X[10arg] That the words praeter propter, which are in common use, were found also in Ennius.
I REMEMBER that I once went with Julius Celsinus the Numidian to visit Cornelius Fronto, who was then seriously ill with the gout. When we arrived and were admitted, we found him lying on a Greek [p. 387] couch, and sitting around him a large number of men famous for learning, birth or fortune. By his side stood several builders, who had been summoned to construct some new baths and were exhibiting different plans for baths, drawn on little pieces of parchment. When he had selected one plan and specimen of their work, he inquired what the expense would be of completing that entire project. And when the architect had said that it would probably require about three hundred thousand sesterces, one of Fronto's friends said, “And another fifty thousand, more or less (praeterpropter).” Then Fronto, interrupting the conversation which he had begun to hold about the expense of the baths, and looking at the friend who had said that another fifty thousand would be needed praeterpropter, asked him what that word meant. And the friend replied: “'That word is not my own, for you may hear many men using it; but what the word means you must ask from a grammarian, not from me”; and at the same time he pointed out a grammarian of no little fame as a teacher at Rome, who was sitting there with them. Then the grammarian, surprised by the uncertainty about a familiar and much used word, said: “We inquire about something which does not at all deserve the honour of investigation, for this is some utterly plebeian expression or other, better known in the talk of mechanics than in that of cultivated men.” But Fronto, raising his voice and with a more earnest expression, said: “Sir, does this word seem to you so degraded and utterly faulty, when Marcus [p. 389] Cato 1 and Marcus Varro, 2 and the early writers in general, have used it as necessary and as good Latin?” And thereupon Julius Celsinus reminded him that also in the tragedy of Ennius entitled Iphigeina the very word about which we were inquiring was found, and that it was more frequently corrupted by the grammarians than explained. Consequently, he at once asked that the Iphigenia of Quintus Ennius be brought and in a chorus of that tragedy we read these lines: 3
That man in truth who knows not leisure's useWhen this had been read there, then Fronto said to the grammarian, who was already wavering: “Have you heard, most worthy master, that your Ennius used praeterpropter, and that too in an expression of opinion resembling the austerest diatribes of the philosophers? We beg you then to tell us, since we are now investigating a word used by Ennius, what the hidden meaning is in this line: [p. 391]
More trouble has than one by tasks pursued;
For he who has a task must be performed,
Devotes himself to that with heart and soul;
The idle mind knows not what 'tis it wants.
With us it is the same; for not at home
Are we nor in the field; from place to place
We haste; and once arrived, we would be gone.
Aimless we drift, we live but more or less
Aimless we drift, we live but more or less.” And the grammarian, in a profuse sweat and blushing deeply, since many of the company were laughing long and loud at this, got up, saying as he left: “I will tell you at a later time, when we are alone, Fronto, in order that ignorant folk may not hear and learn.” And so we all rose, leaving the consideration of the word at that point.