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As we chanced to be strolling one evening in the [p. 135] Lyceum, 1 we were furnished with sport and amusement by a certain man, of the kind that lays claim to a reputation for eloquence by a superficial and ill-regulated use of language, without having learned any of the usages and principles of the Latin tongue. For while Catullus in one of his poems had used the word deprecor rather cleverly, that fellow, unable to appreciate this, declared that the following verses which I have quoted were very flat, although in the judgment of all men they are most charming: 2
My Lesbia constantly speaks ill of me
And ceases not. By Jove! she cares for me!
How do I know? 'Tis just the same with me;
I rail at, but by Jove! I worship, her.

Our good man thought that deprecor in this passage was used in the sense that is commonly given the word by the vulgar; that is, “I pray earnestly,” “I beseech,” “I entreat,” where the preposition de is used intensively and emphatically. And if that were so, the verses would indeed be flat. But as a matter of fact the sense is exactly the opposite; for the preposition de, since it has a double force, contains two meanings in one and the same word. For deprecor is used by Catullus in the sense of “denounce, execrate, drive away,” or “avert by prayers”; but it also has the opposite meaning, when Cicero In Defence of Publius Sulla speaks as follows: 3 “How many men's lives did he beg off (est deprecatus) from Sulla.” Similarly in his speech Against the Agrarian Law Cicero says: 4 “If I do any [p. 137] wrong, there are no masks of ancestors to intercede (deprecentur, “beg off”) for me with you by their prayers.”

But Catullus was not alone in using this word with that meaning. Indeed, the books are full of cases of its occurrence in the same sense, and of these I have quoted one or two which had come to mind. Quintus Ennius in the Erectheus, not differing greatly from Catullus, says: 5

Who now win freedom by my own distress
For those whose slavery I by woe avert (deprecor).
He means “I drive away” and “remove,” either by resort to prayer or in some other way. Similarly in the Chresphontes Ennius writes: 6
When I my own life spare, may I avert (deprecer
Death from mine enemy.
Cicero, in the sixth book of his Republic, wrote: 7 “Which indeed was so much the more remarkable, because, while the colleagues were in the same case, they not only did not incur the same hatred, but the affection felt for Gracchus even averted (deprecabatur) the unpopularity of Claudius.” Here too the meaning is not “earnestly entreated,” but “warded off” unpopularity, so to speak, and defended him against it, a meaning which the Greeks express by the parallel word παραιτεῖσθαι.

Cicero also uses the word in the same way in his Defence of Aulus Caecina, saying: 8 “What can you do for a man like this? Can you not sometimes permit one to avert (deprecetur) the odium of the greatest wickedness by the excuse of the most abysmal folly?” Also in the first book of his second [p. 139] Arraignment of Verres: 9 “Now what can Hortensius do? Will he try to avert (deprecetur) the charge of avarice by the praise of economy? But he is defending a man who is utterly disgraced and sunk in lust and crime.” So then Catullus means that he is doing the same as Lesbia, in publicly speaking ill of her, scorning and rejecting her, and constantly praying to be rid of her, and yet loving her to madness.

1 A gymnasium at Athens, the favourite resort of Aristotle and his pupils.

2 xcii.

3 § 72.

4 ii. 100.

5 128, Ribbeck3.

6 121, Ribbeck3.

7 2.2.

8 § 30.

9 ii. 2. 192.

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