previous next


[8arg] An inquiry whether harena, caelum and triticum are found in the plural; also whether quadrigae, inimicitiae, and some other words, occur in the singular.

WHEN I was a young man at Rome, before I went to Athens, I often paid a visit to Cornelius Fronto, when I had leisure from my masters and my lectures, and enjoyed his refined conversations, which abounded besides in excellent information. Whenever I saw him and heard him speak, I almost never failed to come away improved and better informed. An example is the following little talk of his, held one day on a trivial subject, it is true, but yet not without importance for the study of the Latin language. For when an intimate friend of his, a learned man and an eminent poet of the day, said that he had been cured of dropsy by the use of hot sand (calentes harenae), thereupon Fronto in jesting fashion said: "You are indeed freed of your complaint, but not of the complaint of improper language. For Gaius Caesar, the famous life-dictator and father-in-law of Gnaeus Pompeius, from whom the family and the name of the Caesars are derived, a man of wonderful talent, surpassing all others of his time in the purity of his diction, in the work On Analogy, which he dedicated to Marcus Cicero, wrote 1 that harenae is an improper term, since harena ought never to be [p. 373] used in the plural, 2 any more than caelum (heaven) and triticum (wheat). But on the other hand he thinks that quadrigae, even though it be a single chariot, that is, one team of four horses yoked together, ought always to be used in the plural number, like arma (arms), moenia (walls), comitia (election) and inimicitiae (hostility)—unless, my finest of poets, you have anything to say in reply, to excuse yourself and show that you have not made an error.

“With regard to caelum,” said the poet, “and triticum I do not deny that they ought always to be used in the singular, nor with regard to arma, moenia and comitia, that their use ought to be confined to the plural; but we will inquire rather about inimicitiae and quadigae. And perhaps in the case of quadrigae I shall yield to the authority of the early writers: but what reason is there why Caesar should think that inimicitia was not used by the ancients, as were inscientia (ignorance) and impotentia (impotence) and iniuria (injury), and ought not to be used by us, when Plautus, that glory of the Latin tongue, even used delicia in the singular number instead of deliciae? For he says: 3

O my delight, my darling (delicia).
Furthermore Quintus Ennius, in that most famous book of his, said: 4
Such is my habit; plain upon my brow
Friendship I bear and enmity (inmicitiam) to see.
[p. 375] But pray, who else has written or said that harenae is not good Latin? And therefore I beg of you, if Gaius Caesar's book is accessible, that you have it brought, in order that you may judge with how much confidence he makes this statement.”

At the time, the first book On Analogy being brought, I committed to memory these few words from it; for, first asserting that neither caelum, triticum, nor harena admitted a plural meaning, Caesar said: “Do you not think that it happens from the nature of these things that we say ' one land' and 'several lands,' 'city' and 'cities,' 'command' and 'commands,' and that we cannot convert quadrigae into the form of a singular noun or harena into a plural?”

When these words had been read, Fronto said to the poet: “Does it not seem to you that Gaius Caesar has decided against you as to the status of this word with sufficient clearness and force?” Thereupon the poet, greatly impressed by the authority of the book, said: “If it were lawful to appeal from Caesar, I would now appeal from this book of his. But since he has neglected to give the reason for his opinion, I now ask you to tell on what ground you think it an error to say quadriga and harenae.” Then Fronto replied as follows: “Quadrigae is always confined to the plural number, even though there be only one horse, since four horses yoked together are called quadrigae, from quadriugae, and certainly a term which designates many horses ought not to be included under the oneness expressed by the singular number. The same reasoning must be applied to harena, but in a different form; for since harena, though used in the singular number, [p. 377] nevertheless indicates the multiplicity and abundance of the minute parts of which it consists, harenae seems to be an ignorant and improper usage, as if the word needed a plural form,. when its collective nature makes it natural for it to be used in the singular. But,” said he, “I have said this, not in order to give my authority and signature to this opinion and rule, but that I might not leave the view of that learned man, Caesar, unsupported. For while caelum, or 'sky,' is always used in the singular, but mare, or 'sea,' and terra, or 'land,' not always, and pulvis, or 'dust,' ventus, or 'wind,' and fumus, or 'smoke,' not always, why did the early writers sometimes use indutiae, or 'truce,' and caerimoniae, or 'ceremony,' in the singular, but never feriae, or 'holiday,' nundinae, or 'market day,' inferiae, or 'offering to the dead,' and exsequiae, or ' obsequies'? Why may mel, or 'honey,' and vinum, or 'wine,' and other words of that kind, be used in the plural, but not lacte (milk)? 5 All these questions, I say, cannot be investigated, unravelled, and thrashed out by men of affairs in so busy a city; indeed, I see that you have been delayed even by these matters of which I have spoken, being intent, I suppose, on some business. So go now and inquire, when you chance to have leisure, whether any orator or poet, provided he be of that earlier band—that is to say, any classical or authoritative writer, not one of the common herd—has used quadriga or harenae.” Now Fronto asked us to look up these words, I think, not because he thought that they were to be found in any books of the early writers, but to rouse in us an interest in reading for the purpose of hunting down rare words. The one, then, which [p. 379] seemed the rarest, quadriga, I found used in the singular number in that book of Marcus Varro's Satires which is entitled Ecdemeticus. But I sought with less interest for an example of the plural harenae, because, except Gaius Caesar, no one among learned men has used that form, so far as I can recall. 6

1 ii. p. 126, Dinter.

2 Harenae is used by Virgil, Horace, and Ovid (e.g. Hor. Odes, i. 28. 1; iii. 4. 31; Virg. Aen. i. 107); also by Seneca the philosopher Tacitus, Suetonius (Aug. lxxx.) and other post-Augustan prose-writers and poets.

3 Poen. 365.

4 Achilles, 12, p. 120, Vahlen2.

5 The classical form is, of course, lac. Lacte and lact occur in early Latin, and the use of lacte here is an archaism, which was not understood by some of the scribes; see crit. note 2.

6 The plural is used by Ovid, Virgil, and Horace; and by later poets and prose-writers; e.g. Suetonius, Aug. lxxx. (i., p. 246, L.C.L.).

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
hide References (5 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), CURRUS
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), FUNDUS
    • Smith's Bio, CAESAR
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (2):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: