I don’t usually bring contemporary politics into this blog, unless I see some interesting parallels that more clearly illuminate classical literature/culture.
Nevertheless, I have to say I find little of value in the Classical Values blog. It’s my experience that most folks who advocate “classical values” use it as code for a far more contemporary political agenda.
If you were to rate academic subjects on a scale from traditional to modern, it would be hard to find one more rooted in the past than Latin. Yes, Latin has a very conservative reputation–I’d be foolish to deny it. But I really wish some of these folks who advocate “classical values” would read an entire work of Cicero rather than cherry-pick his more inflammatory passages (I’ve dealt with one popular Cicero ‘quote’ here). Or maybe look at the complete picture of classical life provided by history and archaeology rather than the idealized cartoon of the Victorian age and “swords and sandals” epics.
OK, there’s my little political rant…I promise to put away the rostra for now.
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)
A good op-ed in this Sunday’s NY Times on Google Translate, the latest version of machine-based language translation. Although past approaches (based on breaking every language into lexicon and grammar) have been laughable–anybody who’s used Babelfish knows that–I’d agree there’s some promise in the statistical approach outlined in the piece.
Spend time on any Latin Language message board and you’ll see more than a few threads dedicated to translating some short English phrase (usually for a tattoo). I usually treat these as interesting discussion ideas; the better ones inevitably become far more interesting than whatever “correct” translation they yield. Still, if you were wondering, Google Translate doesn’t support Latin yet, so there’s still plenty to discuss…
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".
Let’s close National Latin Teacher Recruitment week with a news feature on a great Latin educational resource…
Ancient Coins for Education is one of the best ideas around. I think most folks assume Roman coins are expensive collectibles, but the vast bulk can be purchased by the handful, and they offer enough Latin and history to be of real use in a classroom…just ask Wendy Owens.
The ACE website has plenty of resources for evaluating and deciphering images and abbreviations, though I didn’t see a list of mintmarks…
…and it’s my duty to share this eight-minute video from The National Committee for Latin and Greek.
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.
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