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[13arg] That what we call pumiliones the Greeks term νάνοι.

CORNELIUS FRONTO, Festus Postumius, and Sulpicius Apollinaris chanced to be standing and talking together in the vestibule of the Palace; 1 and I, being near by with some companions, eagerly [p. 399] listened to their conversations on literary subjects. Then said Fronto to Apollinaris: “I pray you, Sir, inform me whether I was right in forbearing to call men of excessively small stature nam and in preferring the term pumiliones; for I remembered that the latter word appears in the books of early writers, while I thought that nam was vulgar and barbarous.” “It is true,” replied Apollinaris, that the word nam is frequent in the language of the ignorant vulgar; yet it is not barbarous, but is thought to be of Greek origin; for the Greeks called men of short and low stature, rising but little above the ground, νάνοι, or 'dwarfs,' using that word by the application of a certain etymological principle corresponding with its meaning, 2 and if my memory is not at fault,“said he,”it occurs in the comedy of Aristophanes entitled ῾ολκάδες, 3 or The Cargo Boats.

But this word would have been given citizenship by you, or established in a Latin colony, if you had deigned to use it, and it would be very much more acceptable than the low and vulgar words which Laberius introduced into the Latin language." 4 Thereupon Postumius Festus said to a Latin grammarian, a friend of Fronto's: “Apollinaris has told us that nam is a Greek word; do you inform us whether it is good Latin, when it is used, as it commonly is, of small mules or ponies, and in what author it is found.” And that grammarian, a man very well versed in knowledge of the early literature, said: “If I am not committing sacrilege in giving [p. 401] my opinion of any Greek or Latin word in the presence of Apollinaris, I venture to reply to your inquiry, Festus, that the word is Latin and is found in the poems of Helvius Cinna, a poet neither obscure nor without learning” And he gave the verses themselves, 5 which I have added, since I chanced to remember them:

But now through Genunanian willow groves
the wagon hurries me with dwarf steeds (bigis nanis) twain.

1 The palace of the Caesars on the Palatine Hill at Rome.

2 That is, a short word for short people. The derivation of νάνος, from which nam comes, is uncertain. Pumilio is connected by some with πυγμαλίων. = πυγμαῖος, “thumbing”; cf. Lat. pugnus: by others with peter and probes.

3 Frag. 427, Kock.

4 See xvi. 7.

5 Frag. 1, Bährens.

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load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
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  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), NANI
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), REDA
    • Smith's Bio, Cinna, C. He'lvius
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