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[7arg] How Favorinus treated a man who made an unseasonable inquiry about words of ambiguous meaning; and in that connection the different meanings of the word contio.

DOMITIUS was a learned and famous grammarian in the city of Rome, who was given the surname [p. 321] Insanus, or “The Madman,” because he was by nature rather difficult and churlish. When our friend Favorinus, in my company, chanced to have met this Domitius at the temple of Carmentis, Favorinus said: “I pray you, master, tell me whether I was in error in saying contiones, when I wanted to turn δημηγορίαι into Latin; for I am in doubt and should be glad to be informed whether any of the men of old who spoke with special elegance used contio of words and of a speech.” 1 Then Domitius, with excited voice and expression, replied: “There is absolutely no hope left of anything good, when even you distinguished philosophers care for nothing save words and the authority for words. But I will send you a book, in which you will find what you ask. For I, a grammarian, am inquiring into the conduct of life and manners, while you philosophers are nothing but mortualia, or 'winding sheets,' as Marcus Cato says: 2 for you collect glossaries and word-lists, filthy, foolish, trifling things, like the dirges of female hired mourners. And I could wish,” said he, “that all we mortals were dumb! for then dishonesty would lack its chief instrumenti.” When we had left him, Favorinus said: “We approached this man at an unseasonable time. For he seems to me to be clearly mad. Know, however,” said he, “that the disorder which is called μελαγχολία, or 'melancholia,' does not attack small or contemptible minds, but it is in a way a kind of heroic affliction and its victims often speak the truth boldly, but without regard to time or moderation. For example, what think you of this which he just said of philosophers? If Antisthenes or Diogenes [p. 323] had said it, would it not have seemed worthy of remembrance?”

But a little later Domitius sent Favorinus the book which he had promised—I think it was one by Verrius Flaccus—in which the following was written with regard to questions of that kind: 3 that senatus (senate) was used both of a place and of persons; civitas (state) of a situation and a town, also of the rights of a community, and of a body of men; further that tribus (tribes) and decuriae (decuries) designated places, privileges and persons, and that contio had three meanings: the place and tribunal from which speaking was done, as Marcus Tullius in his speech, In Reply to the Address of Quintus Metelius, says: 4 “I mounted the tribunal (contionem); the people assembled.” It also signifies an assembly of the people gathered together, since the same Marcus Tullius says in his Orator: 5 “I have often heard audiences (contiones) cry out, when words ended in a proper rhythm; for the ears expect the thought to be expressed in harmonious words.” It likewise designated the speech itself which was made to the people. 6

Examples of these uses were not given in that book. But afterwards I found and showed to Favorinus at his request instances of all these meanings in Cicero, as I remarked above, and in the most elegant of the early writers; but that which he especially desired, an example of contio used for words and of a speech, I pointed out in the title of a book by Cicero, which he had called In Reply to the Address of Quintus Metellus; for there Contionem [p. 325] surely means nothing else than the speech itself which was delivered by Metellus.

1 Contio, from coventio ( =conventio) meant first an assembly, then a speech to an assembly, and finally the place of meeting. It is used in the sense of a speech by Cicero, Caesar, and other good writers.

2 Frag. incert. 19, Jordan.

3 Festus, p. xvi, Müller.

4 Frag. 4, p. 946, Orelli.

5 § 168.

6 See note 1, p. 320. Gellius has given the meanings in the wrong order.

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  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), CONCIL´IUM
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), DECU´RIA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ROMA
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