Spanish Latin, a curse, and a lusty postman

More epigraphical adventures in Google Books . . .

From the library of Francis Kelsey, author of a fine school edition of the Gallic War (1918 edition) comes a thorough publication of a set of curse tablets that came into the possession of the Department of Classical Archaeology of The Johns Hopkins University in 1908 (after the publication of Audollent’s Defixionum Tabellae), apparently found near Rome.

William Sherwood Fox, The Johns Hopkins Tabellae Defixionum. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1912.

Here is a taste:

“A quartan fever, a tertian fever, every day, may they wrestle with her, overpower her, vanquish her, conquer her, until they steal away her life. And so I hand over this victim to you, Proserpina, or if I, Proserpina, or if I should call you Acherusia. Please send me to summon the three-headed dog to steal Avonia’s heart . . .”

Henry Martin, Notes on the Syntax of the Latin Inscriptions Found in Spain. Baltimore: J.H. Furst, 1909. or here at the Internet Archive

This book will be a delight to all those who suspect that the grammatical rules of classical Latin were not really followed by ordinary people. They often were not, and Mr. Martin gives a detailed survey of syntactical and grammatical peculiarities to be found in inscriptions from Spain.

The use of the genitive in Spanish Latin, for example, “often appears to indicate ignorance on the part of the writer of the idiomatic Latin turn or to be his method expressing an idea in the fewest possible words without reference to clearness.” (p. 13) Think that’s snarky? Just wait till you get to the part about pronouns.

W.M. Lindsay, Handbook of Latin Inscriptions Illustrating the History of the Language. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1897.

Written by the titan of early Latin studies from the turn of the 20th c., the editor of Plautus and Festus, this book has all sorts of goodies, treated with an eye to archaic or vulgar Latin features.

“While I am Vitalis and still alive, I have made a tomb. And I read my verses (on my own tomb) as I pass by. I carried letters all around the region on foot, and with my dogs I hunted rabbits and also wolves. Later, I enjoyed drinking the contents of my wine cup. I did many things like a young man, because I am going to die. Any wise young man should build a tomb for himself while still alive.”

–Chris Francese

Inscriptions from Syria and Sinope

I’ve been translating inscriptions lately, and that has gotten me interested in finding older publications of inscriptions available on Google books. There has to be a ton of this kind of thing, but I don’t know that they have been collected anywhere. Here are a few items that caught my eye, with snippets to give an impression of the kind of material to be found in each.

William Kelly Prentice, Greek and Latin Inscriptions. Part III of the Publications of an American Archaeological Expedition to Syria, 1899-1900. New York: The Century Co., 1908.

“May Odedon the teacher live, may he live!” Prentice believes that this inscription came from a tomb, “perhaps written … by some pupil who wished his master well enough, after he was dead.”

D.M. Robinson, Greek and Latin Inscriptions from Sinope and Environs. American School of Classical Studies at Athens (American Journal of Archaeology, second series, Journal of the Archaeological institute of America, v. IX (1905) no. 3.)

From an Armenian village: “Manius Fulvius Pacatus, age 60, Fulvius Praetorenus, his son, age 20, lie here. Licinia Caesellia lies here, age 50.” Evidently Greek-speaking Romans of some means, to judge by the elegant lettering.

James C. Egbert, Introduction to the Study of Latin Inscriptions. New York: American Book Co., 1896.

Lippitudo or conjunctivitis was a scourge of Roman times, and the eye doctors have many terms for different varieties of it. It was often caused by smoke coming from braziers used indoors. The second of these documents seems to prescribe egg-white to be daubed on with a sponge (penecillus). For this latter vulgar Latin term is unknown in print in this particular sense until the middle ages. See See Rabanus Maurus, De Universo (ca. AD 842) 8.5 (PL 111.239C): mollissimum genus earum [sc. spongiarum] penecilli vocantur eo quod aptae sint ad oculorum tumores, et ad extergendas lippitudines utiles.

–Chris Francese