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In the choice of his words, too, the author of the projected poem must be delicate and cautious, he must embrace one and reject another: you will express yourself eminently well, if a dexterous combination should give an air of novelty to a wellknown word. If it happen to be necessary to explain some abstruse subjects by new invented terms; it will follow that you must frame words never heard of by the old-fashioned1 Cethegi: and the license will be granted, if modestly used: and new and lately-formed words will have authority, if they descend from a Greek source, with a slight deviation. But why should the Romans grant to Plautus and Caecilius a privilege denied to Virgil and Varius? Why should I be envied, if I have it in my power to acquire a few words, when the language of Cato and Ennius has enriched our native tongue, and produced new names of things It has been, and ever will be, allowable to coin a word marked with the stamp in present request. As leaves in the woods are changed with the fleeting years; the earliest fall off first: in this manner words perish with old age, and those lately invented flourish and thrive, like men in the time of youth. We, and our works, are doomed to death: whether Neptune,2 admitted into the continent, defends our fleet from the north winds, a kingly work; or the lake, for a long time unfertile and fit for oars, now maintains its neighboring cities and feels the heavy plow; or the river, taught to run in a more convenient channel, has changed its course which was so destructive3 to the fruits. Mortal works must perish: much less can the honor and elegance of language be long-lived. Many words shall revive,4 which now have fallen off; and many which are now in esteem shall fall off, if it be the will of custom, in whose power is the decision and right and standard of language.

1Cinctutis.Hor. Ars 50 Having the tunic tightened by the cinctus, or wearing the cinctus instead of the tunic, as appears to have been the custom of the ancient Romans. This was a vest which passed round the waist, and extended down to the feet. That it was an ancient vesture may appear from its being used by the Luperci. Comp. Ovid. Fast. v. 101. As it did not embarrass the motion of the arms, even after the tunic became part of the dress, it was sometimes substituted for it by those who had occasion to use much bodily exertion. Hence cinctutis is supposed by some to have a meaning here similar to that of succinctus, "active, industrious." Others explain the word as referring to that arrangement of the toga called cinctus Gabinus.

2 Agrippa opened a communication between the Lucrine and Avernian Lakes in 717, and built a magnificent haven there, which he named Portius Julius, in honor of Augustus, who was at that time only called Julius Octavianus.

3 The Scholiast informs us, that Agrippa opened a canal to receive the waters of the Tiber, which had overflowed the country.

4 This revival of old words is one of those niceties in composition, not to be attempted by any but great masters. It may be done two ways: 1. by restoring such terms as are grown entirely obsolete; or 2. by selecting out of those which have still a currency, and are not quite laid aside, such as are most forcible and expressive. These choice words, among such as are still in use, I take to be those which are employed by the old writers in some peculiarly strong and energetic sense, yet so as with good advantage to be copied by the moderns, without appearing barbarous or affected. (See Hor. lib. ii. ep. ii. v. 115.) The other use of old terms, i. e. when become obsolete, he says, must be made parce, more sparingly.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Horace, Ars Poetica, 50
    • Ovid, Fasti, 5
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