Remembering unexpected words


“What’s the Latin for gout?”

There were five of us in a punt: a summer evening on the river. Why someone asked that question is unclear, but two of us in unison gave the word podagra; and we both knew where we had heard it.

  • confice; namque instat fatum mihi triste, Sabella
    quod puero cecinit divina mota anus urna:
    “hunc neque dira venena nec hosticus auferet ensis
    nec laterum dolor aut tussis nec tarda podagra:
    garrulus hunc quando consumet cumque: loquaces,
    si sapiat, vitet, simul atque adoleverit aetas.”
  • Finish me off: for a sad fate is upon me—one that an old Sabine woman chanted in my boyhood when she shook her sacred urn:
    “This boy will not be carried off by foul poison, or the enemy’s sword, or pain in the kidneys, or cough, or crippling gout: some time or other, a chatterbox will destroy him. It is prattlers he should avoid once he has grown up—if he is wise.”

This is Horace in Satire I.9: he has tried every trick to escape the bore who has accosted him in the Forum and will not let him go. Now he surrenders.

The poem is memorable, which is why our teachers in schools 200 miles apart had chosen to read it with their Lower Sixth: this was in the golden days before AS, when teachers could introduce pupils to what enthused them personally.


  • tum variae inludant pestes: saepe exiguus mus
    sub terris posuitque domos atque horrea fecit,
    aut oculis capti fodere cubilia talpae,
    inventusque cavis bufo et quae plurima terrae
    monstra ferunt, populatque ingentem farris acervum
    curculio atque inopi metuens formica senectae.
  • Then the various pests make fun of you: often the tiny mouse sites his dwellings under the earth and makes his granaries; or the moles, poor-sighted, dig out their bedchambers; and in hollow places the toad is found, and the numerous marvels that earth produces; and plundering your huge store of grain is the weevil, and the ant in fear of a needy old age.

Here in the first Georgic, Vergil describes some of the pests that plague the farmer. Here too some of the less usual words are memorable because they come in emphatic positions: mus, talpae, curculio.

Some of the anthologies and selections published in the 20th century are recommended for use with students who want to go beyond the syllabus.
A few examples:
Horace on Himself, A H Nash-Williams, G Bell & Sons
Cicero on Himself, N.Fullwood, G.Bell & Sons
Ovid Selections, C.E.Freeman, Clarendon Press
Caesar in Gaul & Britain, Limebeer & Minchin, CUP (younger pupils)
Fons Perennis, Sidney Morris, George G.Harrap & Co (mediaeval Latin)

Next post: more about Mnemosyne.

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