Wednesday, September 28, 2022


Afraid to Speak

Tacitus, Annals 4.69.3 (28 A.D.; tr. A.J. Woodman):
At no other time was the community more tense and panicked, behaving most cautiously of all toward those closest to them: encounters, dialogues, familiar and unfamiliar ears were avoided; even dumb and inanimate objects such as a roof and walls were treated with circumspection.

non alias magis anxia et pavens civitas, <cautissime> agens adversum proximos; congressus, conloquia, notae ignotaeque aures vitari; etiam muta atque inanima, tectum et parietes circumspectabantur.

<cautissime> agens Martin: egens M: <t>egens Lipsius: <se t>egens Vertranius: <sui t>egens Müller: reticens Weissenborn
A.J. Woodman ad loc:
The conceit is not simply that 'the walls have ears' but that they can speak and thus repeat what they have heard: for this complex of ideas see Fraenkel on Aesch. Ag. 37, Dyck on Cic. Cael. 60; Otto 266, Tosi 106 §230; Santoro L'Hoir 166 7.133 muta atque inanima (again at H. 1.84.4) is a fairly common combination (Cic. Verr. 5.171, ND 1.36, Rhet. Herenn. 4.66, Quint. 5.11.23, 5.13.23); tectum and parietes are commonly combined from Cicero onwards (e.g. Verr. 5.184).

133 In The Times for 20 January 1992 an article on informers in the former East Germany by the brilliant Bernard Levin was accompanied by a Peter Brookes cartoon depicting two apprehensive women walking alongside a wall which is topped with barbed wire and has grown a pair of very large ears. The conceit, albeit differently applied, also featured in numerous posters in World War II.

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