Elliott Lash wrote:
> Ray (responding to And) wrote:
>> In fact there are 720 possible arrangements of the six
>> words. There is, as far as I can see, no significant
>> difference in meaning between any of them. Certainly
>> they would all be given 100% identical form in the "box
>> analysis" we used at school in the 1950s; and each
>> would would be parsed in precisely the same way,
>> whatever the order of words.
I should, I think, make it clear it so happens that in this
fairly simple sentence of six words this is so. It should
*not* be imagined that all the words in any Latin sentence
can always been arranged in any order without change of
meaning or, indeed, without producing nonsense. There were
constraints - even in verse ;)
>>> E.g. if in any given context, speakers found the
>>> variants completely interchangeable.
>> They are not completely interchangeable in that, for
>> examples, the constraints of the dactylic hexameter
>> allow only six of the 720 arrangements. In prose, the
>> order would be constrained within a given context by
>> consideration of topic, comment and focus. The
>> unmarked word order is SVO. Variation is caused by
>> fronting topics, with comment following, and by moving
>> an element which is 'focus' (i.e. the most important
>> new information) to the end.
> Given this information, I have been thinking about this
> and I wonder whether something like the following
> scenario makes any sense:
> Since it seems that variant word order in prose was
> determined partly by discourse considerations (which is
> basically what my original hypothesis was), could it not
> be that when Latin poets developed or borrowed (from
> Greek?) dactylic hexameter,
Adopted from the Greeks and then adapted by the Romans ;)
> they noticed that certain
> word order variants that were generative by normal
> topic/comment/focus considerations in speech and prose
> would work well to fit the meter and others would
> not?That is, their grammar (the abstract system of rules
> that generative grammarians say is given partly by
> principles of UG) allowed them to generative word order
> to express distinctions of topic/comment, etc, and then
> they reused these word orders in a purely stylistic way -
Certainly considerations of style and rhythm played a large
part in verse. But even in certain types of prose, these
considerations were by no means absent. Cicero, for
example, was very conscious of elegance and balance with the
arrangement of subordinate clauses and he strenuously
avoided finishing sentences with anything that sounded like
a verse rhythm but consciously strove for other cadences.
I think it is difficult for us to put ourselves back into a
world where the bulk of educated and literary language was
_heard_, not read (Why, Romans even had educated slaves to
read the stuff to them!).
The ancients were far more conscious of things like sound
and rhythm than we are. When we hear, for example, a
politician speaking, we are not likely to be thinking much
at all about the arrangement of her/his subordinate clauses
or of the rhythms of the cadences of his sentences! If we
applaud or boo such a speaker it will be for what s/he says,
not the way it is said.
> In this case, the grammatical rule is submerged and a
> stylistic principle wins out. However, I think that a
> generativist would say that the rule was primary the
> stylistic principle was an exaptation - a reuse.
Certainly, "ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas" is not
exactly what we would expect in prose. But the 'new age' is
certainly the focus - the new information - that Vergil
wants to convey, and it sets the theme for the rest of the poem.
The line in question is the 4th line of the 4th Eclogue. In
the first three lines he has said, in effect, that the usual
pastoral themes will not do; he is to sing of something
loftier. In fact the poem heralds an age of peace and rural
felicity - the return of the "golden age" (which indeed many
Romans hoped for under Augustus after a century or more of
Some have found the poem reminiscent of passages of Isaiah.
I think it most unlikely Vergil knew of the Hebrew
scriptures and that apparent similarities are coincidental.
But the poem also tells of the birth of a young child that
will herald in the new age. It's not clear who Vergil
meant, tho the general opinion is that it was a son of the
consul Pollio. But in the Middle Ages the poem was taken as
prophecy of Christ, and Vergil was seen as a sort of 'pagan
But I digress. To put the lines in context, I quote the
first four lines in C. Day Lewis' verse translation:
Sicilian Muse, I would try now a somewhat grander theme.
Shrubberies or meek tamarisks are not for all; but if it's
Forests I sing, may the forests be worthy of a consul.
Ours is the crowning era foretold in prophecy.
I like "crowning era" as a translation of 'ultima ...
aetas'; IMO it gets the meaning across better than "the last
age"; and "prophecy" is what is meant by 'carminis', since
oracles (such as at Cumae and Delphi) gave their messages in
Possibly in prose one might have: 'iam venit Cumaei carminis
ultima aeatas' - already there has come the crowning era of
which the Cumaean sibyl sang - rather than the lame: ultima
aetas Cumaei carminis iam venit.
In short, in this line the word order is surely determined
by several factors, e.g.:
- topic, comment and focus;
- elegance and balance;
- constraints of dactylic hexameter.
The first two considerations are by no means absent from
prose writing also - but the third obviously applies to poetry.
Nid rhy hen neb i ddysgu.
There's none too old to learn.