Thursday 12 March 2015

Ammianus Marcellinus and funny names

I want to make an observation on a Latin usage, as found in Ammianus Marcellinus. I have not seen it commented on with regard either to Ammianus or to other authors (surely somebody must have done so, though?). The usage is a particular variation on the use of nomine (i.e. ‘by name’) alongside a personal name when that person is introduced for the first time: a very familiar construction, for example A Bear called Paddington: Ursus nomine Paddington. This is definition 3 in the Oxford Latin Dictionary.

Ammianus has dozens of occurrences of the ablative nomine both with place names and with personal names. As in English, it can occur at any point where a name is introduced for the first time. However, one might expect it to be more usual with unfamiliar names (so not ‘the city called Alexandria’), and for toponyms, so indeed it is: the usage clusters in the digression on Persia and the east, for example, is used for Syriac names within the Roman east (Meiacarire, Abarne), or for the barbarous names of unfamiliar rivers of northern Europe like the Main and the Neckar. Likewise, the 25 or so contemporaries who are introduced this way (out of 480 odd whom Ammianus names) often have odd foreign names. They include Persians (Nohodares), men of Germanic origin (Sandan, Bainobaudes, Rando, Viderichus), and North Africans (Stachao, Igmazen), and the perhaps slightly unusual slave name Apadaulus.

However, there are a few individuals who are introduced this way more than once, which may seem unexpected: Maurus (the soldier who crowned the emperor Julian with a torque in place of a diadem in Paris in early 360 at 20.4.18 and 31.10.21); Romanus (the corrupt count of Africa, at 27.9.1 and 29.5.2); and – no fewer than four times! – the Sarmatian general Victor (24.4.13, 24.6.13, 31.12.6, 31.13.9). What do these have in common? The answer is clearly that their names are also familiar adjectives or substantives meaning ‘(the) Roman’, ‘(the) Moor(ish)’ and ‘(the) victor(ious)’ respectively. Latin had no definite or indefinite article, and the distinction between capitals and minuscule letters was not used to distinguish names from other words, so we seemingly have here a usage of nomine to indicate that the word it follows is a personal name. Let us look at the examples of Maurus and Romanus:

sed cum id quoque turpe asseueraret,/ Maurus nomine quidam,/ postea comes/ qui rem male gessit apud Succorum angustias,/ Petulantium tunc hastatus,/ abstractum sibi torquem… capiti Iuliani imposuit./ (20.4.18)
successor Maurus nomine mittitur comes/… (31.10.21) 
quam rem militaris augebat socordia/ et aliena inuadendi cupiditas/ maximeque Romani nomine comitis. (27.9.2)
Zammac comiti nomine Romano acceptus (29.5.2)
‘But when Julian asserted that that too would be base [to wear his wife’s jewels as a diadem], a man called Maurus [not ‘a certain Moor’] (later the Count who fought badly at the pass of Succi, then standard bearer of the Petulantes) took off his torque… and put it on Julian’s head.’
‘Count Maurus [not ‘a Moorish general’] was sent to succeed him’
‘This was increased by the soldiers’ idleness and passion for taking over other people’s property, and particularly that of Count Romanus’ [not, ‘the Roman general]
‘Zammac, who was close to Count Romanus’ [not, ‘the Roman general]

In the case of Victor, the ambiguity would potentially not be so great, but nomine is used when he is called dux (24.4.13 and 24.6.13) or magister equitum (31.12.9) or comes (31.13.9). The two nouns victor and dux in apposition would not necessarily be normal Latin for ‘victorious general’ (Ammianus does not use uictor adjectivally), but they might lead readers to a momentary double take (perhaps there was also potential confusion with the regiment called the Victores?). There are of course plenty of cases where Romanus and Victor are mentioned without this use of nomine – when they are part of a list of names, when they have already been mentioned, or simply when the narrative can make it absolutely clear that we are dealing a personal name.

Once we have identified this usage it can also make sense of a bundle of further examples. At 16.6.1, comes Verissimus nomine is count Verissimus, not a very truthful general; at 18.3.2 the general Barbatio had a wife called Assyria, not an Assyrian wife, just as at 28.1.8 the former vicarius Chilo had a wife called Maxima, not an enormous wife. Julian greeted with a kiss Celsus the governor of Cilicia, not the tall governor of Cilicia (22.9.13). Count Theodosius summoned a man called Civilis to be vicarius of Britain, not a polite man or a civilian (27.8.10, a case where the danger is not so much of ambiguity but of temporary confusion). The name Iovianus would not offer any ambiguity – there is no use of nomine for the emperor of that name, for example – but when it is the name of a soldier (23.5.12), there was potential confusion because there was a regiment called the Ioviani (after whom, one presumes, the emperor Jovian had probably been named: his father was their former commander). The name of the German king Hortarius only requires nomine, one suspects, because it appears in the genitive where there is potential confusion with the verb form hortari (17.10.5).

One case may merit a bit more thought. Immediately after Julian’s acclamation in Paris, soldiers surrounded the palace because of a rumoured attempt on his life:

strepituque immani excubitores perculsi/ et tribuni et domesticorum comes Excubitor nomine/ ueritique uersabilis perfidiam militis/ euanuere metu mortis subitae dispalati

The guards were alarmed by the terrible noise, along with the tribunes and the Count of the Domestici called Excubitor, and fearing treachery from the flighty soldiers, they vanished, scattered by their fear of imminent death.

In a short article (‘Zu Ammian 20, 4, 21: Excubitor nomine’, Chiron 5 (1975), 493-4), Joachim Szidat suggested that the comes domesticorum Excubitor, an otherwise unattested person and otherwise unattested name, may not have been called Excubitor at all. Rather, the use of nomine here is a different one, he suggests: ‘nominally (but not in fact)’ (Oxford Latin Dictionary, type 16b). He was nominally an excubitor, that is an imperial guardsman, but in fact he ran off. This is certainly attractive. It helps also to deal with the fact that there are no examples of persons with that name. Unfortunately, however, there are two objections, and two possible alternatives.

First, this use of nomine is not found elsewhere in Ammianus. Secondly, we have just seen that it is a frequent habit of Ammianus to use nomine to distinguish names from nouns when there might be ambiguity, and this is just such a case. One might of course wonder whether both senses could be present – that the general really was called Excubitor but that Ammianus wanted to hint that really, he was no excubitor. Indeed I have sometimes wondered whether Romanus nomine comes carries an undertone of ‘this supposedly Roman general’. Plays on names are not absent from the work of Ammianus. However, one would have to suspect that the simplest explanation is the best: that this is a use of nomine to make it clear that an ambiguous word is a personal name. Szidat is probably wrong. There is another, perhaps slim, possibility: this is the only sentence in the Res gestae where personal name or noun excubitor appears, and it appears twice. Could it be that the unparalleled appearance of it as a personal name is a corruption caused by a scribe rewriting the unusual word he had written a few seconds earlier in place of a not dissimilar name? In which case, the name is lost.

Some of the cases where Ammianus places nomine by toponyms may also arise from this usage:  a castle called Sumere (25.6.4; not the word for ‘to take’) or the city named Dura, not a hard city (25.6.9).

Does this exist elsewhere in Latin? Ammianus is of course a remarkably likely author in whom to see such a phenomenon, featuring as he does a great many names, in a narrative context, and in an age where people were likely to be designated by only one name and distinctive markers like the Latin praenomen had dropped out of general use. But I looked at Tacitus, Symmachus, and Sidonius. Tacitus generally uses nomine alongside exotic names, but at Annals 2.39.1 note Agrippa Postumus’ freedman, nomine Clemens, Clement by name. Symmachus does not usually use nomine with personal names at all, but his three examples are all telling: Ep. 3.36 Pirata (not the pirate); 3.49 Sabinus (not the Sabine); 4.24 Florentinus (not the Florentine). In Sidonius only one example, in letter 4.12: lectorem... Constantem nomine (Constans the reader, not the constant reader).

Since I am in Munich, I had better go and see what the slips of the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae have to say on the matter...