Clean Your .bib!


, , , , ,

Do you use Mendeley, Papers, Zotero or other bibliographic softwares that export their bibliography to bibtex .bib files for use in LaTeX with with bibTeX or bibLaTeX? Do you hate the way those bibliographic softwares generally export a .bib file that can’t exclude certain fields and so make a total ugly hash of your Bibliography Entries?

If so, then this Python script is for you! It deletes the extraneous fields in the .bib file leaving you with just the essential ones, like Author, Year, Title, Journal, etc. Never have a horrid bibliography entry with the article Abstract (!) copied into it ever again!

Download: – GPL v3 license.

Warning: Requires you to at least not freeze in terror at the sight of Python code.

Tenses and writing about the written word


Say you’re describing (in non-fiction) what a writer wrote in a book sometime in the past. Do you use past tense or present tense (perhaps some some sort of historical present). MLA apparently says use the present tense.


In this chapter, Doris Authorname wrote that Frank poured her a beer, and
described in detail, the taste of the beer that she drank.


In this chapter, Doris Authorname writes that Frank poured her a beer, and describes in detail the taste of the beer that she drank.

I would argue past tenses describe the act of the writing, but present tenses – even if historical present – describe the act of reading the writing. Is “Doris” describing the action to “you” when you read it (implicit indirect subject == the reader) the description of which reading you’re giving in the active historical present; or has Doris described the action by writing it at some point in the past (implicit indirect subject, the written page), the description of which you’re giving in the historical past tense? If the implicit indrect subject is “the reader”, then although I’ve read Doris in the past, but you (my reader) might not read it until the future, so is the present tense conveying the acknowledged ambiguity of this fact?

And what about tense sequences? If I’m writing about what Livy wrote about what Scipio had done, I’ll need correct tense sequence to make all that work properly.

Oh god my brain wants to explode.

An intertext between Caesar and Cicero


, , , , ,

Cicero argues in the speech De Provinciis Consularibus, delivered to the Senate in 56 B.C., that Caesar ought not be recalled from his command of the two Gallic provinces (plus his new conquests). He argued that his enemies Piso and Gabinius ought be recalled instead. One of the arguments that Cicero used was the comparative employment of dispatches and their respective reception by the Senate. On one hand Piso was tardy in notifying the Senate with dispatches outlining his activities, and on the other, Gabinius had his letters subject to ‘novel dishonour’, meanwhile Caesar, by comparison, had been voted almost innumerable honours for his dispatches:

vos enim, ad quos litteras L. Piso de suis rebus non audet mittere, qui Gabini litteras insigni quadam nota atque ignominia nova condemnastis, C. Caesari supplicationes decrevistis numero ut nemini uno ex bello, honore ut omnino nemini (Cic. Prov. cons. X.25)

For you (the Senate), to whom Piso does not dare to send letters concerning his affairs, you who condemned the letters of Gabinius with a certain mark of infamy and novel dishonour; you voted supplications to Gaius Caesar, in number as no man from one war, honour as altogether no other.

An intertextual reference can be seen here with the language of Caesar himself in the B.G. 2.34.4, when Caesar says that ex litteris Caesaris – “from the letters of Caesar” – the Senate voted 15 days of supplications. Caesar then notes, in similar terms to Cicero, this is was an honour quod ante id tempus accidit nulli “which before that time fell on no-one.”

Although the question of which text references which will depend on the view you take on the order of composition of the texts (which depends mostly how you think that Caesar’s commentary on the Gallic War was assembled and published).

Forthcoming conferences, mid-year edition


, , , , , ,

I’ve got three papers coming up in the next couple of months:

First up is Commanders and Commentary: The City and Territorial Discourse in the Roman Imagination at the 28th Pacific Rim Roman Literature Seminar in Melbourne on the 6th to 10th July 2014.

In Republican Rome, did the literature of the conquered and traversed landscape express theories about Rome itself? This paper starts with an examination of Cicero’s De Provinciis Consularibus. In this speech, delivered to the senate, Cicero sets up a polemic between the ‘virtuous’ commander, who writes reports to the Senate on his activities in the provinces, and the ‘worthless’ commander, who does not. I argue that this comparison contrasting ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Romans exemplifies Roman attitudes about the relationship between territorial conquest and discursive knowledge on one hand, and lacunae and oblivion on the other. In turn, the paper demonstrates the ways in which such discursive practices about contested territory clearly signal Roman conceptions of Rome itself, by contrasting the city to the territory it controls. In light of this textual interplay between Roman provinces and the discursive strategies of knowledge, the paper examines further models of territorial discourse and control in other Roman writers of the Late Republic and Augustan period. In particular it interrogates Livy’s history of the Second Punic War and teases out the ways that Livy uses the actions of commanders in the field as part of his discussion of the Roman political struggle in the city. The paper undertakes a comparative analysis of Cicero’s directly political literature on the one hand, and Livy’s literary historiography of politics, on the other, to uncover the potential commonalities and differences that they share in their respective understandings of Roman ‘power projection’ in the provinces and how these affect their literary theorisations of Rome itself.

After I deliver that I’m doing a slightly different version of it straight after: Conflict and Power in the Territorial Discourses of Late Republican Rome at the Australian Historical Association annual conference, (this year at the University of Queensland), on the 11th July 2014.

In Republican Rome, the landscape often features prominently in literature which discusses Roman governorship and territorial control. This paper examines Cicero’s De Provinciis Consularibus. In this speech, delivered to the senate, Cicero sets up a polemic between the ‘virtuous’ commander and the ‘worthless’ commander. I argue that this comparison illustrates Roman attitudes about the relationship between territorial conquest and discursive knowledge on one hand, and lacunae and oblivion on the other. In light of this comparison, the paper examines further models of territorial discourse and control in other Roman writers of the Late Republic and Augustan period.

Finally a paper with a slightly different bent; Using Django, Tasty Pie, and lxml for the Digital Humanities at Pycon AU 2014 in Brisbane on the 1st to 5th August.

Digital Humanities is the application of computer technology or computer-based quantitive methods to the problems and data of the disciplines of the Humanities. This paper will details some of the lessons learned by a recovering Java and C programmer in implementing a new Digital Humanities project on the Django platform. Using experience gleaned from two decades of programming experience and an ongoing PhD candidature in Classics and Ancient History, it will detail some of the gaps that need to be bridged between the two worlds and how Python APIs like Django and lxml can be used to bridge them, as well as what remains currently unsolved. It will also explore how the Tasty Pie REST framework for Django can be leveraged to solve particular types of problems in the Digital Humanities in creating textual annotations and linked data sets.

Epidoc and literary artifacts


, , , , ,

It was with a fair amount of interest that I read through AWOL that Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) texts are now available in XML (TEI/Epidoc) format through Github – just the sorts of texts I’m interested in adding to de commentariis

But it turns out there’s a fair bit of work to do on the texts before they’re usable in a programmatic way. The format of the XML raises two questions for me. It’s always confused me that people talk about using “epidoc” (“Epigraphic documents in TEI XML”) to encode literary texts. Why is it used in this way, to encode documents it is apparently not designed to encode?

The second question follows on from this. I don’t know whether this is an artefact of using Epidoc or if it’s an artefact of the particular choices made to encode the CSEL. The standard numbering systems of the critical editions of these texts are effectively lost in the Epidoc versions of the text online, rendering them problematic for programmatic access to the data in the standard scholarly reference systems.

Different texts have different breakdowns, for example, Book/Poem/Line, Book/Line, Letter Number/Line, and so on depending on the particular text and the choices made by the editor of the critical edition. In the Perseus format (the “old” format?) the TEI documents have a header that tells my programs on De Commentariis the structure of the document breakdown, thus:

<encodingdesc> <refsdecl doctype="TEI.2">
    <state delim="." unit="book"></state>
    <state unit="chapter"></state>
    <state unit="section"></state>
</refsdecl> </encodingdesc>

This tells me that that this particular text is encoded in book.chapter.section format, e.g. 5.3.2. Then the text body itself has those very book/chapter/section divisions in it:

<div1 type="book" n="1">
  <div2 type="chapter" n="1">
      <div3 type="section" n="1">
          <p>Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur.</p>

This gives the document a structured, hierarchical view of the content. Everything contained with the div1 element with the attributes type=“book” and n=“1” is a part of Book 1, and the div2 element inside that with type=“chapter” and n=“1” is 1.1. and inside that the div3 with a type=“section” and n=“1” is 1.1.1. The abstract document structure (according to the standardised referencing established by the critical edition) is encoded directly onto the data structure. It’s an excellent XML structure that reflects directly the way the data is referenced, with enough flexibility to encode many different types of referencing schema, as long at it’s laid out in the metadata and the relationship is hierarchical. It’s easily navigable with standardised XML tools like xpath/xquery or simple XML DOM (document object model) manipulation.

On the other hand, this is not:

<p>Sancto episcopo Salonio Saluianus salutem in domino. <note type="chapter"> 1 </note> </p>
<p>Omnes admodum homines, qui pertinere ad humani officii <lb n="5”></lb>

In this style of format, the presentation of the text (the original page it was scanned from) is confused with the data structure, and the critical data structure information is presented in the form of an annotation attached to a particular line (rather than enclosing all the lines which belong to chapter 1). This style of document is incredibly difficult to use with standard tools like xpath. This is highlighted if we go down just a little further into the text:

tantum laudem aucupantes tam indignis rebus curam impen­ <lb></lb>
derent, non tam inlustrasse mihi ipsa ingenia quam damnasse<note type="chapter"> 3 </note> <lb n="10”></lb>
uideantur. nos autem, qui rerum magis quam uerborum ama­ <lb></lb>

Where does chapter 3 start? Clearly not half-way through impenderent and most likely not at the word break in damnasse uideantur. Is it at the comma after impenderent? At the full stop after uideantur? A human, familiar with the original text, might be able to decide: a simple algorithm inside a computer program, probably not.

I bring this up – I know it may seem churlish, after all any open XML version of an ancient text has to be a good thing – because I feel that in the “official” digital classics circles there is a certain enthusiasm for recoding existing XML texts to the Epidoc format, but if this is the result, it’s a definite step backwards. Forgive me if I am wrong and this is merely the first step in getting from the presentation layer (the scan of the book) to the data layer (a properly structured XML version of the text). But I certainly hope this style of markup isn’t regarded as the standard way to proceed into the future.

Update: an interesting set of notes by @paolomonella on Epidoc and the difference between “documents” and “texts” is found here and there is a twitter conversation here.

de commentariis – recent updates


, ,

So far got the following features in place

  • Automatic permissions on verified email accounts. Google+ social logins automatically verified.
  • Edit your own existing commentary items by just clicking on them
  • “Read more” link on other long commentary items, see here for example (requires login)
  • Many styling and layout improvements.

Coming up soon: features to support instructors in the classical languages to create, manage and allow their student cohorts to engage with their ancient texts via the commentaries they create. List of features planned.

de commentariis: crowd-sourced commentary for ancient texts


, , , , , , ,

I’d just like to alert people to a new digital classics resource I’ve been working on during the evenings and weekends these past three weeks or so.

The tool is about the creation of “crowd sourced” / “social” commentaries on ancient texts. I hate both of those terms in scare quotes — I don’t like buzzwords like that — but I can’t think of better term. Being literal-minded with the domain name, “a network on commentaries”. What’s not to like? Click the link above and find out!



De Commentariis uses data from the Perseus project’s online open-source data repository. Because of this the number of texts – especially Greek ones – is severely limited at the moment but I hope to get more as the texts improve in the Perseus repository and I overcome my own technical limitations effectively extracting the data. I’ve got a some “suggested texts” linked from the home page, but you can list and view all the available texts (some that say they are available aren’t in a great state though, so please be aware of that limitation! I’m a Livy scholar and there’s next to no Livy in it!).


DeCommentariis.Net example commentary.

In order to see the texts you must register an account.[fn1] You can sign up with either Google, Twitter, or Facebook credentials (OAuth); or just register a simple account on the site and fill in the fields and put a good password in place. Once you do any of the former steps you’ll be sent an automatic email address verification email. In this email there is a link. Click the link and you should be able to use the site.

After you register, send me an email, or just reply to the verification email and I will add the “make commentary” permission to your account (on my to-do list: automate those permissions). Until I do that you can’t enter any commentary items. (Update: if you verify your email address – google+ social logins are automatically verified – permissions are added automatically).

The site is running on pretty limited resources at the moment so be a bit forgiving if it gets slow under all your eagerness to log on and check it out.

I would love to hear your feedback.

[fn1]: Your browser will warn you about “insecure” security certificate. I have to use a “self-signed” certificate for the moment, because at this point I’m not about to pay $200+ per year bribe to a security signing authority for a signed security certificate. The alternative is let you send your password unencrypted to my server and that’s just silly. Therefore, there’ a self-signed certificate. Update: proper security cert installed.

The Ship of State? A question.


, , , , ,

Who, exactly, was Livy borrowing from when he wrote 24.8.12-13. He would have surely already had this concept in his mind. The source of the metaphor is supposedly Plato’s Republic IV, but I wonder if Livy would have read that? If he’s reading Polybius I suppose he may have been taught Greek philosophy at some stage. He probably would have read Horace Carm 1.14 O navis referent in mare te novi, traditionally titled as “To the Ship of State” but the ship in question could well have been a woman or Horace’s own life, although Quintillian Inst 8.6.44 seems entirely sure the ship in the poem, and its struggles to reach the safe harbour of pace atque concordia (Quintillian’s words), are an allegory for the state. Although I’ll note that Fraenkel, E, Horace 1957 Oxford:Clarendon Press p. 155 fn 4, appears to take umbrage at the notion that Horace’s ode was about Horace’s own life, and usually I prefer to believe Fraenkel’s lucid and learned interpretations of Horace.

Meanwhile, in book 24, Livy has Q. Fabius Maximus use this direct nautical metaphor in a speech about who should be elected the consuls for the next year (214):

quilibet nautarum vectorumque tranquillo mari gubernare potest; ubi saeva orta tempestas est ac turbato maria rapitur vento navis, tum viro et gubernatore opus est. non tranquillo navigamus, sed iam aliquot procellis submersi paene sumus; itaque quis ad gubernacula sedeat summa cura providendum ac praecavendum vobis est. (Livy 24.8.12-13)

While the sea is tranquil anyone of the sailors or passengers is able to helm (the ship); when a savage storm has arisen and the ship is ravaged by winds on a turbulent sea, then the job is for a (real) man and a (proper) pilot. We do not sail in tranquil weather, but recently we have been nearly sunk by several hurricanes; and thus (the question of) who would sit at the helm you ought to guard and give attention to with the highest of care.

The “several hurricanes” being events such as the battles of Trasimene and of course, Cannae.

I am finding it off that something of Cicero’s doesn’t seem to pop up here initially: we go straight from Plato to the poets. I should expect that there’s a rich literature on this metaphor that has somehow bypassed my research so far. Time to correct that.