Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Horace 3.15: too old.


There are elderly women who think they can still compete with young women in the prime of their beauty. This is not a modern phenomenon – far from. Horace makes fun of such a woman in the following poem. The particular scene is fictitious: Chloris, the widow of Ibycus, behaves like her daughter Pholoe, who is in love with Nothos. The names are all Greek and the name Ibycus is undoubtedly a reference to the Greek poet Ibycus (6th century BC), famous for his libidinous life and poems. This poem is funny and a bit wicked, but I wonder whether Horace would have dared to publish this poem had he lived now.


     Uxor pauperis Ibyci,
tandem nequitiae fige modum tuae
     famosisque laboribus;
maturo propior desine funeri
     inter ludere virgines               5
et stellis nebulam spargere candidis.
     Non, si quid Pholoen satis,
et te, Chlori, decet. Filia rectius
     expugnat iuvenum domos,
pulso Thyias uti concita tympano.               10
     Illam cogit amor Nothi
lascivae similem ludere capreae:
     te lanae prope nobilem
tonsae Luceriam, non citharae decent
     nec flos purpureus rosae               15
nec poti, vetulam, faece tenus cadi.

nequitia: vileness, wickedness
tandem: finally
fige modum: put an end to
famosus: ill-famed (fama in Latin mean `report, rumor’, independent of the content is positive or negative)
laboribus: labor means `exertion, toil’ and often not `labour’ in the modern sense
maturo propior funeri: very close to your timely burial (i.e. she had reached an age at which no one would be surprised about her death)
desino desii: to cease, leave
spargere nebulam: to spread a cloud
stellis candidis: the virgins
si quid Pholoen satis (decet): if something is sufficiently fitting for Pholoe (Pholoen is a Greek Acc.)
et: also
Chlori: vocative
expugno: to attack (i.e. with her beauty and lust)
Thyas Thyadis: a Bacchante or Maenad (a female devotee of Bacchus; according to legend they roam in groups through the wilderness, dancing in ecstatic frenzy)
uti = ut
concito: to rouse, excite
tympanum: drum, tambour
lascivus: playful
caprea: wild she-goat, roe
lanae prope nobilem tonsae Luceriam = lanae tonsae prope nobilem Luceriam
lana: wool (spinning and weaving was seen as decent work for women)
tondeo totondi tonsum: to shear, shave
Luceria: a place famous for its wool
flos purpureus rosae: the rose as symbol of love and youth
nec poti faece tenus cadi = nec cadi poti tenus faece (nor jars (cadi) drained/drunk (poto potavi potum or potatum) as far as (tenus + abl.) to the dreg (faex –is f, )
vetula: old woman, old hag (vetulam agrees with te)

Translation by A.S. Klyne (2003)

Too old.

O, dear wife of poor Ibycus,
put an end to your wickedness, at last, and all
of your infamous goings-on:
now you are nearer the season for dying,
stop playing about with the girls,
and scattering a mist over shining stars.
What fits Pholoe is not quite
fitting for you, Chloris: while your daughterís more
suited to storming the houses of lovers,
like a Bacchante stirred by the beating drum.
Her love for Nothus forces her
to gambol like a lascivious she-goat:
the wool thatís shorn near to noble
Luceriaís fitting for you, sad old thing,
not the dark red flower of the rose,
nor the lyre, nor the wine-jars drained to their dregs

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Historia Augusta: Zenobia.

Zenobia (240 – 274, or later in Rome), queen of Palmyra, is certainly one of the most fascinating women of Ancient History. Her husband Odaenathus was an ally of Rome and served as a buffer against the Persians. After his assassination in 267 AD, she took over his position – and extended her empire, much to the dismay of the Romans. But as the Romans had to face various crises in the West, there was little they could do and for the moment they thought it best to keep her as a guard against the Persians. She was not anti-Roman, but tried to keep a good relationship with Rome. This intention was not reciprocal and it was Aurelian (270- 275) who defeated and captured her in 274. Instead of killing her, he saved her life and had her displayed in a triumph at Rome. This was not to everyone’s liking: a woman in a triumph?!, but Aurelian defended himself by sending a letter in which he praised her capacities as a leader. This letter is found in the Historia Augusta, but as this source ill-famed for its unreliability, the genuineness of this letter is doubtful. Her fate after the Triumph is not certain: according to most sources she was killed, but the Historia Augusta states that she was spared and was granted to live in a villa near Rome. I wish I could believe that.
In the Historia Augusta her life is described in the section about the life of the Thirty Pretenders – those who strove to be emperor, but did not succeed. Grudgingly the writer has to admit that she, though a woman, reigned very well. The link below gives more information


Historia Augusta: Zenobia 4-12.

4 Exstat epistula Aureliani, quae captivae mulieri testimonium fert. nam cum a quibusdam reprehenderetur, quod mulierem veluti ducem aliquem vir fortissimus triumphasset, missis ad senatum populumque Romanum litteris hac se adtestatione defendit: 5 "Audio, patres  conscripti, mihi obici, quod non virile munus impleverim Zenobiam triumphando. ne illi, qui me reprehendunt, satis laudarent, si scirent quae illa sit mulier, quam prudens in consiliis, quam constans in dispositionibus, quam erga milites gravis, quam larga, cum necessitas postulet, quam tristis, cum severitas poscat. 6 possum dicere illius esse quod Odaenathus Persas vicit ac fugato Sapore Ctesiphonta usque pervenit. 7 possum adserere tanto apud orientales et Aegyptiorum populos timori mulierem fuisse ut se non Arabes, non Saraceni, non Armenii commoverent. 8 nec ego illi vitam conservassem, nisi eam scissem multum Romanae rei publicae profuisse, cum sibi vel liberis suis orientis servaret imperium. 9 sibi ergo habeant propriarum venena linguarum ii quibus nihil placet. 10 nam si vicisse ac triumphasse feminam non est decorum, quid de Gallieno loquuntur, in cuius contemptu haec bene rexit imperium? 11 quid de divo Claudio, sancto ac venerabili duce, qui eam, quod ipse Gothicis esset expeditionibus occupatus, passus esse dicitur imperare? idque consulte ac prudenter, ut illa servante orientalis fines imperii ipse securius quae instituerat perpetraret." 12 haec oratio indicat quid iudicii Aurelianus habuerit de Zenobia.

reprehendo reprehendi reprehendum: to rebuke, find fault, reprehend (subject: Aurelian)
triumpho: to lead in triumph
missis litteris:  with a letter sent (ad)
patres conscripsi: the Senators
mihi obici: to be hold against me
virile munus: a manly deed
impleo: to fulfil
ne illisatis lauderent: in order that they…would not praise enough
quae: what kind of
dispositio –onis (f.): management, handling
gravis –is: severe
largus: giving abundantly, liberal
tristis –is: harsh
illius esse quod: that it is thanks to her that
Sapor: king of the Persia (241 – 272). This event took place in 243, but the next year he defeated the Romans.
Ctesiphon: capital of Persia (Ctesiphonta usque = usque Ctesiphonta)
assero asserui assertum: to add
tanto…timori mulierem: that the woman was (till) such a terror (predicative dative)
conservo: to spare
prosum: to be useful
cum...servaret: as she kept/saved
orientis imperium
venenum: venom
quid de: what about
Galienus: Roman Emperor (252 – 268), who had to deal with many insurgences  
cuius:  Galienus
haec: Zenobia
Claudio: Emperor Claudius Gothicus (268 -270) He designated Aurelianus as his successor before his death.
Gothicis …expeditionibus: in 268 or 269 Claudius defeated a Gothic army at Naissus (modern Niš, a place in Serbia)
eam…passus esse dicitur imperare: is said that he endured/allowed her to reign
idque: and this even
consulte: considerately
illa servante: abl abs. with orientalis fines imperii as object of servant
quae instituerat perpetraret =  perpetraret (ea), quae instuerat:  he could accomplish, what he had planned


Translation by David Magie (1932)

4 There is still in existence a letter of Aurelian's which bears testimony concerning this woman, then in captivity. For when some found fault with him, because he, the bravest of men, had led a woman in triumph, as though she were a general, he sent a letter to the senate and the Roman people, defending himself by the following justification: 5 "I have heard,  Conscript Fathers, that men are reproaching me for having performed an unmanly deed in leading Zenobia in triumph. But in truth those very persons who find fault with me now would accord me praise in abundance, did they but know what manner of woman she is, how wise in counsels, how steadfast in plans, how firm toward the soldiers, how generous when necessity calls, and how stern when discipline demands. 6 I might even say that it was her doing that Odaenathus defeated the Persians and, after putting Sapor to flight, advanced all the way to Ctesiphon. 7 I might add thereto that such was the fear that this woman inspired in the peoples of the East and also the Egyptians that neither Arabs nor Saracens nor Armenians ever moved against her. 8 Nor would I have spared her life, had I not known that she did a great service to the Roman state when she preserved the imperial power in the East for herself, or for her children. 9 Therefore let those whom nothing pleases keep the venom of their own tongues to themselves. 10 For if it is not meet to vanquish a woman and lead her in triumph, what are they saying of Gallienus, in contempt of whom she ruled the empire well? 11 What of the Deified Claudius, that revered and honoured leader? For he, because he was busied with his campaigns against the Goths, suffered her, or so it is said, to hold the imperial power, doing it of purpose and wisely, in order that he himself, while she kept guard over the eastern frontier of the empire, might the more safely complete what he had taken in hand." 12 This speech shows what opinion Aurelian held concerning Zenobia.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Phaedrus 3.8: children quarelling.


When we think of fables, we naturally assume that animals are involved, but not every fable has animals as actors.  In the following fable a little brother and sister have a dispute – how familiar! It is to the father to settle the dispute and give them both advice. Though this fable has its own charm, it also reveals something about pedagogy in first century Rome. Nothing much has changed in the way disputes are settled -or rather ought to be settled - by parents.

Phaedrus 3.8: Soror ad Fratrem  (iambic meter)

Praecepto monitus saepe te considera.
Habebat quidam filiam turpissimam,
idemque insignem pulchra facie filium.
Hi speculum, in cathedra matris ut positum fuit,
pueriliter ludentes forte inspexerunt.
Hic se formosum iactat; illa irascitur
nec gloriantis sustinet fratris iocos,
accipiens (quid enim?) cuncta in contumeliam.
Ergo ad patrem decurrit laesura inuicem,
magnaque inuidia criminatur filium,
uir natus quod rem feminarum tetigerit.
Amplexus ille utrumque et carpens oscula
dulcemque in ambos caritatem partiens,
"Cotidie" inquit "speculo uos uti uolo,
tu formam ne corrumpas nequitiae malis,
tu faciem ut istam moribus uincas bonis."

praeceptum: rule, lesson
saepe: often
turpis: ugly
idemque: and also
insignis (+ abl,): distinguished, noted
facies –es (f.): often not `face’, but outward appearance
hi: the brother and sister
speculum: mirror
cathedra: seat with a cushion, especially used by women
ludi lusi lusum: to play
forte: by chance, accidently
inspexerunt: with the e of –erunt short, as is sometimes done by poets
formosum (esse)
iacto (-are): to boast
irascor iratus: to be angry
glorior gloriatus: to boast
sustineo sustinui sustentum: to bear, sustain
quid enim? How else? (another reading is quippe (of course) for quid enim?.)
in contumeliam: as an insult
laedo (laesi laesum) invicem: to revenge (laesura `about to’ etc.)
magna invidia (abl!) with great hate, grudge
criminor criminatus: to accuse
uir natus quod = quod vir natus (vir natus means `born as male’ i.e. her brother)
tango tetigi tactum: to touch
amplector amplexus: to embrace
carpo (carpsi carptum) oscula: to kiss
partior paritus: to share, divide
utor usus (+ abl.): to use
nequitiae malis: by the evil of wickedness
vincas: that you overcome


Translation by HENRY THOMAS RILEY, B.A. (1893)

Warn’d by our council, oft beware,
And look into yourself with care.
There was a certain father had
A homely girl and comely lad.
These being at their childish play
Within their mother’s room one day,
A looking-glass was in the chair,
And they beheld their faces there.
The boy grows prouder as he looks;
The girl is in a rage, nor brooks
Her boasting brother’s jests and sneers,
Affronted at each word she hears:
Then to her father down she flies,
And urges all she can devise
Against the boy, who could presume
To meddle in a lady’s room.
At which, embracing each in turn,
With most affectionate concern,
“My dears,” he says, “ye may not pass
A day without this useful glass;
You, lest you spoil a pretty face,
By doing things to your disgrace;
You, by good conduct to correct
Your form, and beautify defect.”

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Pliny 6, 24: a drastic measure.


Romans had another view of suicide than we do: it was seen as a heroic act in case no other possibility remained. This letter by Pliny is for two reasons interesting: first he notices that the fame of a deed depends on the person who commits it. The same deed done by an unknown person will be unheard of. Secondly, the mentioning of a venereal disease. Given the fact that prostitution was considered normal and that hardly or no effective protecting measures were available, venereal diseases must have been quite common. Syphilis however came probably from pre-Columbian America, so this disease was something else. The measure the wife took is rather drastic and it again underlines how much we differ from the Romans, though we tend to think that they were like us.
I came to this letter by a severely reworked text in a book for use at schools: no mention of the spot of the disease…

Pliny, Book 6, 24              

C. PLINIUS MACRO SUO S.

1 Quam multum interest quid a quoque fiat! Eadem enim facta claritate vel obscuritate facientium aut tolluntur altissime aut humillime deprimuntur. 2 Navigabam per Larium nostrum, cum senior amicus ostendit mihi villam, atque etiam cubiculum quod in lacum prominet: 'Ex hoc' inquit 'aliquando municeps nostra cum marito se praecipitavit.' 3 Causam requisivi. Maritus ex diutino morbo circa velanda corporis ulceribus putrescebat; uxor ut inspiceret exegit; neque enim quemquam fidelius indicaturum, possetne sanari. 4 Vidit desperavit hortata est  ut moreretur, comesque ipsa mortis, dux immo et exemplum et necessitas fuit; nam se cum marito ligavit abiecitque in lacum. 5 Quod factum ne mihi quidem, qui municeps, nisi proxime auditum est, non quia minus illo clarissimo Arriae facto, sed quia minor ipsa. Vale.

quam multum interest: how much it makes a difference
tollo sustuli sublatum: to lift up, raise
Larius: a lake in Gallia Cisalpina, on which Comum lay, now Lago di Como. Pliny lived there.
cubiculum: bedroom
promineo prominui: to overhang (apparently the bedroom was hanging over a cliff above the lake.)
aliquando: once
municeps municepis (m. and f.): citizen
maritus: husband
praecipito: to throw down
diutinus: of long duration
morbus: disease
circa velanda corporis: around the private parts (lit. the things to be hidden) of his body
ulcus ulceris (n.): sore, ulcer
putresco: tp putrify, rot
uxor ut inspiceret exegit = uxor exiget ut inspiceret
exigo exegi exactum: to ask, demand
neque enim quemquam fidelius indicaturum, possetne sanari: a verb endorsing her question must be supplied: (she said) that there was in fact not a person who could more trustworthy tell (indicarurum, supply esse), if he could not be cured
vidit desperavit hortata est: asyndeton to give more effect to the situation
comes, comitis (m. and f.): companion, partaker
dux, exemplum et necessitas: referring to the wife
ligo: to bind
ne quidem…nisi: not even...but
proxime: recently

Translation by J.B. Firth (1900)

To Macer.

How much our estimation of any deed depends upon the doer ! For the self-same actions may be lauded to the skies or looked down upon with contempt according to whether those who perform thorn are famous or obscure. I was sailing across our Larian Lake, *   when a friend, who is well on in years, pointed out to me a villa, and more especially a bedchamber which was built out over the lake. "From that window," he said, "a townswoman of ours some years ago threw herself into the lake with her husband." I asked the cause. It appears that the husband had been suffering for a long time from festering ulcers in the private parts. His wife begged him to let her see the sore, and promised that she would tell him faithfully whether or not a cure was possible. After an examination she saw there was no hope, and advised him to die, not only sharing death with him but taking the lead, inspiring him by her example, and leaving him no loophole for escape ; for she tied herself to her husband, and then they hurled themselves into the lake. Yet I never heard of this incident until just recently, although I was born in the same town; not because her deed was less heroic than the famous deed of Arria,  but because she herself was a person of less distinction.   Farewell.