12 February 2021

Paraclausithyron (natural-historical)

Paraclausithyron (natural-historical)

Will you leave me, my Lydia, here on my knees,
And like a barbarian’s bride,
Who drinks from the Don under flowerless trees
While she gnaws at her bear-flesh and aurochsen-cheese,
See your lover a prey to the snowbringing breeze
And disdain to admit him inside?

But if you can conceive of the aeons that passed
In the ocean so tediously
Ere a tentacled nautilus opened at last
The first cameral eye, and forthwith was aghast
To see, and to see himself nearly caught fast
By a nautilus bigger than he;

And conceive how the purulent prostitute Earth
Bore each animal after its kind:
The centipedes swollen to hideous girth,
The wasps that infested live toads to give birth,
All sensible neither to sorrow nor mirth
But to pain, though the Earth didn’t mind;

And reflect that we’re only less wretched than they
By impossible kindness of fate,
Which has not made us eyeless, or ugly, or grey,
For this moment at least—can you turn me away?
Less you love me, what gain to have scaped from the fray
Of Creation? Oh open this gate.

10 February 2021

Arma virumque

Here are sixteen lines from the Aeneid:

I.1 Arma virumque cano Troiæ qui primus ab oris
I.119 Arma virûm tabulæque et Troïa gaza per undas
II.668 Arma viri ferte arma; vocat lux ultima victos
IV.495 Erige, et arma viri thalamo quæ fixa reliquit
VI.233 Imponit suaque arma viro remumque tubamque
VI.489–90 Phalanges / ut videre virum fulgentiaque arma per umbras
VI.651 Arma procul currusque virûm miratur inanis
VI.814–5 Tullus in arma viros et iam desueta triumphis / agmina
IX.56–7 Non obvia ferre / arma viros sed castra fovere
IX.462–3 Turnus in arma viros armis circumdatus ipse /suscitat
IX.620 Sinite arma viris et cedite ferro
IX.777 Semper equos atque arma virûm pugnasque canebat
X.423 Hæc arma exuviasque viri tua quercus habebit
XI.696–8 Tum validam perque arma viro perque ossa securim … congeminat
XI.746–7 Volat igneus æquore Tarchon / arma virumque ferens
XII.425–6 ‘Arma citi properate viro, quid statis?’ Iapyx / conclamat

Arma virum is a catchphrase in the Aeneid; no-one could deny that. It occurs very frequently, and to the complete exclusion of synonymous equivalents. Nevertheless it is not a formula, like τὸν δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη or pius Æneas. There is no fixed grammatical relationship between arma and virum. Sometimes, for instance, it’s arma virum, ‘arms [and a] man’, and sometimes it’s arma virûm ‘the men’s arms’. And sometimes arma and virum seem to be completely unrelated, as at VI.651, which I think is to be translated ‘he wonders at the far-off arms and the chariots empty of men’. These words are not joined by any consistent logical or grammatical relationship, but by the mere fact of their frequently appearing in each other’s company. 

To this we can contrast the Catullan æquora–vectum formula, which appears twelve times in Vergil. (It was described by Robert Schmiel, ‘A Vergilian Formula’, Vergilius XXV [1979]: pp. 37–40). Here there is a consistent grammatical relationship between the two words. One is always carried across the seas, whether one is trans æquora vectus, per æquora vectus, or simply æquora vectus. And because the basis of this formula is grammatical rather than lexical, the word æquora can even be swapped out for metrical equivalents like maria or tot vada without making the formula any less recognizable. The collocation arma virum is not like this: it depends for its existence on the very words it is made up of, and not on their syntactical relationship to each other, or the sense which they jointly express.

The equivalent to arma virum in medieval and modern poetry is the epic rhyme. Lyric poets like Marot and Housman were usually capable of avoiding stock rhymes, just as ancient lyric poets tended to avoid repeated collocations. In a lyric poem you sometimes even get the sense that some lines were chosen for their prettiness before the sense of the poem itself was determined. (For instance, maybe Leuconoë was only a made a woman in order to allow for the words credula postero). But you can’t achieve such minute elegance in a long and narrative poem, where a certain pre-determined story must be told; and so Chaucer wrote day and lay, honour and conquerour, wyf and lyf etc. whenever it helped him move his tale along. The words wyf and lyf bear no consistent relationship to each other in grammar or sense, but they make a harmonious jangle.

Now, Vergil’s epic diction has certain lyric tendencies that distinguish it from Homer’s. Lest any two lines be exactly alike he used fixed formulæ in much greater moderation. Still, in a long narrative poem there was no reaching the studied uniqueness of Horace’s lyric lines, or even of Horace’s wandering hexameters. In the Aeneid Vergil had a pre-ordained story to tell. So at certain junctures he sacrificed lyric preciousness to the requirements of that story, and resorted to his toolbox of collocations that could be guaranteed to be both metrical and elegant. 

6 January 2021


Speakers of Latin generally say titulus to mean the name of a book. This is not completely unfounded, but the much preferable word is inscriptio. (As far as verbs go, titulo and intitulo are late barbarisms, but it’s good Latin to say ‘liber inscribitur ___’ or ‘librum suum ___ inscripsit’.)

Titulus means, in the first place, a label written on hard material, like a tombstone or a statue. In Augustun period, it could refer to a book or chapter’s name: but even here, I think, the word almost always referred to the physical heading itself, and not the book or chapter’s name in the abstract. Thus Ovid wrote ‘nec titulus minio, nec cedro charta notetur’, and Martial:

Addita per titulos sua nomina rebus habebis;
Prætereas, si quid non facit ad stomachum.

Or else it had a slightly negative connotation, and referred to the book’s heading as an extraneous disguise of the book itself, just like we talk of judging a book by its cover. ‘Me non pænitet nullum festiviorem excogitasse titulum’, wrote Pliny, and I think there was a hint of disdain in his word titulum, by which he meant a pompous decoration which he had chosen not to put onto his book. Titulus was not used even in this sense by Cicero, who always used inscriptio for the name of a book . Estienne Dolet noticed this, and in his Commentarii linguæ latinæ (1536), under the entry Inscriptio, he wrote: ‘inscriptio est, quod vulgò titulus dicitur, & planè Barbarè marca.’ (1) ‘An inscriptio is what is popularly called a titulus, and utterly barbarously a marca.’ This is one of many places where we should obey the great master.


(1) Vol. I., col. 1272.

5 January 2021

Theory of Dagesh

 There are two kinds of dagesh, lene and forte. Their identity in form is one of the defects of the Masoretic system of punctuation, because they have two completely different functions. Dagesh forte, which corresponds exactly to Arabic shaddah ( ّ ), doubles the consonant in question:

וַנֵּלֶךְ vanneleχ, אֶשָּׂא ʾessā, אֵלֶּה ʾēlle מִמֶּנּוּ mimmennū

The presence or absence of a dagesh forte is phonemic, not determined by the context, and integral to the meaning of the word. It would be like writing haṁock for hammock, or piḷow for pillow. Dagesh lene, meanwhile, indicates a stop (hard) rather than a fricative (soft) pronunciation of the letters בגדכפת. Not all of these distinctions are realized in all pronunciations of Hebrew, but here they are in their ideal form:

בָּהָר bāhār vs. וּבֵין ūβēin

גֵּרוֹ gērō vs. וְגַם veɣam

דְּרֹשׁ deroš vs. עַד ʿað

כִּי vs. לָכֶם lāχem

פֶּן pen vs. לִפְנֵי liɸnēi

תֶּשִׁי tešī vs. אֹתוֹ ʾoθō

Unlike dagesh forte, dagesh lene has no phonemic relevance, and its presence or absence is almost always predictable from the surrounding phonetic context. The rule is: if a בגדכפת letter is preceded by a vowel (even sometimes across a word boundary), then it does not get a dagesh lene. And if it is preceded by nothing, a consonant, or a mute schewa, then it does.

These two phenomena should really have been designated by different signs. This is because the בגדכפת letters themselves are theoretically susceptible to taking either a dagesh lene or a dagesh forte, or both. Unlike the letters אהחער, which cannot take a dagesh forte except under the rarest of circumstances, there is no reason, phonetic or otherwise, why בגדכפת cannot be doubled.

Thus there is a distinction, not marked in the Masoretic orthography, between בגדכפת letters that have a dagesh lene and the ones that have both a dagesh forte and a dagesh lene. (There is no such thing as a letter that has only a dagesh forte, for a reason that will be clear shortly.) In the six examples I listed above—בָּהָר, גֵּרו ,דְּרֹשׁ, כִּי and תֶּשִׁי—the בגדכפת letters only have a dagesh lene.

But here are some words with a double-dagesh:


And here is my question: how are these to be pronounced? A grammar of Hebrew will tell you to pronounce a geminated version of the ‘hard’ variant of the consonant. Thus kabbeð, haggōi, middam, mikkemʾappōʿattā. And this is, as far as I know, the pronunciation of every attested Jewish tradition, both modern and medieval. 

But it does not follow from the rules of dagesh-placement in Masoretic Hebrew. Consider what is actually taking place when a letter is carrying a dagesh forte. It can be resolved into two like this:


The first of the geminate pair bears a mute schewa, and the second carries the vowel that the written consonant had been punctuated with. It's really no different to Italian giammai or latte; or English midday, in that it’s just a case of two identical consonants succeeding each other with no intervening vowel. Soo far so good; now let’s resolve a geminate בגדכפת letter:  


Remember that a dagesh lene cannot exist unless it is called for by the absence of a foregoing vowel. Therefore, as the first of these two consonants is presumably preceded by a vowel, it has a soft pronunciation. But the second consonant, preceded by a mute schewa, must take a dagesh lene, just like any בגדכפת letter that appears after a mute schewa. It is to be pronounced hard.

Thus we should ideally pronounce: כַּבֵּד kaβbed, הַגּוֹי haɣgōi, מִדַּם miðdam, מִכֶּם miχkem, אַפּוֹ ʾaɸpō, עַתָּה ʿaθtā.

29 December 2020

O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

Most of the following was well-explored in the nineteenth century, but I’ve never seen it discussed in all its aspects in one place, so here goes.


Hosea 14:13 goes like this:

מיד שאול אפדם ממות אגאלם אהי דבריך מות אהי קטבך שאול נחם יסתר מעיני

This is a very difficult verse, studded with several lexical difficulties. But our first guide should be its context: it is set within a prophecy of Ephraim’s ruin, so whatever interpretation we land on, it should probably be a threatening announcement of doom.

The three words that have historically caused trouble are: 

1. אהי. This is either a) an untranslatable interjection, b) the word ‘where’, akin to איה, or c) the word ‘I am’, akin to אהיה. The question is still unsettled: translations and dictionaries, even good ones and modern ones, are all at variance.

2. דבריך. ‘Your ___s.’ There is no way of knowing a priori whether דֶּבֶר, ‘plague’, or דָּבָר, ‘word/thing/affair/lawsuit’ is intended. But that דבריך comes from דֶּבֶר and not דָּבָר is made plain by the parallelism of דֶּבֶר  and קֶּטֶב at Ps 91:6. 

3. קטבך. ‘Your destruction’. This is merely a rare word, whose proper vocalization in the singular is probably קֶטֶב. 

Meanwhile there is a grammatical problem. Are the opening words מיד שאול אפדם ממות אגאלם meant to be ironic rhetorical questions (i.e. do I ransom them from the grave? or redeem them from death?)? Or are they affirmative statements that God will rescue Israel from death? And if the latter, how are they to be reconciled with the immediately following threats?

In my private view the verse is properly translated:
I ransom them from the grave, and from death I redeem them: [but] O for your plagues, O Death! O for your ruin, O grave! Comfort shall be hidden from my eyes. 
That is: ‘I save Israel from the grave and death, but only to her sorrow, for I will demand plagues from death and ruin from the grave to afflict her mercilessly withal.’ 


The Septuagint translates our verse like this:
ἐκ χειρὸς ᾅδου ῥύσομαι αὐτοὺς καὶ ἐκ θανάτου λυτρώσομαι αὐτούς· ποῦ ἡ δίκη σου, θάνατε; ποῦ τὸ κέντρον σου, ᾅδη; παράκλησις κέκρυπται ἀπὸ ὀφθαλμῶν μου. 

I will ransom them from the hand of Hades and redeem them from death: where is your suit, O death? Where is your sting, O Hades? Comfort is hidden from my eyes.
Δίκη, ‘(law)suit’, is a translation of דָּבָר, not דֶּבֶר. The Septuagint’s translation is thus a misapprehension of the Hebrew, especially in light of Ps 91:6 as I noted above. Moreover, it takes אהי to mean ποῦ, ‘where’, plausibly enough.

Jerome translated the verse as follows for the Vulgate: 
De manu mortis liberabo eos de morte redimam eos ero mors tua o mors ero morsus tuus inferne consolatio abscondita est ab oculis meis.
This differs in several points from the Septuagint. Jerome explained himself like this:
...In eo loco, in quo LXX transtulerunt, ubi est causa tu? et nos diximus, ero mors tua: Symmachus interpretatus est, ero plaga tua: quinta editio et Aquila: Ubi sunt sermones tui? quod hebraice scribitur DABARACH: legentes DABAR, hoc est, verbum pro DEBER, quod interpretatur mors...Pro aculeo quoque, quem nos morsum transtulimus, Symmachus ἀπαντημα, id est occursum, Theodotion et quinta editio, plagam, et conclusionem interpretati sunt.

For the word דְבָרֶיךָ, which the Septuagint translated as where is your suit?, we as ‘I will be your death’, Symmachus as: ‘I will be your plague’; and the Quinta and Aquila as: ‘where are your words?’ —the Septuagint read דָּבָר; that is, ‘word’, rather than ‘ דֶּבֶר’, which is translated ‘mors’. .. And for aculeo [קטבך], which we translated as ‘morsus’ [bite], Symmchus had ἀπαντημα, i.e. ‘meeting’, Theodotion ‘plague’, and the Quinta ‘shutting-up’.
Thus Jerome correctly noticed the Septuagint’s error at דְבָרֶיךָ; probably not independently, but following on Symmachus’ unique translation of the verse. Apparently only Symmachus had rendered דְבָרֶיךָ as ‘plagues’ rather than as one of the variants of דָּבָר. Jerome happened to prefer his translation to that of the Septuagint and all of the other hexaplar translators—which was fortunate, as it happens to have been the right one. Meanwhile, he had the good sense to reject Symmachus’ strange translation of קטבך.

[By the way, here are Frederick Field’s back-translated reconstructions of the hexaplar variants at this verse:
Aquila. ἔσομαι ῥήματά σου, θάνατε, ἔσομαι δηγμοί σου, ᾅδε.
Symmachus. ἔσομαι πλήγή σου ἐν θανάτῳ, ἔσομαι ἀκηδία σου ἐν ᾅδῃ.
Theodotion. καὶ ἔσται ἡ δίκη σου ἐν θανάτῳ, καὶ πληγή σου ἐν ᾅδῃ.
Quinta. ποῦ οἱ λόγοι σου...]


That would seem to be all, but I have not yet mentioned what is by far the most famous ancient commentary on this verse: Paul’s quotation of it at I Corinthians 15:54–6. In the Nestlé-Aland edition we read:
ὅταν δὲ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀθανασίαν, τότε γενήσεται ὁ λόγος ὁ γεγραμμένος· κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκος. ποῦ σου, θάνατε, τὸ νῖκος; ποῦ σου, θάνατε, τὸ κέντρον; τὸ δὲ κέντρον τοῦ θανάτου ἡ ἁμαρτία, ἡ δὲ δύναμις τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὁ νόμος.

But when this corrupt thing puts on incorruption, and this mortal thing puts on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up into victory [Isaiah 25:8]. 
O death where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.
This passage displays strong textual variation in the manuscripts, including an inconsistent ordering of the twin ποῦ σου θάνατε clauses. To keep to one of them, I think that we should probably not read (θάνατε, τὸ) νῖκος, victory, but rather …τὸ νεῖκος, suit; controversy. In order to clarify this error, look at the Hebrew original of Isaiah 25:8, which Paul quotes immediately before our verse:
בִּלַּע המות לנצח
Κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκος is indeed a correct translation of this. (Κατέπιεν ὁ θάνατος ἰσχύσας, in the Septuagint, is an acceptable alternative.) Εἰς νεῖκος, meanwhile, cannot be the translation of לנצח by any stretch.  But as for Paul’s following citation, אהי דבריך מות cannot easily be translated as ποῦ σου, θάνατε, τὸ νῖκος; and a much better translation is νεῖκος, which is in line with the Septuagint’s understanding of דבריך as a suffixed form of דָּבָר. Paul was probably relying on a manuscript of the Septuagint that had νεῖκος instead of its synonym δίκη. (Where he found the variant translation of Isaiah 25:8 is something that I’d be very happy to learn.) Anyway, I suspect that the two words νῖκος and νεῖκος in I Corinthians have been confused in most manuscripts as a result of cross-contamination between proximate verses. This is extremely understandable on palaeographic grounds; so much so, in fact, that it would be surprising if the manuscript tradition had managed to get the two words straight.

Pier Vettori, writing in the sixteenth century, observed that Jerome’s translations implied that he had read  νεῖκος in both places in his manuscripts of I Corinthians. Vettori also cited some other authors who had been under the same impression, and a manuscript that had the same reading. Most of our received texts, in contrast, tend to have νῖκος in both places. It might be tempting to conclude immediately that Paul originally wrote both νῖκος and νεῖκος, which is the correct reading as far as conformity to (the Septuagint’s reading of) the Hebrew is concerned. But this is only one of three possibilities:

1. Paul wrote νῖκος / νεῖκος, but the earliest copies of I Corinthians merged them both into either νῖκος or νεῖκος.
2. The manuscripts used by Paul had νεῖκος / νεῖκος or νῖκος / νῖκος, and he copied what he saw.
3. The manuscripts used by Paul had νῖκος / νεῖκος, and he made a mistake.

All the same, given the existence of both variants in the manuscripts of Corinthians, I think that possibility 1 is the most likely after all. Paul probably wrote ‘κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νεῖκος. ποῦ σου, θάνατε, τὸ νῖκος;’, and variations of this represent scribal corruptions.

Apart from this, there are some other variants. For instance, the first θάνατε is replaced in some manuscripts by ᾅδη. But I am inclined to think that this and several other variants result from scribal attempts to bring Paul’s phrasing into line with the Septuagint’s. The double θάνατε, both for its awkwardness and for its marked deviation from the Septuagint, is the harder reading. And as we have already seen in the case of the Isaiah 25:8 citation, there is no reason to assume that Paul was copying faithfully from any single manuscript of the Septuagint or any other Greek translation of Hosea or Isaiah.

4 December 2020

Conjecture at Horace, C. I.xxxii.15

Horace, C.I.xxxii.13–16, according to the mss.:
O decus Phœbi et dapibus supremi
Grata testudo Iovis o laborum
Dulce lenimen mihi cumque salve
Rite vocanti.
This is gibberish. Lachmann made things better, writing obiter in his comment on Lucr. V.311: 
…præterea cumque nisi cum relativis coniunctum lingua Latina non agnoscit: neque Horatius in carminum 1,32 potuit dicere mihi cumque salve (volunt enim hoc esse ‘salve quotiens te advoco’: at cur lyra alias ei non salveat?), sed scripsit o laborum Dulce lenimen medicumque salve Rite vocanti
Now I propose:
O decus Phoebi et dapibus supremi
Grata testudo Iovis, o laborum
Dulce lenimen melicumque salve
Rite vocanti.
O grace of Apollo, O lyre beloved at the feasts of exalted Jupiter, O sweet and songful lightener of suffering, rejoice in him who duly calls thee.

Update: A loyal friend of mine has pointed out that T. J. B. Brady made this very emendation in the late nineteenth century. My rabbi once told me that you shouldn’t curse your luck in such a situation for being preempted, but thank God that you were allowed to attain the same insight as one of your elders and betters.  

New word submitted to the OED: Gargalism

Gargalism, n.

Something gargled; a mouthwash. 

 It is attested in the funeral sermon for Lancelot Andrewes, 1626:

And true Religion is no way a gargalisme onely, to wash the tongue and mouth, to speake good words: it must root in the heart, and then fructifie in the hand; else it will not cleanse the whole man.

John Buckeridge, A Sermon Preached at the Funeral of the Right Honorable and Reverend Father in God Lancelot, Late Lord Bishop of Winchester, in the Parish Church of St. Savior in Southwarke, On Saturday being the XI. of November, A. D. MDCXXVI (London: Richard Badger, 1629), p. 7.

This word would seem to have the same meaning of gargarism, n., and could perhaps be listed with it as a variant form. Its figurative connotation, however, is not present in any of the examples listed under sense 1 of gargarism.