The title to this blog sounds strange, but that’s Latin. In earlier blogs (Sept 15, 2009, Mar 12, 2010, Dec 18, 2011) I wrote about what I would call abnormal word order.
To me it is abnormal to separate the adjective from the noun. It almost runs counter to psycholinguistic rules about the strategies a listener must have to decode the stream of speech entering his ears. Some scholars have suggested that comprehension depended on the delivery. Even so, what kind of rule could account for a sentence such as
The noxious Horace wrote about garlic,
which was supposed to be interpreted as
Horace wrote about the noxious garlic?
Perhaps there was a rule about the number of items a Roman could insert between adjective and noun. Maybe the verb and subject had to be in a special position when sandwiched inside the adjective phrase. Whatever the rules were, all I know is that the Romans could understand such eccentric sentences. Plautus and Terrence, two playwrights who are reported to have used colloquial speech to write their plays, wrote adjective-divorced sentences over and over.
As I wrote on December 18, 2011, it is too bad that Latin teachers and Latin books do not better prepare their students for these types of sentences. Even an old-fashioned audio-lingual drill might help. Try this one out.
Substitute malum with the noun given.
Ex: Magnum puella parva emit in foro malum. (togas)
Magnas puella parva emit in foro togas.
Now, what if the next word to be substituted in the drill above was māla, apples? What would a Roman do with this sentence?
Magna puella parva emit in foro mala.
Would the Roman wonder why a girl could be big and small at the same time? Or would the Roman naturally attach magna to mala because to do otherwise would be nonsense? Or would the Roman think that the big girl bought small apples?
Here’s another exercise.
Repeat the following sentence but change the word order. Put the adjective first and the noun it modifies last.
Ex: Ancilla malum magnum clam edit.
Magnum ancilla clam edit malum.
1. Puer librum parvum legere vult.
2. Viri servos Punicos Romam attulerunt.
3. Ille dives domum magnam construxit.
4. Ubi est toga candida quam feci?
5. Agricola mala magna vendere volebat.
Sentence five would produce magna agricola vendere volebat mala. This sentence might be hard for you and me to understand. We might want to put magna with agricola, but agricola is masculine. If we had wanted to say that the big farmer wanted to sell apples, we would have produced: magnus agricola vendere volebat mala.
But here’s the crux of the matter. What if there is a divorced-adjective rule in Latin that says:
Adjectives come after nouns, but if they don’t, watch out!
The noun they modify may come much later.
An adjective can be divorced from its noun only
when there is no confusion of endings.
Thus a sentence like
Magna agricola vendere volebat mala
might have been considered bad Latin. And a sentence like
Magna domina vendere volebat mala
would have been impossible, since a Roman might think that the mistress was big, not the apples.
Enough of this for now, for I will have more to say about this in a later post. Let us turn our attention to garlic. To my ears, it is quite humorous to read this scathing poem on something I naturally think of when I think of Italian food. What would spaghetti be without garlic? Perhaps in Roman times, people ate a lot of it, too, and this was part of the satire behind Horace’s epode. Perhaps, as this ode suggests, garlic was so offensive that it was tantamount to eating hemlock. The smell is repugnant to those not used to it. By the way, the Hawaiians did not have garlic until after the arrival of the world post 1776. They called the stuff: ‘aka‘akai pilau, smelly onion. Perhaps Horace would have found this amusing. Maybe he might have found my translation amusing, too—into Hawaiian style English, called Pidgin here in the Islands. (ōpū: stomach; brah: brother; wen: past tense marker; kine: kind, stuff, thingamajig, buggah: bugger, guy, person; wahine: woman, lady, Mrs.; moe: sleep, lie)
A few more bits of information before you read the poem: Canidia is an evil witch, whom Horace will also mention in epodes 5 and 17. Medea fell in love with Jason and anointed him with what Horace claims to have been garlic. She also murdered Creusa, daughter of Creon, king of Corinth, by giving her a poisoned garment to wear. Horace claims that poison was garlic, too! Likewise, the poison Deianeira put on a cloak which she then gave to her husband Hercules was garlic not the gore of the Centaur Nessus, as everyone else commonly believes.
If anyone one day like crush a father’s
old troat wit one unholy han’,
let him eat—worse dan hemlock—garlic,
ho! tough da farmer’s stomach!
What kine poison ting going wild in my ōpū?
Someone wen trick me wit
uncook snake blood in dis salad or what?
Canidia wen put on one evil banquet!
Dat time Medea fall in love wit fah-out
Jason ovah all da Argonauts,
(da buggar wuz about to rope da bulls nevah know yokes)
wit dis she wen anoint da leader;
wit dis she wen smear da gifs fo’ get back at da wahine,
den she escape on one flying snake.
No heat li’dat from da stars evah settle on
dried up Apulia,
No gift wen burn more hot on da shoulders
of Hercules da Doer.
But if evah you want da kine garlic,
Maecenas, I ask you, brah,
let da wahine put her han’ up when you kiss
and moe on da fah side of da bed.
translation ©2013 by James Rumford
In Prose ::
Olim si quis manu impia
guttur senile fregerit,
alium cicutis alium edit,
o ilia dura messorum!
quid hoc veneni in praecordiis saevit?
num cruor viperimus incoctus
his herbis me fefellit, an Canidia
dapes malas tractavit?
ut Medea ducem candidum (praeter omnis
Argonautas) mirata est,
hōc Iasonem (illigaturum iuga
ignota tauris) perunxit,
donis hōc delibutis, paelicem ulta,
serpente alite fugit.
nec tantus vapor siderum Apuliae
siticulosae umquam insedit,
nec munus umeris Herculis efficacis
at si quid umquam tale concupiveris,
iocose Maecenas, precor
puella manum savio tuo opponat,
et in sponda extrema cubet.
Original Epode ::
Parentis olim si quis impia manu
sinile guttur fregerit,
edit cicutis alium nocentius,
o dura messorum ilia!
quid hoc veneni saevit in praecordiis?
num viperimus his cruor
incoctus herbis me fefellit, an malas
Canidia tractavit dapes?
ut Argonautas praeter omnis candidum
Medea mirata est ducem,
ignota tauris illigaturum iuga
perunxit hōc Iasonem
hōc delibutis ulta donis paelicem,
serpente fugit alite.
nec tantus umquam siderum insedit vapor
nec munus umeris efficacis Herculis
at si quid umquam tale concupiveris,
iocose Maecenas, precor
manum puella savio opponat tuo,
extrema et in sponda cubet.
:: Latin books by James Rumford ::
For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetized, for $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.