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Ovidiana 1

  • James Diggle (a1)


Ars Am. 3. 627-30

tuta quoque est fallitque oculos e lacte recenti

littera (carbonis puluere tange: leges),

fallet et umiduli quae fiet acumine lini,

et feret occultas pura tabella notas.

‘Also safe and invisible is a letter written with fresh milk (sprinkle charcoal dust over it and it will become legible), and invisible, too, will be the letter which will be made with the point of moist flax, and an unmarked tablet will bear the hidden message.’

No one has ever explained how or why a letter should be written ‘with the point of moist flax’. Mr Kenney records sympathetically in his critical note Burman's declaration ‘locus sine dubio corruptas’, though he does not apply the obelus. Burman himself diffidently conjectured alumine limini in emulation of Heinsius' equally unhappy alumine nitri. Burman's note is not very illuminating, but it offers the only serious attempt I have seen to confront the problems of the passage. He assumes – and no one has questioned the assumption, which I shall later suggest may be false – that the first couplet alludes to the use of milk on paper; and he assumes, rightly, that the second couplet alludes to the use of a wax tablet. But when he suggests that the occultae notae may have been written on wood and then concealed beneath an overlay of wax, he forfeits conviction. Crispinus, the Delphin editor, expressed the opinion, which prevails in modern translations,3 that the words acumine lini allude to the use of the stalk of the flax plant in the manner of a pen; it is small wonder that he added ‘sed potiora habemus nos, quibus chartas nostras inficimus, succum puta ceparum, citreo-rum, immo lotium’. P. Brandt in his edition of 1902 contributes a mixture of irrelevance and evasion.



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I am most grateful to Professor F. R. D. Goodyear, Mr E. J. Kenney, and Mr A. G. Lee for helpful comments.



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page 31 note 2 This ruse was devised by Demaratus (Hdt. 7. 239. 3) but it is much too complicated for the present context.

page 31 note 3 Most recently Lenz, F. W., Ovid, Die Liebeskunst (Berlin, 1969).

page 32 note 1 The wax used for writing tablets was sometimes coloured: Ov. Am. 1. 12. 11 (tabella) minio penitus medicata rubebas, Porphyrion on Hor. Sat. 2. 1. 49 hic dicitur centumuiris dedisse tabulas aliis nigrae aliis rubrae cerae; Ovid mentions an image made of red wax (punicea cera) at Am. 3. 7. 29. The methods used in colouring wax are described by Pliny, N.H. 21. 49. 85: nigrescit cera addito chartarum cinere sicut anchusa admixta rubet. My experiments have been confined to beeswax in its normal yellow state; but the result should not be affected by the use of a red wax. When linseed oil is used as ink, the black of the charcoal (adhering to the oil) will provide an adequate contrast to a background of red wax; when the ink used is milk, a sufficient contrast should emerge between the original red, preserved beneath the transparent overlay of milk, and the background which has been darkened by the charcoal.

page 33 note 1 Galen speaks of the ὑγρότης of linseed at 12. 62 Kühn.

page 33 note 2 Oddly enough not in painting, where linseed oil is now an indispensable material. See Laurie, A. P., Greek and Roman Methods of Painting (Cambridge, 1910), pp. 18-19, 30 ff.; The Materials of the Painter's Craft (London and Edinburgh, 1910), pp. 18, 64-5; The Painter's Methods and Materials (London, 1926), pp. 22-3.

page 34 note 3 The dictionaries know no other instance of the adjective umidulus. It was restored with certainty by Lachmann at Lucr. 4. 632; Housman was less successful at Hor. ars 102 ( J. Ph. XVIII (1890), 2930 ).

page 34 note 4 For et feret Heinsius conjectured ut ferat, which G. P. Goold approves ( H.S.C.P. LXIX (1965), 81 ). I am not certain that the change is necessary, but this does not affect my argument.

page 34 note 5 Singerei, C. et al., A History of Technology, III (Oxford, 1957), 381 . It may also be observed that, while the normal writing ink used by the Romans was a compound of soot and gum ( Pliny, , N.H. 35. 25. 41–3, Vitruv. 7. 10. 2, Dioscorides 5. 162), a compound of gum and charcoal (carbo) was also prescribed (Pliny, N.H. 35. 25. 43, Vitruv. 7. 10. 3).

It is a pleasure to acknowledge my debt to Dr D. S. Ingram, for patiently answering botanical questions and for providing the materials for the experiments described.

page 34 note 6 Reports of manuscript readings in the passages from the Heroides are mostly derived from Mr Kenney, who has kindly allowed me to make use of his own collations. P. = Par. Lat. 8242, saec. ix; p = P. man. sec, saec. xi; E = Etonensis, saec. xi; G = Guelferbytanus, saec. xii; ω = codd. praeter PEG omnes uel plures ; ζ = eorundem aliquot. More detailed information may be found in the recent edition of H. Dörrie (Berlin, 1971).

page 36 note 1 These readings might tempt one to suggest uinaque quae dederam causa soporis erant. I prefer the interlaced word order of the other conjecture.

page 36 note 2 Another peragit has been engendered in the same manner at Met. 8. 820: there spargit is corrupted in most manuscripts to peragit under the influence of peragit at the same point in the verse five lines above. Further illustration of this type of corruption is given by Axelson, B., Korruptelenkult (Lund, 1967), pp. 2641 . I mention as another possibility in our passage (it had also occurred to Mr Lee) perarat: cf. Sen. Med. 650 perorate pontum.

page 37 note 1 Dörrie, H., ‘Untersuchungen zur Überlieferungsgeschichte von Ovids Epistulae Heroidum’ (N.G.G., Phil.-Hist. Kl., 1960), pp. 379-84, and pp. 11-12 of his edition.

page 38 note 1 I offer the verbal similarity of 11. 35 erubui gremioque pudor…in its support.

page 39 note 1 I do not know whether it may have been a similar dissatisfaction which prompted Showerman (Loeb 1914) to produce a remarkable translation which relates quae not to Diana but to manus, singular, understood from manus, plural, in the previous line.

page 40 note 1 After writing this note I discovered that the interpretation which I have advocated was independently reached some years ago by Miss M. M. Hickey. Where I conjecture quia, she conjectures qui. I am very pleased to be able to record this conjecture, with Miss Hickey's permission.

page 42 note 1 Professor Goodyeax observes that transposition (the interchange of germanae and attonitae) will also solve the problem: germanae dryades damno nemorumque suoque | omnes attonitae. This, though bold, is a neat solution.

1 I am most grateful to Professor F. R. D. Goodyear, Mr E. J. Kenney, and Mr A. G. Lee for helpful comments.

Ovidiana 1

  • James Diggle (a1)


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