Sunday, 8 April 2007

A conjectural supplement to Festus

quam magno deinceps ore tua, princeps inuicte, facta sunt personanda! quibus me licet imparem dicendi nisu et aeuo grauiorem parabo. maneat modo concessa dei nutu et ab amico, cui credis et creditus es, numine indulta felicitas, ut ad hanc ingentem de Gothis etiam Babyloniae tibi palma pacis accedat.

Thenceforth with how great a voice should your deeds, unconquered prince, resound! I shall prepare myself for them though unequal to the task of speaking and weighed down by age. Let only that good fortune remain, granted by God’s will and allowed by that friendly deity in whom you trust and to whom are entrusted, so that to this great [victory] over the Goths you may add the palm of peace in Babylon.

The closing words of Festus’ Breviarium allow us to date it. Valens had ended his (first) war with the Goths in the summer of 369, in a stalemate presented as victory, and he was preparing to move to the Eastern front – a move which is the context of the whole second half of the Breviarium (15-30).

Like his contemporary Eutropius, and Ammianus twenty years later, Festus referred in his closing words to the commonplace that the current reign was material worthy not of history but panegyric. And the style of his closing words is appropriately loftier. But not without awkwardness. In particular, after ad hanc ingentem de Gothis (‘to this enormous [something] over the Goths’) the reader has to supply a feminine noun from what follows, which will have to be palma, palm. Arnaud-Lindet’s translation shows the awkwardness:

‘…de telle façon qu’à celle, magnifique, remportée sur les Gots, s’ajoute encore la palme de la paix imposée à Babylone!’

Better, I think, to assume that a word has dropped out, and it can supplied easily enough:

…ut ad hanc ingentem de Gothis uictoriam etiam Babyloniae tibi palma pacis accedat.

As indeed I have supplied it in the translation above.

The reason for the disappearance of uictoriam is the similarity of ending with the word etiam which follows. The metaphor is also a rendered much more satisfactory. After all, in fourth-century art, the goddess/ personification Victory is standardly shown carrying a palm. Although palma can be a virtual synonym for victory in this period, an enormous (ingens) Victory/ victory is less incongruous than an enormous palm of peace, and a victory over the Goths is expressed as uictoria de Gothis far more easily than as palma de Gothis. See, for example, a few chapters earlier, where Constantine was ‘more glorious from his recent victory over the Goths’, recenti de Gothis uictoria gloriosior (26.1).

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