Monday, April 13, 2015


An Auto-Antonym: Crudelis

Richmond Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (1935; rpt. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962), p. 181:
In three inscriptions from Numerus Syrorum, Africa, the dead are called crudelis.62 An odd inversion of the proper sense, apparently, appears in the use of the terms mater (or pater) scelerata;63 mater inpia,64 crudelis inpia mater.65 Evidently the implication is that it is unjust for the parents to survive their children; therefore, though not responsible, they must in some way be guilty; or else the true meaning of the words has been misunderstood. The usage appears to be confined to southern Italy. Even more strange, perhaps, is the language in the following: filiabus male merentibus crudelis pater iscripsit.66

62 CIL 8, 9970, 21805, 21804. Cf. CE 1228 (Rome).
63 CIL 10, 310 (Tegianum), 361 (Atina), and 507 (Lucania, exact place unknown).
64 CIL 10, 2435 (Puteoli).
65 CIL 6, 1537 (Rome).
66 CIL 11, 1780 (Volaterrae).
I think that Lattimore's second explanation is the correct one—the meaning of crudelis in these inscriptions has been misunderstood. For the meaning in these inscriptions, which is the opposite of the usual meaning, see Oxford Latin Dictionary, s.v. crudelis, sense 3.c:
(of the dead or bereaved, app.) cruelly treated, unfortunate ... ~ES PARENTES CIL 3.5246; QVINTIVS VICTOR ~IS VICXIT AN(N)IS XXXV 8.9981; 8.21804.
This meaning of crudelis is not recognized by Lewis and Short, Latin Dictionary.

As for scelerata, see Oxford Latin Dictionary, s.v. sceleratus, sense 1.g:
(of persons) ill-starred, unfortunate.
Dictionaries don't recognize any meaning for impius other than wicked vel sim., but perhaps they should recognize the sense unfortunate, in light of inscriptions such as CIL 6.23123:
Cn. Numisius Valeria|nus vix(it) ann(is) VIII. | Epictesis mater fil(i)o | impio.
On the other hand, Christer Henriksén, Sylloge inscriptionum Graecarum et Latinarum Upsaliensis. The Greek and Latin inscriptions in the Collections of Uppsala University (Stockholm: Svenska Institutet i Rome, 2013 = Acta Instituti Romani Regni Sueciae 8˚, no. 23), pp. 34-35 of the "Text, translation, and commentary" (discussing CIL 6.23123), seems to prefer Lattimore's first explanation.

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