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The Latin critics have abundantly condemned these faults of expression: yet from the numerous instances quoted, the language seems to have been peculiarly liable to them. Quinctilian, lib. vii. cap. 10., brings forward several curious instances :
“Unde controversia illa, Testamento quidam jussit poni statuam auream hastam tenentem.”
“ Hæres meus uxori meæ dare damnas esto argenti, quod elegerit, pondo centum.'
Nos flentes illos deprehendimus. This same critic produces several instances of ancient pleasantry and graceful reparteè; nor does he seem to turn with absolute disgust even from tickling and practical jokes : – "Neque hoc ab ullo satis explicari puto, licet multi tentaverint, unde risus, qui non solum facto aliquo dictove, sed interdum quodam etiam corporis tactu, lacessitur : præterea non, ut oratione moveri soleat: neque enim acute tantum ac venuste, sed stulte, iracunde, timide dicta aut facta ridentur : ideoque anceps ejus rei ratio est, quod a derisu non procul abest risus." Lib. vi. cap. 4.
This subject had been touched upon before, lib. i. cap. 10. Cicero says:—“Suavis autem est, et vehementer sæpe utilis jocus, et facetiæ: quæ, etiamsi alia omnia tradi arte possunt, naturæ sunt propria certe, neque ullam artem desiderant." He goes on to produce a long string of them.
The term sophist is closely connected with these degeneracies in wit and argument. Originally it signified a teacher of philosophy, as defined by Philostratus : but its more modern sense, according to Suidas, is και επηρεάζων εκών εν τοις λόγοις: that is to say, one who deals out calumnies and cavils in his speech,
and that intentionally. Agreeable to this practice is the syllogistic mode of joking. We are told of a celebrated sophist in Paris, who had a high reputation for this kind of wit. He was in the habit of killing Charon in the following manner :
Morieris Charon, et sic argumentor.
The lawyers have not been exempt from this cacoethes of argumentation. « Testamentum lex est. Solus princeps potest condire legem. Ergo solus princeps potest facere testamentum.'
This device was particularly convenient for the delivery of oracles, and the Dii minorum gentium kept a large stock of them for daily sale. They had the great merit of not being by possibility wrong: witness this noted one:
Ajo te Æacida Romanos vincere posse.
Omens were often conveyed in this equivocal manner, and prophecies of death made vehicles of wit. When Pompey had lost the field of Pharsalia, an unfavourable prognostic occurred to him. As he was threading his escape, near the island of Cyprus, he remarked a magnificent palace, and asking its name, was answered, Kaxobao ideia, the palace of the wicked king. The occurrence laid hold on his spirits. He could not help acknowledging that he was on the way to a treacherous and ungrateful man in the person of Ptolemy, to whom he had ren
dered repeated and valuable services: and he had good reason to think so ; for he lost his life by him.
There are two lines in Virgil, at the beginning of the fourth Æneid, where Dido, being desperately in love with Æneas, is introduced with the following words in her mouth :
Quis novus hic nostris successit sedibus hospes ?
The sense is obvious enough :- valiant in arms and courageous. But a company of wits once persuaded an eminent French critic, that all former commentators and translators had misunderstood Virgil; and that the true interpretation of the queen's meaning was, Do look at his port ! what a fine stout fellow he is ! Forti pectore, they positively insisted, could refer to nothing but square building, broad chest, and a more than ordinary proportion of shoulder. Nothing settles a classical question so soon as a parallel passage; they therefore fortified their critical discovery by quoting from Virgil himself:
Os humerosque deo similis.
Horace delivers the following precept, which Dr. Kitchener must duly appreciate :
Fecundæ leporis sapiens sectabitur armos.
Here are three important informations couched in five words : one but just recovered in the recent editions. The wrong reading of the older copies, Fecundi, had thrown a wet blanket over a third
part of our author's wisdom and experience: for he means to tell us by his epithet, and it is not always epithets have so much meaning, that the prolific nature of the female hare gives a peculiar zest to her wings. Besides ; what becomes of our grammar? Hic lepus is not fecundus, unless we suppose the poet to use the adjective for the participle active. Furthermore, there is an amphibology in the word sapiens, bearing as it does two meanings, a man of good taste, and a man of good
The moral here meant to be enforced is clear : the wise man is he who always dines as well as he can. Sectabitur enforces the authentic doctrine, that a hunted hare is best. A further inference is perhaps to be derived, that the emphasis on armos of the female is designed to recommend by an implied antithesis the lumbi of the male. It has been made a question whether armus, clearly derived from águès, is not to be confined to brutes. The statement in Ainsworth is, that it means a shoulder or arm; more rarely, though anciently, of a man : but that in the Augustan age it began to be used only of beasts. That however rarely, it was applied to man in the Augustan age, is proved by the quotation from Virgil, and by another from Manilius. Ovid and Virgil are quoted for its bestial application. But there is a further proof that it was also understood as of man, in the word armilla, ab armis, i. e. brachiis, a bracelet or jewel, worn on the left arm, or waist, and given to the foot soldiers by their general. They were worn likewise by the women.
To this head may be referred the whimsical derivation of Argumentum, argute inventum as a compound, not from the simple arguo. Again, Cicero, a cicere ; Lentulus, a lente ; Agrippa, ab agro partu ; Martius, a Martio mense ; Mantus, mane editus ; Servius, servatus in utero matre mortua : and many others of equal probability. But with respect to these fancies in etymology, founded on imaginary allusions in names, “Inde pravis ingeniis ad fædissima usque ludibria dilabuntur," says Quinctilian.
Louis XI. was quite alive to the practical humour of an amphibology. Philip de Comines relates the pleasant manner in which he wheedled the Constable de St. Paul : -“Le Roy nomma une lettre au dit Connestable; et lui mandoit qu'il avoit bien à besoigner d'une telle teste comme la sienne.” But he explained himself candidly and confidentially to M. de Contay :-“ Je n'entends point que nous eussions le corps, mais j'entends que nous eussions la teste, et que le corps fût demeuré là.” This pious equivoque took effect, and the constable was ultimately surrendered and sent to his trial before the parliament of Paris, who passed on him the sentence of death and confiscation.
One of the commissioners into whose hands he was delivered was M. de Saint Pierre. It was said on that occasion, that there was war in paradise. between St. Peter and St. Paul.