VALERIUS PROBUS was once asked, as I learned from one of his friends, whether one ought to say has urbis or has urbes and hanc turrem. or hanc turrim. “If,” he replied, “you are either composing verse or writing prose and have to use those words, pay no attention to the musty, fusty rules of the grammarians, but consult your own ear as to what is to be said in any given place. What it favours will surely be the best.” Then the one who had asked the question said: “What do you mean by 'consult my ear'?” and he told me that Probus answered: “Just as Vergil did his, when in different passages [p. 469] he has used urbis and urbes, following the taste and judgment of his ear. For in the first Georgic, which,” said he, “I have read in a copy corrected by the poet's own hand, he wrote urbis with an i. These are the words of the verses: 1
O'er cities (urbis) if you choose to watch, and ruleBut turn and change it so as to read urbes, and somehow you will make it duller and heavier. On the other hand, in the third Aeneid he wrote urbes with an e: 2
Our lands, O Caesar great.
An hundred mighty cities (urbes) they inhabit.Change this too so as to read urbis and the word will be too slender and colourless, so great indeed is the different effect of combination in the harmony of neighbouring sounds. Moreover, Vergil also said turrim, not turrem, and securim, not securem:
A turret (turrim) on sheer edge standing, 3and
Has shaken from his neck the ill-aimed axe (securim). 4These words have, I think, a more agreeable lightness than if you should use the form in e in both places.” But the one who had asked the question, a boorish fellow surely and with untrained ear, said: “I don't just understand why you say that one form is better and more correct in one place and the other in the other.” Then Probus, now somewhat impatient, retorted: “Don't trouble then to inquire whether you ought to say urbis or urbes. For since [p. 471] you are the kind of man that I see you are and err without detriment to yourself, you will lose nothing whichever you say.” With these words then and this conclusion Probus dismissed the man, somewhat rudely, as was his way with stupid folk. But I afterwards found another similar instance of double spelling by Vergil. For he has used tres and tris in the same passage with such fineness of taste, that if you should read differently and change one for the other, and have any ear at all, you would perceive that the sweetness of the sound is spoiled. These are the lines, from the tenth book of the Aeneid: 5
Three (tres) Thracians too from Boreas' distant race,In one place he has tres, in the other tris; weigh and ponder both, and you will find that each sounds most suitable in its own place. But also in this line of Vergil, 6
And three (iris) whom Idas sent from Ismarus' land.
This end (haec finis) to Priam's fortunes then,if you change haec and say hic finis, it will be hard and unrhythmical and your ears will shrink from the change. Just as, on the contrary, you would make the following verse of Vergil less sweet, if you were to change it: 7
What end (quem finem) of labours, great king, dost thou grant?For if you should say quam das finem, you would somehow make the sound of the words harsh and somewhat weak. [p. 473] Ennius too spoke of rectos cupressos, or “straight cypresses,” contrary to the accepted gender of that word, in the following verse:
On cliffs the nodding pine and cypress straight. 8The sound of the word, I think, seemed to him stronger and more vigorous, if he said rectos cupressos rather than rectas. But, on the other hand, this same Ennius in the eighteenth book of his Annals 9 said aere fulva instead of fulvo, not merely because Homer said ἠέρα βαθεῖα, 10 but because this sound, I think, seemed more sonorous and agreeable. In the same way Marcus Cicero also thought it smoother and more polished to write, in his fifth Oration against Verres, 11 fretiu rather than freto. He says “divided by a narrow strait (fretu）”; for it would have been heavier and more archaic to say perangusto freto. Also in his second Oration against Verres, making use of a like rhythm, he said 12 “by an evident sin,” using peccatu instead of peccato; for I find this written in one or two of Tiro's copies, of very trustworthy antiquity. These are Cicero's words: “No one lived in such a way that no part of his life was free from extreme disgrace, no one was detected in such manifest sin (peccatu) that while he had been shameless in committing it, he would seem even more shameless if he denied it.” Not only is the sound of this word more elegant in this passage, but the reason for using the word is definite and sound. For hic peccatus, equivalent to peccatio, is correct and good Latin, just as many of the early writers used incestus (criminal), not of the one who committed the crime, but of the crime [p. 475] itself, and tributus, where we say tributum (tribute). Adlegatus (instigation) too and arbitratus (judgment) are used for adlegatio and arbitratio, and preserving these forms we say arbitratu and adlegatu meo. So then Cicero said in manifesto peccatu, as the early writers said in manifesto incestu, not that it was not good Latin to say peccato, but because in that context the use of peccatu was finer and smoother to the ear. With equal regard for our ears Lucretius made funis feminine in these verses: 13
No golden rope (aurea funis), methinks, let down from heavenalthough with equally good rhythm he might have used the more common aureus funis and written:
The race of mortals to this earth of ours,
Aureus e caelo demisit funis in arva.Marcus Cicero calls 14 even priests by a feminine term, antistitae, instead of antislites, which is demanded by the grammarians' rule. For while he usually avoided the obsolete words used by the earlier writers, yet in this passage, pleased with the sound of the word, he said: “The priests of Ceres and the guardians (antistitae) of her shrine.” To such a degree have writers in some cases followed neither reason nor usage in choosing a word, but only the ear, which weighs words according to its own standards. 15 “And as for those who do not feel this,” says Marcus Cicero himself, 16 when speaking about appropriate and rhythmical language, “I know not what ears they have, or what there is in them resembling a man.” [p. 477] But the early grammarians have noted this feature in Homer above all, that when he had said in one place 17 κολοιούς τε ψηράς τε, “both crows and starlings,” in another place 18 he did not use ψηρῶν τε, but ψαρῶν:
As lights a cloud of starlings (ψαρῶν) or of daws,not conforming to general usage, but seeking the pleasing effect peculiar to the word in each of the two positions; for if you change one of these for the other, you will give both a harsh sound.