Lips to the Ciceronian Udder

Paolo Cortesi, Letter to Politian:

I would venture even now to assert what I have often said in the past: that no one after Cicero has ever earned praise in writing (excepting one or two people here and there) who was not raised and nourished as it were on Ciceronian milk. But there was then a certain mode of imitation which ran up against a rejection of similarity and so that shining mode of writing was seasoned with a sprinkling of cheer. But now that mode lies either neglected or ignored among people of our time. My dear Politian, I would like to be similar not as an ape to a human but as a son to his parent. That ridiculous imitator only fixes with similitude the deformities and depraved faults of the body. The son, however, represents the countenance, the walk, the stature, the movement, the form, the voice, and finally even the figure of the parent’s body, and yet has in this similarity something of his own, something different, such that when they are compared, they still seem to be not entirely the same as each other.

Ausim nunc etiam affirmare idem quod saepe: neminem post Marcum Tullium in scribendo laudem consecutum, praeter unum aut alterum, qui non sit ab eo eductus et tamquam lactis nutrimento educatus. Sed erat tum quaedam certa imitandi ratio, quae et fastidio similitudinis occurrebatur et nitidum illud genus hilaritate quadam aspersa condiebatur. Nunc autem illa ab hominibus nostris aut neglecta est aut ignorata. Similem volo, mi Politiane, non ut simiam hominis sed ut filium parentis. Illa enim ridicula imitatrix tantum deformitates et vitia corporis depravata similitudine effingit. Hic autem vultum, incessum, statum, motum, formam, vocem denique et figuram corporis representat, et tamen habet in hac similitudine aliquid suum, aliquid naturale, aliquid diversum, ita ut cum comparentur dissimiles inter se esse videantur.

The Shock of the New

Martial 5.10

What should I call this, that fame is denied to the living, and that readers rarely love their own times? Regulus, these are obviously just the ways of jealousy that it always prefers ancient things to new. Thus we ungratefully seek the ancient shade of Pompeius, thus old men praise the cheap temples of Catulus. Rome, you read Ennius while Vergil was alive, and Homer was mocked in his own day. Rarely did the theater applaud for Menander when he was crowned; only Corinna new Ovid. But you, my little books, don’t hurry: if glory comes only after death, I will not rush.

“Esse quid hoc dicam uiuis quod fama negatur

et sua quod rarus tempora lector amat?”

Hi sunt inuidiae nimirum, Regule, mores,

     praeferat antiquos semper ut illa nouis.

Sic ueterem ingrati Pompei quaerimus umbram,              5

     sic laudant Catuli uilia templa senes;

Ennius est lectus saluo tibi, Roma, Marone,

     et sua riserunt saecula Maeoniden;

rara coronato plausere theatra Menandro;

     norat Nasonem sola Corinna suum.              10

Vos tamen o nostri ne festinate libelli;

si post fata uenit gloria, non propero.

Greek Poetry Every Day

Gilbert Murray, A History of Ancient Literature (Preface):

To read and re-read the scanty remains now left to us of the Literature of Ancient Greece, is a pleasant and not a laborious task; nor is that task greatly increased by the inclusion of the ‘Scholia’ or ancient commentaries. But modern scholarship has been prolific in the making of books; and as regards this department of my subject, I must frankly accept the verdict passed by a German critic upon a historian of vastly wider erudition than mine,and confess that I ‘stand helpless before the mass of my material.’ To be more precise, I believe that in the domain of Epic, Lyric, and Tragic Poetry, I am fairly familiar with the researches of recent years; and I have endeavoured to read the more celebrated books on Prose and Comic Poetry. Periodical literature is notoriously hard to control; but I hope that comparatively few articles of importance in the last twenty volumes of the Hermes, the Rheinisches Museum, the Philologus, and the English Classical Journals, have escaped my consideration. More than this I have but rarely attempted.

If under these circumstances I have nevertheless sat down to write a History of Greek Literature, and have even ventured to address myself to scholars as well as to the general public, my reason is that, after all, such knowledge of Greek literature as I possess has been of enormous value and interest to me; that for the last ten years at least, hardly a day has passed on which Greek poetry has not occupied a large part of my thoughts, hardly one deep or valuable emotion has come into my life which has not been either caused, or interpreted, or bettered by Greek poetry. This is doubtless part of the ordinary narrowing of the specialist, the one-sided sensitiveness in which he finds at, once his sacrifice and his reward; but it is usually, perhaps, the thing that justifies a man in writing.

Cicero and Caesar: Destroyers of Latin Education

Edmund Wilson, Reflections on the Teaching of Latin:

It is still possible for a student to- day, as it was forty years ago, to have been through four or five years of Latin and yet, as I have recently had a chance to note, not to have learned, for example, the words for the commonest colors and animals, the parts of the body and the seasons of the year. Why?

The answer is: Caesar and Cicero – the military vocabulary of the one, the highfalutin rhetoric of the other. And what is the reason for prescribing these writers? The answer to this is that Caesar, at some now remote point of the past, was selected as the only example of classical Latin prose that was simple and straight-forward enough for a schoolboy to make his way through, and that Cicero represented the ideal of Latin diction at a time when it was thought essential for every educated man to write Latin. And why the years of grinding at grammar at the expense of learning to read? This is a part of the ancient tradition of abstract intellectual discipline. The justification for it is the same as the justification for piling problems of algebra on students who have no mathematical interests and will never have occasion to use algebra. Both at worst have a minimum of practical use. Latin syntax does give us some training in the relation of words in a sentence, as algebra gives us some idea of what is involved in mathematical method; but there is nevertheless a fallacy in this old ideal. It strikes us as rather monstrous when we read about how Karl Marx, that intellectual prodigy, used to exercise his mental muscles by committing to memory whole pages of languages he did not understand; yet actually our teaching of Latin inflicts something not very different. The student is made to memorize pages of declensions, conjugations, and rules for grammatical constructions that mean little or nothing to him as language.

Does the minimum of real Latin that he acquires in this way serve any useful purpose in later life? The lawyer hardly needs this instruction to pick up the Latin phrases of the law; the student in most scientific fields can learn the terminology of his subject without worrying about Cicero and Caesar.

Caesar, Cicero and 'The Best and Most Vigilant Consulship' « The ...

Greek Rhythm

Ezra Pound, Letter to Iris Barry (August 1916)

I prize the Greek more for the movement of the words, rhythm, perhaps than for anything else. There is the POIKILOTHRON and then Catullus, ‘Collis O Heliconii,’ and some Propertius, that one could do worse than know by heart for the sake of knowing what rhythm really is. And there is the gulph between TIS O SAPPHO ADIKEI, and Pindar’s big rhetorical drum TINA THEON, TIN’ EROA, TINA D’ ANDREA KELADESOMEN, which one should get carefully fixed in the mind. I’ll explain viva voce if this metatype-phosed Greek is too unintelligible.

It is perhaps a sense of Latin that helps or seems to have helped people to a sort of superexcellent neatness in writing English — something different from French clarity. It may be merely from the care one takes in following the construction in an inflected language.

Aristotle Knew Everything

Petrarch, Epistulae Familiares 4.15:

“It is difficult to say how much re-reading your letter two or three times soothed my ears, which were so worn down by the noise of the rabble. Even if this letter seemed verbose to you (as I learned from its ending), I find nothing to accuse you of but terseness. And so, I looked on the final threat, in which you claimed that you would write more briefly in the future, with unwilling eyes. I would have you be more prolix. As you will – you’re the father. It is right for me to accommodate my ways to you, and not the other way around. But will the whole business not be in your hands? Or do you not know that quite often the actual event differs from the plan? Perhaps you will hear what forces even one who is eager for silence to talk. You want me to fulfill the threats which I seem to be making now?

I stand as a witness, in the first place, that I have the same opinion of you which Macrobius had of Aristotle (whether it be love or the truth which gave rise to it). That is, I hardly think that you could not know something. If something has slipped your lips which seems to be contrary to the truth, I suspect that you either have not thought it out far enough, or just as Macrobius says of Aristotle, I suspect that you are playing around.”

Dictu difficile est quantum aures meas, vulgari fessas strepitu, epystola tua bis terque relecta permulserit; que quanquam tibi verbosa videretur, ut ex fine cognovi, ego tamen in ea nil preter breviloquium accusavi. Itaque comminationem illam ultimam, quod deinceps compendiosior sis futurus, invitus aspexi; mallem prolixior. Ut libet tamen; tu pater; non te michi, sed me tibi morem gerere dignum est. Sed ita ne totum in tua manu positum erit? an ignoras quod sepe consilio dissimilis est eventus? Audies forte quod vel silentii avidum loqui cogat. Vis quod minitari videor, iam nunc rebus impleam?

Testor in primis eandem me de te opinionem gerere, quam de Aristotile Macrobius, seu illam amor, seu veritas genuerit: vix te aliquid “ignorare posse” arbitror; siquid autem vero adversum tibi excidit, aut minus providisse aut, quod de eodem ait idem, lusisse te suspicor.

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Herd Immunity

Erasmus, Adagia 43:

Ἔβα καὶ ταῦρος ἀν᾽ ὕλαν, that is, Even the bull has set off into the forest. This is a pastoral proverb, an ugly little allegory, signifying the separation and neglect of an old girlfriend. Even if it will be permitted to draw it in this way into a more modest use, if it is accommodated by a joke to those who seem to neglect their earliest friends and to have become unaccustomed to the flock of their familiars and peers. It may also be applied to those who separate themselves from their usual pursuits and follow a different course of life. Theocritus in his Idyll, entitled Theonychus, relates it in the form of a proverb:

Αἶνος θην λέγεταί τις ‘ἔβα καὶ ταῦρος ἀν᾽ ὕλαν’,

that is,

It was once said that ‘the bull is withdrawing into the forest.’

For the lover is complaining that he was long ago left behind by his girlfriend, and he shows that it was a lot of time that Cynisca, that is Catella (for that was the girl’s name) was entertaining herself with a certain Lycus, and showed no inclination to return to her former way of life, in much the same way that bulls, who themselves occasionally wander off from the crowd of cows and either hang out with other bulls or wander in solitude through the groves, touched by no desire for women.

Pastors refer to that withdrawal and that divorce-like neglect with the peculiar word ‘ἀτιμαγελεῖν’ (‘herd-forsaking’), with a sense clearly composed ἐκ τοῦ ἀτιμεῖν, τὸ ἀτιμάζειν καὶ καταφρονεῖν, which is to say from ‘to dishonor, to neglect, and to rate as worthless,’ and from τοῦ ἀγέλη, which means the herd. Bulls are said to ‘forsake the herd’ when, having been set apart from interaction with the cows, care for them so little that they not only don’t seek intercourse with them, but they don’t even wish to use the same pastures. In his sixth book of On the Nature of Animals, Aristotle demonstrates the custom of this animal and the nature of the word given to this phenomenon with these words:

Ὁ δὲ ταῦρος ὅταν ὥρα τῆς ὀχείας ᾖ, τότε γίνεται σύννομος καὶ μάχεται τοῖς ἄλλοις. Τὸν δὲ πρότερον χρόνον μετ᾽ ἀλλήλων εἰσίν, ὃ καλεῖται ἀτιμαγελεῖν. Πολλάκις γὰρ οἵ γε ἐν τῇ Ἠπείρῳ οὐ φαίνονται τριῶν μηνῶν ὅλως δὲ τὰ ἄγρια πάντα ἢ τὰ πλεῖστα οὐ συννέμονται ταῖς θηλείαις πρὸ τῆς ὥρας τοῦ ὀχεύειν.

We will consider rather than number these words in this way:

‘But the bull, when it is time for intercourse, will then share the same pastures with the cows, and will fight with the other bulls. For, before that time, they were out to pasture with each other, and they call this ἀτιμαγελεῖν. Indeed, the bulls in the province of Epirus often do not appear for a space of three months; further, all wild beasts (or at least, certainly, most of them) do not congregate at shared pastures with the females of their species before it is time to procreate.

It seems to me worth noting in the version of Theodore of Gaza, for the word ἀτιμαγελεῖν, which Latin is unable to express properly, we find the word ‘coarmentari’ or ‘to herd together.’ That little piece of a word has poured a bit of fog over even the most learned men, such that they think that the passage in Aristotle is corrupt, and they bring to bear an entirely different interpretation on it by changing the reading, and they think that Theodore has hallucinated not a little in translating it. But I have weighed this matter out more diligently, and I seem to see the sense of Aristotle’s words to square exactly on this side of the change of any word. Clearly, a bull may spend time in the same pastures with cows when the time for breeding approaches, and may not come together with the other herds of bulls (but rather, wage war with them), while at other times bulls may enjoy the same pastures with other bulls and not pursue a life shared with the cows, choosing instead to spend time with each other, which is the case for pretty much all other animals. Clearly, this society of bulls with bills while the herds of cows are neglected is called ἀτιμαγελεῖν or ‘herd neglect’.

Now I ask, what scruple is there, why should we think that the reading of Aristotle must be changed, unless we are offended by the changed number of the words ‘bull’ and ‘are’, which is a common enough occurrence in that word of Aristotle. It can’t be doubted that the word ‘coarmentari’ here is not appropriate, but spurious, and has entered the work either from the carelessness of booksellers or the temerity of some person who possessed too little education. I suspect that we should read ‘dearmentari’ or ‘abarmentari’ (‘to be away from the herd’). I cannot be led to believe that Theodore, a man so perfect in every mode of learning, could have slipped so, especially in a word which is neither that unnatural or unusual in Greek authors, and one whose force and meaning is clearly indicated by etymology, and which is further read in Theocritus, an ultra famous and common author in his Νομεῖ ἢ Βωκόλοις, that is in his ‘Pastor or the Flocks’:

Χοἲ μὲν ἁμᾷ βόσκοιντο καὶ ἐν φύλλοισι πλανῷντο Οὐδὲν ἀτιμαγελεῦντες

that is,

But these are in the pasture at the same time, and they wander in the tall grasses, and they seek no separation from the flock.

In reference to this, the Suda has ταῦρον ἀτιμάγελον signifying τὸν τῆς ἀγέλης καταφρονοῦντα, that is, ‘one who neglects the herd. It seems to me that Vergil alluded somewhat to this in his Silenus:

Ah, unfortunate maiden, you know wander in the mountains. He, reclining his snowy side on soft hyacinth grazes on the pale grasses below a dark rock, or follows another cow in a large herd. Close, nymphs, Dictaean nymphs, now close the woodlands, if by chance the wandering tracks of a cow bear themselves before our eyes. Perhaps some cows may lead him, captured in the green grass or following the herd, to the Gortynian stables.

For, when he says

He, reclining his snowy side on soft hyacinth grazes on the pale grasses below a dark rock

he intimates that the bull is ἀτιμάγελον (‘herd forsaking’). The same is true when he describes the ‘wandering tracks of a cow.’ The poet, however, is talking about the bull whom Pasiphae loved, is engaged in herd forsaking in such a way that he neglects his own herd and follows other cows.

Further, on the fighting of bulls at the very time of copulation itself, Vergil writes in the third book of Georgics:

Nor is it the custom for the fighters to dwell together, but one goes away vanquished to an exile far away on distant shores, groaning much of his ignominy and the blows of the arrogant victor, and then complains of the loves which he has lost unavenged, and looking at his abode, departs from his ancestral kingdom.

For my part, I think that this expression, if it is bent a little bit, is proverbial, like the words καπροῦν et ἱππομανεῖν (‘to be lewd’ and ‘to be horse-mad’), and Theocritus seems to have reflected on that the most when he notes that it is said proverbially, Ἔβα καὶ ταῦρος ἀν᾽ ὕλαν’,  ‘And the bull has gone among the woods.’ The scholia on Theocritus have in this expression ἔβα κεν ταῦρος, with the conjunction καὶ changed to the explanatory κεν. They add that this is proverbially said of those who are absent and not likely to return. For if a bull flees once to the forest, he cannot be caught. For this reason, someone once elegantly said that a husband who has long been away from his wife is ‘herd-forsaking’, just as is a person who has ceased to visit his friends, and one who has abstained for a long time from the company of the Muses and his books. Similarly, one who abhors interaction with others and lives with himself may be called ‘herd-forsaking.’ And one who has wandered off and withdrawn from legitimate companionship will not wrongly be said to ‘forsake the herd.’ The expression of Aristophanes in Lysistrata is not far from this:

Οἴκοι δὲ ἀταυρώτη διάξω τὸν βίον,

that is,

I will live the celibate life at home, away from the bull.

For he has thus signified the celibate life of the woman neglecting the bull, that is, the husband. Thus Horace writes:

May Lesbia meet a bad end for showing you this impotent bull when you asked.


Ἔβα καὶ ταῦρος ἀν᾽ ὕλαν, id est Abiit et taurus in syluam. Pastorale prouerbium, allegoria subturpicula, significans diuortium ac neglectum veteris amicae.Tametsi licebit in vsum verecundiorem trahere hoc modo, si per iocum accommodabitur ad eos, qui pristinos amicos negligere videntur et a familiarium congerronumque grege desuescere. Aut in illos etiam, qui a solitis desciscunt studiis diuersumque vitae sequuntur institutum. Theocritus in Idyllio, cui titulus est Theonycho, nominatim etiam prouerbii vice refert:

 Αἶνος θην λέγεταί τις ‘ἔβα καὶ ταῦρος ἀν᾽ ὕλαν’,  id est Fertur et hoc olim in syluam secedere taurum.

Queritur autem amans se iam pridem ab amica relictum plurimumque iam esse temporis ostendit, quod Cynisca, id est Catella, nam id erat nomen puellae, sese Lyco quodam oblectet neque omnino curet ad pristinam redire consuetudinem, non magis quam tauri, qui et ipsi nonnunquam a vaccarum armentis secedunt et aut reliquis aggregantur tauris aut solitarii per nemora vagantur nullo foeminarum desiderio tacti.

Eum secessum eumque vaccarum neglectum quasique diuortium, pastores peculiari verbo vocant ἀτιμαγελεῖν voce nimirum composita ἐκ τοῦ ἀτιμεῖν, τὸ ἀτιμάζειν καὶ καταφρονεῖν, quod est despicere negligereque ac pro nihilo ducere, et ἐκ τοῦ ἀγέλη, quod armentum sonat. Ac tum ἀτιμαγελεῖν dicuntur tauri, cum segregati a vaccarum commercio adeo non curant illas, vt non modo coitum non appetant, sed ne pascuis quidem iisdem vti velint. Hunc animantis morem simulque vocem ipsam ei tributam rei demonstrat Aristoteles libro De natura animalium sexto his verbis: Ὁ δὲ ταῦρος ὅταν ὥρα τῆς ὀχείας ᾖ, τότε γίνεται σύννομος καὶ μάχεται τοῖς ἄλλοις. Τὸν δὲ πρότερον χρόνον μετ᾽ ἀλλήλων εἰσίν, ὃ καλεῖται ἀτιμαγελεῖν. Πολλάκις γὰρ οἵ γε ἐν τῇ Ἠπείρῳ οὐ φαίνονται τριῶν μηνῶν ὅλως δὲ τὰ ἄγρια πάντα ἢ τὰ πλεῖστα οὐ συννέμονται ταῖς θηλείαις πρὸ τῆς ὥρας τοῦ ὀχεύειν. Ea verba nos appendemus magis quam annumerabimus hoc modo:

At taurus, cum tempus coitus adfuerit, tum demum incipit communibus cum vaccis pascuis vti cumque  reliquis tauris dimicat. Nam ante id temporis inter sese pascuntur, quod quidem appellant ἀτιμαγελεῖν. Sane qui sunt in Epiro prouincia tauri, saepenumero trium mensium spacio non apparent; porro fera animantia aut omnia aut certepleraque ante tempus coeundi non aggregantur ad communes cum foeminis pascuas.

Illud admonitu dignum mihi visum est in versione Theodori Gazae pro Graeca voce ἀτιμαγελεῖν, quam Romana lingua nullo pacto reddere potest, scriptum esse coarmentari. Idque verbi doctis etiam viris non parum caliginis offudit, ita vt deprauatum apud Aristotelem locum existiment commutataque lectione longe diuersum sensum inducant putentque Theodorum in transferendo non mediocriter hallucinatum. At ego tota re diligentius pensiculata videre videor Aristotelicorum verborum sententiam citra vllius vocis commutationem adamussim quadrare: videlicet taurum aggregari cum vaccis et in iisdem versari pascuis appetente coitus tempore eumque non conuenire cum reliquis taurorum armentis, sed bellum cum aliis gerere, reliquis autem temporibus tauros cum tauris socialiter iisdem vti pascuis neque foeminarum conuictum sequi, sed inter sese agere, quod idem accidat in feris ferme omnibus. Hanc autem taurorum cum tauris societatem neglectis vaccarum armentis vocari ἀτιμαγελεῖν.

Quaeso quid hic scrupuli, cur Aristotelicam lectionem mutandam existimemus, nisi si quid offendit mutatus numerus in ταῦρος et εἰσίν, id quod Aristoteli praesertim eo in opere pene familiare deprehenditur. Dictionem autem illam coarmentari non germanam, sed supposititiam esse dubium non est, et aut librariorum incuria aut alicuius parum eruditi temeritate inductam. Suspicor enim legendum vel dearmentari vel abarmentari. Neque enim adduci possum, vt credam Theodorum hominem tam in omni doctrinae genere absolutum fuisse lapsum praesertim in voce neque magnopere prodigiosa nec inusitata Graecis autoribus, vtpote cuius vim vel ipsa statim indicat etymologia, praeterea quae apud Theocritum autorem vsqueadeo notum vulgatumque legatur ἐν Νομεῖ ἢ Βωκόλοις,  id est in Pastore siue Bubulcis:

  Χοἲ μὲν ἁμᾷ βόσκοιντο καὶ ἐν φύλλοισι πλανῷντο

 Οὐδὲν ἀτιμαγελεῦντες,  id est

 Atque hi pascuntur simul inque comantibus herbis

 Errant et non vlla gregis diuortia quaerunt.

Ad haec Suidas ostendit ταῦρον ἀτιμάγελον appellatum τὸν τῆς ἀγέλης καταφρονοῦντα, id est qui negligeret armentum. Huc mihi videtur nonnihil allusisse Vergilius in Sileno:

Ah virgo infelix, tu nunc in montibus erras.

 Ille latus niueum molli fultus hyacintho

 Ilice sub nigra pallentes ruminat herbas

 Aut aliquam in magno sequitur grege. Claudite, nymphae,

 Dictaeae nymphae, nemorum iam claudite saltus,

 Si qua forte ferant oculis sese obuia nostris

 Errabunda bouis vestigia; forsitan illum

 Aut herba captum viridi aut armenta secutum

 Perducant aliquae stabula ad Gortynia vaccae.

Cum enim ait,

 Ille latus niueum molli fultus hyacintho

 Ilice sub nigra pallentes ruminat herbas,

taurum innuit ἀτιμάγελον. Item cum ait: Errabunda bouis vestigia. Significat autem poeta taurum, quem adamabat Pasiphae, aut prorsus ἀτιμαγελεῖν aut eatenus ἀτιμαγελεῖν, vt suo armento neglecto vaccas alias sequeretur. Porro de pugna taurorum inter ipsos coitus tempore meminit idem Maro libro Georgicôn tertio:

 Nec mos bellantes vna stabulare, sed alter

 Victus abit longeque ignotis exulat oris

 Multa gemens ignominiam plagasque superbi

 Victoris, tum quos amisit inultus amores,

 Et stabula aspectans regnis excessit auitis.

Equidem arbitror hanc ipsam vocem, si deflectatur alio, prouerbialem esse, quemadmodum sunt et illae καπροῦν et ἱππομανεῖν, ad eamque potissimum respexisse Theocritum, cum ait prouerbio dici: Ἔβα καὶ ταῦρος ἀν᾽ ὕλαν. Scholia quae feruntur in Theocritum, habent ἔβα κεν ταῦρος pro καὶ coniunctione copulatiua mutata κεν expletiua; addunt esse prouerbium de his dici solitum, qui abessent non reuersuri. Taurus enim si semel aufugerit in syluam, capi non potest. Vnde non inconcinne quis dixerit maritum diutius ab vxore secubantem ἀτιμαγελεῖν et eum, qui familiares desierit inuisere, ἀτιμαγελεῖν et qui diutius a Musis ac librorum abstinuerit contubernio, ἀτιμαγελεῖν. Item qui a conuictu hominum abhorreat secumque viuat, ἀτιμάγελον licebit appellare. Et qui a legitimo contubernio aberrarit secesseritque, non inepte dicetur ἀτιμαγελεῖν. Nec prorsus abhorret ab hac forma, quod est apud Aristophanem in Lysistrata:

 Οἴκοι δὲ ἀταυρώτη διάξω τὸν βίον,  id est

 Domi absque tauro coelibem vitam exigam.

Sic enim significauit vitam coelibem foeminae negligentis taurum, id est maritum. Sic et Horatius:

 Pereat male quae te

 Lesbia quaerenti taurum monstrauit inertem.

Drink Your Vergil!

Pietro Bembo, Letter to Pico della Mirandola (1530)

We cannot say the same thing about Vergil, namely, that he is fit to be emulated by everyone who takes pleasure in his poems. For those who write elegies or lyric poems, or those who are held by an enthusiasm for writing comedies or tragedies, will find very little help from the Vergilian structure, meter, or poetic program. Rather, they should imitate those whom they consider to be the chief poets in each individual genre of writing, and should give themselves wholly to the project of following them and even overcoming them. To be sure, I myself have done this. In writing my elegies, I imitated the poet who seemed to me to be the best in that genre. But for the poet who commits himself to heroic verse, then surely Vergil is to be learned, drunk in, and expressed as much as possible, as I had once personally told you was my opinion on the matter.

Pietro Bembo - Wikipedia

De Virgilio vero non idem possumus dicere, ut idoneus sit, quem, qui carminibus delectantur, imitari omnes queant. Neque enim qui aut elegos aut lyricos conficiunt versus, quique vel comoediarum vel tragoediarum scribendarum studio detinentur, horum ullos Virgiliana carminum structura, numerus, ratio ipsa multum iuvabit. Sed imitentur ii quidem eos quos habent principes singulis in scriptorum generibus singulos atque illis assequendis superandisque dedant. Quod profecto nos aliquando fecimus, ut in elegis pangendis, qui optimus eo in genere poematis nobis visus est, eum imitaremur. Heroicis autem conscribendis carminibus qui se dederit, huic certe erit Virgilius ediscendus, ebibendus et quam maxime fieri poterit exprimendus, quemadmodum coram tibi dixeram mihi videri.

Stop Talking Like a Professor

Erasmus, Adagia 1.39:

Less Cultivated and More Clearly:

Indeed, that phrase is put less elegantly by the Greeks, but it has the same force: Ἀμαθέστερον καὶ σαφέστερον εἰπέ [speak less learnedly and more clearly], which is found in Gellius as well. He says,

‘For you know, I think, that ancient and commonly circulated phrase, Ἀμαθέστερον καὶ σαφέστερον εἰπέ,’

that is, Speak less learnedly and more plainly, and say it more openly and clearly. It appears to be taken from from a comedy of Aristophanes, titled Βάτραχοι, that is, The Frogs:

Ἀμαθέστερον πως εἰπὲ καὶ σαφέστερον,

that is, Speak less learnedly and more clearly. In this song, Bacchus chides the obscurity of Euripides, who had proposed something or other with insufficient lucidity. Suidas and an interpreter advise us that there is a proverb underlying it, which runs:

Σαφέστερόν μοι κἀμαθέστερον φράσον,

that is, Speak to me more openly and less learnedly. I suspect that it was taken from the fact that in antiquity, those sophists (as they call them) were accustomed to exert a fair amount of labor in covering over the mysteries of wisdom with certain enigmatical entanglements, clearly with the intention of keeping the profane mob not yet initiated into the sacred secrets of philosophy from following it. Nay, even today, some professors of philosophy and theology, when they are about to relate what any little old lady or workman might say, tangle and wrap up the matter with little spikes and portents of words so that they will seem learned. Thus Plato with his numbers obscured his own philosophy. Thus Aristotle, with all of his learned collections, made a lot of things more obscure.



Inelegantius quidem est illud apud Graecos, sed idem tamen pollet: Ἀμαθέστερον καὶ σαφέστερον εἰπέ, quod apud eundem refertur Gellium.

Nosti enim, inquit, credo, verbum illud vetus et peruulgatum, μαθέστερον εἰπὲ καὶ σαφέστερον,

id est Indoctius rudiusque quodammodo loquere et apertius ac clarius fare. Sumptum apparet ex Aristophanis comoedia, cui titulus Βάτραχοι, id est Ranae:

Ἀμαθέστερον πως εἰπὲ καὶ σαφέστερον,

id est  Indoctius proloquitor atque clarius. Quo carmine Bacchus Euripidis obscuritatem taxat, qui nescio quid parum dilucide proposuerat. Suidas et interpres admonent subesse prouerbium, quod hunc ad modum feratur:

Σαφέστερόν μοι κἀμαθέστερον φράσον,

id est  Apertius mihi loquere atque indoctius. Suspicor inde sumptum, quod antiquitus illi σοφοί, quos vocant, soleant mysteria sapientiae quibusdam aenigmatum inuolucris data opera obtegere, videlicet ne prophana turba ac nondum philosophiae sacris initiata posset assequi. Quin et hodie nonnulli philosophiae ac theologiae professores, cum ea quandoque tradant, quae quaeuis muliercula aut cerdo dicturus sit, tamen quo docti videantur, rem spinis quibusdam ac verborum portentis implicant et inuoluunt. Sic Plato numeris suis obscurauit suam philosophiam. Sic Aristoteles multa mathematicis collationibus reddidit obscuriora.



We Deserve More Praise For Our Latin

Gianfrancesco Pico, Letter to Pietro Bembo:

To be sure, both Greek and Latin were effectively innate to the ancients, but we must seek these languages from their books, and thus we should receive a greater accession of legitimate praise for learning them. For they, even if they were unwilling, spoke Greek in Greece and Latin in Italy; but we Italians who speak Latin (not to mention Greek) have earned and acquired that skill through our industry. Thus it will happen that, should our age happen to get a fair judge of these matters, those who now speak even in a fairly middling way will be justly preferred to those outstanding champions of old, since the men of today, having had commerce with the Goths, Vandals, and the Huns, yet retain that ancient mode of speech worn down by so many centuries, or at any rate they attempt to retain it through continual imitation, in which pursuit there is perchance a marvelous – nay, even excessive mental subtlety.

Detail from one of the graffiti images

Lingua certe veteribus illis cum Graeca tum Latina quasi nativa adfuit, quam ab eorum libris petere nos oportet, quibus maior ea de re legitimae laudis accesio. Illi enim vel nolentes et in Hellade Graece et in Italia Latine loquebantur; nobis Italis qui Latine loquamur, nedum Graece, id nostra est partum et elaboratum industria. Inde fiet aequum rerum aestimatorem si sortiatur nostra aetas, posse eos qui nunc mediocriter loquuntur praecipuis illis et antesignanis iure praeferri, qui scilicet inter Gothos, Vandalos, Hunnosque versati priscam illam et tot saeculis abolitam dicendi rationem aut teneant aut tenere conentur imitatione continua, qua etiam in re mira subtilitas et forte nimia.