[6arg] What the victims are which are called bidentes, and why they were so called; and the opinions of Publius Nigidius and Julius Hyginus on that subject.
ON my return from Greece I put in at Brundisium. There a dabbler in the Latin language, who had been called from Rome by the people of Brundisium, was offering himself generally to be tested. I also went to him for the sake of amusement, for my mind was weary and languid 1 from the tossing of the sea. He was reading in a barbarous and ignorant manner from the seventh book of Vergil, in which this verse occurs: 2
An hundred woolly sheep (bidentes) he duly slew,and he invited anyone to ask him anything whatever which one wished to learn. Then I, marvelling at the assurance of the ignorant fellow, said: “Will you tell us, master, why bidentes are so called?” “Bidentes,” said he, “means sheep, and he called them 'woolly,' to show more clearly that they are sheep.” I replied: “We will see later whether only sheep are called bidentes, as you say, and whether Pomponius, the writer of Atellanae, 3 was in error in his Transalpine Gauls, when he wrote this: 4
O Mars, if ever I return, I vow[p. 151] But now I asked you whether you know the reason for this name.” And he, without a moment's hesitation, but with the greatest possible assurance, said: “Sheep are called bidentes, because they have only two teeth.” “Where on earth, pray,” said I, “have you seen a sheep that by nature had only two teeth? For that is a portent and ought to be met with expiatory offerings.” Then he, greatly disturbed and angry with me, cried: “Ask rather such questions as ought to be put to a grammarian; for one inquires of shepherds about the teeth of sheep.” I laughed at the wit of the blockhead and left him. Now Publius Nigidius, in the book which he wrote On Sacrificial Meats, says 5 that not sheep alone are called bidentes, but all victims that are two years old; yet he has not explained clearly why they are called bidentes. But I find written in some Notes on the Pontifical Law 6 what I had myself thought, that they were first called bidennes, that is biennes with the insertion of the letter d; then by long use in speech the word became changed and from bidennes was formed bidentes, because the latter seemed easier and less harsh to pronounce. However, Julius Hyginus, who seems not to have been ignorant of pontifical law, in the fourth book of his work On Virgil, wrote 7 that those victims were called bidentes which were of such an age that they had two prominent teeth. I quote his own words: “The victim called bidens should have eight teeth, but of these two should be more prominent than the rest, to make it plain that they have passed from [p. 153] infancy to a less tender age.” Whether this opinion of Hyginus is true or not may be determined by observation without resort to argument. 8
To sacrifice to thee with two-toothed (bidenti) boar.