G or L: Who Can Tell?

    A few weeks ago, Laudator Temporis Acti blogged about a translated novel set in a Greek classroom, in which the Greek was badly botched. As he noted, “You’d think that, in a short novel that takes place inside a Greek class, words quoted in Greek letters would be printed accurately.” My example is less embarrassing in one way, in that the Greek is not from a Greek class, but more embarrassing in another, in that the Library of America should be able to hire proofreaders who can handle Greek quotations. After all, their professed aim is “to curate and publish authoritative new editions of America’s best writing, including acknowledged classics, neglected masterpieces, and historically significant documents and texts”, and “authoritative” is a high standard.

    This is the beginning of T. S. Eliot’s “Sweeney Among the Nightingales” in the Library of America volume American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, Volume 1: Henry Adams to Dorothy Parker (2000), page 739:

For the Greekless, it should say ómoi péplegmai kairían plegèn éso, but the editor or typesetter has reversed both of the leg sequences to gel to make the unintelligible (not just to the Greekless) and unpronounceable ómoi pépgelmai kairían pgelèn éso. (I’ve underlined the etas and omegas – long Es and long Os – since there’s no room for a macron and an accent on the same letter in HTML Roman script.) Minuscule gamma (γ) does look very much like an upside-down (mirrored, not rotated) lambda (λ), so it appears that some kind of vertical dyslexia may be at work. Most dyslexia seems to involve horizontal scrambling of letters, so this (if it is not a strange coincidence) is new to me.

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Two Kinds of Crux, neither of them Christian (Maecenas, Fr. 4.4)

    Thousands of lines of excellent verse dedicated to Maecenas survive, but only a few precious bits of his own – precious in more ways than one. Seneca (E.M. 101.10-12) preserves, and comments on, one of the most interesting (Fr. 4 Courtney = 1 Lunderstedt):(1)

Inde illud Maecenatis turpissimum votum quo et debilitatem non recusat et deformitatem et novissime acutam crucem, dummodo inter haec mala spiritus prorogetur:

debilem facito manu, debilem pede coxo,
tuber adstrue gibberum, lubricos quate dentes:
vita dum superest, benest. hanc mihi vel acuta
si sedeam cruce sustine . . .

Quod miserrimum erat si incidisset optatur, et tamquam vita petitur supplicî mora. Contemptissimum putarem si vivere vellet usque ad crucem: ‘tu vero’ inquit ‘me debilites licet, dum spiritus in corpore fracto et inutili maneat; depraves licet, dum monstroso et distorto temporis aliquid accedat; suffigas licet et acutam sessuro crucem subdas’: est tanti vulnus suum premere et patibulo pendere districtum, dum differat id quod est in malis optimum supplicî finem?

Much of interest will be found in Reynold’s apparatus, but the only serious remaining textual problem I can see is in the fourth line of the quoted poem, where si sedeam does not scan by the usual rules of Latin meter. The meter is Priapean, so we need either a cretic (as in the previous lines) or a molossus, not a choriamb. Buecheler considered but rejected sidam for sedeam, but, as Courtney notes, the following context, specifically sessuro in Seneca’s indignant paraphrase, “seems to support sedeam“. I would only add “or some other form of the same verb”.

    Courtney notes that there are a few Priapeans with dactylic bases in Greek. However, it seems to me that we might also solve the problem with two small emendations. First, delete the superfluous si: an implied condition works well here, especially with vel. Second, as hinted above (did you guess my solution?), change anapestic sedeam to a cretic form of the same verb so it will scan. Like the proverbial donkey between two bundles of hay, I am unable to decide between sedero and sederim. The perfect subjunctive is closer to the paradosis, but the future perfect would fit better with Seneca’s paraphrastic future participle. Either seems acceptable syntactically, so far as my not impeccable Stilgefühl can tell. Can anyone help me make up my mind between them?


(1) I quote Maecenas from E. Courtney, The Fragmentary Latin Poets (Oxford, 1993), 278-79, the enclosing Seneca from L. D. Reynold’s OCT of the Epistulae Morales (1965), omitting Seneca’s tedious continuation.

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Lost in the Etymological Jungle

Etymology is a tricky business. Here’s a simple proof for doubting students:

English cognates are routinely formed from the present and participial stems of Latin verbs, often from both stems of the same verb. The present and participial stems of dēfundō, dēfundere, dēfūdī, dēfūsum are (obviously) ‘defund-’ and ‘defus-’. There are English verbs ‘defund’ and ‘defuse’. But neither is a cognate.

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Iccius’ Socratic Domus: Horace, C. 1.29.14

    The last stanza of Horace’s Ode to Iccius (1.29.13-16) follows some adynata – ‘Who will deny that anything is possible . . .’(1)

cum tu coemptos undique nobilis
libros Panaeti Socraticam et domum
    mutare loricis Hiberís,
        pollicitus meliora, tendis?

Commentators all note that domus can mean ‘school’ of philosophers.(2) This is true, and important, but I think there is more to the word-choice than that.(3) Iccius’ erotic daydreams suggest an unsatisfactory personal life. This might naturally stem from poverty, caused or exacerbated by out-of-control spending on philosophical books: such an interpretation is compatible with the other poem Horace addresses to Iccius, Epistle 1.12, in which he seems to have taken a job managing Agrippa’s estates in Sicily, still philosophizing, and still discontented with his lot.

    I prefer a different solution. What if we take Socraticam et domum literally as referring (secondarily, or even primarily) to his actual home? That would raise some interesting questions. Does he live alone, or is there a Mrs. Iccius? a nest of little Iccii? Is his obsessive book-collecting, or his avoidance of paying work to make time for philosophy, making a whole family miserable by lowering their standard of living? Does he ignore them all in favor of reading, writing, or long dialogues in the marketplace with his philosophical friends? A truly ‘Socratic’ home would include a nagging Xanthippe and three whining children, and such a home-life would explain Iccius’ eagerness to get as far away from Rome as he can, not returning without plenty of money – and some charming, submissive, and conveniently gender-varied captives.

    Or perhaps Iccius is single and lives with his mother – all the nagging, with none of the sex. (By the way, the closest parallel I know in Horace for a collector of philosophical books is the wealthy vetula of Epode 8, with her Stoic booklets lurking among silken pillows (15-16):

quid quod libelli Stoici inter Sericos
    iacere pulvillos amant?

However, I would not go so far as to suggest that she, or anyone like her, is Iccius’ mother, wife, or lover: that would be going too far, even for me.)

    I suspect a reinforcing pun on the name of Panaetius, who is ‘entirely to blame’ for Iccius’ discontent – or so at least his Xanthippe thinks. There is a similar pun in the one epigram in the Greek Anthology attributed to Apollonius of Rhodes (A.P. 11.275):

Καλλίμαχος τὸ κάθαρμα, τὸ παίγνιον, ὁ ξύλινος νοῦς·
    αἴτιος ὁ γράψας Αἴτια Καλλίμαχος.

Despite numerous difficulties of attribution and interpretation (for which see D. L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams, 17-18), αἴτιος here does seem to mean ‘to blame’ (the adjectival phrase, I mean, not the infinitive).


(1) I quote Shackleton Bailey’s Teubner text (1985). The only variant (nobilis – more likely genitive singular than accusative plural – vs. nobiles) has no bearing on my argument.

(2) In this case, R. Mayer (Cambridge, 2012) says, “the term is used loosely of the followers of Socrates, e.g., Plato and Xenophon.”

(3) He might as easily have called them a grex, as in the Epistle to Albius (1.4.16) – gregem and domum are metrically interchangeable.

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No Adduction Needed: A Tense Problem in Persius 4.2

    Persius opens his fourth satire with an obscene double entendre and a couple of historical presents:(1)

‘Rem populi tractas?’ (barbatum haec crede magistrum
dicere, sorbitio tollit quem dura cicutae)
‘quo fretus? dic hoc, magni pupille Pericli.

2 dura αGL : dira PVXΦ, Isid. Orig. xvii. 9. 71

The tense of tollit in line 2 is a puzzle. It will not do to ignore the problem, to declare ‘tollit = sustulit’ (Gildersleeve), or to pile up examples of the historical present in various authors (Némethy, Bo). Obviously a Latin passage may contain one or more present tense verbs referring to events in the past as if they were happening now, and grammars provide numerous examples of Latin writers shifting in and out of the historical present, often in mid-sentence, with far more freedom than writers of English could ever hope to enjoy. The question here is whether one sentence may contain present-tense verbs that refer to two entirely different times in the past, in this case times that are 35-40 years apart. Persius’ Socrates speaks of (and to) Alcibiades (born ca. 450 B.C.) as barely pubescent, which puts the dramatic date of Persius’ poetic dialogue in the early 430s: so much for dicere. As for tollit, Socrates died in 399, several years after Alcibiades. Persius, writing around A.D. 60, looks back nearly 500 years, then roughly 460, in the same parenthesis. If parallels exist for such a change of times within a single sentence of historical present, they need to be adduced.

    Fortunately, there is no need to wait, since a better solution is hiding, as it were, in plain sight. Commentators often quote the (“faintly reminiscent” – Harvey) verbal parallel in Horace, Sat. 2.1.156, where hemlock is mentioned and the same verb is future: sed mala tollet anum uitiato melle cicuta. Would not a future tollet work to separate the two past times in Persius? ‘Imagine, reader, that you are listening to Socrates criticizing young Alcibiades, Socrates who will eventually die from hemlock poisoning.’ The time of tollet, though past to us, is future relative to the time of dicere. This seems perfectly natural to me in English and (so far as I can judge without any native speakers to consult) in Latin. Is there any reason it would not have worked for Persius?

    In a brief survey of grammars on my shelves, I have found no discussion of what we might call the ‘relative historical future’. I have, however, run across two clear examples in adjacent passages of Juvenal, describing the lives and future-in-the-past deaths of Hannibal and Alexander. I boldface the historical presents, bold-underline the ‘relative historical’ futures and future perfect (10.159-72):

exitus ergo quis est? o gloria! uincitur idem
[nempe et in exilium praeceps fugit atque ibi magnus]        160
mirandusque cliens sedet ad praetoria regis,
donec Bithyno libeat uigilare tyranno.
finem animae, quae res humanas miscuit olim,
non gladii, non saxa dabunt nec tela, sed ille
Cannarum uindex et tanti sanguinis ultor        165
anulus. i, demens, et saeuas curre per Alpes
ut pueris placeas et declamatio fias.
    Vnus Pellaeo iuueni non sufficit orbis,
aestuat infelix angusto limite mundi
ut Gyarae clausus scopulis paruaque Seripho;        170
cum tamen a figulis munitam intrauerit urbem,
sarcophago contentus erit.

It seems to me that Juvenal is doing very much what Persius had done before him, if tollet in 4.2 is correct. Note that Juvenal also uses present subjunctives libeat (162), placeas, and fias (both 167), and the perfect miscuit (163), whose tenses are clearly relative to the historical present, the subjunctives looking ahead to the near future (donec), the perfect back to a time further in the past (olim). I have been unable to find a Juvenal commentator who even notes the tenses of dabunt, intrauerit, and erit: apparently they assume (quite plausibly) that Latin works the same as other Indo-European languages in this respect.

    Corruption of tollet to tollit in Persius 4.2 would have been easy: a scribe who realized that the scene was set far in the past (for Persius and even more so for himself) might easily have assumed that a future verb was impossible and that a historical present would do, without considering that present tollit would be (as I have argued) incompatible with the present dicere. In any case, the difference is a single letter.


(1) Both Persius and Juvenal are quoted from Braund’s Loeb (2004).

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Not Just Any Old Things: Horace, Ep. 1.2.57

    Forms of res are found three times in eight lines in Horace’s second epistle: rebus in 50, res (singular) in 51, rebus again in 57. This seems excessive, and the last instance is dubious in itself.(1) The context is clear enough, one of the paraenetic commonplaces that make up the bulk of the letter (56-59a):(2)

semper auarus eget: certum uoto pete finem.
inuidus alterius macrescit rebus opimis;
inuidia Siculi non inuenere tyranni
maius tormentum.

I suggest that rebus in 57 is an error facilitated by the previous rebuses (there is another in 36), and that Horace in fact wrote bobus, for three reasons:

1. It is more pointed. ‘Fat things’ or ‘fat possessions’ is terribly vague. Now the envious man grows thin seeing the fat cattle of his neighbor. This is far more vivid, though not quite so vividly specific as the parallel in the first Satire, where the greedy man is envious because someone else’s she-goat has a more distended udder (aliena capella gerat distentius uber, S. 1.110).

2. The following context fits better with bobus. Glossing Siculi . . . tyranni (58), commentators always mention Phalaris, often adding Agathocles and one (Dilke) or both (Wilkins) of the Dionysii. As tyrants, they all no doubt used ingenious tortures, but Phalaris’ brazen bull is by far the most famous of tyrannical Sicilian tortures.(3) As Mayer puts it: “Sicilian tyrants were bywords for cruelty; Phalaris of Agrigentum, for example, roasted people in a brazen bull.” With bobus, Phalaris is not just a parallel, a ‘for instance’, but an intertext. Horace’s maius tormentum now clearly alludes to Phalaris’ bull: he is saying that being seized by envy of another’s fat cattle is worse than being roasted in a brazen bull. The hyperbole is implausible, but Horatian.

3. The preceding context also fits bobus better. The primary meaning of certum . . . finem is abstract and ethical: ‘fixed moral limit’. As Mayer puts it, “The limit is, of course, quod satis est (46)”. However, looking back from 57-59a, certum . . . finem also suggests a visible illustration of the abstract moral limit and its violation: a farmer looking enviously at the greener grass and fatter cows in his neighbor’s pasture on the other side of a property-line (finem) clearly marked (certum) by a fence.


(1) The proximity of rebus 50 and res 51 seems even more suspicious: I can detect no point in the repetition. However, I see no way to remove either form.

(2) Shackleton Bailey quotes no variants, Klingner only ‘marcescit dett.’ in 57, which would destroy the rhetorical antithesis. Commentators mentioned by name include A. S. Wilkins (Macmillan, 1926), O. A. W. Dilke (London, 1954), and R. Mayer (Cambridge, 1994).

(3) I can’t think of another: can you, without consulting your books or the internet?

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A Minimal Solution for a Ruined Punchline: Martial 12.50.2

    Martial describes a selfish rich man’s estate (12.50):(1)

Daphnonas, platanonas et aerios pityonas
    et non unius balnea solus habes,
et tibi centenis stat porticus alta columnis,
    calcatusque tuo sub pede lucet onyx,
pulvereumque fugax hippodromon ungula plaudit,
    et pereuntis aquae fluctus ubique sonat;
atria longa patent. sed nec cenantibus usquam
    nec somno locus est. quam bene non habitas!

1 pityonas Heinsius : pyt(h)onas β : phyonas T : cyparissos γ

You are sole proprietor of plantations – laurel, plane, and airy pine – and baths not made for one; for you stands a lofty portico with a hundred columns, and alabaster gleams trodden under your foot; the swift hoof strikes the dusty hippodrome and everywhere sounds the flow of water going to waste, halls stretch at length. But there’s nowhere a place to dine or to sleep. How well you are – not lodged!

    Once Heinsius had extracted pityonas from the chaos of the manuscripts in line 1, there seemed to be no textual problems remaining in this ornately Hellenic but otherwise straightforward epigram.(2) However, it seems to me that line 2 is a problem, in two interrelated ways.

1. The other possessions listed in the first six-and-a-half lines are quite grand. Having a bathtub large enough for more than one bather is not impressive, at least by ancient Roman standards.(3) Everyone seems to have bathed in groups, at home if they could afford their own private baths, at the public balnea or thermae if they could not. If I’m not mistaken, there’s far less evidence for ‘one-seater’ bathtubs than for larger baths in the ancient world. The only one I’ve run across in my own reading is in Velleius Paterculus 2.114.2, and I assume it’s a one-seater partly from the name (solium also means throne), partly from the fact that Tiberius takes it on campaign, though he kindly lends it out for the use of sick soldiers. A portable military bathtub is hardly relevant to the plutocrat of this poem.

2. Worse, the line ruins the climax by revealing the secret much too soon. As Stevenson explains it: “2. non unius, baths, far exceeding the wants of one man, with an allusion to his inviting no guests”.(4) But the allusion is unwanted. That the unnamed addressee has no guests, and no friends, should come as a surprise in the last couplet, pleasant or unpleasant as the case may be, as we lean more towards admiration of Martial’s cruel wit or disgust at the target’s monumental selfishness. There is no other hint of the final twist before the big ‘but’ (sed) in the middle of line 7.(5)

    Both problems can be removed with a truly minimal conjecture: the deletion of a single pen-stroke. Martial’s patron the younger Pliny writes of rich men’s bedrooms (2.17.8, 13) and dining rooms (1.3.1, with my conjecture) designed to catch the sun from different angles at different times of day. A bathhouse similarly disposed would be a luxury in a class with a private hippodrome, multiple groves, and the rest. If this man had such a bathhouse, would Martial have described it as non unius balnea solis, ‘a bathhouse of more than one sun’? He uses a similar phrase in 10.51.9, where a bedroom overlooking the sea and a river from different windows is described:

. . . non unius spectator lectulus undae,
    qui videt hinc puppes fluminis, inde maris!

Of course, a river (or canal: Friedländer) and the sea are ‘more than one body of water’ in a much more literal way than our single sun can be ‘more than one sun’. Still, Martial uses the plural of sol in a wide range of meanings, including sunny days (Baiani soles, 6.43.5) and sunlight shining through glass (8:14.3-4):

hibernis obiecta Notis specularia puros
    admittunt soles et sine faece diem.

My conjectural text would be arguably bolder than either of those, but solves the problems out-lined above in (I would say – though I’m prejudiced) an admirably poetical way.


(1) I quote Shackleton Bailey’s Teubner text and apparatus (1990), along with his Loeb translation (1993). It is odd that the addressee lacks the usual semi-random pseudonym.

(2) And only one exegetical: pereuntis (6) has puzzled interpreters enough that Shackleton Bailey gives it a note in his apparatus, though that does not affect my argument.

(3) Even today, a home jacuzzi or in-ground swimming pool does not always put one in the top 1% of the income distribution, much less in the top 0.01%, as this man’s other possessions imply.

(4) H. M. Stephenson, Selected Epigrams of Martial (1880). Another difficulty is that non unius means “more than one”, which is hardly the same thing as “far exceeding the wants of one man”.

(5) Friedlaender refers us to 3.26, where solus habes is a leitmotif, paired six times and implied three more by solus alone, all in four and a half lines. However, the parallel seems to be purely verbal, since the point there is pride rather than selfishness.

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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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