Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Suetonius: Caligula as a practical joker.

Good governance and responsible politicians are a blessing for every nation, but no fun to read about. Caligula was quite the opposite and his behaviour during his short reign is more reminiscent of Idi Amin and some other African dictators, than of say Obama or Angela Merkel. Little is known about him and what is known is mostly from the biographical notes by Suetonius (69-122). Suetonius is hardly a reliable source -when it comes to gossip, he is as reliable as a journalist of The Sun - but there is no doubt that there was something severely wrong with Caligula’s mental health. The following extract tells about his pleasure in sadism and even though the Roman world was very sadistic, his sadism stands out.
As for sadism: it is an exercise in all kinds of ablativi!

Suetonius, De vita Caesarum, Caligula, c 32

Animum quoque remittenti ludoque et epulis dedito eadem factorum dictorumque saevitia aderat. Saepe in conspectu prandentis vel comisantis seriae quaestiones per tormenta habebantur, miles decollandi artifex quibuscumque e custodia capita amputabat. Puteolis dedicatione pontis, quem excogitatum ab eo significavimus, cum multos e litore invitasset ad se, repente omnis praecipitavit, quosdam gubernacula apprehendentes contis remisque detrusit in mare. Romae publico epulo servum ob detractam lectis argenteam laminam carnifici confestim tradidit, ut manibus abscisis atque ante pectus e collo pendentibus, praecedente titulo qui causam poenae indicaret, per coetus epulantium circumduceretur. Murmillonem e ludo rudibus secum battuentem et sponte prostratum confodit ferrea sica ac more victorum cum palma discucurrit. Admota altaribus victima succinctus poparum habitu elato alte malleo cultrarium mactavit. Lautiore convivio effusus subito in cachinnos consulibus, qui iuxta cubabant, quidnam rideret blande quaerentibus: "Quid," inquit, "nisi uno meo nutu iugulari utrumque vestrum statim posse?"

Animum quoque remittenti ludoque et epulis dedito: abl. abs. (remittenti is an abl. with an omitted eo (= Caligula) understood.)
animum remitto: to relax the mind
epulae: dishes (plurale tantum)
eadem saevitia: his cruelty had already been mentioned before
in conspectu prandentis: in front of him eating (prandeo)
comisor commatus sum: to celebrate a festival, have a party
seriae quaestiones: severe interrogations
decollandi artifex: skilled in decapitating
quibuscumque e custodia capita amputabat = capita a quibuscumque e custodia (prison) amputabat
Puteolis dedicatione pontis: at the dedication of bridge at Puteoli
excogitatum ab eo: designed by him
significavimus: I have pointed out
cum multos e litore invitasset ad se: Cassius Dio reports this incident in more detail, telling that the feast continued well into the night. Caligula - standing on the bridge - became drunk and threw some of his friends into the water and ordered ships to ram and kill them. Fortunately the sea was calm and many were able to escape.
repente: suddenly
praecipito: to cast down (Latin has no verb `to let’ implying a causative in such constructions. What is meant is that he ordered them to be thrown down cf. detrusit below)
quosdam…detrusit: he pushed (detrudo) of those
gubernaculum: rudder
contis remisque: with pikes and oars
epulum: banquet
ob detractam lectis argenteam laminam = ob laminam (strip) argenteam detrectam (a) lectis (bed)
carnifex –icis: executioner
confestim: immediately
manibus abscisis atque ante pectus e collo pendentibus: abl. abs.
e collo pendentibus: hanging from the neck
praecedente titulo:  a placard going in front
coetus –us (m.): crowd, gathering
Murmillonem e ludo rudibus secum battuentem et sponte prostratum confodit: he (Caligula) stabbed  (confudo -fudi -fussum) a gladiator (murmillo, the name probably refers to the insigne of a kind of fish)
ludus: (here) training school for gladiators
rudis –is (f.): wooden stick used for practising fighting
battuo: to beat,  strike, fight
sponte prostratum: voluntarily falling down (in order to feign that Caligula was the winner!)
sica: dagger
Admota altaribus victima: abl. abs. (victima: animal for sacrificing)
succinctus poparum habitu elato: girded in the bound up dress of an assistant priest (popa) (i.e. Caligula is acting as an assistant priest whose task was to give the animal a blow with a hammer (malleus). The officiating priest (here called a cultrarius) killed the animal subsequently with a knife (culter). Alas! Caligula was not that trained in using a hammer…)
alte malleo: with the hammer high up
macto: to kill, sacrifice
Lautiore convivio effusus: indulging in a very lavish banquet
cachinnus: loud laughing
blande: flatteringly (with (consilibus) quaerentibus)
nutus –us (m.): sign, nod
iugulo: to cut the throat, murder

Translation by A.S. Klyne (2010)
Book Four: XXXII His More Casual Cruelties

His words and actions were just as cruel when he was relaxing, amusing himself or feasting.
Trials by torture were often carried out in his presence, even while he was eating or playing, an expert headsman being retained to decapitate prisoners.
When his bridge at Puteoli (Pozzuoli), which I mentioned, was being dedicated, he invited a number of people to cross to him from the shore then had them thrown, suddenly, into the sea, those who tried to cling onto the rudders of the boats being thrust back with boathooks and oars.
There was a public banquet of his in Rome where a slave was promptly handed over to the executioners for stealing some silver-strip from a couch, his hands to be cut off and hung round his neck, after which he was to be led among the guests preceded by a placard describing his crime.
On another occasion, he was fighting a duel with a swordsman from the gladiatorial school, using wooden blades, when his opponent engineered a deliberate fall. At once Caligula ran up and stabbed him with a real dagger, then danced about waving a palm-branch, as victors do.
Again, he was once acting as assistant-priest at a sacrifice, and swung the mallet high as if to fell the victim, but killed the priest holding the knife instead. And at a particularly sumptuous banquet, he suddenly burst into peals of laughter, and when the consuls reclining next to him politely asked the reason, he answered: ‘Only that if I were to give a single nod both your throats would be cut here and now.’

Monday, 17 August 2015

Phaedrus: fables as cartoons!

The fables by Phaedrus don’t belong to high literature, but these fables and others have been highly popular through the ages. No wonder: they are ideal for didactic purposes, both for content and grammar. Years ago when I did some Latin with PhD students of comparative religion and archaeology, I started with a fable to revive their Latin and then turned to Plautus. For those interested, I used Aesop’s Fables in Latin by Laura Gibbs.
What strikes me is that fables are often a kind of script for a scene in a cartoon and whenever I read a fable, I visualize it as a comic or tragicomic cartoon. This is quite normal, as cartoons with animals as main characters are fables told visually and our imagination is conditioned by visual references. The same is true for the Aeneid, to take but an example: I think most of us have an imagination influenced by pictures, movies or own experience of Italy and the Mediterranean, but how did medieval readers in imagine scenes from this epic? Well, as people in contemporary clothes and living in contemporary buildings, as illustrations from that period prove. Our imagination is conditioned by what we know.

In the first fable a sparrow (passer) is rebuking (obiurgo) a hare (lepus) for being suddenly caught (oppressus) by an eagle – and is caught himself by a hawk (accipiter).

Phaedrus, Fabulae, liber 1
IX. Passer ad Leporem Consiliator

Sibi non cavere et aliis consilium dare
stultum esse paucis ostendamus versibus.
Oppressum ab aquila, fletus edentem graves,
leporem obiurgabat passer 'Ubi pernicitas
nota' inquit 'illa est? Quid ita cessarunt pedes?'
Dum loquitur, ipsum accipiter necopinum rapit
questuque vano clamitantem interficit.
Lepus semianimus 'Mortis en solacium:
qui modo securus nostra inridebas mala,
simili querella fata deploras tua'.

consiliator –oris (m.): counsellor
sibi: emphatically placed first
fletus edentem graves: giving  severe wailings  = weeping heavily
pernicitas –atis (f.): speed (imagine the triumphant face of the sparrow while asking this question.)
quid: why (litt. an adverbial accusative)
cessarunt = cessaverunt  form cesso cessavi: to stop, cease from (note the shift in tempus: estcessarunt)
necopinus:  unexpected, unsuspecting
questus –us (m.): complaint
clamito: a frequentative of clamo (i.e. repeatedly screaming, like cesso is a frequentative of cedo, but the notion of a repeated action is often lost.)
semianimus: half-alive
Mortis en solacium: Ah, consolation in death (but some editors opt for the variant mortis in solacio and start the quote with qui.)
modo: a moment ago
inrideo inrisi inrisu: to laugh at, make a joke of
querella: complaint

In this fable a wolf (lupus) is accusing a fox (vulpes) of having stolen something. The fox of course denies. We all know that both animals are untrustworthy and not prone to tell the truth. Fortunately there is monkey (simius), who serves as judge. In his opinion both are lying, so the wolf has lost nothing and the fox has stolen it. Irrefutable  logic!

X. Lupus et Vulpes Iudice Simio

Quicumque turpi fraude semel innotuit,
etiam si verum dicit, amittit fidem.
Hoc adtestatur brevis Aesopi fabula.
Lupus arguebat vulpem furti crimine;
negabat illa se esse culpae proximam.
Tunc iudex inter illos sedit simius.
Uterque causam cum perorassent suam,
dixisse fertur simius sententiam:
'Tu non videris perdidisse quos petis;
te credo subripuisse quod pulchre negas'.

iudice simio: with a monkey being judge (an abl. abs. like Hannibale duce)
turpis: disgraceful
innotesco innotui: to become known for (+ abl.)
etiam si: even when
arguo argui argutum ( + gen.): to accuse, declare (NOT to argue)
furtum: theft
crimine:  can be left untranslated
illa:  vulpes is feminine!
esse culpae proximam: to be very near to guilt = to be guilty
peroro: to plead extensively
fertur: is said
peto petivi (petii): to demand
subripio subripui subreptum: to take secretly away, steal
pulchre:  neatly, eloquently

Translation by C. Smart (1887)

Fable IX.

Let us show, in a few lines, that it is unwise to be heedlessI.10 of ourselves, while we are giving advice to others.

A Sparrow upbraided a Hare that had been pounced upon by an Eagle, and was sending forth piercing cries. “Where now,” said he, “is that fleetness for which you are so remarkable? Why were your feet thus tardy?” While he was speaking, a Hawk seizes him unawares, and kills him, shrieking aloud with vain complaints. The Hare, almost dead, as a consolation in his agony, exclaimed: “You, who so lately, free from care, were ridiculing my misfortunes, have now to deplore your own fate with as woful cause.”

Fable X.

Whoever has once become notorious by base fraud, even if he speaks the truth, gains no belief. To this, a short Fable of Æsop bears witness.

A Wolf indicted a Fox upon a charge of theft; the latter denied that she was amenable to the charge. Upon this, the Ape sat as judge between them; and when each of them had pleaded his cause, the Ape is said to have pronounced this sentence: “You, Wolf, appear not to have lost what you demand; I believe that you, Fox, have stolen what you so speciously deny.”

Monday, 10 August 2015

Cicero, de Divinatione: omens neglected.

People have always been eager to know the future, especially when important decisions have to be made. In India for instance no important decision is taken without the assistance of an astrologer and Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer during the presidency of her husband. The Romans too were susceptible for all kinds of omens and had various specialists interpreting these.  One of these was the pullarius, the keeper of sacred chickens. When asked for a favourable omen, the chicken were fed and when they ate so eager that grain fell out of their mouth, it was a good omen. This is procedure is called tripudium. It is interesting that the Azande – a tribe in northers Central Africa - also had a ritual with chicken. The British anthropologist Sir Evans-Pritchard did fieldwork in the thirties of the last century amongst the Azande and he describes a ritual by which it was possible to find out whether witchcraft was involved in someone’s misfortune. A small amount of poison was given to a chicken and when the poor animal didn’t survive, witchcraft was certainly involved. Of course both the tripudium and the Azande ritual can easily be manipulated.
Belief in good omens is not without its value: trust in a favourable outcome can strengthen the efforts necessary to achieve this. It works then like a self-fulfilling prophesy or placebo.
Cicero had his doubts – to put it mildly - about the validity of omens. In his De divination – written in 44 BC – he let his brother Quintus be spokesman for those believing in omens, while he himself in the second part comes with refutations. This dialogue is a mine of information for scholars of Roman religion, quoting often from otherwise lost sources.
The following story is about Gaius Flaminius neglecting bad omens before confronting Hannibal at the battle of Trasimenus in 217 BC. He better had taken heed of all the warnings:  his army was annihilated and he and 15.000 men lost their lives.

Cicero, De Divinatione, 1.77
(Quintus is speaking)

Quid? bello Punico secundo nonne C. Flaminius consul iterum neglexit signa rerum futurarum magna cum clade rei publicae? Qui exercitu lustrato cum Arretium versus castra movisset et contra Hannibalem legiones duceret, et ipse et equus eius ante signum Iovis Statoris sine causa repente concidit nec eam rem habuit religioni obiecto signo, ut peritis videbatur, ne committeret proelium. Idem cum tripudio auspicaretur, pullarius diem proelii committendi differebat. Tum Flaminius ex eo quaesivit, si ne postea quidem pulli pascerentur, quid faciendum censeret. Cum ille quiescendum respondisset, Flaminius: “Praeclara vero auspicia, si esurientibus pullis res geri poterit, saturis nihil geretur!” itaque signa convelli et se sequi iussit. Quo tempore cum signifer primi hastati signum non posset movere loco nec quicquam proficeretur, plures cum accederent, Flaminius re nuntiata suo more neglexit. Itaque tribus iis horis concisus exercitus atque ipse interfectus est.

consul iterum: Flaminius was consul for the second time
clades –es (f.): disaster
exercitu lustrato: `the army being inspected’ (Originally this included a kind of apotropaic or purifying ceremony, hence lustrato.)
Arretium versus = versus Arretium (south of Florence and north of Lake Trasimene)
signum: (here) statue
Iupiter Stator: Jove in his function of the god who prevents fleeing
repente: suddenly
concido concidi: to fall together
eam rem habuit religioni obiecto signo: he held this incident for no (reason for) concern,  though a warning  has been given. (litt. he had this thing not for concern (religioni: predicative dative), a sign being  given.)
religioni: the word religio has a far wider range of meanings than our `religion’ and has not often the meaning `religion’ in the way we use it.
peritis: to the experienced (in such omens)
auspicor: to perform a divination
ex eo: from him
si ne postea quidem pulli pascerentur:  if the chickens would not even eat later
quiescendum: to be quiet (i.e. not to engage into battle0
esurio esurivi: to be hungry
satur –is: full, sated    (saturis pullis)
signa convelli: the standards to be picked up
signifer primi hastati: the standard bearer of the first company (i.e. the company in front of an attack, armed with spears (hastae)
nec quicquam proficeretur: and nothing could be accomplished
suo more: in his usual way
tribus iis horis: within just three hours
concido concidi concisum: to destroy

A good omen!