Tuesday, September 03, 2019



I was surprised to find no entry for ambubaia in Michiel de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages (Leiden: Brill, 2008), but then I read the disclaimer on p. 1:
This approach implies the exclusion of those Latin words which are certainly or probably loanwords from known, non-Italic languages, such as Celtic, Etruscan, Germanic, Greek, and Semitic.
J.N. Adams, "Words for Prostitute in Latin," Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 126.3/4 (1983) 321-358 (at 341-342):
I mention finally ambubaia, which is sometimes ascribed the sense 'prostitute'62). The word is Syrian (cf. abbub, 'flute'), and it must have denoted a Syrian flute girl. This is undoubtedly the sense at Hor. Sat. 1.2.1 ('ambubaiarum collegia, pharmacopolae, / mendici, mimae, balatrones, hoc genus omne / maestum ac sollicitum est cantoris morte Tigelli')63), and it is consistent with the context at Suet. Nero 27.2 ('cenitabatque nonnunquam et in publico, naumachia praeclusa uel Martio campo uel circo maximo, inter scortorum totius urbis et ambubaiarum ministeria'). Ambubaia is a term of abuse at Petron. 74.13, but the context is not sexual ('ambubaia non meminit se de machina? in<de> illam sustuli, hominem inter homines feci'); Trimalchio is suggesting that his wife has forgotten her lowly origins, and hence the sense 'flute girl' would be appropriate. The only slight evidence for the meaning 'prostitute' comes from the first clause of Porph. Hor. Sat. 1.2.1 ('ambubaiae . . . sunt mulieres uagae et uiles, quibus nomen hoc causa uanorum et ebrietate balbutientium uerborum uidetur esse inditum. nonnulli tamen ambubaias tibicines Syra lingua putant dici'), but a sexual implication would appear to be ruled out by the next clause. Moreover the second sentence suggests that Porphyrio did not know the word from current usage, and was merely speculating about its meaning. I conclude that there is no evidence that the word meant 'whore', either at the time of Horace or of Porphyrio64).

62) See, e.g. Schneider, PW XV.1.1019, A. Ernout and A. Meillet, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine4 (Paris, 1959), s.v..

63) For collegia of low performers, A. Kiessling and R. Heinze, Q. Horatius Flaccus, zweiter Teil: Satiren (Berlin, 1957), ad loc. (p. 25) cite CIL VI.10109.

64) Nevertheless popular performers were often prostitutes: see Herter, JbAC 3 (1960), pp. 97 ff.

If you were to read Horace, Satire 1.2 (Ambubaiarum collegia, pharmacopolae), in Arthur Palmer's school edition (1883; rpt. London: Macmillan, 1968), pp. 9-10, you might think that it's the shortest of Horace's Satires. That's because Palmer omits lines 25-134 as "scarcely profitable reading" (p. 132). The entire Latin text appears in the Loeb Classical Library, but H. Rushton Fairclough's translation is highly euphemistic and misleading in many spots.

Before you laugh at the prudish Victorians, though, consider how our own age "cleanses" books (e.g. those by Mark Twain and Enid Blyton) and other forms of art of their impurities. Some of our modern Bowdlers go so far as to demand that "Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden" be omitted from performances of Mozart's Magic Flute. We are prudes and prigs, just in a different way.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?