How consistent is Latin punctuation in PHI?

Latin punctuation is one of those classicist trade-secret things. To understand it fully takes intense study, and most classicists have views, no doubt dogmatically held. I am no purist. The bottom line for me is that Latin punctuation is just not as rule-bound as punctuation in English. Not that that is a bad thing. It’s just a different tradition. School texts have far more punctuation than scholarly critical editions. Some of the I Tatti editions seem almost allergic to punctuation. Editing a Neo-Latin text has made me newly aware of this issue, since I am frequently having to make decisions about where to put commas (trying to keep them to a minimum consistent with clarity), whether to use semi-colons (almost never), and so on. Early modern printed editions are notoriously punctuation happy. It sometimes seems as if the printer loaded a shotgun with commas, colons, and periods and fired at the page. Here is a taste:

Latin text with lots of punctuation

Joannis Petri Maffeii Bergomatis E Societate Jesu Historiarum Indicarum Libri XVI (Vienna: Bernardi, 1752; orig. 1588), p. 6.

A more minimal, modern punctuation might be:

illud praesertim summo conatu pervestigare num quis ab Atlantico in Eoum Oceanum vel mari vel terra transitus foret. Quippe iam tum, praeter acerrimum propagandae Christianae fidei studium, ad beatas etiam Arabiae gazas et Indici litoris opulenta commercia mentem et cogitationem adiecerat.

Although as a rule I would rather not have commas around prepositional phrases like praeter .. studium, it seems useful for comprehension in this case.

Various authors have explained their practices recently. My main guides are Cynthia Damon, who has an excellent discussion in the preface to her Oxford Classical Text of Caesar’s De bello civili, and Milena Minkova, whose wonderful Neo-Latin anthology I recommend heartily to anyone who wants to sample the best Latin writing in the early modern period. They both recommend a restrained approach, but Minkova insists that ablatives absolute, for example, should almost always be enclosed in commas. Damon (wisely, in my view) reserves semi-cola for independent clauses in indirect discourse. Given the flexibility available to editors, the golden rule is: a well-punctuated text shows that the editor understands the text.

In investigating this issue I have been intrigued to see the degree of variation among the modern edited texts (mostly Teubners and OCTs) reproduced in PHI, and I have never seen any collection of instances of variation or consensus among them. So, for those who might be interested in such things, here is my working list. The second column represents my policy, based on my own intuition and observations from PHI.

non modo …, sed include the comma before sed
partim …, partim include the comma before the second partim
dubium quin no comma before quin in phrases like “neque erat dubium quin”
ea lege ut comma before ut? PHI examples go both ways
non tam X … quam Y usually no comma
adeo … ut
comma before ut? Editors seem to differ a lot on this point. Some religiously include it (e.g. Marshall’s Nepos), others tend not to. In the Livy editions on PHI they tend to leave it out, which I prefer in most circumstances.
primum … dein clauses usually separated by comma if short, semi-colon if longer
his dictis no comma after this introductory formula
factum est ut comma after est? editors seem to vary on this
eo magis quod comma after magis? Generally not
vel … vel This seems to vary a bit, but generally comma can be omitted before the second vel
introductory ablative absolute These seem to go without a comma if they are only two or three words
x adiuvante no need for commas around this kind of very short ablative absolute
primo … ; dein or primo … dein, or primo …. Dein? Check out the examples from Livy
make sure to use the comma if a subordinate clause (ubi, cum), or abl. abs., immediately follows.
ut fit, ut assolet
these parenthetical expressions are normally enclosed in commas, though sometimes ut fit is not in PHI
is cum no comma

The Fables of Elizabeth Jane Weston

Elizabeth Jane Weston (1582-1612; English, but active in Prague) was one of the most talented Latin poets of the early modern period. Much celebrated in her own time, she is rarely read today, though she has achieved some measure of gaming fame as a character in Assassins’ Creed. Donald Cheney and Brenda Hosington translated her collected works in a book published by Toronto University Press in 2000. A digitized transcription of her three-volume collection Parthenica (1606?) is available at the Neo-Latin site CAMENA, published by scholars at the University of Mannheim. This is how I first encountered her works. There are, as far as I know, no editions meant for students of Latin, with vocabulary glosses, notes, and so forth, with the exception of this interesting 2017 blog post, which discusses a poem by Weston addressed to Ovid in exile. As a small step in remedying this I asked the students in my recently concluded Ovid class at Dickinson to produce, as their final projects, individual editions of her fables, Quaedam Fabulae Aesopicae (Parthenica vol. 2) and here they are for your enjoyment. Each includes a Latin text, vocabulary list and notes, English translation, text and translation of kindred Aesopic material, a short discussion interpreting the fable (Weston gives no explicit morals), and suggests about how they might be relevant to the author’s circumstances.

young woman holding quill pen

Fan-made image of Elizabeth Weston from Assassin’s Creed wiki

Leo et Rana (The Lion and the Frog), commented on by Jocelyn Wright

Cassita Sola (The Captured Lark), commented on by Lexi Chroscinski

Sus et Canis (The Sow and the Dog), commented on by Nick Morris

Anseres et Grues (The Geese and the Cranes), commented on by Jack Tigani

De Pulice et Milite (On the Flea and the Soldier), commented on by Carl Hamilton

Columba et Tabula Picta (The Pidgeon and the Painting), commented on by Katrina Falkner

Those looking for more detail on her interesting and difficult life are directed to the excellent introduction in the book of Cheney and Hosington, or to J.W. Binns, Intellectual Culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England: The Latin Writings of the Age (Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1990), pp. 110-114. Binns’ book is now hard to find, so here is a bit of what he has to say (p. 110): 

The writings of the Anglo-Latin poet best known on the continent in the early 17th century were never printed in England. Elizabeth Jane Weston is nowadays completely ignored by literary histories; but in her day, she was widely celebrated and earned for herself the sobriquet the ‘Maid of England’. A few details drawn from her own work and from later accounts may however be given. According to the traditional view she was born in England circa 1582 and left the country in her youth, along with her parents and brother, after her father, who fell into disgrace for political or religious reasons, had lost all his property. In 1597, when the Weston family was in Bohemia, Elizabeth’s father died, and the family seemed to have been saved from destitution by the unusual talents of Elizabeth Weston herself, who attracted the notice and patronage of various influential men, especially Georg Martin von Baldhoven, a Silesian nobleman with whom she corresponded. In April 1603 Elizabeth Weston married a jurist at the Imperial court, Johann Leon, and by him had four sons, whom she outlived, and three daughters. She herself died on 23 November 1612, and was buried in Prague in St. Thomas church. (p. 110)

After surveying the letters and verse she wrote to the Emperor Rudolph II and other possible or actual patrons, Binns continues (p. 113),

The verses which Elizabeth Weston wrote to such great men, known personally or by letter, are only part of her poetry. She can recount vividly incidents from her own life, such as the flooding in Prague and her recollections of the garden of Johann Barvitius. Some poems describe the effects upon her of poverty, and her emotional states: one deals movingly with her brother’s death, and in another she compares her own fate as an exile to that of Ovid. Some handle religious themes, for instance her verses on the life of Jesus. There are poems in which she gives moral advice, and epigrams on secular and sacred subjects, including love, friendship, greed, charity and the evils of riches. She writes occasional verses on St. Andrew’s day and on her own name day. In one poem she attacks the faithlessness and duplicity of the Jews. There are several verse paraphrases of some of Aesop’s fables, including these stories of the Lion and the Frog, the Eagle and the Tortoise, and the Sow and the Dog. Certain poems allude to her weaknesses as a writer of poetry. The accomplishment and sweetness of her verse was much praised … (p. 113).

My own personal favorites so far are her poems about printing, one an ingenious celebration of Gutenberg, the other an amusing account of her visit to the shop of some hard-working and hard-drinking printers. It reminded me of the final scene of the 2019 film adaptation of Little Women, in which Louisa May Alcott watches her books being produced in pride and amazement.