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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

The language is one, the speech is various: some peculiarities of the speech of Octavian Augustus

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Great actions, wars, conquests, the laws of famous men are usually counted, but apparently less important details are not usually offered. Thanks to the historian Suetonius, (born 56 years after the death of the emperor) who collects numerous data, rumors and anecdotes, we know some of the details regarding the way of speaking of Augustus, which make him closer and attractive.

Augustus cared language and always he sought a clearly intelligible speech, not without wit and grace. He enjoyed studying and reading since childhood. Always he prepared his speeches, writing and reading to avoid mistakes. Permanently he used auxiliary notes. He was exercised in declamation. He wrote several works in prose and verse. He tried to write a tragedy but he erased it because he was discontent for result. He avoided the  made, empty, archaic phrases. He always sought clarity using in his syntax unnecessary prepositions, as it is required by the grammar,  and trying to talk without darkness.

He used some peculiar and funny expressions, some personal terms. He was a transgressor of the established orthography,  thinking  that "we must write like we speak." Like all Roman cult people, he was a great lover of Greek authors, but he did not speak this language fluently and spontaneously. Among his personal "hobbies" in this field of letters,

I find a smaller, but no less curious: when he wrote, in his hand-writing , he  never divided the words, and at the end of a line he did not pass some letters at the beginning of the next, but he wrote these below  the same word, enclosed these with a bracket.

This solution has lasted until today in some printed works with modern typography and, of course, it was widely used during the Renaissance. The Romans themselves should see this solution with some surprise, because Suetonius collects it as something exceptional.

Finally, although the texts may seem a little long, nothing is like them to convey vividly the facts of history. I advise you to read the complete text of Suetonius “Life of Augustus”, not overly long. Meanwhile I extract or transcribe  some chapters of "Life of Augustus" of Suetonius:

LXXXIV 
From early youth he devoted himself with great diligence and application to the study of eloquence, and the other liberal arts. In the war of Modena, notwithstanding the weighty affairs in which he was engaged, he is said to have read, written, and declaimed every day. He never addressed the senate, the people, or the army, but in a premeditated speech, though he did not want the talent of speaking extempore on the spur of the occasion. And lest his memory should fail him, as well as to prevent the loss of time in getting up his speeches, it was his general practice to recite them. In his intercourse with individuals, and even with his wife Livia, upon subjects of importance he wrote on his tablets all he wished to express, lest, if he spoke extempore, he should say more or less than was proper. He delivered himself in a sweet and peculiar tone, in which he was diligently instructed by a master of elocution. But when he had a cold, he sometimes employed a herald to deliver his speeches to the people.
  ………..
LXXXV
He composed many tracts in prose on various subjects, …
….
for though he begun a tragedy with great zest, becoming dissatisfied with the style, he obliterated the whole; and his friends saying to him, "What is your Ajax doing?" he answered, "My Ajax met with a sponge.
" (1)

LXXXVI
He cultivated a style which was neat and chaste, avoiding frivolous or harsh language, as well as obsolete words, which he calls disgusting. His chief object was to deliver his thoughts with all possible perspicuity. To attain this end, and that he might nowhere perplex, or retard the reader or hearer, he made no scruple to add prepositions to his verbs (2), or to repeat the same conjunction several times; which, when omitted, occasion some little obscurity, but give a grace to the style. Those who used affected language, or adopted obsolete words, he despised, as equally faulty, though in different ways. He sometimes indulged himself in jesting, particularly with his friend Maecenas, whom he rallied upon all occasions for his fine phrases, and bantered by imitating his way of talking. Nor did he spare Tiberius, who was fond of obsolete and far-fetched expressions. He charges Mark Antony with insanity, writing rather to make men stare, than to be understood;  ….
…..
And in a letter where he commends the talent of his grand-daughter, Agrippina, he says, "But you must be particularly careful, both in writing and speaking, to avoid affectation."

LXXXVII
In ordinary conversation, he made use of several peculiar expressions, as appears from letters in his own hand-writing; in which, now and then, when he means to intimate that some persons would never pay their debts, he says, "They will pay at the Greek Calends." (3)  And when he advised patience in the present posture of affairs, he would say, "Let us be content with our Cato." (4) To describe anything in haste, he said, "It was sooner done than asparagus is cooked." He constantly puts baceolus for stultus, pulleiaceus for pullus, …. Likewise simus for sumus, … I have likewise remarked this singularity in his hand-writing: he never divides his words, so as to carry the letters which cannot be inserted at the end of a line to the next, but puts them below the other, enclosed by a bracket.

LXXXVIII
He did not adhere strictly to orthography as laid down by the grammarians, but seems to have been of the opinion of those who think, that we ought to write as we speak; for as to his changing and omitting not only letters but whole syllables, it is a vulgar mistake. Nor should I have taken notice of it, but that it appears strange to me, that any person should have told us, that he sent a successor to a consular lieutenant of a province, as an ignorant, illiterate fellow, upon his observing that he had written ixi for ipsi. When he had occasion to write in cypher, he put b for a, c for b, and so forth; and instead of z, aa.

LXXXIX

He was no less fond of the Greek literature, in which he made considerable proficiency; having had Apollodorus of Pergamus, for his master in rhetoric; whom. though much advanced in years, he took with him from The City, when he was himself very young, to Apollonia. Afterwards, being instructed in philology by Sephaerus, he received into his family Areus the philosopher, and his sons Dionysius and Nicanor; but he never could speak the Greek tongue readily, nor ever ventured to compose in it. For if there was occasion for him to deliver his sentiments in that language, he always expressed what he had to say in Latin, and gave it another to translate. He was evidently not unacquainted with the poetry of the Greeks, …


He patronized the men of genius of that age in every possible way. He would hear them read their works with a great deal of patience and good nature; and not only poetry2 and history, but orations and dialogues. He was displeased, however, that anything should be written upon himself, except in a grave manner, and by men of the most eminent abilities: and he enjoined the praetors not to suffer his name to be made too common in the contests amongst orators and poets in the theatres.

(An English Translation  by Alexander Thomson).

1.  In spongam incubuisse, literally has fallen upon a sponge, as Ajax is said to have perished by falling on his own sword.
2. It is against the grammatical rule
3. (3) there are  not calends in Greek calendar (the first day of each month is called so); "ad kalendas Graecas” means “for never”.
4. Cato is dead, we must be content with the men under current

84  Eloquentiam studiaque liberalia ab aetate prima et cupide et laboriosissime exercuit. Mutinensi bello in tanta mole rerum et legisse et scripsisse et declamasse cotidie traditur. nam deinceps neque in senatu neque apud populum neque apud milites locutus est umquam nisi meditata et composita oratione, quamuis non deficeretur ad subita extemporali facultate.
ac ne periculum memoriae adiret aut in ediscendo tempus absumeret, instituit recitare omnia. sermones quoque cum singulis atque etiam cum Liuia sua grauiores non nisi scriptos et e libello habebat, ne plus minusue loqueretur ex tempore. pronuntiabat dulci et proprio quodam oris sono dabatque assidue phonasco operam; sed nonnumquam infirmatis faucibus praeconis uoce ad populum contionatus est.
85 Multa uarii generis prosa oratione composuit, …
nam tragoediam magno impetu exorsus, non succedenti stilo, aboleuit quaerentibusque amicis, quidnam Aiax ageret, respondit Aiacem suum in spongiam incubuisse.
86 Genus eloquendi secutus est elegans et temperatum uitatis sententiarum ineptiis atque concinnitate et 'reconditorum uerborum,' ut ipse dicit, 'fetoribus'; praecipuamque curam duxit sensum animi quam apertissime exprimere. quod quo facilius efficeret aut necubi lectorem uel auditorem obturbaret ac moraretur, neque praepositiones urbibus addere neque coniunctiones saepius iterare dubitauit, quae detractae afferunt aliquid obscuritatis, etsi gratiam augent.
cacozelos et antiquarios, ut diuerso genere uitiosos, pari fastidio spreuit exagitabatque nonnumquam; in primis Maecenatem suum, cuius 'myrobrechis,' ut ait, 'cincinnos' usque quaque persequitur et imitando per iocum irridet. sed nec Tiberio parcit et exoletas interdum et reconditas uoces aucupanti. M. quidem Antonium ut insanum increpat, quasi ea scribentem, quae mirentur potius homines quam intellegant; …
…..
et quadam epistula Agrippinae neptis ingenium conlaudans: 'sed opus est,' inquit, 'dare te operam, ne moleste scribas et loquaris.'
87 Cotidiano sermone quaedam frequentius et notabiliter usurpasse eum, litterae ipsius autographae ostentant, in quibus identidem, cum aliquos numquam soluturos significare uult, 'ad K(a)l(endas) Graecas soluturos' ait; et cum hortatur ferenda esse praesentia, qualiacumque sint: 'contenti simus hoc Catone'; et ad exprimendam festinatae rei uelocitatem: 'celerius quam asparagi cocuntur.'
ponit assidue et pro stulto 'baceolum apud pullum pulleiaceum' et pro cerrito 'uacerrosum' et 'uapide' se habere pro male et 'betizare' pro languere, quod uulgo 'lachanizare' dicitur; item 'simus' pro sumus et 'domos' genetiuo casu singulari pro domuos. nec umquam aliter haec duo, ne quis mendam magis quam consuetudinem putet.
Notaui et in chirographo eius illa praecipue: non diuidit uerba nec ab extrema parte uersuum abundantis litteras in alterum transfert, sed ibidem statim subicit circumducitque
orthographiam, id est formulam rationemque scribendi a grammaticis institutam, non adeo custodiit ac uidetur eorum potius sequi opinionem, qui perinde scribendum ac loquamur existiment. nam quod saepe non litteras modo sed syllabas aut permutat aut praeterit, communis hominum error est. nec ego id notarem, nisi mihi mirum uideretur tradidisse aliquos, legato eum consulari successorem dedisse ut rudi et indocto, cuius manu 'ixi' pro ipsi scriptum animaduerterit. quotiens autem per notas scribit, B pro A, C pro B ac deinceps eadem ratione sequentis litteras ponit; pro X autem duplex A.
89  Ne Graecarum quidem disciplinarum leuiore studio tenebatur. in quibus et ipsis praestabat largiter magistro dicendi usus Apollodoro Pergameno, quem iam grandem natu Apolloniam quoque secum ab urbe iuuenis adhuc eduxerat, deinde eruditione etiam uaria repletus sper Arei philosophi filiorumque eius Dionysi et Nicanoris contubernium; non tamen ut aut loqueretur expedite aut componere aliquid auderet; nam et si quid res exigeret, Latine formabat uertendumque alii dabat. sed plane poematum quoque non imperitus, delectabatur etiam comoedia ueteri et saepe eam exhibuit spectaculis publicis
In euoluendis utriusque linguae auctoribus nihil aeque sectabatur, quam praecepta et exempla publice uel priuatim salubria, eaque ad uerbum excerpta aut ad domesticos aut ad exercituum prouinciarumque rectores aut ad urbis magistratus plerumque mittebat, prout quique monitione indigerent. etiam libros totos et senatui recitauit et populo notos per edictum saepe fecit, ut orationes Q. Metelli 'de prole augenda' et Rutili 'de modo aedificiorum,' quo magis persuaderet utramque rem non a se primo animaduersam, sed antiquis iam tunc curae fuisse
Ingenia saeculi sui omnibus modis fouit. recitantis et benigne et patienter audiit, nec tantum carmina et historias, sed et orationes et dialogos. componi tamen aliquid de se nisi et serio et a praestantissimis offendebatur, admonebatque praetores ne paterentur nomen suum commissionibus obsolefieri

These are the  texts that reflect education, literary taste and some peculiarities of the most powerful man in the universe at the time. It is these little details that make him more interesting and near.

   
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