A Literary Translator’s View of Heaven

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

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Lies Necessary and Unnecessary

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

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

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How Is Gaios Holy and Good?

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

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Latin Syllabification and Accentuation

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

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

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

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I’m Back

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

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Gentler Remedies Are Preferable

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

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

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

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

Posted in Nachleben, Orbilius | Tagged | 1 Comment

Break Time

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

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Who Invented Ten-Sided Dice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three Small Problems in Persius, Prologus 14

1. I find Harvey’s argument for a question mark at the end of the poem compelling and do not understand why subsequent editors have not followed him. I’m tempted to quote his entire long paragraph (9), but these bits should suffice:

“A question-mark at the end of 14 looks to be correct, since this punctuation alone makes 8-14 meaningful. The full stop unanimously adopted by edd. causes chaos, reducing the second half of the poem to lameness and extreme obscurity. . . . 12-14 as a statement is unintelligible. It suggests that money turns a bad poet into a good one, while credas (14), ‘you would suppose’, is not merely otiose but positively intrusive.”

2. Kißel (98) comments on “die Kühnheit der Junktur cantare nectar“, and Harvey also calls it “bold and incongruous”. Others use harsher words: “cantare . . . nectar pro: ‘cantare carmen nectareum vel suave’ nemo dixit praeter P., neque exempla allata . . . usum insolitum defendunt” (van Wageningen), “insolenter dictum nouitatis cupiditate” (Bo). So far as I have seen, no one has noted that cantare and nectar are very nearly anagrammatic, and share an entire syllable: CaN-TAR-E ~ NEC-TAR. That seems an effective way of combining things that are closely related and at the same time very different. Was such jingling word-play typical of the contemporary bad poets that are his target? Is Persius providing an illustration of “the smooth mellifluous stuff so dear to the popular taste of [his] day” (Lee-Barr) in the very description of it? Such wordplay also seems Lucretian, which arguably provides a nice lead-in to 1.1. Or are the sounds supposed to be crowlike or magpielike? Except for the Ns, cantare . . . nectar sounds rather corvine to me.

3. Since Persius is at least as willing as other Roman satirists to wade into the filthy side of life, I wonder: if nectar here means ‘honey’ (and it does), and honey is a golden liquid excreted by animals,(1) might Pegaseium nectar imply a less pleasant golden liquid excreted from the other end of a much larger animal? In short, is there some hint that the bad poets’ works are no better than horse-piss? If that seems harsh, I will gladly grant that mythological-flying-horse-piss is a better class of piss than ordinary barnyard horse-piss.(2) I should say that I do not think this can be the primary meaning: if it were, it might make Harvey’s question mark unnecessary. Rather, I agree with Gildersleeve: “Nectar . . . combined with Pegaseium is sufficiently grandiloquent to be as absurd as it is intended to be.” A whiff of the barnyard would help make the grandiloquence even more absurd.


(1) I have not done a thorough investigation of what the ancients knew about how honey is made, but Persius’ contemporary the Elder Pliny knew that honey is bee vomit: ore enim eum vomunt (NH 11.12.31).

(2) Other poets (not Persius) are already drinking from a horse-pond in line 1, which is nasty enough. It is not surprising that some scribes misread prolui as pollui there.

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POTIS Comment Policy

A Public On-Line Textual-Interpretative Seminar (POTIS) is a new thing for me and – as far as I know – the classical world, though the APA has announced plans for something similar. No doubt it will take some time to work out the best way to do a seminar in the form of a blog with comments, but here are my thoughts on where to start:

  1. We are speaking in public. Let’s try to show the world (or that small part that is at all interested in such things) how technical scholarship is done. I am very reluctant to delete a comment just because the commenter has had second thoughts. Please don’t embarrass yourselves or each other or (especially!) me. Of course, I will be very quick to delete obvious trollery and spam, but I hope I will never have to ban any Persius scholar for bad behavior. Factories often post large signs saying “This facility has gone 127 days without an injury”. I would like to be able to post a message “This blog has gone 127 days without a banning”.
  2. Please check your politics at the door. On this site, I am emphatically uninterested in knowing what any of you think about any contemporary politician or political issue whatsoever. Save it for more appropriate sites, as I do. The most political thing I will ever have to say on this site is that I did enjoy rereading Persius 4 while waiting in line to vote last November.
  3. Try to keep it (relatively) clean. If any of my former students – many of them still in high school – visit, they are unlikely to stay long, but let’s try to make sure that they will be much more likely to leave bored or confused than offended or titillated. See Con #3, ‘The Other Side of Access’, in my post Why Publish Original Scholarship On-Line?
  4. Try to be pertinent and specific – not that those are strong points of mine! There will be posts dedicated to reporting tiny problems (typos, formatting inconsistencies, and so on), posts asking about general (?) issues (“How should I improve my formats?”) and specific technical issues (“How can I . . . .?”) and maybe even the occasional open thread (“What’s on your mind?”) – though the last will only be repeated if it works well the first time. If you get tired of waiting for an appropriate post for your Persius-related thoughts, you’re welcome to e-mail with suggestions for a post. I may allow guest-posts.
  5. How to address each other when agreeing or disagreeing? I lean towards avoiding first names and titles, and sticking with plain last names, with or without a first name or initial (which may be needed to avoid confusion). There are too many duplicate first names, many of us will have never met, and it will be a lot clearer to newcomers. As for titles, I don’t really want to have to worry about who’s a Professor, who a Doctor, and who a Mister, Ms, Miss, or Mrs.
  6. Don’t be bashful. Feel free to toot your horn, but don’t get carried away. If you’ve written something pertinent to the discussion, say so, and feel free to quote yourself or update your thoughts (“no one else seems to believe me, but I still think . . .” or “maybe I went too far, but my basic point seems sound” or “please ignore what I said about x – I’ve changed my mind – but read the other part on y”.)
  7. Avoid gush.
  8. Puns are allowed and even encouraged.

Comments – or would these be metacomments? – on any or all of these, and suggestions for additons, changes, or deletions, will be much appreciated.

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Index and Database

Before I put together my Adversaria database (here), I made a simple Index file for Persius (here). Should I try to combine the two, or keep them separate? Does anyone have any advice on that? (Please note: your first comment will be moderated, but once that is approved, all others will appear immediately, unless you do something to make me ban you.)

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Categories of Adversaria

As mentioned in my previous post, I plan to assign categories to my various notes so users can filter them to see only what they want to see. This will become more important as their number increases.

Here are my tentative categories – many notes will of course fall into more than one.

  • Textual (one of the larger categories, including any note that offers arguments on decisions between variants and conjectures – should I have a separate category for original conjectures?)
  • Orthographic (for things like Pulydamas vs. Polydamas here)
  • Punctuation
  • Attribution (assigning lines to to speakers – mostly a problem in drama, but also a big problem in Persius)
  • Exegetical (one of the larger categories)
  • Puns and wordplay
  • Structural (symmetry, ring composition, and so on – here is an example from Silius Italicus, not yet in the database)
  • Intertextual (sources, parallels, and ancient allusions and imitations)
  • Nachleben (modern allusions and imitations)
  • Some kind of ‘Meta’ category for things like my note on semipaganus in 1.6 (here)
  • Rhetoric, style, figures of speech
  • Meter
  • Questions and Hypotheses – passages where I have a partial solution, or an unlikely one, or none, and am asking others to help solve the problem.

I’m not sure whether these next four really cover what they need to cover, or should be redivided differently – I will generally be worrying about them only insofar as they affect text or interpretation:

  • Realien
  • History
  • Prosopography
  • Social Issues (including obscenity)

I’m also not sure whether these last five should be listed separately, or all together, or rolled into Textual. There’s no need to decide now, since none of them (except maybe obelization) comes up in Persius, but Propertius has plenty of all five, and Juvenal all but the last:

  • Deletions
  • Obelizations
  • Transpositions
  • Lacunae
  • Divisions between poems

Please let me know if you have any suggestions for combining or subdividing any of these, or (very important) anything I’ve missed.

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Vaut le Detour? Adversaria as Database

Apologies for the long delay in my Persius project. As soon as I uploaded my first few Persius Adversaria, I realized that I needed to rethink the whole web-publication process, since blog posts with links to printable PDF versions would not suffice. It would be awkward enough comparing a text in forwards order with blog posts in backwards order. Worse, I found that blogging passages strictly in their order in the text was slowing things down way too much. I wanted to be able to blog them as I finished them, and move some of the more interesting ideas to the head of the line as I try to attract commenters.

What I needed was a way to blog the pieces bit by bit, while allowing readers to read them in their order in the text, or in the order in which they were published, as they pleased. I also needed to allow multiple versions of each note, since I was already itching to edit the ones I’d put up just a few days before. In short, I needed a database. (I like databases.) It only took a couple of days to put together the basic table, but several more to get the links working.

Each note now exists in four different formats, all interlinked, and will eventually exist in five:

  1. Each one is composed and edited as a Word document, with footnotes and standardized headers and footers. This is for my own use, and will probably never be seen by users.
  2. PDF versions for printing are easily made from these with Adobe Acrobat.
  3. Blog posts for commenting are made by pasting in the Word text and adding appropriate HTML formatting. Macros should be able to automate most, if not all, of this process, though I haven’t done that yet.
  4. With only slight changes in the HTML, the blog post version can be pasted into my Adversaria database table. This process will also be automated with a private PHP input module based on some I already use to update other database tables.
  5. Once the whole set of Adversaria has been edited to my satisfaction, I will be able to put all the Word docs together into one big one, make a PDF, and send it off to a POD publisher, if it looks like anyone will want a hard copy.

The Word, PDF, and Database versions (1, 2, and 4) will all have multiple versions, as I rewrite each note to improve the style or argumentation, meet objections, add suggestions, and so on. This is where the POTIS (Public On-Line Textual-Interpretative Seminar) comes in. Version control should be easy, as long as I’m careful to put changes in the Word version first.

The Adversaria database (4) is here. The buttons below the title allow the reader to sort individual notes by their order in the text (the default), date posted, and length of comment, all either upwards [Λ] or downwards [V]. Once I begin revising them, I will add an option to sort by date last edited, and anything else that seems useful.

I plan to add a Filtering option just below the Sorter: this will allow readers to see only notes that fall into particular categories: Textual, Exegetical, Realien, Meter, Puns&Wordplay, and so on: many comments will of course fall into more than one category. My next post will give my tentative list of categories, and ask for suggestions to improve it.

Some bits of the Adversaria software are hard-coded for Persius, but as soon as I parameterize them, I will start adding comments on other authors, some new, some recycled from published articles. The aim is to aggregate all my Juvenalia (for instance) in a form convenient for readers.

I should mention that it occurred to me just yesterday that I could use this software to compile a complete commentary on a text. All I need to do is to make the references more granular. Right now, they refer to poem and line of Persius, but I would need to specify author, work (if the author wrote more than one), book (if the work has more than one), poem, beginning line, beginning word, ending line, and ending word. (The last two or three will be NULL if the note refers to a single whole line, or a single word.)

I should also mention that the reason I haven’t yet put up my list of manuscripts, list of editions consulted, and bibliography is that I realized a few days ago that these also need to be database tables. (I was trying to decide whether editors should be listed alphabetically or chronologically in my HTML file when I realized that this is yet another case where the reader should be allowed to decide.)

Now what I need is comments. I’ve drafted a Comment Policy, which I will be posting later tonight. Even if you’re not interested in Persius, or do not feel qualified to discuss his text (some of the most difficult Latin ever written by a semicanonical author), you may have ideas about how an on-line textual seminar ought to be run. If this works out, I plan to start a couple more on the first of April.

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Persius 1.53: An Udderly Hypocritical Patron

A rich patron fishes for compliments (1.53-55):

                        calidum scis ponere sumen,
scis comitem horridulum trita donare lacerna,
et ‘verum’ inquis ‘amo, verum mihi dicite de me.’        55

The two gifts offered as bait are oddly assorted. A worn cloak shows a suitably sordid mixture of generosity and parsimony, well worth having but far less valuable than a new one would have been. However, a hot sow’s udder is an unambiguous delicacy. Lee and Barr see the problem but try to wiggle out of it: “a popular and doubtless not over-expensive delicacy”. Kißel offers all the parallels one could wish to prove that sumen was “a choice delicacy” and hot “the ideal serving temperature”. It may have been popular in the sense that everyone liked it, but surely not in the sense that anyone but the rich could afford to eat it often, if at all. Jenkinson’s ‘caviar’ seems a legitimate translation into modern socio-economic terms.

The pairing of udder and cloak might be defended as combining gifts of approximately equal value – not that I feel qualified to calculate the value of either gift in first-century currency. When clothes were woven, cut, and sewn by hand, a new cloak would have been worth far more than a fresh-cooked sow’s udder – unlike today, when a brand new winter jacket from K-Mart may (experto credite) cost less than a lambburger with fries and imported Mexican Coca Cola at the hot new restaurant in town. Whether a used cloak would have been worth more or less than a fresh sow’s udder would presumably have depended on just how worn it was.

Nevertheless, this is satire, and I expect a foodstuff that is at least mildly sordid and degrading to go with the worn cloak: as I have suggested elsewhere, in satire and invective the rule is lectio foedior potior. I suggest therefore that Persius wrote gelidum (a polar error in more ways than one – tepidum would be less sordid and further from the paradosis). The patron serves his poor client a cold sow’s udder, presumably left over from dinner with rich cronies the night before. (At least he doesn’t invite the two classes of guests to the same feast to humiliate the poor ones, like Virro in Juvenal 5 or the anonymous villain of Pliny, Epistulae 2.6.) In the days before refrigerators, a day-old udder would have been none too fresh, though still edible. Like the contents of a doggy bag from a fine restaurant today, it would have been tastier than a lot of fresh foods, while still far less attractive than it had been when fresh.

Now the two gifts match: they’re both cold, though in slightly different ways, both are used or at least not fresh, both would have been more welcome if given new-made (fresh from the tailor or freshly-cooked), and both are still worth having, thus putting the client firmly in his place. Or perhaps the clients: we don’t know whether the recipients of udder and cloak are the same person, but identifying the two might add a bit of point. Anyone would rather have his cooked meat hot from the stove, but a man who’s shivering with cold would especially appreciate any kind of hot food or drink, just to help warm up.

On the other hand, the plural dicite shows that two or more clients are present. Does one get the udder, the udder other the cloak? Or is there a whole crowd of clients, and one gets the udder, one the cloak, while the rest are sent away cold and hungry, but still hoping to be among the lucky few next time? Either way, it looks like the patron is trying to elicit some competitive flattery.

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Persius 1.4: Machinical Error?

A minor question of orthography:

ne mihi Polydamas et Troiades Labeonem

The name of the Trojan hero Πολυδάμας does not scan in hexameters: the first three syllables are short. Homer therefore lengthened the first syllable to make Πουλυδάμας. How that should be spelled in Latin is not entirely settled.

The latest editors of the three Augustan poems in which Πολυδάμας is mentioned all print forms of Pulydamas: Heyworth in Propertius 3.1.29, Knox in Ovid, Heroides 5.94, and Tarrant in Ovid, Metamorphoses 12.542. Propertius’ older manuscripts are divided, with N giving poli and the descendants of A (FLP, Heyworth’s Π) puli (both as separate words). But the older manuscripts of Ovid – quite a bit older than Propertius’ – give Poly- in both works. Nevertheless, none of the three editors argues the point, and neither Knox nor Tarrant even mentions it in his apparatus, printing accusative Pulydamanta in both texts without explanation. Nor do Heyworth or Knox argue the point in their commentaries. It seems to be the consensus of modern editors (perhaps only ‘Anglo-Saxon’ editors) that Pulydamas is the proper way to spell the name, at least in the higher genres of verse during the reign of Augustus.

Is that how Persius would have spelled the name? His editors much prefer Polydamas: of those I have seen, only Valpy and Némethy print Pulydamas. However, only Gildersleeve and Kißel argue the point at all. I find their arguments unconvincing, and have therefore printed Pulydamas in my text. Kißel (116) adduces the preponderance of manuscripts in verse authors who name Polydamas, but does not explain why he would have preferred the Doric-Aeolic form. (Besides Propertius and Ovid, the sources are Ilias Latina 786 and Silius 12.212.) Gildersleeve doesn’t argue so much as assert: “Some write Pulydamas, corresponding with the Homeric form, Πουλυδάμας; but Pōlydamas (Πωλυδάμας) is the Sicilian Doric, like pōlypus (πωλύπος).” He goes on to expound the allusion to the Iliad, which makes nonsense of the supposed Sicilian origin. It seems obvious to me that most Romans would have learned pōlypus at the fishmarket, where Sicilian dialect would have been likely enough, while those Romans who knew the name of the hero at all would have learned it from reading Homer. They would have had no more need to assimilate the two spellings than the spellings of machina and mechanicus. Here, too, the less learned borrowing (machina from μαχανά) presumably came from personal contact with Dorian speakers, while the more learned (mechanicus from μηχανή) would have come from reading Attic texts.

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Persius 5.159: When Two Ets Are Two Too Many

A concise animal allegory illustrates the difficulty of achieving true freedom (5.157-60):

nec tu, cum obstiteris semel instantique negaris
parere imperio, ‘rupi iam uincula’ dicas;
nam et luctata canis nodum abripit, et tamen illi,
cum fugit, a collo trahitur pars longa catenae.        160

                159 et tamen αVXRW : at tamen P : ast tamen GLN : tamen C

Braund translates the last two lines “Even when a bitch breaks the knot after a struggle, a long section of chain still trails from her neck”. I don’t quite see the “when” in the Latin, and it seems to me that ut for the first et in 159 would provide better sense at very small cost. Now the first clause means “even supposing a bitch breaks the knot after a struggle”: a hypothetical is good here. As the OLD notes (s.v. 35), this concessive use of ut is often matched with tamen in the main clause, and that is exactly what we have after the comma. It also requires the subjunctive, so we must alter abripit to abripiat and then delete the second et to save the meter. However, that actually removes another small problem: the variants listed in the apparatus, particularly the unmetrical reading of C, point to interpolation. Once abripiat had lost its second a, et and at and ast were variously inserted to mend the meter, while C or its ancestor left it unmended.

My final text:

nam ut luctata canis nodum abripiat, tamen illi,
cum fugit, a collo trahitur pars longa catenae.        160

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Persius, Prologus 10-11: a Bit of Nachleben

An amusing bit of Nachleben seems worth mentioning here. In his Südelbucher, G. C. Lichtenberg wrote (L 315):

Ein Stoß auf den Magen beraubt alles Bewußtseins nicht den Magen sondern den Kopf selbst. Überhaupt wird immer von Kopf und Herz geredet und viel zu wenig vom Magen, vermutlich, weil er in den Souterrains logiert ist, aber die Alten verstunden es besser. Persius kreierte ihn bekanntlich schon zum Magister Artium, und in den 1700 (?) Jahren kann er doch wohl etwas hinzu gelernt haben.

A punch in the stomach deprives of all consciousness not the stomach but the head itself. In general, people are always talking about head and heart, and far too little about the stomach, probably because it lodges in the basement, but the ancients understood it better. As is well known, Persius awarded it the Master of Arts, and in 1700 (?) years it may surely have become more learned.

Of course, Lichtenberg cheats a bit by taking Persius’ magister artis is if it were magister artium. I do not know what the parenthesized question mark after 1700 is supposed to mean. Lichtenberg was writing in 1796, which was 1734 years after the death of Persius, so 1700 is a good round figure for the number of years the stomach had had to for further education. Did Lichtenberg himself add the query because he was unsure of Persius’ dates?

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Persius, Prologus 6: semipaganus

I suspect that more pages have been written on semipaganus than on any other single word in Persius. Not only is the meaning of paganus obscure – fellow-townsman? rustic? civilian? – it is far from obvious what the implied other half is. This is a problem with other semi- compounds. A semivir is obviously half a man, but whether the other half is a beast or a woman or a boy or an inanimate object depends on the context: Ovid might have called the Minotaur a semivir bos or a semibos vir or a semivir semibos (calling him semibovemque virum, semivirumque bovem in A.A. 2.24 was just overkill) but a simple semivir or semibos, without further clues in the context, would have left his readers scratching their heads.

I lean towards the (familiar) idea that the pagus of which Persius is a partial member is Poetopolis, and that he is claiming to be half a poet and (presumably) half a prosaic writer of philosophical diatribe. Satiric and choliambic verse are certainly prosier than most genres, and putting philosophy into verse, as Lucretius did, will also tend to prosify it. Did Persius think of himself as a Stoic Lucretius? Or perhaps a Semilucretius, omitting Stoic physics and writing only on ethics? He certainly sounds Lucretian in 1.1. However, this is a huge subject, best put off for another day.

In the mean time, whatever semipaganus means, it certainly implies that Persius is half one thing, and half something else. Given Persius’ intimate knowledge of all Horace’s works, and his thorough reworking of the Sermones, I wonder: can it possibly be coincidental that the only ‘Persius’ mentioned in any of Horace’s works is a hybrida, the pun-loving Clazomenian halfbreed of Sermones 1.7?(1)

What Gowers says about Horace’s Persius in her recent commentary on Satires I (CGLC, 2012) sounds rather like the Neronian satirist: “this rancid legal pickle of bitter flavours . . . The poem can be read as a literary-critical duel between two old kinds of satire, [Persius'] the Greek-influenced wit of Lucilius, sharp but uncontrolled, and [Rex's] the rustic and vinegary humour of Italy” (250). Was Persius inspired by ‘Persius’? It seems likely to me. Some may also wish to associate Horace’s Rupilius Rex with Persius’ supposed Mida rex or even Nero, but I’m not sure I’m willing to go so far.

As it happens, Persius’ other model Lucilius also mentions only one ‘Persius’ in the surviving bits of his satires, in two passages of what seems to have been his first published poem. We know that Book XXVI was his first collection of satires, placed after the hexameter works by officious editors. If Warmington and Krenkel are right in putting lines 632-4 W (= 591-3 K = 595-6 Marx) in the first satire of Book XXVI, then Lucilius stakes out his poetical position in his very first satire as midway between the tastes of the overlearned Persius and the underlearned Manius Manilius:

                                                  <ab indoctissimis>
nec doctissimis <legi me>; Man<ium Manil>ium
Persiumve haec legere nolo, Iunium Congum volo.

Different editors print different supplements, but Persium is safely outside them, and the general sense seems clear. Again, he says (Fr. 635 W = 594 K = 593 M)

Persium non curo legere, Laelium Decumum volo.

(We know from Cicero, who quotes this line, that Persius was the overlearned reader.) Is Persius the satirist thinking of Lucilius’ Persius when he writes his snobbish rejections of the common herd and professes that he doesn’t care whether anyone reads him?

Of course, my second point is less compelling than my first. We have only a small percentage of Lucilius’ works, so he may have mentioned this Persius or others many times in passages now lost. My first point is much stronger. We have no reason to believe that Horace wrote any lost works except for juvenilia that he did not wish to survive. It seems likely that his single ‘Persius’ caught the satirist Persius’ eye and influenced his work.


(1) If no one (so far as I know) has noticed the connection between the satirist Persius and his Horatian forebear, that may be because Sermones 1.7 is everyone’s least favorite poem of Horace, except for possibly Iambi 8 and 12.

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Persius’ Choliambi: Prologue, Epilogue, or . . . ?

Most manuscripts (followed by most editors) place Persius’ fourteen choliambic lines before the six hexameter satires, but two of the three best (AB = α) place them after all six, while the third (P) omits them entirely. The lines themselves fall into two halves of seven lines each, with a very abrupt transition. Some have therefore argued that they are two separate poems, though this opinion is now out of fashion.(1) A bit of ring-composition – the first and last lines both contain allusions to Pegasus – makes it hard to separate them.

There is one other possible arrangement I think worth outlining, since, so far as I can tell, no one else has suggested it before. (If I am mistaken, please correct me in the comments.) I don’t believe it myself, but hope that it may prove a stimulus to further thought.

Is it conceivable that the choliambs are in fact Persius’ prologue and epilogue, that lines 1-7 should be placed before Satire 1 and lines 8-14 after Satire 6? That would explain their uncertain position in the manuscripts: faced with two bits of verse in the same non-hexameter meter, a scribe might well have been tempted to combine them in one place, and either end of the corpus would have done as well as the other. The lack of connection between lines 7 and 8 would obviously not be a problem if they originally had 660+ hexameters between them, and the Pegasean ring-composition would work just as well as a device to unite an entire book, rather than a single short poem.

The first half without the second would arguably work as a lead-in to Satire 1. It could almost be printed with a colon at the end: “I’m bringing a poetic offering to the Holy Rites:” . . . and here it is, in a new paragraph and a different meter. So far, so good. However, the second half doesn’t work for me at all as an epilogue. It starts out as an interesting new poem, but whether we punctuate the last line with a full stop (editors) or with a question mark (as Harvey suggests, ad loc.), it doesn’t seem to provide anything in the way of closure. That is why I do not believe my hypothesis. I could modify (and complicate) it by arguing that something is missing at the end of 8-14, but that would ruin the matching lengths of the hypothetical Prologue and Epilogue, so I’m not willing to go that far.


(1) Dessen (16 and n4) attributes it to F. Leo, “Zum text des Persius und Iuvenal”, Hermes 45 (1910) 48. I will look it up next time I’m in a research library, since Google Books refuses to tell me whether they have even scanned it, much less whether I can read it, no matter how carefully I tailor my search terms.

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At Last: Notes on Persius

This has been taking a lot longer than expected, but I will post my first note on Persius’ Prologus in a few minutes, and at least a couple more later tonight. I still hope to finish the whole thing by March 15th: the Prologus is particularly beset with interlocking problems.

In the next day or two, I will also put up a Persius front page (modeled on the Juvenal front page), with a table of contents, list of manuscripts, list of editions consulted, and a select bibliography.

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