Supreme Erudition

Terry Teachout quotes some words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., on his 90th birthday:

And so I end with a line from a Latin poet who uttered the message more than fifteen hundred years ago:

“Death plucks my ear and says, Live—I am coming.”

I thought it was odd that Holmes did not name the Latin poet, but it turns out that he is anonymous, or at least pseudonymous. The quoted words are a very close translation of the last line of Pseudo-Vergil’s Copa (“The Barmaid”), on-line here:

Mors aurem vellens «vivite» ait, «venio».

Holmes obviously knows that this is Pseudo-Vergil, since the original Vergil had been dead for 1950 years when he spoke. Of course, his 1500 years is just a very rough guess, and von Albrecht’s History of Roman Literature (to look no further) puts the Copa in the Augustan age.

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