THE letter h (or perhaps it should be called a breathing rather than a letter) was added by our forefathers to give strength and vigour to the pronunciation of many words, in order that they might have a fresher and livelier sound; and this they seem to have done from their devotion to the Attic language, and under its influence. It is well known that the people of Attica, contrary to the usage of the other Greek races, pronounced ἱχθύς (fish), ἵππος (horse), and many other words besides, with a rough breathing on the first letter. 1 In the same way our ancestors said lachrumae (tears), sepulchrum (burial-place), ahenum (of bronze), vehemens (violent), incohare (begin), helluari (gormandize), hallucinari (dream), honera (burdens), honustum (burdened). For in all these words there seems to be no reason for that letter, or breathing, except to increase the force and vigour of the sound by adding certain sinews, so to speak. But apropos of the inclusion of ahenum among my examples, I recall that Fidus Optatus, a grammarian of considerable repute in Rome, showed me a remarkably old copy of the second book of the Aeneid, bought in the Sigillaria 2 for twenty pieces of gold, which was believed to have belonged to [p. 131] Virgil himself. In that book, although the following two lines were written thus: 3
Before the entrance-court, hard by the gate,we observed that the letter h had been added above the line, changing aena to ahena. So too in the best manuscripts we find this verse of Virgil's written as follows: 4
With sheen of brazen (aena) arms proud Pyrrhus gleams,
Or skims with leaves the bubbling brass's (aleni) wave.