XXIX[29arg] That Quadrigarius used the expression cum multis mortalibus; whether it would have made any difference if he had said cum multis hominibus, and how great a difference.
THE following is a passage of Claudius Quadrigarius from the thirteenth book of his Annals: 1 “When the assembly had been dismissed, Metellus came to the Capitol with many mortals (cum mortalibus mulltis); from there he went home attended by the entire city.” When this book and this passage were read to Marcus Fronto, as I was sitting with him in company with some others, it seemed to one of those present, a man not without learning, that the use of mortalibus multis for hominibus multis in a work of history was foolish and frigid, and savoured too much of poetry. Then Fronto said to the man who expressed this opinion: “Do you, a man of most refined taste in other matters, say that mortalibus multis seems to you foolish and frigid, and do you think there is no reason why a man whose language is chaste, pure and almost conversational, [p. 509] preferred to say mortalibus rather than hominibus? And do you think that he would have described a multitude in the same way if he said cum multis hominibus and not cum multis mortalibus? For my part,” continued Fronto, “unless my regard and veneration for this writer, and for all early Latin, blinds my judgment, I think that it is far, far fuller, richer and more comprehensive in describing almost the whole population of the city to have said mortales rather than homines. For the expression ' many men' may be confined and limited to even a moderate number, but 'many mortals' somehow in some indefinable manner includes almost all the people in the city, of every rank, age and sex; so you see Quadrigarius, wishing to describe the crowd as vast and mixed, as in fact it was, said that Metellus came into the Capitol ' with many mortals, speaking with more force than if he had said 'with many men.'” When we, as was fitting, had expressed, not only approval, but admiration of all this that we had heard from Fronto, he said: “Take care, however, not to think that mortales multi is to be used always and everywhere in place of multi homines, lest that Greek proverb, τὸ ἐπὶ τῇ φακῇ μύρον, or 'myrrh on lentils, 2 which is found in one of Varro's Satires, 3 be applied to you.” This judgment of Fronto's, though relating to trifling and unimportant words, I thought I ought not to pass by, lest the somewhat subtle distinction between words of this kind should escape and elude us. [p. 511]