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[5arg] The meaning of vestibulum and the various derivations proposed for the word.

THERE are numerous words which we use commonly, without however clearly knowing what their proper and exact meaning is; but following an uncertain and vulgar tradition without investigating the matter, we seem to say what we mean rather than say it; an example is vestibulum or “vestibule,” a word frequently met in conversation, yet not wholly clear to all who readily make use of it. For I have observed that some men who are by [p. 145] no means without learning think that the vestibule is the front part of the house, which is commonly known as the atrium. Gaius Aelius Gallus, in the second book of his work On the Meaning of Words relating to the Civil Law, says 1 that the vestibule is not in the house itself, nor is it a part of the house, but is an open place before the door of the house, through which there is approach and access to the house from the street, while on the right and left the door is hemmed in by buildings extended to the street and the door itself is at a distance from the street, separated from it by this vacant space. Furthermore, it is often inquired what the derivation of this word is; but nearly everything that I have read on the subject has seemed awkward and absurd. But what I recall hearing from Sulpicius Apollinaris, a man of choice learning, is as follows: “The particle ve, like some others, is now intensive and now the reverse; for of vetis and vehenens, the former is made by intensifying the idea of age, with elision, 2 and the latter from the power and force of the mind. But vescus, which is formed from the particle ve and esca, assumes the force of both opposite meanings. For Lucretius 3 uses vescum salem, or ' devouring salt,' in one sense, indicating a strong propensity to eat, Lucilius 4 in the other sense, of fastidiousness in eating. 5 Those then in early times who made spacious houses left a vacant place before the entrance, midway between the door of the house and the street. There those who had come to pay their respects to the master of [p. 147] the house took their places before they were admitted, standing neither in the street nor within the house. Therefore from that standing in a large space, and as it were from a kind of 'standing place,' the name vestibule was given to the great places left, as I have said, before the doors of houses, in which those who had come to call stood, before they were admitted to the house. 6 But we shall have to bear in mind that this word was not always used literally by the early writers, but in various figurative senses, which however are so formed as not to differ widely from that proper meaning which we have mentioned, as for example in the sixth book of Vergil: 7
Before the vestibule, e'en in Hell's very jaws,
Avenging Cares and Grief have made their beds.
For he does not call the front part of the infernal dwelling the 'vestibule,' although one might be misled into thinking it so called, but he designates two places outside the doors of Orcus, the ' vestibule' and the fauces, of which 'vestibule' is applied to the part as it were before the house itself and before the private rooms of Orcus, while fauces designates the narrow passage through which the vestibule was approached.” 8

[p. 149]

1 Frag. 5, Huschke; 23, Bremer.

2 Properly syncope; from ve + actas! On vehemens see note on v. 12. 10 (i, p. 414).

3 i. 326; see v. 12. 10 and note.

4 v. 602, Marx.

5 Munro, on Lucr. i. 326, takes vescus in the sense of “slowly eating away” which would correspond with Lucilius' use of the word.

6 This derivation is correct, but re- is used in the sense of “apart.”

7 Aen. vi. 273.

8 In the Roman house the term faces was applied to the passageway leading from the front door into the atrium. The fauces and the vestibulum formed one continuous passageway, separated by the door, the fauces being inside and the vesti. bulum outside; see Harv. Stud. Class. Phil. i. 1 ff. and most modern handbooks. In § 10 vestibulum is correctly defined; in § 12 the relative positions of fauces and vestibulum are inverted, and both are put “outside the door.” The vestibulum can properly be said to be “approached” by the fauces only from within. Virgil probably used fauces in its ordinary sense of “jaws.”

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