A Missing Joke in Ovid?

Unable to communicate her plight to her father and sisters in any other way, boviform Io writes a message in the dust with her hoof (Met. 1.649-50):

littera pro uerbis, quam pes in puluere duxit,
corporis indicium mutati triste peregit.

Although Ovid is not explicit, commentators sometimes assume that Io writes only her name. For instance, W. S. Anderson (Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Books 1-5, Oklahoma, 1995) writes: “Ingenious Io finds a way to identify herself: by pawing in the earth the two letters of her name.” Others, including A. Barchiesi (Ovidio, Metamorfosi, Volume I, Libri I-II, Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 2005), find a pun in her name: “Se si imagine che Io scriva il suo nome in lettere greche, si ottiene un forma adatta alle possibilità scrittorie di uno zoccolo nella sabbia: IΩ. Inaco riconosce il messaggio ed esclama ripetutamente me miserum! In effetti però il nome greco assomiglia, fatta salva la quantità della prima vocale, all’esclamazione patetica ἰώ, per cui siamo di fronte a una sorta di gioco di parole translinguistico: me miserum! traduce il messaggio di dolore che è come iscritto nel nome di Io.”

I have long wondered if there another joke involved. A cow who can write either IO or IΩ in the dust does not seem all that impressive: no name could be easier, both in the number of characters and the simplicity of their shapes, and therefore none could be more likely to occur fortuitously in a cow’s hoofprints. Of course, IΩ would be even easier for a mare, who prints Ω whenever she takes a step in soft ground, and either mare or cow makes something like an I whenever she drags her hoof, but an O is simple enough. In short, I would be far more impressed by a cow, or horse, that could write IPHIGENIA or CLYTAEMNESTRA or ALPHESIBOEA in the dust, in either Greek or Latin letters. Unfortunately, although Ovid does not seem the sort to miss a likely joke, or to keep it to himself when he finds one, I can find no evidence in the text that he is joking here about the unimpressiveness of the portent he describes. I may of course have been influenced myself by Anderson’s “two letters of her name”, and the phrasing suggests that the same (modern, if not ancient) joke may have occurred to him, though he does not spell it out.

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An Herbed-Lamb Pun in Horace (C. 4.11.6-8)?

Just uploaded: another Horatianum, exegetical rather than textual for a change, PDF here.

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A ‘Calemphaton’ in Horace, C. 4.12.8?

One of the several meanings of cacemphaton (also deformitas, Greek κακέμφατον) is an inadvertent obscenity found at the junction of two words. As H. Lausberg puts it (Handbook of Literary Rhetoric, Brill 1998, § 1070), “A special kind of amphibolia, also conflicting with the πρέπον (cf. § 1057), is obscene ambiguity, which is deliberately created in certain literary genres and in the vulgus (Quint. Inst. 6.3.47), but which may also creep in unintentionally, and thus have a shocking or ludicrous effect, depending on the disposition of the audience. Unintentional, but recognizable obscene ambiguity is called κακέμφατον (Quint. Inst. 8.3.44). It may be brought about in two ways: 1) by obscene metaphors; 2) by a change of word boundaries.” As an example of the latter, Quintilian (loc. cit.) recommends that a speaker say cum hominibus notis rather than cum notis hominibus, since the latter has cunno embedded in it. Similarly, Servius objects to glauca canentia in Vergil (G. 2.13), presumably for the ca-ca. (He doesn’t seem to notice that his own word cacemphaton includes a first-person subjunctive cacem.) I’m surprised Lausberg does not refer to Cicero’s well-known letter to Paetus (Ad Familiares 9.22 = 189 SB), where the last two examples in § 2 proving the Stoic view that there is no obscenity in verbis are cacemphata.

To get to my point, I’m wondering if there is a word for the opposite of this: a ghost word that appears in the junction of two or more syllables that is appropriate to the context and might be taken as a comment on it. Specifically, when I read Horace’s description of Procne or Philomela (it’s not clear which) in C. 4.12.7-8,

                quae male barbaras
regum est ulta libidines

I can’t help hearing stulta in est ulta. This seems an appropriate adjective for someone who would kill and cook her own children (or even nephews) and feed them to their father, even after the grossest provocation. The fact that est is prodelided makes the pronunciation regum’st ulta almost indistinguishable from regum stulta. Am I right in finding such an embedded comment? Is such a thing found elsewhere? If so, does the figure have a name? If not, what should we call it? The most natural opposite of cacemphaton would be calemphaton. Would that do?

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A Strange Ambiguity in Horace’s Torquatus Ode (4.7)

One of the many memorable couplets in C. 4.7 is 19-20:

cuncta manus avidas fugient heredis, amico
    quae dederis animo.

Has anyone noted the odd change of meaning when we come to the last word? Up until then, it looks like the poet is advising people to share their money with their friends: “Everything you give to your friend will escape the greedy hands of your heir.” Good advice for those with no living relations they care about. It is only when we come to animo that we see that amico is an adjective, not a noun, and that we are being advised to spend all our money on our own “friendly soul”, that is on ourselves, before we die – a very different, and far less noble-sounding, message. Are we meant to suppose that the addressee Torquatus has no family or friend to leave some of his money to? That would make this magnificently gloomy poem even gloomier.

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The Structure of Tacitus’ Annales: Three Hexads or Two ‘Ogdoads’?

In 2000, I gave a lecture on Tacitus, titled as above, at the University of Durham. It was well-received, and a previous version of the main argument has even been mentioned in a footnote (A. J. Woodman, Tacitus Reviewed, 237 note 62). I’m not getting any younger, and my hopes of turning it into a book someday are looking less and less likely to be fulfilled. Since I still think my idea fairly new, true, and important, I have turned the lecture and accompanying handout into PDFs and uploaded them (here and here). Comments are welcome, and may be attached to this post. Warning: it is still a lecture, not a paper, with all that implies, including written-out jokes. I have only added headers and footers, and updated my e-mail address.

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Which Are Horace’s Shortest Odes?

I’ve been rereading Book IV of Horace’s Odes for the first time in years, and memorizing as much as I can on walks and long drives. When I finish 4.11 tomorrow, I will have 1-3, 7, and 10-13 down, which is probably near the limit of what I can keep in mind at one time. I’ve also compiled a couple of pages of notes, quibbles, emendations, and embryonic reinterpretations. Richard F. Thomas’ 2011 Cambridge ‘green and gold’ commentary has been an invaluable companion, telling me almost everything I needed to know about these poems, but nothing is perfect, and I have noticed one perhaps-not-very-important lapse. In the introduction to 4.10 he writes “With 1.30 and 1.38 the shortest of the Odes“. For a pedant like me, this is problematic in two ways:

1. The number of 8-line odes in Horace is not three but five: 1.30, 1.38, and 3.22 in Sapphics, 1.11 and 4.10 in Greater Asclepiadeans.

2. More important, it seems to me that 1.11 and 4.10 are much longer than the other three, since they have much longer lines. Surely the best measure of the length of a poem is not lines, or even syllables, but morae, short-syllable equivalents. Measured thus, 4.10 and 1.11 are tied for sixth-shortest among the Odes of Horace, and only one mora (0.5%) shorter than the eighth.

Here are the details (I count the final anceps in a line as honorarily long):

  • The very shortest odes are the three 8-liners in Sapphics: 1.30 (O Venus, regina Cnidi Paphique), 1.38 (Persicos odi, puer, apparatus), and 3.22 (Montium custos nemorumque, Virgo). A Sapphic stanza is 18+18+18+8 morae = 62, so these are 124 morae each.
  • The fourth-shortest is a 12-liner, 1.20 (Vile potabis modicis Sabinum), three Sapphic stanzas adding up to 186 morae.
  • Only slightly longer is another 12-liner, 1.23 (Vitas inuleo me similis, Chloe), three stanzas of Third Asclepiadeans (19+19+12+13=63 morae) adding up to 189.
  • Tied for sixth-shortest are the other two 8-liners, 1.11 (Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi) and (the one from which we began) 4.10 (O crudelis adhuc et Veneris muneribus potens), in Greater Asclepiadeans (25 morae per line). Whether we divide them into two stanzas or not is irrelevant: either way, a four-line passage comes to 100 morae, and the whole poem to 200, 61% longer than the three 8-liners in Sapphics.
  • The eighth-shortest ode of Horace is another 12-liner, 3.26 (Vixi puellis nuper idoneus), three stanzas of Alcaics (18+18+16+15=67 morae) for a total of 201.

Have I missed anything – either an ode or an argument or an arithmetic calculation? Contradictions and corrections are welcome, and may be left in the comments.

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A Metrical Joke in ‘Theognis’?

Back to finishing up some long-unfinished papers in my files, I’ve just uploaded a page on two passages of the Theognidea (PDF here).

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Is Plural Salamis Correct? Horace, C. 1.7.21

I have now posted a note or short paper every day of August, two on the 7th, for a total of thirty-two. I will be doing fewer, but longer, ones in September. This last contains a conjecture on one of my favorite passages of Horace. The PDF is here.

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How Many Hetaerae? Pindaric Arithmetic in the Skolion to Xenophon of Corinth

Here is the third and last of the Pindarica that have been lying half-finished in my files for many years. The PDF is here.

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Whose Eyes? Pindar, Ol. 3.12

Here’s another Pindaricum: there will be one more tomorrow on his most twisted poem, and the I will be all Pindared out for the foreseeable future. The PDF is here.

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Another Tiny Subtlety in Horace, I. 1.1

Here’s a note on the first three words of Horace’s Iambi (Epodes), or rather on two of the three. The PDF is here.

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To Form a More Perfect Ring-Composition: Horace, I. 16.9

Even with eight hours on the road, and the first day of school tomorrow, I still managed to put together a note on one of Horace’s Iambi or (if you like) Epodes. Then again, three of those hours of driving were on Skyline Drive, which wasn’t bad at all. The PDF is here.

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Non Omnia Possumus Omnes: Martial 2.86.8

Tonight’s note is half-textual, half-exegetical, on Martial. The PDF is here.

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Time to Change Seats? Horace C. 3.3.34

Here’s a tiny note on a minor point in the text of Horace’s Roman Odes. (I’m away from home where most of my books are, which is complicating my August web-publish-a-textual-or-exegetical-note-every-day plan.) The PDF is here.

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Seek and Ye Shall Find: Martial 4.59.6

Here’s a conjecture on Martial that has been in my on-line text for ten years. It’s about time I gave the argument for it. There is a sordid confession in footnote 2. The PDF is here.

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It’s Always in the Last Place You Look: Martial 7.17.2

I don’t have much time to write tonight – syllabuses and first-week homework assignments are due right about now – but I don’t want to miss a day, so it’s back to Martial for another tiny bit of Orthographica. The PDF is here.

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Someone is Missing the Pointing Here: Pliny, Ep. 1.11.1

Back to Pliny, with a tiny bit of Orthographica. The PDF is here.

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Is a Half-Letter Conjecture Possible? Martial 3.46.4

Back to Martial, with an interesting theoretical question, stated in the title. The PDF is here.

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Interpretatio Foedior Potior: Lucilius 543 Marx

Here is my first paper on Lucilius – the Roman satirist, not the double-elled Greek epigrammatist or the poetical friend of the Younger Seneca. No translation of the Latin is provided, since it’s rather obscene, especially after I’m done with it. The PDF is here.

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Foiled Again: Pindar O. 11.1-6

Here’s a paper on a Greek topic, for a change, my first Pindaricum. The PDF is here.

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