Archives for December, 2012


Huns in Claudian, Germans in Caesar

Late in Book 1 of In Rufinum, Claudian describes the Huns:

Est genus extremos* Scythiae vergentis in ortus

trans gelidum Tanain, quo non famosius ullum

Arctos alit. turpes habitus obscaenaque visu

corpora; mens duro numquam cessura labori;

praeda cibus, vitanda Ceres…  (1. 323-7)

This reminded me of an ethnographic passage in Bellum Gallicum one of my Latin classes read earlier this semester, in which Caesar describes the Suebi, “the most warlike of all the Germans” (bellicosissima Germanorum omnium). The Suebi practice some agriculture, but that is not their main source of food:

neque multum frumento, sed maximam partem lacte atque pecore vivunt multumque sunt in venationibus. quae res et cibi genere et cotidiana exercitatione et libertate vitae, quod a pueris nullo officio aut disciplina adsuefacti nihil omnino contra voluntatem faciunt, et vires alit et immani corporum magnitudine homines efficit.  (BG 4.1)

It is also reminiscent of a description of the Celts in Britain: interiores plerique frumenta non serunt, sed lacte et carne vivunt pellibusque sunt vestiti (5.14). These Celts are then identified as being rather horrible to look at in battle (similar to the unpleasant aspect presented by the Huns), because they paint themselves blue.

In In Rufinum, shortly after the passage quoted above Justice prophesies that Rufinus will be defeated. Afterwards, there will be no more private property (tum tellus communis erit, 1.380)–also reminiscent of the passage in BG 4.1, where Caesar notes that the Suebi do not possess land as private property: sed privati ac separati agri apud eos nihil est. But in Claudian, the reason is that Stilicho’s victory will usher in a Golden Age (recalling Vergil, Ecl. 4. 37-45), in which crops grow of their own accord, lakes of wine and oil appear, fleeces dye themselves, and jewels fill the sea (1.381-7).

I’m not suggesting an explicit connection between Claudian and the passages in Caesar; I was just reminded of one by the other.

*The echo of 1.123 connects them to the far-off regions from which Megaera springs to trouble the Empire.


Where Did Odysseus Enter the Underworld?

In his first book against Rufinus, Claudian places Odysseus’ meeting with the shades of the dead in Gaul–or, rather, shows that he is familiar with a tradition that places the event there (fertur):

Est locus extremum pandit qua Gallia litus

Oceani praetentus aquis, ubi fertur Ulixes

sanguine libato populum movisse silentem.  (In Rufinum 1.123-5)

Does anyone know the antecedent for this tradition locating the event, not just at the edge of the world, but precisely in Gaul? I don’t recall coming across this before, but that presumably just shows my ignorance. Is this found anywhere in the mythographical tradition?


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: An Echo in Aeneid 1.613

After Aeneas has been revealed to Dido and has identified himself, she is in awe of the man, dumbstruck with wonder:

Obstipuit primo aspectu Sidonia Dido,
casu deinde viri tanto, et sic ore locuta est. (1.613-14)

The first word of the line assimilates her to Aeneas, who, when he saw that many of his companions had survived, was described thus:

Obstipuit simul ipse, simul percussus Achates
laetitiaque metuque… (1.513-14)

The similarity between the two passages is enhanced by what follows: in 517ff., a series of indirect questions (quae fortuna; quo litore; quid); in 615 ff., a series of direct questions (quis; quae vis; tune ille…).

The assimilation, though, is unsettling, for that first word, obstipuit, and the further parallel of questioning make Dido and Aeneas seem much closer than they actually are: Aeneas was dumbfounded at the survival of his friends, men with whom he had been close for a long time. Dido has never seen Aeneas before, and thus has no real bond with him whatsoever, and the closeness she desires with him (signaled by the echo?) will prove to be her undoing. And indeed, it may be that Vergil alerts the reader to that very fact here. For, immediately after the echo of obstipuit, in the same line-initial position, the first words that follow in 613 are primo aspectu; Vergil reminds us that Dido has never laid eyes upon Aeneas before, and perhaps indicates that we should notice the inconcinnity of the two figures despite the verbal resemblance.


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Word-Order in Aeneid 1.584

After hearing the report of their Trojan companions, Achates impresses upon (compellat, 581) Aeneas that things stand as Venus had said, presumably because he believes it is time for them to be revealed (we know from 580-1 that they both were eager to become visible again). Here is what he says:

“Nate dea, quae nunc animo sententia surgit?

Omnia tuta vides, classem sociosque receptos.

Unus abest medio in fluctu quem vidimus ipsi

summersum; dictis respondent cetera matris.” (1.582-5)

The words medio in fluctu are placed oddly: they belong in the relative clause introduced by quem, but they have been pulled out of it. Why? For one thing, it serves to draw added attention to the one man who has been lost, Orontes, as does the enjambed summersum in the next line. Both are, in a sense, displaced, as was poor Orontes. Also, the word-order allows Vergil to put the phrase for the “middle” (of the wave) in the middle of the line. The elision of medio with in is also effective to mimic aurally the drowning of the man.

A couple of other notes: there is a nice contrast between line-initial omnia and unus in consecutive lines: “all are safe, one excepted.” The contrastive parallelism is accomplished also through the double use of videre: “you see all things safe [now], except for the one man we saw drowned [then].

Finally, there is a nice contrast between the quotation and its frame. The description of the death of Orontes has to do with concealing and disappearance (summersum). The quotation comes as a transition between the concealment of Aeneas and Acestes, who were already desiring to be revealed (jamdudum erumpere nubem/ardebant, 580-1), and their bursting into appearance from behind the cloud (repente/scindit se nubes et in aethera purgat apertum, 586-7). Within the quotation itself, the opinion of Aeneas “rises” (surgit) in contrast to Orontes, who sinks.