Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.5.1-2

“You, however, as if you were talking to Evander’s mother, wish us to recall words which have been out of use for ages now. You have even incited some excellent men, whose minds have been formed by continuous reading, to embrace this heap of words. But you boast that antiquity pleases you because it is honorable, prudent, and moderate: let us then live in that good old-fashioned way, but use a modern vocabulary. Indeed, I myself always bear in mind and heart the precept of Julius Caesar, a man of approved genius and wisdom, who wrote in his book De Analogia, ‘I would flee a rare and uncustomary word as though it were a rocky cliff.'”

tu autem proinde quasi cum matre Evandri nunc loquare, vis nobis verba multis iam saeculis oblitterata revocare, ad quorum congeriem praestantes quoque viros, quorum memoriam continuus legendi usus instruit, incitasti. Sed antiquitatem vobis placere iactatis, quod honesta et sobria et modesta sit: vivamus ergo moribus praeteritis, praesentibus verbis loquamur. ego enim id quod a C. Caesare, excellentis ingenii ac prudentiae viro, in primo Analogiae libro scriptum est habeo semper in memoria atque in pectore, ut ‘tamquam scopulum, sic fugiam infrequens atque insolens verbum.’

Evander was a heroic character of Grecian stock who was particularly celebrated in Roman legendary tradition for importing various forms of civilized customs to Italy. His arrival in Italy predates that of Aeneas, and Vergil depicts him aiding Aeneas against the Rutulians. Some traditions held that Evander’s mother Carmenta invented the Latin alphabet. In any event, the reference is to her extreme antiquity, and therefore, the outdated language which would be required in making yourself intelligible to her.

Caesar wrote a work, De Analogia, which discussed various grammatical topics. Perhaps the tediousness of this work accounts for the delight which Cicero expressed at Caesar’s murder. With the exception of the emperor Claudius, there are few rulers readily present to my mind who took such an interest in grammar and linguistics. Indeed, the attitude of the Emperor Sigismund, when corrected on a grammatical point, expressed the more typically royal attitude in saying “Ego sum rex Romanus et super grammaticam.” (“I am the Roman emperor and therefore above considerations of grammar.”)

3 thoughts on “Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.5.1-2

  1. “Perhaps the tediousness of this work accounts for the delight which Cicero expressed at Caesar’s murder.” — that’s taking letters too far! On the other hand, recalling my school days, I can summon a certain amount of empathy…. 🙂

Leave a Reply