Plain and Simple: Marcus Argentarius IV G-P (A.P. 5.89)

(Note: I hope someone will let me know if the Greek comes out wrong, and if so what browser and operating system were in use. On my screen, it looks fine except that acute accents not combined with breathings are pointed straight up, or even slightly back, as if they were graves – grave accents, I mean, not tombs.)

    I begin with Tueller’s text in Volume I of the new Loeb Greek Anthology, which is the same as Gow and Page’s except for the punctuation:(1)

Οὐκ ἔσθ᾽ οὗτος ἔρως, εἴ τις καλὸν εἶδος ἔχουσαν
    βούλετ᾽ ἔχειν, φρονίμοις ὄμμασι πειθόμενος·
ἀλλ᾽ ὅστις, κακόμορφον ἰδών, πεφορημένος οἴστρῳ,
    στέργει, μαινομένης ἐκ φρενὸς αἰθόμενος,
οὗτος ἔρως, πῦρ τοῦτο. τὰ γὰρ καλὰ πάντας ὁμοίως        5
    τέρπει τοὺς κρίνειν εἶδος ἐπισταμένους.

3 οἴστρῳ Pl : ἰοῖς Π

The first paragraph of Gow and Page’s commentary summarizes the epigram:

“Reason plays a part in desire for a beautiful girl; unmixed passion is experienced only by the lover of a plain girl.”

The next paragraph offers a brief evaluation of the poem:

“The theme is original, the style is remarkably plain; there is hardly a word which is not at home in the most ordinary prose . . . and there is no attempt at clever phrasing.”

Although Gow and Page do not connect the statements of the two paragraphs quoted, it seems to me that we should do just that, and that Argentarius illustrates his recommendation of plain girls by writing it in an uncharacteristically plain style. So much is fairly obvious. In a further twist, it is not at all clear whether the poet is in love with a plain girl himself. The plain, prosaic, entirely undithyrambic style of the epigram suggests not only the plainness of its subject(s) but the sanity and levelheadedness of the speaker. If he is totally sober and sensible, he presumably prefers beautiful girls after all. It seems that Argentarius, in his usual evasively witty way, leaves us guessing as to whether he loves plain girls himself, and thus whether he is to be counted among the wise or the unwise.


(1) The Greek Anthology, Books 1-5, translated by W. R. Paton, revised by Michael A. Tueller, Harvard, 2014; The Greek Anthology: The Garland of Philip, edited by A. S. F. Gow and D. L. Page, 2 vols., Cambridge, 1968. Page was primarily responsible for Argentarius (I, vii). It is conceivable that the puzzling variant ἰοῖς (3) originated as a misguided gloss ᾿Ιοῦς on οἴστρῳ: certainly the myth of Io combines a gadfly and love, in a way that few others do.

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Chicken (Pliny, Ep. 7.21)

(Note: a general bibliography for this and my other Pliniana will soon be uploaded and linked, and this note removed.)

    Pliny’s Epistle 7.21 seems trivial at first. It is short enough to quote in full:(1)

C. Plinius Cornuto suo s.

1 Pareo, collega carissime, et infirmitati oculorum ut iubes consulo. Nam et huc tecto vehiculo undique inclusus quasi in cubiculo perveni et hic non stilo modo verum etiam lectionibus difficulter sed abstineo, solisque auribus studeo. 2 Cubicula obductis velis opaca nec tamen obscura facio. Cryptoporticus quoque adopertis inferioribus fenestris tantum umbrae quantum luminis habet. Sic paulatim lucem ferre condisco. 3 Balineum assumo quia prodest, vinum quia non nocet, parcissime tamen. Ita assuevi, et nunc custos adest.

4 Gallinam ut a te missam libenter accepi; quam satis acribus oculis, quamquam adhuc lippus, pinguissimam vidi. Vale.

There are two tiny puzzles in § 3-4:

    1. Who is the guardian (custos) of § 3? “One of his private doctors”, says Sherwin-White ad loc., and refers to 8.1.3, where Pliny mentions the medici diligentes who are treating his tubercular lector Encolpius. The only commentator I have found who says more is Kingery: “physician or nurse, wife or some friend, who saw to it that the patient was more careful than he had been.” That covers all the bases, but doesn’t tell us (or Cornutus) anything we couldn’t have guessed ourselves, and gives no help in deciding which is meant. I will suggest a fifth possibility below.

    2. What kind of bird is the gallina in the next sentence? A “pullet”, says Radice, and that is the usual meaning of the unadjectived word. All but one of the half-dozen other translators on my Pliny shelf agree.(2) The one exception is Walsh, who makes it a “guinea hen” with no explanation. He may have been thinking, as I do, that an ordinary chicken would hardly be special enough to send any distance at all, so this must have been some more valuable bird. (And so it was: cf. T. J. Leary on Martial 13.45.) With no postal service or refrigerators, it must have been delivered by private messenger, alive, and in a cage.(3) Is ut a te missam a bit ironic? One chicken, or even one guinea hen, isn’t much of a gift, but if it comes from a friend, thanks are still owed. Note that Pliny offers no return gift, and unlike 5.2, where he is unable to offer a counter-gift for some thrushes, does not apologize for his failure, either. Perhaps gifts sent to the sick to improve their mental and physical health did not call for repayment.

    It seems to me that these two questions are related. Taking the second one first: there is more than one kind of fowl that was valuable enough to make a present for a rich man, tasty enough to cheer up a sick man, and still describable as a gallina. Rather than a guinea hen, is it not more likely that this bird was an altilis, a chicken fattened in the dark?(4) Martial refers to them as gallinae altiles in the title of 13.62, gallina in the text, and Pliny’s pinguissimam (§ 4) would naturally refer to something much larger than a guinea hen – so fat that even his bleary eyes are sufficiently sharp to see it (satis acribus oculis, § 4). Not only was an altilis a delicacy, much more valuable than an ordinary chicken and (I would guess) even more valuable than a guinea hen, it is a much more appropriate present for Pliny in his current condition, living in the dark as he is, than any hen, guinea or plain. Would it have been shipped in a darkened container, like Pliny’s curtained carriage? Presumably. Is Cornutus teasing Pliny by sending him a fellow sufferer, a galline member of the turba lucifugarum, a fattened one that will help fatten him? Pliny mentions bathing and drinking, but he must be eating, and can hardly be getting much in the way of vigorous exercise. Though unprovable, all this seems very likely to me. I rather like Cornutus’ brand of humor – if it is in fact his, and not my fantasy.

    This brings us back to the first question. Who is Pliny’s just-arrived collega, mentioned just before the gallina? I think the collega is the gallina. Pliny was a member of the College of Augurs, whose duties included predicting the future. One of their tools was a flock of sacred chickens. Is the fact that Pliny works with chickens in his day job enough to call this one a colleague? (Not literally, of course, if my first hypothesis is correct: the College of Augurs surely did not use altiles, or allow anyone to eat their sacred chickens.) Other than Pliny and Cornutus, the mysterious colleague and the chicken are the only living creatures in this sparsely populated letter. If I am right, they are the only living creature, singular.

    There is one further twist that must remain unturned. T. H. Huxley once spoke of “the great tragedy of Science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact”,(5) and this applies to more than just the hard sciences. I would have liked to argue that Cornutus, the addressee of this letter, was himself an augur. That would give more point to the salutation of the letter (collega carissime), which bothers Sherwin-White, and make a teasing chicken joke even more appropriate. Unfortunately, Cornutus’ tombstone survives (ILS 1024), with no mention of an augurship and no room in the missing bits to supply one. Is it possible that this letter is addressed to a different Cornutus, who was an augur? Perhaps a prosopographer can help answer that question, but it seems unlikely: Whitton’s note on Ep. 2.11.19 points to the many connections between Pliny and C. Iulius Cornutus Tertullus, which make it difficult to see how the Cornutus addressed as collega carissime here could be anyone else.

    Two questions remain: 1. Should we remove the paragraph at § 4? If the chicken is the guardian, there is no strong break here, so I plan to combine the two paragraphs when I put up my web-text of this letter. 2. If I am right that this letter describes a multilayered joke on the part of Cornutus, how much of the joke did Pliny ‘get’? He doesn’t ‘let on’, does he? Is that a problem for either or both of my hypotheses?


(1) My text is from Mynors. There are no pertinent variants. All references are ad loc. if not further specified.

(2) Trisoglio: “la tua gallina”, Rusca in Lenaz-Rusca: “la gallina”, Krenkel and Philips-Giebel: “das Huhn”, Méthy in Zehnacker-Méthy: “la poule”.

(3) The abundance of information on what Pliny is up to seems incompatible with the idea that Cornutus lived in the same neighborhood and just sent a bird over.

(4) Altiles are attested in the generations before and after Pliny’s, not only in his uncle’s works but in Seneca (Prov. 2.6, Ben. 4.13.1, E.M. 122.4), Petronius (65.2), Martial (13.62), and Juvenal (5.115, 168). As Leary notes on the Martial, “Unlike the ordinary chicken . . ., fattened hens were a great luxury, and that they were served at Petr. 65.2 as matteae (i.e. tid-bits served late in the meal) is an indication of just how vulgar Trimalchio is.”

(5) Thomas Henry Huxley, “Biogenesis and Abiogenesis”, Presidential Address at the British Association (1870), reprinted in Collected Essays VIII.

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“We’ve Made It Legal, but We Can’t Make It Right” (Martial 5.75)

    Any problems in this little poem are exegetical – there are no significant variants:

Quae legis causa nupsit tibi Laelia, Quinte,
    uxorem potes hanc dicere legitimam.

As a punch-line, the pentameter, particularly the last word, seems rather flat. I suspect a pseudo-etymological pun: as a wife, Laelia is legitima, quia legem timet. She is not only a lawful wife, but a law-fearing wife, a wife only for fear of the law.

    Of course, legitimus is no more a compound of timeo than finitimus or ultimus. The only Latin word of similar formation (lex + a verb that would govern it in a complete sentence) is Plautus’ legerupa. On the other hand, the prevalence of disyllabic pentameter-endings in Martial might help the reader to divide legitimam into its two pseudo-components.

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A Different Kind of Astronomical Conjunction (Pliny, Ep. 1.3.1)

    Pliny opens the third letter of his collection, to Caninius Rufus, with a series of questions about the latter’s luxurious villa in Comum – I mark the clauses I am most interested in (1.3.1):(1)

Quid agit Comum, tuae meaeque deliciae? quid suburbanum amoenissimum, quid illa porticus uerna semper, quid platanon opacissimus, quid euripus uiridis et gemmeus, quid subiectus et seruiens lacus, quid illa mollis et tamen solida gestatio, quid balineum illud quod plurimus sol implet et circumit, quid triclinia illa popularia illa paucorum, quid cubicula diurna nocturna?

In The Letters of Pliny: a Social and Economic Commentary (Oxford, 1966, ad loc.), A. N. Sherwin-White give three parallels to Epistle 2.17, in which Pliny describes his own Laurentine villa: there are elegantly varied references to rooms catching the sun from different directions at different times of day in § 8, 13, and 23. As his “Cf.” implies, Caninius’ villa must be designed to do the same.

    It seems to me that one sentence of Pliny’s description of his other villa at Tifernum (Ep. 5.6), is even more pertinent, at least grammatically and textually (5.6.31):

Hac [porticu] adeuntur diaetae duae, quarum in altera cubicula quattuor, altera tria ut circumit sol aut sole utuntur aut umbra.

The architecture is not quite parallel: here we have a suite of rooms designed so that some will be sunny, others shady, all day long. Nevertheless, in comparing the two passages, it seems obvious (at least to me) that 1.3.1 should be emended to read quid balineum illud quod plurimus sol implet ut circumit? I think we can conclude that Caninius’ bathhouse has windows facing southeast, south, and southwest, to catch the sun as it goes around. Whether the bathhouse itself was curved like Pliny’s cubiculum in hapsidi curvatum (2.17.8), or more angular, I cannot tell.


(1) Text and variants are quoted from Mynors’ Oxford Classical Text (1963). There are no variants pertinent to my argument. As for impertinent variants, I do wonder why editors print platanon in Roman letters, when one manuscript family (α) gives ΠΛΑΤΑΝΩΝ (with a grave accent over the omega). Surely scribes are more likely to have transliterated from Greek to Latin than the other way around.

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Female Turpitude Meets Male Torpitude (Catullus 11.18)

    Daniél Kiss’s Catullus Online: An Online Repertory of Conjectures on Catullus is a wonderful resource, which I have found complete and accurate in whatever I have checked, but rather depressing viewed at length. Only six of the sixty-eight lines in the first four-plus poems (1-4 plus the fragment 2b) have no variants or conjectures listed, and some have a dozen or more.

    The first four-line passage with no variants or conjectures listed is 11.17-20, the fifth stanza of Catullus’ Sapphic farewell to Lesbia:(1)

cum suis vivat valeatque moechis,
quos simul complexa tenet trecentos,
nullum amans vere, sed identidem omnium
      ilia rumpens;          20

It seems to me that this would be wittier with one tiny change: distributive trecenos for trecentos in 18. That would mean that Lesbia entertains three hundred partners at a time, and imply that there are hundreds more moechi in town for other evenings if she tires of these, or wears them out beyond recovery.

    One complication must be mentioned. There is a similar passage in which Catullus himself threatens to act much as Lesbia is (he says) acting here (37.6-8):(2)

an, continenter quod sedetis insulsi
centum an ducenti, non putatis ausurum
me unum ducentos irrumare sessores?

Looking only at the second half (non putatis . . . sessores?), we might think that distributive ducenos would be wittier here as well as in 11.18: Catullus alone (unum) can provide two hundred irrumationes in one session, not just now, but on any appropriate occasion. On the other hand, ducentos fits better with centum an ducenti in the previous line. Some may wish to count this parallel against my conjecture in 11.18, which would damage the parallelism.


(1) It is the one crude stanza out of six: perhaps the vivid subject matter kept the sleepier monks’ attention from wandering. It is traditional to say whose text one is quoting, but it doesn’t matter here, does it? I should add that I did not notice the textual cleanness of this stanza until after I had devised my conjecture: an interesting fact, not a challenge to be overcome.

(2) Mutatis mutandis, of course, with the change of gender. J. M. Trappes-Lomax, Catullus: A Textual Reappraisal, Swansea 2007, argues convincingly ad loc. for Pleitner’s unum in 8 (una OGR), and Kiss prints unum in the text accompanying his repertory.

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“I’ll put her to her pension”: A Mad World, My Masters I.ii.66

One of the more difficult passages in Middleton’s play is the soliloquy of Harebrain (aka Shortrod) as the “pure virgin” (actually a courtesan) fetches his wife (I.ii.62-69):

This is the course I take; I’ll teach the married man
A new selected strain. I admit none
But this pure virgin to her company;
Puh, that’s enough. I’ll keep her to her stint,          65
I’ll put her to her pension;
She gets but her allowance, that’s a bare one;
Few women but have that beside their own.
Ha, ha, ha, nay, I’ll put her hard to’t.

In her comments on Peter Saccio’s text of the play in the Oxford Middleton, quoted above, Celia R. Daileader provides three notes on these lines, including this on 65:(1)

stint: an allotted amount or measure; an allowance, here sexual.

In his Oxford World Classics edition of the play, Michael Taylor gives five notes on the eight lines, including this on 66:(2)

pension: (sexual) payment for board and lodging.

Leaving aside the ‘pension’ for the moment, it seems most natural to distinguish Mistress Harebrain’s ‘stint’ (65) from her ‘allowance’ (67), taking the first as the work (sexual and otherwise) she must do to earn the latter, Taylor’s ‘board and lodging’. The rhetorical parallelism of lines 65 and 66 makes the ‘pension’ look like her work, the duty she performs, rather than the compensation she receives for it. But ‘pension’ would more naturally mean the reward, the payment for her work, in her husband’s degrading financial metaphor. Could ‘I’ll put her to her pension’ mean ‘I’ll put her to earning her pension’? Again, the parallelism makes that difficult: she isn’t earning her stint, she is doing her stint to earn her allowance, for which ‘keep her to’ and ‘put her to’ seem insufficiently differentiated.

I suggest that ‘pension’ is a corruption of a similar, rare (at least in English), and more suitable word: pensum. I put it in italics because it is not really an English word at all, but Latin. Any classically educated Englishman in Middleton’s day would have known it, since it is found in all the most-read Roman authors. The root sense is ‘thing weighed’ (neuter perfect passive participle of pendere, ‘to weigh’), but it came to mean the specific weight of wool a woman or slave was expected to weave or spin in a day, hence more generally (Oxford Latin Dictionary s.v. 2) ‘An allotted piece of work, task, stint’. After ‘stint’ in 65, a synonym is precisely what we want in 66. The Shorter OED italicizes pensum in the lemma, dates it to the 18th century, and glosses ‘A duty, an allotted task. Also, a school-task or lesson to be prepared; (US) this as a punishment.’ I would add that I suspect it usually referred to a specific and constant quantity of ‘lesson to be prepared’, and was most used in Latin classes, where schoolboys would be expected to have 15 or 20 lines of Vergil or Horace parsed and scanned for every class, with more added as punishment for misbehavers. In short, a modern (or early modern) scholastic pensum is a measured piece of assigned drudgery, as for the Roman woolworker.(3)

If (as I think) Middleton wrote ‘pensum’, the scribe’s or typesetter’s ‘pension’ could be explained as substitution of a familiar for an unknown word, anticipation of ‘allowance’, or a bit of each.

Should we backdate the word in the OED? That is a very difficult question: I don’t see any clear criterion for deciding when a Latin word has become sufficiently naturalized to count as an English word and be listed in an English dictionary.


(1) Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works, ed. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino, Oxford, 2007.

(2) Thomas Middleton: ‘A Mad World My Masters’ and Other Plays, ed. Michael Taylor (1995): subtract 5 from Saccio’s line numbers to get Thomas’s.

(3) It may be worth mentioning that Schopenhauer calls life a pensum: “Das Leben ist ein Pensum zum Abarbeiten: in diesem Sinne ist defunctus ein schöner Ausdruck” (“Life is a pensum, to be worked off: in that sense ‘defunctus’ is a fine expression”), Parerga und Paralipomena: Kleine Philosophische Schriften, II § 156. Samuel Beckett seems to have been influenced by this passage: cf. Ulrich Pothast, The Metaphysical Vision: Arthur Schopenhauer’s Philosophy of Art and Life and Samuel Beckett’s Own Way to Make Use of It, Peter Lang, 2008, p. 15, from which I take quotation and translation.

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A Dumb Question about Animals (Pliny, Ep. 1.20.5)

    In the course of a long discussion of rhetoric addressed to Tacitus, Pliny argues that size matters in judging orations, with an extended analogy from living creatures (Epistulae 1.20.4-5):(1)

Et hercule ut aliae bonae res ita bonus liber melior est quisque quo maior. 5 Vides ut statuas signa picturas, hominum denique multorumque animalium formas, arborum etiam, si modo sint decorae, nihil magis quam amplitudo commendet. Idem orationibus evenit; quin etiam voluminibus ipsis auctoritatem quandam et pulchritudinem adicit magnitudo.

1 melior est β : meliorem γ | 2 multorumque β : pictorum multorum γ | 3 amplitudo β : magnitudo γ

In his BMCR review of Zehnacker’s new Budé edition of Books I-III, G. Liberman impugns multorumque:(2)

Multorum semble être une faute par anticipation due à multorum plus bas (7); on attend ici aliorum ou ceterorum.

I am not convinced, partly because multorum in § 7 is nine lines further down the page in Mynors’ text, which is a long way to anticipate, partly because neither aliorum nor ceterorum has much palaeographical resemblance to multorum, but mostly because I think I have a better solution.

    My conjecture seems so obvious that I almost hesitate to bring it forward – hence my title. It seems to me that the adjective we want is mutorum. The collocation muta animalia is almost formulaic in early Imperial Latin: I find it (in various cases, but always plural) in Manilius (2.99), Petronius (140.15), the younger Seneca (Cons.Marc. 7.2, De Ira 1.3.6, E.M. 123.16), and Tacitus (H. 4.17.5), to look no further. In these passages, the adjective is mostly used to distinguish other animals from humans: not ‘silent’ but ‘inarticulate, lacking speech’. That makes mutorum in our passage functionally equivalent to aliorum and ceterorum, but arguably more vivid, and certainly closer to the ductus litterarum. Mutus is not a rare adjective, but multus is commoner, so multorum is still the lectio facilior.

    I take it that si modo sint decorae refers to humans and animals as well as trees: the antecedent of the implied subject of the condition is formas, not arborum. It is not just ugly trees that would be uglier magnified, but ugly humans and animals as well. There was no need for Pliny to write multorum to exclude ugly animals that would look even worse on a large scale (toads, moles, lampreys, baboons(3)), because si modo sint decorae already does that. In the first sentence quoted, he had already specified that only a good book is better for being longer.(4)


(1) Text and variants are quoted from Mynors’ Oxford Classical Text (1963).

(2) Hubert Zehnacker (ed.), Pline le Jeune. Lettres: Livres I-III. nouvelle ´dition. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2009. Liberman’s review: BMRC 2009.7.16 (link).

(3) Then again, not everyone agrees that large portraits of ugly animals should not be made: there is a Boll Weevil Monument in Enterprise, Alabama (link).

(4) I owe the pun, and the hyperbaton, in my title to Andrea Harris.

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Philogelos V (75)

Σχολαστικὸς νοσῶν, εἶτα πεινῶν, ὡς οὐδέπω τετάρτη ὥρα ἀπηγγέλη, ἀπιστῶν πρὸς ἑαυτὸν τὸ ὡρολόγιον ἐκέλευσε κομισθῆναι.

A pedant, being sick and then hungry, and suspicious as the fourth hour was never announced, ordered the sundial to be moved into his room.

Since the day was divided into twelve equal parts, the fourth hour is roughly 9-10 a.m. It must have been meal time, though it seems early for lunch and late for breakfast. Did the Greeks brunch? (τετάρτη ὥρα is Dawe’s conjecture for τετάρτην ὥραν in the manuscripts.)

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Philogelos IV (256)

Σχολαστικὸς εἰς χειμῶνα ναυαγῶν καὶ τῶν συμπλεόντων ἑκάστου περιπλεκομένου σκεῦος πρὸς τὸ σωθῆναι, ἐκεῖνος μίαν τῶν ἀγκυρῶν περιεπλέξατο.

A pedant, as his ship was sinking in a storm and his fellow passengers were each one embracing a piece of tackle to be saved, put his arms around one of the anchors.

I hope one of my readers can tell me what ἐκεῖνος is doing here. It doesn’t seem to add anything, and I’ve omitted it from the translation.

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Philogelos III (25)

Σχολαστικὸς ἐν τῶι πλέειν χειμῶνος ὄντος σφοδροῦ καὶ τῶν οἰκετῶν κλαιόντων· Μὴ κλαίετε, ἔφη· πάντας γὰρ ὑμᾶς ἐν διαθήκαις ἐλευθέρους ἀφῆκα.

A pedant on a sea-voyage, when there was a severe storm and his slaves were weeping, said: “Don’t cry: I’ve set you all free in my will.”

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Philogelos II (2)

Σχολαστικὸς κολυμβῶν παρὰ μικρὸν ἐπνίγη· ὤμοσε δὲ εἰς ὕδωρ μὴ εἰσελθεῖν, ἐὰν μὴ μάθῃ πρῶτον καλῶς κολυμβᾶν.

A pedant nearly drowned while swimming; he swore that he would not go into the water again, if he did not learn first how to swim well.

In his essay on Milton (1843), Macaulay used this joke to illustrate a deep political argument:

“Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learnt to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait for ever.”

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Philogelos I (55)

Σχολαστικὸς εὐτράπελος ἀπορῶν δαπανημάτων τὰ βιβλία αὐτοῦ ἐπίπρασκε, καὶ γράφων πρὸς τὸν πατέρα ἔλεγε· Σύγχαιρε ἡμῖν, πάτερ· ἤδη γὰρ ἡμᾶς τὰ βιβλία τρέφει.

A witty pedant, in difficulties for money, began to sell his books, and writing to his father said: “Congratulate me, father: I’m already making a living from my books.”

Literally, “Rejoice with me, father: for my books are already feeding me.” Some manuscripts make the subject an ignorant (ἀμαθής) pedant rather than a witty (εὐτράπελος) one. Selling one’s books is likely to lead to ignorance, but does not seem to be caused by it, so I prefer ‘witty’.

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A Literary Translator’s View of Heaven

On the last page of An Homage to Jerome, Patron Saint of Translators (1946), Valery Larbaud imagines Jerome in Heaven, “surrounded by his court of glossophile, grammarian and lexicographic angels, more beautiful even than Correggio’s, and who work under his guidance on the never ending Dictionary of all the languages ever spoken or to be spoken by Adam’s children”. (I quote the translation of Jean-Paul de Chezet, The Marlboro Press, 1984.)

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Lies Necessary and Unnecessary

A real liar does not tell wanton and unnecessary lies. He tells wise and necessary lies. It was not necessary for Gahagan to tell us once that he had seen not one sea-serpent but six sea-serpents, each larger than the last; still less to inform us that each reptile in turn swallowed the last one whole; and that the last of all was opening its mouth to swallow the ship, when he saw it was only a yawn after too heavy a meal, and the monster suddenly went to sleep. I will not dwell on the mathematical symmetry with which snake within snake yawned, and snake within snake went to sleep, all except the smallest, which had had no dinner and walked out to look for some. It was not, I say, necessary for Gahagan to tell this story. It was hardly even wise. It is very unlikely that it would promote his worldly prospects, or gain him any rewards or decorations for scientific research. The official scientific world, I know not why, is prejudiced against any story even of one sea-serpent, and would be the less likely to accept the narrative in its present form.

G. K. Chesterton, “Ring of Lovers” (1935), collected in The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond (1936)

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How Is Gaios Holy and Good?

Laudator Temporis Acti quotes A Third-Century A.D. Inscription from Eumeneia, adding many interesting comments. Here is one more. The first four lines mean “I Gaius, who am equal in numerical value to two words of awe, make this declaration as a holy and good man.” Since the Greek alphabet was also used to express numbers, and Greek word has a numeric value. Gaios is proud that his name has the same value as the adjectives hágios (‘holy’) and agathós (‘good’). What value? You can do the arithmetic yourself, or you can use my calculator page, Are You the Beast of Revelations?, part of a larger site on ancient numbers, Nvmeri Innvmeri, that also allows you to test how quickly and accurately you can translate randomly-selected numbers from one ancient system to another.

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Latin Syllabification and Accentuation

As part of my larger project (QLTP), one of the things I’ve been working on in the last few months is software to divide a Latin word into syllables, determine which ones are short, which long by nature, and which long by position, and find the word-accent. Here is my test module, analyzing the 123 words of Horace, Carmina 2.7. It has one bug and couple of refinements still to be added:

  1. The bug can be seen in the second-to-last word: it’s marking a last (or only) syllable short when it is actually long by position. That’s just defective logic in the code and needs further analysis.
  2. I haven’t yet added code to look for prefixes: if it is a compound of ob (etymologists seem to be unsure), then 91 o·blī·vi·ō·sō (˘  ̄ ˘  ̄́  ̄ ) should be ob·lī·vi·ō·sō ( ̄  ̄ ˘  ̄́  ̄ ), and the same goes for 74 obligatam and (mutatis mutandis) 62 sustulit.
  3. Latin dictionaries don’t seem to bother with syllabification, but it’s not quite so unproblematic as that implies. For instance, Gildersleeve and Lodge (§ 10) say that MN “under Greek influence . . . belongs to the following vowel”. I don’t doubt that (e.g.) Polymnestor would be divided Po·ly·mne— rather than Po·lym·ne—, but is it really true that somnus would be so·mnus rather than som·nus, and amnis a·mnis rather than am·nis? If so, I’ve been pronouncing them wrong for decades. The same problem comes up with ST. Can anyone point me to more recent work on this?
  4. Latin editors who distinguish consonant V from vowel U seem to put some of them consistently in the wrong category. Whether QU should be QV doesn’t really matter, since the combination is a special case metrically and needs to be handled as such, but what about the Us in suavis, anguis, and sanguis, and the second U in unguentum? Aren’t those all consonants? They’re not listed as diphthongs in any grammar I’ve seen, and my software is currently misdividing unguenta (word 97) as four syllables (un·gu·en·ta) when it’s actually three (un·guen·ta). So why aren’t they spelled angvis, sangvis, svavis, and ungventum? That’s how they’re pronounced, and syllabized. More urgently, where can I find a complete list of these exceptions? The class does not include every Latin word in which NGU is followed by a vowel, because relanguit (for instance) is four syllables, not three.

Comments and questions will be very much appreciated. I plan to offer my syllabizer as a stand-alone module, not just a part of the larger project. As soon as I get this module working correctly, I will add code to search for elisions and scan whole lines.

Posted in Latin Grammar, QLTP | Tagged , , | Comments Off

I’m Back

Actually, after my eight-day trip, I’ve been back and pretty much silent for . . . let’s see . . . twelve weeks now. Let’s see if I can get back in the swing of things, posting every day. I have plenty to say.

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Gentler Remedies Are Preferable

In A Perpetual Student, Laudator Temporis Acti notes a couple of misprints. Here is the second, from a paper by Joachim Latacz on Nietzsche:

By now he has already received (from Leiden) the handwritten transcription of the time by Stephanus from the Florentine Codex Laurentianus.

I don’t understand what “transcription of the time” means. A bold emender might suggest “text” for “time.”

I have no aversion to bold emendations, but in this case I think the solution is “tome”.

Posted in Nachleben, Orbilius | Tagged | 1 Comment

Break Time

Dear readers: I will be out of the country for the next eight days, and will not be posting any more notes on Persius or anything else until I get back, as I will not have access to my boo<k>s. Please feel free to comment, as I will be moderating them at least once a day. Once I return, I expect to post quite a lot.

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Who Invented Ten-Sided Dice?

Who invented the ‘d10′ ten-sided dice used in many modern board games?

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I don’t know, but Shakespeare seems to presume their existence in the last scene of Timon of Athens (variously numbered 5.4, 5.5, or 17), lines 31-34, where the 2nd Senator makes Alcibiades an offer:

By decimation and a tithèd death,
If thy revenges hunger for that food
Which nature loathes, take thou the destined tenth,
And by the hazard of the spotted die
Let die the spotted.

It may be possible, but it is certainly not simple to select one-tenth of anything with a traditional six-sided die, or with two or three of them. Did ten-sided dice exist in Shakespeare’s day, and if so were they called simply ‘dice’? That seems unlikely. Was the 2nd Senator (inadertently or not) generously offering the lives of one-sixth of his fellow-citizens? That would not fit at well well with the emphatic repetition in ‘decimation’, ‘tithèd’, and ‘tenth’. Did Shakespeare, or the 2nd Senator, not stop to think about the incommensurability of decimation and six-sided dice? Or did Shakespeare notice the incongruity, but think no one else would? If so, he was nearly right: neither Klein’s 2001 New Cambridge edition nor Jowett’s 2004 Oxford World Classics nor Dawson and Minton’s 2008 Arden3 has a note on the problem ad loc. Since the decimation is canceled before it begins, the practical questions never actually arise, so it’s easy to miss.

In sum, the answer to my title question looks like it may be ‘Shakespeare, of course’, though perhaps inadvertently.

Update – 4:55pm (original post was 10:55am):

Thanks to my first two commenters, Ian Spoor and James Cross, it appears that Shakespeare may well have known 20-sided dice (both), but probably not 10-sided (Cross). That makes accurate decimation by dice-roll (rather than just counting off every tenth man) easy enough. Either you roll the die for every captive and have two unlucky numbers. (Hmmm, 13 and what else?) Or you just line the captives up in groups of 20 and roll twice to see which two will die. (Be sure to specify whether you’re counting right to left or left to right before rolling to avoid argument!) That still doesn’t entirely solve the problem in Timon: the Greek 20-sided die has letters on its faces, since the Greeks used letters to represent numbers. (See my Ancient Numbers website Nvmeri Innvmeri for more information, and to test your skills in translating from one system to another.) Would a hypothetical Shakespearean 20-sided die have had dots to represent the numbers? I don’t know, but that seems unlikely, since it would have been difficult to tell at a glance the difference between (for instance) 17, 18, and 19 without tediously counting dots. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that a hypothetical 20-sided die in Timon would not have had ‘spots’ to pun on, but printed numbers (Roman or Arabic), like modern ‘d20s’. And that still assumes it would have had the same name as the six-sided kind.

Posted in English Literature | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments