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Re: orion "shore of the Essenes"
Thanks for your detailed and specific feedback on my translated first
line of Pliny. I've recovered my notes, and have Cassell's at hand, though
not the Latin grammar and specific dictionary that I used, so here goes a
response to your critique of the first line of 5.15.73 of Pliny's Natural
History (before 79 CE). I should say that I did this translation before
Hirschfeld's find was announced in January, and that the translation is
not totally independent of our knowledge of a community way of life
attested by texts found in the area. However, it *is* different from my
presuppositions to a considerable extent. In other words, I have been
affected by the text as much as I have (hopefully) informed some of the
difficulties of the text.
According to Jay C. Treat:
> Pliny the Elder begins section 5.15.73 of his Natural History, with the
> following sentence (in the Loeb text):
> Ab occidente litora Esseni fugiunt usque qua nocent, gens sola et in toto
> orbe praeter ceteras mira, sine ulla femina, omni venere abdicata, sine
> pecunia, socia palmarum.
> Rackham's relatively free translation in the Loeb edition is,
> "On the west side of the Dead Sea, but out of range of the noxious
> exhalations of the coast, is the solitary tribe of the Essenes, which is
> remarkable beyond all the other tribes in the whole world, as it has no
> women and has renounced all sexual desire, has no money, and has only
> palm-trees for company."
> Recently on Orion, Sigrid Peterson offered the following rendering of the
> first two clauses:
> "(73) Towards the West is the shore of the Essenes, those who flee from
> (or abhor) everything that is polluted/noxious."
My retrieved translation and notes indicate that I took this (line 54) as
parallel to line 50. Both use <ab> rather than <ad>, which is strange, but
helps to establish the parallel. I translated line 54 as
"looking out towards the East one sees Arabia of the Nomads,
towards the south, Machaerus, once a fort second to
Jerusalem in Judea."
Another sentence, then line 54/section 73. The Latin is
<Prospicit eum ab oriente Arabia Nomadum,
a meridie, Machaerus, secunda quondam arx Iudaeae ab
. . . .
(Prospicit eum) ab occidente litora Esseni, fugiunt usque qua nocent,>
which I actually translated as
"(Looking out) towards the west, (the) shores of the Essene. They
completely shun <fugiunt> (that) which hurts [=pollutes?].
That is, I suggest that <litora Esseni> is parallel to <Arabia Nomadum>,
and both are further descriptions of the objects of the transitive verb
<prospicio> and its preposition <ab>, "to look towards." In every previous
case Pliny's source has expanded the description of the point of the
compass that is the direction of gaze. The genitive and ablative cases can
be used for such des
> Stephen Goranson was polite when he said he was unpersuaded by Sigrid's
> translation. I will be more direct. Her rendering is unsupported,
> inaccurate, and misleading. No conclusions should be drawn from it.
> Because the nominative "gens" is in apposition to "Esseni," we see that
Not necessarily. I take an implied subject as the "They" of <fugiunt>,
that is qualified and explained by <gens>. As a side note, the dictionary
definition of <gens> is very interesting; "a family united by a common
name and by certain religious rites." I think that having used that word,
Pliny goes on to explain that the <gens> in this case is not genetically
related to each other, but has worked out a mode of living that he
describes more specifically in further clauses.
> "Esseni" is nominative (nominative plural rather than genitive singular).
> Since "Esseni" is nominative, "litora" would be accusative (accusative
How is that? What rule supports you in this?
> plural of "litus, litoris" rather than nominative plural). Therefore, a
Here Jay indicates another way of parsing the sentence which ignores the
parallelism and the possibility of a Semitic speaker of Latin (Agrippa?)
who really really wants those constructs (Noun Phrases) in his/her mode of
If <litus> is accusative it could be either the object of <prospicit> or
of <fugiunt>. I have trouble seeing a "tribe" running away from a pursuing
beach, coast, or shore. <Prospicit> as a transitive verb already has as
its object the directions East, South, and West. <Noceo> takes the dative,
and is intransitive, so is not a contender. As a result, I would take
<litora> as a plural noun, part of a descriptive phrase with Esseni.
My daughter the Latinist takes me to task for using anything but the
strongest translation of <fugio> as "to flee from," but there are other
alternatives. Jay uses one below, "avoid." Other possibilities include the
following -- <fugio> as 3rd person plural indicative.
they are going into exile
Transitive (takes accusative)
They flee from, escape from, are exiled from
They shun, forego, avoid
They are averse to, avoid with scorn, dislike
> wooden translation of the Latin would be, "On the western side [i.e., of
> the Dead Sea], the Essenes avoid the shores wherever they do harm -- a
> solitary tribe and one more extraordinary than others in the whole world:
> without any woman, having given up all sex, without money, companion to
This part I translated "They completely shun (or flee, or exile themselves
from) that which hurts [=pollutes?]." I wondered whether <noceo> might not
be the best translation of the concept of impurity in the Judaisms of the
time--that which harms or hurts. It will take further investigation to
establish the equation I'm suggesting here.
I have completely departed, here, from Rackham's "but out of range of the
noxious exhalations of the coast." I don't see any Latin words underlying
"but", "out of range of", nor are there genitives for "noxious
exhalations" and "of the coast."
> Sigrid's rendering suffers from a number of mistakes, of which the
> following seem most significant.
> 1. There is nothing in the Latin that corresponds to Sigrid's "shore of
> the Essenes". The Essenes are the subject of the first clause; the
> "shores" are the object of the verb; and "Essenes" is not genitive (as in
> "shore of the Essenes"). Pliny is not saying that the Western shore of the
> Dead Sea is the shore that belongs to the Essenes; he is saying that the
> Essenes avoid the western shores to the extent that they are harmful.
> 2. The verb "fugiunt" ("flee, avoid, shun") finds its object in the
> accusative noun "litora". The word "qua" is not an accusative relative
> and therefore not the object of "fugiunt". "Qua" is an adverb, "where, as
> far as, to what extent".
<Qua> I have understood as "that by which" (there is) hurt/harm.
> 3. The verb "noceo" means "to do harm, inflict injury." Can Sigrid
> support her contention that the Latin verb "noceo" can mean "be polluted"?
> If so, which was polluted -- the Essenes or the shores?
Neither; the place from which they had fled or exiled themselves or
shunned or avoided--not specified, implied, by <qua>.
> What Pliny meant by this vague sentence has long required a gloss. Who
> was doing harm -- the shores or the Essenes?
> In short, avoid "the shore of the Essenes."
No, I like it there, and will go back. Thanks for the comments, Jay.
> Jay C. Treat
> The University of Pennsylvania email: email@example.com
All the best,
Sigrid Peterson University of Pennsylvania firstname.lastname@example.org