Filled With Inertia or…Books Which Have Finished Me

I began writing a comment on Palaiophron’s excellent post but as my stylus scribbled, things got out of hand. So consider this both comment and tribute to his observations. I do deviate in that I list three books without using his categories, compensating by expanding my comments. So without further ado….

Plautus. Any Plautus. Lord knows Ive tried, but I just can’t find the humor, despite many classical friends who break into guffaws when reading them. If I were of mean spirit, I’d say they laughed because they’d been taught that Plautine plays were supposed to be funny. Aren’t we all glad that I am not of mean spirit? I’ve read all the plays, and Fraenkel’s Plautinisches im Plautus, in the revised Italian edition. No go. I do find individual words, phrases and sentences interesting for the archaic Latin, one of my special interests. Dishonorable mention: Terence. Same reasons, but not even the redeeming feature of interesting Latin. On the other hand, I find Aristophanes extremely funny. I suppose if one likes shows like Benny Hill or Monty Python one will like Plautus and Terence. But I don’t.

Seneca, Epistulae. What a crashing bore. Not even interesting Latin…Ciceronian it ain’t, but it doesn’t have the inventiveness of the fine Silver Age Latin of Petronius and Tacitus. Or even Lucan. Roman philosophy I consider pretty half-baked philosophy. No, scratch that, Roman philosophy isn’t baked at all. The letters are a big snooze. Why waste time on them when you can be rereading Plato? Or the fragments of the Presocratics? Dishonorable mention: his essays. And they’re way longer than the letters, upping the Lethean dimension. This is the lad who wrote the hilarious Apocolocyntosis? He definitely shouldn’t have quit his day job, although Nero would beg to differ.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. This one actually makes it to lists of Great Books. More’s the pity. Way back in high school I read our boy in translation and thought I’d never look back. Until I hit the sight translation part of my Oxford Greats final. An unseen from…you guessed it. I died a thousand times during those two hours, but somehow managed to get a high Beta out of it. My mind goes numb with this book…I just don’t care what happens next. The author is a very interesting emperor with a totally uninteresting mind, although his exchanges with Fronto are really rather interesting. Another one who shouldn’t have quit his day job.

I suppose a good read is like love…where you find it. But who would want to look for a bad read? A good read makes you eager to finish, so you can start rereading, and so on, and so on. Of these three I’ve singled out…I really can’t think of any others who interest me less.

Medieval Scribes: Complaints About Them

Note: Last year, our friend Festus published a series of posts about medieval scribal complaints. the Original, followed by “Son of Medieval Scribes’ Complaints” and then a two-part Halloween Special. Now, the Son of Medieval Scribes Rides Again! (well, against the Scribes…)

The Medieval Scribes have not died; they just took a good long snooze. It’s time to wake them up and tell them why they have a high nuisance factor sometimes for long-suffering classicists.

Let’s start with some Latin so simple that intermediate Latin students have no problem with it. The opening line of Petronius’ Cena Trimalchionis (“Trimalchio’s Dinner”) from his enormous fragmentary novel, the Satyricon:

Already it was the third day. that is, the hope of free [or “open to all”] meal….

Uenerat iam tertius dies, id est expectatio liberae cenae….
Cena Trimalchionis 26.7

What is the problem? Sounds like a cheap date. A free feed. Maybe this proves that classicists have absolutely no sense of humor. Alas, while there are good reasons to suspect that, this is not the evidence.

The phrase after the comma, the free feed phrase, makes me, among others, downright queasy. Look at the “id est” which you surely seen at least occasionally, regularly if you’re an academic, in its abbreviated form “i.e.” Let’s stay with that for some ancient examples.

The second century antiquarian Aulus Gellius in his wonderful notebook Noctes Atticae (“Nights in Attica”), digressing about damned near anything, gets interested in the many taboos surrounding that venerable Roman priesthood, flamen Dialis, possibly the original priest of Jupiter. The priest was surrounded by many taboos, many of them peculiar such as…he did not work and could not be in the presence of work and thus, when he took to the streets, everyone working was ordered to stop. I can think of several undergraduates who’d be naturals for this gig. But our interest is this:

It is religiously wrong to to remove any fire from the flaminia, that is, from the flamen’s dwelling, unless for ritual uses.

Ignem e ‘flaminia’ id est flaminis Dialis domo nisi sacrum efferri ius non est
Noctes Atticae 10.15.8

There’s our i.e.! The use is obvious. Authors before Gellius use it; Cicero comes to mind but he’s far from the only one. So let’s try a later example, the late fourth century A.D. grammarian Servius, who wrote massive commentaries on the works of Vergil. Here is his note on a line from Vergil’s Georgics:
“Allowed by gods’ laws and by men’s”: that is, permitted by divine and human laws….
fas et iura sinunt: id est divina humanaque iura permittunt
Servius on Georgics 1.269
And this gets us to our complaints about the medieval scribes. They copied manuscripts from antiquity. They did research on the manuscripts, principally on words which seemed obscure. They’d write their results above the word, starting with, you guessed it, id est. There are literally thousands of these glosses preserved in bigger volumes that I can easily lift from my shelves. Fine. But then the manuscripts would be copied and recopied; a toilsome dreary and mind numbing task. A tired scribe could look at a line and forget that he was copying a line with a gloss…the gloss just got into the line.
Back to Petronius. He’s a novelist, not a scholar or commentator or scribe. It’s totally alien to his style to insert a gloss in his own work. The id est phrase we have preserved in our text represents an interlinear medieval gloss that got copied in. Moreover, the phrase doesn’t solve anything. There’s some evidence that a libera cena was a meal given to those about to fight the wild beasts, but that evidence is late and unconvincing to many, including myself. More likely, since this comes at the start of Trimalchio’s Dinner, and we know that there is a huge text gap before this first line…the explanation lay probably in the now lost preceding section.
As for you medieval scribes…you really can be a nuisance. Buzz off.
[My analysis is not totally de novo; an editor of Petronius first noticed it in the 19th century, it was taken up again by another editor in the mid 20th century, and has never gotten the respect it deserves. Until now]

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar Wilde reads Greek, Oxford dons, and more….

[By popular demand! An earlier posting, “Oscar Wilde reads Greek…and more” to be found here reappears in an edited and expanded form. Vox populi, vox dei. Enjoy!]

And how could he? Simple, one classics degree from Trinity-Dublin and a second from Oxford (ex Magdalen College) in Literae Humaniores, aka “Greats”. [aside: a degree I also hold, but with no other connexion].

First the story, from the wonderful Oxford Book of Oxford:

OBO SentAnt

What a champ! Right up there with his famous line on the death of Little Nell in Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop chapters seventy-one and seventy-two. Wilde opined “you would need a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell.”

You be the judge; part, but by no means all, of Nell’s death, from the end of chapter seventy-one:

“She was dead. No sleep so beautiful and calm, so free from trace of pain, so fair to look upon. She seemed a creature fresh from the hand of God, and waiting for the breath of life; not one who had lived and suffered death.

Her couch was dressed with here and there some winter berries and green leaves, gathered in a spot she had been used to favour. ‘When I die, put near me something that has loved the light, and had the sky above it always.’ Those were her words.

She was dead. Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead. Her little bird—a poor slight thing the pressure of a finger would have crushed—was stirring nimbly in its cage; and the strong heart of its child mistress was mute and motionless for ever.

Where were the traces of her early cares, her sufferings, and fatigues? All gone. Sorrow was dead indeed in her, but peace and perfect happiness were born; imaged in her tranquil beauty and profound repose.

And still her former self lay there, unaltered in this change. Yes. The old fireside had smiled upon that same sweet face; it had passed, like a dream, through haunts of misery and care; at the door of the poor schoolmaster on the summer evening, before the furnace fire upon the cold wet night, at the still bedside of the dying boy, there had been the same mild lovely look. So shall we know the angels in their majesty, after death

She was dead. No sleep so beautiful and calm, so free from trace of pain, so fair to look upon. She seemed a creature fresh from the hand of God, and waiting for the breath of life; not one who had lived and suffered death.

Her couch was dressed with here and there some winter berries and green leaves, gathered in a spot she had been used to favour. ‘When I die, put near me something that has loved the light, and had the sky above it always.’ Those were her words.

She was dead. Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead. Her little bird—a poor slight thing the pressure of a finger would have crushed—was stirring nimbly in its cage; and the strong heart of its child mistress was mute and motionless for ever.

Where were the traces of her early cares, her sufferings, and fatigues? All gone. Sorrow was dead indeed in her, but peace and perfect happiness were born; imaged in her tranquil beauty and profound repose.

And still her former self lay there, unaltered in this change. Yes. The old fireside had smiled upon that same sweet face; it had passed, like a dream, through haunts of misery and care; at the door of the poor schoolmaster on the summer evening, before the furnace fire upon the cold wet night, at the still bedside of the dying boy, there had been the same mild lovely look. So shall we know the angels in their majesty, after death.”

And if this sin’t enough, one of the original illustrations:

little-nell

Phew. Sounds like an Olympic Class smart ass. But we need some more information on the circumstances.

As for the circumstances. A viva voce examination only occurs after one has done the written Greats examinations and only if it is unclear into which class the candidate should be placed: third, second or first. Since we know Wilde got a double first in Greats, this would have been a one-two viva as they’re called. Do well, and you glitter when you walk. Do badly and you’re stuck with The Hated Second. Who’s going know? Everybody. Oxbridge complete exam results were, even in my time, still published in the Times. With all the attendant snobbery. My girlfriend at the time got a third in her finals in a different subject area, and felt that having a third was worse than no degree at all. And remember that the great Cambridge classicist A.E. Housman failed his Greats exam (“ploughed” as they say in the trade).

The “examiner” was in all probability Warden Spooner of New College (yes, that Spooner; a forthcoming post will have more]. The passage would be Acts 27.9ff:

9 Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them, 10 And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives.11 Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul. 12 And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west. 13 And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete. 14 But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. 15 And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive. 16 And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat: 17 Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven. 18 And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; 19 And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship. 20 And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away. 21 But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. 22 And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. 23 For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, 24 Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. 25 Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. 26 Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island. 27 But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country; 28 And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms. 29 Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day. 30 And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, 31 Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. 32 Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off. 33 And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. 34 Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you. 35 And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat. 36 Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat. 37 And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls. 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea. 39 And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship. 40 And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoised up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore. 41 And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmovable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves. 42 And the soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape. 43 But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land: 44 And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.

[9] Ἱκανοῦ δὲ χρόνου διαγενομένου καὶ ὄντος ἤδη ἐπισφαλοῦς τοῦ πλοὸς διὰ τὸ καὶ τὴν νηστείαν ἤδη παρεληλυθέναι, παρῄνει ὁ Παῦλος λέγων αὐτοῖς [10] Ἄνδρες, θεωρῶ ὅτι μετὰ ὕβρεως καὶ πολλῆς ζημίας οὐ μόνον τοῦ φορτίου καὶ τοῦ πλοίου ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν ψυχῶν ἡμῶν μέλλειν ἔσεσθαι τὸν πλοῦν. [11] ὁ δὲ ἑκατοντάρχης τῷ κυβερνήτῃ καὶ τῷ ναυκλήρῳ μᾶλλον ἐπείθετο ἢ τοῖς ὑπὸ Παύλου λεγομένοις. [12] ἀνευθέτου δὲ τοῦ λιμένος ὑπάρχοντος πρὸς παραχειμασίαν οἱ πλείονες ἔθεντο βουλὴν ἀναχθῆναι ἐκεῖθεν, εἴ πως δύναιντο καταντήσαντες εἰς Φοίνικα παραχειμάσαι, λιμένα τῆς Κρήτης βλέποντα κατὰ λίβα καὶ κατὰ χῶρον. [13] Ὑποπνεύσαντος δὲ νότου δόξαντες τῆς προθέσεως κεκρατηκέναι ἄραντες ἆσσον παρελέγοντο τὴν Κρήτην. [14] μετ᾽ οὐ πολὺ δὲ ἔβαλεν κατ᾽ αὐτῆς ἄνεμος τυφωνικὸς ὁ καλούμενος Εὐρακύλων: [15] συναρπασθέντος δὲ τοῦ πλοίου καὶ μὴ δυναμένου ἀντοφθαλμεῖν τῷ ἀνέμῳ ἐπιδόντες ἐφερόμεθα. [16] νησίον δέ τι ὑποδραμόντες καλούμενον Καῦδα ἰσχύσαμεν μόλις περικρατεῖς γενέσθαι τῆς σκάφης, [17] ἣν ἄραντες βοηθείαις ἐχρῶντο ὑποζωννύντες τὸ πλοῖον: φοβούμενοί τε μὴ εἰς τὴν Σύρτιν ἐκπέσωσιν, χαλάσαντες τὸ σκεῦος, οὕτως ἐφέροντο. [18] σφοδρῶς δὲ χειμαζομένων ἡμῶν τῇ ἑξῆς ἐκβολὴν ἐποιοῦντο, [19] καὶ τῇ τρίτῃ αὐτόχειρες τὴν σκευὴν τοῦ πλοίου ἔριψαν. [20] μήτε δὲ ἡλίου μήτε ἄστρων ἐπιφαινόντων ἐπὶ πλείονας ἡμέρας, χειμῶνός τε οὐκ ὀλίγου ἐπικειμένου, λοιπὸν περιῃρεῖτο ἐλπὶς πᾶσα τοῦ σώζεσθαι ἡμᾶς. [21] Πολλῆς τε ἀσιτίας ὑπαρχούσης τότε σταθεὶς ὁ Παῦλος ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν εἶπεν Ἔδει μέν, ὦ ἄνδρες, πειθαρχήσαντάς μοι μὴ ἀνάγεσθαι ἀπὸ τῆς Κρήτης κερδῆσαί τε τὴν ὕβριν ταύτην καὶ τὴν ζημίαν. [22] καὶ τὰ νῦν παραινῶ ὑμᾶς εὐθυμεῖν, ἀποβολὴ γὰρ ψυχῆς οὐδεμία ἔσται ἐξ ὑμῶν πλὴν τοῦ πλοίου: [23] παρέστη γάρ μοι ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ τοῦ θεοῦ οὗ εἰμί, ᾧ καὶ λατρεύω, ἄγγελος [24] λέγων Μὴ φοβοῦ, Παῦλε: Καίσαρί σε δεῖ παραστῆναι, καὶ ἰδοὺ κεχάρισταί σοι ὁ θεὸς πάντας τοὺς πλέοντας μετὰ σοῦ. [25] διὸ εὐθυμεῖτε, ἄνδρες: πιστεύω γὰρ τῷ θεῷ ὅτι οὕτως ἔσται καθ᾽ ὃν τρόπον λελάληταί μοι. [26] εἰς νῆσον δέ τινα δεῖ ἡμᾶς ἐκπεσεῖν. [27] Ὡς δὲ τεσσαρεσκαιδεκάτη νὺξ ἐγένετο διαφερομένων ἡμῶν ἐν τῷ Ἁδρίᾳ, κατὰ μέσον τῆς νυκτὸς ὑπενόουν οἱ ναῦται προσάγειν τινὰ αὐτοῖς χώραν. [28] καὶ βολίσαντες εὗρον ὀργυιὰς εἴκοσι, βραχὺ δὲ διαστήσαντες καὶ πάλιν βολίσαντες εὗρον ὀργυιὰς δεκαπέντε: [29] φοβούμενοί τε μή που κατὰ τραχεῖς τόπους ἐκπέσωμεν ἐκ πρύμνης ῥίψαντες ἀγκύρας τέσσαρας ηὔχοντο ἡμέραν γενέσθαι. [30] Τῶν δὲ ναυτῶν ζητούντων φυγεῖν ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου καὶ χαλασάντων τὴν σκάφην εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν προφάσει ὡς ἐκ πρῴρης ἀγκύρας μελλόντων ἐκτείνειν, [31] εἶπεν ὁ Παῦλος τῷ ἑκατοντάρχῃ καὶ τοῖς στρατιώταις Ἐὰν μὴ οὗτοι μείνωσιν ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ, ὑμεῖς σωθῆναι οὐ δύνασθε. [32] τότε ἀπέκοψαν οἱ στρατιῶται τὰ σχοινία τῆς σκάφης καὶ εἴασαν αὐτὴν ἐκπεσεῖν. [33] Ἄχρι δὲ οὗ ἡμέρα ἤμελλεν γίνεσθαι παρεκάλει ὁ Παῦλος ἅπαντας μεταλαβεῖν τροφῆς λέγων Τεσσαρεσκαιδεκάτην σήμερον ἡμέραν προσδοκῶντες ἄσιτοι διατελεῖτε, μηθὲν προσλαβόμενοι: [34] διὸ παρακαλῶ ὑμᾶς μεταλαβεῖν τροφῆς, τοῦτο γὰρ πρὸς τῆς ὑμετέρας σωτηρίας ὑπάρχει: οὐδενὸς γὰρ ὑμῶν θρὶξ ἀπὸ τῆς κεφαλῆς ἀπολεῖται. [35] εἴπας δὲ ταῦτα καὶ λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐχαρίστησεν τῷ θεῷ ἐνώπιον πάντων καὶ κλάσας ἤρξατο ἐσθίειν. [36] εὔθυμοι δὲ γενόμενοι πάντες καὶ αὐτοὶ προσελάβοντο τροφῆς. [37] ἤμεθα δὲ αἱ πᾶσαι ψυχαὶ ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ ὡς ἑβδομήκοντα ἕξ. [38] κορεσθέντες δὲ τροφῆς ἐκούφιζον τὸ πλοῖον ἐκβαλλόμενοι τὸν σῖτον εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν. [39] Ὅτε δὲ ἡμέρα ἐγένετο, τὴν γῆν οὐκ ἐπεγίνωσκον, κόλπον δέ τινα κατενόουν ἔχοντα αἰγιαλὸν εἰς ὃν ἐβουλεύοντο εἰ δύναιντο ἐκσῶσαι τὸ πλοῖον. [40] καὶ τὰς ἀγκύρας περιελόντες εἴων εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν, ἅμα ἀνέντες τὰς ζευκτηρίας τῶν πηδαλίων, καὶ ἐπάραντες τὸν ἀρτέμωνα τῇ πνεούσῃ κατεῖχον εἰς τὸν αἰγιαλόν. [41] περιπεσόντες δὲ εἰς τόπον διθάλασσον ἐπέκειλαν τὴν ναῦν, καὶ ἡ μὲν πρῷρα ἐρείσασα ἔμεινεν ἀσάλευτος, ἡ δὲ πρύμνα ἐλύετο ὑπὸ τῆς βίας. [42] Τῶν δὲ στρατιωτῶν βουλὴ ἐγένετο ἵνα τοὺς δεσμώτας ἀποκτείνωσιν, μή τις ἐκκολυμβήσας διαφύγῃ: [43] ὁ δὲ ἑκατοντάρχης βουλόμενος διασῶσαι τὸν Παῦλον ἐκώλυσεν αὐτοὺς τοῦ βουλήματος, ἐκέλευσέν τε τοὺς δυναμένους κολυμβᾷν ἀπορίψαντας πρώτους ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἐξιέναι, [44] καὶ τοὺς λοιποὺς οὓς μὲν ἐπὶ σανίσιν οὓς δὲ ἐπί τινων τῶν ἀπὸ τοῦ πλοίου: καὶ οὕτως ἐγένετο πάντας διασωθῆναι ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν.

Acts 27.9ff

The passage bristles with difficulties, including, but not limited to, vocabulary. Here is an example of the problems from Rendall’s commentary:

Acts 27.17-18 commentary

There will be more coming on nasty material object vocabulary in Greek and Latin authors; you have been warned.

[Translation is the King James, a literary masterpiece in its own right. It use does not imply any sub rosa doctrine; those who are offended are invited either to use their own preferred translations or go elsewhere.]

So it’s pretty clear that Wilde knew Greek, and very well indeed. His comment on the New Testament passage cannot be read as it appears. Rather, it comes out of the context of clever smart ass (bis) remarks that was prevalent at Oxford then, and even now.

From my own experience in a Senior Common Room:

Don #1: That will only happen over my dead body.

Don#2: Good. That will solve two problems.

The great Oxford Hellenist Sir Maurice Bowra in his autobiography Memories (1966)  at 107-8 tells how students recently demobilized from WWI chafed at rules more appropriate for schoolboys than former soldiers…and how the Dean of Chapel dealt with one such instance:

bowra

It’s called “donnishness”, and Wilde was right in line with it.

Medieval Scribes’ Complaints: Halloween Edition CONCLUDED

It’s That Day, time to conclude this series in time for tricking, treating, and ghosts. We left matters with hungry ghosts on the floor. Now to finish that, and move on to the religious overtones.

Believe it or not, a dirty floor could be an art form in antiquity. The third century BC artist Sosos was famous for a mosaic of same:

“The Greeks were the first to introduce paved floors, which they decorated with painting until mosaic took its place. The most celebrated worker in mosaic is Sosos, who laid the floors oof a house in Pergamon, known as the Unswept Floor(asaroton oecon), because he represented in small bits of many-colored mosaic the scraps from the table and everything that is usually swept away, as if it had been lying on the floor. Among these mosaics is a marvellous dove drinking and casting the shadow of its head on the water. Other doves are pluming their feathers in the sun on the lip of a goblet.”
Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 36.184

Pavimenta originem apud Graecos habent elaborata arte picturae ratione, donec lithostrota expulere eam. celeberrimus fuit in hoc genere Sosus, qui Pergami stravit quem vocant asaroton oecon, quoniam purgamenta cenae in pavimentis quaeque everri solent velut relicta fecerat parvis e tessellis tinctisque in varios colores. mirabilis ibi columba bibens et aquam umbra capitis infuscans; apricantur aliae scabentes sese in canthari labro.

There are possibilities here. A virtuoso mosaic. A joke. Apotropaic, feeding the ghosts so the banqueters can enjoy their feed without worries of spiritual turbulence at their feet. Many are the argunents for various combinations of those choices, but the last, that the floor was apotropaic, remains the most plausible. Especially in light of the many copies of it which existed. Here is one of them:

unswept-floor

As for this time of the year. Some of you will know that tomorrow, November 1, is All Saints’ Day, and the day after that, November 2, is All Souls’ Day. So what?

Here’s the What. All Saints Day was not originally in November at all. On May 13, AD 609, Boniface IV got busy:

In this time he sought permission from the emperor Phocas to rededicate the Pantheon as Church of the Blessed Mary and All Martyrs, to which church the emperor made many gifts.
Liber Pontificalis 1.317-8 Duchesne
eodem tempore petit a Focate principe templum qui apellatur Pantheum, in quo fecit ecclesiam beatae Mariae semper virginis et omnium martyrum; in qua ecclesia princeps dona multa obtulit.

May 13? The last day of the Lemuria! That’s no coincidence. First, another Christian festival, The Chair of St. Peter, had already been inserted into the calendar on the same day of February in which the other great Roman death festival, the Parentalia, took place. Religious competition, that’s what it is. People were still taking part in those festivals, otherwise there would have been no need to place them at precisely those times. And this agrees with what is already well known, that Christianity did not Conquer with Constantine, but merely became a legal religion. Various polytheistic observances still commanded a majority of followers, and many of the festivals continued until well into the Middle Ages.

In the 8th century AD Gregory III moved All Saints’ Day to November 1, and in the late 10th century AD All Souls Day was created on the following day, November 2. Why November 1? Easy, the Celtic festival of the dead, Samhain, took place then. And the day before November 1 was All Hallows Eve. So today is really the runup to All Saints’ Day.

When you think ghosts and tricking and treating today, think Lemuria. And do be careful where you walk.

Medieval Scribes’ Complaints: Halloween Edition CONTINUED

[Note: The Fabulous SP Festus provides us with another post about scribal complaints. His two first posts are here and here.]

We left the previous post with some of the comparative evidence for ghosts on the floor. There are certain issues with the concept, easy to enumerate but harder to rationalize. How will ghosts on the floor appear to the living? Slithering like snakes? Just lying there like ill-behaved pets? Again, ghosts are traditionally quick to anger. Given their mortal origins, might they not take offense at having to grub food from the floor as opposed to food politely offered in dishes (cf. pets, above)? Fascinating though such issues be, more important to establish that ghosts were on the floor. The Festus evidence with the gloss does seem to establish it. But is there more? Oh yes. Oh my yes.

roman-death-mosaic

Here’s a passage from the Elder Pliny’s great encyclopedia, first century AD.:

“Also, food which fell from the diner’s hand was returned to the table at least during the courses, and they forbade, for the sake of cleanliness, blowing dirt off it; too, there are auguries connected, i.e. what the diner who dropped the food was saying or thinking would come to pass — the most dire of which would be if this happened to a pontiff at a formal dinner. In all events, putting it back on the table and burning it for the Lar counted as expiation.”

Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis, 28.27

cibus etiam e manu prolapsus reddebatur utique per mensas, vetabantque munditiarum causa deflare, et sunt condita auguria, quid loquenti cogitantive id acciderit, inter execratissima, si pontifici accidat dicis causa epulanti. in mensa utique id reponi adolerique ad Larem piatio est.

This passage gives us two important pieces of information. Burning it on the table solves the issue of ghosts annoyed by eating it on the floor.  And the Lar, more usually known in the plural Lares was provably a family ancestor as the Lar familiaris.

Armed with this information we can examine a classic ghost festival, the Lemuria, which took place on three days: May 9, 11, 13. It appears in the oldest Roman calendars, meaning it originally was rural and may even predate the traditional founding of Rome (753 BC). The early first century AD poet Ovid in his incomplete Fasti, a descriptive poem of the Roman calendar, offers this:

“When midnight has come and lends silence to sleep, and dogs and all ye varied fowls are hushed, the worshipper who bears the olden rite in mind and fears the gods arises; no knots constrict his feet; and he makes a sign with his thumb in the middle of his closed fingers,a lest in his silence an unsubstantial shade should meet him. And after washing his hands clean in spring water, he turns, and first he receives black beans and throws them away with face averted; but while he throws them, he says: “These I cast; with these beans I redeem me and mine.” This he says nine times, without looking back: the shade is thought to gather the beans, and to follow unseen behind. Again he touches water, and clashes Temesan bronze, and asks the shade to go out of his house. When he has said nine times, “Ghosts (Manes) of my fathers, go forth!” he looks back, and thinks that he has duly performed the sacred rites.”

Ovid, Fasti, 5.429-44, Frazer translation.

nox ubi iam media est somnoque silentia praebet,
et canis et variae conticuistis aves,
ille memor veteris ritus timidusque deorum
surgit (habent gemini vincula nulla pedes)
signaque dat digitis medio cum pollice iunctis,
occurrat tacito ne levis umbra sibi.
cumque manus puras fontana perluit unda,
vertitur et nigras accipit ante fabas
aversusque iacit; sed dum iacit, ‘haec ego mitto,
his’ inquit ‘redimo meque meosque fabis.’
hoc novies dicit nec respicit: umbra putatur
 colligere et nullo terga vidente sequi.
rursus aquam tangit Temesacaque concrepat aera
et rogat, ut tectis exeat umbra suis.
cum dixit novies ‘Manes exite paterni,’
respicit et pure sacra peracta putat.

He throws the beans, which will land on the floor which the ghosts will eat. It all fits together so far…hungry ghosts hanging (slithering?) about on the floor, waiting for food. The passage is not without problems. For example, the black beans. Impossible.  The black bearn, Phasellus niger, is a New World plant and also an India plant. Roman beans were Vicia faba, a creamy white color. Black is known to occur, but it is a recessive trait. Hence black beans would not be nearly common enough for the widespread and long-term practice of this festival. This problem can be solved, but we need to stay on track here.

What about that word for ghosts Manes? “Houston, we have a problem.” The Romans had multiple names for ghosts which overlapped and didn’t overlap all at the same time. Manes appear on literally thousands of tombstones, and usually are taken to mean “ancestral spirits”. It’s far more complex than that; see my article on same in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, third edition and later.

It puzzled the ancients too. Here is a selection from the second century AD author Apuleius:

“here is also another species of daemons, according to a second signification, and this is a human soul, which, after its departure from the present life, does not enter into another body. I find that souls of this kind are called in the ancient Latin tongue Lemures. Of these Lemures, therefore, he who, being allotted the guardianship of his posterity, dwells in a house with an appeased and tranquil power, is called a familiar [or domestic] Lar. But those are for the most part called Larvae, who, having no proper habitation, are punished with an uncertain wandering, as with a certain exile, on account of the evil deeds of their life, and become a vain terror to good, and are noxious to bad men. And when it is uncertain what the allotted condition is of any one of these, they call the God by the name of Manes; the name of God being added for the sake of honour. For they alone call those Gods, who being of the same number of Lemures, and having governed the course of their life justly and prudently, have afterwards been celebrated by men as divinities, and are every where worshipped in temples, and honoured by religious rites; such for instance as Amphiaraus in Boeotia, Mopsus in Africa, Osiris in Egypt, and some other in other nations, but Esculapius every where.

Apuleius, De Deo Socratis 14

Est et secundo significatus species daemonum animus humanus emeritis stipendiis vitae corpore suo abiurans. Hunc vetere Latina lingua reperio Lemurem dictitatum. Ex hisce ergo Lemuribus qui posterorum suorum curam sortitus placato et quieto numine domum possidet, Lar dicitur familiaris; qui vero ob adversa vitae merita nullis (bonis) sedibus incerta vagatione ceu quodam exilio punitur, inane terriculamentum bonis hominibus, ceterum malis noxium, id genus plerique Larvas perhibent. Cum vero incertum est, quae cuique eorum sortitio evenerit, utrum Lar sit an Larva, nomine Manem deum nuncupant: scilicet et honoris gratia dei vocabulum additum est; quippe tantum eos deos appellant, qui ex eodem numero iuste ac prudenter curriculo vitae gubernato pro numine postea ab hominibus praediti fanis et caerimoniis vulgo advertuntur, ut in Boeotia Amphiaraus, in Africa Mopsus, in Aegypto Osiris, alius alibi gentium, Aesculapius ubique.

But moderns are no better. In English we have, among other words, ghost, spirit, wraith, ghoul, revenant…the list seems endless.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a fragment of Maecenas, the emperor Augustus’ pal and literary adviso, no great fan of the Lemures:

“An unregenerate crew, they search out people at feasts, and assail households with the wine-cup, and, by hope, exact death.”

Maecenas, ap. Seneca, Letters 114.5

Inremediabilis factio rimantur epulis lagonaque temptant domos et spe mortem exigunt

Our concluding post will show you why the Lemuria in May has everything to do with Halloween in October. Be safe…watch where you step. Your feet are not alone on the floor.

Medieval Scribes’ Complaints: Halloween Edition

The medieval scribes aren’t done. Before their next regular appearance, here’s their special edition on this year’s Day of the Dead, aka Halloween. What do medieval scribes have to do with Halloween? Everything. Be patient, be very patient (some groundwork is needed; it will be worth it) and read on….

First up, an entry from Sextus Pompeius Festus’ De Significatu Verborum (About Words’ Meanings):
Euerriator: he who, after receiving an inheritance, must do the funeral rites for the dead person according to the proper legal formalities; if he does not do it, or if anything interferes with his performance, he must pay with his life (or: “lose his social status”). The word [Euerriator] comes from “sweeping”(uerrendo). For sweeping (exuerriae) is a particular kind of cleaning the house from which the dead person has been taken to burial. This cleaning is done by the euerriator with a special kind of broom, so named because of the sweeping out.”
Festus 68 Lindsay
Everriator vocatur, qui iure accepta hereditate iusta facere
defuncto debet; qui si non fecerit, seu quid in ea re turbaverit, suo capite luat. Id nomen ductum a verrendo. Nam exverriae sunt purgatio quaedam domus, ex qua mortuus ad sepulturam ferendus est, quae fit per everriatorem certo
genere scoparum adhibito, ab extra verrendo dictarum.

Okay, the Latin can be kind of nasty. This isn’t a great prose stylist who writes relatively easy Latin like Caesar or Cicero. This is a pedant, probably second century AD, doing an epitiome of Verrius Flaccus’ enormous, not preserved work of the same title from the first century BC. But it gets worse. In the Middle Ages, Festus’ Latin was a heavy lift for, gasp, medieval scribes and others. So in the eighth century AD, Paul the Deacon did an epitome of Festus’ epitome. Why on earth do we care? Because the oldest Festus manuscript from which all others are descended got caught in a fire, and a big chunk is no more. So we have to rely on Paul for that which was burned. But better, we can compare Paul with Festus for the chunk which the Festus manuscripts have preserved to get some idea of how much Paul could have omitted. The answer: a lot. The payoff? Our Everriator passage must have been significantly longer in Festus (I’d guess two more paragraphs) and downright Long Read in Flaccus’ original  (I’d guess at least ten more paragraphs).

But where are the ghosts? Am I leading you down the garden path? No way. We’re getting there. Read on!

The passage is about funeral rites. In a majority of societies, the dead are considered unclean; in pedantic terms, a religious pollution. Consider, for example, the washing of the corpse (common in earlier USA and elsewhere), the preparation of the corpse (ditto), the mourning period, the rituals of the funeral, the special status of cemeteries (if the society has them) and graves.
Our passage deals with a part of the Roman funeral rites, the Denicales. On first glance, it looks like sweeping out the pollution, and sweeping out pollution was common in ancient Greece and many other archaic societies including India of the Vedas and a substantial part of the Pacific Rim even today.

But was that all? Maybe not. Everriator is known only from Festus & Company. A rare word. And thus….

Stage Left: Enter Medieval Scribes!

Rare words gave the scribes fits. They researched, they speculated. Their notes are preserved in an enormous number of marginalia, and whole works, Glossaries. Mind-numbing stuff even for scholars unless they specialize in glossaries…believe it nor not, some do.
Lo and behold, Everriator turns up once in the glossaries:

“Euerriator. He who tends to (or: “collects” ) the spirits of the departed.”
Lindsay Glossaria Latina  4.192
everriatores: qui defunctorum umbras colunt (or colligunt)

Either verb works. The manuscript gives colunt, but for palaeographic reasons of the Carolingian Miniscule script, it could easily be a misreading of an original colligunt. But the big news is the object of the verb, the spirits of the departed. They’re on the floor. They’re getting swept out. That’s one really bad-ass kind of pollution. Hah!

Now it gets really interesting. Ghosts on the floor are prominent in very traditional European folklore, especially from the Tyrol. And ancient Greece. And India. They’re none too friendly, and they’re very hungry. Clearly it’s going to take more than an Everriator with a laser-guided Swiffer. They’ve got to be fed, or the results could be very bad.

So, thanks to the Medieval Scribes, we’ve gained a whole lot. Ghosts on the floor were a regular matter in Roman funeral rites. And, it turns out, there was a very neat way to deal with that.

Coming in the followup post. In the meantime, be very careful walking in your abode this Halloween. And especially be careful about dropping any food on the floor. Ghosts are hungry and often really seriously pissed.

 

 

 

 

Son of Medieval scribes’ complaints

Emboldened by the popularity of my earlier post on medieval scribes , herein the next installment. As if the title of the post isn’t a dead giveaway.  It’s a deeply learned allusion to a favorite genre of literature and very bad movies from the 30s and 40s: Son of Tarzan, Son of Dracula, Son of Tarzan, Son of Godzilla. Just to name a few. As for the appearance of “son”, see my pedantic note infra.

So let’s get started. As before, I’m only giving ones originally in Latin. All translations are my own.

“I, Statilius Maximus, have for the second time revised the text according to Tiro, Laecanianus, Domitius and three others.”
Statili(us) / maximus rursum em(en)daui ad tyrone(m) et laecanianu(m) et dom̅ & alios ueteres. III

So where’s the complaint? There isn’t. This is an example of a very early colophon (2nd century AD), which got into the manuscript and is preserved in a 15th century copy. Transcribers and editors in antiquity did this regularly.

“Three fingers write, two eyes see, one tongue speaks, the whole body suffers.”
tres digiti scribunt duo oculi uident una lingua loquitur totum corpus laborat.

The lad obviously wasn’t having a good time. The “three fingers” refers to how the pen was held…believe it or not, there’s a whole subarea in colophon studies devoted to scribal evidence for their writing tools.

“Alas, I finished badly because I didn’t know how to write well.”
Heu male finivi quia scribere non bene scivi

Hey pally, you’re in the wrong line of work. Definitely consider quitting your day job. You could get a topflight job as a pastry chef.

“Every scribe who writes has fun, for writing scribes are happy ones.”
Quicunque scriptor scribit / Leti ut scribunt scribae

Now here’s a scribe who wasn’t into bitching and moaning.

“May an evil plague torment him who shall have left you [the book] open.”
Mala pestis torqueat ipsum / Qui te dimiserit apertum

A bit testy today, aren’t we? Your three fingers bothering you?  Here’s a finger for you [SPFestus makes a crude gesture]

“Let the scribe be paid a cow and a pretty girl.”
Scriptoris dona sit bos et pulchra puella. 

Not all the scribes were monks, even though medieval monks could play loose with their three vows. The combination of a cow and a girl…I’d rather not speculate. But then there’s another who wants a whale and a pretty girl. On that, I’d rather not even think.

[Pedantic note.  As promised in the opening paragraph. A lynx-eyed hyper-PC person may mutter “why not “Daughter of medieval scribes’ complaints”? I quote a famous Vulcan science officer, “I do not create the myths, Captain; I merely report them.” Recall supra that it’s a riff on B-grade whazzits from the 30s and 40s. Blatant sexism was everywhere. “Son” is what the genre used. So don’t go getting all pissy and hissy  about sexism and SPFestus. He’s an old-fashioned 60s liberal, and what’s called “liberal” today looks to him like center-right back then. I’d love to put a medieval curse on you, but I’ve got more posts to right.]

Medieval scribes’ complaints

Recently a fine little piece in that estimable publication, Lapham’s Quarterly, came to my attention.  The graphic compelled, and compels, attention:

marginalized

Hah. Here are some sententiae for our readers. Slight problem…the graphic gives English. The accompanying article gives no source for any of them. And the graphic first appeared where I saw it…there’s no ultimate source. The next post will have more, along with details on  how I wrung some Latin out of it when Sergei & Larry were no help at all. Some of the complaints were in either Old Irish or Anglo-Saxon; fine for me (at least the AS), not so fine for our gentle readers. So without further ado:

colophon-1-of-1Photo & transcription by  Giulio Menna; medievalfragments.wordpress.com

“This work is done, for Chrissake give me some grog;  my right hand is killing me.”

hoc opus est scriptum magister da mihi potum; Dextera scriptoris careat grauitate doloris

Er, pally, that’s why God invented BenGay.

” New parchment, bad ink; I say nothing more.”
Original in Old Irish

“As the sailor rejoices in the harbor at journey’s end,  so the scribe at the end of his toils.”

ut nauta gaudet litore post evectus
ita et scriba novissimum versum sulcatum.

This one was a crowd pleaser; turns up everywhere, in Greek, Syriac and Latin (8th century ms.)

 

“The scribe has the toughest job of all; the work is drudgery, and you get a stiff neck from writing six hours day in and day out.”

Ardua scriptorum prae cunctis artibus ars est; difficilis labor est, durus quoque flectere colla, et membrana bis ternas sulcare per horas

From a ninth century manuscript; you’ll never get finished if you spend your time bitching and moaning.

More, much more, to come soon.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, sort of

Why those two snarky words at the end of the post title?  Read on….

I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon, race course for chariots, and on Zeus’ statue by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of Helios, the great toilsomely made by men mountains of the lofty pyramids, and the humungous tomb of Mausolus; but when I gazed on the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for Helios himself has never gazed upon its equal outside Olympus.
Antipater of Sidon, Anthologia Palatina, 9.58

καὶ κραναᾶς Βαβυλῶνος ἐπίδρομον ἅρμασι τεῖχος
καὶ τὸν ἐπ᾽ Ἀλφειῷ Ζᾶνα κατηυγασάμην,
κάπων τ᾽ αἰώρημα, καὶ Ἠελίοιο κολοσσόν,
καὶ μέγαν αἰπεινᾶν πυραμίδων κάματον,
μνᾶμά τε Μαυσώλοιο πελώριον ἀλλ᾽ ὅτ᾽ ἐσεῖδον
Ἀρτέμιδος νεφέων ἄχρι θέοντα δόμον,
κεῖνα μὲν ἠμαύρωτο † δεκηνιδε νόσφιν Ὀλύμπου
ἅλιος οὐδέν πω τοῖον ἐπηυγάσατο.

Antipater lived in the second half of the second century BC; his is the earliest full list (Herodotus did one, now lost). The Walls Of Babylon substutes for the more common Hanging Gardens, but let’s not quibble yet.

Various later authors could have The Big O about some of the wonders….

But the greatest of these was the image of Zeus made by Pheidias of Athens, son of Charmides; it was made of ivory, so big that, although the temple was very large, the artist is thought to have missed the proper symmetry, for he showed Zeus seated but almost touching the roof with his head, thus you would think that if Zeus arose and stood erect he would bust up the temple’s roof.
Strabo 8.3.30

μέγιστον δὲ τούτων ὑπῆρξε τὸ τοῦ Διὸς ξόανον, ὃ ἐποίει Φειδίας Χαρμίδου Ἀθηναῖος ἐλεφάντινον, τηλικοῦτον τὸ μέγεθος ὡς καίπερ μεγίστου ὄντος τοῦ νεὼ δοκεῖν ἀστοχῆσαι τῆς συμμετρίας τὸν τεχνίτην, καθήμενον ποιήσαντα, ἁπτόμενον δὲ σχεδόν τι τῇ κορυφῇ τῆς ὀροφῆς ὥστ᾽ ἔμφασιν ποιεῖν, ἐὰν ὀρθὸς γένηται διαναστάς, ἀποστεγάσειν τὸν νεών.

I know that the height and breadth of the Olympic Zeus have been measured and recorded; but I won’t praise those who made the measurements, for even their records fall far short of the impression made by a look at  the image. In fact, the god himself according to legend bore witness to the artistic skill of Pheidias. For when the image was quite finished Pheidias prayed Zeus to show by a sign whether the work suited. Immediately, thus the legend, a thunderbolt fell on that part of the floor where down to the present day a bronze jar stood to cover the place.
Pausanias 5.11.9

έτρα δὲ τοῦ ἐν Ὀλυμπίᾳ Διὸς ἐς ὕψος τε καὶ εὖρος ἐπιστάμενος γεγραμμένα οὐκ ἐν ἐπαίνῳ θήσομαι τοὺς μετρήσαντας, ἐπεὶ καὶ τὰ εἰρημένα αὐτοῖς μέτρα πολύ τι ἀποδέοντά ἐστιν ἢ τοῖς ἰδοῦσι παρέστηκεν ἐς τὸ ἄγαλμα δόξα, ὅπου γε καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν θεὸν μάρτυρα ἐς τοῦ Φειδίου τὴν τέχνην γενέσθαι λέγουσιν. ὡς γὰρ δὴ ἐκτετελεσμένον ἤδη τὸ ἄγαλμα ἦν, ηὔξατο ὁ Φειδίας ἐπισημῆναι τὸν θεὸν εἰ τὸ ἔργον ἐστὶν αὐτῷ κατὰ γνώμην: αὐτίκα δ᾽ ἐς τοῦτο τοῦ ἐδάφους κατασκῆψαι κεραυνόν φασιν, ἔνθα ὑδρία καὶ ἐς ἐμὲ ἐπίθημα ἦν ἡ χαλκῆ.

Strabo was a first century BC/AD geographer; Pausanias was second century AD. Both wrote extant geographies; Strabo’s covers a lot of ground, literally with individual entries rather short while Pausanias goes into great detail on occasion, thus our excerpt is preceded by eight chapters giving details of the statue’s decoration. And back to the introductory poem by Antipater we have the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. None of the Zeus statue survives; the Artemis temple survives as, e.g., part of a column in the British Museum.

A picture is worth at least a thousand words, even mine. Thus….

Column_drum_Ephesus

The column from the Temple of Artemis; the structure must have been gigantic gigantically impressive. Thus a fairly plausible reconstruction:

BH@Artemis

As for the Statue of Zeus, we have enough evidence from coins and Pausanias to venture a reconstruction:

BH- Zeus Olympia

Pretty impressive, but note it’s a little short, or the roof a little high, in light of the ancient descriptions supra.

There was no canonical list of the Seven Wonders until relatively late in antiquity; before then there were numerous variations. Not surprising in terms of literacy, scattered libraries and local prejudices. Here’s a summary of the situation from Simon Hornblower’s Mausolus (1982), a deeply learned study of everything known about one of The Wonders:

Hornblower 7 wonders stats 1982 234 Mausolus

Funny thing, isn’t it? The ancients clearly got off on the Zeus statue, at least figuratively. But several other Wonders outscore it in the ancient, er, Hit Parade of The Seven Wonders. It gets funkier as Medieval Chritianity did its own Wonder lists, often including, e.g., Noah’s Ark. And the temple of Artemis, in a sixteenth century engraving by  Martin Heemskerck gets a thorough christianizing as a Florentine church:

Temple_of_Artemis

Now, I hope, you see why “sort of” is in the post’s title.

If you get interested do not even think about Wikipedia. It’s no prize for Classical Antiquity, and absolutely on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: bogus citations, incorrect citation, large gaps in virtually everything it says. Instead, go here:

Peter Clayton & Martin Price, The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (1990).

Not a scholarly study (there are too many of those), but a sane reliable discussion with good suggestions for further reading.

And while on the subject of Wonders of the World, you knew this was coming:

 

.

 

Bad attitudes: Horace, Epode 8

Verb. Sap. = Verba Sapientibus = “Words to the Wise”

This is definitely an NSFW poem, even by today’s standards, such as they are. I discovered a translation, perhaps a bit free, which renders the sense and feeling of the poem better than any other known to me. The title is the translator’s; Horace’s poems do not have titles by the author. Translation from poetryintranslation.com.

Epode VIII – The Ancient Whore

Imagine asking what’s stolen my powers, you
Stinking whore, all this endless time,
When you’ve one black tooth, and when ripe old age
Furrows your brow with wrinkles,
When an ugly hole like a leathery old cow’s
Gapes between withered buttocks!
Yet that flabby chest, and those breasts, like the teats
Of a mare, can still excite me,
And that spongy belly, and those scrawny thighs,
Set on those swollen legs.
Bless you, and may masculine figures in triumph
Bear your funeral along.
Let no married woman wander about, weighed down
By rounder fruits than yours.
What if the little works of the Stoics prefer
To nest among silken pillows?
Illiterate sinews stiffen no less, do they:
Bewitched, it droops no less?
Either way to rouse it from a fastidious groin
It’s your mouth must labour hard.

Rogare longo putidam te saeculo,
      viris quid enervet meas,
cum sit tibi dens ater et rugis vetus
      frontem senectus exaret
hietque turpis inter aridas natis
      podex velut crudae bovis.
sed incitat me pectus et mammae putres
      equina quales ubera
venterque mollis et femur tumentibus
      exile suris additum.
esto beata, funus atque imagines
      ducant triumphales tuom
nec sit marita, quae rotundioribus
      onusta bacis ambulet.
quid? quod libelli Stoici inter Sericos
      iacere pulvillos amant,
inlitterati num minus nervi rigent
      minusve languet fascinum?
quod ut superbo provoces ab inguine,
      ore adlaborandum est tibi.

The woman is no prize, obviously. Neither is Horace; he could be sued for “assault with a dead weapon.”

Poems about ugly anatomy was, you guessed it, an ancient literary genre, aischrologia. But despie the long tradition, Horace really outdoes himself.  Note lines 5-6 which refer to the woman’s bung hole; there was a cult of Aphrodite Kallipugos (Aphrodite of the Lovely Bung Hole), and there are extant poems by various authors which praise those so endowed.

The woman was not your generic Working Girl. Line 12 imagines references the funeral masks which were collected in a special area in the mansions of the socio-economic elite.

But why belabor with an Ossa-Upon-Pelion collection of explications? If you would know more:

Commentary: Lindsay Watson, A Commentary on Horace’s Epodes (Oxford, 2003)

Vocabulary: J. N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (London 1982)

Both have generous previews on Google Books. Watson is expensive; Adams was reprinted in a 1990 paperback still in print.

And on a musical note:

 

 

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