Thursday, August 09, 2012
Locus Neminis and the Etymology of Nemus
The forests were in fact commonly referred to as the locus neminis, or "place of no one" (it is probable that even the Latin word nemus, or woodlands, comes from nemo, meaning "no one").Id., p. 255:
City and forest were thus rigorously set off from one another. In the forest one was no one—nemo. The res nullius stood over against the res publica in such a way that a sylvan fringe gave the civic space its natural boundaries.
My remarks about the res nullius and the nemus/nemo connection derive from Bechmann (Des arbres, 25-26).Harrison's source is Roland Bechmann, Des arbres et des hommes: la fôret au Moyen Âge (Paris: Flammarion, 1984), translated by Katharyn Dunham as Trees and Man: The Forest in the Middle Ages (New York: Paragon House, 1990), neither of which I have seen, except for a "snippet view" in Google Books.
It may well be that "The forests were in fact commonly referred to as the locus neminis," but I can find no example of the phrase prior to Bechmann. Also, unless I'm mistaken, there seems to be no etymological connection between nēmō (no one) and nemus (grove): see Alois Walde, Lateinisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, 2. Aufl. (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1910), p. 514, and Ernout-Meillet, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine (Paris: C. Klincksieck, 1951), pp. 436-437.