Latin vs. Philology, Part XVIII

Francesco Filelfo, Letter to Lorenzo Medici (Part 18)

“For there was at that time a huge mob of the citizens who were either new, or foreign arrivals – not native and original citizens. And they not able to speak without ineptitude or some element of the ridiculous.

Cicero jokes about the Oscans, who come from Beneventum, and are so named because they have an unclean and so to speak filthy mouth, and writes in a letter to Marcus Marius, ‘I don’t think that you desired to see Greek or Oscan games, especially since you could easily witness some Oscan games even here in our senate, but you love the Greeks so much that you won’t even go to your house along Greek Road.’ There were not many at all in the city of Rome who preserved that pure and sound Latin speech.

On that account, Quintilian rightly advises that parents should take care that the speech of the nurses whom they hire is not degraded, but that they speak correctly, since their child will try to form the first words which it hears from the nurses. Otherwise, there is a great labor ahead for the future orator, because he must unlearn the speech which he learned as an infant. Thus comes the tradition that Chrysippus made the wise choice. He laid it down that one should select nurses who were the best not only in respect to their characters, but also respecting the mode of their speech, since he claimed that children would retain those things in memory most tenaciously which they had learned in their formative years.”

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Erat enim ingens civium turba qui vel novi essent, vel adventicii, non prisci et origine cives. Et illi quidem non poterant non inepte loqui et cum ridiculo.

Quod de Oscis, qui Beneventani sunt, ita nominati, quoniam immundo forent et tanquam coenoso ore, iocatur Cicero, in epistolam ad M. Marium, cum ait: “Non enim te puto graecos aut oscos ludos desiderasse, praesertim cum oscos ludos vel in senatu nostro spectare possis, graecos vero ita ames, ut ne ad villam quidem tuam via graeca ire soleas”. Non erant admodum multi in urbe Roma qui meram illam atque sinceram servarent latinam locutionem.

Quapropter non imprudenter Quintilianus monet curandum esse parentibus ne vitiosus sit sermo nutricibus, sed loquantur recte, cum earum verba conetur puer effingere, quas primum audierit. Nam si secus fiat, eo maior est labor futuro oratori, quod ei sit dediscendus quem depravatum sermonem infans didicerit. Sapienter igitur Chrysippum optare solitum tradunt. Is enim eas nutrices iubebat eligi oportere, quae essent optimae, idque non solum quo ad morum, sed etiam quo ad sermonis rationem, cum pueros diceret ea tenacissime servare memoria, quae rudibus perceperint annis.

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