Saturday, September 12, 2009

Clement Lawrence Smith et Prudentia

In my last post, I railed about the errors in the books I was using. Later that day, I acquired some wisdom.  My on-line purchase—for just a few dollars–of a 1903 copy of Clement Lawrence Smith's The Odes and Epodes of Horace arrived in the mail. Its green cloth cover was dark with age and a bit frayed at the edges. It smelled either of must or tobacco. I leafed through its pages.

Someone had drawn a map of fine pencil lines showing the area around Licenza, Italy, and clearly indicating Horace's villa and a nearby spring. 
"How interesting!" I said to myself.  It is always fun to find stuff tucked away in an old book.

(The map, oddly enough, is almost identical in its detail to the one I found on-line @ ). 

But there was more. A slip of paper fluttered to the ground. It was in pencil, too—a list of corrections and errors in the book.  A few pages away, neatly folded was a handwritten letter dated October 3, 1903:

128 Anawan Avenue.
West Roxbury, Mass.,

To/ Prof Clement Lawrence Smith—

My dear Sir—

I enclose a list of the words in the text of the Horace of the Boston Bibliophile Society, and some of which seem to be errors, while others may represent a different reading.

This edition has been edited with such care that doubtless some of these instances are only supposed errors, although I well know how almost impossible it is for readers of proof to 'catch' every error.

If there are any errors in this list I should like to make the correction in my copy.

Yours very sincerely,

Henry A. Metcalf.

The enclosed list of words was still there, some ten in all.

So what, by some odd set of circumstances, had come in the mail? A copy owned by the author himself?  Had he drawn the map?  Had he made a list of errors he had found in his book so that I might have the only corrected copy in the world? 

What I do know is that Clement Lawrence Smith was a classics scholar and dean of Harvard College.  He was born in 1844 and died a hundred years ago this summer. As for Henry A. Metcalf, he was a respected editor in Boston, and perhaps, for this reason, the letter was saved.

But, I think, what really came in the mail was some perspective on errors in books dealing with Horace and the problems in publishing a book on a poet who died two thousand years ago and for whom no original manuscripts of his work exists. 

The earliest manuscripts date back to the seventh or eighth century and may have been written by Scotch or Irish monks in one of those monasteries that produced the Book of Kells. These early manuscripts contain scribal errors. Some might even have been edited by well-intentioned monks who thought they could improve on Horace's words! Add to this modern scholars who, also well-intentioned, made a few changes for the good of us all.

So, I, the learner, will have to be more wary.  Typographical errors happen. Scholars make mistakes. When something doesn't sound right, maybe it isn't.  Surely, one of these versions from poem Vixi Puellis Nuper (III:26) is the correct one: 

ponite lucida funalia et vectes securesque oppositis foribus minaces [Loeb Classical Library, McClatchy, 2002]

ponite lucida funalia et vectis et arcus oppositis foribus minacis [Smith, 1903, also found in many on-line versions]

ponite lucida funalia et vectes et arcus oppositis foribus minacis [Porphyrionis Commentarium, 3rd century A.D., Garrison, 1991]

But which one is correct?  Vectes minaces? Vectis minacis? Vectes minacis? I choose vectes minaces. To me, at my present level of understanding, this makes the most sense. Vectes 'crowbars' is the object of ponite 'put' and minaces 'threatening' modifies it. 

When I do find out more, I'll return to this line in Horace. Maybe all three are correct and supported by reliable documents and manuscripts. I just don't know.

:: 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment