De Bello Gallico: Liber Primus - Forum Book Club

By Decimvs, in 'De Bello Gallico', May 18, 2010.

  1. Reziac Member

    Per'zac'ly! Falls under "Taking things apart to find out how they work" !!!
  2. Euphorbus New Member

    Sorry I got to a late start, so please allow me to address the first and second week's readings in this post.

    'Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres'

    I enjoy how the key theme of division is highlighted by the word order of the clause. Divisa holds the spotlight because it is the fulcrum upon which 'Gallia est omnis' and 'in partes tres' balance. And note how well they balance, each having no more or less than three words' weight.

    Divide and conquer comes to mind. Anyone know from where we get that concept and whether the Romans had a version of it?

    In part 2, 'angustos se fines habere arbitrabantur' is a bit ambiguous. Does angustos modify se or fines? 'They thought that their borders kept them low/base.' or 'They thought that narrow borders contained them.' It feels natural to take angustos with the adjacent se, but the rest of the passsage does not pre-dispose my mind to thinking of the Helvetii as angusti.

    I am struck by the simiplicity and plain-spokeness. The only exception is 'persuasit ut de finibus suis cum omnibus copiis exirent: perfacile esse, cum virtute omnibus praestarent, totius Galliae imperio potiri', in which having persuasit governing both the jussive noun clause and the indirect statement is a lot of work for that word. Not something to blink at in another author, but it sticks out a bit compared to the simplicity of the rest of the page. On the other hand, its very efficient writing, and making persuasit do double duty fits right in with that.
  3. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Cygnea, Gena
    not quite, because Gallia est (Galliast) would be read as one word

    to be honest, I don't think the first translation makes sense (as it's not in the semantic range of habere). I think angustos should really modify fines here.
  4. Reziac Member

    Explain, please??
  5. Labienus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Because the two vowels would elide when the Latin is spoken aloud, Reziac :)

    Galli(a) (e)st.

    However, I think our friend Euphoribus might have something here. I appreciate your point, Bitmap, but wouldn't that be a more astute observation if we were discussing oral poetry?

    That is, I'm assuming that Caesar intended these to be read more often than heard... or is that a silly assumption on my part?
  6. Reziac Member

    <peers at the cited passage, examines the nodictionaries output, compares the Perseus translation, replaces blown fuse in brain>

    I think the intended message is "They thought that being confined to such narrow borders reflected badly on their courage." (i.e. made their courage seem lacking)

    That's an interesting judgment, indicating that Caesar is looking at cultural causes of unrest or aggression.

    Tho I may have just written a pile of nonsense. :wondering:
  7. Reziac Member

    Oh, spoken vs read, I see.

    <goes off, looks at word choices, reads random phrases aloud> Seems to me there's no poetry intended here. It tromps along in hobnailed army boots, rather than gliding among the flowers. And were such documents ever read aloud to the Senate? (If so, how many Senators fell asleep?)
  8. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Cygnea, Gena
    Well, the elision of est is quite common and also found in inscriptions and other sources of literature that are not poetry... and as far as I know other elisions also had to be taken into account in prose rhythms - so I don't think that topic should be ignored.

    I'm not 100% sure about prose though. Most of my reading experience is based on poetry, where an elided est is usually considered to be part of the word that precedes it and symmetrical motifs usually take elisions into account (e.g. Catullus's soles occidere et redire possunt has a symmetrical syllable count if you elide the e in occidere)

    Well, the people in the antiquity did not seem to know about the idea of silent reading. Texts were usually read out aloud.
    Some wealthy families even had a slave to read books out to them while they were getting smashed on wine. In any case, reading was closely connected to hearing.
  9. Reziac Member

    But are we making too much of a word that by its very nature will be common as dirt, following a word-ending that is likewise common? the structure "-a est" would occur a lot naturally simply because people say (and write) "something is..." a lot.

    What people are recorded doing and what they usually did in everyday life are often rather at odds. Frex, in modern times we record the fact of people making presentations. We don't record the fact of these same people silently reading a book. In short, it's the atypical that tends to get recorded.

    Reading aloud for an audience is not the same as everyday speech. There's always a tendency to skip and slur in conversation (and sometimes in memorized recitals -- how many syllables can you compress the Pledge of Allegiance or a Hail Mary to? :doh:), and poetry often mimics this to help create the desired rhythm. But while reading ordinary prose aloud, people tend to discretely pronounce every word.

    Re the wine thing, some cultural historians point out that "wine" usually meant water with a little wine in it, generally about a 4 to 1 ratio (i.e. watered wine, a role elsewhere filled by beer; the water of the day being unsafe to drink without it) so the notion that the ancients went about sloshed all the time is a trifle inaccurate. And there again, I'd hazard it's the exceptions that got recorded, not the norms. In your letters to aunt Livia you'd make note of your neighbour the often-drunk; you wouldn't take particular note of your other neighbour who is usually sober.

    Recommended reading: Robert Nathan's Digging the Weans.
  10. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Cygnea, Gena
    that's why I'm saying Gallia'st is to be expected in both commonly spoken and recited/read out language

    What is recorded is actually quite the opposite: We have late Latin evidence of people being astonished by others who move their lips while reading without saying anything. The idea of reading texts without reading them out really is a pretty late idea and classical texts were certainly designed to be read out rather than to be read in silence. I assume that's also why you find prose rhythms not only in speeches, but also philosophical works.

    sorry, when typing that text, I forgot for a second that jokes are usually not understood on this board :roll:
  11. Decimvs Aedilis

    • Aedilis
  12. Labienus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    This is very interesting. I'm not completely convinced, though, Bitmap, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. I'm not so sure that Caesar, when writing these memoirs, was so conscious of the oral nature of the words. Personally, given the nature of the texts, I'd lean towards Euphoribus' point.

    Then again, perhaps everything is just read into too much :D I had an infuriating fellow student at University who was the most unobservant of people and, when someone would offer something potentially insightful / astute, would respond: '... I think we all look into these things far too much.'

    Not particularly constructive.
  13. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Cygnea, Gena
    I'm pretty sure he was ... just like you:

    It's only natural for spoken language to dominate your mind, and you'd think of the contracted form ("I'm") first before spelling it out (to "I am") to make the written document more comprehensible. Even more so in a culture where reading was not the everyday activity it is today.

    no, it's not particularly constructive; on the other hand not every bit of text is meant to be particularly astute. Stylistically relevant passages are usually marked by an accumulation of stylistic devices - but the only thing you find in that sentence is an (assumed) symmetry in word count in an otherwise completely regular sentence.

    Yes, the Augustine episode was what I had in mind. Unfortunately the footnotes are missing on that webpage.
  14. Labienus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Bitmap, I never abbreviate in anything that is even slightly officious in life, so forgive me when I don't give particular weight to your analogy comparing Caesar's meticulously constructed work to my forum colloquialisms :p

    So not really 'just like' me ;)

    So, considering your point, actually, that would work quite well for my argument. When I write professionally or in the least bit consciously about the style of my writing, I make sure never to abbreviate. Perhaps this worked on some level for Caesar, too.

    I am still of the belief that 'est' was considered to be a separate word when written in Latin. Otherwise, I would question its usefulness for one thing.

    I know-- and I hope that you didn't think I was comparing you to that student. It was just a tangent flashback. She would say it about EVERYTHING. Whether it was the most beautiful chiastic structure or what-have-you.
  15. Reziac Member

    Interesting article. And there's something else being overlooked: silent reading is a function of full literacy (here defined as "having become so easy that you never think about the process"). Reading aloud is a function of partial or difficult literacy (as the article points out, running all the words together makes for difficult literacy even for the skilled, never mind for the unskilled.) Watch little kids as they learn to read -- at first it's all aloud as they struggle to make the printed word relate to the spoken version. As they become more literate the brain starts taking shortcuts and that oral reinforcement is no longer needed. This is cross-cultural today, and being more or less ordinary humans, I doubt the Romans and other ancients were any different.

    Reading was not taught as young back-when, and the older you are when you start, the more difficult it is to reach full literacy. (Also, any reading disability functions similarly; I know dyslexic adults, and borderline-illiterate adults, who still cannot read unless they do so aloud.) Someone who still needs the crutch of speaking aloud may well be amazed by the skill of someone who no longer needs it, especially when literacy of any degree was not so near-universal as it is today.

    As to why books would be read out loud -- well, if you have limited literacy, how do most people learn from anything written? someone else has to read it to them! and since books were hand-copied and therefore uncommon (some perhaps with only a single or very few copies) it's not like everyone could have their own copy to read from. So someone had to do it for them, ie. read aloud, even if everyone in earshot was a skilled reader.

    Makes for interesting discussion, regardless of which way you interpret it.

    All this from two words -- apparently Latin is a form of nail soup. :D
  16. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Cygnea, Gena
    no, you don't quite understand what I mean:

    I'm aware that you don't do that, but you spell out phrases like "I am" or "I would" being fully aware that it would regularly be contracted to "I'm" and "I'd" in spoken English. You have to be conscious when writing professionally, as you yourself said.

    That's why I don't doubt that Caesar was conscious of his words' oral nature.

    Well ... it was ... when it was not elided :p Why would you question its usefulness?

    I don't think we should make the mistake to judge Ancient texts, which were composed in a primarily oral culture and designed to be read out aloud, from our modern perspective, which is highly influenced by a written culture in which silent reading is an everyday activity. To you, silent reading (and the idea of being able to read more of a text and read it faster than the time it takes to read it out fully and pronounce all of it) is so natural that you may underestimate how difficult it was in an age when the evolution of reading and writing was still at an early stage. In a way, that evolution is comparable to the learning process of children, who also have to learn to read aloud and at a natural pace first while reading a text silently and quickly is something they will learn only later.
    I'm not only talking about this sentence in particular here, but about Ancient literature in general. In order to fully appreciate a Latin text you actually do have to read it out loud.

    Again, on the elision of est after vowels (and vowels + m which are essentially nasalised vowels, too):
    I'm not even arguing whether there should be an elision in divisa in or not as you may argue if and how it should be done ... but the elision est to 'st after vowels can be grasped quite well from various sources. I think this topic was also touched upon in another thread.

    In some sentence the elision of est becomes apparent because of the rhythmic composition of the sentence; just 3 examples from De Officiis:

    the clausulae in the sentences from 36 and 41 are catalectic double cretics
    - u - - x
    iūrĕ perscripta'st
    -īs sătis dīctum'st

    the sentence from 47 ends in a regular double cretic
    - u - - u x
    -is nĕcessārĭum'st
  17. Labienus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    I'm sure he was aware of it; however, I think we're now talking at cross purposes. My point is that the reader, upon seeing the words on the page, would acknowledge the structure even if they were, by habit, to read aloud the words in a condensed form.

    My point is was to do with the structure of the sentence, as was Euphoribus' concern, and hopefully as I have explained above.

    Again, I don't think your example of Cicero is a fair comparison either. His prose is known for its metrical qualities, and so, whilst what you say is true, I don't think it is as relevant as you claim.

    Well I never... ;)

    I'm not saying that what you are saying is rubbish, Bitmap. I think it is debatable. As such, I've enjoyed the discussion; despite your condescending tone in places :p
  18. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Cygnea, Gena
    My tone is condescending because people persistently refuse to understand what I'm trying to say. I'm not writing about prose rhythm to start a discussion about Caesar's clausulae or metrical composition. What it's supposed to show you is that even in the philosophical works of the best author, est is elided just like in regular speech. With that elision reaching from spoken Latin to the very highest levels of literature, I don't see why Caesar should be exception.
    discipulusagrammatos likes this.
  19. Labienus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    I think your persistent conviction that you are right as opposed to offering an opinion, as intelligent as it is, might make it seem as if people don't understand, perhaps.

    Anyway, I might run it by some friends when I next get the chance just to gain some further perspective.
  20. Imber Ranae Ranunculus Iracundus

    • Civis Illustris
    I wouldn't say it's a personification, seeing as spectat is frequently construed with any type of locality to suggest the direction in which it lies. It's just an idiom, but you've figured out the meaning already.


    Yes, in other words it faces northwest.

    It refers to the seven brightest stars in the constellation of Ursa Major, called by the Romans "the seven plough-oxen" (cf. the British designation "the Plough", but "the Big Dipper" in the U.S.) which is of course visible in the northern sky. It is near Polaris, a.k.a. the North Star.

    North = septentriones and more rarely the singular septentrio

    South = meridies (also designates the time of day "noon")

    East = oriens [sol] and more rarely ortus solis (also designates the time of day "sunrise")

    West = occidens [sol] and more rarely occasus solis (also designates the time of day "sunset")

    The cardinal directions can also be signified by the names of their associated winds, often in a mixture of both their Greek and Latin names, e.g. Greek Boreas and Latin Aquilo for "north [wind]", Greek Notus and Latin Auster for "south [wind]", etc.

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