Latinitas

I feel kind of as if Latin has got short shrift on my blog of late. As always, there have been some Christian ruminations, and the ever-present weekly poems. But because I started the weekly poems after I was done this year’s Latin poetry course, I have naturally run into more Greek than Latin poetry. Thus, Greek, more than Latin, has made its way onto my blog, with Archilochus and Phanocles, as well as more randomly such as remembering Robert Fagles.

Nevertheless, as it has almost always been for the past six years of my life, Latin has not been lacking. Since January, I read a number of Cicero’s letters, most of Book 30 of Livy, and all but 6 pages of Tacitus’ Agricola.

Cicero is a good writer. Very clear. Abundant as well. Something around 800 or 8000 of his letters exist, and well over half of the surviving literature of the Late Republic was written by Cicero, thus making him important for those interested both in the period and in Latin prose literature of the time (he thought he was a good poet, but none of it survived; the next generation gave us Virgil, Horace, Ovid, so no surprise here). But his letters themselves are not very exciting unless you know a thing or two about the Late Republic. Then they are more interesting, because they give insight into the people who were involved in these events, and you realise that real people who quite enjoyed the Republic and who in favour of the best men ruling (vs. the best man) supported Brutus.

Livy, on the other hand, is more exciting, as well as easier than the last time I read him. Book 30 is the end of the Second Punic War. This is the war wherein Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants and brought the camps of the Carthaginians right up to the gates of Rome itself. In this book, we see the derring-do and generalship of Publius Cornelius Scipio in Africa, as he and Rome’s allies inflict serious blows upon Carthage and its allies, forcing the Carthaginians to call Hannibal back home. The titans clash at a village near Zama, and Hannibal’s forces are defeated, in part due to Scipio and his legates being clever, in part due to elephants being very dangerous to anyone near them in battle. I don’t know if it’s in Book 30, but Hannibal later drinks bull’s blood and dies. Poor fellow, that it should come to that after occupying Italy for 16 years!

And then Tacitus’ Agricola. This is the eminent historian Tacitus’ first work. It’s a biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Agricola was governor of Britain for a while and pushed the Roman borders North into what is now Scotland, inflicting heavy blows upon the locals. It’s the first detailed record of the people and weather of Britain (rainy and foggy) as well as the first mention of any sort of Scotland, so it’s pretty cool.

This is just a brief thought about Latin and its never-ending, benign presence in my life. More posts discussing the language and its literature to come!

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