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A History of Roman Literature: From the Earliest Period to the Death of Marcus Aurelius

By Charles Thomas Cruttwell, M.A. (1877)

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A Smaller History of Greece
A History of Rome
Classical Literature

Book I.

Chapter I.

Early inhabitants of Italy -- Italic dialects -- Latin -- Latin alphabet -- Later innovations -- Pronunciation -- Spelling -- Early Monuments -- Song of Fratres Arvales -- Salian Hymn -- Law of Romulus -- Laws of Twelve Tables -- Treaty between Rome and Carthage -- "Columna Rastrata" -- Epitaphs of the Scipios -- "Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus" -- Break-up of the language.

Appendix. -- Examples of late corrupted dialects

On the Earliest Remains of the Latin Language.

The question, Who were the earliest inhabitants of Italy? is one that cannot certainly be answered. That some lower race, analogous to those displaced in other parts of Europe [1] by the Celts and Teutons, existed in Italy at a remote period is indeed highly probable; but it has not been clearly demonstrated. At the dawn of the historic period, we find the Messapian and Iapygian races inhabiting the extreme south and south-west of Italy; and assuming, as we must, that their migrations had proceeded by land across the Apennines, we shall draw the inference that they had been gradually pushed by stronger immigrants into the furthest corner of the Peninsula. Thus we conclude with Mommsen that they are to be regarded as the historical aborigines of Italy. They form no part, however, of the Italian race. Weak and easily acted upon, they soon ceased to have any influence on the immigrant tribes, and within a few centuries they had all but disappeared as a separate nation. The Italian races, properly so called, who possessed the country at the time of the origin of Rome, are referable to two main groups, the Latin and the Umbrian. Of these, the Latin was numerically by far the smaller, and was at first confined within a narrow and somewhat isolated range of territory. The Umbrian stock, including the Samnite or Oscan, the Volscian and the Marsian, had a more extended area. At one time it possessed the district afterwards known as Etruria, as well as the Sabellian and Umbrian territories. Of the numerous dialects spoken by this race, two only are in some degree known to us (chiefly from inscriptions) the Umbrian and the Oscan. These show a close affinity with one another, and a decided, though more distant, relationship with the Latin. All three belong to a well-marked division of the Indo-European speech, to which the name of "Italic" is given. Its nearest congener is the Hellenic, the next most distant being the Celtic. The Hellenic and Italic may thus be called sister languages, the Celtic standing in the position of cousin to both, though, on the whole, more akin to the Italic. [2]

The Etruscan language is still a riddle to philologists, and until it is satisfactorily investigated the ethnological position of the people that spoke it must be a matter of dispute. The few words and forms which have been deciphered lend support to the otherwise more probable theory that they were an Indo-Germanic race only remotely allied to the Italians, in respect of whom they maintained to quite a late period many distinctive traits. [3] But though the Romans were long familiar with the literature and customs of Etruria, and adopted many Etruscan words into their language, neither of these causes influenced the literary development of the Romans in any appreciable degree. Italian philology and ethnology have been much complicated by reference to the Etruscan element. It is best to regard it, like the Iapygian, as altogether outside the pale of genuine Italic ethnography.

The main points of correspondence between the Italic dialects as a whole, by which they are distinguished from the Greek, are as follow: -- Firstly, they all retain the spirants S, J (pronounced Y), and V, "e.g. sub, vespera, janitrices", beside "upo, espera, einateres". Again, the Italian "u" is nearer the original sound than the Greek. The Greeks sounded "u" like "ii", and expressed the Latin "u" for the most part by "ou". On the other hand the Italians lost the aspirated letters "th, ph, ch", which remain in Greek, and frequently omitted the simple aspirate. They lost also the dual both in nouns and verbs, and all but a few fragmentary forms of the middle verb. In inflexion they retain the sign of the ablative ("d"), and, at least in Latin, the dat. plur. in "bus". They express the passive by the letter "r", a weakened form of the reflexive, the principle of which is reproduced in more than one of the Romance languages.

On the other hand, Latin differs from the other Italian dialects in numerous points. In pronouns and elsewhere Latin "q" becomes "p" in Umbrian and Oscan "(pis = quis)." Again, Oscan had two vowels more than Latin and was much more conservative of diphthongal sounds; it also used double consonants, which old Latin did not. The Oscan and Umbrian alphabets were taken from the Etruscan, the Latin from the Greek; hence the former lacked O Q X, and used [Symbol] or [Symbol] ("san" or soft "z") for "z" ("zeta = ds"). They possessed the spirant F which they expressed by [Symbol] and used the symbol [Symbol] to denote V or W. They preserved the old genitive in "as" or "ar" (Lat. "ai, ae") and the locative, both which were rarely found in Latin; also the Indo-European future in "so" ("didest, herest") and the infin. in "um" ("e.g. ezum = esse").

The old Latin alphabet was taken from the Dorian alphabet of Cumae, a colony from Chaleis, and consisted of twenty-one letters, A B C D E F Z H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X, to which the original added three more, O or [Symbol] ("th"), [Symbol] ("ph"), and [Symbol] ("ch"). These were retained in Latin as numerals though not as letters, [Symbol] in the form of C=100, [Symbol] or M as 1000, and [Symbol] or L as 50.

Of these letters Z fell out of use at an early period, its power being expressed by S ("Saguntum = Zakunthos") or SS ("massa = maza"). Its rejection was followed by the introduction, of G. Plutarch ascribes this change to Sp. Carvilius about 231 B.C., but it is found on inscriptions nearly fifty years earlier. [4] In many words C was written for G down to a late period, "e.g." CN. was the recognised abbreviation for "Gnaeus".

In Cicero's time Z was taken into use again as well as the Greek Y, and the Greek combinations TH, PH, CH, chiefly for purposes of transliteration. The Emperor Claudius introduced three fresh symbols, two of which appear more or less frequently on monuments of his time. They are [Symbol] or [Symbol], the inverted digamma, intended to represent the consonantal V: [Symbol], or anti-sigma, to represent the Greek "psi", and [Symbol] to represent the Greek "upsilon" with the sound of the French "u" or German "u". The second is not found in inscriptions.

Other innovations were the doubling of vowels to denote length, a device employed by the Oscans and introduced at Rome by the poet Accius, though Quintilian [5] implies that it was known before his time, and the doubling of consonants which was adopted from, the Greek by Ennius. In Greek, however, such doubling generally, though not always, has a philological justification. [6]

The pronounciation of Latin has recently been the subject of much discussion. It seems clear that the vowels did not differ greatly, if at all, from the same as pronounced by the modern Italians. The distinction between E and I, however, was less clearly marked, at least in the popular speech. Inscriptions and manuscripts afford abundant instances of their confusion. "Menerva leber magester" are mentioned by Quintilian, [7] and the employment of "ei" for the "i" of the dat. pl. of nouns of the second declension and of "nobis vobis", and of "e" and "i" indifferently for the acc. pl. of nouns of the third declension, attest the similarity of sound. That the spirant J was in all cases pronounced as Y there is scarcely room for doubt. The pronunciation of V is still undetermined, though there is a great preponderance of evidence in favour of the W sound having been the original one. After the first century A.D. this semi-vowel began to develop into the labiodental consonant "v", the intermediate stage being a labial "v", such as one may often hear in South Germany at the present day, and which to ordinary ears would seem undistinguishable from "w".

There is little to remark about the other letters, except that S, N, and M became very weak when final and were often entirely lost. S was rehabilitated in the literary dialect in the time of Cicero, who speaks of the omission to reckon it as "subrusticum"; but final M is always elided before a vowel. An illustration of the way in which final M and N were weakened may be found in the nasalised pronunciation of them in modern French ("main, faim"). The gutturals C and G have by some been supposed to have had from the first a soft sibilant sound before E and I; but from the silence of all the grammarians on the subject, from the transcriptions of C in Greek by "kappa", not "sigma" or "tau", and from the inscriptions and MSS. of the best ages not confusing CI with TI, we conclude that at any rate until 200 A.D. C and G were sounded hard before all vowels. The change operated quickly enough afterwards, and to a great extent through the influence of the Umbrian which had used "d" or "c" before E and I for some time.

In spelling much irregularity prevailed, as must always be the case where there is no sound etymological theory on which to base it. In the earliest inscriptions we find many inconsistencies. The case-signs "m", "d", are sometimes retained, sometimes lost. In the second Scipionic epitaph we have "oino (unum)" side by side with "Luciom". In the "Columna Rostrata" (260 B.C.) we have "c" for "g", single instead of double consonants, "et" for "it" in "ornavet", and "o" for "u" in terminations, all marks of ancient spelling, contrasted with "maximos, maxumos; navebos, navebous; praeda", and other inconsistent or modern forms. Perhaps a later restoration may account for these. In the decree of Aemilius, "posedisent" and "possidere" are found. In the "Lex Agraria" we have "pequnia" and "pecunia", in "S. C. de Bacchanalibus, senatuos" and "nominus" (gen. sing.), "consoluerunt" and "cosoleretur", &c., showing that even in legal documents orthography was not fixed. It is the same in the MSS. of ancient authors. The oldest MSS. of Plautus, Lucretius, and Virgil, are consistent in a considerable number of forms with themselves and with each other, but vary in a still larger number. In antiquity, as at present, there was a conflict between sound and etymology. A word was pronounced in one way; science suggested that it ought to be written in another. This accounts for such variations as "inperium, imperium; atque, adque; exspecto, expecto;" and the like (cases like "haud, haut; saxum, saxsum;" are different). The best writers could not decide between these conflicting forms. A still greater fluctuation existed in English spelling in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, [8] but it has since been overcome. Great writers sometimes introduced spellings of their own. Caesar wrote "Pompeiii" (gen. sing.) for "Pompeii", after the Oscan manner. He also brought the superlative "simus" into use. Augustus, following in his steps, paid great attention to orthography. His inscriptions are a valuable source of evidence for ascertaining the correctest spelling of the time. During and after the time of Claudius affected archaisms crept in, and the value both of inscriptions and MSS. is impaired, on the one hand, by the pedantic endeavour to bring spelling into accord with archaic use or etymology, and, on the other, by the increasing frequency of debased and provincial forms, which find place even in authoritative documents. In spite of the obscurity of the subject several principles of orthography have been definitely established, especially with regard to the older Latin, which will guide future editors. And the labours of Ritschl, Corssen, and many others, cannot fail to bring to light the most important laws of variability which have affected the spelling of Latin words, so far as the variation has not depended on mere caprice. [9]

With these preliminary remarks we may turn to the chief monuments of the old language, the difficulties and uncertainties of which have been greatly diminished by recent research. They are partly inscriptions (for the oldest period exclusively so), and partly public documents, preserved in the pages of antiquarians. Much may be learnt from the study of coins, which, though less ancient than some of the written literature, are often more archaic in their forms. The earliest of the existing remains is the song of the Arval Brothers, an old rustic priesthood ("qui sacra publica faciunt propterea ut fruges ferant arva"), [10] dating from the times of the kings. This fragment was discovered at Rome in 1778, on a tablet containing the acts of the sacred college, and was supposed to be as ancient as Romulus. The priesthood was a highly honourable office, its members were chosen for life, and emperors are mentioned among them. The yearly festival took place in May, when the fruits were ripe, and consisted in a kind of blessing of the first-fruits. The minute and primitive ritual was evidently preserved from very ancient times, and the hymn, though it has suffered in transliteration, is a good specimen of early Roman worship, the rubrical directions to the brethren being inseparably united with the invocation to the Lares and Mars. According to Mommsen's division of the lines, the words are --

TRIUMPE. ("Quinquies")

The great difference between this rude dialect and classical Latin is easily seen, and we can well imagine that this and the Salian hymn of Numa were all but unintelligible to those who recited them. [11] The most probable rendering is as follows: -- "Help us, O Lares! and thou, Marmar, suffer not plague and ruin to attack our folk. Be satiate, O fierce Mars! Leap over the threshold. Halt! Now beat the ground. Call in alternate strain upon all the heroes. Help us, Marmor. Bound high in solemn measure." Each line was repeated thrice, the last word five times.

As regards the separate words, "enos", which should perhaps be written "e nos", contains the interjectional "e", which elsewhere coalesces with vocatives. [12] "Lases" is the older form of "Lares". "Lue rue = luem ruem", the last an old word for "ruinam", with the case-ending lost, as frequently, and the copula omitted, as in "Patres Conscripti", &c. "Marmar, Marmor", or "Mamor", is the reduplicated form of "Mars", seen in the Sabine "Mamers". "Sins" is for "sines", as "advocapit" for "advocabitis". [13] "Pleores" is an ancient form of "plures", answering to the Greek "pleionas" in form, and to "tous pollous", "the mass of the people" in meaning. "Fu" is a shortened imperative. [14] "Berber" is for "verbere", imper. of the old "verbero, is", as "triumpe" from "triumpere" = "triumphare". "Semunes" from "semo" ("se-homo" "apart from man") an inferior deity, as we see from the Sabine "Semo Sancus" (= "Dius Fidius"). Much of this interpretation is conjectural, and other views have been advanced with regard to nearly every word, but the above given is the most probable.

The next fragment is from the Salian hymn, quoted by Varro. [15] It appears to be incomplete. The words are:

"Cozeulodoizeso. Omnia vero adpatula coemisse iamcusianes duo misceruses dun ianusve vet pos melios eum recum...," and a little further on, "divum empta cante, divum deo supplicante."

The most probable transcription is:

"Chorauloedus ero; Omnia vero adpatula concepere Iani curiones. Bonus creator es. Bonus Janus vivit, quo meliorem regum [terra Saturnia vidit nullum]"; and of the second, "Deorum impetu canite, deorum deum suppliciter canite."

Here we observe the ancient letter "z" standing for "s" and that for "r", also the word "cerus" masc. of "ceres", connected with the root "creare". "Adpatula" seems = "clara". Other quotations from the Salian hymns occur in Festus and other late writers, but they are not considerable enough to justify our dwelling upon them. All of them will be found in Wordsworth's "Fragments and Specimens of early Latin".

There are several fragments of laws said to belong to the regal period, but they have been so modernised as to be of but slight value for the purpose of philological illustration. One or two primitive forms, however, remain. In a law of Romulus, we read "Si nurus ... plorassit ... sacra divis parendum estod", where the full form of the imperative occurs, the only instance in the whole range of the language. [16] A somewhat similar law, attributed to Numa, contains some interesting forms:

"Si parentem puer verberit asi ole plorasit, puer divis parentum
verberat? ille ploraverit diis
sacer esto."

Much more interesting are the scanty remains of the Laws of the Twelve Tables (451, 450 B.C.). It is true we do not possess the text in its original form. The great destruction of monuments by the Gauls probably extended to these important witnesses of national progress. Livy, indeed, tells us that they were recovered, but it was probably a copy that was found, and not the original brass tables, since we never hear of these latter being subsequently exhibited in the sight of the people. Their style is bold and often obscure, owing to the omission of distinctive pronouns, though doubtless this obscurity would be greatly lessened if we had the entire text. Connecting particles are also frequently omitted, and the interdependence of the moods is less developed than in any extant literary Latin. For instance, the imperative mood is used in all cases, permissive as well as jussive, "Si nolet arceram ne sternito", "If he does not choose, he need not procure a covered car." The subjunctive is never used even in conditionals, but only in final clauses. Those which seem to be subjunctives are either present indicatives ("e.g. escit, vindicit") or second futures ("e.g. faxit, rupsit".). The ablative absolute, so strongly characteristic of classical Latin, is never found, or only in one doubtful instance. The word "igitur" occurs frequently in the sense of "after that," "in that case," a meaning which it has almost lost in the literary dialect. Some portion of each Table is extant. We subjoin an extract from the first.

"1. Si in ius vocat, ito. Ni it, antestamino: igitur em capito. Si calvitur
antestetur postea eum frustratur
pedemve struit, manum endo iacito

2. Rem ubi pacunt orato. Ni pacunt, in comitio aut in foro ante
pagunt (cf. pacisci)
meridiem caussam coiciunto. Com peroranto ambo praesentes.
Post meridiem praesenti litem addicito. Si ambo praesentes, Sol occasus
suprema tempestas esto."

The difference between these fragments and the Latin of Plautus is really inconsiderable. But we have the testimony of Polybius [17] with regard to a treaty between Rome and Carthage formed soon after the Regifugium (509 B.C.), and therefore not much anterior to the Decemvirs, that the most learned Romans could scarcely understand it. We should infer from this that the language of the Twelve Tables, from being continually quoted to meet the exigencies of public life, was unconsciously moulded into a form intelligible to educated men; and that this process continued until the time when literary activity commenced. After that it remained untouched; and, in fact, the main portion of the laws as now preserved shows a strong resemblance to the Latin of the age of Livius, who introduced the written literature.

The next specimen will be the "Columna Rostrata", or Column of Duillius. The original monument was erected to commemorate his naval victory over the Carthaginians, 260 B.C., but that which at present exists is a restoration of the time of Claudius. It has, however, been somewhat carelessly done, for several modernisms have crept into the language. But these are not sufficient to disprove its claim to be a true restoration of an ancient monument. To consider it a forgery is to disregard entirely the judgment of Quintilian, [18] who takes its genuineness for granted. It is in places imperfect --

"Secestanosque ... opsidioned exemet, lecionesque Cartaciniensis omnis
maximosque macistratos luci palam post dies novem castreis exfociunt,
magistratus effugiunt
Macelamque opidom vi puenandod cepet. Enque eodem macistratud bene
rem navebos marid consol primos ceset, copiasque clasesque navales primos
ornavet paravetque. Cumque eis navebous claseis Poenicas omnis, item
maxumas copias Cartaciniensis, praesented Hanibaled dictatored olorom,
inaltod marid puenandod vicet. Vique navis cepet cum socieis septeresmom
in alto septiremem
unam, quinqueresmosque triresmosque naveis xxx: merset xiii. Aurom
captom numci [Symbols] DCC. arcentom captom praeda: numci CCCI[Symbols]
CCCI[Symbols]. Omne captom, aes CCCI[Symbols] (plus vicies semel). Primos
quoque navaled praedad poplom donavet primosque Cartaciniensis incenuos
duxit in triumpod."

We notice here C for G, ET for IT, O for V on the one hand: on the other, "praeda" where we should expect "praida", besides the inconsistencies alluded to on p. 13.

The Mausoleum of the Scipios containing the epitaphs was discovered in 1780. The first of these inscriptions dates from 280 B.C. or twenty years earlier than the Columna Rostrata, and is the earliest original Roman philological antiquity of assignable date which we possess. But the other epitaphs on the Scipios advance to a later period, and it is convenient to arrange them all together. The earliest runs thus: --

"Cornelius Lucius, | Scipio Barbatus,
Gnaivod patre prognatus | fortis vir sapiensque,
quoius forma virtu | tei parisuma fuit, [19]
consol censor aidilis | quei fuit apud vos,
Taurasia Cisauna | Samnio cepit
subigit omne Loucanam | opsidesque abdoucit."

The next, the title of which is painted and the epitaph graven, refers to the son of Barbatus. Like the preceding, it is written in Saturnian verse:

"Honc oino ploirume co | sentiont Romai
duonoro optumo fu | ise viro viroro
Luciom Scipione. | Filios Barbati
consol censor aidilis | hic fuet apud vos
hec cepit Corsica 'Aleri | aque urbe pugnandod,
dedet Tempestatebus | aide meretod votam."

The more archaic character of this inscription suggests the explanation that the first was originally painted, and not engraven till a later period, when, as in the case of the Columna Rostrata, some of its archaisms (probably the more unintelligible) were suppressed. In ordinary Latin it would be:

"Hunc unum plurimi consentiunt Romani (or Romae) bonorum optimum
fuisse virum virorum, Lucium Scipionem. Filius (erat) Barbati, Consul,
Censor. Aedilis hic fuit apud vos. Hic cepit Corsicam Aleriamque urbem
pugnando; dedit tempestatibus aedem merito votam."

The third epitaph is on P. Corn. Scipio, probably son of the great Africanus, and adopted father of Scipio Aemilianus: --

"Quei apice insigne dialis | flaminis gesistei
mors perfecit tua ut essent | omnia brevia
honos fama virtusque | gloria atque ingenium:
quibus sei in longa licui | set tibi utier vita
facile factis superasses | gloriam maiorum.
quare lubens te in gremiu | Scipio recipit
terra, Publi, prognatum | Publio Corneli."

The last which will be quoted here is that of L. Corn. Scipio, of uncertain date:

"Magna sapientia mul | tasque virtutes
Aetate quom parva | possidet hoc saxsum,
quoiei vita defecit | non honos honore.
Is hic situs, qui nunquam | victus ast virtutei.
Annos gnatus viginti | is Diteist mandatus,
ne quairatis honore | quei minus sit mandatus."

These last two are written in clear, intelligible Latin, the former showing in addition a genuine literary inspiration. Nevertheless, the student will perceive many signs of antiquity in the omission of the case-ending "m", in the spellings "gesistei, quom" ( = "cum". prep.) in the old long quantities "omnia fama facile" and the unique "quairatis". There are no less than five other inscriptions in the Mausoleum, one of which concludes with four elegiac lines, but they can hardly be cited with justice among the memorials of the old language.

The "Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus", or, as some scholars prefer to call it, "Epistola Consulum ad Teuranos" (186 B.C.), found at Terra di Teriolo, in Calabria, in 1640, is quite in its original state. It is easily intelligible, and except in orthography, scarcely differs from classical Latin. We subjoin it entire, as it is a very complete and important specimen of the language, and with it we shall close our list: --

1. Q. Marcius L. f. S(p) Postumius L. f. cos senatum consoluerunt n. Oct-
2. ob. apud aedem | Duelonai. Sc. arf. M. Claudi(us) M. f.
Bellonae Scribendo adfuerunt
L. Valeri(us) P.f.Q. Minuci(us) C. f. --
3. De Bacanalibus quei foideratei | esent ita exdeicendum censuere.
4. Neiquis eorum Bacanal habuise velet. Sei ques | esent quei
vellet Si qui
sibei deicerent necesus ese Bacanal habere, eeis utei
5. ad pr(aetorem) urbanum | Romam venirent deque eeis rebus,
6. ubei eorum verba audita esent, utei senatus | noster decerneret, dum ne
minus Senatorbus C adesent, quom ea
7. res cosoleretur | Bacas vir nequis adiese velet ceivis Roma-
8. nus neve nominus Latini neve socium | quisquam, nisei
pr(aetorem) urbanum adiesent, isque de senatuos sententiad,
9. dum ne | minus Senatoribus C adesent, quom ea res cosoleretur, iousiset.
Censuere. |
10. Sacerdos nequis vir eset. Magister neque vir neque mulier
11. quisquam eset. | Neve pecuniam quisquam eorum comoinem ha-
12. buise velet, neve magistratum | neve pro magistratud, neque
13. virum neque mulierem quiquam fecise velet. | Neve posthac inter sed
14. neve comvovise neve conspondise | neve compromesise velet, neve quis-
15. quam fidem inter sed dedise velet | Sacra in oquoltod ne quisquam
16. fecise velet, neve in poplicod neve in | preivatod neve exstrad urbem
17. sacra quisquam fecise velet, -- nisei | pr(aetorem) urbanum adieset isque
18. de senatuos sententiad, dum ne minus | senatoribus C adesent, uom es
res cocoleretur, iousiset. Censuere.
19. Homines plous V oinversei virei atque mulieres sacra ne quisquam |
20. fecise velet, neve inter ibei virei plous duobus mulieribus plous tri-
21. bus | arfuise velent, nisei de pr(aetoris) urbani senatuosque sententiad,
22. utei suprad | scriptam est.
23. Haice utei in coventionid exdeicatis ne minus trinum | noundinum
24. senatuosque sententiam utei scientes esetis -- eorum | sententia ita fuit:
25. Sei ques esent, quei arvorsum ead fecisent, quam suprad | scriptum
adversum ea
26. est, eeis rem caputalem faciendam censuere -- atque utei | hoce in
27. tabolam abenam inceideretis, ita senatus aiquom censuit; | uteique eam
28. figier ioubeatis ubei facilumed gnoscier potisit; -- atque | utei ea Ba-
29. canalia, sei qua sunt, exstrad quam sei quid ibei sacri est | ita utei
suprad scriptum est, in diebus x. quibus vobis tabelai datai
30. erunt, | faciatis utci dismota sient -- in agro Teurano.

We notice that there are in this decree no doubled consonants, no ablatives without the final "d" (except the two last words, which are probably by a later hand), and few instances of "ae" or "i" for the older "ai, ei; oi" and "ou" stand as a rule for "oe, u"; "ques, eeis", for "qui, ii". On the other hand "us" has taken the place of "os" as the termination of "Romanus, Postumius", &c., and generally "u" is put instead of the older "o". The peculiarities of Latin syntax are here fully developed, and the language has become what we call classical. At this point literature commences, and a long succession of authors from Plautus onwards carry the history of the language to its completion; but it should be remembered that few of these authors wrote in what was really the speech of the people. In most cases a literature would be the best criterion of a language. In Latin it is otherwise. The popular speech could never have risen to the complexity of the language of Cicero and Sallust. This was an artificial tongue, based indeed on the colloquial idiom, but admitting many elements borrowed from the Greek. If we compare the language and syntax of Plautus, who was a genuine popular writer, with that of Cicero in his more difficult orations, the difference will at once be felt. And after the natural development of classical Latin was arrested (as it already was in the time of Augustus), the interval between the colloquial and literary dialects became more and more wide. The speeches of Cicero could never have been unintelligible even to the lowest section of the city crowd, but in the third and fourth centuries it is doubtful whether the common people understood at all the artificially preserved dialect to which literature still adhered. Unfortunately our materials for tracing the gradual decline of the spoken language are scanty. The researches of Mommsen, Ritschl, and others, have added considerably to their number. And from these we see that the old language of the early inscriptions was subjected to a twofold process of growth. On the one hand, it expanded into the literary dialect under the hands of the Graecising aristocracy; on the other, it ran its course as a popular idiom, little affected by the higher culture for several centuries until, after the decay of classical Latin, it reappears in the fifth century, strikingly reminding us in many points of the earliest infancy of the language. The "lingua plebeia, vulgaris", or "rustica", corrupted by the Gothic invasions, and by the native languages of the other parts of the empire which it only partially supplanted, became eventually distinguished from the "Lingua Latina" (which was at length cultivated, even by the learned, only in writing,) by the name of "Lingua Romana". It accordingly differed in different countries. The purest specimens of the old Lingua Romana are supposed to exist in the mountains of Sardinia and in the country of the Grisons. In these dialects many of the most ancient formations were preserved, which, repudiated by the classical Latin, have reappeared in the Romance languages, bearing testimony to the inherent vitality of native idiom, even when left to work out its own development unaided by literature.


"Examples of the corrupted dialect of the fifth and following centuries." [20]

1. An epitaph of the fifth century.

"Hic requiescit in pace domna

Bonusa quix ann. xxxxxx et Domo
quae vixit Domino

Menna quixitannos ... Eabeat anatema a Juda si quis alterum
qui vixit annos Habeat anathema

omine sup. me posuerit. Anatema abeas da trecenti decem et
hominem super habeas de trecentis

octo patriarche qui chanones esposuerunt et da s ca Xpi
patriarchis canones exposuerunt sanctis Christi

quatuor Eugvangelia"

2. An instrument written in Spain under the government of the Moors in the year 742, a fragment of which is taken from Lanzi. The whole is given by P. Du Mesnil in his work on the doctrine of the Church.

"Non faciant suas missas misi
portis cerratis: sin peiter
seratis (minus) pendant

decem pesantes argenti. Monasterie quae sunto in eo mando ... faciunt
nummos Monasteriae faciant

Saracenis bona acolhensa sine vexatione neque forcia: vendant sine
vectigalia? vi

pecho tali pacto quod non vadant tributo foras de nostras terras."
nostris terris

3. The following is the oath of fealty taken by Lewis, King of Germany, in 842 A.D.

"Pro Deo amur et pro Christian poble et nostro comun salvament
Dei amore Christiano populo nostra communi salute

dist di enavant in quant
de isto die in posterum quantum

Dis saver et podirme dunat: si salverat eo cist meon fradre Karlo
Deus scire posse donet: sic (me) servet ei isti meo fratri Carolo

et in adjudha et in cadhuna cosa si cum om per
adjumento qualicunque caussa sic quomodo homo per

dreit son fradra salvar distino: quid il mi altre
rectum (=jure) suo fratri salvare destine: quod ille mihi ex altera (parte)

si fazet; et abludher nul plaid nunquam prendrai, qui
sic faciet; ab Lothario nullum consilium unquam accipiam, quod

meon vol cist meon fradra Karlo in damno sit."
mea voluntate isti meo fratri Carolo damnum


[1] _E.g._ Finns, Lapps, or other Turanian tribes.

[2] The Latin agrees with the Celtic in the retention of the dat. plur. in _bus_ (Celt, _ib_), _Rigaib = regibus_; and the pass. in _r_, _Berthar = fertur_.

[3] Cf. Plaut. Cure. 150, _Lydi_ (v. 1, ludii) _barbari_. So _Vos, Tusci ac barbari_, Tib. Gracch. apud Cic. de Div. ii. 4. Compare Virgil's _Pinguis Tyrrhenus_.

[4] It is probable that Sp. Carvilius merely popularised the use of this letter, and perhaps gave it its place in the alphabet as seventh letter.

[5] Inst. Or. 1, 7, 14. [6] In Cicero's time the semi-vowel _j_ in the middle of words was often denoted by _ii_; and the long vowel _i_ represented by the prolongation of the letter above and sometimes below the line.

[7] 1, 4, 7.

[8] This subject is well illustrated in the introduction to Masson's ed. of Todd's Milton.

[9] The reader should consult the introduction to Notes I. in Munro's Lucretius.

[10] Var. L. L. v. 85.

[11] Hor. Ep. ii. 1, 86.

[12] _E.g. edepol, ecastor_.

[13] Prob. an old optative, afterwards used as a fut.

[14] Cf. _dic. fer_.

[15] L. L. vii. 26, 27.

[16] Oscan _estud_. This is one of several points in which the oldest Latin approximates to the other Italian dialects, from which it gradually became more divergent. Cf. _paricidas_ (Law of Numa) nom. sing. with Osc. _Maras_.

[17] Pol. iii. 22. Polybius lived in the time of the younger Scipio; but the antiquity of this treaty has recently been impugned.

[18] Inst. Or. i. 7, 12.

[19] Or, accentuating differently, "quoius forma virtutei | parisuma fuit." We notice the strange quantity Lucius, which recalls the Homeric _uperopliae_.

[20] From Thompson's _Essay on the Sources and Formation of the Latin Language; Hist. Of Roman Literature; Encyclopaedia Metropolitana_.

Contents - A History of Roman Literature

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