[3arg] The words of Marcus Varro in the twenty fifth book of his Humran Antiquities, in which he has interpreted a line of Homer contrary to the general opinion.
IT happened in the course of conversations which we carried on about the dates of various inventions for human use, that a young man not without learning observed that the use of spartum or “Spanish broom” also was for a long time unknown in the land of Greece and that it was imported from Spain many years after the taking of Ilium. One or two half-educated fellows who were present there, of the class that the Greeks call ἀγοραῖοι, or “haunters of the market-place,” laughed in derision of this statement, and declared that the man who had made it had read a copy of Homer which happened to lack the following verse: 1
And rotted the ship's timbers, loosed the ropes (σπάρτα).Then the youth, in great vexation, replied: “It was not my book that lacked that line, but you who badly lacked a teacher, if you believe that σπάρτα in that verse means what we call spartum, or 'a [p. 213] rope of Spanish broom'” They only laughed the louder, and would have continued to do so, had he not produced the twenty-fifth book of Varro's Human Antiquities, in which Varro writes as follows of that Homeric word: 2 “I believe that σπάρτα in Homer does not mean sparta, or 'Spanish broom,' but rather σπάρτοι, a kind of broom which is said to grow in the Theban territory. In Greece there has only recently been a supply of spartum, imported from Spain. The Liburnians did not make use of that material either, but as a rule fastened their ships together with thongs, 3 while the Greeks made more use of hemp, tow, and other cultivated plants (sativis), from which ropes got their name of sparta.” Since Varro says this, I have grave doubts whether the last syllable in the Homeric word ought not to have an acute accent; unless it be because words of this kind, when they pass from their general meaning to the designation of a particular thing, are distinguished by a difference in accent.