Fun with Latin.

A couple of bits of Latinity that mix amusement and edification:

1) “I am almoost beshytten”: A 16th Century English to Latin Textbook. Phrases “excerpted from an English to Latin textbook printed in the early 16th century (Auct. 2Q 5.9(4)), which has been digitized by the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford as part of an ongoing project. You can read the whole thing here or learn more about the project here.”

2) Corruptae Latinitatis Index: Or, a Collection of Barbarous Words and Phrases, which are Found in the Works of the Most Celebrated Modern Writers in Latin. With an Alphabetical Table, Shewing, what Words and Phrases, Taken from the Classics, Would Have Clearly and Fully Answered Their Purpose. By William Massey, Master of a Boarding-School at Wandsworth. The Preface gets quite censorious:

After the Roman Empire began to decay, their Language likewise was soon debased by an Inundation of foreign and new-coined Words. * The African Latin Writers, both ecclesiastic and profane, such as Tertullian, Apuleius, Arnobius, &c. are justly charged with greatly debasing the Roman Language in the Decline of that Empire, by introducing a Multitude of Words and Phrases, that would have been disgusting to a pure Roman Ear.

In the words of the excellent Conrad, who sent me the link: “Prescriptivism ca. 1755.”

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    The #2 work is the type of thing that delights historians of the Romance languages, as they find in it the sources of many Romance words, forms and phrases which are not traceable to Classical Latin. Surely Tertullian, Apuleius and others wrote for their contemporaries in the then-current form of Latin, not for the long-deceased Classical authors.

  2. marie-lucie says:

    I wrote too fast: the author also includes words more recently coined by scholars of various disciplines.

    As for #1, it is delightful! For the period it does not have too many French borrowings, but I saw sclaunder for modern slander: the French word is still un esclandre, which refers to a public scandal and disruption.

  3. #1

    Sum in articulo purgandi viscera. A great phrase to remember next time I have an opportunity to have a coversation in Latin while using a toilet.

    #2

    ROMANES EUNT DOMUS

  4. David Marjanović says:

    ROMANES EUNT DOMUS

    Incidentally, the eventual correction to domum is still wrong – they’re not all going to the same house, so it’s domos. :-)

  5. Seriously, it’s complicated. The singular domum is fine, since the intended meaning is ‘to your (collective) home place’ (= Rome). C. Julius Caesar used it in this way: Suebi, qui ad ripas Rheni venerant, domum reverti coeperunt (‘the Suebi … began to return home’). I think domos would be more often used with a possessive pronoun: domos vestras ‘to your (individual) homes/houses’. Acc.pl. domus (more precisely, domūs) is defensible too (if rarer), since the inflection of domus vacillated between that of an untypical feminine o-stem (2nd declension) and a feminine u-stem (4th declension).

    By the way, if you want to offend the Romans by means of graffiti, please don’t call them FORNICATORES; use SCORTATORES instead. According to William Massey (#2 above), fornicatio is a sin against Classical Latin.

  6. Massey is very much a man of his time in linking the “degeneration” (=borrowing of foreign words, coining of new ones) of Latin to the decline of the Empire. New coinages and loanwords were quite abundant in the Latin of Cicero and Cesar, both of whom, like most members of the Roman elite at the time, were intimately familar with Greek: as a result it has been claimed (I think by Antoine Meillet) that you cannot be certain of all the semantic nuances of a Classical Latin word unless you pay close attention to its Greek counterpart.

    Sometimes this Greek model was quite overt: Cicero, for example, quite consciously coined Latin “quālitās” as a calque of Greek ποιότης, a word which in turn had been created by Plato. Considering how many people use forms deriving from “quālitās” today, it may qualify as the linguistic calque which has enjoyed the greatest success.

  7. Stefan Holm says:

    Not only loanwords are ‘barbarian’. Even regular inflected forms are despised by Massey, if he himself haven’t actually seen them in use in classical Latin. E.g. adverb correlates to or superlative forms of adjectives are dismissed – one of the clearest illustrations of the concept argumentum ad ignorantiam I’ve ever seen.

    His argument seems to be that since Latin is a dead language it must stay untouchable. I wonder what he had thought of comparative linguistics with all its asterisc words?

  8. Another example is adapto. Massey doesn’t accept any finite forms despite the fact that Suetonius uses the participle adaptatus. “Such is the State of a dead Language,” says Massey. He protests against applying productive derivational rules if the outcome is a word not found in authors of “the firſt Claſs”. He also objects to words used very rarely during the Golden Age, even if they are documented, or if they were common ante- and post-Classically. I wonder if under such rigorous criteria it’s legal at all to compose any Latin sentence that is not already attested in the Classical authors.

  9. Yes, I think you’ve hit on something there. Really, his approach is destructive to the very idea of Latin composition (which would be a mainstay of the English educational system for, what, another century and a half?); I suspect from his point of view the only truly acceptable procedure is just to sit back and admire what the Romans wrote. In the classic period, of course.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    Latin is not completely dead: as the official language of the Vatican, it is used for all official writings coming from the Pope (encyclicals, etc), which are first issued in Latin and later translated into modern languages. As such pronouncements deal with problems and circumstances in the modern world, Vatican personnel includes lexicographers who are kept busy coining new Latin words for this purpose.

    Even if, as Massey contends, that there were already Classical Latin words for some concepts, it is likely that they did not have exactly the same connotation or register as the newly coined ones. For instance, he rejects animalculus in favour of Classical bestiola. Both of these words have been borrowed into French, as un animalcule and une bestiole respectively, but they do not mean just “small/little animal”: une bestiole is likely to refer to a small critter encountered in a garden, hedge, attic or similar surroundings, for instance an ant, spider, earwig, June bug or other insect, while the word animalcule is part of early scientific vocabulary and could refer to bacteria or other minuscule life forms seen through a microscope.

  11. Piotr, Hat: on page vi he does concede that new Latin words designating words and discoveries unknown to the Romans are acceptable, so I think you’re both being a little too harsh on him. And the more I think about it the more justifiable his purism appears to me. Okay, wait, before I get excommunicated from the Order of linguists (now, now, put the pitchforks down…) do allow me to explain:

    The whole point of writing in Latin in his time was to have an international audience, and in pre-modern times most readers of Latin who encountered a new word didn’t have access to recent dictionaries with all the neologisms listed. Nor could they ask a visiting native speaker for help in making sense of an unclear passage, of course.

    Another aspect which we tend to forget is that Latin writings crossed time as well as space: that is to say, a Latin text composed in (say) Poland was expected to be fully understood by a reader in Portugal or Ireland, but in like fashion an eighteenth-century reader of Latin texts expected to be able to fully understand a text composed in Latin several centuries earlier. Conversely, writers of Latin expected that centuries later their own texts would be read and fully understood by readers of the future.

    Any use of a language as a written Lingua Franca, binding together geographically and temporally remote individuals, thus requires that users of said language share a common norm. This is ESPECIALLY true of an extinct language, with no community of L1 speakers whose usage L2 users could follow.

    We who live in the computer era, where the definition of unfamiliar words/phrases (standard and non-standard alike) are a few mouseclicks away, as well as etymological dictionaries/glossaries which allow us to know what meaning a word had at a given time, tend to forget that such information was unavailable to most readers in pre-modern times. We thus also tend to forget how important it was in pre-modern times to adhere closely to whatever standardized form a written lingua franca had. This was crucial in order to ensure maximum comprehensibility on the part of as many readers as possible. Indeed, in many instances (medical texts, for instance) use of neologisms unclear to the reader might prove deadly (I mean this quite literally).

    So: from the point of view of post-imperial/pre-modern users of Latin as a written language, better to err on the side of caution, i.e. if users of Latin wanted to ensure that their writings would be fully understood, by geographically far-away readers who might not even be born yet, staying as faithful as possible to the norms of the Classical language was the only sensible strategy.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    Excellent points!

  13. Etienne: …staying as faithful as possible to the norms of the Classical language was the only sensible strategy.

    Except that nobody did so in practice (with the possible exception of Massey himself), and that other strategies are possible (for example, the Old Indian grammarians invented an artificially regularised, canonised, and “timeless” literary language, Classical Sanskrit, instead of using Vedic norms, which, I suppose, were too messy, as is usually the case with a variety too close to something people actually speak). Many of Massey’s “barbarisms” come from excellent and widely known authors (from Late Antiquity to his times). Neo-Latin was to some extent a living language, and the lingua franca of educated Europeans (beside its ecclesiastic use). The fact that writers would coin their own words from time to time, or that people from different countries used their own “national” Neo-Latin pronunciations, wasn’t a serious problem for mutual comprehension — no more than UK/US differences in present-day English.

  14. Also excellent points!

  15. Once there was a justice of the peace who was hearing a difficult case. When he heard the plaintiff’s arguments, he slapped his thigh and said, “You know what, you’re right!” The defendant protested, so he agreed to hear his arguments as well. Sure enough, he responded to them with “You know what, you’re right!” His clerk told him they couldn’t both be right, as they contradicted each other on every point of law and fact. So he told his clerk ….

    Another J.P. was renowned for his ability to hear a hundred cases a day. When asked how he did it, he said that he listened to the plaintiff’s case carefully and then made his decision. When asked why he didn’t listen to the defendants as well, he replied, “I used to, you know, but I found it muddled me.”

  16. Stefan Holm says:

    If his purpose was to make Latin texts understandable ‘from Poland to Portugal’ I can buy Massey’s opposition to e.g. ‘anglicisms’. But that doesn’t apply to the inflectional forms he despises.

    English certainly is L2 to me. I’ve never seen or heard ‘delicious’ in comparative or superlative as ‘deliciouser’ or ‘deliciousest’ (and suspect they hardly exist). But if I saw them I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment in understanding, what was intended from an author. Even if added to participles I could easlly figure out what ‘scareder‘ or ‘boringest‘ was supposed to mean.

    So Massey’s intentions may have been the best but his narration still gives the impression of a moralizing Besserwisser.

  17. Yes, one pities his students at the Boarding-School at Wandsworth.

  18. Piotr: I am very familiar with the rhetorical move whereby, rather than conceding a point, one sidesteps the issue by presenting a large number of facts which are unrelated to the issue in question…but which give the impression that they somehow ought to be. If you aren’t familiar with the expression “Chewbacca defense” you might want to look it up.

    Let’s break down your reply, shall we?

    You begin by pointing out, in connection to staying as faithful as possible to Classical norms, that “nobody did so in practice (with the possible exception of Massey himself)”. Now, go back and read what I had written: I had never written that all writers of Latin did write, or should write, following Massey’s whims. What I had written was that adhering closely to Classical norms was a winning strategy for a writer wishing to be read. You have neither refuted nor weakened the point in question.

    After some irrelevant lines on Classical Sanskri you move on and write : “Many of Massey’s “barbarisms” come from excellent and widely known authors (from Late Antiquity to his times).” True, but irrelevant. Go back and read what I had written: “from the point of view of post-imperial/pre-modern users of Latin as a written language, better to err on the side of caution”. Whether Massey’s purism is excessive or not was not the issue being discussed: my point was that such purism was required, and better too much purism than excessive laxness. You have neither refuted nor weakened the point in question.

    You then add: “Neo-Latin was to some extent a living language, and the lingua franca of educated Europeans (beside its ecclesiastic use)”. Now go back and read what I had written: “Another aspect which we tend to forget is that Latin writings crossed time as well as space”. The drift of Neo-Latin away from the norms of the Classical language, if I may make my point more explicit, wholly defeated the point of knowing Latin, which was a language which gave access to writings produced far away in space AND IN TIME. Whether in his reaction against this trend Massey was over-zealous is of less interest to me than the fact that such reactions, such purism were required for the unity of Latin as a written lingua franca to be maintained. You have neither refuted nor weakened the point in question.

    Finally, your last bow: “The fact that writers would coin their own words from time to time, or that people from different countries used their own “national” Neo-Latin pronunciations, wasn’t a serious problem for mutual comprehension — no more than UK/US differences in present-day English.”.

    There are two separate issues here. On neo-Latin pronunciation: go back and read what I had written. What part of “written lingua franca”/ “written language” don’t you understand? Issues of pronunciation have nothing to do with what I was discussing. As for your claim that differences in pronunciation, as well as coining new words, were no more a problem than American/British differences in English today…Piotr, again, go back and read what I had written: my core argument is that in pre-modern times readers did not have access to all the tools we have today in order to handle linguistic variation in writing. Not only have you neither refuted nor weakened the point in question, you seem not to have even understood what was, after all, my core point.

    Hat: right now I pity Piotr’s students more than Massey’s. Because some of them may read this thread I thought it might prove illuminating to dissect a specimen of their professor’s rhetoric. To any such students who might be reading this: I hope said dissection has proven useful to you. Now, go to class and prove your professor wrong! My favorite sport, back in my undergraduate days… and one which I have encouraged my own students to practice on me, I hasten to add. A few did succeed, too.

  19. On an unrelated (somewhat) linguistic point, in my social circle, accusing somebody of using the “Chewbacca defense” is a fairly serious insult, in spite of the term’s jocular origins. However, the strength of it does seem a bit peculiar, as I now reflect on the matter. I imagine the term is probably treated more lightly by other people.

  20. right now I pity Piotr’s students more than Massey’s.

    I think you’re drastically overreacting to a difference of opinion; Piotr is a fine writer and linguist. Not that I’m looking down my nose — I have a long history of drastically overreacting to differences of opinion myself.

  21. Etienne, I’m not going to barrack you point by point, but:

    such purism was required, and better too much purism than excessive laxness

    Adherence to a common norm is clearly a Good Thing in applications of this type. That the common norm should be that represented by Golden or at most Silver Age writings is far from obvious. Latinists cut their teeth on Caesar and Cicero, to be sure, but they surely spent most of their professional lives reading their contemporaries, just as today. (It’s not obvious to me that 18th-century scholars either needed or expected instant comprehension of the texts of 14th-century ones.) What mattered was not so much the common core as the common understanding, an inherently looser concept.

    I have not read all of Massey’s text yet, but it seems plain that there is hardly a word in it (except some of the grecisms) whose meaning is not perfectly obvious to anyone who can read Latin tolerably, never mind fluently. His main attack, furthermore, is not on lack of comprehension, but on lack of necessity: why post-classical inspissatus when classical conspissatus would do? Palpably, because inspissatus is the word that has survived (albeit tenuously) in the modern languages that have borrowed from Latin, and consequently it was clearer to the people he is addressing.

    I would further add that I do not read Piotr’s comment as an attack or attempted disproof of yours, but simply commentary, and I add for myself that I do not argue with people if I can help it: I simply respond with what I know or believe, as the case may be.

    Brett:

    a fairly serious insult

    And rightly so, since “Chewbacca defense” is simply a modern name for ignoratio elenchi (a decidedly non-classical expression).

  22. Etienne: I’ll ignore the completely unprovoked ad hominem and concentrate on your main point. You wrote:

    What I had written was that adhering closely to Classical norms was a winning strategy for a writer wishing to be read. You have neither refuted nor weakened the point in question.

    You have made no point yet. You only expressed an opinion. Would you care to support it with some evidence? Please provide some examples of Latin writers who employed this winning stategy. Show me one purist who gained fame and popularity by straitjacketing his Latin in this way. What I see throughout the centuries is the creative use of Latin and its grammatical resources, including the free formation of new words. Annihilo, for example, was good enough for Jerome (and was probably coined by him). It was transparently formed, readily understood, evidently useful, and familiar to every Latin author since the 5th century. But 1200 years leter Massey advocates its rejection and calls it “barbarous and unnecessary”. Erasmus coined words like irreconciliabillis. Which of its morphemes is hard to understand? Why does it horrify Massey? What’s wrong with media as the plural of medium? Does it impede communication?

    What sort of winning strategy is that? It’s only schoolmasterly pedantry at its worst. If it were a winning stategy, it would have won, right? “Barbarous and unnecessary” words would have been abandoned, and we would have no annihilate, irreconcilable or media in Modern English.

  23. I think Etienne has a point in that if one wants to imagine a language (let’s call it Latin), which is best understood across time and space with very limited communication channels, it has to be fixed very firmly. The problem with that is that in reality it is only one of many things people want to use a language for.

    I also find it a bit amusing (but don’t take it personally!) that the proponent of limited prescriptivism (Etienne, in the blue corner) is insisting on adhering strictly to his topic of interest, while others are fine with the topic of discussion wandering hither and thither.

  24. Piotr: I apologize if you perceived my latest posting as an ad hominem attack: such was not my intention. Sigh…doctors make the worst patients, and linguists can’t communicate. I should have remembered…and in answer to Brett’s point, “Chewbacca defense” is certainly not a serious accusation in the circles I know where the term is known and used.

    Which leads me to an argument strengthening my original point: if we in the internet era today can misunderstand each other over use of a given expression, how much greater must the scope for misunderstanding have been back in the days when most readers did not have reference grammars or dictionaries (on-line or not) at their disposal?

    Piotr asks for some evidence in support of my claim that purism is a requirement if the unity of a written lingua franca (in this case Latin) is to be maintained. Well, I would point to early medieval Latin. In (pre-eleventh century)Croatia it has been shown that there is a sharp difference between Slavic- and (Romance) Dalmatian-speaking areas, the latter using a written Latin with vowel qualities deriving from the vernacular (i.e. final -O instead of -UM)and a loss of nominal case-marking that is absent from the written Latin of the former area. Merovingian written Latin in Northern France, or Leonese written Latin in the Iberian peninsula, both exhibit highly Romance-like features: “ille/illa” used as a definite article, case marking that is not only non-classical but wholly variable and inconsistent as well, various features of vernacular pronunciation (voicing of intervocalic stops, merger of Classical short /i/ and /u/ with long /e/ and /o/, for instance) surfacing with individual words, syntax that is often a word-for-word calque of that of the local Romance vernacular…I would maintain that these local forms of written Latin in Romance-speaking Europe do indeed exhibit a splendidly “creative use of Latin”. I would also maintain that non-Romance-speaking readers of Latin would have found them largely incomprehensible. Had it not been for linguistic purism (the Carolingian reforms in Northern France, for example) the unity of written Latin would have been lost. That Massey was too much of a purist seems likely: but that does not affect my point, to wit, that purism was indeed a requirement if the unity of written Latin was to persist.

    P.S. If anybody requests it I will of course supply references on the three varieties of Latin I listed above.

  25. I absolutely agree about Leonese Vulgar Latin, which I know something about, and if the others are like it, there’s no doubt that a proliferation of such Romance-ified Latins would have destroyed Latin unity. But that’s the not creative use of Latin as a language, it’s creative use of Latin forms to create a literary register for Romance content. In any case, I suspect that pressure from France (where the distance was probably too great for an LVL-like result) and the non-Romance parts of Europe was enough to prevent any such outcome.

    Roger Wright has a very accessible, non-technical paper, “How Scribes Wrote Ibero-Romance Before Ibero-Romance was Invented” at academia.edu.

    Just one universe away, scientific papers are written in Interlingua de Peano, otherwise known as Latino sine flexione, and nobody complains….

  26. One should distinguish purism from mere standardisation. This is why I mentioned Sanskrit: it was a largely artificial literary standard, partly based on Vedic Old Indic, but neither identical with it nor limiting the acceptable vocabulary in any way, e.g. insisting that only words and grammatical forms attested in the Rigveda should be used. Quite the opposite: Sanskrit word-formation rules, especially compounding, allowed authors to expand the lexicon enormously. Today we have standard modern English, used as a global lingua franca, but nobody in his or her right mind would propose to limit its vocabulary to words used by Alfred the Great, Chaucer, or Shakespeare (whatever one regards as the Golden Age of English).

  27. David Marjanović says:

    Suebi, qui ad ripas Rheni venerant, domum reverti coeperunt

    Oh. We were explicitly taught not to do that. I can’t remember if we (later) read what Caesar had to say about the Suebi.

    Sometimes this Greek model was quite overt: Cicero, for example, quite consciously coined Latin “quālitās” as a calque of Greek ποιότης, a word which in turn had been created by Plato. Considering how many people use forms deriving from “quālitās” today, it may qualify as the linguistic calque which has enjoyed the greatest success.

    Repeated in Russian, which has качество from как (“how”) with regular /k/-/tʃ/ alternation.

    he rejects animalculus in favour of Classical bestiola

    I’d have a completely different objection to animalculus: it’s masculine, while animal is neuter.

    that people from different countries used their own “national” Neo-Latin pronunciations, wasn’t a serious problem for mutual comprehension —

    In a few isolated cases it was. Allegedly, the British and American cardinals weren’t understood at the First Vatican Council; and I read maybe 20 years ago that a very similar thing involved the time when the Middle High German long i and u had already diphthongized in speech, but not yet in writing… but the occasion I thought I remembered was this, which happened 200 to 400 years too early for that.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    David: You are right, I did not pay close enough attention to Massey’s text: the objectionable word is indeed animalculum, a neuter diminutive corresponding to the gender of animal.

  29. @David Marjanović: I was momentarily confused by your remark about the First Vatican Council, since I remembered that the first American cardinal, John McCloskey, archbishop of New York, was not named a cardinal until after the council (in 1875, according to Wikipedia). But of course, he and other Americans would indeed have attended the First Vatican Council, since church councils are convocations of the bishops.

  30. An animalculus is a hybrid between an animalculum and a homunculus ;)

  31. “The African Latin Writers … are justly charged with greatly debasing the Roman Language … by introducing a Multitude of Words and Phrases, that would have been disgusting to a pure Roman Ear.”

    – That’s not just prescriptivist, but also quite racist. And, I’m not sure if it is all true. I’m not deeply familiar with such things…do actual critiques of those writers’ Latin exist? And what about Augustine? Surely no one criticized his Latin…

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, I think that I was influenced by “homunculus”.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    was not named a cardinal until after the council

    Oh.

    And what about Augustine? Surely no one criticized his Latin…

    I don’t know. My teacher pointed out the use of Deus, deus meus as a vocative as being a very much not classical feature.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    ≤i≥Deus, deus meus … a very much not classical feature.

    Augustine was a Christian, so he believed in a single God with whom each worshipper could claim a personal relationship. The classical writers were mostly pre-Christian, and Roman religion (like most others in the Mediterranean world) worshipped many gods. If someone wanted to call on a particular god or goddess to which they were specially devoted, they would never have addressed him as simply “Deus” (or her as “Dea”) or used a possessive form, they would rather have used the name of the deity and/or a laudatory phrase.

    Or is the problem that the vocative form should be “Dee, dee mee”??

  35. Sir JCass says:

    Saint Augustine was criticised when he arrived in Milan for his provincial pronunciation. Apparently, African Latin no longer differentiated between long and short syllables.

    Maybe as a result, Augustine never had much time for grammatical prescriptivists:

    “Oh Lord my God, be patient, as you always are, with the men of this world as you watch them and see how strictly they obey the rules of grammar which have been handed down to them, and yet ignore the eternal rules of salvation which they have received from you. A man who has learned the traditional rules of pronunciation, or teaches them to others, gives greater scandal if he breaks them by dropping the aitch from human being [hominem in the original Latin] than if he breaks your rules and hates another human being, his fellow man.” (Confessions I.18)

  36. @marie-lucie:

    Or is the problem that the vocative form should be “Dee, dee mee”??

    Actually, both deus and meus have irregular vocative forms (deus and mi, respectively), so the problem would be with the latter. Then again, there was enough variation in the inflection of these terms even in the Classical authors.

  37. I quoted a couple of other nice Augustine passages here; impressive sound-bites: “For what is called a solecism is nothing other than putting words together on a different rule from that followed by our authoritative predecessors” and “What do we care what the grammarians prefer?”

  38. Whatever the merits of standardizing a “lingua franca”, surely peeving about changes to the root language which occurred over a thousand years earlier qualifies for some sort of Prize for Pointless Prescriptivist Peevery?

    Adam – it’s not at all racist. The “Africans” of the Roman Empire were mostly Berbers living in what is now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, who are physically quite similar to their cousins across the Mediterranean. It might be some sort of bigotry, if Massey is only criticizing the African writers, rather than a cross-section of late Roman writers, but it’s the sort of bigotry white New Yorkers have against white Southerners.

  39. Cicero, Brutus, 258: “…but yet people in general, who had not resided out of the city, nor been corrupted by any domestic barbarisms, spoke the Roman language with purity. Time, however, as well at Rome as in Greece, soon altered matters for the worse: for this city, (as had formerly been the case at Athens) was resorted to by a crowd of adventurers from different parts, who spoke very corruptly; which shows the necessity of reforming our language, and reducing it to a certain standard, which shall not be liable to vary like the capricious laws of custom.” (Jones translation)
    (P.S. I don’t know why “adventurers”. The original is confluxerunt enim et Athenas et in hanc urbem multi inquinate loquentes ex diversis locis.)

  40. Anthony – what is said in the passage Hat quoted in the original post definitely amounts to bigotry. He blames a certain group of Latin speakers for debasing the purity of Latin. It doesn’t really matter whether that group is physically similar or not

    Sir JCass – many thanks for that delightful quote of Augustine’s!

  41. Bigoted, sure, but “racist” is silly; I’m glad you’re giving up on it.

  42. Sir JCass says:

    Yes, it’s snobbish rather than racist.

    I’m not really an expert on the subject, but here’s my attempt at a simpflied explanation of the issues. (It’s interesting that the debate described below touches on many of the same points that commenters have made in this thread).

    In the Renaissance, Neo-Latin writers – who rejected the Church Latin of the Middle Ages and wanted to write in a form of Classical Latin – debated how far they should imitate ancient Roman writers, which authors they should imitate and how far they should be allowed to innovate for themselves. In one camp you had the “Ciceronians”. For them, the age of Cicero was the age of Golden Latin, when the language and literature was at its finest. Everything that came after was a sad decline (“Silver Latin” and worse) and such decadence was to be be avoided at all costs. In the extreme Ciceronian view, Neo-Latin prose should only contain words and phrases used by Cicero. African Latin writers were active long after Cicero was dead and their style and vocabulary are very different, so the Ciceronians regarded them as “barbarous” (from a linguistic and stylistic rather than an ethnic point of view). Massey is a belated example of a hardcore Ciceronian.

    On the other hand, you had more open-minded theorists, such as the Italian humanist Angelo Poliziano, who rejected the purism of the Ciceronians. Poliziano believed that Neo-Latin writers should innovate as well as imitate a selected number of Classical “greats”. He also thought that post-Golden Latin writers were not decadent, just different, and should be judged by the standards of their own age, not Cicero’s. As Peter Godman puts it in From Poliziano to Machiavelli: Florentine Humanism in the High Renaissance:

    “In Poliziano’s eclectic theory, exemplified by his practice, every author, at every stage of the Latin tradition, has a validity that must be assessed both in his own terms and in relation to his precursors and followers. The emphasis is rather on diversity within continuity than on the hierarchical model of rise and fall; on achievement within specific genres instead of the primacy of the ‘best mode of speech’.”

    Poliziano also mocked the Ciceronian obsession with imitation:

    “To me it seems that those who only compose by imitating are like the parrot or the magpie, spouting forth what they do not understand. What they write lacks vigour and vitality; it wants movement, feeling and character; it is supine, sleepy, snoring [...] for just as no one can be a good runner if his only objective is to follow in others’ footsteps, so nobody can write well if he does not venture to diverge from the rules. And finally I should like you to know that it is the mark of a misguided lack of intelligence to produce nothing by oneself, but always to imitate.”

    (IIRC there was an essay about the whole subject at the website of the I Tatti Renaissance Library, but sadly it looks like it’s no longer there. I’m sure Nicholas Ostler deals with it in his book on Latin too, but I can’t find my copy at the moment).

  43. C. S. Lewis, in his OHEL volume, also discusses the Ciceronians and how they, according to him, killed Latin as a medium of communication.

  44. marie-lucie says:

    A quote worth keeping, not only about Cicero or Latin:

    Poliziano also mocked the Ciceronian obsession with imitation:

    To me it seems that those who only compose by imitating are like the parrot or the magpie, spouting forth what they do not understand. What they write lacks vigour and vitality; it wants movement, feeling and character; it is supine, sleepy, snoring [...] for just as no one can be a good runner if his only objective is to follow in others’ footsteps, so nobody can write well if he does not venture to diverge from the rules. And finally I should like you to know that it is the mark of a misguided lack of intelligence to produce nothing by oneself, but always to imitate.”

    Thanks, Sir J!

  45. Yes, I add my thanks, and Angelo Poliziano is my new hero. You richly deserve your knighthood!

  46. Stefan Holm says:

    It’s incredible how language, the perhaps most useful gift mankind has ever got and differing us from all other species, has been regarded as an untouchable Taj Mahal. Would we ever have had any works of Galilei, Brahe, Kepler, Copernicus, Newton, Linnaeus etc. if they hade been forced to put them under a Cicero style linguistic scrutiny before publishing.

    It may be that modernist poets sometimes claim that they are not interested in whether the readers understand them or not. But they are exceptions and can easily be taken verbatim by not reading them. The rest of us wants to be understood and for that purpose at least I’m willing to submit to ‘prescriptivist’ rules. Language is there for communication, not for worshipping.

  47. Sir JCass says:

    Hey, thanks everybody.

    I like Poliziano’s attitude too. Plus, he was a good poet in both Latin and Italian, and he was also a fan of the African writer Apuleius. Unfortunately, not everyone was as keen on him and there’s now a theory Poliziano was poisoned by one of the Medicis.

  48. Those damn Medicis, always with the poisoning!

  49. marie-lucie says:

    Persons with independent minds like Poliziano are not often appreciated by tyrants.

  50. Sir JCass says:

    For what it’s worth, here’s a newspaper report on the poisoning theory.

    The chief suspect is one of the more mediocre Medicis, Piero. He’s also accused of offing another famous humanist, Pico della Mirandola.

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