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).
I think we already know why we’re all better off with Latin, but it’s nice to hear it again avery once in a while.
And lest you think I’m being a little too grandiose, here’s a few groaners only a Latin fan could love…Recto, dude!
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.
From the UK Independent.
A center-right think tank in England is suggesting a return of Latin to primary and secondary schools, and that report has found its way into the hands British media figures:
A group of writers and broadcasters including Ian Hislop and Sir Tom Stoppard is calling for the return of Latin to the curriculum.
They are urging ministers to end Labour’s ‘discrimination’ against the language of the Romans and give it the same status as French, German and Spanish.
No doubt some of this is riding the recent anti-Labour trend, but the report does highlight the usual positives associated with studying Latin. I for one am a little tired of the “no native speakers” argument used against the subject, as if the only benefit of a foreign language is asking directions or booking a hotel abroad. And if English primary/secondary students are anything like their US counterparts, how many actually achieve conversational competence with native speakers anyway–much less true fluency.
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
Yeah, that’s a pretty juvenile headline…let’s just say I share something in common with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office.
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
I’m not insensitive enough to complain about workload at a time where US unemployment is hovering in the double digits, but the fact of the matter is I just haven’t had time to do any blogging over the past few weeks. Still, I manage to squeeze in some classics reading over my lunch hour–a thin bulkwark of sanity against the inane demands of the job.
So I’m changing the format of this blog a bit to accomodate a schedule I don’t see easing up anytime soon. For the next few weeks (months?), look for posts featuring some favorite snippets of Latin. These will be the kind of timeless wisdom I can set up weeks in advance, when I find an evening to post five or six posts for the upcoming days. Yeah, it’s getting that bad…
Anyhow, I’ve already got my first selection (from Horace) set for tomorrow…check back then.
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