Monday, July 22, 2013


The Mystery of the Spicy Virgin

W. Tuckwell, Reminiscences of Oxford (London: Cassell and Company, Limited, 1900), p. 83 (on Trevor Wheler's unpublished diary):
He "sits" in the Little-Go school, and hears a man construe spicea virga a "spicy virgin."
Spicea virga is a sprout of corn (wheat for us Americans). But what Latin text was the man construing? I can find no example of spicea virga. See Lewis and Short:
spīcĕus , a, um, adj. [spica], consisting of ears of corn (poet. and in post-Aug. prose): "corona," Tib. 1, 1, 16 (24); Hor. C.S. 30; Plin. 18, 2, 2, § 6; Sabin. Massur. ap. Gell. 6, 7, 8; cf. "serta," Tib. 1, 10, 22; Ov. M. 2, 28; 10, 433; id. Am. 3, 10, 36; Claud. B. Gild. 136: "messis," i.e. of grain, Verg. G. 1, 314: “frux," Aus. Monos. de Cibis: "coma," i. e. the ears, Prop. 4 (5), 2, 14.
To the examples under "serta" add Ovid, Fasti 4.616. To the list of nouns modified by spiceus add "culmus" (Prudentius, Apotheosis 49) and "far" (Prudentius, Contra Symmachum 2.217).

Thanks very much to Karl Maurer for pointing out that spicea virga occurs in a poem by Johannes Bissel, in Vernorum libri tres, quibus deliciae veris describuntur. Editio altera (Munich 1640), p. 15 (
Nulla ibi sepositae Cerealia pabula vitae,
     Non seges, aut flavis spicea virga comis...

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