Archive for the ‘Language’ Category


A ramble on Latin scholarship

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Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Soundplay in Aeneid 2.19

This may be a bit of a stretch, but given Vergil’s Alexandrianism I’m going to go with it.

In Aeneid 2.19, in the first description of the Trojan Horse, Vergil says that the Greeks enclose chose men caeco lateri, “in the hidden side.” I propose that we are supposed to think here also of the etymologically unrelated latere, “to hide, lurk, be concealed.” The sound of the word calls forth another word that is appropriate to the context. This is perhaps confirmed, or at least given plausibility, when Capys and some others shortly thereafter (9 lines) urge the Greeks to “test the hiding-places” of the  horse (temptare latebras, 38) and when Laocoon warns (10 lines after that) that “some error lurks [in the horse]” (aliquis latet error, 48). He then throws a spear into its side (in latus, 51). But the fates of the gods were against them befouling the hiding places (ferro Argolicas foedare latebras, 55).


Engraved Gourds?

In his Commentary on Jonah, Jerome refers (4:6) to “gourds of small cups/vessels” on which images of the Apostles are sketched:

Et revera in ipsis cucurbitis vasculorum, quas vulgo saucomarias vocant, solent apostolorum imagines adumbrari…

I’d never heard of such an object. Has anyone else, and can you point me to where I might go to find out more?


Caesar in Vergil and Servius

Servius identifies the “Julius Caesar” named in Aeneid 1.286-8 as the dictator Gaius Julius Caesar rather than as Augustus (a debate still ongoing at present). He then offers two possibilities for the cognomen Caesar:

Caesar vel quod caeso matris ventre natus est, vel quod avus eius in Africa manu propria occidit elephantem, qui caesa dicitur lingua Poenorum.

I seem to recall reading somewhere that birth by Caesarian section was not used in antiquity unless the mother had already died before the procedure was undertaken, and so (if that is correct) that would not have been the case for Julius Caesar himself. The second possibility is interesting: that caesa is the Punic word for “elephant,” and his forebear had killed one in Africa.


Servius on pietas

Servius, in his note on Aeneid 1.10, has a very straightforward, no-frills, useful definition of what it means for Aeneas to be insignem pietate:

quia patrem et deos penates de Troia sustulit.

And that pretty much sums it up. He then connects this to Vergil’s reason for invoking the Muse: he had to invoke her assistance because of the apparent contradiction involved in Aeneas’ pietas on the one hand and the anger of the gods toward him on the other:

et hic ostendit merito se invocasse musam. nam si iustus est Aeneas, cur odio deorum laborat?

Juno, obviously, is Aeneas’ main problem; but her anger leads Aeneas to suffer at the hands of the gods more broadly (vi superum, saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram, 1.4).


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.


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.


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Place-Names in Aeneid 1.549-58

In his speech to Dido, the Trojan leader Ilioneus wonders aloud whether their king Aeneas (rex erat Aeneas nobis, 544) is still alive; if not, the Trojans would like to make their way to Sicily, where a group of Trojan exiles led by Acestes have settled. Here is part of his speech:

Sunt et Siculis regionibus urbes
armaque, Troianoque a sanguine clarus Acestes.               550
Quassatam ventis liceat subducere classem,
et silvis aptare trabes et stringere remos:
si datur Italiam, sociis et rege recepto,
tendere, ut Italiam laeti Latiumque petamus;
sin absumpta salus, et te, pater optime Teucrum,               555
pontus habet Libyae, nec spes iam restat Iuli,
at freta Sicaniae saltem sedesque paratas,
unde huc advecti, regemque petamus Acesten.’

The passage begins and ends with Sicily (549, 557) and Acestes (550, 558), with material about Italy sandwiched in between. The longing for Italy, which is primary, is brought out by the emphatic repetition of Italiam in the same case and same line position in two consecutive verses. If, however, their king is dead, sunk in the Libyan sea, they will go to Sicily and Acestes. These last two place names (Libyae, Sicaniae) are in the same line-position as Italiam (with the caveat that Libyae is only trisyllabic), and that serves to contrast them with the real goal: Italiam twice (primary goal, to be sought [petamus] and realized if [si, line-initial] their old king [rege] still lives); pontus Libyae (possible cause of disaster); freta Sicaniae (secondary goal, if [sin, line-initial] Aeneas has died, in which case they will seek [petamus] a new king [regem]).


Conventiculum Latinum at Kentucky (July 2013)

If you want to practice speaking Latin with some of the people who know best both how to do it and how to help others learn comfortably, then check out the Conventiculum Latinum, Annual Workshop for Spoken Latin at the University of Kentucky (Lexington). The workshop is run by the venerable duo of Terence Tunberg and Milena Minkova. I attended a one-day workshop of theirs at Dickinson college, and it was a great experience.

You can learn more on their site and sign up to attend the eight day (!) event, held July 17–24 next year. $100 to attend, and $140 for 7 days of breakfast and lunch and 5 nights of dinner. You can find your own lodging or stay in the dorms for $27/night.

Quite a deal for such an opportunity. If you’re a teacher, just think of the PD hours you can get out of that!

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