Latin Quotes, Sayings, Tattoos, Phrases & Mottos

Most texts and materials on this site have to do with the Latin language, including its perception in popular culture: movies, tattoos, inscriptions, engravings, bits of ancient philosophy, online Latin resources and company names. There is also information about learning Latin and Greek: textbooks, dictionaries, DVDs and software that can be used in a homeschooling environment.


Cicero and the etymology of 'syllabus'

 

Shortly after returning from exile in 58, Cicero sent a brief note to Atticus with the sole purpose of requesting his friend’s assistance in arranging his library. This letter (Att. 4.4), and a few others that followed it, became a source of some conjectures about the specifics of bookmaking in classical Rome and Greece, as well as the pertaining terminology. It is difficult to imagine a monograph or even an article on ancient libraries that omits this episode – quite rightly so, but nevertheless there are some elements of contemporaneous cultural context that should be considered in this connection.

The wording of Cicero’s request addressed to Atticus bears very strong references to the social order of the time. It may be noted how Marcus Tullius distances himself from the actual task of renovating his personal library. It was Tyrannio, a freedman, who was responsible for the arranging (dissignatio) of the surviving volumes (Cicero does not give us an impression of his own involvement in this process). Librariolus¸ the general term, used by Cicero for those employed by Atticus in his book publishing business, is a characteristically diminutive form of librarius, suitable for a slave and reminiscent of the contemptuous Graeculus. Atticus’ slaves are expected to perform their job under Tyrannio’s supervision, and Cicero once again does not imply his own possible involvement or his guiding role. This detachment, cultural reasons for which had been suggested above, may very well resonate in the final part of Cicero’s request: iisque imperes ut sumant membranulam ex qua indices fiant, quos vos Graeci, ut opinor, sittÚbaj appellatis. Through this circuitous tone Cicero either wants to create an impression that for him the knowledge of specific terminology is duly and understandably superfluous or he indeed has some doubts as to how one calls the little slips of parchment that were at times attached to papyrus rolls. Either way, Cicero is not worried about using a wrong Greek word, considering that he hardly lacked a specialist with whom he might have consulted (Tyrannio, for instance, certainly would have been of assistance). A Roman aristocrat simply could afford not to care much about the terminology of any given craft. It is ironic, that Cicero’s letters became the primary evidence for this particular Greek term, shrouded in orthographic uncertainty (s…lluboj or sittÚbai?).[1] Although a mere scribal error is likely responsible for the confusion, the varying spellings in Att. 4.4a , 4.5.3 and 4.8.2 may in fact ascend to Cicero’s manuscripts, with Cicero’s carelessness being the reason. The disregard for the social context may have contributed to the subsequent coining of the term syllabus in humanist Latin and some modern European languages. Cicero, a figure of great literary authority, was presumed to be a trustworthy witness for the Greek word not attested in other classical writers (at least not in the form found in the Medicean manuscript, which in 1470 was used for the editio prima). The word was suitably reinterpreted to denote any kind of a concise summary or list of subdivisions in a text. In the atmosphere of enthusiasm for the recent advances in book production, it only seemed proper that an author would be well versed in the terminology of the trade that made distribution of his works possible.



[1] H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (rev. H.S. Jones and R. McKenzie, rev. supp. by P.G.W. Glare), (Oxford, 1996), 1599.


The Latin origin of "Celebrity" - another media gaffe

 
The word celebrity itself comes from the Latin word ‘celebritatem' meaning, literally, ‘condition of being famous.' Which means that people just have to recognise you for you to be a celebrity. The irony of course being that most celebrities strive for years to be famous, then wear dark glasses to avoid being recognised and moan constantly about actually being famous.

http://www.arabianbusiness.com/506913-t ... rity?ln=en


Two points here. First of all, why is the Accusative Singular taken as the word from which English 'celebrity' comes from? Second, 'celebritas' literally means 'a multitude', 'a crowd', and the word itself stems from the verb 'celebro' - 'to go to a place often'.

New Year's contemplation

 
James Carroll in an op-ed article "New Year's brooding" (Boston Globe, Dec. 31, 2007) writes the following:

"The word contemplation has a Latin root, suggesting "time with," as if in contrast to chronology as time alone."
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/edito ... _brooding/

He goes on to develop some additional ideas based on this etymology. The trouble is that there is no connection between tempus and contemplation (which I am sure the author is implying). The word 'contemplatio' is akin to the word 'templum' (English "temple") which originally meant a large open space designated for auguries. Therefore, 'to contemplate' was to observe this space, in order to detect favorable or unfavorable signs, primarily based on the patters of birds' flight.

Honest mistake, no doubt. Too bad, there is no easy way to correct it. I don't think the Globe will be publishing a formal correction.

Sortes Virgilianae

 
I have always used the phrase Sortes Virgilianae as the only term describing the practice of divination with the use of Virgil's works. In English this is probably best rendered as Virgilian lots. Recently I came across an absolutely delightful term "Maronian lottery".

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