Return to SPQR
"But in the arrangement of my material I have adopted the same haphazard order that I had previously followed in collecting it. For whenever I had taken in hand any Greek or Latin book, or had heard anything worth remembering, I used to jot down whatever took my fancy, of any and every kind, without any definite plan or order; and such notes I would lay away as an aid to my memory, like a kind of literary storehouse, so that when the need arose of a word or a subject which I chanced for the moment to have forgotten, and the books from which I had taken it were not at hand, I could readily find and produce it."
Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae ("Attic Nights"), Preface
hese essays are personal and idiosyncratic. They therefore tend to meander, with links in the text elaborating on other related topics. The advantage is that one can read them at varying levels of detail; the disadvantage is that, in overlooking a linked term, one easily can miss an additional two or three (or more) essays nested deeper within the broader discussion. Too, as links within one lead to another and then another still, there is an increasing tendency to stray from the original subject. The most indulged degree of separation is an essay on aconite poisoning that ends with a discussion of C. cedonulli. There are essays on the pearls of Cleopatra and red mullets, lead poisoning and tulip mania, Nero as the Antichrist and the Amazon types of Ephesus, Caesar's giraffe and conchylomania. But nothing on Roman politics or economics.
When a subject is discussed more than once—for example, the Arch of Claudius, which is mentioned both in Roman Britain and the Aqua Virgo—the reader should remember to click on the link at the top of the page to return to the main essay and on the back button for the previous page. There also are links at the bottom of some pages to other essays of similar interest. All this, no doubt, is rather clumsy when frames would have made for a more elegant interface. One the other hand, there is the pleasing anachronism of having to scroll (like the ancients) through the content.
The Encyclopaedia Romana first was posted on April 17, 1997 and, in one way or another, is revised almost daily. There is a discussion of the Roman province of Britannia which, in an excursus, extends to the Norman period, as well as essays on Greek architecture, courtesans, the end of paganism, some tentative essays on Byzantium, and fewer still on the Viking Age.
I am not a classicist and long ago forgot my high school Latin, but I do read the primary sources in their most accurate translations and compare authoritative secondary sources before presuming to make any statement of my own. Students of the literature are commended to do the same. To be sure, not everything presented on the Web is accurate, but some persistent statements are patently wrong. For example, the life of Alexander the Great was not saved by his dog Peritas; the Marble Cone is not one of the world's most deadly animals; no quotations can be attributed to Hypatia; Mehmed II did not break the jaw of the Serpent Column; and Hippocrates did not describe lead colic as an occupational disease.
Although I would like to blame the amanuensis or cats on the keyboard for what mistakes there are, they remain my own. (Typographical and overlooked spelling errors are a continuing mortification.) To my chagrin, I am aware that only works in English have been read, which should make it clear that these essays cannot presume to be original or exhaustive. If the number of quotations seem excessive (especially in the later essays), it is because too many books lack them altogether or do not cite the primary source, blithely depending upon a secondary one. Too, as Aulus Gellius desired an aide-mémoire, so the Encyclopaedia is for me.
Finally, there is the hope shared with the translators of the King James Bible (1611, Preface) that I not "weary the unlearned, who need not know so much, and trouble the learned, who know it already."
It has been seven years now since the Encyclopaedia Romana first appeared and, because I sometimes am asked about it and my qualifications as author, I thought on this, its septennial day, I would say something about both.
The genesis derived from having played SPQR (an acronym for Senatus Populusque Romanus, "The Senate and People of Rome"), an online game set in the Roman Forum in AD 205. The early emphasis in the Encyclopaedia on architecture and the imperial forums was prompted by a desire to better understand that time and place.
SPQR still can be played at Ancientsites.com (at least, the first chapter) and very satisfying it is, as this screen shot attests. (The Aerarium beneath the steps of the Temple of Saturn is highlighted because that is where the final clue is to be found.)
I have a master's degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and am on the faculty at the University of California, San Francisco. But it is my library privilege at the Berkeley campus, where seemingly no book or journal cannot be found, that has made this work possible. The fourth largest academic library in the country, it is a staggering collection.
Justin, in his epitome of Pompeius Trogus, proclaims to have extracted only what "was most worthy of being known; and, rejecting such parts as were neither attractive for the pleasure of reading, nor necessary by way of example, have formed, as it were, a small collection of flowers, that those who are acquainted with the history of Greece might have something to refresh their memories, and those who are strangers to it something for their instruction" (Preface, IV).
In these selected essays on the history and culture of Rome, I hope that my own florilegium is found to be as enjoyable.
In anticipation of my retirement from UCSF, the Encyclopaedia moved to the University of Chicago on August 16, 2005, a transition (my fourth) facilitated by Bill Thayer and James Eason that is gratefully acknowledged. In its earlier incarnations, the Encyclopaedia had links, now long dead but still occasionally cited, at
University of Guelph (http://langmuir.physics.uoguelph.ca/~aelius/encyclopaedia_romana.html)
University of California, San Francisco (http://itsa.ucsf.edu/~snlrc/encyclopaedia_romana)
I now have come to the decennial anniversary of the Encyclopaedia Romana, in celebration of which Rome was revisited (as were Sicily and Greece). Taken with a digital camera, the pictures now are larger (6 x 4 inches) and displayed at a higher resolution (100 pixels/inch).
Another septennial anniversary (and a celebratory visit to Crete and Turkey). Fewer essays now are being written but those that are have more detail and certainly a greater number of citations. They are, to my mind, the better ones and include (as well as those cited above) discussions of Hypatia and her death, Charles Townley and the Clytie, Sol Invictus and Christmas, the Great Library of Alexandria and its daughter library in the Serapeum, the Pharos, and most incongruously, Luftwaffe paint schemes.
Occasionally (typically on a weekend), James Eason's site (penelope.uchicago.edu), which hosts his Sir Thomas Browne, as well as Bill Thayer's LacusCurtius and my own Encyclopaedia Romana, is subject to a denial-of-service attack, rendering all of these sites temporarily unavailable. Although service invariably is restored, the lack of access is inconvenient to be sure. Clicking on the dropdown marker next to the title in a Google search and choosing "cached" provides an earlier snapshot of the page that can be read in the interim.
The Encyclopaedia celebrates its Vigintennial. Retired now for more than a decade and increasingly less inclined to make the long drive to the Berkeley campus, I will be writing fewer new essays and instead pay more attention to editing and revising those already written.
A final note, having realized that enough essays need revision that no new ones likely are to be written. Those that have been reconsidered, however, such as when Jesus died and the tiger and elephant in the medieval bestiary, have been some of the most satisfying.
I invite you to write to me—James Grout—at the following address, which is presented as an image to discourage it being exploited by spammers, the bane of any email account:
The pseudonym was used when I played SPQR and is that of Lucius Aelius Stilo Praeconinus (c.154-74 BC), the first Roman philologist. An antiquarian, grammarian, Stoic, and the teacher of Varro and Cicero, his cognomen Stilo (stilus, "pen") is a reminder of the orations he wrote for others. Praeconinus derives from his father's occupation as a public crier (praeco).
The selection button is a silver denarius issued by Marcus Junius Brutus in 42 BC to commemorate the assassination of Caesar on the Ides of March, 44 BC.
"But now these parts have been extensively explored and a fourth part has been discovered by Americus Vespuccius, as will be seen in the appendix: I do not see what right any one would have to object to calling this part after Americus, who discovered it and who is a man of intelligence, Amerige, that is, the Land of Americus, or America: since both Europa and Asia got their names from women."
Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringman, Cosmographiae Introductio (XXX)
The picture (top) is the Humanist Library in the Alsatian town of Sélestat. Founded in 1452, it is one of the few European libraries from the Renaissance to have remained intact. The collection of incunabula and manuscripts comprises both the original library of the Latin School there and the personal library of its most famous pupil, the humanist Beatus Rhenanus.
It also possesses a copy of Cosmographiae Introductio, the introduction to a revised edition of Ptolemy by Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringman, who had moved to the nearby town of Saint Dié. Published in 1507, it marks the first time that the word "America" appeared in print. The book accompanied Universalis Cosmographia, a monumental map of the world drawn that year by Waldseemüller, which also records America as the name of what Vespucci recognized to be a newly discovered world. Only a single copy survives, discovered in 1901 and purchased by the United States a century later. It now is on permanent display in the Library of Congress.
Return to Top of Page