Monday, 5 February 2018

Pliny: fire-brigades.

Pliny (61-113) spent his final years as imperial governor of Bithynia and Pontus, a Roman province located in Anatolia on the Black Sea. Pliny was, as we know, a prolific writer of letters and, more important, being convinced of his qualities as an author, he published these letters. Book x of his collection of letters consists of the correspondence between him and Trajan and it gives a unique insight into the daily problems of running a province. With his collection of letters Pliny has done historians a great favour and readers Latin in general.
In letter 10.33 he describes a fire at Nicomedia and the inertia of the population to do anything to curb that fire. Fires were not uncommon in cities and as wood was often used as building material, a fire could easily spread. Pliny noticed that the population did nothing to curb the fire and he blames this on the fact that no equipment was available. However, there were often social tensions between the rich and the poor and the latter were unlikely to help when a rich part of the city was on fire. Pliny asked Trajan if he approves the institution of a fire-brigade, made up of volunteers. Trajan thinks this not a good idea, as such a brigade could well be a cover-up for illegal actions against the Romans. Better a city on fire than riots!

Pliny, Letters, 10, 33

C. Plinius Traiano Imperatori
Cum diversam partem provinciae circumirem, Nicomediae vastissimum incendium multas privatorum domos et duo publica opera, quamquam via interiacente, Gerusian et Iseon absumpsit. [2] Est autem latius sparsum, primum violentia venti, deinde inertia hominum quos satis constat otiosos et immobiles tanti mali spectatores perstitisse; et alioqui nullus usquam in publico sipo, nulla hama, nullum denique instrumentum ad incendia compescenda. Et haec quidem, ut iam praecepi, parabuntur; [3] tu, domine, dispice an instituendum putes collegium fabrorum dumtaxat hominum CL. Ego attendam, ne quis nisi faber recipiatur neve iure concesso in aliud utantur; nec erit difficile custodire tam paucos.

Traianus Plinio
Tibi quidem secundum exempla complurium in mentem venit posse collegium fabrorum apud Nicomedenses constitui. Sed meminerimus provinciam istam et praecipue eas civitates eius modi factionibus esse vexatas. Quodcumque nomen ex quacumque causa dederimus iis, qui in idem contracti fuerint, hetaeriae eaeque brevi fient. [2] Satius itaque est comparari ea, quae ad coercendos ignes auxilio esse possint, admonerique dominos praediorum, ut et ipsi inhibeant ac, si res poposcerit, accursu populi ad hoc uti.

diversus: distant
provinciae: Bithynia
circumeo: to travel around
Nicomediae: locative! At Nicomedia (modern Ismit)
incendium: fire
privatus: individual
via interiacente: streets were often not wide enough to stop a fire
Gerusian: a building where the gerusia –a body of elders – had is meetings
Iseon: temple of Isis
absumo absumsi absumptum: to destroy
(incendium) est
spargo sparsi sparsum: to spread
violentia, inertia: ablatives
quos satis constat: of who it is sufficient to say that
otiosus: idle, doing nothing
presto perstiti: to stand firm, remain on one’s place
alioqui: besides
sipo (sipho) siponis (m.): a kind of fire engine
hama: fire bucket
compesco compescui: to repress, curb
praecipio praecepi praeceptum: to instruct
paro: to provide
dispicio dispexi dispectum: to consider
collegium fabrorum: a guild of craftsmen (= firemen. In Italy and the Western provinces there were associations of craftsmen, which were also used as fire-brigades. Such collegia were unknown in the Greek provinces.)
dumtaxat: at least
nisi faber: collegia could also be a cover-up for a secret society with anti-Roman purposes
neve iure concesso in aliud utantur: or that they don’t use the granted right (of being a collegium) for something else

secundum exempla complurium (civitatum): As other cities had such fire-brigades too
constituo constitui constitutum: to establish (constitui: pass inf!)
praecipue: especially
factio factionis (f.): faction, party
vexo: to harass
contractus: assembled
hetaeria: brotherhood, fraternity
brevi (tempore)
comparo: to provide
ea (instumenta)
auxilio: dative of purpose: for aid/ as aid
praedium: real estate
inhibeo inhibui inhibitum: to hold back, keep in storage (the instruments for fire-fighting are meant. Indeed, it would be more effective to have these placed around the city, than at a central store, which would hamper a quick transport to the place of fire.)
posco poposci (-ere): to demand
accursus –us (m.): onrush

Translated by J.B.Firth (1900)

[33] L   To Trajan.

While I was visiting a distant part of the province a most desolating fire broke out at Nicomedia and destroyed a number of private houses and two public buildings, the almshouse and temple of Isis, although a road ran between them. The fire was allowed to spread farther than it need have done, first, owing to the violence of the wind, and, secondly, to the laziness of the inhabitants, it being generally agreed that they stood idly by without moving and merely watched the catastrophe. Moreover, there is not a single public fire-engine or bucket in the place, and not one solitary appliance for mastering an outbreak of fire. However, these will be provided in accordance with the orders I have already given. But, Sir, I would have you consider whether you think a guild of firemen, of about 150 men, should be instituted. I will take care that no one who is not a genuine fireman should be admitted, and that the guild should not misapply the charter granted to it, and there would be no difficulty in keeping an eye on so small a body.

[34] L   Trajan to Pliny.

You have conceived the idea that a guild of firemen might be formed in Nicomedia on the model of various others already existing. But it is to be remembered that your province of Bithynia, and especially city states like Nicomedia, are the prey of factions. Whatever name we may give to those who form an association, and whatever the reason of the association may be, they will soon degenerate into secret societies. It is better policy to provide appliances for mastering conflagrations and encourage property owners to make use of them, and, if occasion demands, press the crowd which collects into the same service.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Apuleius: Eternal Isis.

One of the most interesting novels from Antiquity is Apuleius’ Metamorphoses. Apart from it literary merits, it is also one of the few literary sources about the cult of Isis. Mystery cults were highly popular from the Hellenistic time onwards, as they promised a blessed existence after death and it was not uncommon to be initiated in various cults: one never knows! Little is known about their ritual practises and liturgy, but fortunately Apuleius reveals something in his novel and even recites a litany for Isis. To what extend this litany is exemplary for the hymns used is difficult to say, but its unusual structure with the use of much rhyme may indeed point to the use of such hymns.
Wish I – historian of religion – could go back to those times and return with a wealth of information about mystery cults. May Isis grant me that favour!

Apuleius, Metamorphoses, XI, 25.

Tu quidem sancta et humani generis sospitatrix perpetua,
semper fovendis mortalibus munifica,
dulcem matris adfectationem miserorum casibus tribuis.
Nec dies nec quies nulla ac ne momentum quidem tenue
tuis transcurrit beneficiis otiosum,
quin mari terraque protegas homines et depulsis
vitae procellis salutarem porrigas dexteram,
qua fatorum etiam inextricabiliter contorta
retractas licia
et Fortunae tempestates mitigas
et stellarum noxios meatus cohibes.
Te superi colunt,
observant inferi,
tu rotas orbem,
luminas solem,
regis mundum,
calcas tartarum.
Tibi respondent sidera,
redeunt tempora,
gaudent numina,
serviunt elementa.
Tuo nutu spirant flamina,
nutriunt nubila,
germinant semina,
crescunt germina.
Tuam maiestatem perhorrescunt aves caelo meantes,
ferae montibus errantes,
serpentes solo latentes,
beluae ponto natantes.
At ego referendis laudibus tuis exilis ingenio
et adhibendis sacrificiis tenuis patrimonio;
nec mihi vocis ubertas ad dicenda, quae de tua maiestate
sentio, sufficit
nec ora mille linguaeque totidem vel indefessi sermonis
aeterna series.
Ergo quod solum potest religiosus quidem, sed pauper
alioquin, efficere curabo:
divinos tuos vultus numenque sanctissimum intra
pectoris mei secreta conditum perpetuo custodiens imaginabor.

sospitatrix –icis (f.): she who saves
fovendis mortalibus munifica: generous for people needing support
miserorum casibus tribuis: you grant to the fates of those in 
quies: night
momentum tenue: a slight moment
otiosum (encompassing dies, quies and momentum): free from, without (+ abl.)
quin: that not
mari terraque: locatives
depulsis vitae procellis: having driven away the storms of life
porrigo porrexi porrectum: to reach out
dexteram (manum), qua
inextricabiliter contorta licia: the inextricably twisted threads
retracto (-are): (here) to disentangle
meatus –us (m.): movement
cohibeo cohibui: to stop
superi…inferi: the gods above and the gods of the underworld
roto: to turn around
calco: to trample
redeunt tempora: (by your will) the seasons return
numina: the lower gods and daemons
nutus –us (m.): nod
nutriunt nubile: the clouds give rain
germino: to sprout
perhorresco perhorrui: to shiver greatly
meo: to move, pass
fera: wild animal
solum: ground
belua: (sea) monster
ego exilis ingenio (sum): I am (too) weak in talent
referendis laudibus tuis: for telling your praise
adhibeo sacrificia: to bring offers
patrimonium:  inheritance, wealth
vocis ubertas (sufficit): richness in language
totidem: as many
indefessi sermonis: of an inexhaustible language
quidem: however
alioquin: for the rest
divinos tuos vultus:  the plural refers to various aspects of isis
intra pectoris mei secreta conditum: hidden in the secrets of my heart
imaginor imaginatus: (here) to keep in mind

Translation by William Adlington (1566, this text is from the edition of 1639 with the original spelling.)

O holy and blessed dame, the perpetuall comfort of humane kind, who by thy bounty and grace nourishest all the world, and hearest a great affection to the adversities of the miserable, as a loving mother thou takest no rest, neither art thou idle at any time in giving thy benefits, and succoring all men, as well on land as sea; thou art she that puttest away all stormes and dangers from mans life by thy right hand, whereby likewise thou restrainest the fatall dispositions, appeasest the great tempests of fortune and keepest backe the course of the stars: the gods supernall doe honour thee: the gods infernall have thee in reverence: thou environest all the world, thou givest light to the Sunne, thou governest the world, thou treadest downe the power of hell: By thy meane the times returne, the Planets rejoyce, the Elements serve: at thy commandment the winds do blow, the clouds increase, the seeds prosper, and the fruits prevaile, the birds of the aire, the beasts of the hill, the serpents of the den, and the fishes of the sea, do tremble at thy majesty, but my spirit is not able to give thee sufficient praise, my patrimonie is unable to satisfie thy sacrifice, my voice hath no power to utter that which I thinke, no if I had a thousand mouths and so many tongues: Howbeit as a good religious person, and according to my estate, I will alwaies keepe thee in remembrance and close thee within my breast.