The Proper Use of Antiquarianism

Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, de Educatione Liberorum LV: (ft. Aulus Gellius!)

“A certain majesty grants an almost religious attraction to old words. For, those words which have been found in antiquity not only have great champions, but they also lend a certain pleasing gravity to a speech. Since they have also the authority of antiquity, and because they have been lost for some time, they give rise both to pleasure and novelty. Yet it is necessary that they not be too obvious or thickly crowded together, because there is nothing more hateful than vain affectation, nor should they be all sought from the remotest and most forgotten times. One should bear in mind the advice of the philosopher Favorinus, who, as it is said in the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, said to a young man who was eagerly desirous of words and was in the habit of bringing out the most ancient and unknown expressions in his daily, common conversation,

‘Curius Fabricius and Coruncanius, themselves the most ancient men, and even the three Horatii who are more ancient still, talked plainly and clearly in their everyday speech. Nor did they use any of the foreign words of the Aurunci or Sicani, who are said to be the first inhabitants of Italy; rather, they spoke with the words of their own time. But you go on now as though you were talking with the mother of Evander. You use speech which has been out of use for many years now, because you would have no one known or understand what you are saying. You fool, would you not better achieve your purpose by remaining silent? But you said that antiquity pleases you because it is honest, noble, sober, and chaste. Live, then, with ancient morals but speak with modern words, and hold always in your memory and your heart that saying of Julius Caesar, a man of the highest intellect and prudence, which is written in the first book of his de Analogia: “flee from an unknown and unusual word as you would flee a rocky crag.”’

You should then employ moderation to ensure that you not use ancient words in excess, or use ones which are too obscure or obsolete.”

Vetusta verba maiestas quaedam, ut sic dixerim, religiose commendat. Nam quae sunt a vetustate reperta, non solum magnos assertores habent, sed etiam afferunt orationi gravitatem non sine delectatione, cum et auctoritatem antiquitatis habeant, et quia intermissa sunt, gratiam novitati similem pariunt. Sed opus est, ne crebra sint nec manifesta, quia nihil odiosious affectatione, nec utique ab ultimis et obliteratis repetita temporibus. Meminisse oportet Favoni philosophi, qui, ut est dictum apud Aulum Gellium De Noctibus Atticis, adolescenti verborum cupidissimo et plerasque voces nimis priscias et ignotissimas in quotidianis communibusque sermonibus expromenti, ‘Curius,’ inquit, ‘et Fabricius et Coruncanius, antiquissimi viri et his antiquiores, Horatii trigemini, plane et dilucide cum suis fabulati sunt, nec Auruncorum nec Sicanorum, qui primum coluisse Italiam dicuntur, quicquam dictasse peregrini reperimus, sed aetatis suae verbis locuti sunt. Tu autem, proinde quasi cum Evandri nunc loquare; sermone ab hinc multis annis iam desito uteris, quod scire atque intelligere neminem vis, quae dicas. Nonne, homo inepte, ut, quod vis, abunde consequaris, taces? Sed antiquitatem tibi placere ais, quod honesta et bona et sobria et modesta sit. Vive ergo moribus praeteritis, loquere verbis praesentibus atque id, quod a C. Caesare, excellentis ingenii ac prudentiae viro, in primo de analogia libro scriptum est, habe semper in memoria atque in pectore, ut “tamquam scopulum, sic fugias inauditum atque insolens verbum”. Adhibenda est ergo moderatio, ne vel nimia sint, vel nimis obscura, vel omnino refutata, quae a vetustate verba recipiuntur.

4 thoughts on “The Proper Use of Antiquarianism

    • What more could we really expect of Wikipedia? Its limitations become painfully apparent when dealing with subjects which everyone and his mother doesn’t already know about.

      Actually, I have noticed that the internet is pretty barren of Latin texts from the Renaissance; in fact, it is so pronounced that searches for some of these works now produce our site on the first page or two of Google results!

      • I am just surprised that Wikipedia is missing anything on that particular work. Just a mention.

        The medieval world really is poorly served by online texts. Classicists are in part to blame…but Ignatius Reilly is in on it too…

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