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V

[5arg] The strife and contention of two eminent grammarians at Rome as to the vocative case of egregius.


ONCE upon a time, wearied with constant writing, I was walking in the park of Agrippa 1 for the purpose of relieving and resting my mind. And there, as it chanced, I saw two grammarians of no small repute in the city of Rome, and was a witness of a violent dispute between them, one maintaining [p. 41] that vir egregi was the proper form of the vocative case, the other vir egregie.

The argument of the one who thought that we should say egregi was of this sort: “Whatever nouns or words,” said he, “end in the nominative singular in the syllable us preceded by i, in the vocative case terminate in the letter i, as Caelius Caeli, modius modi, tertius terti, Accius Acci, Titius Titi, and the like; so then egregious, since it ends in the syllable us in the nominative and the letter i precedes that syllable, must in the vocative singular have i for the final letter, and therefore it is correct to say egregi, not egregie. For divus and rivus and clivus do not end in the syllable us, but in that which ought to be written with two us, and in order to indicate that sound a new letter was devised, which was called the digamma.2 When the other heard this, he said: O egreie grammatice, or if you prefer, egregissime, tell me, I pray you, what is the vocative case of, inscius, impius, sobrius, ebrius, proprius, propitious, anxius, and contrarius, which end in the syllable us and have the letter i before the final syllable? For shame and modesty prevent me from pronouncing them according to your rule." Now the other, overcome by the accumulation of so many words against him, remained silent for a time; but then he nevertheless rallied, and upheld and defended that same rule which he [p. 43] had laid down, maintaining that proprius, propitius, anxius and contrarius ought to have the same form in the vocative case as adversarius and extrarius; that inscius also and impius and ebrius and sobrius were somewhat less commonly, nevertheless more correctly, made to end in that same case in the letter i rather than e. But as this contest of theirs was likely to be continued for some time, I did not think it worth while to listen to those same arguments any longer, and I left them shouting and wrangling.

1 The campus Agrippae, laid out by the famous minister of Augustus, was finished and dedicated by the emperor in 7 B.C. It extended from the line of the aqua Virgo on the south at least as far as the modern via S. Claudio on the north, and from the via Lata to the slope of the Quirinal hill, although its eastern boundary is quite uncertain; see Platner, Topog.,2 p. 477.

2 The Greek digamma had practically the form of Latin F and the pronunciation of Latin V (the semi-vowel). The Romans used the character to represent the sound of f, at first with the addition of the aspirate h (as in heehawed, C.I.L. i2. 3 and xiv. 4123) and afterwards alone. Since V was used both for the vowel u and the semi-vowel v, the emperor Claudius introduced an inverted digamma (ϝ), to represent the latter sound; see Suet. Claud. xii. 3 and (e.g.) C.I.L. vi. 919. The writing of F for V, to which Gellius seems to refer, was apparently confined to a few grammarians; see Cassiodorus, vii. 148. 8 K and Priscian, ii, 11. 5 K.

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    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ROMA
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