XVII[17arg] A conversation held with a grammarian, who was full of insolence and ignorance, as to the meaning of the word obnoxius; and of the origin of that word.
I INQUIRED at Rome of a certain grammarian who had the highest repute as a teacher, not indeed [p. 69] for the sake of trying or testing him, but rather from an eager desire for knowledge, what obnoxius meant and what was the origin and history of the word. And he, looking at me and ridiculing what he considered the insignificance and unfitness of the query, said: “Truly a difficult question is this that you ask, one demanding very many sleepless nights of investigation! Who, pray, is so ignorant of the Latin tongue as not to know that one is called obnoxius who can be inconvenienced or injured by another, to whom he is said to be obnoxius because the other is conscious of his noxa, that is to say, of his guilt? Why not rather,” said he, “drop these trifles and put questions worthy of study and discussion?” Then indeed I was angry, but thinking that I ought to dissemble, since I was dealing with a fool, I said; “If, most learned sir, I need to learn and to know other things that are more abstruse and more important, when the occasion arises I shall inquire and learn them from you; but inasmuch as I have often used the word obnoxious without knowing what I was saying, I have learned from you and am now beginning to understand what not I alone, as you seem to think, was ignorant of; for as a matter of fact, Plautus too, though a man of the first rank in his use of the Latin language and in elegance of diction, did not know the meaning of obnoxius. For there is a passage of his in the Stichus which reads as follows:
By Heaven! I now am utterly undone,This does not in the least agree with what you have [p. 71] taught me; for Plautus contrasted plane and obnoxie as two opposites, which is far removed from your meaning.” But that grammarian retorted foolishly enough, as if obnoxius and obnoxie differed, not merely in form, but in their substance and meaning: “I gave a definition of obnoxins, not obnoxie.” But then I, amazed at the ignorance of the presumptuous fellow, answered: “Let us, as you wish, disregard the fact that Plautus said obnoxie, if you think that too far-fetched; and let us also say nothing of the passage in Sallust's Catiline: 2 'Also to threaten her with his sword, if she would not be submissive (obnoxia) to him'; but explain to me this example, which is certainly more recent and more familiar. For the following verses of Virgil's are very well known: 3
Not only partly so (non obnoxie). 1
For now the stars' bright sheen is seen undimmed.but you say that it means 'conscious of her guilt.' In another place too Virgil uses this word with a meaning different from yours, in these lines: 4
The rising Moon owes naught (nec .. obnoxia) to brother's rays;
What joy the fields to viewfor care is generally a benefit to fields, not an injury, as it would be according to your definition of obnoxius. Furthermore, how can what Quintus Ennius writes in the following verses from the Phoenix 5 agree with you: [p. 73]
That owe no debt (non obnoxia) to hoe or care of man.
'Tis meet a man should live inspired by courage true,” But our grammarian, with open mouth as if in a dream, said: “Just now I have no time to spare. When I have leisure, come to see me and learn what Virgil, Plautus, Sallust and Ennius meant by that word.” So saying that fool made off; but in case anyone should wish to investigate, not only the origin of this word, but also its variety of meaning, in order that he may take into consideration this Plautine use also, I have quoted the following lines from the Asinaria: 6
In conscious innocence should boldly challenge foes.
True freedom his who bears a pure and steadfast heart,
All else less import has (obnoxiosae) and lurks in gloomy night?
He'll join with me and hatch the biggest jubilee,Now, in the definition which that grammarian gave, he seems in a word of such manifold content to have noted only one of its uses—a use, it is true, which agrees with that of Caecilius in these verses of the Chrysium: 7
Stuff'd with most joy, for son and father too.
For life they both shall be in debt (obnoxii) to both of us,
By our services fast bound.
Although I come to you attracted by your pay,[p. 75]
Don't think that I for that am subject to your will (tibi . . . obnoxium);
If you speak ill of me, you'll hear a like reply.