Modestly Correcting Ovid

Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not (Chapter 7):

The girl said suddenly; they had run into a clearing of the deep underwoods:

‘I’m not stuffy with you over that Latin, though you were unnecessarily rude. And I’m not sleepy. I’m loving it all.’

He hesitated for a minute. It was a silly-girl thing to say. She didn’t usually say silly-girl things. He ought to snub her for her own sake…

He said:

‘I’m rather loving it, too!’ She was looking at him; her nose had disappeared from the silhouette. He hadn’t been able to help it; the moon had been just above her head; unknown stars all round her; the night was warm. Besides, a really manly man may condescend at times! He rather owes it to himself…

She said:

‘That was nice of you! You might have hinted that the rotten drive was taking you away from your so important work…

‘Oh, I can think as I drive,’ he said. She said:

‘Oh!’ and then: ‘The reason why I’m unconcerned over your rudeness about my Latin is that I know I’m a much better Latinist than you. You can’t quote a few lines of Ovid without sprinkling howlers in…It’s vastum, not longum…”Terra tribus scopulis vastum procurrit”…It’s alto, not coelo…”Uvidus ex alto desilientis.”…How could Ovid have written ex coelo? The “c” after the “x” sets your teeth on edge.’

Tietjens said:

Excogitabo!’

‘That’s purely canine!’ she said with contempt.

‘Besides,’ Tietjens said, longum is much better than vastum. I hate cant adjectives like “vast.”…’

‘It’s like your modesty to correct Ovid,’ she exclaimed. ‘Yet you say Ovid and Catullus were the only two Roman poets to be poets. That’s because they were sentimental and used adjectives like vastum…What’s “Sad tears mixed with kisses” but the sheerest sentimentality?’

‘It ought, you know,’ Tietjens said with soft dangerousness, ‘to be “Kisses mingled with sad tears”…”Tristibus et lacrimis oscula mixta dabis.”‘

‘I’m hanged if ever I could,’ she exclaimed explosively. ‘A man like you could die in a ditch and I’d never come near. You’re desiccated even for a man who has learned his Latin from the Germans.’

‘Oh, well, I’m a mathematician,’ Tietjens said. ‘Classics is not my line!’

‘It isn’t,’ she answered tartly.

A long time afterwards from her black figure came the words:

‘You used “mingled” instead of “mixed” to translate mixta. I shouldn’t think you took English at Cambridge, either! Though they’re as rotten at that as at everything else, father used to say.’

‘Your father was Balliol, of course,’ Tietjens said with the snuffy contempt of a scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge. But having lived most of her life amongst Balliol people she took this as a compliment and an olive branch.

Some Do Not... by Ford Madox Ford

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