Latin Reading Club (16) - Spreading rumors...

By Cato, in 'Reading Latin', Nov 9, 2006.

  1. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Chicago, IL
    Aeneid IV.173-88 - The rumor that Aeneas and Dido are to be married spreads across Africa; Vergil personifies "Rumor" as a monstrum horrendum:

    Extemplo Libyae magnas it Fama per urbes,
    Fama, malum qua non aliud velocius ullum:
    mobilitate viget viresque adquirit eundo,
    parva metu primo, mox sese attollit in auras
    ingrediturque solo et caput inter nubila condit.
    Illam Terra parens ira inritata deorum
    extremam (ut perhibent) Coeo Enceladoque sororem
    progenuit pedibus celerem et pernicibus alis,
    monstrum horrendum, ingens, cui quot sunt corpore plumae,
    tot vigiles oculi subter (mirabile dictu),
    tot linguae, totidem ora sonant, tot subrigit aures.
    Nocte volat caeli medio terraeque per umbram
    stridens, nec dulci declinat lumina somno;
    luce sedet custos aut summi culmine tecti
    turribus aut altis, et magnas territat urbes,
    tam ficti pravique tenax quam nuntia veri.

    Linked Latin Text at Perseus

    English Translation

    Grammar & Vocabulary:

    Libyae - Libya was the name of the region around Carthage
    qua - abl. of comparison after velocius; note that this agrees with Fama, not malum ( although the two words are in apposition)
    viget - "it thrives"
    eundo "by going"; abl. of means.
    primo - "at first"
    solo - Careful; there are two words solum that have different meanings...
    Illa...extremam - Try the following word order: Terra, inritata ira deorum, pariens Illam extremam. inritata - "provoked"; ira is abl. of cause.
    ut perhibent - the subject here is the generic "they"; the entire remark is parenthetical
    subter - "beneath" (presumably beneath each feather).
    tot subrigit aures - Some MS's have subrigit auris; this would allow auris to be the subject of subrigit (the singular poetically stands in for the plural). I prefer Fama to be the unspoken subject of subrigit with aures a direct object (or let auris be nom. plur., an acceptable variant for 3rd decl. i-stems): "she 'pricks up' so many ears".
    medio - The uncommon dative of direction toward, used only in poetry (or assume an unwritten in). It's position between caeli and terrae is no accident.
    lumina - "eyes", a common meaning in poetry.
    dulci somno - dative of purpose
    luce - "dawn"; custos - i.e. in the role of guard
    culmine - "peak"
    tam...veri - The tam...quam conjuctions coordinate two apparently contradictory aspects of Fama; she is both tenax ficti and nuntia veri (the genitive with adjectives is used in prose only to limit the application of the adjective. In poetry is far more frequently and broadly applied).

    Habete Ludum!
  2. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Chicago, IL
    A few topics to start the conversation:

    What do you think of the stark contrast between the two lines that start at parva metu primo?

    What in general do you think about the physical description of Fama? Are there some interesting word choices in the description (e.g. se attollit)?

    If I were to pick ten memorable lines/phrases from the Aeneid, Tam ficti pravique tenax quam nuntia veri would probably be one of the ten. It is a beautiful line, pithy in Latin but loaded with meaning, one of those that it's almost impossible to capture in translation. Do you have any candidates for an Aeneid "Top Ten"?
  3. QMF Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Virginia, US
    Well of course:
    Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentis.
    Aeneid 2.49
  4. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    Thank you, Cato, for another interesting and instructive text.

    I was proud of myself on this one. I zipped right through it, pausing only

    a) to look up Coeus and Enceladus
    b) to puzzle briefly over the syntax of pedibus celerem et pernicibus alis, though the meaning was clear enough, and
    c) to puzzle rather longer over that last line, that you like so much. Even after reading your gloss, I'm not 100% sure I understand the syntax; though again, the meaning seems clear enough: "As much holding to the false and to the twisted as heralding the true", is that right?

    I don't mean to make fun of the line-- your comments suggest to me that perhaps I don't fully understand it. But it does seem to me that it would make a great motto for the masthead of one of our supermarket tabloids, say the National Enquirer.

    I am poorly qualified to propose any candidate for your Aeneid Top Ten. But since you ask, how about these:

    ...dextrae se parvus Iulus
    implicuit sequiturque patrem non passibus aequis
    . (II: 723-4)

    ...Adgnosco veteris vestiga flammae. (IV: 23)

    ...Varium et mutabile semper
    (IV: 569-70; I know I need not remind you of P. T. Sailorman's memorable translation of this passage).

    ...possunt, quia posse videntur. (V: 231)

    ...Facilis decensus Averno:
    noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
    sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
    hoc opus, hic labor est...
    (VI: 126-9)

    Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo. (VII: 312; I'm surprised we haven't had this as a proposed tattoo).

    O mihi praeteritos referat si Iuppiter annos. (VIII: 404)

    And while they may not be in the Top Ten, surely two very quotable lines begin the very passage you give: Fama...urbes and Fama...ullum.

    Thanks again; tibi gratias iterum ago.
  5. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Chicago, IL
    This is exactly correct; some of the passages most memorable to me are not necessarily the most noble, or even the most proverbial.

    Look more closely at ficti, which you translated quite normally as "false". Why did Vergil use this word when he could have just as easily have used falsi? IMO the reason is ficti's relation to fingo - "fashion, mould", but in general "to make artificially."

    I therefore think a better translation of this word is "manipulated" (think of the Latin roots of this word). This notion then goes much better with pravi - "twisted". Again IMO, Vergil is not saying Rumor tells lies disguised as truth, but is more subtle than this: the things she says are all true, but are routinely (a stretch for tenax) "manipulated" and "twisted" to fit her purposes.

    Now, to be fair, Vergil does imply that this manipulation of the truth in the end makes it false. It is not by accident, for example, that he places ficti and veri at opposite ends of the line, and there are obvious moral connotations behind a word like pravi (that last word is a root for the English "depraved"). But Vergil is very skillful in his use of words; that, ultimately, is why I like this capping line for the passage.
  6. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Chicago, IL
    This would definitely make it; the humorous touch of those last three words is so poignant.

    My mother--like many girls who attended Catholic school in that age--studied Latin and the Aeneid in school as a matter of course. She remembered almost none of it, but I remember her remarking when I brought up the poem that she remembers "that cure little scene where the little boy's legs are running so fast to keep up with his father".
    I'd forgotten about this one; it is a lovely phrase that perfectly captures Dido's emotion at the start of Book IV.
    Commentators often say that the modern reaction to Dido--we are sympathetic to her ultimately rejected love--was not what Virgil intended for a Roman audience that would only see her as a foreign queen, an inferior person who, no matter her intentions, was ultimately unworthy of grand Rome. I reject that idea completely; the character of Dido--smartly revealed in her intricate conversations with her sister Anna--is too well-drawn for that.
    I will get in trouble with my wife for agreeing with this, so I'll keep this one off my list. I will note, however, that it is Mercury who says this to Aeneas in an effort to get him to abandon Dido, so he has an agenda...
    Another one I'd forgotten about--most likely because I find the games in book V (with the exception of Nisus and Euralis) to be a little tedious (not a knock on Vergil, just not my thing)
    We'd discussed this passage some time ago; I agree it is descriptively powerful, and would probably include it.
    Sadly, nobody reads the poem after book VI anymore, so I'm not that surprised.

    Poor Juno; she's the Wicked Witch of the West in the poem, constantly foiled in her schemes, shaking her fist in outrage, uttering loser threats like this; "Curses....I'll get you next time, Aeneas! And you're little Trojan dog, too!"
    That's line 560, for those counting :), where Evander is saying goodbye to his son before he goes off to fight for Aeneas. i hope it's no indication of your own state Iynx :)
  7. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Chicago, IL
    A famous line; I think it's a proper punctuation to the speech of Laocoon ardens. I don't know if I would include it in my own top ten simply because I see other more skillful passages. Then again, perhaps I'm just biased against quotes that are generally famous/recognized.

    Take, e.g., II.313, when the alarm is sounded that the Greeks are in the city:

    Exoritur clamorque virum clangorque tubarum.

    The repeated or sounds--imitating the clash or arms--the arrangement of the meter (dactyls alternate with spondees, a repetitive and jerky rhythm), placing the verb first (to emphasize the action, a common Virgilian tactic when he wants to heighten the tension), and the overall balance of the line had me place a star next to it when I first read it years ago. It still sticks with me.

    Maybe I should rephrase the question as lines you find that are terribly underrated. This line and the final line from the selection would be on the list.
  8. QMF Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Virginia, US
    Underrated yes, 2.49 is most certainly not underrated.

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