[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: orion "shore of the Essenes"


We both know that examining the evidence behind a claim almost always
uncovers problems -- and often generates controversy. You are to be
commended for taking a fresh look at the original Latin of Pliny, even as
I take issue with the particular translations you have offered. 

I am no expert in Latin and would welcome the observations of a seasoned
Latinist, especially one familiar with the elder Pliny. Nevertheless, here
are my opinions regarding your interpretation of Pliny's Natural History


You emend the text of 5.15.73 to read "(Prospicit eum) ab occidente litora
Esseni, fugiunt usque qua nocent."  As I understand your explanation,
however, you are treating these words as two separate clauses, like this:
"(Prospicit eum) ab occidente litora Esseni; fugiunt usque qua nocent",
which you translate as, "(Looking out) towards the west, (the) shores of
the Essene. They completely shun (that) which hurts [= pollutes?]."  You
supply the words "prospicit eum" from an earlier clause in 5.15.72,
"Prospicit eum ab oriente Arabia Nomadum", which you see as a parallel. 

I see five problems with this approach of supplying "prospicit eum" in

1.  It abandons the standard critical text, or at least its punctuation.
You need good reasons to do so since the standard text works as it is. 

2.  In my opinion, your approach misunderstands the sentence in 5.15.72,
"Prospicit eum ab oriente Arabia Nomadum", which you translate as "looking
out towards the East one sees Arabia of the Nomads".  This translation
does not account for "eum" ("it", i.e., the Dead Sea), which is the actual
object of "prospicit".  The translation also does not account for the fact
that "prospicit" is a third person singular verb and the main verb of the
sentence (not a participle).  Also, your translation has to assume yet
more words are to be supplied ("one sees").  In addition, your translation
take "Arabia" as the object of the supplied "one sees," ignoring the fact
that (as the nominative) Arabia is the subject of the sentence. If we
instead take the Latin subject, verb, and object just as they stand, we
have, "Arabia of the Nomads faces it."  

One critical part of your argument is that you understand "prospicio ab"
to be an expression meaning "to look towards".

What role does "ab" play in this sentence?  If you examine the context,
you will see that Pliny uses "ab" several times in this context in the
third sense given by Cassell's dictionary: "of the side from which a thing
is viewed, and so of the direction in which it lies: a septentrionibus, on
or to the north."  Thus "amoenis circumsaeptum oppidus, ab oriente Iuliade
et Hippo, a meridie Tarichea" in 5.15.71 means "enclosed by pleasant
towns, on the east by Julias and Hippo, on the south by Tarichea."
Similarly in 5.15.72, "Prospicit eum ab oriente Arabia Nomadum, a meridie
Machaerus" means "Arabia of the Nomads faces it on the east, Machaerus [in
English but not Latin we need to add: faces it] on the south."  

3.  You mention that another sentence stands between "Prospicit eum" and
5.15.73.  You do not mention, however, that the intervening sentence has
its own finite verb -- a circumstance which makes it much less likely that
the finite verb from the sentence before it will need to be supplied in
the sentence after it. 

4.  You want to supply "prospicit eum" in 5.15.73 with "litora" as
subject.  But "litora" is plural and "prospicit" is singular.  Because
they the two do not agree in number, "prospicit" can't be supplied here.
(Although you supply "eum" in your text, you ignore it in your

5.  Finally, if you keep the standard text with its punctuation, there is
no need to supply a verb because the clause already has a serviceable
finite verb, "fugiunt". Repunctuation is not necessary. 


Morphologically, "Esseni" could be genitive singular or nominative plural,
and "litora" could be nominative or accusative plural.  Since "litora" and
"Esseni" are not logically in apposition and the main verb is transitive,
only one of them will be nominative.  That means the first clause is
either, "On the West, the Essenes flee the shores," or "On the West, the
shores of the Essene flee."  

"On the West, the shores of the Essene flee" does not make good sense.
Taking "fugio" as "avoid, shun" (as you allow), "the Essenes avoid the
shores" makes sense.  

As you would punctuate the text, "litora Esseni" would certainly be "the
shores of the Essene."  (To take "Esseni" as genitive, you must also take
it as singular.)  But then notice how abruptly your singular Essene
becomes plural in the very next word, "fugiunt"!

You want to see a Semitic construct behind "litora Esseni". If a
Semitic-speaking source was controlling Pliny's Latin, wouldn't we expect
an "et" (corresponding to Semitic "v-") before the next clause to avoid
asyndeton? (Just a thought.) 

Finally, "gens" is nominative.  You want to understand "gens" in
apposition to the implied "they" of "nocent".  As I understand the concept
of apposition, either two substantives are in apposition or else a clause
and a substantive are in apposition.  I've never heard of a substantive in
apposition to an implied word.  In my opinion, "gens" is most logically in
apposition to "Esseni"; therefore they must agree in case. Since "gens" is
nominative, it follows (from the rule that the word in apposition agrees
in case with the principal word) that "Esseni" is also nominative.

Of course, you could supply even more words to solve this problem. 


Understanding "qua" as a relative, you take "qua nocent" as "that by which
(there is) hurt/harm".  As a relative, "qua" is ablative singular

Here are two problems with this approach. First, the plural verb "nocent"
does not mean "there is harm"; it means "they do harm."  Second, because
"qua" as a relative is singular and "nocent" is plural, "qua" cannot be
the subject of "nocent" (as in "they flee that which hurts" or "that by
which there is hurt"). "The place from which they had fled" is not plural,
and so it cannot be the subject of "nocent" either.  In summary, even if
"qua" means "that by which", "qua nocent" would mean "that by which they
do harm." The context has two possible plural substantives to account for
the plural verb "they do harm": they are the shores and the Essenes.
Choose one.  (The majority of critics have chosen the shores, as do I.)

"Qua" is often used as an adverb.  It seems to me that in association with
the adverb "usque" ("at every point") in 5.15.73, "ad" is used as an
adverb with the meaning "where", such that "usque qua" would mean "at
every point where".  

I may be way off base here, but I'm guessing that you're trying to
understand Pliny to say that the Essenes fled the place that was polluted,
i.e., the temple in Jerusalem.  In my opinion, he does not say that and it
would be stretching Pliny out of shape to make him fit Qumran data. 
Keeping the Latin text as it is makes more sense to me.

There is no need to posit a Semitic-speaking source.  The Latin works well
as it stands.  

To recap, I'd translate the Latin text, "Ab occidente litora Esseni
fugiunt usque qua nocent," something like, "On the west, the Essenes avoid
the shores at every point where they cause injury".   


Jay C. Treat
The University of Pennsylvania