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 (machado.mec.gov.br/). 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.

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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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