Is there an English translation of Varro’s “De lingua latina”?

I find that book 6 has an interesting bit on the bruma and the solstice; quoted in this post of mine.  I’d like to see a professional translation.

UPDATE: There are two volumes in Loeb, and they’re on Vol. 1 and Vol. 2


More on Choricius of Gaza

We’re interested in Choricius because one of his works contains a description of the magnificent celebration of the winter festival, the brumalia, by the emperor Justinian.  We’re interested in the facts about the brumalia because there are rumours online that Christmas is ‘really’ the brumalia.

This evening I find the following in the latest Patrology volume (tr. Adrian Walford), p. 269-70:

Chroricius of Gaza was the disciple and successor of Procopius of Gaza, whose close friend he was and whose funeral oration he delivered.  He spent the whole of his life in Gaza, which was then, in the 6th century A.D., at the height of its fame.  He composed encomia for Marcianus bishop of Gaza and other notables, a funeral oration for Marcianus’ mother Mary, and epithalamia for several of his pupils.  In addition there survive declamations on various mythological and historical subjects, and popular discourses on various philosophical subjects.  Although undoubtedly a Christian, his writings display no interest in theology.  As a rhetor, he was regarded as a model for later Byzantines.

Editions: CPG 7518; R. Foerster, E. Richsteig, Orationes, declamationes, dialexes, Leipzig 1929.
Studies: Photius, Bibliotheca, cod. 160 (ed. Henry, vol. 2, 121-123); H. Gärtner: Der Kleine Pauly Lexicon der Antike 1 (1964) 1159-1160; D. Stiernon, EEC 1 (1992) 201.

The mention of dialexes must be significant; one of these contains the Justinian material.  The content of his work means that he does not appear in Migne.

CPG 7518 is found in volume 3 of the Clavis Patrum Graecorum, p. 403; but just gives the 1929 edition.  However it does add that the edition also contains the funerary oration on Procopius of Gaza (p.109-128) and the oration on Mary the bishop’s mother on p. 99-109.

Few people know that Google books search gives different results if you are outside the US to inside.  It’s not just that some books are not viewable; the list of results differs.  This evening I have found more on Choricius, in Reinhard Pummer, Early Christian authors on Samaritans and Samaritanism, here.  Chunks on the Samaritans are given from Foerster, with Litsas’ translation, preceded by the following introduction:

Choricius of Gaza
c. 490 – c. 543

Almost nothing is known of the life of Choricius.[1] He mentions that he was born in Gaza but gives no further details about his life. Nor do any of his contemporaries, including Procopius, who was his teacher, speak about or refer to him. Later sources, such as Photius and Suda. speak only of his literary works. The approximate date of his birth is inferred from his first oration, held shortly after 518, at the occasion of the death of the mother of Bishop Marcian, Maria;[2] Marcian must then have been thirty or thirty-five years old. Moreover, at the time of the oration, Choricius already had established himself as an excellent rhetorician. For these reasons, he must have been born in the early 490s.[3]

There are a number of similarities between Choricius and Procopius. Like Procopius, Choricius lived all his life in Gaza, except for his studies in Alexandria and Caesarea; he seems to have declined offers to teach in other cities; and he was never married. His life was dedicated to scholarship, teaching, charitable work, and the administration of the school.

The extant works of Choricius can be grouped thus:[4] 10 Orations (lo/goi),[5] 12 Declamations (mele/tai),[6] and 25 Dialexeis (diale/ceij). The latter are either independent compositions about philosophical subjects or proems to longer orations. Choricius’ excellent education in classics comes to the fore in quotations from Greek writers, including Homer, Thucydides, and Demosthenes.

Choricius’ primary concern was rhetoric. Any historical data contained in his works are therefore incidental to his main goal and, in fact, are sunk “into a profusion of allusions, rhetorical nuances or stylistic ornamentation.”[7] The Samaritans are never mentioned by name. It is only through affinities with other sources, such as Cyril of Scythopolis’ Vit. Sab. 70, that we are able to tell that certain passages in some of Choricius’ orations make reference to Samaritan unrests in 529-30.

1 For a short summary see PLRE 3, 302.
2 On Marcian cf. PLRE 3, 819-820 (Marcianus 1); on Maria. PLRE 3, 827 (Maria 1).
3 See Litsas. Choricius 13.
4 Cf. the edition of Choricius’ works by Foerster and Richtsteig p. XXXV.
5 Encomia in honour of important personalities; epithalamia: and epitaphs.
6 On mythical, historical, and invented subjects.
7 Litsas, Choricius 64.

This is very helpful for those of us trying to get a handle on what Choricius wrote.  Some of the orations were published by Foerster for the first time in the late 19th century, prior to including them in his edition, such as this one, on Miltiades.  Online is also his orations on Achilleus and Polyxena here.

Choricius has a great deal to say on how speeches should be made.  In his funeral oration on Procopius, he says that “no non-Attic word ever passed his lips” (from here).  A couple of extracts from one of his orations are to be found here.

UPDATE (22 Dec. 2016): A translation of Choricius’ oration about the Brumalia, and a wonderful summary of information on Bruma and Brumalia, has been made by Roberta Mazza, and is online here.[1]

  1. [1]Roberta Mazza, “Choricius of Gaza Oration XIII: Religion and State in the Age of Justinian”, in: E. Digeser, R.M. Frakes, J. Stephens (eds.), The Rhetoric of Power in Late Antiquity: Religion and Politics in Byzantium, Europe and the early Islamic World, Tauris Academic Studies: London-New York 2010, 172-93.

Choricius of Gaza, the Suda on the “brumalia”

One of the authors mentioned in yesterday’s post about evidence for the winter festival of the Brumalia was Choricius of Gaza.  Apparently he records the magnificent celebration of this festival in the first consulship of the emperor Justinian.  If you’re like me, this is an author about whom you know very little.  He seems to be an author of the 6th century, whose declamations have come down to us, at least in part.

Unfortunately the 1929 edition by Richard Förster and Eberhard Richtsteig, Choricii Gazaei opera, does not seem to be online.  The Wikipedia article lists an English translation by Robert J. Penella, made in this very year, but of course none of us plebs have access to that.

I would like to pin down the portion that deals with the brumalia, and quote it.  There is an 1846 edition online here.  Unfortunately the only reference to the brumalia is in a footnote on p.305.

The introduction to the Penella volume appears here on this site, discussing the “twelve declamations” and gives the following reference:

…on the occasion of Justinian’s Brumalia, the sophist [Choricius] compares the emperor to Zeus, but makes no reference to his Christianity (Dialex. 7 [XIII]).

The excerpt on the site gives a very clear idea that Penella’s volume is a good solid piece of work, which I wish I had access to.

Moving on, the 10th century lexicon the Suda is online.  The entry (beta, 556) for “Brumalia” reads:

This was devised by Romus, since he and his brother Remus, having been born as a result of fornication, were exposed and reared by a woman. It was [considered] disgraceful among the Romans to eat someone else’s food. At drinking parties each guest would bring his own food and drink in order not to gain the reputation of being feeders-off-others. On account of this Romus invented the Brumalia, having declared that it was necessary for the king to feed his senate in the winter, when they enjoyed respite from war, starting with the alpha up to the omega, and he ordered the senate likewise to invite the soldiers. And when the soldiers were ready to leave, they used to play pipes starting in the evening so they would know where they would find their meal. And Romus devised this in atonement for his own outrage, giving the meal the name “Brumalium”, which is ‘to feed off another’s goods’ in the Roman language.

This gives no indication of when the brumalia was held beyond “winter”.

UPDATE (22 Dec. 2016): A translation of the oration in question by Choricius, and a wonderful summary of information on Bruma and Brumalia, has been made by Roberta Mazza, and is online here.[1]

  1. [1]Roberta Mazza, “Choricius of Gaza Oration XIII: Religion and State in the Age of Justinian”, in: E. Digeser, R.M. Frakes, J. Stephens (eds.), The Rhetoric of Power in Late Antiquity: Religion and Politics in Byzantium, Europe and the early Islamic World, Tauris Academic Studies: London-New York 2010, 172-93.

On “bruma” and “brumalia” in ancient Rome, as found in the OLD

There is a certain amount of wild talk around online about a festival of bruma, or the brumalia, connected with Christmas.  It would be interesting to find out what is truly known and discoverable from ancient sources about the nature and date of this event.  So I reached for the OLD!

According to the Oxford Latin Dictionary (p.243), the word bruma is the superlative of brevis (=short), i.e. breui-ma which became breu-ma.  Three meanings are listed.

1.  The shortest day, the winter solstice or the period during which this occurs, mid-winter; also (astronomical) the position of the sun at the winter solstice.

References are given for this:

ubi solstitium fuerit ad brumam Cato, Agr. 17.1; Varro L. 6.8.  eas (litteras) mihi post brumam reddiderunt Cicero ad fam. 3.7.3; dies continuos xxx sub bruma esse noctem Caesar, Gallic war 5.13.3; Vitruvius 9.3.3; Livy 43.18.1; Ovid fasti 1.163; Manilius 2.404; Columella Arb. 24; Pliny the Elder, NH 18.231; Terence Ph. 709; Cicero Div. 2.52; solis accessus discessusque solstitiis brumisque cognosci N.D. (?) 2.19.  (A couple more references to the latter meaning are also given)

2. Winter.

References are given for this, and also for a third meaning expressing “a winter” as a period of time.

The adjective brumalis is also listed, meaning “connected with the winter solstice”, the tropic of capricorn, or merely “wintry”.  For the first meaning it gives

Cicero Arat. 295 (61), de orat. 3.178, Div. 2.33; Lucretius 5.616; Ovid Pont. 2.4.25.

I need to look these up and tabulate them here.

A google search revealed remarkably little of substance, but apparently there is something in John Lydus, De mensibus (which we have met before!).  However doing the same search via an anonymising proxy reveals more.

John Malalas in his Chronicle 7.7 gives an account of the origins of the festival.  This tells us it was in the winter, and instituted by Romulus (or “Romus” as Malalas calls him).

Because of this Romus devised what is known as the Brumalia, declaring, it is said, that the emperor of the time must entertain his entire senate and officials and all who serve in the palace, since they are persons of consequence, during the winter when there is a respite from righting. He began by inviting and entertaining first those whose names began with alpha, and so on, right to the last letter; he ordered his senate to entertain in the same way. They too entertained the whole army, and those they wanted. . . . This custom of the Brumalia has persisted in the Roman state to the present day. — [The Chronicle of John Malalas, trans. E. Jeffreys et al. (Byzantina Australiensia 4, Melbourne, 1986), p. 95]

John the Lydian in his de Mensibus book IV discusses the Brumalia.  According to that secondary source it was celebrated between November 24 and December 17.  Apparently John says that the people all call it the festival of Cronos (i.e. Saturn).  Unfortunately I can’t see the references in that text.

Lydus’ description of the Brumalia, however, hints that the situation was not in fact quite so simple. This popular holiday, celebrated between November 24 and December 17, was a time of dinner parties and wishing one’s friends “vives annos.” It had an extremely long history connected with the celebration of the winter solstice, and Lydus gives many details of the pagan rites associated with it in antiquity. The holiday continued to be celebrated in Lydus’ time, for he notes that “to greet someone by name during the Brumalia is a rather recent development,” and more pointedly, “the truth of the matter is that people call this the festival of Cronos; consequently the Church shrinks away from this affair.” He goes on to tell about Cronos and the association of chthonic demons with the festival. If it were not for the mention of ecclesiastical disapproval, we would not know that the festival had any contemporary dimension at all. This is all the stranger because Agathias reported without censure of any sort that the Brumalia was being celebrated by the citizens of Constantinople at the time of a great earthquake in 577. Malalas also described the contemporary imperial celebration without flinching. We know that Justinian celebrated the Brumalia on a lavish scale with banquets and spectacles throughout the empire, as Choricius of Gaza’s Oration attests. In 521 Justinian had inaugurated his first consulship with magnificent entertainments during the Brumalia (on the day that began with the first letter of his name). As spelled out in Novel 105 some years later, this was in accordance with his attitude about the ceremonial responsibilities of the consulship to provide parades, games, and theatrical productions for the populace. The pious emperor felt no impropriety in celebrating the Brumalia together with the consulship. In another law concerning pagan worship, Justinian reiterated the idea that ancient festivals might be celebrated by his subjects – as long as no pagan sacrifices were performed. We see here the grounds on which he was prepared to celebrate time-honored festivals. He was no more concerned about the “paganism” of the Brumalia than he was about that of the consulship. Both were simply part of the secular ceremonial of everyday late-antique life, as far as the palace and the public were concerned. On one level de Mensibus can be seen as a simple expression of this interest and of the acceptance of certain civic celebrations.

Lydus’ comment on ecclesiastical disapproval, however, suggests a more complicated situation and requires that we look to a later period. Such ceremonial did not forever remain immune from charges of religious impropriety. By the end of the next century, attitudes would change considerably. The Quinisextum Council (“in Trullo” ) held in Constantinople in 692 proscribed in its sixty-second canon celebrations of the kalends, Vota, Brumalia, and Panegyris, festivals going on in Lydus’ Constantinople and all described in de Mensibus as they existed in Roman antiquity. Pagan associations that the church found merely objectionable in Lydus’ day assumed greater significance in the seventh century. Why did Lydus make a point of the church’s censure when the Brumalia was being celebrated without comment by the emperor and devout Christians? He evidently recognized its pagan (as opposed to merely antique) history, but did not wish to elaborate further. Perhaps the antiquarian material had not been completely neutralized after all. [Michael Maas, John Lydus and the Roman past, 1992, p.64-6]

Just as an aside, every time I read a passage of Maas’ excellent book, it makes my fingers itch to commission someone to translate the 111 pages of book 4 of de Mensibus!  Or even just the 8 pages on December!  It looks as if the passage is on p.174 (PDF p.276)  of the 1903 edition which is online. But back to the brumalia.

The festival was proscribed by the Quinsext synod (“in Trullo”) in 692.

Tertullian apparently also mentions the festival (De idololatria 14).

Suggestions are welcome as to where else we might look!

UPDATE:  Cato, Agricultura 17.1:

Robus materies, item ridica, ubi solstitium fuerit ad brumam semper tempestiva est. Cetera materies quae semen habet, cum semen maturum habet, tum tempestiva est.

Oak wood and also wood for vine props, is always ripe for cutting at the time of the winter solstice. Other species which bear seed are ripe when the seeds are mature, while those which are seedless are ripe when they shed bark.

Here brumam is used to mean “winter”, as an adjective for solstitium.  Or possibly “shortest solstice”?

Varro, De Lingua Latina 6.8:

Alter motus solis est, aliter ac caeli, quod movetur a bruma ad solstitium. Dicta bruma, quod brevissimus tunc dies est; solstitium, quod sol eo die sistere videbatur, quo ad nos versum proximus est. Sol cum venit in medium spatium inter brumam et solstitium, quod dies aequus fit ac nox, aequinoctium dictum. Tempus a bruma ad brumam dum sol redit, vocatur annus, quod ut parvi circuli anuli, sic magni dicebantur circites ani, unde annus.

8. There is a second motion of the sun, differing from that of the sky, in that the motion is from bruma ‘winter’s day’ to solstitium ‘solstice.’ Bruma is so named, because then the day is brevissimus ‘shortest’: the solstitium, because on that day the sol ‘sun’ seems sistere ‘to halt,’ on which it is nearest to us. When the sun has arrived midway between the bruma and the solstitium, it is called the aequinoctium ‘equinox,’ because the day becomes aequus ‘equal’ to the nox ‘night.’ The time from the bruma until the sun returns to the bruma, is called an annus ‘year,’ because just as little circles are anuli ‘rings,’ so big circuits were called ani, whence comes annus ‘year.’

This tells us that the bruma and the solstice are not the same.

Note: thanks to Bill Thayer for spotting the mistyping of De mensibus as De mensuribus! Oops!