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[31arg] The meaning of caninum prandium in Marcus Varro's satire.

LATELY a foolish, boastful fellow, sitting in a bookseller's shop, was praising and advertising himself, asserting that he was the only one under all heaven who could interpret the Satires of Marcus Varro, which by some are called Cynical, by others Menippean. And then he displayed some passages of no great difficulty, which he said no one could presume to explain. At the time I chanced to have with me a book of those Satires, entitled ῾υδροκύων, or The Water Dog. 1 I therefore went up to him and said: “Master, of course you know that old Greek saying, that music, if it be hidden, is of no account. 2 I beg you therefore to read these few lines and tell me the meaning of the proverb [p. 515] contained in them.” “Do you rather,” he replied, “read me what you do not understand, in order that I may interpret it for you.” “How on earth can I read,” I replied, “what I cannot understand? Surely my reading will be indistinct and confused, and will even distract your attention.”

Then, as many others who were there present agreed with me and made the same request, I handed him an ancient copy of the satire, of tested correctness and clearly written. But he took it with a most disturbed and worried expression. But what shall I say followed? I really do not dare to ask you to believe me. Ignorant schoolboys, if they had taken up that book, could not have read more laughably, so wretchedly did he pronounce the words and murder the thought. Then, since many were beginning to laugh, he returned the book to me, saying, “You see that my eyes are weak and almost ruined by constant night work; I could barely make out even the forms 3 of the letters. When my eyes have recovered, come to me and I will read the whole of that book to you.” “Master,” said I, “I hope your eyes may improve; but I pray you, tell me this, for which you will have no need of your eyes; what does caninum prandium mean in the passage which you read?” And that egregious blockhead, as if alarmed by the difficulty of the question, at once got up and made off, saying: “You ask no small matter; I do not give such instruction for nothing.”

The words of the passage in which that proverb is found are as follows: 4 “Do you not know that Mnesitheus 5 writes that there are three kinds of wine, dark, light and medium, which the Greeks call [p. 517] κιρρός or 'tawny'; and new, old and medium? And that the dark gives virility, the light increases the urine, and the medium helps digestion? That the new cools, the old heats, and the medium is a dinner for a dog (caninum prandium)?” The meaning of “a dinner for a dog,” though a slight matter, I have investigated long and anxiously. Now an abstemious meal, at which there is no drinking, is called “a dog's meal,” since the dog has no need of wine. Therefore when Mnesitheus named a medium wine, which was neither new nor old—and many men speak as if all wine was either new or old—he meant that the medium wine had the power neither of the old nor of the new, and was therefore not to be considered wine at all, because it neither cooled nor heated. By refrigerare (to cool), he means the same as the Greek ψύχειν.

1 This, with the ῾ιπποκύων, or Dog-Knight, and the κυνορήτωρ, or Dog-Rhetorician, justifies the term Cynicae as applied to Varro's Saturae.

2 The same proverb is put into the mouth of Nero by Suetonius (Nero, xx. 1), where the meaning is, that it is of no use for one to know how to sing, unless he proves that he knows how by singing in public.

3 Apices here seems to refer to the strokes of which the letters were made up; cf. Cassiodorus vii. 184. 6 K., digamma nominatur quia duos apices ex gamma littera habere videtur, and Gell. xvii. 9. 12.

4 Fr. 575, Bücheler.

5 A celebrated Athenian physician of the fourth century before our era.

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