Sitting in the manuscript library, looking for a crib for Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin, I go to Yahoo’s search page and type in the first three words, “Arma virumque cano.”* Do I get a copy of the Aeneid in Latin?
- Link #1: A blog about the Iraq war
- Link #2: A blog that reviews Bad Boys II (last updated 2003)
- Link #3: A Harry Potter slash fanfic where Remus contemplates his “relationship” with Sirius
- Links #4&5: Link #3 at another site, and an individual post on Link #2
- Link #6: The BBC News compilation of other news organizations’ reviews of last year’s summer notbuster Troy**
- Link #7: A blog whose owner dresses like Jason Priestly’s character in Tombstone
- Link #8: Finally something about the Aeneid in Latin… oh, no, it’s actually someone’s Livejournal, and the link is to a poem they wrote inspired by Virgil.
- Link #9: The New Criterion’s weblog, which is at least titled Armavirumque.
- Link #10: A paper on International Security.
And several of these links don’t actually use the phrase I searched for! Someone has actually programmed Yahoo’s search so that it turns a Latin quote from one classical author into a hit for a movie about a book written by a different classical author who wrote in Greek. And do you think someone’s overly weighted their search algorithm toward blogs? My new theory on the internet: every search term you try will eventually bring up a blog about the Iraq war.
No wonder that Yahoo’s getting its ass kicked by Google. I tried the same search on Google, and the first four links were split evenly between links to Latin texts of Virgil and links to people quoting Virgil’s line and saying (more or less), “Hey, look at me. That came from Virgil. Aren’t I pretentious?”
*In Dryden’s translation, “Arms, and the man, I sing”
[Yes, I know I’ve not posted in a while. Eventually, I’ll update with thrilling tales of one medievalist’s struggles with the French bureaucracy. I’ll leave you to guess which medievalist I mean.]