Tuesday, July 20, 2010

There Is Always a Reason

I was curious as to why Mr. Harris chose scrofula as Vatinius' disfiguring ailment. Short of writing him a letter, and assuming he would reply, know why he chose that, or has notes that would help him figure out why, I must do my own detective work and make the best guess available.
I used the Perseus site to peruse texts that refer to Vatinius but most of the ones that interested me were not readily available in Latin on that site. Cicero made a very long speech in the Senate called In Vatinium against Vatinius where he makes reference to Vatinius being denied augership. He also refers to the disfigurement in his letters to Atticus and in one to Brutus. What word did he use in In Vatinium? "Ista quae sunt inflata" or those disgusting things which are swollen. The English translation at Perseus rendered 'ista' which is a pronoun into the word 'wen'.
Catullus came to my aid, good ole Catullus. He wrote a poem, now called 52 but at the time was called In Novium, in which there is a line calling Nonius 'a giant boil sitting on the curule chair'(my translation) and accusing Vatinius of perjury. Who is Nonius and what exactly is a struma anyway? So I looked in my pocket dictionary The New College Latin and English Dictionary. It also includes Late Latin and Neo Latin so it has been useful for some Medieval texts. In this dictionary, struma means 'tumor, swollen gland'; however just after this entry is strumosus which means scrofulous.
Not content with this, I got out the granddaddy of Latin dictionaries, the Oxford Latin Dictionary, because it has only classical Latin and some etymology plus where words occur in Latin texts. I love a good dictionary. I should have gone to this one first as nearly all the entries where struma occurs also contain the name Vatinius. There is nothing like being famous for all time for a giant boil on your neck.
The OLD defines struma as 'a swelling of the lymphatic glands'. Strumosis is 'afflicted with glandular swellings'. This requires now a look at the Oxford English Dictionary and, indeed, scrofulous comes from a Medieval Latin word 'scrofula' which means an enlarged lymph gland. Maybe struma is scrofula but there is more reason that one for enlarged lymph nodes. Scrofula is derived from scrofa, which the OED states is latin for 'breeding sow which were deemed subject to this disease'. Struma was equated with goiter, bronchocele or scrofula at the earliest in 1400 in Lefranc's Cicurgie. So whatever dictionary, if he was conducting his research in the original latin texts, he used may have been like my pocket dictionary - spoiled with Medieval Latin terms - or whatever translation he used of those texts had been spoiled with Medieval Latin terms.
The OLD lists In Vatinium 39 "si...strumae ab ore improbo demigrarunt et aliis iam se locis conlocarunt"(if those tumors migrate from your shameless face and now lodge themselves in other places), Letters to Atticus 2.9.2 "licet....Vatini strumam sacerdoti vestiant" (it is permitted that priests adorn the glandular swellings of Vatinius) and Celsus V.29.2"struma est tumor, in quo subter concreta quaedam ex pure et sanguine quasi glandulae oriuntur...nascuntur maxime in cervice, sed etiam in alis et inguinibus" ( A struma is a tumor, in which arises under certain curdling from pus and blood just like of a small gland.... it is borne mostly in the neck but also in other private parts.) Most English translations of these texts call struma 'scrofula'. Pliny's Natural History is full of references to scrofula including how to cure it with weasel's blood. So Harris is not wrong to say that Vatinius had scrofula but I wonder if later translators had been duly diligent in naming the disease or just followed what previous translators had done.

5 comments:

anachronist said...

So Harris is not wrong to say that Vatinius had scrofula but I wonder if later translators had been duly diligent in naming the disease.

A fantastic entry Ileen!

The ancient diseases could have been different from the contemporary ones btw. Take as an example leprosy. Nowadays some people also have it but it is neither as contagious nor as severe as leprosy described by Middle Ages authors. Either the illness evolved in time or people got a bit more immune (of course it might be both).

Tracy said...

Excellent research, my dear!

Of course, if Mr Harris has a website or facebook page, guess you could always try to ask him.

Either the illness evolved in time or people got a bit more immune (of course it might be both).
Diseases which kill their host./kill their host too quickly before he/she has had a chance to pass the contagion on to others are Darwinian failures (unless they can continue to thrive in dead bodies as much as in live ones) so diseases do tend to become less virulent over time - plus the other selection pressure is for people to become more immune over time.

Which is why we're all terrified at the thought of smallpox or bubonic plague being used as a bioweapon.

The Red Witch said...

@A fantastic entry

Thanks, indeed it could be a very different disease. It is not likely to be cancer because he lived too long but that also causes swelling. So many infections can cause the lymph nodes to swell up.

@Of course, if Mr Harris has a website or facebook page, guess you could always try to ask him

Maybe I should send him a link. Some diseases become less virulent but new ones take their place. E. coli for instance or HIV.

anachronist said...

Maybe I should send him a link. I think it is a great idea. BTW he doesn't seem to have his own webpage (I looked for it very quickly) so FB might be the best way to contact him (or his publisher).

The Red Witch said...

There does not appear to be a way to contact him. No matter