previous next


[7arg] The meaning of obesus and of some other early words.

THE poet Julius Paulus, a worthy man, very learned in early history and letters, inherited a small estate in the Vatican district. He often invited us there to visit him and entertained us very pleasantly and generously with vegetables and fruits. And so one mild day in autumn, when Julius Celsinus and I had dined with him, and after hearing the Alcestis of Laevius read at his table were returning to the city just before sunset, we were ruminating on the rhetorical figures and the new or striking use of words in that poem of Laevius', and as each word occurred that was worthy of notice with reference to its future use by ourselves, 1 we committed it to memory.

Now the passages which then came to mind were of this sort: 2

Of chest and body wasted (obeso) everywhere,
Of mind devoid of sense and slow of pace,
With age o'ercome.
[p. 369] Here we noticed that obesus is used, rather in its proper than in its common signification, to mean slender and lean; for the vulgar use obesus, ἀκύρως (improperly), or κατὰ ἀντίφρασιν (by contraries), for uber (bulky) and pinguis (fat). We also observed 3 that he spoke of an extinct race as oblittera instead of oblitterata, and that he characterized enemies who broke treaties as foedifragi, not foederifragi; that he called the blushing Aurora pudoricolor, or “shame-coloured” and Memnon, nocticolor, or “night-coloured”; also that he used forte for “hesitatingly,” and said silenta loca, or “silent places,” from the verb sileo; further, that he used pulverulenta for “dusty” and pestilenta for “pestilent,” the genitive case instead of the ablative with careo; magno impete, or “mighty onset,” instead of impetu; that he used fortescere for fortem fieri, or “become brave,” dolentia for dolor, or “sorrow,” avens for libens, or “desirous”; that he spoke of curae intolerantes, or “unendurable cares,” instead of intolerandae, manciolae tenellae, or “tender hands,” instead of manus, and quis tam siliceo for “who is of so flinty a heart?” He also says fiere inpendio infit, meaningfieri inpense incipit, or “the expense begins to be great,” and he used accipetret 4 for laceret, or “rends.”

We entertained ourselves on our way with these notes on Laevius' diction. But others we passed over as too poetic and unsuited to use in prose; for example, when he calls Nestor trisaeclisenex, or “an old man who had lived three generations” and dulciorelocus isle, or “that sweet-mouthed speaker,” when he calls great swelling waves multigruma, or “great-hillocked,” and says that rivers congealed by [p. 371] the cold have an onychinum tegimen, or “an onyx covering”; also his many humorous multiple compounds, as when he calls his detractors 5 subductisupercilicarptores, or “carpers with raised eye-brows.”

1 This is characteristic of the archaistic period in which Gellius lived.

2 Frag. 8, Bahrens.

3 Frag. 9, Bährens.

4 A verb formed from accipiter, “hawk,” meaning “to tear,” as a hawk does its prey.

5 Frag. 7, Bährens.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
hide References (5 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: