Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Incensed and Insensibility

For good reason the title of this blog is a nod to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. A couple of years ago I bought a copy of Tom Cotton's translation of Pride and Prejudice. After reading it, I began having thoughts of doing my own Latin translation of one of Austen's works. I consulted my wife, who immediately suggested Sense and Sensibility. Part of the fun, she said, would be that we could work on the translation together. By this she meant that we could discuss what Miss Austen meant in the more difficult passages so that I could turn Austenese into Latin.

Below is my rough draft of the first four chapters of Austen's Sense and Sensibility. I hope that one of you out there will read it and perhaps make suggestions, corrections, emendations of my Latin. To facilitate the comparison of the translation with the original, I have made an interlinear translation.

Once the translation is complete and revised, I hope to publish it. My go-to "publisher" had been CreateSpace. Unfortunately, Amazon turned CreateSpace into Kindle Publishing Direct and with that came unwanted changes, chief of which was the edict that they will allow no book to be published in Latin!

I was incensed! Why? Because Latin is not an approved and accepted language. What are the accepted tongues, you ask? Most every known language, including ones you may never have heard of: dead ones like Manx and Cornish (which are spoken as a second language by a few in England).

There are certainly more people who know Latin than Manx and Cornish. Certainly there are not a few at the Vatican who can battle their way through any Latin text. Certainly some of the centuries of books in Latin bear republishing. But no. Apparently not. As insensible as this is, Latin, itself has been put on the INDEX.  Did some nun rap the hell out of the knuckles of some exec at Amazon? Did some priest do the unspeakable? I don't know, but someone in the chain of command has it in for Latin.

What can be done about this? Dunno. I see on the internet that Latin teachers have tried to reason with Amazon. Maybe someone has even written to the pope. But the fact is: the knife has been inserted and all we can do is say, "Et tu, Amazon?"

So, until things change or settle down, here is my first draft. Please, amabo te, let me know what you think. Here is the link you will need to view the pdf:

Maximas ago tibi gratias!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Time Heals All Wounds—They Say

Time does heal all wounds. But time also exposes others that have gone unnoticed—such as an annoying ache that finally erupts into something serious, something that demands immediate attention. 

These opening lines are a bit dramatic for what I want to talk about: mistakes in a book; but the analogy is there—at least, so it occurred to me as I began rereading my translation of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer the other day. Suddenly I saw one typographical error after another! Enough time had passed to expose the mistakes: an n left off of non, an l carelessly dropped from nihil, a mistake in gender here, a mangled verb form there. What had I been thinking when I published my translation fourteen months ago? Had I thought it was perfect?

No, but I did think that the book was reasonably free of typos. But I was wrong.

As I reread my translation, I also came across sentences, which, although they were not incorrect, were a bit clumsy. After reading much more of Cicero and Seneca (whose Latin is refreshingly clear and concise), I began to see more clearly how Latin pares away what is non-essential. It is not as if Latin were like classical Chinese, but there is a certain economy of language that is essentially different from English style.

So, I have cleaned up the typos, straightened out the grammatical errors, ironed out the wrinkles, and changed the cover to red. A good choice perhaps, since I was a bit embarrassed when I realized what I had thought was 'good to go' was not.

But then tempus omnia vulnera sanat—even wounds to my pride.

If you purchased a copy of Pericla Thomae Sawyer before January 22, 2018, you may want to get the errata sheet I prepared, which you may print out and put in your copy. For an errata sheet write to James Rumford: email address:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tom Sawyer in Latin

It has been a long time since I last posted anything. In the meantime, I have noticed that readership is up: six times as many people peer at my postings than did before. Whereas a year ago I averaged about a thousand hits a month, I now average six thousand!

But I’ve been busy—too busy even to notice that the seventh year of this blog went by without so much as a word from me. It isn’t that I have stopped learning Latin. On the contrary, I have been doing other “Latin” things besides reading Horace. 

I decided a year ago, after reading Tom Cotton’s Latin translations of well-known English works such as Wind in the Willows, Animal Farm, and Pride and Prejudice that I would try my own hand at turning English into Latin. 

Translating is a crossword-puzzle-ly thing to do. As in a crossword (where you find a word that means the same thing as the clue given), you must find a Latin word that means the same thing as the English one given. Of course, there is an added twist, a special treat, because translation is not so easy. Unlike crosswording, you’ve got to be creative in translating, and, if you want your translation to be good, you’ve got to be artistic as well. 

So about nine months ago, I decided to translate something into Latin. What I did not know; so I looked around for a famous book with an expired copyright.  With so much to choose from, I had a hard time deciding. At last, I settled on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, written in 1876. The book is not without its controversy. There is the N-word, but I figured that, since I don’t know of an equivalent in Latin, I decided on the simple word for ‘black’: niger. There are also the attitudes of white folks versus black folks, but I felt that that the artistic merits of the book far out-weighed these attitudes. Besides, I don’t always agree with this: bonum est iniurias oblivisci. In this case it is wise to remember past injuries, wiser still not to hide them.

How was I able to translate the book? By searching the internet. I would compare what I wrote in Latin with what I could find on the internet. I would put quotes around a phrase and, if I was lucky, I would find countless examples in the many books on the internet and then and only then would I know that my Latin passed muster. I also searched for English words I wanted in books such as Treasure Island or Alice in Wonderland and located those words in their Latin translations. For instance, if I needed the expression ‘stifling hot,’ I looked for it until I found it. As it happens the expression occurs in Treasure Island, and thus I could find it in Avellanus’ Insula Thesauraria as aestu ad suffocationem. I also made use of the many English translations of major classical works in Latin. If I needed ‘one of the company of thieves,’ I searched until I found an equivalent. Luckily in Apuleius’ The Golden Ass I found: quidem de numero latronum. Of course, this method of translating is slow going, but so is doing a crossword puzzle—until you get the hang of it. In some instances, I was able to use the knowledge I gained from reading Horace. I found that his illacrimabilis was a perfect fit for Mark Twain’s ‘unfeeling world,’ which I translated as mundum illacrimabilem. Hardest of all, were 19th century words that didn’t exist in classical Latin. For these, I searched the Latin Wikipedia and trusted that what I found was a good neologism. In short, it is only thanks to the internet and the countless individuals and organizations that have made Latin books freely available—and searchable—from my home computer that I was able to do what I did.

All in all, translating Tom Sawyer has been rewarding. It gave me an insight into Mark Twain’s genius as a story teller. It forced me to take English thoughts and smooth and shape them into Latin. Here is what I wrote in the introduction to my translation. 

Here is the first chapter with an illustration I did. (In fact, part of my reason for choosing Tom Sawyer was that I had definite images in my head that I wanted to turn into illustrations.)

If you would like to purchase a copy, please go to The price is $12. 

On January 22, 2018, this translation was totally corrected and in parts revised. The color of the cover was changed to red. If you bought the purple-colored edition and would like an errata sheet, please write to James Rumford:

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Persius, the Risk-Taker :: Prologue to his Satires

View of Mount Parnassus, a painting by Claude Lorrain painted in 1652 and 
entitled "Landscape with Apollo and the Muses"

I decided this time to write about Persius [34-62 AD] because he seems so much like Horace. In fact, Persius, it is said, modeled much of his work after Horace, who had died some 38 years before Persius was born. But unlike Horace, Persius never reached his full potential; he died young, at age 27.

To me, the poetry Persius left us is filled with the exuberance of his youth. Like young poets of any era, he strove to redefine poetry on his own terms, to use language in new ways and explore the limits of what it meant to be a poet. He was a risk-taker.

Thus, sometime in his twenties, he wrote this vibrant prologue to his book of satires:

1    Nec fonte lā|bra prōluī | caballīnō,
2    nec in bici|pitī sŏmniās|se Parnassō
3    memini ut re|pentē sīc poē|ta prōdīrem.
4    Helicōniadās|que pallidam|que Pīrēnen
5    illīs remit|to, quōrum imā|ginēs lambunt
6    hederae se|quācēs: ipse sē|mipāgānus
7    ad sacra vā|tum carmen ad|fero nostrum.
8    quis expedi|vit psittacō | suum chaere
9    pīcamque do|cuit nostra ver|ba cōnāri?
10  magister ar|tis ingeni|que largītor
11  venter, negā|tās artifex | sequi vōcēs;
12  quod sī dolō|si spēs reful|geat nummi,
13  corvōs poē|tās et poē|tridās pīcās
14  cantāre crē|dās Pēgasē|ium nectar.

1    No, I did not let my lips loose on the horse spring,
2    No, I do not remember dreaming on two-peaked 
3    Parnassus then bingo! waking up so bard. I’ll
4    Leave the Heliconians and pale Pirenes
5    To those eager ivy-lickin’ marble busts. Me?
6    A wannabe, bringing songs to the poets’ shrine.
7    Who got anything back but hello from a parrot? 
8    And who taught this magpie to give our talk a try?
9    Master over eloquence and wit—the bribing
10  Belly, a contriver striving for speech denied.
11  But if hope gleams with a treacherous silver coin, 
12  you’ll believe crow poets and magpie poetesses
13  were singing of Pegasus’ sweet spring waters.
                                                                         translation © 2015 by James Rumford

My translation of his prologue is a bit different from the many other translations I’ve seen. Take ‘let my lips loose on’ in the first line. The Latin is prolui. Most translators say that this word has something to do with washing: pro + luo. But what if luo is ‘loosen’? I know that proluo, meaning ‘to really let loose’ doesn’t exist in any dictionary, but what if Persius is playing on the similarity of the two words? 

Then there is the word ‘wannabe’ in line 6. Persius uses the word semipaganus, which might mean ‘half-country,’ kinda like calling some rock singer who does some country music ‘half-country.’ I have thought about what Perseus could have meant by semipaganus and, given the context, came up with ‘wannabe.’

And what is the context? It is what it means to be a poet. While Horace wrote how magically he was turned into a poem-singing swan, Persius asks, perhaps with tongue in cheek, does being a poet just happen or do I have to be touched by the gods? Do I just drink from Horse Fountain (actually Hippocrene Fountain created when Pegasus gashed his hoof into Mount Helicon in Boeotia) or do I sleep on Mount Parnassus and poof! I’m a poet? Or do the Muses of Mount Helicon (sacred to Apollo) have to inspire me or do I have to be like some cadaverous princess named Pirene, who cried her eyes out and created a fountain in Corinth?  Well, that’s what people think of men-poets: wan, almost effeminate beings who wind up being immortalized not just by their words but by marvelously sculpted effigies in marble. If not that, then being a poet is just parroting what’s already been said, and doing a bad job of parroting at that. I mean, who ever gave me the notion I could write? I know: my stomach. I write to get money, and if ever I get paid for what I write, you’ll finally believe, and so will I, that I’m a real poet able to write about the spring water Pegasus liberated from the mountainside.

There is, I'm sure, a lot more in the fourteen lines Persius wrote, but I will leave you to explore.

Persius in Prose ::

Nec labra [in] fronte caballino prolui [memini].
Nec [in] Parnasso bicipiti somniasse memini, 
ut repente sic poeta prodirem. 
Heliconiadasque Pirenenque pallidam illis remitto, 
quorum hederae sequaces imagines lambunt. 
Ipse semipaganus carmen nostrum ad sacra vatum adfero. 
Quis chaere suum psittaco expedivit?
[Quis]que picam nostra verba conari docuit? 
Venter [est] magister artis ingenique.
[Et venter est] largitor.
[Et venter est] artifex voces negatas sequi.
Quodsi spes nummi dolosi refulgeat, 
credas poetas corvos et poetridas picas 
nectar Pegaseium cantare. 


:: Latin books by James Rumford ::

For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetizedfor $11.50 at 

For a Latin translation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at $12, click here: 

To find out more about Carpe Diem go to the blog of March 26, 2015; 
for more about Pericla Thomae Sawyer, go to the blog of November 22, 2016.

Friday, August 21, 2015

I Farted :: Satire I:8

This month marks the sixth year of this blog.

Horace begins the poem with an image of a useless piece of fig wood, which is turned into a statue of Priapus, who, in turn, tells us the history of his garden home and regales us with a few anecdotes. At the end of the poem the statue splits its backside. Pepedi, Horace writes, assuming the voice of the statue, “I farted.”

Ridiculous and obscene. So wrote Franz Bücheler (1837–1908), a nineteenth-century classical scholar about Satire I:8. I suppose that Herr Büchler is right. Priapus who can scare away thieves with his membrum virile, as scholars trained following nineteenth-century morals would say, is an obscene figure. So are the two witches who do unspeakable things. As for ridiculous, what is more ridiculous than Priapus farting to scare the witches away? Not high-minded literature this—on the surface. 

Below the priapic imagery, the ghoulish story-telling, we see Horace reminding us once again to consider the enormous changes taking place in Rome. Where once there was a pauper’s graveyard, now is a garden for the very rich. Where once robbers and witches and vultures (perhaps) came, now stroll refined people, taking in the salubrious air of Esquiline Hill [Collis Esquilinus].

This poem is fairly straight forward. Even so, there is a bit of Roman geography one needs to know. Here’s a map of hilly Rome, with the Agger marked with a blue line. The Agger was the Agger Tarquini or Murus Servii Tullii, a defensive barrier erected by a Tarquinian king named Servius Tullus, who ruled in the sixth century B.C. If you look carefully, you can see it running through Rome’s main train station on Esquiline Hill (According to Wikipedia, parts of this defensive wall can be seen in the MacDonald’s in the station. So, if you have taken the train to Rome and walked around its environs, you have walked where this poem takes place. 

There are several individuals named in this poem. There is the witch Canidia, whom we have seen before, and some new characters with names, almost Dickensenian in the images they invoke. There is the scurra [parasite, sponger]  Pantolabus (a Greek word meaning all-take). There is also the nepos [nephew or spendthrift] Nomentanus (a Roman surname, someone from Nomentum, now Mentana). Finally there are three odd ducks, Iulius, the fragilis Pediatia (nickname of a particular Roman knight on account of his effeminacy), and the thief Voranus (perhaps a freedman of Catulus, and a name that makes me think of voro devour, waste, eat greedily).

And there are two mythical names: Hecaten, who presides over encantations and Tisiphone, one of the furies. Her name means “avenger of murder.”

Translation ::

¶Once I was a tree trunk, a junk piece of fig wood.
when a carpenter man, unsure whether to make 
a Priapus or a stool, decided on a god,
so god I am, to birds and thieves a huge terror.
My right hand stops the crooks,(plus the red pole juttin’ 
out of my nasty crotch) and a reed stuck on my 
head spooks the pesky birds and keeps ‘em from settlin’ 
in the all-new gardens. Before a fellow slave
would put the bodies thrown out of their cramped cells and 
brought here in cheap boxes.Here was the cem’tery 
for the poor people, for the takers and wasters, 
for the filth of this world. Here a sign used to mark 
a field a thousand by three hundred feet: “Graves 
Uninheritable.” But now you can live on 
the “wholesome” Esquiline, stroll the “sun-filled” Agger, 
where just a bit ago, the bereaved would see a
field ugly with white bones. Okay, I’m not worried 
about being hassled and bothered as much by thieves—
and the usual wild beasts—as by those who with spells 
and potions bend men’s minds. I can’t get rid of ‘em,
no way to hinder ‘em, once the inconstant moon
sticks out her shining face, from gathering up bones
and herbs that can harm you. 
¶Me, I saw Canidia, her black cloak all cinched up, 
hurr’ing, barefoot, hair loose,with Sagana, older, 
yip-yowling. Their pallor made’em both look horrid. 
They began to claw the ground with their fingernails 
and with their teeth, to rip apart a black-wooled lamb. 
Its blood ‘n stuff was poured into the hole so that 
with this they could bring forth the departed, the souls 
who’d give’em the answers. And a figure of wool 
there was, another of wax.The bigger was of wool 
so it could lord overthe littler one through pain; 
the wax one stood there in humbly begging, slave-like 
as if about to die. One witch called on Hecate, 
the other one called on cruel Tisiphone. 
You’d see snakes and bitches from hell wand’ring around, 
a moon, red-shamed, watchin’ this stuff’d be hidin’ 
behind the big grave stones. Now, if I am lyin’ 
about any of this, let me smear my head with
crow shit, and let Julius come pee and crap on me,
and the twink Pediatia and the crook Voranus.
What should I say about it all? How the ghosts spoke 
first one then the other echoeing Sagana, 
sad and shrill, how they hid a wolf’s beard and snake fangs 
secretly in the earth and how the fire from the 
wax figure burned bigger and how I, innocent 
bystander, shuddered at the voices of the two 
Furies and at their deeds?
Just then, like the sound of an exploding bag,
with my ass splittin’ apart, fig-tree me farted,
and they ran to the city. You’d’ve seen Canidia’s
teeth come out, Sagana’s pile of false hair come off,
herbs and bewitched love-knots come tumblin’ (what a scream!)
out of their arms’ embrace.

[translation © 2015 by James Rumford]

The Poem ::

|1¯ x |2 ¯ x |3 ¯ x |4 ¯ x |5 ¯˘˘ |6 ¯ ¯ | 
Hexameter: x = a long ¯ or two shorts ˘˘. The fifth foot can be ¯ ¯ , as it is in line 15, but this is quite rare.

ōlīm|trūncŭs ĕr|ām fī|cūlnŭs ĭn|ūtĭlĕ|līgnūm
cūm făbĕr|īncēr|tūs scām|nūm făcĕ|rētnĕ Prĭ|āpūm

1  ¶Ōlim|truncus e|ram fī|culnus, in|ūtile|lignum, 
2  cum faber, | incer|tus scam|num face|retne Pri|āpum,
3    māluit | esse de|um. deus | inde ego|, fūrum avi|umque
4    maxima | formī|dō; nam | fūrēs | dextra co|ercet 
5    obscē|nōque ru|ber por|rectus ab | inguine | pālus;
6    ast im|portū|nās volu|crēs in | vertice ha|rundo
7    terret | fīxa ve|tatque no|vīs con|sīdere in | hortīs.
8    hūc prius | angus|tīs ē|iecta ca|dāvera | cellīs
9    conser|vus vī|lī por|tanda lo|cābat in | arcā;
10  hoc mise|rae plē|bī stā|bat com|mūne se|pulcrum,
11  Pantola|bō scur|rae Nō|mentā|nōque ne|pōtī.
12  mille pe|dēs in | fronte, tre|centōs | cippus in | agrum 
13  hīc dabat, | hērē|dēs monu|mentum| nē seque|rētur. 
14  nunc licet | Esquili|īs habi|tāre sa|lūbribus | atque
15  Aggere in | āprī|cō spati|ārī, | quō modo | tristēs 
16  albīs | infor|mem spec|tābant | ossibus | agrum;
17  eum mihi | nōn tan|tum fū|rēsque fe|raeque su|ētae
18  hunc vex|āre lo|cum cū|rae sunt | atque la|bōrī,
19  quantum | carmini|bus quae | versant | atque ve|nēnīs
20  hūmā|nōs ani|mōs : hās | nullō | perdere | possum
21  nec prohi|bēre mo|dō, simul | ac vaga | Lūna de|cōrum
22  prōtulit | os, quīn | ossa le|gant her|bāsque no|centis.
23 ¶Vīdī  ego|met ni|grā suc|cinctam | vādere | pallā 
24  Cānidi|am, pedi|bus nū|dīs pas|sōque ca|pillō,
25  cum Saga|nā mā|iōre ulu|lantem | : pallor u|trāsque
26  fēcerat | horren|dās as|pectū. | scalpere | terram
27  unguibus | et pul|lam dī|vellere | mordicus | agnam
28  coepē|runt ; cruor | in fos|sam con|fūsus, ut | inde
29  mānıs | ēlice|rent, ani|mās res|ponsa da|tūrās. 
30  lānea et | effigi|ēs erat, | altera | cērea | : māior 
31  lānea, | quae poe|nīs com|pesceret | inferi|ōrem;
32  cērea | supplici|ter stā|bat, ser|vīlibus | ut quae
33  iam peri|tūra mo|dīs. Heca|ten vocat | altera, | saevam
34  altera | Tīsipho|nen : ser|pentēs | atque vi|dērēs
35  infer|nās er|rāre ca|nēs, Lū|namque ru|bentem,
36  nē foret | hīs tes|tīs, post |magna la|tēre se|pulcra.
37  mentior | at sī | quid, mer|dīs caput | inquiner | albīs
38  corvōr|um, atque in | mē veni|at mic|tum atque ca|cātum
39  Iūlius | et fragi|lis Pedi|ātia | fūrque Vo|rānus.
40  singula | quid memo|rem, quō| pactō al|terna lo|quentēs 
41  umbrae | cum Saga|nā reso|nārint | triste et a|cūtum, 
42  utque lup|ī bar|bam vari|ae cum | dente co|lūbrae 
43  abdide|rint fur|tim ter|rīs, et i|māgine | cēreā
44  largior | arserit | ignis, et | ut nōn | testis in|ultus
45  horrue|rim vō|cēs Furi|ārum et | facta du|ārum?
46  nam dis|plōsa so|nat quan|tum vē|sīca pe|pēdī
47  diffis|sā nate | fīcus : at | illae | currere in | urbem.
48  Cānidi|ae den|tēs, al|tum Saga|nae cali|endrum
49  excide|re atque her|bās at|que incan|tāta la|certīs
50  vincula | cum ma|gnō rī|sūque io|cōque vi|dērēs.

Delphin Ordo

1 Eram anteà stipes ficulnus, lignum iners: quando artifex dubius an scamnum fabricaret, and Priapum, maluit fieri Deum.    3 Exinde ego Deux extuli ingens terror prædonum atque volucrum.    Etenim dextra mea arcet prædones * * * [Obviously this part was two vulgar for the dauphin’s ears]* * * at arundo in summo capite infixa deterret aves molestas, se prohibet consitere in hortis recentibus.    8 Anteà conservus cadavera cellis arctis ejecta locabat istuc efferenda in vili sandapilà.    10 Hoc erat commune plebeculæ sepulcrum, Pantolabo sannioni, et Nomentano patrimonii dissipatori.    12 Istic cippus assignabat agri pedes milenos in latitudinem, trecentos verò in longitudinem, vetabatque ne sepulchrum ad hæredes pertineret.   14 Jam verò licet habitare in Esquiliis salubribus, et ambulare in colle aprico, ubi nuper mœsti cernebant agrum albis ossibus deformem.    15 Quanquam non tam ne angunt et vexant pædones ac feræ agrum istum infestare solitæ, quàm mulieres, quæ humanas mentes inflectunt incantamentis et veneficiis.   16 Has nullâ ratione possum abigere, aut prohibere quò minùs colligant ossa et herbas noxias, statim atque luna currens pulchrum ostendit vultum.   23 Ego ipse conspexi Canidiam atrâ veste succinctam incedere nudis pedibus, crinibus solutis, ejulantem cum Saganâ seniore. 25 Pallor ambas fecerat visu terribiles.   27 Humum cœperunt unguibus effodere: moxque discerpere dentibus oviculam nigram.   28 Cruor in scrobem effusus est, ut hinc umbras evocarent, animas responsa reddituras.   30 Porrò aderat imago lanea, et altera cerea.    31 Grandior lanea, quæ minorem ceream plecteret.   32 Cerea supplex procumbebat, servili ratione quippe mox interitura.   33 Veneficarum altera inclamat Hecaten, altera diram Tisiphonem.    34 Tum aspiceres currere angues, et canes Stygias; lunam verò erubescentem se abscondere post majora monumenta, ne testis adesset istis sceleribus.   37 Quod si aliquid mentior, conspurcetur meum caput, merdis albis corvorum: ac mictum et cacatum super me veniant Julius, mollis Pedacia, et Voranus fur.   40 Quid referam singula?    40 Quemadmodum altenatim colloquerentur animæ cum Saganâ, voce tenui et stridula?   42 Quomodo clam humo infoderint barbam lupi, et dentes colubræ maculosæ: utque ignis ingens corripuerit effigiem ceream; denique quo pacto aversatus sim præsens, atque vindicaverim verba actiones ambarum Furiarum istarum?    46  Etenim quanto sonitu crepat vesica disrupta; tanto ego ficulnus olim truncus divisis natibus crepui.    47  Protinùs autem illæ veneficæ fugere in urbem cœperunt.   48 Tumque non sine ludibrio et cachinnis aspexisses Canidiae dentes, ac sublimem Saganæ comam decidere, herbas item et licia brachiis fascinata.


:: Latin books by James Rumford ::

For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetizedfor $11.50 at 

For a Latin translation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at $12, click here: 

To find out more about Carpe Diem go to the blog of March 26, 2015; 
for more about Pericla Thomae Sawyer, go to the blog of November 22, 2016.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Caution: Long Vowels Ahead

I wish that Latin dictionaries came with a warning label: 

Use with Caution! Vowel length is only a guess.

  A guess?! 
“You mean the dictionary could be wrong?” you ask.
“And the high school textbooks, too?”
“How is that possible?” You ask.

  The long and short of it is that the dictionaries and the textbooks we use were put together long after Latin died. No one knows anything about Latin pronunciation for sure, but before we get into the thick of it, let us start by saying this:

Latin has long and short syllables. The rhythm of Latin poetry is based on this simple fact.

A long syllable contains a long vowel:  ōs [mouth].

A short syllable contains a short vowel: os [bone].

But a short syllable becomes long, if the short vowel is followed by two or more consonants: osseus [bony]. (Modern spelling doesn’t require us to write ōsseus.)

This rule is so powerful that it applies even if the second consonant is in the following word: os fractum [broken bone]. Compare that to fractum os, in which os remains short.

This rule is too powerful, however. It needs some qualification. The rule, it turns out, is optional when the first consonant is 

p    b    t     d     qu   or  g

and the second consonant is

l     r     n   or  m

Thus there must have been two ways to pronounce a word like agricola. Some Romans may have said āgricola while others may have said agricola. No one can know for sure now.

These three rules—long vowels make long syllables, short vowels make short syllables, and double consonants often make long syllables—have another application. They determine whether the word is accented on the next to the last syllable or the one before that. Long Latin words are accented like this:

agri´ cola [farmer], agrā´ rius [relating to land]

But if the second to the last syllable contains a long vowel or a double consonant, the accent is:

Agrippī´na [a woman’s name] not Agri´ppīna 
agrest´is [rustic] not grestis

Of course the qualifying rule about double consonants applies here as well. Thus we have in Cassell’s dictionary:

trō´na [a married woman] as well as Mā´trona [the Marne].

What an easy system! The only thing you have to know is whether a vowel not followed by two consonants is long or not or whether the qualifying rule applies or not. This is where the dictionary comes in. It will tell you whether the word is ōs or os or how to pronounce matrona. Unfortunately the dictionary-makers and their accomplices, the textbook-makers, really messed things up.

Charles Jenny, Jr., who revised Smith and Thompson’s First Year Latin, decided that vox [voice], which is really voks, needed to be marked long: vōx. He could have left it unmarked, since the vowel is followed by two consonants. Here are more examples of his illogical and unnecessary marking: dēfēnsiō [defense], āctus [driven], Etrūscī [Etruscans], and fōrmo [I form]. 

To make matters worse, dictionaries and textbooks don’t always agree. The Lewis and Short dictionary has Matrona, not Mātrona. In Cassell’s Latin dictionary, we find dixi [I said]. In Lewis and Short, we have dīxi, and in Kennedy’s The Shorter Latin Primer, we see dixī. 

Why all the discrepancies? It’s because Latin has been dead a long time. The only thing we have to go on is what they left behind. Some ancient grammarians wrote about vowel length. Sometimes the Romans used a tick mark called an apex to mark long vowels, and in the case of the long i, they simply wrote it taller:

Roman poets, too, left behind a wealth of information about vowel length, for the words they chose had to fit the meter. A word like amare [to love] was used when the meter called for ˘ ¯ ˘. Thus, we mark the word amāre. (Amāre was never used when the meter called for ¯ ˘ ¯ ). The poets also helped us figure out what happens to the vowel when it is followed by two consonants, as described in the rules above. Thus, amāre flōrem [to love the flower] can only fit the meter ˘ ¯ ¯ ¯ ˘ 

Sometime in the eighteenth century, someone decided to use the macrons [¯] and breves [˘] employed in scanning a line of poetry to mark vowel quantity. This coupling of marks used in scansion and marks used to indicate vowel length was brilliant. Too bad that some modern Latinists were a bit overzealous and destroyed the simplicity that was before them by unnecessarily marking a word like vox as vōx or by marking the first a in matrona as mātrōna. In this last case, was the lexicographer influenced by etymology, since mater is marked māter? This is the kind of thing that complicates spelling systems. Some pedant tries to show off. Just think of the spelling of ‘doubt.’ The b was inserted to show that the word had come from dubitum, as if we cared.

So, what of Horace? All I can say is that it has been incredibly difficult marking his odes up with macrons and breves for the new edition of my Carpe Diem. I never imagined what a can of worms I had opened. I never dreamed in my life that textbooks and dictionaries marked some words according to their own sets of rules, rules unknown to me.

As I mentioned above, I found three different ways to mark dixi. In the odes, we find Horace making no commitment as to the quantity of the first syllable but as for the second, he intends for it to be long. (Here the tilde (~) means either short or long according to the meter):
dĩxī sǎcrāmēntum: ībǐmǔs, ībǐmũs, [II:17:10]

In the next two examples, it looks as if the first syllable was either long or short. Only Lewis and Short give us mājor. As for Cassell’s, Jenner, and Kennedy, all of them write maior. Clearly they must be wrong, for in III:20:8, Horace intends for the first syllable to be long. 

māiǒr ǎn īllī [III:20:8]

mãiōr Něrōnūm mōx grǎvě prōēlǐũm [IV:14:14]

Dictionaries and grammar books sometimes run contrary to Horace. Although it is possible that Horace may enjoy a bit of poetic licence from time to time, as far as I can tell, he does so very rarely. In fact, when he does seem to veer away from following strict metrical rules, scholars come to his rescue and cite arcane rules of vowel quantity as in these lines; for rīdēt and perrūpīt, they say, are ancient forms of the verb:

āngǔlūs rīdēt, ǔbǐ nōn Hymēttō [II:6:14]
pērrūpīt Ǎchěrōnta Hērcǔlěūs lǎbõr [I:3:36]

In the following examples, however, no scholar has come to the rescue to explain why Horace changes the quantity of the vowel. In all of the dictionaries I have seen, testudo ‘tortoise shell, lyre’ is marked testūdo, but in these two examples, Horace turns o into ō.

tūquě tēstūdō rěsǒnārě sēptẽm [III:11:3]

grātǎ tēstūdō Iǒvǐs, ō lǎbōrũm [I:32:14]

Jenner, however, to his credit, sides with Horace. But it is John Grant in his Institutes of Latin Grammar (London: Whittaker, 1823, pg. 333), who provides us with a bit of an answer. He says that a final o is common, i.e., either long or short and sensibly marks these “common” cases with a tilde: õ.

Finally, time and time again, marking the long vowels meant making sure that I understood what Horace was saying. Did he intend to use the ablative or not? Did he really mean to make the noun plural? In the following two examples I discovered that, according to Lewis and Short and Cassell’s there is a big difference between lavit and lāvit. Lavit is ‘he washes,’ and lāvit is ‘he washed.’ The meter makes it clear which tense Horace had in mind, or does it? Perhaps the dictionaries are wrong. Maybe it didn’t matter to Horace what the quantity of the a in lavit was. 

vīllāquě, flāvūs quām Tǐběrīs lǎvǐt [II:3:18]

sǐmǔl ūnctōs Tǐběrīnīs ǔměrōs lāvǐt ǐn ūndīs [III:12:7]

Niall Rudd in the Loeb Series translates the first as “and your villa washed by the yellow Tiber.” The second, he translates as “as soon as he bathes his oiled shoulders in the waters of the Tiber.” Should Rudd have written “has bathed in the waters of the Tiber”? Maybe. As for my translation done in December 2009, I wrote: “washes his oiled arms in the waves of the Tiber.” Somehow the present tenses fits the meaning I think Horace had in mind. Let me look in Jenner’s highschool textbook. Ah ha! He gives the past tense as lavit. Somebody’s wrong, and I don’t think for a moment that it’s Horace.

As I said at the onset: I wish Latin dictionaries and textbooks came with a warning label.

:: Latin books by James Rumford ::

For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetizedfor $11.50 at 

For a Latin translation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at $12, click here: 

To find out more about Carpe Diem go to the blog of March 26, 2015; 
for more about Pericla Thomae Sawyer, go to the blog of November 22, 2016.