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              


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.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Gregory of Tours: Clovis becomes a Christian.

Some 4 years ago I published a post about Clotilde’s attempt to converse her husband Clovis (Latin Chlodovechus) to Roman Christianity (Gregory of Tours II, 29). I was reminded of that episode when I recently visited the magnificent cathedral of Rheims. About halfway the pavement is a marble with the inscription that Clovis was baptised at that very spot. Of course not in the cathedral as it is nowadays, but in one of its predecessors. I will continue the store with chapter 30.
The conversion of Clovis I (466- 511) to the Roman branch of Christianity and not to Arianism can hardly be underestimated. Clovis was a Frankish king, who united the various Frankish factions and petty kingdoms under his rule and so was the first king of France. It is however important to keep in mind that he was Germanic as were of course the Franks and that other Germanic kingdoms also existed at that time in France. Actually these Germanic tribes never had a majority, but were the ruling classes over a Gallo-Romanic population.
Though his wife tried to convert him, it was not after a battle he won against all odds, that Clovis left the religion of his forefathers and became a Christian. This event looks suspiciously like the conversion of Constantine and I think Gregory of Tours did some theologically inspired rewriting of history. There is also some Germanic flavour in the way Clovis adopts his new faith: demanding rather than submitting, despite Gregory’s pious treatment.
The exact date of this battle and hence of his conversion is a matter of dispute as the sources don’t agree, but Gregory gives 496.
Note the spelling!

Gregory of Tours, Historiae II, 30. Bellum contra Alamannus.

Regina vero non cessabat praedicare, ut Deum verum cognusceret et idola neglegerit. Sed nullo modo ad haec credenda poterat commoveri, donec tandem aliquando bellum contra Alamannos conmoveretur, in quo conpulsus est confiteri necessitate, quod prius voluntate negaverat. Factum est autem, ut confligente utroque exercitu vehementer caederentur, atque exercitus Chlodovechi valde ad internitionem ruere coepit. Quod ille videns, elevatis ad caelum oculis, conpunctus corde, commotus in lacrimis, ait: 'Iesu Christi, quem Chrotchildis praedicat esse filium Dei vivi, qui dare auxilium laborantibus victuriamque in te sperantibus tribuere diceris, tuae opis gloriam devotus efflagito, ut, si mihi victuriam super hos hostes indulseris et expertus fuero illam virtutem, quam de te populus tuo nomine dicatus probasse se praedicat, credam tibi et in nomine tuo baptizer. Invocavi enim deos meos, sed, ut experior, elongati sunt ab auxilio meo; unde credo, eos nullius esse potestatis praeditos, qui sibi oboedientibus non occurrunt. Te nunc invoco, tibi credere desidero, tantum ut eruar ab adversariis meis.‘ Cumque haec dicerit, Alamanni terga vertentes, in fugam labi coeperunt. Cumque regem suum cernirent interemptum, Chlodovechi se ditionibus subdunt, dicentes: 'Ne amplius, quaesumus, pereat populus, iam tui sumus'. Ad ille, prohibito bello, cohortato populo cum pace regressus, narravit reginae, qualiter per invocationem nominis Christi victuriam meruit obtenire. [Actum anno 15. regni sui.]

regina: Clothilde
cognusceret (= cognosceret): subject is Clovis (for u instead of o see also victuriam)
idola: the Germanic gods
tandem: finally
Alamannos: the Alamanni were a Germanic tribe, who after trey were defeated by Clovis were incorporated into his empire.
bellum conmoveretur: a war arose
confiteor confessus: to confess
factum est: it happened
confligo conflixi conflictum: to fight
caedo cecidi caesum: to slay, slaughter. Caederuntur `they were being slaughtered
internitio = internecio, -onis (f.): destruction, massacre
ruo rui ratus: to fall down
valde: very much
conpunctus: vexed, troubled
auxilium: help aid
laborantibus: note that laboro is not just `to work’, but ‘`to exert oneself’
diceris: you are said, `people say of you’
opis: gen. of ops, àid’,  but this nominative form does not occur in Classical Latin.
devotus efflagito: I humbly ask (the glory of your aid)
ut…credam tibi
indulgeo indulsi indultum: to favour, grant
experior expertus: to experience
dico (-are!): to dedicate
probo (-are): to experience
baptizer: passive subjunctive first person
elongatus: far away
praeditus: gifted, furnished
eruo erui erutum: to rescue
labor lapsus: to slide, move
cerno crevi certum: to perceive, see (cernirent = cernerent, subject Allemanni)
interimo interemi interemptum: to kill
ditio = dicio, -onis (f.): dominion, power
amplius: further
quaeso: to try (quaesumus = quaesimus)
prohibeo prohibui prohibitum: to stop
qualiter: how, in which way
mereo merui meritum: to deserve

Translation by Earnest Brehaut (1916)

The queen did not cease to urge him to recognize the true God and cease worshipping idols. But he could not be influenced in any way to this belief, until at last a war arose with the Alamanni, in which he was driven by necessity to confess what before he had of his free will denied. It came about that as the two armies were fighting fiercely, there was much slaughter, and Clovis's army began to be in danger of destruction. He saw it and raised his eyes to heaven, and with remorse in his heart he burst into tears and cried: "Jesus Christ, whom Clotilda asserts to be the son of the living God, who art said to give aid to those in distress, and to bestow victory on those who hope in thee, I beseech the glory of thy aid, with the vow that if thou wilt grant me victory over these enemies, and I shall know that power which she says that people dedicated in thy name have had from thee, I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For I have invoked my own gods but, as I find, they have withdrawn from aiding me; and therefore I believe that they possess no power, since they do not help those who obey them. I now call upon thee, I desire to believe thee only let me be rescued from my adversaries." And when he said thus, the Alamanni turned their backs, and began to disperse in flight. And when they saw that their king was killed, they submitted to the dominion of Clovis, saying: "Let not the people perish further, we pray; we are yours now." And he stopped the fighting, and after encouraging his men, retired in peace and told the queen how he had had merit to win the victory by calling on the name of Christ. This happened in the fifteenth year of his reign.