Monday, May 09, 2016


The Earth and the Fulness Thereof, the World and They That Dwell Therein

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 2.39.98-99 (tr. H. Rackham):
And first let us behold the whole earth, situated in the centre of the world, a solid spherical mass gathered into a globe by the natural gravitation of all its parts, clothed with flowers and grass and trees and corn, forms of vegetation all of them incredibly numerous and inexhaustibly varied and diverse. Add to these cool fountains ever flowing, transparent streams and rivers, their banks clad in brighest verdure, deep vaulted caverns, craggy rocks, sheer mountain heights and plains of immeasurable extent; add also the hidden veins of gold and silver, and marble in unlimited quantity.

Think of all the various species of animals, both tame and wild! think of the flights and songs of birds! of the pastures filled with cattle, and the teeming life of the woodlands! Then why need I speak of the race of men? who are as it were the appointed tillers of the soil, and who suffer it not to become a savage haunt of monstrous beasts of prey nor a barren waste of thickets and brambles, and whose industry diversifies and adorns the lands and islands and coasts with houses and cities. Could we but behold these things with our eyes as we can picture them in our minds, no one taking in the whole earth at one view could doubt the divine reason.

Ac principio terra universa cernatur, locata in media sede mundi, solida et globosa et undique ipsa in sese nutibus suis conglobata, vestita floribus herbis arboribus frugibus, quorum omnium incredibilis multitudo insatiabili varietate distinguitur. Adde huc fontium gelidas perennitates, liquores perlucidos amnium, riparum vestitus viridissimos, speluncarum concavas altitudines, saxorum asperitates, inpendentium montium altitudines inmensitatesque camporum; adde etiam reconditas auri argentique venas infinitamque vim marmoris.

Quae vero et quam varia genera bestiarum vel cicurum vel ferarum! qui volucrium lapsus atque cantus! qui pecudum pastus! quae vita silvestrium! Quid iam de hominum genere dicam? qui quasi cultores terrae constituti non patiuntur eam nec inmanitate beluarum efferari nec stirpium asperitate vastari, quorumque operibus agri, insulae litoraque collucent distincta tectis et urbibus. Quae si ut animis sic oculis videre possemus, nemo cunctam intuens terram de divina ratione dubitaret.
George G. Ramsay, Latin Prose Composition, 3rd ed., Vol. II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1893), pp. lxxix-lxxx:
Various points call for notice in the above passage.

(1) In media mundi parte reconditas auri argentique venas. Note the position of mundi and of auri argentique: boxed up respectively between media and parte, and between reconditas and venas, they make the connection unmistakeable. See what is said on 'Loose Connection,' Vol. I. App. § 31 (o).

(2) Vestita floribus, herbis, arboribus. Mark the force of the Asyndeton. When several nouns are coupled together, the rule is to use the copula with each noun, or with none.

(3) Quorum omnium. This is the usual order. The relative almost invariably comes first.

(4) Fontium gelidas perennitates....speluncarum concavas altitudines, etc. Note the especial force and beauty of these Abstract Plurals. The use of the Plural is to suggest the various particular instances of the thing mentioned; hence it is more concrete than the Singular, and used for that reason. Yet we also have below immanitate belluarum, stirpium vastitate [sic, read asperitate], etc., where the qualities are, as it were, poetically personified.

(5) Note especially the use of the figure Chiasmus. Where two nouns are strung together, or contrasted, each with an Adjective or other word qualifying it, it is usual to put the corresponding words either next to each other, or removed from each other, so as to emphasise the antithesis. Thus montium altitudines immensitatesque camporum; fontium gelidas perennitates, liquores perlucidos amnium; nec immanitate belluarum nec stirpium asperitate, etc.

(6) Quae si, ut animis, sic oculis, etc.: this is the almost invariable order of ut....sic in comparisons. The sic Clause comes last, because most important: in English we usually prefer the reverse order.
Richard Jenkyns, Virgil's Experience. Nature and History: Times, Names, and Places (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 110-111:
And the speaker goes on to expatiate on the beauties of sea and air. At the root of this is still the old Homeric view, that nature is delightful when it is commodious—when its roughness has been tamed by man to his own profit and convenience. Cities (or towns) are seen as purely pleasing. But grafted on to this is a more romantic idea: caves, rough rocks, and overhanging mountains are attractive in themselves, part of the evidence for divine providence and the good planning of the world. Here we catch the sensibility that Virgil was to deepen and enrich when he created the harbour of the first Aeneid; we may also fancy a likeness to the landscapes that were being painted on the walls of rich men's homes at this period. In this passage we feel Cicero (or Stoicism) to fit a large pattern of cultural history and to be comfortably in the flow of an old but evolving tradition: as he moves from wild to cultivated nature, he seems closer to the second Georgic than to Homer. Houses and towns take their modest place in a broadly expansive prospect that embraces shores and islands as well as agricultural land; nature is valued first and foremost for its beauty and only secondarily for its practical use.

This vision of nature is still centred upon man, and indeed is offered as a demonstration of the divine forethought for humankind; even the caves and cliffs are put into the world, as on to the walls of those villas, to gratify our eyes.

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