Friday, 9 September 2016

Livy 1, 56 4-12: a bad omen.

I love reading books on history, especially when they have a literary and personal style. That is why Edward Gibbon is still readable, or Johan Huizinga. One can argue to what extend Livy is a readable writer: many students have been harassed during lessons Latin by extracts from his Ab Urbe Condita about wars and battles, written in endless long sentences, disentangling which is a battle in itself. I know people with a lifelong grudge against Livy. Actually, Livy is a very good storyteller, but not everything he tells is interesting for modern readers and major parts of Ab Urbe Condita are never read, except by historians. That about a third of the books is lacking from all manuscripts also shows that interest was waning during the early Middle Ages, as otherwise they would have been copied.  
In his early books Livy is quite palatable, may be because he takes more freedom in telling legendary stories and also because the stories are more appealing. In this extract Livy tells how Tarquinius (534 - 509) – Rome’s last king – was worried by a portent: while terrorizing the Roman people and forcing them to engage in his building activities, like walls and temples, a serpent appears from a wooden column. He sends two of his three sons to Delphi for information about the omen. He sends also with them his nephew Brutus, son of his sister Tarquinia. Brutus has every reason to hate Taquinius, but pretends to be sluggish and simpleminded. Having asked the oracle about the meaning of the portent – Livy does not tell us what it was – the brothers ask who of them will be the next ruler. The oracle answers that it will be the one who kisses his mother first. The brothers think the oracle is talking about their real mother, but Brutus rightly interprets this as Mother Earth. And pretending to stumble, he kisses the earth. Indeed, he will later expel Tarquinius and his sons from Rome and become one of the two first consuls.
As said, Livy is a good storyteller, using various devices to capture the imagination of his readers and listeners. Take for instance the first sentence: there is no main verb, as if to heighten tension. The first word following is what the portentum is. The combination of a short introduction followed by a long sentence is like a sudden shot of a movie, followed by the next episode of the story. Maybe Livy was Italy’s first cineast.

Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, 56, 4 – 12

Haec agenti portentum terribile visum: anguis ex columna lignea elapsus cum terrorem fugamque in regia fecisset, ipsius regis non tam subito pavore perculit pectus quam anxiis implevit curis. Itaque cum ad publica prodigia Etrusci tantum vates adhiberentur, hoc velut domestico exterritus visu Delphos ad maxime inclitum in terris oraculum mittere statuit. Neque responsa sortium ulli alii committere ausus, duos filios per ignotas ea tempestate terras, ignotiora maria in Graeciam misit. Titus et Arruns profecti; comes iis additus L. Iunius Brutus, Tarquinia, sorore regis, natus, iuvenis longe alius ingenii quam cuius simulationem induerat. Is cum primores civitatis, in quibus fratrem suum, ab avunculo interfectum audisset, neque in animo suo quicquam regi timendum neque in fortuna concupiscendum relinquere statuit contemptuque tutus esse ubi in iure parum praesidii esset. Ergo ex industria factus ad imitationem stultitiae, cum se suaque praedae esse regi sineret, Bruti quoque haud abnuit cognomen ut sub eius obtentu cognominis liberator ille populi Romani animus latens opperiretur tempora sua. Is tum ab Tarquiniis ductus Delphos, ludibrium verius quam comes, aureum baculum inclusum corneo cavato ad id baculo tulisse donum Apollini dicitur, per ambages effigiem ingenii sui. Quo postquam ventum est, perfectis patris mandatis cupido incessit animos iuvenum sciscitandi ad quem eorum regnum Romanum esset venturum. Ex infimo specu vocem redditam ferunt: imperium summum Romae habebit qui vestrum primus, O iuvenes, osculum matri tulerit. Tarquinii ut Sextus, qui Romae relictus fuerat, ignarus responsi expersque imperii esset, rem summa ope taceri iubent; ipsi inter se uter prior, cum Romam redisset, matri osculum daret, sorti permittunt. Brutus alio ratus spectare Pythicam vocem, velut si prolapsus cecidisset, terram osculo contigit, scilicet quod ea communis mater omnium mortalium esset.

agenti: Tarquinius, busy with deploying the citizens for his building activities
portentum: omen
columna lignea: wooden column (at the palace)
cum…non tam…quam: though...not so much.. as
regia: palace
subitus: sudden
pavor pavoris (m.): fear
percello perculi perculsum: to strike
Etrusci vates: Etruscan soothsyers were famous for their interpretation of omens
adhibeo adhibui adhibitum: to employ
domestico visu: as the apparition (visus) took place within the palace, it was a private (domesticus) portent
inclitus: famous
sors sortis (f.): oracle
audeo ausus sum: to dare
tempestate = tempore
ingenium: nature
proficiscor profectus sum: about to leave
simulationem induerat: the appearance he assumed
primores civitatis: the most important men of the city
avunculus: uncle of mother’s side (avunculo = Tarquinius)
neque in animo suo quicquam regi timendum neque in fortuna concupiscendum relinquere statuit: he decided to leave neither in his temper anything the king could be afraid of, nor in his possessions (fortuna) (anything the king) could desire
contemptu: as he did not openly show any desire for revenge
parum praesidii: not enough protection
ex industria: diligently
factus: reflexive
praedae: predicative dative `as prey’
Bruti: brutus means `dull, stupid’
haud abnuit: did not reject
obtentus –us (m.): pretext
liberator ille: apposition to animus `that liberator genius’
lateo latui (-ēre): to hide (sub obtentu)
opperior oppertus sum: to wait, abide
ludibrium: (an object of) mockery
baculum: stick
(in) corneo cavato ad id baculo: in a cornelwood stick hollowed out for this (purpose)
per ambages: by a roundabout, symbolically (the gold hidden in cornelwood is a semblance of his true character disguised in an appearance of stupidity.)
ventum est: impersonal construction
cupido sciscitandi incessit: a longing for knowing (sciscitor) struck (incedo)
infimo specu: from the lowest cave = from the bottom of the cave
reddo reddidi redditum: to return
ferunt: they say (i.e. tradition has that)
Tarquinii: Titus and Arruns
Sextus: the third brother, who would later rape Lucretia
Ignarus: ignorant
expers expertis (+ gen.): having no part in, excluded from
summa ope: with the highest effort
iubeo iussi iussum: to order
sorti permittunt: they leave to fate
alio ratus spectare: thinking (reor ratus) to point to something different
prolabor prolapsus sum: to fall forward, tumble
esset: subjunctive as it was Brutus’ personal opinion

Translation by Henry G. Bohn (1853)

While he was thus employed a frightful prodigy appeared to him. A serpent sliding out of a wooden pillar, after causing dismay and a run into the palace, not so much struck the king's heart with sudden terror, as filled him with anxious solicitude. Accordingly when Etrurian soothsayers only were employed for public prodigies, terrified at this as it were domestic apparition, he determined on sending persons to Delphos to the most celebrated oracle in the world; and not venturing to intrust the responses of the oracle to any other person, he despatched his two sons to Greece through lands unknown at that time, and seas still more so. Titus and Aruns were the two who went. To them were added, as a companion, L. Junius Brutus, the son of Tarquinia, sister to the king, a youth of an entirely different quality of mind from that the disguise of which he had assumed. Brutus, on hearing that the chief men of the city, and among others his own brother, had been put to death by his uncle, resolved to leave nothing in his intellects that might be dreaded by the king, nor any thing in his fortune to be coveted, and thus to be secure in contempt, where there was but little protection in justice. Therefore designedly fashioning himself to the semblance of foolishness, after he suffered himself and his whole estate to become a prey to the king, he did not refuse to take even the surname of Brutus, that, concealed under the cover of such a cognomen, that genius that was to liberate the Roman people might await its proper time. He, being brought to Delphos by the Tarquinii rather as a subject of sport than as a companion, is said to have brought with him as an offering to Apollo a golden rod, enclosed in a staff of cornel-wood hollowed out for the purpose, a mystical emblem of his own mind. When they arrived there, their father's commission being executed, a desire seized the young men of inquiring on which of them the sovereignty[Pg 74] of Rome should devolve. They say that a voice was returned from the bottom of the cave, "Young men, whichever of you shall first kiss his mother shall enjoy the sovereign power at Rome." The Tarquinii order the matter to be kept secret with the utmost care, that Sextus, who had been left behind at Rome, might be ignorant of the response, and have no share in the kingdom; they cast lots among themselves, as to which of them should first kiss his mother, after they had returned to Rome. Brutus, thinking that the Pythian response had another meaning, as if he had stumbled and fallen, touched the ground with his lips; she being, forsooth, the common mother of all mankind.