Two More Seneca Commentaries

I have added two more commentaries on selected Epistulae Morales of Seneca to my list: Schafer 2009 and Berti 2018. If anyone knows of others I have missed, please let me know: I have a feeling I’ve seen one or two others. Unless I’ve missed a lot of them, it appears that wave of Seneca commentaries has abated in the last few years. There are still a dozen letters that get no love from any commentator and are not included in the translated selections of Campbell (Penguin), Inwood (Clarendon Later Ancient Philosophers), or Fantham (Oxford World’s Classics): 13, 17, 20, 45, 69, 74, 81, 89, 98, 102, 109, and 111.

Lowell Edmunds’ list of commentaries on Odes of Pindar, which was the model for mine, is back on-line at a new address, thanks to his student Leon Walsh: link. See this Tweet for how that came about: link.

Some day I hope to find the time to transform my Seneca list into a data base for easier and more flexible searching, and add similar cross-references for at least two other often-selected corpora far too large to make convenient PDFs: the Greek Anthology and Martial.

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Claudian’s Orrery – 3-column display of critical texts

It has been obvious for many years that an on-line text with an apparatus criticus should put it to the right of the text, since the bottom of the page may be hundreds of lines away, and a line-by-line apparatus is of highly-variable width – we would not want to put the entire text to the right of the longest list of variants and conjectures. What then of a text that also has a facing translation? I see no other place for it than the left side of the text, as in my three-column Sphaera Archimedis (link – the translation has no literary pretensions whatever). The fact that Loeb and other facing texts normally put the translation to the right makes me expect to find it there. How easy will it be to get used to seeing them the other way around?

Putting the translation to the right of the text seems more natural in a language written left-to-right, since the text is of course primary. Putting the text in the middle, between translation and apparatus criticus, also seems psychologically right, centering the primary thing, while separating the parts that are related to the text, but not to each other. Similarly, I use colors to differentiate, making the text visually primary (black), the apparatus (dark blue) and translation (dark green) secondary. I am curious what others think about my sample page, and my reasoning.

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Happy Birthday, A. E. Housman

In honor of A. E. Housman’s 160th birthday, ending in seven minutes, here is Charles Johnston, in Selected Poems (London, 1985):

Footnote to Housman

To reach the top flight as a poet
you must write an unreadable work,
so obscure that your friends will forgo it
and all but the bravest will shirk.

Then the few who have read it, begrudging
the waste of exertion entailed,
will claim it’s essential for judging
how far you’ve succeeded or failed.

From admiring their own persistence
they’ll come to admiring the screed
and claim that it stands at a distance
from works that are easy to read;

while the reader who skipped it is able
to pretend he enjoyed it himself,
and leave it about on his table,
and show it with pride on his shelf.

It was Housman who worst neglected
the force of this critical rule,
with result that his faults are detected
by infants who read him at school,

while we who admire him, defenceless,
lack some pompier twaddle to quote
and can find nothing prolix or senseless
to claim as the best thing he wrote.

To learn from the fault he committed
is the first of poetical cares.
Lucid intervals may be admitted,
but be lucid the whole time who dares.

I still can’t make up my mind whether ‘read’ in the last line of the third-to-last stanza is present or past, and therefore cannot read it aloud or to myself without stumbling.

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Martial Fouls His Nest[ed Quotation Marks]

Years ago I read (or perhaps someone told me) that Livy uses the word ‘o’ only once in his thousands of extant pages, in his account of the rape of Lucretia in Book I, and that no one had noticed this interesting fact until David Packard compiled one of the first computerized concordances, four massive volumes indexing Livy. Checking the text of Book I, I see now that I remembered that wrong – it’s been over thirty years – and that it is actually in the preceding account of Brutus kissing the ground at Delphi (1.56.10): a hidden voice tells the Tarquins Imperium summum Romae habebit qui vestrum primus, o iuvenes, osculum matri tulerit. Alphabetizing every word and its context made the word stand out.

I believe I may have discovered a similar unique thing (hapax phaenomenon?) in Martial while working on the technical side of putting up a reformattable on-line text. In encoding nested quotation marks for various national standards, I needed to find examples of quotations within quotations. Searching my database, which now contains 43,350 words, including all of Persius, most of Horace, 600 epigrams of Martial (around 40%) and a few dozen other poems or letters, I found 14 pairs of inner quotation marks, 12 in Persius (Satires 1, 4, and 5), one in Horace (Epode 17), and one in Martial. I’ve searched online texts of Martial for others, and the one in the database appears to be the only set of nested quotations in his 1500+ epigrams. Can you guess which epigram it is? Here are some hints:

  1. It’s a famous one.
  2. Martial quotes six whole lines from another well-known author, who in turn quotes part of a line (allegedly) from another well-known Roman.
  3. The four words inside the inner quotation marks are very obscene – not that that would narrow things down much, if they were Martial’s own words.

There is no prize but self-satisfaction, and no need to post answers in the comments. The answer will be found here: link. Do not hover over the link if you’re not done guessing – the number is embedded in the link! When you do go to the text, try out the reformatting buttons. I’ve had similar reformattable texts up before, but they didn’t work very well, and I’ve spent the last six months transforming them so they are stored word by word rather than line by line, which solves most of those, and will allow interesting further developments, like semi-automatic parsing of texts. Of course, the main thing I need now is a front end to allow users to select poems, but that shouldn’t take long. After that, I will add an apparatus criticus, and (eventually) make the texts editable, so you can select your own variants and save your preferred version with a cookie or a unique URL. In the mean time, if you edit the URL in the link, you can see other poems of Martial: Books I, II, IV, VII, and XII are all uploaded, with a scattering of others, including the famous 10.47. Just change the last bit of the link to M.10.47 (or whatever).

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The Etymology of Sycophant

I’d been putting off writing this up, hoping to do all the necessary research first, but it’s a subject of discussion on Twitter (link), so here’s a brief outline:

The traditional explanation of συκοφάντης, whose etymology implies that it means ‘fig-revealer’, but is used to mean ‘informer, blackmailer’, seems implausible. Supposedly, some Athenians were evading taxes on stockpiled figs, and other Athenians were informing on them or extorting money by threatening to inform the tax authorities. This sounds like a post-facto ‘just-so’ story to me.

It seems much more likely that the ‘figs’ (σῦκα) in συκοφάντης are hemorrhoids, and that the blackmailers were extorting money from the pile-riven by threatening to reveal their sexual secrets. Hemorrhoids were called ‘figs’ in Greek (σῦκον) and Latin (ficus, marisca), and were also thought to be the result of anal sex. Given the gross double standard in ancient Greek and Roman attitudes towards anal (and oral) sex – basically, being a ‘top’ was admirable, a ‘bottom’ utterly contemptible – a Greek man suffering from hemorrhoids would likely have been willing to spend quite a lot to conceal the fact.

To make a proper scholarly note I will need to gather all the evidence and weigh it carefully, since much of it is later than Aristophanes, but my hypothesis seems plausible in itself – certainly better than the bootleg-fig story. A good place to start is Juvenal 2.13 and Courtney’s note thereon.

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Claudianean Revisions

I have begun to revise and complete my web-text of Claudian, first uploaded in 2004 (link in right margin). So far, I have added curly quotation marks to In Rufinum I, the only text that lacked them, corrected four typographical errors in Book I of In Rufinum and seven in Book II, and corrected the punctuation in three passages of Book I and two of Book II. Further changes to the entire corpus will be made as time allows, and I will be adding to the apparatus criticus, though it will still be very sparse. I hope to edit and upload the five missing books in the next few months: Panegyricus de Tertio Consulatu Honorii Augusti, De Bellum Getico, Panegyricus de Sexto Consulatu Honorii Augusti, and De Raptu Proserpinae II-III, beginning with the last as most in demand.

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Why Memmius?

While I’m uploading old papers, I thought I should include a lecture on Lucretius I gave at the Leeds Latin Seminar in 2000. This is, after all, the traditional date of the death of Lucretius (and birth of Vergil). The title is “Lucretius’ Dedication: Why Memmius?”, and the PDF will be found here. For better or worse, I have not removed any of the characteristics of an oral presentation.

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Artemis a Model for Widows?

Like Edith Wharton (previous post), Machado de Assis has what looks very like a mythological blunder in his very first short story (first collected, in his case), “Miss Dollar”. The very handsome and affordable new translation of the Collected Stories translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Liveright, 2018) includes these remarks about a beautiful widow very reluctant to remarry (13-14):

“She wants to remain faithful unto the grave, an Artemis for our own age.”

Unconvinced by this reference to Artemis, Andrade smiled at his friend’s remark, . . .

* * * * *

This quote had the effect of silencing Andrade, who believed about as much in constancy as he did in Artemises, . . .

Of course, the classical model for inconsolable widows was not the virgin goddess Artemis but Artemisia, specifically Artemisia II of Caria, who built one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Mausoleum, as a tomb for her husband (and brother) Mausolus. Except for helpful stress-accents, the two names are the same in Portuguese: Ártemis and Artemísia. (Being ignorant of Portuguese, I would not have been able to check this easily until the last few years, since dictionaries usually omit proper names. Now I can just look up Artemis and Artemisia – the queen, not the generic name of mugwort, wormwood, and sagebrush, which comes up first – on Wikipedia, and click on Languages / Português in the left margin to see how the articles are titled in Portuguese.)

Though I may be wrong, the apparent blunder does not seem to be the translators’. Machado de Assis’ Obra Completa is out of copyright (he died 110 years ago last Saturday) and on-line at a Brazilian government URL ( The text of “Miss Dollar” there (click on ‘Conto’, then ‘Contos Fluminenses’) reads ‘Artemisa’ or ‘Artemisas’ in all three places. Could this be an earlier spelling of Artemis or Artemisia? That would be awfully confusing: it looks more like a conflation of the two, falling between two stools, as it were. Did Machado de Assis himself, or his copy editors, proofreaders, or typographers drop an I and an accent to turn Artemísia into Artemisa? That is a question only an expert on Brazilian Portuguese and the works of Machado de Assis can answer. However, he must have meant the woman whose English name is Artemisia, not Artemis, so the translation is definitely wrong.

Perhaps I should add that I’ve been very impressed by the quality of the stories I’ve read (four so far) and the translation reads very well, though I’m obviously in no position to judge its accuracy except on this one tiny point. I would have liked footnotes for some of the geographical and literary allusions, but there was hardly room for them: the book is already xxv + 931 pages. Perhaps someone could put together a companion website, with contemporary maps, explanations of what the named streets and neighborhoods imply socially and economically, identification of now-forgotten (at least outside Brazil) authors, and so on. (If such a site already exists in Portuguese, a translation would be very much appreciated by readers of the new Collected Stories.) I would be glad to help with the frequent classical references and allusions.

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Two or three corrections in Edith Wharton short stories

My first venture into textual criticism of modern printed authors is now (I believe) out of embargo, so I have made a PDF and uploaded it here. If you’re not yet sure you want to click the link, the title is “Two Greek Syllables in Wharton’s ‘The Pelican’” and it appeared in Notes & Queries in 2010. It will be a few days before I add the link to the Publications list on my website: I’m away from home without an HTML editor.

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Dissertation Now On-Line

The University of Virginia library has (with my permission) placed my dissertation, “Problems of unity and design in Propertius II” (1990) on-line. It’s a bit half-baked, but I still think my conclusions are sound. Should you read it? The best way to judge is to start with Chapter 2, on 2.29, of which S. J. Heyworth writes (Cynthia, 238): “The two sections [of 2.29] are set up as a contrasting pair, brought out well by Hendry 1990: night/day (for which one may compare Ovid, amores 1.5/6); out of doors/at Cynthia’s house; narrative addressed to Cynthia/3rd person narrative about Cynthia; pleasant fantasy/cruel reality; but such antitheses can function at least as well if we separate the parts.”

For the abstract and a link to the PDF, click here. Chapter 2 does not discuss my conjecture on 2.29.28 (qua for quae, not mentioned in Cynthia, but included in the apparatus of the OCT), which I had not yet devised.

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John Owen 9.53

Just uploaded: a conjecture on an author from the age of print: John Owen (Ioannes Audoenus) the Welsh epigrammatist. This particular couplet was first published in 1613. (This is not my first attempt to emend an oft-printed text: I will upload my correction of two Greek bits in an Edith Wharton short story one of these days, since the Notes & Queries embargo has, I believe, expired.) The PDF file for my Owen note is here.

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A Crucial Difference for Some

While I’m uploading pictures, here are a couple of statues I saw at the West End Antique Mall in Richmond, Virginia last Saturday:

They’re roughly half life-sized and priced at $562.50 each, though WEAM will usually knock off 10% just for asking, and you may be able to negotiate an even lower price. If you can’t read the labels, the two are distinguised as “Man with Leaf” and “Man without Leaf”. Unfortunately, I was so amused by the labels I forgot to get pictures of the entire statues.

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Still in Business!

The most exciting and unexpected thing I saw in Dublin had nothing to do with classics:

Tower Records is still in business in Ireland, and stuffed with interesting CDs and DVDs as well as vinyl LPs. I only had time (and room in my baggage) to find a couple of unfamilar box sets, but it was very much like old times in the U.S. If only they had a Borders books as well.

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Crazy Quilt

First up: some comments on the Poems without Poets conference at Trinity College, Dublin two weeks ago. There was a paper by Maria Teresa Galli, “The Vergiliocentones minores and the patchwork tragedy Medea of the Latin Anthology: poems without a poet?” In the reception afterwards I spoke to a couple of participants (sorry, I’ve forgotten which ones) about the etymology of cento and the (modern) distinction between patchwork quilts and crazy quilts, and promised a picture. Here is a small part of the crazy quilt I bought at an antique store in Salem (a suburb of Roanoke) a few years ago:

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I’m Back

After two months of work-related non-posting, and two months of (partially) recovering from a disc crash, I am finally more or less back. The problem with the latter was not loss of data – my local computer repair shop saved all the data and put it on a handy, reusable 350 MB peripheral for $43.03 – as the software. I much prefer Word 2000 to any newer version, and my new(er) Windows 10 laptop refuses to load it. A friend gave me an old Windows 7 desktop, but it’s frustrating not being able to write efficiently away from home. I can’t get Filezilla to work on either machine, and there’s lots more software that still needs to be installed or replaced even after two months. But enough of that. Let me start posting on more interesting topics.

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Question for Donne Scholars

Though too lazy to look up examples, I know John Donne punned on his last name and its homophone, the participle of ‘did’. Did he ever pun on the Italian homograph ‘donne’ = ‘ladies’? The meaning would certainly suit a love poet, but the very different pronunciation – even the number of syllables differs – would have been an obstacle.

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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.

Posted in General, Horace, Orbilius | 1 Comment