Saturday, October 07, 2017


Late and Inferior Latin

[Thanks to Eric Thomson for the first part of this post. My additions appear after the horizontal line.]

Michael Grant (1914-2004), My First Eighty Years (Oxford: Aidan Ellis Publishing, 1994), p. 9:
As far as my studies were concerned, I now had to concentrate on trying to gain a classical scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge. I owed a great deal to the two teachers of the Classical Sixth Form, in which I spent nearly three years. They were Norwood himself and, to a larger extent, E V C Plumptre. When we were discussing Henryk Sienkiewicz's highly charged novel Quo Vadis, those being the words with which the ghost of Jesus reputedly stopped St. Peter when he was fleeing persecution in Rome, Plumptre commented: 'A classical Roman would have said Quo Is. What a pity our Lord spoke such late and inferior Latin!'
Michael Grant was St Peter's biographer (St. Peter, Prentice Hall, 1994), yet both he and his teacher attribute the words to Jesus. In the novel and the apocryphal Acts of Peter (Vercelli Acts) on which the incident is based, it is actually St Peter who asks the question:
'And as he went forth of the city, he saw the Lord entering into Rome. And when he saw him, he said: Lord, whither goest thou thus (or here)? And the Lord said unto him: I go into Rome to be crucified.' (translator M.R. James).
The "late and inferior" 'Quo vadis?' ultimately derives from St Jerome's translation of John 13:36 Λέγει αὐτῷ Σίμων Πέτρος Κύριε, ποῦ ὑπάγεις; 'dicit ei Simon Petrus Domine quo vadis'.

If these words were actually uttered in Jerusalem, then the Galilean dialect of Shemayon Keppa's question and Isho's reply would indeed have sounded rebarbative, "inferior" if not exactly late Aramaic.

Would a classical Roman have said "Quo is?" as Plumptre claimed? On the rarity of monosyllabic forms of eo in the classical period, see J.N. Adams, Social Variation and the Latin Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 794-795:
The reality (despite the desire of scholars to see late or Vulgar Latin as the forerunner of the Romance situation) is that monosyllabic forms had already been dropped by the classical period. E. Löfstedt (1956: ii.40–1) offered a few observations about Cicero's letters, remarking that ueni(t) is sometimes used there where ire might have been expected (on this phenomenon see Adams 1976a: 111), but a distinction should not be implied between the letters and the other works. Cicero's writings in general suggest that the monosyllabic forms were no longer in use. He has almost 260 examples of ire, with only two monosyllabic forms, of which one is in a formula from the official language (Rab. perd. 13 i, lictor) and the other is linked with a supine in what was probably a fixed expression (Nat. 3.74 sessum it praetor; cf. Sen. Contr. 7.3.9 ire sessum). Of over 450 instances of ire in Livy only six are monosyllabic (1.26.7, 1.26.11 twice, 3.48.3, 8.7.19, 9.11.13), and all of these are in the same official phrase as that used by Cicero. Sallust (42 times), Caesar (62), Valerius Maximus (25), Velleius (4), Pliny the Younger (18), Pliny the Elder (49) and Suetonius (15) all use ire more or less frequently but avoid the monosyllables completely.2 Petronius has it once, but in what looks like a traditional expression, of 'going to the head' (47.6 anathymiasis in cerebrum it: see Löfstedt 1911: 288 n. 1). In Quintilian, who uses ire forty-seven times, there are two monosyllabic forms, both in quotations (6.3.78,3 9.2.48). Tacitus has ire well over a hundred times but avoids the monosyllabic forms as well as ii(t). Seneca the Younger is an exception. He uses ire 132 times in his prose works, ten times in the form it and seven times in the form i.

Poetry was a different matter. Here a form such as it was bound to be useful, and if it was obsolete, so much the better in an archaising medium. In Ovid there are twenty-one examples of i and fifteen of it. In Virgil there are thirty examples of it (all but two in the Aeneid) and seven of i (all in the Aeneid).

2 On Pliny the Elder see Önnerfors (1956: 49–50).

3 Here a joke is reported in which is is picked up by redis. The collocation it/redit is a common one, found several times, for example, in Ovid (Fast. 1.126, Ars 1.93).
Adams (op. cit., pp. 811-819) also discusses vado at length, and remarks (p. 812) on its use in the classical period:
Vado seems to have been stylistically and semantically marked, referring particularly to an impressive, terrifying, threatening, rapid, dangerous or showy advance...

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