Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fight Scenes, part III

The word of the day is: enfilade. It refers to a military action. It means to direct a volley of gunfire along a line. Apparently, it also means a series of rooms in which the doors all line up.

It also means that my vocabulary is far smaller, and dirtier, than I ever imagined.

Heard it this morning while listening to Professor Garrett Fagan's series of lectures, called Great Battles of the Ancient World recorded by the Teaching Company. Because Fagan hails from Dublin and has the elegant Irish accent to prove it, I first heard this word as en "fellate," which would indeed be a very odd battle tactic. He used it to refer to the siege defense tactic of firing weapons down from the windows of a tower. So you're firing down the line of the building and hitting people who are trying to breach or climb the walls. (I think). Found all that out later. In the moment of listening to the lecture, I was so confused (aroused?) by this word or what I thought it was, that I had to jump down off the treadmill, run home and look it up. Ancient warfare is a crazy business. Anything is possible. Oh, not fellate. Enfilade. Well, that's totally different. All better.

Fagan is an Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Penn State and he is just the sort of charismatic smarty-pants that characterizes the Teaching Company lectures and makes them so addictive. He's really good at dialing into the details of the weaponry and the jingoistic battle accounts written for the kings by sycophants. And then he dials right back out to detail the vitriolic battles between camps of scholars who espouse this or that theory about the past. These are sometimes more fun to hear about than the skirmishes they study.

I got this course out of the library because I sat through the movie 300 and had no idea what actually took place in it, aside from the killing of men and the stacking of bodies and the fact that a certain Scottish actor can yell the word Sparta! with his mouth just abnormally wide. Perhaps foolishly, I thought that a little historical context might explain things. With the movie now long forgotten, I've become enthralled by the whole subject of ancient warfare. I can pound out endless miles with Fagan's lilting syllables in my ears.

He has another course on Roman emperors, one that promises to be a rip-roarin' good time. New words galore.

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