about being a literary detective.

Perhaps you’d like to give it a look at http://www.writingkurtvonnegut.com

All the best,

Charles J. Shields
And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, November 2011)

That was in response to my repost of “Kurt Vonnegut, Junior, on Extended Families.”  Writing Kurt Vonnegut is worth a look, and so I thank Mr Shields for letting me know about it.

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Stirring the pot

Lately I’ve been copying my posts from here to a site I maintain on Blogspot (or as I sometimes call it, “Blogs’ Pot.”)  I’m doing this simply to back them up in case something goes wrong with WordPress.  So far I’ve copied my posts from the launch of the blog in July 2007 through January 2009, and from May 2010 through the present.  I haven’t copied all of them, just the ones that I’d miss if they vanished completely.

I’ve made no effort at all to publicize that other site, yet it has drawn a surprising number of pageviews and even a few comments.  One comment about the US Civil War was so substantial that I had to break my reply to it into two parts (1, 2).  I didn’t expect anyone to read acilius.blogspot.com, and am mystified that anyone has taken an interest in it.

Why I Post Under a Pseudonym

Under a false name

Lately I’ve been leafing through the Penguin Classics version of Søren Kierkegaard’s Papers and Journals.  One of the major themes is his relationship to the pseudonyms under which he wrote.  For example, on page 204 we find this passage, dated 9 February 1846:

Up to now I’ve been of service by helping the pseudonyms to become authors.  What if I decided from now on to do in the form of criticism what little writing I can allow myself?  I’d then commit what I have to say to reviews in which my ideas developed out of some book or other, so that they could also be found in the book.  At least I’d escape being an author. 

I suppose my use of the pseudonym “Acilius,” together with the preponderance of “Periodicals Notes” and Quick Links here, is among other things a strategy to avoid becoming an author.  But that isn’t the whole story.  Returning to Kierkegaard, here is a passage from later in 1846, found on page 225 of the book:

The idea I expressed in my life to support the pseudonymous writings was in total consistency with them.  If, with such an enormous productivity, I had led a secluded, hidden life, seldom appearing in public and then with a serious mien as befits a thinker, a professor face, heaven help me!  All that crawls of silly girls, young students, and the like would have discovered that I was profound.  That would have been hugely inconsistent with my work.  But what care fools about consistency- and how many wise men are there in each generation? 

When I first read this bit two or three weeks ago, I had just been thinking about my reasons for blogging under a pseudonym.  Coming upon it helped me formulate three specific reasons.

First, I teach at a college.  Many of my students look me up on Google.  If I blogged under my real name, they would immediately find this site.  I already catch them spouting opinions which they take to be mine in an attempt to make points.  If I were to make hundreds of posts in which I give my opinions about virtually every possible subject so easy for them to find, I could expect to encounter that sort of thing every day. 

Second, I often tell little stories about people I know.  Since I use a pseudonym and do not identify these people, the reader cannot be expected to know who they are.  Even readers who know me and recognize the characters may find something of the detachment of fiction in a story published under a pseudonym.  If I were to use my real name, however, I would have an obligation to give the others a right to rebut what I have written about them. 

Third, I am not the sole author of this site.  Others post here, still others comment here.  Some of these are people who are connected to me in some identifiable way (for example, my wife) and who may occasionally make remarks here that they would not want to share with everyone in the world.  If I obscure my identity by using a pseudonym, those others may be able to preserve some measure of privacy.

Best of Los Thunderlads

(The following was originally posted by Acilius on 9 December 2008)

aaaorangehowfi_m

Teamwork

Last month, I mentioned that  the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain was releasing two new albums.  Our copies arrived last week, and Mrs Acilius and I can give them enthusiastically positive reviews. 

fidicula-inter-angelosThe Christmas album, referred to on their website as “Christmas with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain” but labeled as Fiducula inter Angelos (“Miniature Lyres among the Angels,”)  does not after all include the performances they issued last year as a virtual album called “Never Mind the Reindeer.”  Those performances are still available on iTunes.   I do miss the rendition of “The Holly and the Ivy” from last year, but new tracks like the “Wenceslas Canticle” and a vocalese version of  “Winter Wonderland” more than make up for its absence.  Their “Jingle Bells Canticle” gets us (Mr & Mrs Acilius and the dogs) dancing every time we hear it.  Here’s ukulelehunt‘s review of the album. 

live-in-londonIn a comment on last month’s post, ukulelehunt’s proprietor Al Wood, a.k.a. Woodshed, gave it as his opinion that Live in London #1 is the UOGB’s best album yet.   I agree, though Mrs Acilius still leans toward Precious Little.  She plans to walk down the aisle to that album’s recording of “Finlandia” when we make the “Mrs” part official in May, so it has a sentimental importance to her.  Though when we listened to Live in London #1 and heard Hester Goodman’s rendering of “Teenage Dirtbag” as a ballad of adolescent lesbian angst, Mrs Acilius was so enthusiastic I wondered if she was about to suggest using that instead.  She assured me that her enthusiasm was strictly political, stemming from a conviction that sexual minorities need representation in music.  That she has a crush on Hester is purely by the way.  Here is an unflattering picture of Hester sitting next to George Hinchliffe that I could look at if I were in a jealous mood, which of course I never am.    

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Best of Los Thunderlads

(The following was originally posted by Acilius on 18 September 2008)

Via Weirdomatic:

Approaching the event horizon

Approaching the event horizon

More pix from this artist available at his website.

Best of Los Thunderlads

(The following was originally posted by Acilius on 18 July 2008, and is still the most viewed post in the history of Los Thunderlads.)

Ukulele Hunt’s latest video of the day showcases New Zealand’s Anna van Riel playing a nifty little tune of her own composition. 

She’s also on youtube as half of the acoustic duo Bellebird; here they play their song “Too Strong Daddy,” apparently in their living room.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEzCkncyI-Q

Of course she’s on myspace; the videos are registration-only, but there’s music available on the home page. 

http://www.myspace.com/annavanriel

And the band’s myspace page has several free songs.

http://www.myspace.com/bellebirds

http://ukulelehunt.com/

Best of Los Thunderlads

(The following was originally posted by Acilius on 13 May 2008, as a note on the June 2008 issue of The Atlantic.)

A lively, pleasant read this month. 

Some articles about Barack Obama.  Joshua Green’s “The Amazing Money Machine” leads to the idea that no two successful presidential candidates use the same fundraising model. 

Marc Ambinder’s “HisSPACE”, about Obama’s ideas on using the Internet to make government operations more visible, contains this sentence:

Communication and transparency are virtues only up to a point; as students of bureaucracy know, both eventually become an enemy to efficiency. 

But of course it is precisely at the point where transparency becomes an enemy to efficiency that it becomes a virtue.  The last thing we want is a really efficient bureaucracy.  An inefficient bureaucracy is a nuisance, a waste, a headache.  A truly efficient bureaucracy can make life so easy for its clients that it leaves them no opportunity to achieve or create anything.   

Transparency is like all other institutions of democracy: worth everything in the fighting for, worth nothing once achieved.   Even a moderately efficient bureaucratic system can absorb the formalities of democracy and domesticate them thoroughly.  Nietzsche wrote about this several times.  In Twilight of the Idols, he issues his customary harsh dismissal of the institutions of liberalism (”reduction to the herd animal!”,) but does then qualify his contempt:

As long as they are still being fought for, these same institutions produce quite different effects; they then in fact promote freedom mightily.  Viewed more closely, it is war which produces these effects, war for liberal institutions which as war permits the illiberal instincts to endure.  And war is a training in freedom.  For what is freedom?  That one has the will to self-responsibility.  That one preserves the distance which divides us.  That one has become more indifferent to hardship, toil, privation, even to life.  That one is ready to sacrifice men to one’s cause, oneself not excepted.  Freedom means that the manly instincts that delight in war and victory have gained mastery over the other instincts- for example, over the instinct for “happiness”… How is freedom measured, in individuals as in nations?  By the resistance which has to be overcome, by the effort it costs to stay aloft. (from section 38, as translated by R. J. Hollingdale in the Penguin Classics version)

Needless to say I would not endorse any of this without reservation.  But I do believe that the proper growth of the human person requires freedom; that “the will to self-responsibility” is a major part of freedom; that freedom can exist only where all power has definite limits; and that the only thing capable of limiting power is conflict with an opposing power.  Conflict itself, not documents or other formalized procedures resulting from conflict, is what ensures freedom.   So in that limited sense I agree with Nietzsche. 

Gregg Easterbrook’s “The Sky is Falling” looks at the possibility of a disastrous meteor strike, analyzing as an example of inefficient bureaucracy NASA’s failure to live up to Congress’ mandates to map the inner solar system.  Locked into a metric which calculates success as a function of the number of astronauts deployed, the space agency wastes billions pointlessly repeating its Nixon-era triumphs, leaving undone work that might, quite literally, save the world. 

“In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” gives “Professor X” the opportunity to speak the unspeakable- some of the students he teaches in two-year colleges are wasting their time taking classes when they would be better off working.  Not that it’s their fault; jobs which never involve a bit of research or sustained sequential reasoning now routinely require four-year degrees. 

www.theatlantic.com