Archive for the ‘Literature’ 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).


Bedtime Reading

According to Plutarch’s Life of Alexander 8, Alexander the Great slept with a copy of the Iliad (along with his dagger) beneath his pillow. In reading Charles Norris Cochrane’s Christianity and Classical Culture a few minutes ago, I came across the following: “[I]t is recorded that Charlemagne habitually slept with a copy of [Augustine's City of God] beneath his pillow” (377). This seems to be in imitation of the practice of Alexander, transposed into a Christian key. Does anyone know the source(s) of this claim about Charlemagne?


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.


Gauls in Galatia

Count Claudian as a witness to Galatia in Asia Minor having been settled by Celtic Gauls (I don’t have time at the moment to gather other ancient sources on this):

Pars Phrygiae, Scythicis quaecumque Trionibus alget

proxima, Bithynos, solem quae condit, Ionas,

quae levat, attingit Galatas. utrimque propinqui

finibus obliquis Lydi Pisidaeque feroces

continuant australe latus. gens una fuere

tot quondam populi, priscum cognosmen et unum

appellata Phryges; sed (quid non longa valebit

permutaure dies?) dicti post Maeona regem

Maeones. Aegaeos insedit Graecia portus;

Thyni Thraces arant quae nunc Bithynia fertur;

nuper ab Oceano Gallorum exercitus ingens

illis ante vagus tandem regionibus haesit

gaesaque deposuit, Graio iam mitis amictu,

pro Rheno poturus Halyn. dat cuncta vetustas

principium Phrygibus; nec rex Aegyptius ultra

restitit, humani postquam puer uberis expers

in Phrygiam primum laxavit murumura vocem. (In Eutropium 2.238-54)


Asyndeton + Chiasmus

A couple of nice examples of asyndetic chiasmus close together in Aeneid 1.

First, Aeneas climbs a rock to look for the ships of his comrades. He doesn’t see them, but he sees three stags wandering on the shore:

navem in conspectu nullam, tris litore cervos (1.184)

noun/abl. of place where/adj.//adj./abl. of place where/noun

Shortly thereafter, Aeneas tries to encourage his men, but secretly is less hopeful:

spem vultu simulat, premit altum corde dolorem (1.209)

noun/abl. of place where/verb//verb/[adj.]/abl. of place where/noun


How We Roll in Aeneid 1 (Updated)

Some brief notes on a pattern in Aeneid 1.1-50:

In 1.9, Vergil instructs the Muse to call to his mind the causes for which Aeneas had to undergo/roll along through so many misfortunes (tot volvere casus).

The reason, of course, is that Juno favors Carthage and wants it to be a royal power to the nations (hoc regnum…gentibus esse, 17). But she already knows that this will not happen–she has heard that Rome will rise and one day destroy Carthage, for so the Fates have ordained it/unrolled it/spun it (sic volvere Parcas22; same position in line).

Juno is thus angry that her desires will be thwarted and wants to destroy Aeneas on the sea just as Athena/Minerva had done to the lesser Ajax. So, nursing her grudge and her anger (talia flammato secum dea corde volutans, 50) she makes her way to see Aeolus.

Perhaps, then, it comes as no surprise when the same vocabulary is used to describe the storm that Juno prevails upon Aeolus to rouse: et vastos volvunt ad litora fluctus (sc. venti as subject) (86).


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.


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?

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