Uniformly at Random

Posts Tagged ‘cicero

Linguistic conservatism in Latin

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Peter Heather makes some interesting remarks on the education of Roman aristocrats and the resulting effect on the Latin language:

The bedrock of the system was the intense study of a small number of literary texts under the guidance of an expert in language and literary interpretation, the grammarian.  This occupied the individual for seven or more years from about the age of eight, and concentrated on just four authors: Vergil, Cicero, Sallust and Terence.  […]  Essentially, these texts were held to contain within them a canon of ‘correct’ language, and children were to learn that language—both the particular vocabulary and a complex grammar within which to employ it.  One thing this did was to  hold educated Latin in a kind of cultural [vise] preventing or at least significantly slowing down the normal processes of linguistic change.  It also had the effect of allowing instant identification.  As soon as a member of the Roman elite opened his mouth, it was obvious that he had learned ‘correct’ Latin.  It is as though a modern education system concentrated on the works of Shakespeare with the object of distinguishing the educated by their ability to speak Shakespearean English to one another (The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History).

Written by uncudh

February 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Posted in history, literature

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The death of Cicero’s daughter

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When reading the letters of Cicero, I am often struck by just how similar the ancients were to us moderns: their problems, their concerns, the things they talked to their friends about.  Cicero suffered the loss of his daughter Tullia in 45 BC.  Below are two short letters written to his friend Atticus not long after her death (from the Loeb Classical Library translation):

Please see that my excuses are made to Appuleius from day to day, since a once for all excuse does not seem advisable.  In this lonely place I do not talk to a soul.  Early in the day I hide myself in a thick thorny wood, and don’t emerge till evening.  Next to yourself solitude is my best friend.  When I am alone all my conversation is with books, but it is interupted by fits of weeping, against which I struggle as best I can.  But so far it is an unequal fight.  I shall answer Brutus as you recommend.  You shall have the letter tomorrow.  Forward it when you have the opportunity.

I wouldn’t have you leave your own affairs to visit me; better for me to come to you if you are going to be held up for some considerable time.  I would never have gone out of your sight if it had not been that nothing, nothing was any use to me.  But if any relief were possible it would be in you and you only; and as soon as anyone can give it, that person will be you.  And yet at this moment I cannot bear to be away from you.  But we agreed that your house was not suitable, and I cannot stay in mine; and even if I were somewhere closer by, I should still not be in your company.  The same thing that is holding you up now would still hold you up and prevent you from spending much time with me.  Thus far the loneliness here suits me as well as anything.  I am afraid Philippus may break it.  He arrived yesterday evening.  Reading and writing bring me, not solace indeed, but distraction.

Cicero reacted somewhat curiously to his daughter’s death.  He became obsessed with the idea of having her deified and he attempted to purchase some land on which to build a shrine to her.  In the end the project never quite panned out.

Written by uncudh

November 14, 2008 at 1:10 am

Posted in history

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