December 24, 2003

An Interesting Choice Of Example

Leafing through Craig W. Kallendorf's new edition of Humanist Educational Treatises (I Tatti Renaissance Library 5, Harvard, 2002), I stumbled across this passage on page 271:

. . . students should master the difference between the verbs called "active" and "neutral" verbs, i.e., that there can be no passive forms of neutral verbs in either the first or second person when the speaker is an individual -- that is, no one could say "I am ploughed, you are ploughed" [Ego aror, Tu araris] and be correct.

I wonder if the author (Battista Guarino) chose this particular example as one worth avoiding for other reasons as well. I teach at a Catholic boys' school, which means my students are more like Guarino's than most contemporary high schoolers. My boys would undoubtedly find a filthy double éntendre in "I am ploughed" and "you are ploughed", with damaging effect on classroom discipline. And they would be right to read the words that way: aro gets three references in the index to J. N. Adams' The Latin Sexual Vocabulary.

An interesting side issue: some verbs that were formerly active in Guarino's sense are now 'neutral': it is only incorrect to say "I am for sale", "you are for sale" since the abolition of slavery.

Posted by Michael Hendry at December 24, 2003 01:21 PM
I preferred verbero as an example verb, sharing with Quintilian the idea that the violent example is always easiest to remember. Posted by: Michael Tinkler at December 31, 2003 09:06 AM
Oh, and I'm pleased to say that my little liberal arts college has committed to buying all of the i Tatti volumes -- I think that anyone who has the Loeb should do so! Posted by: Michael Tinkler at December 31, 2003 09:07 AM