IN the entrance hall of the palace on the Palatine a large number of men of almost all ranks had gathered together, waiting an opportunity to pay their respects to Caesar. 1 And there in a group of scholars, in the presence of the philosopher Favorinus, a man who thought himself unusually rich in grammatical lore was airing trifles worthy of the schoolroom, discoursing on the genders and cases of nouns with raised eyebrows and an exaggerated gravity of voice and expression, as if he were the interpreter and sovereign lord of the Sibyl's oracle. Then, looking at Favorinus, although as yet he was hardly acquainted with him, he said: "Penus too is used in different genders and is variously declined. For the early writers used to say hoc penus and haec penus, and in the genitive peni and penoris; Lucilius in his sixteenth satire also used the word mundus, which describes women's ornaments, not in the masculine gender, as other writers do, but in the neuter, in these words: 2 [p. 311]
A man once willed his wife all ornaments (mundum omne) and stores.And he kept bawling out illustrations and examples of all these usages; but while he was prating quite too tiresomely, Favorinus interrupted and quietly said: “Well and good, master, whatever your name is, you have taught us more than enough about many things of which we were indeed ignorant and certainly did not ask to know. For what difference does it make to me and the one with whom I am speaking in what gender I use penus, or with what endings I inflect it, provided no one of us does this too barbarously? But this is clearly what I need to know, what penus is, and how far that word may be employed, so that I may not call a thing in everyday use by the wrong name, as those do who begin to speak their Latin in the slave-market.” “Your question is not at all difficult,” replied the man. “Who indeed does not know that penus is wine, wheat, oil, lentils, beans, and the other things of that kind?” “Is not penus also,” said Favorinus, “millet, panic-grass, 3 acorns and barley? for these too are almost of the same sort;” and when the man hesitated and did not answer, he continued: “I do not want you to trouble yourself further about the question whether those things which I have mentioned are called penus. But can you not, instead of telling me some essential part of penus, rather define the meaning of the word by stating its genus and adding its species?” “Good Heavens!” said he, “I don't understand [p. 313] what you mean by genus and species.” “You ask,” replied Favorinus, “to have a matter which has been stated clearly stated still more clearly, which is very difficult; for it is surely a matter of common knowledge that every definition consists of genus and species. But if you ask me to predigest it for you, as they say, I will certainly do that too, for the sake of showing you honour.” And then Favorinus began in this wise: “If,” said he, “I should now ask you to tell me, and as it were to define in words, what a man is, you would not, I suppose, reply that you and I are men. For that is to show who is a man, not to tell what a man is. But if, I say, I should ask you to define exactly what a man is, you would undoubtedly tell me that a man is a mortal living being, endowed with reason and knowledge, or you would define him in some other manner which would differentiate him from all other animals. Similarly, then, I now ask you to tell what penus is, not to name some example of penus.” Then that boaster, now in humble and subdued tones, said: “I have never learned philosophy, nor desired to learn it, and if I do not know whether barley is included under penus, or in what words penus is defined, I am not on that account ignorant also of other branches of learning.” “To know what penus is,” said Favorinus, who was now laughing, “is not more a part of my philosophy than of your grammar. For you remember, I suppose, that it is often inquired whether Virgil said penum struere longam or longo ordine; 4 for you surely know that both readings are current. But to make you feel easier in mind, let me say that not even those old masters of the law who [p. 315] were called 'wise men' are thought to have defined penus with sufficient accuracy. For I hear that Quintus Scaevola used the following words to explain penus: 5 Penus,' said he, 'is what is to be eaten or drunk, which is prepared for the use of the father of the family himself; or the mother of the family, or the children of the father, or the household which he has about him or his children and which is not engaged in work 6 . . . as 7 Mucius says ought to be regarded as penus. For articles which are prepared for eating and drinking day by day, for luncheon or dinner, are not penus; but rather the articles of that kind which are collected and stored up for use during a long period are called penus, because they are not ready at hand, but are kept in the innermost part of the house.' 8 This information,” said Favorinus, although I had devoted myself to philosophy, I yet did not neglect to acquire; since for Roman citizens speaking Latin it is no less disgraceful not to designate a thing by its proper word than it is to call a man out of his own name. Thus Favorinus used to lead ordinary conversations of this kind from insignificant and trivial topics to those which were better worth hearing and knowing, topics not lugged in irrelevantly, nor by way of display, but springing from and suggested by the conversations themselves. Besides what Favorinus said, I think this too ought to be added to our consideration of penus, [p. 317] that Servius Sulpicius, in his Criticism of the Chapters of Scaevola, wrote 9 that Aelius Catus believed 10 that not only articles for eating and drinking, but also incense and wax tapers were included under the head of penus, since they were provided for practically the same purpose. But Masurius Sabinus, in the second book of his Civil Law, declares 11 that whatever was prepared for the beasts of burden which the owner of a house used was also penus. He adds that some 12 have thought that the term likewise included wood, faggots and charcoal, by means of which the penus was made ready for use. But of articles kept in the same place, for use or for purposes of trade, he thinks that only the amount which was sufficient for a year's needs was to be regarded as penus.
But what are ornaments? Who will determine that?