Pedantry vs. Sanctioned Solecism

Suetonius, de Grammaticis et Rhetoribus 22.1-3

“Marcus Pomponius Marcellus was the most irritating enforcer of proper Latinity. Once, when he was serving as an advocate (for he took on a case now and then), he persisted in arguing about a solecism committed by his opponent for so long that, Cassius Severus interrupted the judges and asked for a recess so that his litigator could get another grammarian ‘since he does not think that the controversy against his adversary will be about the law, but about a solecism.’

This same Marcellus had once criticized a word in a speech of the emperor Tiberius, and when Aetius Capito asserted that the word was actually Latin or, if it hadn’t been, certainly would be now that Tiberius had used it. Marcellus responded, ‘You lie, Capito. For you, Caesar, can give citizenship to people, but not to a word.”

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M. Pomponius Marcellus sermonis Latini exactor molestissimus, in advocatione quadam—nam interdum et causas agebat—soloecismum ab adversario factum usque adeo arguere perseveravit quoad Cassius Severus, interpellatis iudicibus, dilationem petiit ut litigator suus alium grammaticum adhiberet ‘quando non putat is cum adversario de iure sibi sed de soloecismo controversiam futuram.’ hic idem cum ex oratione Tiberii verbum reprehendisset, adfirmante Ateio Capitone et esse illud Latinum et si non esset futurum certe iam inde, ‘Mentitur,’ inquit, Capito. tu enim, Caesar, civitatem dare potes hominibus, verbo non potes.’

A Giant’s Strength for Editing Athenaeus

Mark Pattison, Diary of Casaubon:

“Those who suppose that to edit a classic is among the easiest of literary toils, and only a fit occupation for laborious dulness, can form no conception of what Casaubon accomplished. Those only who know that a perfectly good edition of a classic is among the rarest of triumphs which the literary Fasti have to record; that for the last three centuries we have been incessantly labouring at the Greek and Latin remains, and yet that the number which have been satisfactorily edited is fewer than some of the most popular of ancient authors who have been attempted the oftenest, as e.g. Horace, still awaits a competent expositor – those only can measure what a giant’s strength was required to cope with Athenaeus, in the state in which his remains existed in the time of Casaubon.”
Casaubon among minor scholars

Editing the Classics

J.E.B. Mayor, Preface to Thirteen Satires of Juvenal:

“I often think that much of the labour spent on editing the classics is wasted; at least the same amount of time might be invested to far greater profit. For example, if one of the recent editors of Persius had devoted but three weeks to the preparation of a Lexicon Persianum, he would have produced a κτῆμα ἐς ἀεί, a permanent addition to classical learning. We sorely need lexicons e.g. to Cicero (except his speeches), Varro, Livy, the two Senecas, Quintilian’s declamations, Valerius Flaccus, Silius, the Latin anthology, Macrobius, Tertullian, Augustine, Jerome; to technical authors in general, e.g. agricultural, grammatical, mathematical, medical, military, musical, rhetorical: in Greek to the early Christian literature, Diogenes Laertius, Josephus, Philo, Galen, Stobaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origon, Chrysostom, Cyril. If every editor would choose, in addition to his author and to the books commonly read in college, one ancient author and one modern critic, as his specialty, commentaries would be far more original than they are. The universities might issue variorum editions, not on the Dutch plan, not like Halm’s Latin editions of Cicero, or Dindorf’s of Greek authors, but more concise and more comprehensive at the same time. Two or three might combine, say, to edit the commentaries on an author, as Livy, Petronius, Suetonius, or Apuleius. A commentary which takes rank as ‘classical’, e.g. Casaubon’s on Suetonius, Persius, Athenaeus, Strabo, should be given almost entire, and form the nucleus, other notes being carefully sifted, and repetitions cleared away. One colleague might he responsible for all editions of the author; while two others ransacked periodical and occasional literature, variae lectiones, adversaria cet. Madvig says, one is ashamed to be called a philologer, when one looks at the obsolete medley brought together by Moser on the Tusculans; in far narrower compass all that is valuable there, and much that is omitted, might be stored for all time. By such a process books like Rader’s Martial, now no doubt, as Prof. Friedlander says, for most of us, ‘völlig veraltet,’ would once more yield their treasures to the ordinary student; Marcile too and Harault would no longer be mere names”

Some beautiful pictures from Rick LaFleur

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“In Sum: I Sucked at Classics”

John Ruskin, Praeterita:

“‘Collections,’ in scholastic sense, meant the college examination at the end of every term, at which the Abbot had always the worse than bad taste to be present as our inquisitor, though he had never once presided at our table as our host. Of course the collective quantity of Greek possessed by all the undergraduate heads in hall, was to him, infinitesimal. Scornful at once, and vindictive, thunderous always, more sullen and threatening as the day went on, he stalked with baleful emanation of Gorgonian cold  from dais to door, and door to dais, of the majestic torture chamber — vast as the great council hall of Venice, but degraded now by the mean terrors, swallow-like under its eaves, of doleful creatures who had no counsel in them, except how to hide their crib in time, at each fateful Abbot’s transit. Of course I never used a crib, but I believe the Dean would rather I had used fifty, than borne the puzzled and hopeless aspect which I presented towards the afternoon, over whatever I had to do. And as my Latin writing was, I suppose, the worst in the university, — as I never by any chance knew a first from a second future, or, even to the end of my Oxford career, could get into my head where the Pelasgi lived, or where the Heraclidas returned from, — it may be imagined with what sort of countenance the Dean gave me his first and second fingers to shake at our parting, or with what comfort I met the inquiries of my father and mother as to the extent to which I was, in college opinion, carrying all before me.”


Intimate Acquaintance with Ancient Authors

Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Greek Studies in Modern Oxford:

“Scholarship has to steer a middle course between slovenly fertility and sterile perfectionism. Of the two, the former is the greater danger: but at present we in Oxford are more threatened by the latter. We are too easily daunted by the mass of secondary authorities on our subject; we are too easily inhibited by authoritative sermonisings about method. The secondary authorities are important, and we ought to know our way about them; but there are moments when it is good to bear in mind that what matters most is intimate acquaintance with the ancient authors. In some matters it makes sense to talk of method, and then one must find out what the method is; but in others talk of method is merely the refuge of second-rate minds looking for a mechanical procedure that they think will automatically produce results. There are countless problems which no method applied a priori has a chance of solving; and here an empirical approach offers the only prospect of success. In the remarkable talk he gave on the wireless on the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Housman, D.R. Shackleton Bailey singled out the quality in Housman’s work which had made the reading of the Manilius one of the most memorable intellectual experiences of his life. He found it in Housman’s ‘unremitting, passionate zeal to see each one of the innumerable problems in his text not as others had seen it or as he might have preferred it to appear, but exactly as it was.’ If we can do our utmost to cultivate and keep alive that zeal, we shall have some hope of fulfilling not altogether inadequately the intimidating responsibilities that devolve upon us.”

A 15th-century illuminated manuscript

Reading Your Way to Ignorance

Joseph Scaliger, Letter to Isaac Casaubon:

“When I want to relax my mind, I take into my hands the writings of that man, who recently published Martial’s Amphitheatrum and Persius. I never laugh more sweetly than when I see something published by that Tuscan. I often marvel that he read so many books that he no longer knew anything. How often he raves! Yet, he has his admirers. Let them have them, but let them be Parisians.”

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Quum animum remittere volo, assumo in manus scripta illius, qui Amphitheatrum Martialis et Persium nuper κατακέχοδεν. Nam nunquam suavius rideo, quam cum aliquid ejus lucumonis video. Saepe mirari soleo illum tantum scriptorum legisse, ideo ut nihil sciret. Quam saepe delirat! Et tamen habet admiratores. Habeat igitur, sed Parisienses.

Reading Like a Scholar (i.e. Like a Boss)

Celio Calcagnini, Letter to Tommaso Calcagnini:

“For my part, whatever I read, whatever I think, I store it in the storehouses of my mind as if I were about to bring it forth for the use of human activity. And since I think that it is too difficult to excerpt everything separately, I put many things into a commentary, or write it separately on a little sheet. But in the margin, I make compendious notes, separate from the text, of everything which seems worth of some notice. If any of these things really stand out as particularly capital or excellent, I place them in the peak (or one might say the crown) of the margin. From this practice springs some utility, allowing me to reconsider several volumes within the space of an hour and a half. I once tried to wrangle Pliny’s Natural History into an epitome, since I always burned with wondrous desire for that author. But undoubtedly I acted the fool, because I ended up copying out almost everything in Pliny.”


Ego profecto quicquid lego, quicquid meditor, ita omne in arcanis animi recondo, quasi mox ad usum humanarum actionum expositurus. Et quoniam arduum nimis reor omnia seorsum excerpere, multa sane in commentarium refero, aut seorsum in pagella exscribo. Sed in margine compendiose omnia, quae digna sunt aliqua animadversione, sepono: quod siqua praestant, quasi coryphaea et optimatia in summa marginis coronide. Hinc ea mihi utilitas nascitur, ut vel sesquihora multa possim volumina recognoscere. Tentavi aliquando Plinii Naturalem Historiam in epitomen revocare, quando eius autoris mira semper cupidine exarsi: sed rem sine controversia ridiculam feci, qui omnem ferme Plinium exscripserim.