I wrote a post some time back about Latin verses consisting of all nouns. Now that I’m leading a survey course on Medieval Latin, I’ve had a chance to read excerpts from Venantius Fortunatus–here’s another entry from his De Virginitate, describing in rather phallic terms the threats that chaste women will virtuously overcome:
Vipera, serps, jaculus, basiliscus, emorrois, aspis,
Faucibus horrificis sibila torsit iners (III.195-6)
“Viper, serpent, javelin-snake, basilisk, cobra ([i]haemorrhois[/i]), asp;
(each one) uselessly brandished hisses from (its) frightful jaws.”
Incidentally, both Fortunatus and St. Aldheim penned lengthy Latin poems titled De Virginitate (Aldheim actually wrote a prose work first; the poem was a paraphrase). Add to that earlier prose works on the topic by Sts. Gregory of Nyssa, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine–and one can be forgiven for wondering if the Church has inherited an unhealthy obsession regarding female (and male) sexuality. But perhaps that’s changing ever so gradually…
Duff’s first recommendation from the Punica is V.344. This is a scene from the battle of Lake Trasimene. After chasing the Carthaginians into a foggy defile between the lake and some nearby hills, the Romans were ambushed; 15,000 were killed outright, another 5,000 captured and sold into slavery, and a relief force of 4,000 that appeared a few days later was also destroyed.
Duff singles out this scene for its narrative skill. Hannibal’s brother Mago has been in single combat with the Roman Appius, a fearsome warrior who had already slain Mago’s son-in-law. Mago fatally pierced Appius’ skull with his spear, but not before the Roman dealt a debilitating blow to the Carthaginian’s shoulder. Hannibal, ductor Libyae, is alarmed…
Let’s take a look at the passage. I’ll break it down by sentences and offer an “English order” version, along with very brief notes.
As I previously mentioned, I’ve been reading Robert O’Connell’s The Ghosts of Cannae, an engrossing review of the second Punic war and its most pivotal battle. Early on O’Connell reviews the literary sources. As expected Polybius and Livy loom large, followed by a second tier of later authorities and biographers–important because they had access to records and histories that no longer exist. Beyond these there are other precious scraps–here a reference in Ovid’s Fasti, there a note from the elder Pliny, that sort of thing.
I’m reading Robert O’Connell’s excellent and thoroughly engrossing .The Ghosts of Cannae, a review of the famous battle and the long shadow it casts in miliary history. Naturally, one of his primary sources is Livy–and although I’m not a fan of Livy’s rhetoric, I appreciate the insightful comparison to “a Hollywood mogul, capuring the sweep of Roman history with a notably cinematic flair.” And yes, an ancient historian would probably take that as a compliment.
Whether you’re grooming a postage stamp-sized yard in suburban Chicago or the vast lawns surrounding the Palace of Versailles, a day spent in the garden is the closest man can get to paradise. Or, at least, spending a day outside watching your wife dig in the flowerbeds and weed her tomatoes is paradise; I’m sure as heck not getting humus under my nails (that last crack will probably cost me a fresh salad this weekend–Quam honestus patior!).
Anyway, lying in a hammock and sipping my lemonade, I recalled a bit of Latin from a long-ago seminar: Pingues hortos quae cura colendi ornaret. But where was it from–I hate falling back on Google for things I know are in my own memory–so a little puzzling was in order; it’s clearly part of a hexameter, and Virgil’s Georgics seems obvious. But would you have thought to look in Book IV–the one on beekeeping?
Forsitan et, pingues hortos quae cura colendi
ornaret, canerem, biferique rosaria Paesti,
quoque modo potis gauderent intiba rivis
et virides apio ripae, tortusque per herbam
cresceret in ventrem cucumis; nec sera comantem
narcissum aut flexi tacuissem vimen acanthi
pallentesque hederas et amantes litora myrtos. (IV.118-124)
Virgil paints a beautiful picture of “twice-flowering Paestum"–a rural town that lay near the modern Amalfi coast of Salerno south of Naples. He starts at the river, where the endives (intiba) glory in the river they drink from. Students should note how Virgil joins potis–technically a passive participle–with the noun rivis when the subject intiba is the one doing the drinking; this economy of words in describing a verbal action is a common trick of his. Next we move out to the ripae green with parsley (apium), and then further away the bulging (cresceret in ventrem) cucumbers twisted through the brush.
Sera in line 122 is interesting; a neuter plural accusative after comantem, probably best translated in English by an adverb ("late-flowering"). Virgil doesn’t just list a few flowers in these final lines, he carefully places epithets and focuses on details: It’s not the Acanthus which gets the focus, it’s the flower’s supple stem (flexi is a transferred epithet); the pale color of the ivy gets the emphatic first position in the last line, a structure prepeated at the end of the line with “shore-loving myrtles".
This passage–like so much of the Georgics–is a true joy for an attentive reader. The whole poem is a seamless weave of such fine threads, a work that really rewards extended reading and rumination. I bet I haven’t read that passage in over ten years, and yet that scrap about pingues hortos still haunted me and led me to a forgotten treasure. VIrgil truly was a brilliant writer.
I’ve been keeping this quote from Juvenal in my back pocket. But now that professional idiot Glenn Beck has published a novel (yes, really–please don’t take that link as an endorsement):
Stulta est clementia, cum tot ubique
vatibus occurras, periturae parcere chartae. (I.17-18)
Periturae is the key word…Beck’s scribbles will no doubt be pulp within a year, and his name an answer to an obscure trivia question in decades to come (anybody remember Wally George?)
Last week I wrote a post on the Latin word silex where I featured this passage on personal grief (aegritudo here) from Cicero’s De Divinatione:
…Est natura in animis tenerum quiddam atque molle, quod aegritudine quasi tempestate quatiatur. (III.6.12)
Cicero is comparing the power of grief to a storm, but he qualifies the language in two ways:
1. He uses quiddam - “something” as an indefinite pronoun to tack down the adjectives tenerum and molle,
2. He plugs in the adverb quasi; this “something tender” is “shaken by grief as if by a tempest.”
Whenever I hear the vuvuzelas buzzing at the current World Cup, I can’t help but think of this passage from Vergil:
At tuba terribilem sonitum procul aere canoro
increpuit, sequitur clamor caelumque remugit. (Aeneid IX.503-4)
But just as today’s war-trumpets imitate the battle sound of a half-remembered past, Virgil also seems to have borrowed an earlier tune. Check out this ontomatopoeia from Ennius, a line preserved in a passage from Priscian:
At tuba terribili sonitu taratantara dixit
Taratantara–I guess that’s the ancient equivalent of GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLL!!!!!!!
The Via Appia
Silex is the Latin word for a fieldstone, an annoying rock that a farmer would overturn in his field and curse for damaging his plow. Although the name may make you think of “silicates” like quartz or feldspar, the word referred to any large rock–the usual limestone and granite found in the foothills of the Appenines (silex is probably related to solidus , which also has an short first vowel).
With my favorite NBC Thursday comedies in summer reruns (yeah, The Office really faded this past year, but an up-and-coming “Parks & Rec” and the brilliant “30 Rock” more than make up for that), how about a look at a really old rerun from Plautus…
In a culture weaned on dopey sitcoms, the plays of Plautus have lost most of their comic edge. Still, the Mostellaria IMO is one of his best efforts because it’s rooted in the cares of everyday ROman life–cares that wouldn’t be too out of place in a modern romantic comedy. Act I provides a short example of the down-to-earth charm: Callidamates has spent his evening boozing, but the party broke up at dawn, and now he’s stumbling to the house of his drinking buddy Philolaches, with his ever-patient girlfriend Delphium in tow.
DELPHIVM Semper istoc modo.
moratu’s tu te. (ire huc) debebas.
CALLIDAMATES Visne ego te ac tu me amplectare?
DEL. Si tibi cordi est facere, licet.
CALL. Lepida es.
istoc - abl.; old form of iste
moratu’s = moratus es (for morari - “to dlay", but here more like “dally, amuse”
That last line from Delphium may lack the rhetorical genius of VIrgil, but the rough and simple sincerity is delightful.
CALL. Duc me, amabo.
DEL. Cave ne cadas; asta.
CALL. O — o — ocellus meus, tuos sum alumnus, mel meum.
DEL. Cave modo, ne prius in via accumbas,
quam illi, ubi lectus est stratus, concumbimus.
amabo - a parenthetical intejection, close to “please”
O — o — ocellus… - a term of endearment; Callidamates is drunk and stuttering
tuos - old form of nominative tuus
modo - “now”
illi - “there", an imagined lectus which has been stratus so the two can concubimus.
Callidamates doesn’t quite get what Delphium is suggesting…
CALL. Sine, sine cadere me.
DEL. Sino, sed ne sine hoc, quod mi in manu est:
Si cades, non cades quin cadam tecum.
CALL. Iacentis tollet postea nos ambos aliquis.
hoc - “this", referring playfully to Callidamates.
quin - “without", a far more common conjunction in Plautus than later writers
For the last line try this order: Postea, aliquis tollet nos ambos iacentis. Iacentis has the i-stem ending (-is for -es).
…and although she jokes in frustration…
DEL. Madet homo.
CALL. Tun me ais ma- ma- madere?
Tun = tune
…Delphium still offers her tender help.
DEL. Cedo manum, nolo equidem te adfligi.
CALL. Em tene.
DEL. Age, i simul.
CALL. Quo ego eam?
DEL. An (ne)scis?
adfligi - passive infinitive of adfigere - “to damage, harm”
em - Interjection; “here!”
simul - “together” (i.e. “with me")
Finally, Callidamates’ friends come out to meet him, and he remembers…
CALL. Scio, in mentem venit modo:
nempe domum eo comissatum.
DEL. Immo, istuc quidem.
CALL. Iam memini.
comissatum - supine expressing purpose; “to carouse”
Immo - “for sure”
Yes, it’s silly and frivilous…but who says Latin has to always be profound and stuffy? IMO many students might get more out of these simple 15+ lines than an entire Cicronian oration.
Juvenal’s sixth satire is commonly interpreted as an attack on women–like in the example below. But I’m featuring this passage for a different reason…
These lines are introduced by a rhetorical question posed by an imaginary challenger to Juvenal’s complaint (the feminine nulla is “no woman"):
“Nullane de tantis gregibus tibi digna videtur?”
Juvenal responds by granting all the qualities one would expect from the ideal wife:
Sit formonsa, decens, dives, fecunda; vetustos
porticibus disponat avos, intactior omni
crinibus effusis bellum dirimente Sabina,
rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cycno.
(Note formonsa, a much stronger form than formosa…vetustos…avos are the busts of ancestors she arrays (disponat) in her porticibus–naturally, if she is dives…intactior refers to her virginity; the Sabine women were legendary for beauty that dirimente bellum…simillima, like formonsa, is a more powerful and exotic form of a rather common word)
And the punchline:
Quis feret uxorem cui constant omnia?
Constant is a difficult word to translate exactly here…literally it’s “continue, last", but there is a whiff of perfection somwhat akin to the English “goody two-shoes".
But I wanted to focus on the comparison nigroque simillima cycno. Juvenal chose this phrase becasue, for him, black swans did not exist; he’s commenting on the impossibility of finding such a rara avis. Of course, we now know black swans do exist; they were discovered in Australia (by Europeans) some 1600 years after Juvenal penned his satires. So the joke has somewhat backfired…perhaps good women are more frequent than the cynics believe (I know my lovely wife would agree:-).
This observation about the unlikely black swan isn’t new; it is the basis for Nasim Taleb’s 2007 book of the same name. Written just before the financial crisis, Taleb argues that statistical outliers have a disproportionate impact in history and economics, and that most economic/historic techniques use to predict outcomes fail because they discount these exceptional phenomena.
After posting that last piece on Tacitus, I skimmed ahead and found another delightful passage at the end of book III. As usual, Tacitus closes his desciption of a year’s events with obituaries. In this final section he’s covering the Roman matron Junia Tertia. One of the last adult survivors from the age of Julius Caesar (he was actually rumored to be her true father through an affair with Brutus’ mother), she was Catone avunculo genita, C. Cassii uxor, M. Bruti soror and died sexagesimo quarto post Philippensem aciem anno (22 ACE). Regarding her will, she gets one last dig in at Caesarem (Tiberius):
Testamentum eius multo apud vulgum rumore fuit,
quia in magnis opibus
(cum ferme cunctos proceres cum honore nominavisset)
* rumore - not “rumor", more like “reputation”
* proceres - “nobles” (lit. pro + carus)
Still, the emperor took this slight well:
Quod civiliter acceptum
quominus laudatione pro rostris ceterisque sollemnibus funus cohonestaretur.
* neque prohibuit quominus - If this looks unfamiliar, you should probably review the grammar regarding negated verbs of hindering (e.g. “I won’t prevent…").
* conhonestaretur - “be celebrated”
Tiberius didn’t have much choice, since Junia was a major cultural celebrity. Her ceremony featured viginti clarissimarum familiarum imagines antelatae sunt: Manlii, Quinctii aliaque eiusdem nobilitatis nomina. Still, images of Brutus and Cassius could not be shown, and yet…
Sed praefulgebant Cassius atque Brutus eo ipso quod effigies eorum non visebantur.
* eo ipso quod - “by the very fact that” = “because”
The English phrase, I believe, is “conspicuous in their absence".
This passage from Tacitus contains a famous quote which reveals more about the author himself than any broad theory of history.
I’ve tried to lay this passage out in a way that makes it more readable for Latinists not familiar with Tacitus’ style. Take each line as a separate thought, use the indents to follow the levels of subordination, and link the underlined words to connect it all and form the complete sentence:
Exequi sententias haud institui
nisi insignis per honestum aut notabili dedecore,
quod praecipuum munus annalium reor
ne virtutes sileantur
utque pravis dictis factisque ex posteritate et infamia metus sit.
Ceterum tempora illa adeo infecta et adulatione sordida fuere
ut non modo primores civitatis,
quibus claritudo sua obsequiis protegenda erat,
sed omnes consulares,
magna pars eorum qui praetura functi,
multique etiam pedarii senatores
foedaque et nimia censerent.
* Exequi is an infinitive completing the meaning of haud institui; the nisi clause then gives an exception to describe the kind of sententias Tacitus does plan to exequi.
* Insignis is an i-stem adjective, so this is an accusative form (modifying sententias. Note how Tacitus uses two different grammatical forms (per honestum and the abl. of desc. notabili decore) in parallel, a favorite trick of this writer.
* -que (instead of et or atque) is quite often used to connect two clauses in Tacitus; there’s a striking example of this in the final line.
* posteritate et infamia - Hendiadys; less rhetorically this would be infamia posteritatis.
* fuere = fuerunt
* praetura - “(in) the praetorship”
* pedarii senatores - The lowest-ranking senators
This passage concludes with Tacitus ironically putting his disgust at the state of government into the mouth of its source, Tiberius himself:
Tiberium, quoties Curia egrederetur, Graecis verbis in hunc modum eloqui solitum “o homines ad servitutem paratos!”
Scilicet etiam illum
qui libertatem publicam nollet
tam proiectae servientium patientiae taedebat.
* Memoriae proditur - i.e. “it is said”
* curia - abl. of separation
* eloqui - Infinitive, completes the meaning of solitum (est)
* “O homines….” - acc. of exclamation; if there is a Greek original for this I’m unfamiliar, but the sentiment is well-known, e.g., in this 2002 interview with Gore Vidal.
* patientiae - not “patience” in the good sense…
* taedebat - “disgusted"; this impersonal verb takes an acc. of the person (illum) and gen. of the thing (patientiae).
Lovers rushing thru a meadow toward an embrace is an old cinema trope. Tibullus’ lovely lines below show the image is even older:
Tum veniam subito, nec quisquam nuntiet ante,
Sed videar caelo missus adesse tibi.
Tunc mihi, qualis eris, longos turbata capillos,
Obvia nudato, Delia, curre pede.
videar… - The active verb video naturally takes an acc. w. inf. construction. The passive then “transforms” the grammar of this clause into nom. w. inf.
caelo - Call it abl. of source; there should really be a preposition like de here.
longos…capillos - the so-called “Greek” accusative of specification after turbata
Iustum et tenacem propositi virum
Non civium ardor prava iubentium,
Non voltus instantis tyranni
Mente quatit solida…
propositi - “purpose"; gen. of desc. with virum
prava - neuter “depraved things"; obj. of iubentium
quatit - “shakes”
Mente…solida - abl. of specification or (better IMO) separation
In book 3, the reality of exile was starting to sink in. In an earlier post I noted the immediacy of the poetry in book 1, written while the wound was still fresh:
Dum tamen et terris dubius iactabar et undis,
fallebat curas aegraque corda labor. (III.2.15-6)
Dubius is the key word here; Ovid was uncertain and anxious about the future, a denial common in the opening stages of grief. So fallebat is probably closer to “beguiled” than “deceived".
Once Ovid arrived at Tomis he penned a more sober reflection de causa relegationis, which resulted in the long, lawyerly defense outlined in book 2. Now at book 3, Ovid has started living with the sentence…
Ut via finita est et opus requievit eundi,
et poenae tellus est mihi tacta meae, (ibid. 17-8)
…and the reality of his circumstances has changed his attitude:
nil nisi flere libet, nec nostro parcior imber
lumine, de verna quam nive manat aqua. (ibid. 19-20)
[Lumine is poetic for the eye. Quam - “than", despite its unusual position splitting the prepositional phrase de verna nive, follows the comparative parcior - “scarcer". Note also the classical “rule of three” in ll. 17-8: Three phrases, each larger than the last, all essentially saying the same thing.]
The 578 lines of Tristia II is Ovid’s formal defense against Caesar’s ira. The book is a natural segue from the raw and immediate poetry of book I–written (in) mediis…aquis and inter fera murmura ponti (I.4…7). The initial shock has worn off; time on the Pontic shore has lifted the fog of emotion, and the cause of exile can be reviewed more critically.
For anyone interpreting the first book of the Tristia, Ovid himself offers the best advice:
Subeat tibi dicere forsan
"Quam procul a nobis Naso sodalis abest!”
Grata tua est pietas, sed carmina maior imago
sunt mea, quae mando qualiacumque legas. (Tr. I.7.9-12)
And who better to wish the best to our 2,053-year-old poet than Ovid himself:
Optime natalis! Quamvis procul absumus, opto
candidus huc venias dissimilisque meo. (Tristia V.5.13-4)
The full poem describes Ovid’s absentee rituals in honor of his wife’s birthday–she is still back in Rome, hence absumus (poetic plural). But Ovid isn’t speaking directly to his wife but to the spirit of her natalis - “birthday” (hence the vocative optime; earlier parts of this poem have Ovid preparing pia sacra for his ceremony). He then slips back into singular with opto; note that in Ovid this verb often takes a plain subjunctive clause (rather than the usual acc. w. inf.) to complete its meaning.
Ovid hoped that this spirit would pay him a visit candidus and dissimilis meo–a small ray of sunshine amid gloomy Tomis. In turning his words back on him, I’m share a similar hope that this brief review of the poets later work from a much-inferior blogger amuses his spirit enough to grant a similar blessing.
One of the things that surprised me about the Tristia is how often Ovid references his earlier Ars Amatoria, a thn-decade old work that he thinks factored heavily in Augustus’ sentence against him. Yes, I knew about the famous carmen et error explanation for his banishment, but I still wasn’t prepared for his constant apologizing:
Siquis erit, qui te–quia sis meus–esse legendum
Non putet, e gremio reiciatque suo,
‘Inspice’ dic ‘titulum: non sum praeceptor amoris;
Quas meruit, poenas iam dedit illud opus.’ (I.1.65-68)
(te refers to the book of poetry itself; e gremio…suo - lit. “from his lap", since a reader would often place an open scroll in his/her lap.)
Neve reformida, ne sim tibi forte pudori:
Nullus in hac charta versus amare docet. (III.3-4)
(tibi and pudori are part of a double dative construction)
These examples also illustrate Ovid’s reuse of a familiar device: Addressing and personifying his own book of poetry. It’s a trick he’s used before–the epigram at the head of the Amores for a typical example–and IMO it gets a little tiresome here. Then again, perhaps he had no one else to talk to in Tomis…
While reading Ovid’s Tristia for the series I’m planning, I came to this couplet that highlights a peculiarity of Latin vowel quantity:
Omnia iam fient, fieri quae posse negabam,
et nihil est, de quo non sit habenda fides. (I.7.7-8)
“Everything will happen now, which I denied could happen,
and there is nothing which cannot be believed.”
This is part of a long section where Ovid remarks how even the natural world has gone topsy-turvy since Augustus handed down his sentence of exile. What I want to highlight is the scansion of fient and fieri.
In fîent the i is long, as it is in all present-stem, finite forms of this verb. This is one of the principal exceptions to the general rule that a vowel before another vowel is short in Latin (the other exception is the long e in the 5th declension gen./dat. form diçi). However, the first i in the infinitve form fieri is short. It’s a quirk of the language that seems to fit with Ovid’s overall theme in this passage–and he does yank this infinitive out of its natural place in the relative clause to highlight this pun.
Incidentally, note the translation of fides in the second line. Many Latinists who learned the language in Catholic school will immediately think “faith” when they see this word, but that seems wrong here: “about which faith might not be had.” The idea here is belief in particular things, not a general trust, so non sit habenda fides is IMO a metrical periphrasis for non credantur. Just a friendly reminder that even the most “basic” words have shades of meaning that depend on context and author.
Ovid’s birthday is coming up (March 20th), and 2000 years ago the poet was celebrating it for the first time in exile at Tomis, a “barbarian” town nestled against the western edge of the Black Sea. That is, of course, only true if you don’t subscribe to the conspiratorial opinion of some 20th century classicists that the poet’s exile was an artistic fabrication. There’s an appealing irony in that theory; the glib insincerity that drips from many of Ovid’s earlier verses now works against him when he describes his real pain at exile–which I guess would make him the “bard who cried wolf".
Thanks to Mary Beard for pointing me to this delightful anecdote from Valerius Maximus (one I hadn’t heard until her post).
Like the don says, Roman elections were much more of a face-to-face affair than their modern counterparts, but they still held the same media-based perils–something Publius Scipio Nascia had to learn the hard way:
P. autem Scipio Nascia…cum aedilitatem curulem adulescens peteret manumque cuiusdam rustico opere duratam–more candidatorum–tenacius (here “quite firmly") adprehendisset, ioci gratia interrogavit eum num manibus solitus esset ambulare (subj. of indirect question). Quod dictum a circumstantibus exceptum ad populum manavit ("spread") causamque repulsae (electoral defeat) Scipioni attulit. Omnes namque rusticae tribus (In fact all the country tribes), paupertatem sibi ab eo exprobratam iudicantes, iram suam adversus contumeliosam eius urbanitatem destrinxerunt. (VII.5.2)
I don’t know enough about British politics to comment on Beard’s comparison with Nicholas Winterton, but contumeliosa urbanitas is certainly part of the political wrangling in the US; we just call it “elitism”.
Ah, March has arrived, so ver affuturum, right? Well, here in the American Midwest I’m still looking out my window at aggeres nivum perfusi. As Garrison Keillor once said “God invented March so that people who didn’t drink would know what a hangover is like,” and I wonder if Ovid had the month in mind when he described the witch in Amores I.8:
Cum voluit, toto glomerantur nubila caelo;
Cum voluit, puro fulget in orbe dies. (I.VIII.9-10)
So enjoy the few days in puro orbe tucked between the depressing nubila–not to mention the inevitable cold snap that returns just as the weather starts to raise warmer hopes. Mox melius caelum venit.
If Augustine was ever embarassed by his nine years’ devotion to Manicheaism, the Confessions prove that he long ago had gotten over his public association with this weird, pseudo-Christian sect. These middle chapters of book three provide the natural conclusion to his intellectual quest for personal satisfaction, the Sacrilega curiositas that threatened ut deserentem te deduceret me ad ima infida et circumventoria obsequia daemoniorum (III.3.5) The empty emotion he felt while watching stage plays, the studied deception of his chosen profession, even the inspiration of Cicero’s Hortensius (a work he admired his entire life, but recall at this time he rejected scripture because it seemed indigna quam tullianae dignitati compararem)–all of this fits the pattern of a college sophomore’s crude, overly-intellectual search for personal meaning in the world.
In book III, the escapades of the 19/20-year old Augustine sound a lot like those of a college freshman. He wasted his days at the shows, fell in with a rough crowd (the Eversores), stumbled across a book that changed his life, used his newfound knowledge to examine his traditional beliefs, and joined a cult. OK, that last one was a cheap shot, but you can almost see the bemused older Augustine shaking his head at the young man who spent nine years with the Manichees. The bishiop is far more polemic in texts like Contra Manichaeos; here he sounds like a middle-aged man laughing at some old college photos he and his wife found while cleaning out the attic.
…even after 2000 years! NPR’s All Things Considered reports on how a London criminal case is turning on a line from Catullus. The transcript includes an audio feed, in case you’re curious about Cambridge Don Mary Beard’s voice.
NPR bleeped both Catullus and the English translation of his line. I think it’s a little prudish to censor the Latin, but perhaps they’re pre-empting youngsters who would no doubt turn it into a trendy new vulgarity:-). Fearlessly taking that chance, I’ll guess from context that the line has to be Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo - “I’ll f*** you in the a** and in the mouth” (XVI.1), the delightful opening of a hendecasyllabic wishing the best for two of the poet’s critics. Pronounce it “PEH-DEE-CAHB..eh-go WOHS et EEER-ruh-MAH-boh,” and accent the capitalized syllables a bit to get the rhythm of the poetic meter. Some kid is going to have loads of fun with this…
Spotted the video below as part of a thread on the Latin Forum; truly an opus mirandum…
You’ll probably need the written text to follow along.
William Deresiewicz has penned an interesting essay on friendship in the age of Facebook (Vultilibris?). I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusion that Facebook has debased traditional notions of male-male friendship–I think Kate Harding at Broadsheet has a better point when she underscores the cultural roles that “force boys and men to squelch their feelings and keep their emotional distance"–but Deresiewicz does his readers a service in sketching the idea of amicitia in the ancient world:
The brief opening of book III provides perhaps the best of Augustine’s Latin. The famous initial sentence Veni Carthaginem, et circumstrepebat me undique sartago flagitiosorum amorum gives the reader an immediate thrill; note the bustling effect of the ingenious pun Karthago/sartago and the unusual, onomatopoeic verb circumstrepo.
…quo etiam nos puniendi sumus? I don’t think the mountain of commentary regarding the most famous pear-theft in history really needs another contribution. But let me point out just a few observations from our seminar:
1. Augustine’s commentary on the crime covers the whole second half of book II, some 1,500 words. Compare that with the spare dismissal defuncto patre in book III.
2. It’s tempting to say Augustine is simply neurotic, but another more charitable interpretation is that the bishop is using the specific case to draw conclusions about sin in general. Basically, sin can be its own attraction (ipsum furtum amavi, nihil aliud II.8.16), and one shouldn’t underestimate the power of peer pressure (solus omnino id non fecissem Ibid.).
3. Still…there’s a lot of truth in Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ observation: “Rum thing to see a man making a mountain of robbing a pear tree in his teens".
I’m entirely sincere when I say I don’t know which is correct. Neither view by itself seems satisfactory, which is probably why clerics, critics, and amateur psychologists have been commenting on this passsage for centuries. And that, my friends, is what the comments section is for…
In a passage that always makes Latin students smile, Augustine admits the problems he had learning Greek in school:
Videlicet difficultas, difficultas omnino ediscendae linguae peregrinae, quasi felle aspergebat omnes suavitates Graecas fabulosarum narrationum. Nulla enim verba illa noveram, et saevis terroribus ac poenis ut nossem instabatur mihi vehementer. (I.14.23)
quasi felle - “as if with vinegar” seems to be a simile for difficultas - “difficulty". So why then is felle ablative? Because quasi is used to introduce a similarity of action, not things; if Augustine were directly comparing difficultas with fel, he would have a parenthetical sicut fel. Instead he’s saying the difficulty was such that it was “as if it sprinkled all the charms of celebrated Greek stories with vinegar.” Note also the transferred epithet Graecas, a word which grammatically belongs to suavitates but more naturally describes narrationum.
Like all good horror franchises, I’ve broken this story from Petronius into a trilogy. Now onto the dramaic conclusion; Niceros has just learned the werewolf had visited his sweetheart’s farm and was driven off with a spear: Haec ut audivi, operire oculos amplius non potui (amplius - “any more")
Continuing our scary Halloween tale from Petronius..let’s see what happens to our soldier-turned-werewolf. But first, the storyteller Niceros reminds the audience that his tale is of course all 100% true: Nolite me iocari putare; ut mentiar, nullius patrimonium tanti facio. Try the following English-order for the latter half: Facio patrimonium (inheritance) nullius (esse) tanti (gen. of value) ut mentiar (result clause).
Augustine makes an ironic social commentary in this amusing passage. Like most boys then and now, Augustine preferred a day at the games to a day in school. Parents footing the bill for their education naturally (sometimes violently) disapproved their ditching for the games, but (quos = ludos - “the games"):
Quos tamen qui edunt ea dignitate praediti excellunt, ut hoc paene omnes optent parvulis suis, quos tamen caedi libenter patiuntur, si spectaculis talibus impediantur ab studio quo eos ad talia edenda cupiunt pervenire.
…a frightful tale from Petronius’ Satyricon (LXII). For the moment, let’s put aside the detailed analysis of a complex author and just revel in a good story. Beginners welcome; this bit of Latin can be unlocked with just a few simple notes…
In last week’s reveiw of Augustine’s Confessions, we ran across this difficult sentence in section I.9.15. Augustine had just described how he prayed to God that he wouldn’t be beaten in school, and that when he described the nature of his prayers ridebantur a maioribus hominibus usque ab ipsis parentibus. An indignat Augustine summons his complete rhetorical arsenal to vent his childhood frustration:
Estne quisquam, Domine, tam magnus animus, praegrandi affectu tibi cohaerens, estne, inquam, quisquam (facit enim hoc quaedam etiam stoliditas: est ergo), qui tibi pie cohaerendo ita sit affectus granditer, ut eculeos et ungulas atque huiuscemodi varia tormenta (pro quibus effugiendis tibi per universas terras cum timore magno supplicatur) ita parvi aestimet, diligens eos qui haec acerbissime formidant, quemadmodum parentes nostri ridebant tormenta quibus pueri a magistris affligebamur?
This is an extremely difficult sentence for sight translation, but it is essential to follow this path if we want to appreciate the effect.
This week we discussed Conf. I.6.7-8, a passage where Augustine discusses his infancy. Of course he has no memory of this part of his life, but he relies on the testimony of his parents and his own observations of babies (remember, he fathered a son out of wedlock). We remarked on the scientific bent in the closing words in the passage:
For our first class on Augustine, we completed a sight translation of the introduction. The invocation to God in this opening paragraph seems natural given the Christian context, but students should also be aware there were also precedents for this type of opening in Greek philosophy.
Here’s another grammatical “oddity” from St. Augustine’s Confessions, in a chapter where he describes his life with the Manichees:
Alia erant, quae in eis amplius capiebant animum: …docere aliquid invicem aut discere ab invicem (IV.8.13)
Invicem here is used like a pronoun - “each other". Classically I think inter nos is preferred for such a reciprocal relationship, though it’s not as if Augustine never uses inter nos/vos/se (e.g., on his confusion in reading the philosophers tam multa (quaestiones) quae legeram inter se confligentium philosophorum - VI.5.7). Perhaps Augustine invicem as a makeshift pronoun to emphasize the back-and-forth of the docere/discere process, while inter se is limited to more “static” relationships like the standing contradictions of various philosophical books.
In preparation for my “Latin of Augustine” class this fall, I’ve been re-reading the Confessions. Along the way I’ve been noting constructions that, to my ear, are “non-classical". A look at the syntax of Augustine’s first paragraph provides a few common examples:
This week marks the 2000th anniversary of the Battle of Teutoburg forest–this post from last September reviews the story as told by the Romans themselves. Adrian Murdoch’s Bread and Circuses is also a good resource for the battle–hopefully he’s back from fishing soon…
Hey, it’s still summer here in Chicago…nothing wrong with light posting and one or two repeats…
Whichever side of the current US health care debate you’re on, a little dip into what Pliny’s Natural History says about the healing arts (as practiced in ancient Rome) can make for an interesting diversion. C’mon, this won’t hurt a but…
Tu modo Pompeia lentus spatiare sub umbra,
Cum sol Herculei terga leonis adit - A.A. I.67-8
(spatiare = spatiaris)
Ovid may have had other ideas for spending time outside in the summer, but suffice it to say the summer weather now is far too tempting for a blogger to spend indoors. Expect light posting this month while arbusta lentus spatior sub umbra…
Ventotene was known as Pandataria in ancient times, a place of exile for at least two women from the imperial family. Tacitus notes the case of Augustus’ daughter Julia in 14 ACE:
Eodem anno Iulia supremum diem obiit, ob impudicitiam olim a patre Augusto Pandateria insula, mox oppido Reginorum, qui Siculum fretum accolunt, clausa. (Ann. I.53)
And Suetonius tells us that Tiberius–after trumping up charges against his daughter-in-law Aggripina (Maior), (Eam) Pandatariam relegauit conuiciantique oculum per centurionem uerberibus excussit. (Tib. 53). Yikes!
I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve cut myself off from pop culture–my wife and I are avid movie fans, read two or more newspapers a day, and when you have small children you spend a lot of nights in front of the TV–but I can say I had never heard of the now-ubiquitous Jon and Kate Gosselin before about three months ago, when rumors of an extramarital affair led to their recent separation. I’m pretty much left cold by that corner of “Reality TV” where the only talent on display is shameless self-promotion. As these so-called celebrities expose the detailed minutiae of their lives for a few moments of network fame, I’m reminded of a passage from Seneca’s Epistulae Morales:
After reading thru the opus totum of Calpurnius (with a possible exception in the uncredited Laus Pisonis), I thought it was worth reviewing some other sources and commentary. I found a copy of the Loeb edition that contains his poems and stumbled across this interesting article from Emory University Classic professor Niall W. Slater (I really wish I’d thought to look for it sooner).
The Loeb’s introduction to Calpurnius includes a speculative question about the order of composition. I agree that the strictly pastoral poems–II, III, V, and VI–were surely written before the political I, IV, and VII, and were perhaps an isolated exercise/imitation. I’d also agree that III is the least polished of the bunch and was therefore probably written first. But although I can understand the praise for V–the Micon soliloquy imitating Vergil’s Georgic III–I found that poem rather tedious and lacking the playful yet essential humor found in Virgil’s work. Of the strict pastorals VI–the “trash talk” between Lycidas and Astylus–was probably my favorite, but the political poems–despite the theme–display a skillful complexity that shouldn’t be overlooked. The Slater article amplifies this point; much of what he says regarding the first poem can be applied to IV and VII.
Overall I enjoyd the experience, and hope at least a few readers got something out of it. So do I move on to the Laus Pisonis now?
Someone asked about the Latin phrase Creat Industria on the Straight Dope board yesterday. The OP noted the ubiquitous translation “Let industry be made", but this rests on a misreading of creat as a subjunctive. Creo looks like it should have the same forms as moneo, but it is actually a first conjugation noun.
As one poster observed, this would make the subjunctive creet, an odd-looking Latin word to be sure (other than deest and imported greek names, is there another Latin word with double e?). I was about to post that classical writers would probably avoid this form and use a cognate like cresco to form the subjunctive (e.g. crescat), but then I thought I’d check…sure enough the subjunctive creet appears in Lucretius:
nam tibi de summa caeli ratione deumque
disserere incipiam et rerum primordia pandam,
unde omnis natura creet res, auctet alatque (I.54-6)
“For to you the supreme law of sky and Gods
I proceed to unlock, and lay bare the origin of things
From which Nature might create, grow, and feed all.”
A quick scan shows Lucretius uses the compound recreet two more times in his poem. I find no citation for these words in a classical author–another sign of the delicate pruning of the classical language by Cicero, Virgil et al…
I’ve volunteered to lead a Latin book discussion with a local church/homeschool group this fall on St. Augustine’s Confessions. I’ve done this before and have always considered it an excellent text for the classroom, one that could match Caesar’s De Bello Gallico in a second-year classroom (it’s quite easy reading and the story is interesting and offers a lot of historical tangents–if you skip his last four exegetical books). Obviously its religious content and timing outside the strict classical age make that an impossibility for public school Latin teachers, but I’m still somewhat surprised no one has bothered to edit a modern student edition–especially considering the growth of Latin study among homeschoolers. I have my school copy of the Connor text, but it’s geared more to a college course, and I usually end up writing my own selections for handouts.
Anyway, if anybody knows of a good, student-friendly version of the Confessions they would recommend as a text, pipe up in comments. I plan to blog the lessons when the class starts up in the fall if anyone cares to follow along.
A little old (been traveling without internet access for the past wek), but Mary Beard’s list of suggested quotes for the London Underground is well worth a few minutes of your time.
If I were to add just one, I’d suggest dum aes exigitur…tota abit hora, from Horace’s description of a canal trip in Sat. I.V.13-14. If the Tube is anything like the Chicago CTA, I’m sure more than one fare-paying passenger has lost an hour stuck on a motionless train…
It’s well known that the early Latin writers borrowed heavily from the Greeks in developing Roman literature. But this was a process of trail and error, and from their scant remains we see many false starts in these older writers. One example comes from their abortive attempts to imitate Greek compounds.
Ancient Greek writers made extensive use of compounds, a tactic that gave Greek a far richer vocabulary than Latin. The first line of the Odyssey provides a typical example (sorry, don’t know how to add accent marks on this blog):
Aíäñá ìïé, Ìïõóá, ðïëõôñïðïí…
“Tell me, Muse, of the many-directions man…”
Odysseus’ epithet ðïëõôñïðïí combines ðïëõ - “many (poly)” with the verb ôñåðù - “turn, direct". The word plays on an abstract “double” meaning: Odysseus not only had many travels, but he also had “many turns” of the mind, i.e. he was “wily/crafty/ingenious". Latin, of course, follows a similar pattern in applying literal, concrete root terms in an abstract way (e.g. sto - “stand” also has the more abstract meanings “endure/persist") and then adding prefixes to clarify that meaning (e.g. insto is literally “stand on", but also means “harass, pursue, insist"). But Greek follows this pattern far more extensively; compare, for example the size of this list of Greek words beginning with ðïëõ versus an equivalent list for Latin mult-. The difference is even more staggering when you realize that the Romans began their literature with the Greek list and later created many of the mult- words based on Greek originals.
These compounded Greek forms became a hallmark of Greek literary style, so the early Roman writers tried to creatre similar compunds in their native language. Quintilian talks about the process in his Institutio:
(Voces) compositae aut praepositionibus subiunguntur, ut “innocens” (dum ne pugnantibus inter se duabus, quale est “inperterritus": alioqui possunt aliquando continuari duae, ut “incompositus” “reconditus” et quo Cicero utitur “subabsurdum"), aut e duobus quasi corporibus coalescunt, ut “maleficus". Nam ex tribus nostrae utique linguae non concesserim (I.V.65-6)
“Compound words are either joined with prepositions, like innocens (though not with two that clash with each other, like inperterritus: Otherwise two can be joined sometimes, like in incompositus, reconditus and subabsurdum, which Cicero uses), or formed as if from two separate parts, like maleficus. But I certainly wouldn’t allow it for our language from three parts”
Quntilian’s point is to recogize both the usual compounding with adverbial prepositions and a “restricted” Greek style where two nouns/verbs/adjectives are joined. It’s restricted because nostra lingua just isn’t equipped to handle triple compounds, and as always he has an example at the ready:
Ceterum etiam ex praepositione et duobus vocabulis dure videtur struxisse Pacuvius:
“Nerei repandirostrum incurvicervicum pecus.” (I.V.66)
“Even still Pacuvius seems to have constructed (words) harshly out of a preposition and two words…”
That line from Pacuvius–an old Roman tragedian–deserves a deconstruction. Pecus Nerei is the “Nereid flock", i.e. animals that live in the ocean. Repandirostrum = re- (preposition for “back") + pandus - “bent” + rostrum “prow/nose” = “bent-back-nosed". incurvicervicum = in- (preposition “in") + curvus - “curved” + cervix - “neck” = “down-curve-backed". Even in English these sound awful–no wonder this is the only place you’ll find them in extant Latin.
Text can be found at the Latin Library. Change in speaker is indicated by capitalizing the first word of a line.
Vidimus in caelum trabibus spectacula textis
surgere, Tarpeium prope despectantia culmen; (VII.23-4)
“I saw a stadium of interlocking beams surge into the sky,
nearly looking down on the summit of the Tarpeian rock.”
Text can be found at the Latin Library. Change in speaker is indicated by capitalizing the first word of a line.
Summary: Corydon returns to the country from a visit to Rome and describes the spectacula presented there by a iuvenis deus.
Evan Millner and Laura Gibbs have been busy at the Tar Heel Reader site adding short Latin books that make for excellent Latin tutorials. Ms. Gibbs is the longtime author of the Latin via Fables blog–an excellent site I should probably have written about sooner–along with a student reader of Latin fables.
Two items at Tarheel that really caught my interest were fables written as poems: Formica et Cicada and Gallus et Margharita. Ms. Gibbs has posted several versions of each; the Ant and Grasshopper, for example, is written as elegiac couplets, iambics (versions with feet separated or just macrons), paraphrased versions of each, and for real beginners additional bilingual paraphrases that include step-by-step English translation. I’m particularly happy with the iambics; teachers often avoid presenting this meter to students–most likely because it has so many apparent “exceptions” when compared to the regular dactylic and lyric meters–but in my experience the comic plays of Plautus and Terence can really win over students used to the “serious” Latin of Caesar and Cicero.
I also note a few other poetry-based books on Tarheel: There’s a copy of Horace’s ode III.30 and an abridged version of ode I.1, which essentially add pictures to each line. Other verse selections seem to be paraphrases that rearrange the words in a more English-friendly format, like this edition of Ode I.23. These shorter poems IMO reveal some of the shortcomings of the basic-reader format. A simple paraphrase of the Chloe ode may help a few students, but IMO too much is lost to rely strictly on the current version. Conversly, simply adding pictures to the text makes the poem more elegant, but helps only slightly with basic meaning. It seems to me more complex poetical pieces require several parallel versions to capture both the basic meaning and the subtler verse elements, much like what Ms. Gibbs has done with her fables.
Nevertheless, it’s clear Ms. Gibbs, Mr. Millner (webmaster at the Schola Latin social network), and others have worked hard on the readers, and I’m encouraging all Latinists–teachers in particular–to check out the Tarheel site and maybe add a few pages on their own.
Text can be found at the Latin Library. Change in speaker is indicated (as in II) by capitalizing the first word of a line.
Summary: Lycidas trades insults with Astylus, and the pair plan to settle their dispute with a singing contest.
Although I have yet to find a compelling use for Twitter, someone has set up a Daily Thebaid twitter promising one line translated each day. By my calculations that project should last, oh, about 14 years. If you’re interested, the opener Fraternas acies… comes July 1st.
And while we’re at it, if you haven’t see the Aeneid Facebook Page, well, where have you been?
Recent news about the spread of the H1N1 flu virus–at first mistakening labeled a new “swine flu"–reminds us that rational beings are not always immune to fear and panic, with examples that range from amusing (an on-line Swine Flu game) to banal (the CDC decision to divert a commercial airliner because one of the passengers displayed “flu-like symptoms") to tragic (Egypt authorities have begun to slaughter all of the nation’s pigs in a mistaken belief that the virus was transmitted from swine to humans). The Roman poet Lucretius understood this frailty; his devotion to the Epicurean philosophy led him to write the didactic De Rerum Natura, a work that unapologetically champions reasoned analysis over panicked superstition.
Summary: The elder Micon gives pastoral advice to his younger ward Canthus.
Spring is a fickle season in Chicago. It must have been so in ancient Rome too…
Veris enim dubitanda fides: Modo fronte serena
blandius arrisit, modo cum caligine nimbos
(Calp. Buc. V.46-8)
“For Spring’s trust should be doubted: One moment she charmingly smiles with her fair face, the next she ushers in rainclouds with mist.”
Still a tease after 2000 years…
A merciless work schedule has left little time for detailed reading, and a few sections of this poem have me scratching my head. Here’s an example of the difficulties, with text taken directly from the Latin Library:
at si forte uaces, dum matutina relaxat
frigora sol, tumidis spumantia mulctra papillis
implebit quod mane fluet; rursusque premetur
mane quod occiduae mulsura redegerit horae.
parce tamen fetis: ne sint compendia tanti,
destruat ut niueos uenalis cascus agnos;
nam tibi praecipuo fetura coletur amore. (V.32-38)
Author Matt Richtel has an interesting column in the Sunday NY Times about how modern technology has made some venerable literary devices obsolete. In an age of cellphones, GPS and instant messaging, could Shakespeare get away with the fake death in Romeo and Juliet or Homer the 20-year wandering of Odysseus?
Pilleo annuam to the LATINTEACH blog for highlighting the discovery of a Medieval Latin reference to Robin Hood. The image above–taken from the Daily Mails’s story about the find–shows what I presume is the text.
I’m no paleographer, but I think I can apply a few principles from scripts I’m more familiar with to decipher what is written there. If you want to give it a try, here are a few tips:
If poetry in general is a dying art form, then the corpse of panegyric (along with it’s broader cousin occasional poetry) rotted away centuries ago. Yet its fossilized remains linger in many poems of the classical age, when the courtly role of writers was understood to be a serious calling:
Hos potius, magis hos calamos sectare: Canales
exprime qui dignas cecinerunt consule silvas. (76-7)
“Rather, pursue these reeds more: Press
the pipes which sing of woods worthy of a consul.”
In my opinion staging myths from the Metamorphoses has always seemed like something an ambitious Latin teacher could develop with a little coaxing of the high-school drama club. The Fresno State drama department has taken that idea to the next level by augmenting their dramatic production of Ted Hughes’ “Tales from Ovid” with dancers, a natural given the author’s passionate lyric (which Hughes’ excellent 1997 translation preserves). There are time–rare to be sure–when I envy Californians.
No other ancient writer had the cinemagraphic eye for detail that Ovid did; parts of his long his mythological poem read IMO like a modern screenplay. Take these lines from the myth of Echo and Narcissus, the scene featured in the Fresno Bee article. Here Narcissus has admitted his, well, narcissism in a lengthy solilogy, and Ovid punctuates the scene with a familiar visual image:
Dixit et ad faciem rediit male sanus eandem
et lacrimis turbavit aquas, obscuraque moto
reddita forma lacu est; quam cum vidisset abire,
‘Quo refugis? Remane nec me, crudelis, amantem
“He spoke, and unnerved returned to that same face
and stirred the waters with tears, and the reflected image
was obscured by the disturbed pond; when he saw it disappear
‘Where are you going? Stay, cruel one, and do not desert me
The shot of a pensive or melancholy actor disturbing their own reflection in water (or that of a ghost) now seems a rather common film cliche–here’s an example from the 2004 Oscar winner Return of the King, another from the 1978 musical Grease (speed to the end if you can’t hack Olivia Newton John). I’m not suggesting any deliberate reference to Ovid in these scenes, just that Ovid’s narrative poetry often includes visual details that–2000 years later–match some of the basic grammar of film imagery; IMO he would have made a great director.
Contrary to the modern image of the bard as a gifted eccentric, classical poetry (at least after Homer) is usually a highly calculated affair. So four poems into his collection of seven bucolics, I’ve been forming a detailed opinion of Calpurnius as a poetic craftsman.
Text can be found at the Latin Library
Summary: After a lengthy discussion, Meliboeus coaxes Corydon to join his brother Amyntas and sing verses about a deus…qui populos urbesque regit.
At least one political website has linked the current worldwide credit crunch with one that struck Rome during the last years of Tiberius’ reign. The details of this ancient financial crisis can be found in Tacitus’s Annales(VI.16-7).
More on Calpurnius’ fourth eclogue in an upcoming post, but for now I had to share these few lines, an epitaph for almost any modern Latin poet…
“Certe mea carmina nemo
praeter ab his scopulis ventosa remurmurat echo.” (IV.27-8)
“True, no one repeats my poems,
except the windy echo from these rocks.”
Substitute hoc interrete for his scopulis, and you have a headline quip for just about any Latin blog
The excellent new film Watchmen has an obvious classical reference in the title quote from Juvenal, but sharp eyes may spot another parallel in this postmodern superhero tale.
Last time we looked at the framing device of Iollas searching for his lost heifer. Now we’ll look at central picture: Lycidas’ love poem for the return of wayward Phyllis (ll. 45-91). Iollas makes much of this, and promises:
Dic age; nam cerasi tua cortice verba notabo
Et decisa feram rutilanti carmina libro
“Sing then; for I shall write the words on a cherry bark
And carry (to her) a poem cut into the ruddy rind”
Now comes a lecture from professor Peggy Heller of the University of King’s College in Halifax (Nova Scotia) who sees parallels to the Aeneid in the TV series Battlestar Galactica. Guardian culture editor Charlotte Higgins agrees and amplifies the connection, while David Meadows at Rogue Classicism thinks the parallel was “obvious” even in the original version of the TV series.
I’ll agree that Battlestar Galactica and the Aeneid share a superficially similar plot structure. The complications arise when this thin connection becomes a rigid template forcing every detail to conform to the interpretation. From Ms. Higgins’ blog:
A leader leaves the destroyed wreck of his former civilisation (Troy/Caprica), which has been blasted into smithereens by an invading force (Greeks/Cylons). You might even see Gaius Baltar as a sort of Trojan horse. That leader is accompanied by his son: it’s Adama as Aeneas, and Apollo as Ascanius, if you follow me.
Tentatively, I’d suggest Starbuck’s return to Caprica to collect the arrow of Apollo as akin to the visit to the Underworld in Aeneid book six. The arrow of Apollo as the golden bough?
The unsuccessful stay in New Caprica, of course, recalls the settlement the wandering Trojans found on Crete in book three, in the mistaken assumption that this is the fated new land.
One might argue that Helena Cain is a kind of reversed Dido (Aeneid book four); the eventually destroyed Pegasus might be seen as her funeral pyre.
This, to be charitable, is nonsense; it ignores the details surrounding all these characters/events that are present in the drama itself in favor of a “top-down” interpretation that treats the series as a direct allegory of the older work.
My understanding of modern pop culture is that when allegory is in play, it isn’t that difficult to spot. The inconsistent use of Greek names/gods in the original Battlestar may have been a hint of the story’s Greco-Roman origins, or it may have been a quick & dirty way to follow the tradition of earlier space operas: Give characters odd or lofty names ("Flash” Gordon, “Buck” Rodgers, Luke “Skywalker") that immediately suggest heroic status (I find it interesting that the more recent BSG doesn’t fully commit to this convention. “Apollo” and “Starbuck", for instance, are explained as Lee Adama’s and Kara Thrace’s pilot callsigns, not their actual birthnames. Perhaps the writers see the first BSG’s widespread use of this earlier convention as too “corny” for modern viewers?). The series’ premise may involve a hero leading a group of unknown people because it’s mimicing the Aeneid, or it may be because such a story device is useful in an open-ended episodic series, since it allows the “rag-tag fugitive fleet” to encounter new planets each week (and hence new situations/protagonists), not to mention guest stars/extras who can be placed in real danger as the story demands (unlike the under-contract series regulars; wasn’t this the whole point of the “red shirts” on the original Star Trek?). I’d obviously argue for the latter in both cases.
It’s likely that modern TV writers are “re-discovering” ancient storytelling ideas in modern contexts; my post on Lost, for example, was essentially about how the sci-fi conceit of time-travel is a modern stand in for the ancient dramatic theme of “Destiny” with a capital D. But if you hear me start comparing characters on that show to characters in the Aeneid (Hurley = Achates?), be very, very suspicious. Literary/cinematic allegory IMO is fairly obvious when its there, and doesn’t need an inscrutable theory to explain it.
Text can be found at the Latin Library
Summary: While looking for a lost heifer, Iollas finds Lycidas lamenting over Phyllis, a former lover who is now with Mopsus.
I read on the LATINTEACH mailist about Scholiastae.org, a new wiki by William Annis that features open commentary on ancient texts–a great idea that I wish I’d come up with. I’m getting an account–you probably should too.
Added to the blogroll.
Full text can be found here. Only found one obvious error:
Line 62: cespite should be caespite
The singing contest between Idas and Astacus (II.28-91) follows the expected pattern where one singer picks up on a theme started by the other, often
reversing reworking it to promote his own position.
For the handful who haven’t seen this yet. Catullus would be proud, though I agree with Rogue Classicism–this isn’t really all that punk…
Full text can be found here.
Summary: The shepherd Idas and gardener Astacus hold a singing competition for the virgin Crocale (intactam Crocalen).
Calpurnius is not mentioned by any other writer from the classical age, so scholars must rely on internal evidence to date his work. Two historical allusions in the first Eclogue give us a clue.
Full text can be found here, though I think it has a few typographical errors:
Line 32: silva should be silvas
Line 43: positi should be posito
Line 71: priore should be priorem
Summary: Ornytus recites the poem of Faunus, who predicts a golden age led by a god who will end civil war and establish “real” peace and rule of law. In an epilogue, the shepherds resolve to repeat the song.
Full text can be found here, though I think it has a few typographical errors (I’ll point those out in the review).
Summary: The shepherd brothers Corydon and Ornytus look for shade on a hot day and find a text carved in a beech tree.
One of the reasons I started this blog is to share my interest in Latin literature. Things have been a litle dead around here for the past month, and so I’ve been looking for a blog project in 2009 to keep me writing, something like the series of posts I did on the first book of Statius’ Thebaid.
At the same time, we’ve hired some contractors to do some work on our home. The house is a mess, but it did force me to go thru some old boxes I had in the attic. Lo and behold, I found an old paper I wrote for graduate school on Titus Calpurnius Siculus. Don’t worry if you don’t recognize the name; Calpurnius is a minor poet who wrote a set of bucolic poems (in imitation of Virgil’s Eclogues) most probably in the time of Nero.
I needed a topic to jump-start this blog, and along comes Calpurnius. So what’s say I take a look at his opera and do a little translation/analysis? If you’re a fan of Virgil’s Eclogues, these imitations will likely pique your interest.
I’ll add Calpurnius to the categories in the righthand column, and you can expect an initial post within the next week or so
An art installation by Lawrence Weiner at Rome’s Gagosian Gallery should delight any Latinists planning a visit.
The show has gotten at least one good review, though the author should check his Latin sources more closely. Si parva licet componere magnis is actually from the Georgics, not the Aeneid. After describing the hot work of the Cyclopses in their forge under Mt. Etna, he compares it to the furious labor of bees:
Non aliter–si parva licet componere magnis–
Cecropias innatus apes amor urget habendi,
munere quamque suo. (G. IV.176-8)
Innatus…amor…habendi should be taken as the complete subject of urget; Cecropias - “Cecropian” identifies these apes as ones that buzz over Athens (Cecrops is the city’s legendary founder, and honey was one of Greece’s most important exports). Note how Vergil passes from the plural apes to the singular quamque - “each one (of which)".
The phrase almost sounds like Vergil is making a parenthetical apology for his unusual simile, since tiny bees and gigantic cyclopses might be too far out of proportion to produce an effective comparison.
Sidonius’ letter regarding palindromes dates from the fifth century, a time when classical poetry was becoming an academic exercise, the irrelevant plaything of dilletants who sang about sterile mythology while an empire crumbled around them. The English poet W. H. Auden captures their overwrought pedantry perfectly in his poem The Epigoni:
It would have been an excusable failing
Had they broken out into womanish wailing
Or, dramatising their doom, held forth
In sonorous clap-trap about death;
To their credit, a reader will only perceive
That the language they loved was coming to grief,
Expiring in preposterous mechanical tricks,
Epanaleptics, rhopalics, anacyclic anacrostics:
To their lasting honor, the stuff they wrote
Can safely be spanked away in a scholar’s foot-note,
Called shallow by a mechanised generation for whom
Haphazard oracular grunts are profound wisdom.
Continuing this theme, I happened across an epigram by Martial that comments on a similar over-indulgence of wordplay from the lesser Silver Age bards:
Quod nec carmine glorior supino
nec retro lego Sotaden cinaedum,
non sum, Classice, tam malus poeta. (Epig. II.86.1-2,5)
Sotaden (Gk. accusative form of Sotades) is apparently a poet who dabbled in carmen supinum, a term I translate as “backward poetry". Martial’s opinion of these imitators–who must have had some vogue in 1st century Rome if it merited an epigram–is neatly summarize in two later lines:
Turpe est difficiles habere nugas
et stultus labor est ineptiarum. (ibid. 9-10)
Difficiles…nugas - “difficult trifles” isn’t just an amusing oxymoron but a fair assessment of palindromes in general. Perhaps then I’ve spent enough time with these trifles…and yet I have enough for just one more post…
Sidonius’ letter goes on to describe another kind of versus recurrentes…qui pedum lege servata etsi non per singulos apices (letters), per singula tamen verba replicantur. Sidonius illustrates this type of “word” palindrome with a cute story:
(Rivulus) repentino procellarum pastus illapsu publicumque aggerem confragoso diluvio supergressus subdita viae culta inundaverat…Igitur istic (nam viator adveneram), dum magis ripam quam vadum quaero, tali iocatus epigrammate per turbulenti terga torrentis his saltem pedibus incessi:
Praecipiti modo quod decurrit tramite flumen
tempore consumptum iam cito deficiet. (IX.14.5-6)
(pastus is ppt. of pascere - “feed", referring to the rivulus; publicum…aggerem - “public levee", obj. of supergressus; vadum - “shallows"; magis ripam quam vadum quaero means Sidonius is willing to wait for the ripa rather than wade thru the vadum; saltem is an amusing touch, playing on the anatomical/poetic double meaning of pedes)
I translate the couplet “Right on the edge of doom because a river rushes over the path /Overwhelmed in a moment, he now will quickly pass away.” If w reverse the order of the words:
Deficiet cito iam consumptum tempore flumen,
tramite decurrit quod modo praecipiti.
I translate “The spent river swiftly passes away in a moment/(the river) which runs just now on the dangerous path.” Not bad–the couplet covers both the sudden appearance and disappearance of a flash flood–but the Latin is a bit convoluted. Sidonius concedes as much in the following passage, which could apply generally to any such word games:
En habes versus, quorum syllabatim mirere rationem. Ceterum pompam, quam non habent, non docebunt.
(mirere = mireris; syllabatim - “syllable by syllable")
Subi dura a rudibus - “Undergo rough things from rude men” is a neat little palindrome, a sentence that reads the same forward and backwards (I’m pretty sure it’s post-classical, but if anyone knows the source please put a cite in the comments).
Similar word puzzles are attested in ancient sources; the 5th-century bishop Apollinaris Sidonius includes an example in a letter from a preserved collection of the cleric’s correspondence. Burgundio, a young litterateur from a well-connected Gallic family, had apparently asked Sidonius about recurrentes versus:
…interrogas per pugillatorem, quos recurrentes asseram versus, ut celer explicem, sed sub exemplo. hi nimirum sunt recurrentes, qui metro stante neque litteris loco motis ut ab exordio ad terminum, sic a fine releguntur ad summum. Sic est illud antiquum: “Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor.” [Et illud: “Sole medere, pede ede, perede melos".] (Epistulae IX.14)
(pugillator is a messenger–is this hapax legomena? Nimirum - “without a doubt". metro stante - “with meter preserved")
Sidonius’ Latin isn’t exactly Ciceronian, but there are a few items worth highlighting. First, the palindrome Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor is called illud antiquum (as opposed to, say, notum). It seems safe to conclude the verse predates the 5th century, perhaps by more than a generation. Also, the second example–enclosed in brackets here–is translated “Heal with the sun, eat with a foot, devour songs". Even for a palindrome this is pretty nonsensical, and to my eye it looks like the insertion of a bored/overconfident copyist. Finally, the verse has the meter of an elegiac pentameter–the second half of an elegiac couplet–so its natural to wonder if there was ever a first half to this verse. A legend attributed to St. Martin of Tours supplies one possibility, as a donkey carrying the saint on pilgrimage to Rome protests his master’s rough treatment (an obvious allusion to the Biblical story of Balaam and the Ass in Numbers 22:28):
Signa te, signa; temere me tangis et angis;
Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor.
(The verb signa mean “to cross oneself” in Christian contexts)
Sidonius mentions another word game in this interesting letter; feel free to read ahead or check in for the next post…
I figure most people beyond the age of 21 don’t seriously celebrate birthdays, and given the multiple changes to the calendar since his birth it seems foolish to single out any one day. Nevertheless, December 8th is the traditional birthday of one of my favorite poets, Quintus Horatius Flaccus.
While his poetry is timeless, he himself would be 2073 today–more than enough reason that natalis grate numeras (Epistles II.2.210 )
The snow that dusted Chicago a few days ago has been followed by a bitter cold–ideal weather for libri legendi ad ignem. A poke thru Martial’s Epigrams unveiled these seasonal verses, and I thought they were worth sharing:
I pulled down an old textbook–John Rolfe’s Satires and Epistles of Horace–to compare my translation with his notes (just in case I missed something interesting). One line in particular caught my eye; as Horace gives a brief history of Greek lyric poetry, he mentions Sappho:
Temperat Archilochi musam pede mascula Sappho (I.19.28)
(Take Archilochi–Archilochus was the originator of Greek lyric meters–with pede, and take musam as general poetic inspiration)
Rolfe’s note for the epithet mascula is as follows:
‘manlike,’ i.e. strong and worthy to rank with men.
It should not come as much of a surprise the book was written in 1942. Frank discussion of homosexuality was quite a taboo then, even among classicists who knew better. This, of course, is one of the reasons I love old Latin books; they sometimes say as much about the times when they were written as they say about antiquity.
I also notice on another page that Rolfe omitted from Horace’s Satire I.5–the journey to Brundisium with his friend Virgil–the scurrilous lines 82-5 (I’ll encourage the reader to discover these the same way I did, by working out his/her own translation). So perhaps Rolfe is just being polite…
…I’ve been dipping into Horace’s Epistles, and during lunch had a good laugh over the opening lines of I.19.
Business travel seemed like such a charming diversion when I was younger, a chance to explore the world on someone else’s dime. But nowadays that charm has yielded to cramped airplane flights, lonely hotels and the scheduled efficiency of the modern work schedule. Laptops and cheap internet access make it so easy to check email, write presentations, and deal with the thousand details of a business project anywhere that they leave little time for frivolous diversions.
…is seriously eating into my blogging and Latin reading time. Look for light posting over the next week or so; I’m reminded of Horace’s complaint from the Satires (II.6.60-2):
O rus, quando ego te aspiciam? Quandoque licebit
nunc verterum libris, nunc somno et inertibus horis
ducere sollicitae iucunda oblivia vitae?
Not much time these days for veterum libri, or even to finish this pos–
I really don’t see the point of daylight savings time anymore. Originally instituted in the US during the first World War, the measure increased the amount of summer daylight in the evening so that people would use as much electricity for electric lights. But the electrical savings today are miniscule considering the total use of electricity–most folks stay up later nowadays and use far more juice on appliances than on electric light–and a 1998 study in the New England Journal of Medicine argues that we pay for DST with an increase in traffic accidents–both in the spring and in the fall. And with Congress changing the US dates for DST in 2007, we are no longer in sync with the rest of the world (a concern for international business–just this past week I had trouble connecting on a conference call because Germany has “fallen back” a week earlier than the US). We already spend over 2/3 of the year on DST, so I have to wonder: Why not just keep the summer hours year round?
So what does this have to do with Latin? Well, it seems even antiquity had a problem adjusting life to the dictates of the clock. Preserved in Gellius’ Attic Nights is an otherwise lost fragment from an unknown play of Plautus. Gellius helpfully sets the scene: Parasitus…esuriens haec dicit:
Ut illum di perdant, primus qui horas repperit,
quique adeo primus statuit hic solarium!
Qui mihi comminuit misero articulatim diem.
Nam me puero uenter erat solarium
multo omnium istorum optimum et uerissimum:
Ubi is te monebat, esses, nisi cum nihil erat.
Nunc etiam quod est, non estur, nisi soli libet;
itaque adeo iam oppletum oppidum est solariis,
maior pars populi aridi reptant fame. (Noct. Att. III.3.5)
(The leading ut=utinam; take the perf. subj. repperit to mean something like “distinguish"; in line 4–although there is no participle–take me puero to be abl. abs.; the is of line 6 refers back to venter and would be a qui in later writers; esses is not a form of esse, but a form of edo - “eat"; note the plural verb in the final line with the ‘collective’ subject maior pars populi)
I’ve always found this selection amusing; the speaker is complaining about the “new-fangled” solarium, but nowadays very few inventions seem more ancient than the sundial. However, the selection does acknowledge a more universal truth: The tendency for the works of man, created at first as his servant, soon become his master. So let me ask you again; why exactly do we choose to move the clock back and forth an hour twice each year?
H/T to Adyates and his De Gryphis blog for pointing out a classical reference made by Fed Chairman Ben Bernake as he was discussing the recent financial bailout. Adyates includes a relevant text from one of Cicero’s letters; well worth a quick look.
ARTL Blogger poses the “Desert Island” music question with a Latin twist: If you were stuck on a desert island, what eight Latin-language lyrics would you want to have with you?
Let’s take a final look at Quintus’ Commentariolum Petitionis for this election cycle. While the usual “the more things change…” review of election tactics old & new has (spero) been interesting, I don’t want to be accused of promoting too much cynicism in our political process.
Nobody, it seems, likes the attack ads that have become so commonplace in modern election campaigns. But there’s a simple reason why such advertising exists: It works, a fact even the Romans knew 2000 years ago.
In elections both ancient and modern, campaign promises are commmonplace and Quintus reminds his brother of the reason they are so effective:
Thus begins a series of excepts from Q. Cicero’s Commentariolum Petitionis as a reflection on current US electoral events.
I mentioned Quintus Cicero’s Commentariolum Petitionis in a post earlier this month. With the US election approaching, I thought I’d post a few choice paragraphs over the days leading up to November 4th. First though, a little background.
The Commentariolum Petitionis was ostensibly written by Quintus Cicero as a letter/pamphlet to advise his brother’s successful run for the consulship in 64 BCE. I say “ostensibly” because there are reasons to doubt the full authorship. Some of the passages are echoed in other speeches of Cicero; either Cicero plagiarized his brother or the orator is the actual author of at least some passages in the Commentariolum. Also the pamphlet seems to over-emphasize the danger of Catiline as an election opponent (Catiline ended up losing badly). Assuming the pamphlet was written after the Catilinarian conspiracy would explain this, as memories of the personal threat to Cicero might make Catiline loom larger in the author’s mind. But regardless of who wrote it, most scholars agree the pamphlet comes from the 1st century BCE and accurately reflects the political climate of its time.
Look for a few choice excerpts in the coming days. I’ll also add a blog category to help with filtering on this topic.
I wrote a few months back about the modern popularity of this Juvenal quote, one that does quick duty on topics from judicial appointments to the recent banking scandal.
Now you can add film critic Roger Ebert to the list; from his recent pan of the new movie “Blindness":
In an unspecified city (Toronto, mostly), an unspecified cause spreads blindness through the population. First a driver goes blind at a traffic light. Then his eye doctor goes blind. And so on, until just about the entire population is blind, except for the doctor’s wife. Three wards in a prison are filled with people who are quarantined; armed guards watch them. Then I guess the guards go blind. I am reminded of my Latin teacher Mrs. Link, making us memorize a phrase every day: Pone seram, prohibe. Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Though Mr. Ebert is no doubt comparing the monotony of the film with the repetitive drone of old-style Latin instruction ("terra, terrae, terrae…"), there is still a heartwarming explanation tacked on at the end of his column:
Mrs. Link told me that someday, and that day may never come, I’d call upon that phrase to do a service for me.
If you’re like me, the recent US Presidential Debate and ensuing media analysis seemed overly-focused not on what the candidates said but trivialities like the debaters’ body language. But a quick review of Roman sources reminds us that political attention to unspoken communication is at least as old as Cicero; let’s take a quick look.
A speculation from UK Independent columnist Michael McCarthy as to Lesbia’s famous sparrow. A professor of ornithology offers an alternate theory:
Now Professor Birkhead (he’s at Sheffield University), in a splendid old-fashioned academic footnote, ventures the possibility that the bird may not have been a sparrow at all, but a bullfinch, pictured above. He bases his theory on the fact that hand-reared bullfinches show more devotion to their human owners than any other bird, and also on the word Catullus uses to describe its voice – “pipiabat". Classicists will recognise at once that this is the third-person singular of the imperfect tense of the verb “pipiare", which may mean “to cheep” – in which case the bird probably was a sparrow after all – but may also mean “to pipe", in which case it was possibly a bullfinch, as only a bullfinch “pipes".
As I understand it, a bird that “pipes” produces a lower whistling sound rather than a sharp higher-pitched chirp. The verb pipio and its cousins pipo and pipito are clearly onomatopoeias, but a quick check of the OLD shows they are used to describe the sound made by a gallina, the mewling of infants, and the squeak of mice, so the English term “cheep” may not be exactly equivalent.
Obviously there’s not enough evidence to make a definitive claim, but it is an interesting idea…
Seven years after the attacks of September 11th, the American people are still clearly affected by the loss. By a tragic coincidence, early September finds the anniversary of another slaughter that cast a lengthy pall over its culture: The destruction of three Roman legions commanded by Publius Quinctilius Varus in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD).
Advanced latinists should have a look at this announcement from the Perseus project. Our friends at Tufts request some on-line help to parse their classical texts.
My wife, who is a physical therapist, asked me the other night if the Romans ever complained of “chronic pain", as opposed to the dolor of wounds. I did a little checking, and thought I’d share my brief dive on the topic of chronic pain in extant Latin literature.
The article concludes with the familiar Cicero quote “A mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than can a field, however fertile, without cultivation.” David Meadows wonders about the source of that quote, and by luck I just included a blurb from Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations in a post I wrote on translating the English idiom “How few” which leads right into the original Latin for this quotation.
As regular readers may recall, Cicero was complaining about “how few” philosophers practice what they preach. His friend Atticus then argues that the hypocrisy of most philosophers proves how unimportant philosophy itself must be. Cicero disagrees:
Nullum vero id quidem argumentum est. Nam ut agri non omnes frugiferi sunt qui coluntur, falsumque illud Accii:
Probae etsi in segetem sunt deteriorem datae
Fruges, tamen ipsae suapte natura enitent,
Sic animi non omnes culti fructum ferunt. Atque, ut in eodem simili verser, ut ager quamvis fertilis sine cultura fructuosus esse non potest, sic sine doctrina animus; ita est utraque res sine altera debilis. (II.5.13)
(Accius was an early Latin tragic playwright whose work survives mainly in quote-fragments like this)
I’ve been reading Junot Diaz’ pulitzer-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a saga about the “lovesick ghetto nerd” of the title and his cursed Dominican family. Diaz’ excellent tale goes references a wide variety of nerd relics–from J.R.R. Tolkien to Akira–and in one scene when Oscar welcomes a new Dominican roommate, he finds (I think) a bit of Latin:
Hail, Dog of God, was how he welcomed me my first day in Demarest (a dorm at
Took a week before I figured out what the hell he meant.
God. Domimi. Dog. Canis.
A google of recent news articles shows that the quote in the subject line–"Who will guard the guards?"–is still a rather common adage. Two examples can be found in just the past week:
The Lupa Capitolina is one of the most familiar statues from the ancient world and a favorite subject of Roman souvenir stands. It can be found on T-shirts, post cards–not to mention many public buildings in the city. But results of carbon-dating have been released, and they indicate a much later date than the previous estimate of 500 BC. The evidence is hardly definitive, but it has stirred up a bit of controversy in Italy.
A quick check of his site shows he’s made a number of updates. Take a look…
I can across a thread on Textkit regarding Latin recitation for poetry. It’s well worth a look.
The thread begins with a Youtube link for a reading of Aeneid VI.836-853. I think the recitation is perfect for beginners; the rhythm is deliberately over-emphasized, but hearing it this way gives one a good starting point to develop a more natural style. It reminded me of my own high-school Latin teacher, who pounded out the rhythm of the dactylic hexameter by tapping a ruler on the edge of his desk. Our reading was very mechanical at first, but improved over the semester.
For those interested in more, the fellow in the video has also started typing out Charles Bennett’s The Quantitative Reading of Latin Poetry, complete with mp3’s for some of the sample lines. I haven’t read this book in a while–a copy of the out-of-print text lurks somewhere in a box in my garage–but the advice it gives stands up even today.
I’d like to credit the man, who identifies himself as Alatius on Textkit and Winge42 on Youtube. He’s doing good work to help revive Latin as an artistic medium, a topic I am very much interested in.
Over the past two months I’ve been posting a commentary as I read the first book of Statius’ Thebaid. Though I’ve enjoyed a lot of Latin poetry over the years, I had never studied more than a line or two of this work. Statius has been largely dismissed in a modern classical canon that favors originality and thematic complexity; he’s overly-cute, demonstrates all the vices of the Silver Age, and revels in obscurity (I learned more mythology in studying the allusions of book I than from the Latin I read over the past 10 years). Still, I thought I’d approach the work fresh and give Statius a fair chance. I found that posting my thoughts was an excellent way to organize an interpretation–my opinions changed as I wrote each post, and I think Latin students would benefit from writing personal interpetations of lengthy texts.
A bit off-topic, but h/t to David Meadows at Rogue Classicism for a brief analysis on the recent announcement of a date for events in Homer’s Odyssey from astronomical clues.
I heard this story early this morning on the CBS radio news. I’m pretty skeptical–it reminds me of Archbishop James Ussher’s attempts to date the creation from clues in the Old Testament–but at the very least it’s interesting…
The summer solstice this year falls almost exactly at midnight between June 20th and 21st (GMT; in the US that’s the evening of the 20th). Ovid, as usual, has a charming note in the Fasti (VI.784-90)
Ecce suburbana rediens male sobrius aede
ad stellas aliquis talia verba iacit:
‘zona latet tua nunc, et cras fortasse latebit:
dehinc erit, Orion, aspicienda mihi.’
at, si non esset potus, dixisset eadem
venturum tempus solstitiale die.
Notice how Ovid ironically structures the passage: The calendar-significant solstice is cast as an afterthought to the picture of a drunk making his way home after a night out, and the poet paints the picture in a muster of detail:
Put it all together, and we’re looking at a real animal conviviale!
The date on this passage is June 26th, quite a few days later than our own solstice. The reason for this apparent discrepancy is the astronomical phenomenon known as Precession of the Equinoxes, though the exact dating was also affected by the Gregorian calendar reform in 1582.
Summary: Polynices sheepishly reveals his identity as Oedipus’ son. Adrastus admits to recognizing him, sympathizes with his family’s misfortune and closes the book with a prayer to Phoebus.
Summary: Adrastus tells the story of Psamathe. She bore a son by Apollo but fearing her father abandoned the babe in the woods. The child was torn apart by wolves and Psamathe put to death by her father for her impurity. In vengeance, Apollo first sent a child-killing monster which is slain by the hero Coroebus. Then he rained pestifera arma on Argos, prompting Coroebus to offer himself as a sacrifice and save the town. Moved to pity, Apollo ended his hostilities.
Don’t know how I missed this, but the headline is (almost) the first line from Cornell professor Frederick Ahl’s new translation of the Aeneid for Oxford University Press.
Summary: Adrastus hosts the feast, summons his daughters, and pours a libation from an ornate patera. This ceremony has a divine origin, and the king begins to tell its tale.
…a holiday in the US which is commonly marked by cookouts and parades; best to all.
If you’re looking for a bit of appropriate Latin, how about Cicero’s translation of Simonides’ epitaph to the Spartan dead at Thermopylae (see the movie 300 for vaguely-historic details):
“Dic, hospes Spartae nos te hic vidisse iacentes,
Dum sanctis patriae legibus obsequimur.” (Tusc. Disp. I.42.101)
Though the source for this epigram (Tusculan Disputation I.42.101) isn’t well-known today, the writers of the film must have studied it closely. Here are the sentences that follow:
Quid ille dux Leonidas dicit? ‘Pergite animo forti, Lacedaemonii, hodie apud inferos fortasse cenabimus.’ Fuit haec gens fortis, dum Lycurgi leges vigebant. E quibus unus, cum Perses hostis in conloquio dixisset glorians: ‘Solem prae iaculorum multitudine et sagittarum non videbitis’, ‘In umbra igitur’ inquit ‘pugnabimus.’
Summary: Adrastus diffuses the quarrel and invites Tydeus and Polynices into the palace. The king discovers these two will fulfill a prophecy regarding his house and draws up a celebratory banquet.
Summary: Tydeus arrives at the palace; he and Polynices begin to fight on the doorstep. Adrastus intervenes and Tydeus introduces himself.
If you liked the Scrambled Vergil game I put up a few months ago, how about a few more to test your knowledge of the Dactylic Hexameter. But this time, I’m going to use lines from the readings of Statius (I’ve been dissecting the first book of his Thebaid here for the past month).
Though I sincerely doubt there is an emerging “Roman noir” fiction genre, the forthcoming Nox Dormienda by debut novelist Kelli Stanley looks to be a promising/hilarious bit of pulp fiction for the summer:
The plot centers on Arcturus, the half native, half Roman private physician and sometime investigator for the governor of Britannia, Agricola. When the body of a Syrian spy is found murdered in an underground temple, Arcturus has a week to determine who murdered him and why before civil war erupts both within the province and with Rome itself.
And this line in the article had me literally laughing out loud:
Rome and noir go together,” says Stanley. “All the Romans needed were scotch and cigarettes.”
The title, of course, is a reference to Catullus’ poem Vivamus, mea Lesbia:
nobis cum semel occidit breuis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda. (IV.5-6)
Summary: Polynices makes his way to Argos, where king Adrastus worries about a portent from Apollo.
As noted in a previous post, I’ve read Ursula K. LeGuin’s Lavinia a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed the novel, although I’ll admit I was the perfect audience for it. I thought I’d close the week with some links to reviews:
Laura Millaer, writing for Salon, has a very good review that hits the mark in the final paragraph, calling the book “old writer’s book – Le Guin is 79 – in the best sense of the word; it is ripe with that half-remembered virtue, wisdom.”
Yvonne Zipp of the Christian Science Monitor gives an overall positive review, praises her grafting of a feminist perspective on a male-dominated epic, and think (like me) the conversations in Albunea with the dying Vergil are a highlight of the book.
Sam Munson of the New York Sun faults the work as trivial, not just because it lies in the shadow of Vergil, but because of her “workmanlike prose” and a plot that lacks the epic scope seen in her other works.
Julie Brickman, a fiction lecturer at Spaulding University writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune, wonders how a book with such “mastery of technique and luminosity of language” could fall flat, and thinks LeGuin is too in love with Virgil to make an interesting story for the non-specialist.
Tricia Snell of The Oregonian finds the feminine perspective revealing, both in lavinia herself and on the better-known characters of the poem.
The feelings of the exiled Polynices as he waits for his brother’s end-of-year abdication.
Interea patriis olim vagus exul ab oris
Oedipodionides furto deserta pererrat
Aoniae. iam iamque animis male debita regna
concipit, et longum signis cunctantibus annum
stare gemit. Tenet una dies noctesque recursans
cura virum, si quando humilem decedere regno
germanum et semet Thebis opibusque potitum
cerneret; hac aevum cupiat pro luce pacisci.
Nunc queritur ceu tarda fugae dispendia, sed mox
attollit flatus ducis et sedisse superbus
deiecto iam fratre putat: Spes anxia mentem
extrahit et longo consumit gaudia voto.
I decided to feature this brief passage in an isolated post because I thought it was just brilliant, the first really good selection I’ve come across in this epic.
Summary: Juno reproaches Jove’s decision to bring Argos and Thebes to war. Jove brushes aside her plea and orders the shade of Oedipus’ father Laius be summoned up for his plan, and Mercury flies down to earth.
Summary: Polynices is denied his turn at rule, and a Theban peasant delivers a complaint about the ruler of Thebes. Meanwhile, Jove hosts a council of the gods and promises to punish the descendants of Cadmus.
The College Board is an organization best known for administering the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the exam most high-schoolers need to score well on to be placed at more prestigious universities in the US.
But the College Board also administers a wide group of certified Advanced Placement (AP) courses and tests for US high schools. Students can take these courses in high school and either earn college credit in the subject area or use their final test results to bolster a college application or argue for advanced standing in a curriculum (I myself used AP credits to get into the more interesting Latin literature seminars at my own college, lo those many years ago).
Nevertheless, the Board has decided to pare down some of the language tests, and one of the subjects axed is for Latin Literature. On reflection–while I’m disappointed–I don’t consider this a devastating decision, since the AP Latin test specific to Virgil remains. Yes, many advanced high-school students enjoy the poetry of Catullus, and despite the loss of an associate AP course I would hope despite the loss ofcertified materials that AP teachers will continue to expose their students to literature beyond the Aeneid. But IMO it could have been a lot worse.
Summary: Tisiphone sews emnity between the brothers Eteocles and Polynices; Statius laments the paltry stakes they will fight over.
Summary: The story picks up with Oedipus–father of Eteocles and Polynices–calling on the fury Tisiphone to curse his two sons. Tisiphone grants his wish and wings her way to Thebes.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post on the Latin elegy De Piris Vernantibus, an excellent bit of modern/recent Latin I found on a website devoted to Latin poetry.
The author of the piece–Massimo Scorsone–contacted me via email this past week. Though flattered at the rcommendation, he felt he had to point out the elegy is a paraphrase from a portion of the American poem Among the Trees by 19th century writer/newspaper editor William Cullen Bryant (I regret to say it’s a poem I’d never read until I received the email). Mr. Scorsone says it was a work he “translated in Latin some years ago for my own pleasure, in (an) attempt to ‘reconstruct’ a fictitious ‘ancient archetype’ to the text…” His elegy picks up nine lines into Bryant’s, and ends about two-thirds of the way down.
Translation or not, I stand by my original assessment; Scorsone’s work is an excellent piece that Latinists should take a moment to review and enjoy.
Fraternas acies alternaque regna profanis
decertata odiis sontesque evolvere Thebas
Pierius menti calor incidit. (I.1-3)
I’ve read a lot of Latin in my twoscore-plus years, but I have never touched Statius’ epic Thebaid, not even a single line.
Nicholas Poussin–the 17th century French painter best know for classical scenes like The Rape of the Sabine Women and Et in Arcadia Ego–is currently the subject of an exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the catalog for the exhibit is discussed in the latest New York Review of Books. Andrew Butterfield is the author, and his article includes a perfect classical reference:
The extraordinary amplitude of the world and sky in Poussin’s paintings was commented upon by his contemporaries…In a letter in 1665 Poussin compared the elements of painting to the golden bough carried by Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid. He does not elaborate on his comment, and perhaps it is only a suggestive coincidence, but in Book VI of the epic the golden bough serves as a magical aid that helps Aeneas reach the Elysian Fields. Virgil writes of the skies of that heavenly place: “What largesse of bright air, clothing the vales in dazzling/ Light, is here!” No description better fits the effect of the light and space in Poussin’s late landscapes.
The line above is VI.640; I’ll quote it along the follow-up line 641:
Largior hic campos aether et lumine vestit
purpureo, solemque suum, sua sidera norunt.
For a painter like Poussin, the complete thought is quite apropos; the landscape (campos) he creates on a canvas must be vested with its own dazzling light from the pigments (lumine purpureo; that last word doesn’t necessarily refer to the color violet, but majesty and grandeur, since purple dye was precious in the ancient world). The painting must also have its “own sun” and “own stars", which I personally reinterpret here as sources of illumination inside the painting itself. Since the images in the painting can’t depend on light from the actual sun (unlike, say, an outdoor statue), it’s up to the artist himself to skillfully create that illusion within the frame.
Virgil is rightly hailed for painting a picture with his words; it is nice to see Butterfield recognize that quality in comparison with another artistic master.
The UK Times columnist William Rees-Mogg has written a column on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill winding thru the House of Commons.
In discussing amendments related to animal-human hybrid cloning, Mr. Rees-Mogg quotes Ovid:
It is true that the scientists are asking only for experimentation in the laboratory; there will be no animal-human embryos implanted in a human or animal mother, let alone taken to term. There will be nothing such as Ovid describes in one of the worst lines in Latin poetry: “Semibovemque virum, semivirumque bovem.” That means “A man, half ox, an ox, half man.”
That line is from the Ars Amatoria II.24 (Ovid is describing the mythical Minotaur locked up by Daedalus in the Labyrinth). In calling it one of the worst lines in Latin poetry, Mr. Rees-Mogg echoes a story told by Seneca the Elder (Controversiae II.2.12):
Naso…(est) rogatus aliquando ab amicis suis, ut tolleret tres versus, invicem petit, ut ipse tres exciperet, in quos nihil illis liceret. Aequa lex visa est: Scripserunt illi quos tolli vellent secreto, hic quos tutos esse vellet. In utrisque codicillis idem versus erant
The line quoted is one of the three his friends wanted to remove but that the poet considered essential. Seneca uses this story to explain the difference between Ovid’s use of language as an orator and a poet:
Verbis minime licenter usus est, non (ut) in carminibus, in quibus non ignoravit vitia sua sed amavit.
A fair lesson; poetry can sometimes benefit from a few blemishes…
I ran across this sentence while researching some items on Cicero. Pliny in his Natural History has a passage discussing those Romans pre-eminent for their wisdom. Cicero of course ranks among the greats, and he concludes a rather short list of his major accomplishments with the following praise (VII.117; ignore the citation numbers at Perseus, I don’t think they’re correct):
A little celebration from Virgil is in order:
I tried to stick to ones where the speaker memorized the text, but I had to include the last one because IMO the woman speaking does an excellent job. All of them get the cadence right, and their recitation exposes the structure of Cicero’s brilliant rhetoric. Listen to them all, and I guarantee you’ll understand the Latin better.
Regarding that last video, some of the comments left by users are quite nit-picky–details about Latin aspiration, for example, are really guesswork, and most of them seem to revolve around which book on the subject you last read. I really don’t understand why so much time is wasted arguing over classical Latin pronunciation among non-linguists. If you can easily understand the words being said, who cares? I’m happy some students are moved enough by the subject to work on and post things like this; it’s much better that rude snobbery in the service of faux erudition.
A commenter asked the following question regarding my recent post on mortgages in ancient Rome:
can you tell me if Roman law allowed investors in any kind of business association to have their personal liability for acts of the association limited to the extent of their investment? I’m curious as to how far back the concept of limited liability for shareholders goes in human history.
…the Ides of March.
There’s been an interesting re-interpretation of Caesar’s last words in recent years. Sorry to burst your bubble, but no ancient historian puts Et tu, Brute in the dictator’s mouth at the time of his death; that phrase was coined by Shakespeare. Suetonius (Caesar 82.2) has the following:
Atque ita tribus et viginti plagis confossus est uno modo ad primum ictum gemitu sine voce edito, etsi tradiderunt quidam Marco Bruto irruenti dixisse: kai su teknon
kai su teknon - “And you, child” is reported only here; Plutarch’s biography has the great man saying nothing, but pulling his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among his assassins.
Now, it’s unlikely Caesar actually said these words, but for the ancients the best historians were not necessarily the most accurate, but the most artful. Some scholars (sorry, can only find it in French) therefore think the phrase is a veiled threat put in by storytellers to foreshadow Brutus’ own violent death. They base this on the fact that (1) it would be unusual for Caesar to speak Greek in this situation, and (2) there was a similar-sounding Greek cliche (reported in Dio Cassius) current at the time: “You too, my son, will have a taste of power.”
An interesting idea, taking the most recognized phrase in English literature regarding betrayal and turning it into a threat…
Elision is commonly described as the elimination of final syllables ending in vowel or vowel+m during poetic recitation if the next word starts with a vowel or h. Now if you revel in technicalities, elision properly refers only to the loss of a vowel. The loss of a consonant–in particular the m from the end of an elided syllable–is called Ecthlipsis. There is also Aphaeresis, which refers to the loss of a vowel sound at the start of a word (e.g. in English ’til for until). This word describes the exceptional Latin elision that occurs when a word ending in a vowel or vowel+m is followed by est. In this lone case, rather than dropping the end syllable, the e is eliminated instead. Thus timendum est and locuta est are spoken (and often written in manuscripts as) timendumst and locutast.
The mortgage crisis striking homeowners and the financial sector in the US is hardly a trivial matter, and I certainly don’t want to seem callous by appropriating the theme for a language study. Still, a few words from the ancient world show that problems with money and lending are universal, and in the hope there is some small value in comparing modern times with ancient, let’s take a look at a few interesting sources related to property transactions.
Ovid concludes our week of antidotes to the false sentimentality of Valentine’s Day. It’s a tall order, because a lot of Ovid’s love poetry is a comic vision of romance not much removed from modern television sitcoms. But his poems–like sitcoms–were incredibly popular in their age, and it would take a hard cynic to insist there is no room for a playful approach to affairs of the heart.
An excerpt from Catullus’ collection is the obvious choice for a February 14th post, so let’s take a look at Rome’s most famous love poet in our continuing search for a Valentine’s Day antidote. Before we begin, I have to give credit to Henry Walker, a professor of Classics at Bates College, Maine, who has developed an excellent site on Catullus’ poetry at Virtual Roma; I highly recommend it if you want to explore Catullus’ work.
The opening poem in Tibullus’ collection of elegies is a sincere summary of his views on life and love. It’s an interesting love poem because he arrives at his amorous declarations in a rather roundabout way, a plan which IMO makes them far more sincere than a studded list of vapid comments about his lover’s beauty ("Your eyes are like lipid pools…"). Let’s have a look in our continuing pursuit of a Valentine’s Day antidote…
As part of my Valentine’s Day antidote, I’ve been reading a few selections from Propertius. The third elegy of his fourth book–a verse-letter written by the young wife Arethusa to her absent soldier-husband Lycotas–caught me a bit by surprise.
Yes, this Thursday is Valentine’s Day; if you need a review of the sketchy Greco-Roman origins of this holiday, Wikipedia has as good a summary as any. The link with St. Valentine–who protested a preposterous order of Emperor Claudius II that forced young men to remain single by conducting underground marriages–is legend built upon legend. Further attempts to link the holiday to Roman festivals–as the Saturnalia is linked to Christmas–are tenuous at best, and most likely coincidental.
The schmaltzy romantization of Valentine’s day has eclipsed the very thing that has made Love such a source of inspiration: It is a trying, complicated, uncontrolled and inscrutable emotion, a force of reckoning no Hallmark sentimentality will ever capture.
That’s why I always turn to the Roman elegists at this time of the year. You’d be hard pressed to find any truer expressions of Love than those captured 2000 years ago by writers like Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid.
These poems–despite their obvious artistry–began as deeply personal expression, and are at their best when the interior monologue is sincere. Eventually, though, that sincerity gave way to artistry, and what was a fragile psychological portrait faded to become a archetypal commonplace. You can comisserate with Catullus when he writes odi et amo, but when Ovid says (Amores II.5):
odi, nec possum, cupiens, non esse quod odi;
heu, quam quae studeas ponere ferre grave est!
it is too ornate to be believed. Lesbia was real; Corinna just a literary trope.
Nevertheless, coming at these fresh every year has served me well as a antidote to the phony romance of this Hallmark holiday. I thought I’d spend this week posting my thoughts on a few verses from these writers. Look for them throughout the week.
In Rebus noted the classical origins of the North Carolina state motto Esse quam videri. Quite a few US state mottoes have a classical origin:
Returning to our look at Latin’s “little words", let’s talk about iam and its compounds. I once inherited a student who had been told by another teacher that this word was one of those “throw-ins” that can usually be ignored (like “ah” or “um” in English). But there’s a lot more to these three letters than what first meets the eye.
A follow-up: I have found a second manuscript containing the introduction and beginning of Lucan’s poem at the Digital Scriptorium’s Huntington Catalog at Berkeley. So here’s your chance to compare readings with the one we reviewed in the previous posts (Both MSS will open in a new window).
I like this post on In Rebus about finding one’s own Ovidian allusion in the latest e-book gadget from Amazon.
Lucan Manuscript (opens in a new window).
We went thru the six-line introduction in the last post; today we plunge into the work itself. But not before dealing with the title line:
Lucan Manuscript (opens in a new window).
We got thru an overview and the first line in part 1; let’s move on to the rest of the introduction in part 2.
Lucan Manuscript (opens in a new window).
We’ll start the survey with a brief look at the handwriting. Paleographers are often able to date manuscripts to within 50 years of composition and make a good guess at writing-location just from the details of the script. Unfortunately I’m not a paleographer, so for this post I’ll confine my comments to a general survey.
I encourage anyone interested in Latin to take a look. Browsing thru cozy, mass-produced books, it’s easy to forget the enormous effort that goes into developing a text. Our sole link to the literature of the ancient world rests precariously on a few fragile and obscure hand-written documents, and I believe a rudimentary understanding of how these manuscripts are judged, decoded, and emended will lead us to a better appreciation of the underlying material.
I thought as a sample I’d take a look at one of these MSS and walk thru some of the passages over the next few days. Completely at random I selected Lucan’s De Bello Civili. I figure it’s one of those “important” texts many Latinists acknowledge but few have read, so I hope you’ll not only get an intro to MSS reading, but also a little taste of what most classicists call the “greatest Latin epic after the Aeneid“.
Finally, let me say that I have only an amateur knowledge of paleography (the study of handwriting in old manuscripts), so I may struggle with a few passages. The Medieval Writing website–maintained by Dr. Dianne Tillotson in Canberra, Australia–is a very good starting point for folks who wish to learn more about the subject. I think I’ll be learning as much in going thru this process as my readers…
I came across the following passage in Ovid a few weeks ago, where he describes a ring he’d just given to a girlfriend:
After posting this analysis of a Latin poem I read in Ephemeris, I received a lovely email from the author, Barbara Dowlasz.
One of my observations was that Ms. Dowlasz–in translating this originally Greek poem–assumed the subject of the poem was literally dreaming about a lost love. Under this interpretation she used the phrase Ducens somnia corpus, and I thought corpus wasn’t the best word to use here (it usually refers to a dead body). Her response is a model of Latin prose, and I thought I’d share the author’s rationale here:
hac ipsa voce lectoribus ostendere eo magis volui solitudinem doloresque illius, qui in poemate loquitur: tactu basiisque dilecti sui carens est quidem quasi mortuus! Affectus ille demum, quem in somnis suis tam diligenter revocat, quodammodo eum excitare valet.
Stuff I’ve run across that doesn’t really deserve to be posted…
* The Lost television show has spun-off a video game with a Latin title: Via Domus (obligatory reminder here that domus is a 4th declension noun).
* Laura Gibbs is posting Roman Sudoku puzzles from her book. The puzzles use Roman numerals, and there’s a little Latin here as well.
* Italian art museums are beginning to get results on their efforts toward the return of stolen antiquities currently on display in American museums. This particular article is about the Euphronios Krater–the subject of a three-decade long legal battle–but some details on other cases are also included.
A quick overview reveals all of what Petronius later called Horace’s curiosa felicitas. The poet labored intensely over the choice and placement of every word, a tendency that reflected the classical ideals of his age. Studying his work offers an interesting (if elaborate) glimpse into the educated Roman mind.
Fertur Prometheus addere principi
limo coactus particulam undique
desectam et insani leonis
uim stomacho apposuisse nostro.
Irae Thyesten exitio gravi
stravere et altis urbibus ultimae
stetere causae, cur perirent
funditus inprimeretque muris
hostile aratrum exercitus insolens.
Conpesce mentem: me quoque pectoris
temptavit in dulci iuventa
fervor et in celeres iambos
misit furentem. Nunc ego mitibus
mutare quaero tristia, dum mihi
fias recantatis amica
opprobriis animumque reddas.
I’ve stumbled across a podcast of Latin poetry selections by Professor Christopher Francese at Dickinson college. The professor takes a selection of Latin poetry, gives a brief introduction and summary translation, then simply reads the piece aloud. Although updates to the blog seem a little spotty, there is quite a selection there.
The last entry posted 1/9 features an iambic poem from Apuleius (Apologia.5.6) that I was not familiar with; The professor’s reading is quite good, and captures (as best as we can today) the movement of ancient poetry. Take a listen.
O matre pulchra filia pulchrior,
quem criminosis cumque voles modum
pones iambis, sive flamma
sive mari libet Hadriano.
Non Dindymene, non adytis quatit
mentem sacerdotum incola Pythius,
non Liber aeque, non acuta
sic geminant Corybantes aera,
tristes ut irae, quas neque Noricus
deterret ensis nec mare navfragum
nec saevus ignis nec tremendo
Iuppiter ipse ruens tumultu.
I’ve had a personal theory about this ode for quite some time, so I’d like to give it a treatment similar to what I did for Alcuin’s O Mea Cella.
This summer (7/24 - 10/26) the British Museum features an exhibition centering on Hadrian. For Latinists one of the more interesting items on display will be samples of the Vindolanda Tablets, a collection of ~1000 fragmentary notes, letters, and dispatches written by Roman soldiers and relatives stationed along Hadrian’s wall. Written in makeshift ink on thin shards of wood, they were first unearthed in the 1970’s; samples continue to be found today.
The tablets are a brief but invaluable glimpse into the Roman world. For Latin students they give us a chance to see more of the vulgar language, not to mention the cramped and sometimes barely legible handwriting on the Roman frontier. There is an online collection of the tablets; maybe when I get some time I’ll walk thru a few on this blog…
In this article on Love in ancient Rome, Professor Judith Hallet at the University of Maryland offers a Latin translation of a well-known love song from the movies:
Haec sunt memoranda, manent suspiria, basia longius.
Pertinet mos veterrimus, ut it tempus.
Et cum amant duo, iterant “Te amo",
Pertinet mos veterrimus, ut it tempus.
Amores, luna, numquam senescent;
Fervida corda semper invident;
Femina virque sese coniungent,
Eadem fabula, amor cum gloria, dulcis et decorus.
Amantes fovet hic mundus, ut it tempus.
You have about four weeks ’til Valentine’s day, if you plan to use it…
Confronted with the stunning monuments that survive to this day (aqueducts, roads, etc.) and the Roman reputation for conquest, one might draw the conclusion that the Romans saw nature merely as something to exploit. As the article points out, this is mistaken; the author cites a good passage from Cato’s De Agri Cultura to support the point; I’ll add a well-known passage from Pliny the Younger’s letters (V.6.7) where he describes his estate:
Regionis forma pulcherrima. Imaginare amphitheatrum aliquod immensum, et quale sola rerum natura possit effingere. Lata et diffusa planities montibus cingitur, montes summa sui parte procera nemora et antiqua habent…
(Imaginare is passive imperative (it’s a deponent verb); planities - “plain", a greek loan-word; summa sui parte - “on the highest part of themself” => “on the summits")
Anyone who reads the entire description will no doubt agreee the ancients valued the natural beauty of he land, but let me point out one particular sentence (V.11):
Prata florida et gemmea trifolium aliasque herbas teneras semper et molles et quasi novas alunt. Cuncta enim perennibus rivis nutriuntur; sed ubi aquae plurimum, palus nulla, quia devexa terra, quidquid liquoris accepit nec absorbuit, effundit in Tiberim.
(Trifolium I think is “clover"; take plurimum as an adverb for the implied verb fluunt; palus, -udis (f.) - “swamp", devexa - “sloped".)
Pliny is describing water runoff, and understands the process by which it nourishes and renews his fields. He may not be a modern environmentalist, but he at least understands the natural balance of land management.
In case you missed the previous posts:
This post will summarize my impressions of the poem as a whole.
As you slog through this long winter, take heart from this short passage in Ovid’s Fasti (I.459-60). Ovid planned this work as a celebration of notable dates in the Roman calendar (he only made it thru half the year), and he has the following couplet for January 10th:
Postera lux hiemem medio discrimine signat,
aequaque praeteritae quae superabit erit.
Ovid says Postera lux because he just completed a lengthy story about the festival of the Agonalia, which occurred on the 9th. Take quae superabit as the subject of erit; aequa…praeteritae is a poetic construction where the dative completes the meaning as it does with the adjectives par or similis. I’m assuming the feminine quae here refers to hiems (or perhaps more correctly pars hiemis).
Let’s be frank: Medieval Latin is commonly derided as a “lesser” form of Latin. One main reason for this is that it naturally invites comparison to a classical ideal, and so by its very nature it will always fall short of that ideal.
The on-line Latin newspaper Ephemeris publishes recent Latin poetry in its Cultura section. One poem caught my eye, and I thought it merited a little discussion:
Take a little time this New Year’s Eve to raise a toast to Gaius Caninius Rebilius, one of the shortest-tenured leaders in Roman history.
In running Latin classes over the years, I’ve developed quite a few handouts on texts, authors, grammar, and the like. On the off chance others may be interested in these, I’ve decided to clean them up and post them gratis on this website.
Getting the papers organized, of course, is far more challenging than the technology involved, so expect thse handouts to come in drips and drabs over the coming months. I still have to figure out how to permanently link to them on the blog mainpage, and I guess I should design a separate webpage so folks can more easily find them.
To get started, here’s a summary of Seneca’s Medea (Warning: 225KB PDF) I wrote a couple of years ago for a class. I was somewhat surprised to find no good student text of Seneca’s plays when I ran this class, so I ended up writing my own. The text includes ~120 lines from the play, along with vocab/grammar notes, sections in English translation, and summaries linking the action.
The nine authentic Senecan tragedies (plus a praetexta written in the same style by a later hand) were enormously influential in the development of Renaissance drama, particularly Elizabethan dramatists like Christopher Marlowe and WIlliam Shakespeare; their importance to the history of drama is unquestioned. I chose the Medea because it was a play I read in graduate school, so I’ve at least had the experience of struggling thru it in seminars with other readers. IMO it’s one of Seneca’s better efforts, one that holds up well in comparison with Euripedes Medea (Seneca makes some interesting dramatic changes from Euripedes’ play).
Unfortunately, all of Seneca’s plays employ complicated and highly rhetorical Latin, plus the enormous cultural knowledge required to read them competently is a tough barrier even for students familiar with the difficulties of Latin poetry. The idea of my summary was to give budding classicists some exposure to these important works without getting lost or frustrated along the way; it is of course no substitute for reading the work in extensio, but IMO it’s good enough to get a basic sense of Roman tragedy and to see a little of what the Elizabethans saw in it.
If you like what you find in the summary, I highly recommend the complete work.
Been catching up on some reading over at the Classical Journal, where I came across this interesting article (warning: 220KB pdf) by Latin professor Rebecca Harrington. It describes a method to structurally arrange Latin texts as an aid to student comprehension.
Spe Salvi, the recent Papal encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI, contains an interesting passage that relies on a subtle point of Latin vocabulary.
Oxford University’s Bodleian Library recently displayed four rare copies of the Magna Carta, and US billionaire H. Ross Perot is planning to auction his copy of the document this evening; if you have a registration at Sotheby’s and an extra $20-$30 million lying around, you could probably make a run at owning it.
The lot description (warning: ~500KB PDF) includes the Latin text of Perot’s copy. One of the more important sections (marked 29 in the Sotheby’s description):
Nullus liber homo capiatur vel imprisonatur aut disseisiatur de liberto ten(emento) suo vel libertatibus vel liberis consuetud(inibus) suis aut utlagetur aut exulet aut aliquo modo destruatur nec super eum ibimus nec super eum mittemus nisi per legale iudicium parium suorum vel per legem terre. Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus aut differemus rectum vel iusticiam.
The quoted text abounds in medieval words–imprisonatur (if WORDS is correct, this is an incorrect present indicative), disseisiatur, tenemento utlagetur. Note also the use of super = contra (mittemus here likely means the sending of troops/forces or general regal power). Finally there is the -e for -ae ending on terre and the spelling of iusticiam (indicating the shift in pronounciation of vowels and consonants). But classical or not, the quoted text established a fundamental principle that is still important in modern society: The rule of law applying to all men. And it was in Latin that this and other legal rights first came to the English courts.
A few lines from Virgil (Georgics III.354-60) for those throughout the Northern US who spent Sunday and Monday digging out from the latest snowstorm:
Sed jacet aggeribus niveis informis et alto
terra gelu late septemque adsurgit in ulnas.
Semper hiems, semper spirantes frigora Cauri;
tum Sol pallentis haud umquam discutit umbras,
nec cum invectus equis altum petit aethera, nec cum
praecipitem Oceani rubro lavit aequore currum.
Concrescunt subitae currenti in flumine crustae…
Aggeribus niveis and alto…gelu are abl. of cause after informis, an adjective modifying terra in the next line. septem…in ulnas refers to a measure of depth (acc. of extent in space). Cauri are the NW winds. Pallentis is acc. (-is for -es ending) with umbras, and the two following nec cum (="neither when…") clauses refer to the metaphorical “chariot of the Sun".
This ornamental description (in a longer passage about different types of herdsmen) demostrates one of the things that make the Georgics such a delight. It is a mistake to think the poem is simply a versified Farmer’s Almanac; in passages like the one quoted, Virgil’s descriptive eye and a sense for the sound of words serve him well. Note, for example, how repetition of semper and nec cum underscore how unrelenting winter can be. Or listen to the assonance in the line concrescunt subitae currenti in flumine crustae; the hard c sound mimics the crackling of ice floes on a bitter winter morning.
Some small comfort, I hope, to warm your heart as you shovel away aggeres niveos, septem in ulnas.
I quoted a few lines from Juvenal in this post that contain something of a curiosity. The final line reads:
fiunt urceoli, pelues, sartago, matellae
With the exception of the linking verb fiunt, this line contains all nouns in the nominative case.
This curio led me to look for poetic lines that are made up entirely of nouns (at least four). Virgil has a perfect example in Aeneid XII.362-4:
huic comitem Asbyten coniecta cuspide mittit
Chloreaque Sybarimque Daretaque Thersilochumque
et sternacis equi lapsum ceruice Thymoeten.
As an aside, note the diastole (unusual lengthening) of the first -que. The Gildersleeve and Lodge grammar (784 N.6) remarks that “Virgil…lengthens que sixteen times, but only when que is repeated in the verse and before a double consonant (except A. III.91).” Apparently they missed this one, or the Greek name of the 2nd town once began with a zeta.
Another example is found in the descent into the underworld, where Anchises describes to Aeneas the future cities to be founded by the kings of Alba Longa (VI.754-5)
Hi Collatinas imponent montibus arces,
Pometios Castrumque Inui Bolamque Coramque;
though here I must take Castrum Inui to be a compound name. There is also a close match in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (II.220-1), from the scene where Phaeton’s solar car is out of control:
ardet in inmensum geminatis ignibus Aetne
Parnasosque biceps et Eryx et Cynthus et Othrys
though the line is spoiled by biceps - “twin-peaked". If anyone can come up with other examples, please feel free to comment.
New medical artifacts from the “House of the Surgeon” in Rimini, Italy (unearthed in 1989) are now on display at the town museum. One paragraph in the article leapt out at me:
One unique tool, unknown to archaeologists until now, was a device apparently designed to extract arrowheads from wounded soldiers.
This famous wall-painting from Pompeii depicts the scene in the Aeneid where Iapys removes an arrow tip from the wounded Aeneas’ thigh (XII.383-440). Iapys is using what has been assumed to be a scalpel rather that the forcipe mentioned in line 404. Does the painting depict something closer to the tool mentioned above? I’ll let you know once I find pictures.
Brendan Boyle, a classics professor at UNC, penned the review. I wanted to highlight one paragraph near the end:
We tend to think of Latin as something that might season our dreary vernacular, per the cutesy suggestion of books such as “Put a Little Latin in Your Life.” But our very best prose and public oratory does not have just a “little Latin.” It’s Latin through and through — in tempo, structure, and diction. This goes for even our most ostensibly demotic fiction. When Philip Roth or Saul Bellow unspools a sentence that you think cannot go on one word longer, but somehow does, before it stops, turns back on itself, and leaves us in awe, surely neither has Cicero in mind. But as we catch our breath, we might spare a thought for the language that gave our own this capacity to ravish.
He is probably overstating the case, but Boyle has a point about “cutesy” modern Latin books (I’d lump Beard’s various “Latin for All Occasions” books and Ehrlich’s “Amo, Amas, Amat and More” in that category). These are fun as far as they go, but they’re candy in the smorgasbord of Latin and related studies.
During the 1984 US presidential debates, a reporter asked President Ronald Reagan (who was 73 at the time) whether age was a barrier to the office. His amusing reply touches on a bit of the classics:
There are some amusing lines in Juvenal’s 10th satire (X.61-4) that remind me just how current an ancient author can be.
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