Latin vs. Philology: Part V

Francesco Filelfo, Letter to Lorenzo Medici (Part 5)

“I wish that you would apply the argument to yourselves, since you are a renowned colony of the Romans. What about when you need to say something accurately and splendidly in the senate, or among the decemvirs or other magistrates, or in that most turbulent assembly of all the citizens? Do you take refuge in grammar, or do you rather use your mother tongue and Tuscan speech?

For of that Latin, which received its name from Latium, if the entire memory of Festus Pompeius had been overturned so that hardly a scrap of it remained unharmed, what mention would I make of it?

Especially given that long before the times of Festus Pompeius, Latin speech had begun to be depraved, as one can see laid out in these words in Cicero’s The Orator, to Brutus: ‘But go on, Pomponius, about Caesar, and give up what remains. You see that the ground, he said, and as it were the foundation of the orator is an emended and Latin mode of speech, and anyone who has received praise for it up until this point received it not for their reasoning or their knowledge, but for their good usage.’ Therefore, correct and Latin speaking was not a matter of literature, but of common usage.

He adds immediately, ‘I omit Gaius Lellius [Laelius] and Publius Scipio: the praise of their age was almost their innocence of speaking Latin thus – though this does not apply to everyone, for we see their contemporaries Caecilius and Pacuvius speaking like shit.’

Velim de vobisipsis, qui Romanorum colonia estis inclyta, argumentum capiatis. Cum quid vobis vel in senatu, vel apud decenviros, vel apud alios magistratus, aut in ipsa etiam totius populi turbulentissima concione de re magna accuratius est splendidiusque dicendum, ad grammaticamne confugitis, an materna potius utimini ac ethrusca oratione?

Nam latina illa, quae a Latio nomen accepit, si Festi Pompeii memoria tota iam adeo versa erat, ut vix ulla pars eius maneret innoxia, quam de illa fecero mentionem?
Praesertim cum multo ante Festi Pompeii tempora sermo latinus coeperat depravari, quod eius rei ex Oratore Ciceronis ad Brutum hisce verbis licet intelligi: “Sed perge, Pomponii, de Caesare, et redde quae restant. Solum quoddam, inquit ille, et quasi fundamentum oratoris vides locutionem emendatam et latinam, cuius penes quos laus adhuc fuit, non fuit rationis aut scientiae, sed quasi bonae consuetudinis”. Locutio igitur emendata latinaque non erat litteraturae, sed consuetudinis vulgaris.

Subditque continuo: “Mitto G. Lellium P. Scipionem: aetatis illius ista fuit laus tanquam innocentiae sic latine loquendi – nec omnium tamen, nam illorum aequales Caecilium et Pacuvium male locutos videmus”.

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