BMCR 1997.04.01

1997.4.1, Adams, Pelagonius and Latin Veterinary Terminology

J. N. (James Noel) Adams, Pelagonius and Latin veterinary terminology in the Roman Empire. Studies in ancient medicine, v. 11. Leiden; New York; Koeln: E.J. Brill, 1995. viii, 695 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.. ISBN 9789004102811 $195.50.

This is an imposing achievement, not only in terms of the size of the finished product, but much more in the breadth and depth of the material coverage—which are staggering—and in the lucidity, good sense and finality of the presentation, discussion and synthesis. These, many readers will know, are features typical of the work of J.N. Adams.

Do not be deterred by the title! This book is not for specialists only, far from it: it contains a mass of material and discussion on the use, welfare and treatment of animals, and on relations between their owners, keepers and healers—an important but neglected chapter of Roman social history; it offers an extraordinary number of instructive insights into the Latin language at various periods and registers; and it has much to say on topics of quite general relevance, such as stylometry, ‘technical languages’ in the ancient world, human medicine and magic, and the transmission of non-literary texts. In short, it is a book that every Latinist and Roman social historian can learn from and should know, in part at least, if not as a whole—though it does work remarkably well as a continuous read. I say ‘a book’, but it is really two books in one, a monograph on the text and language of Pelagonius’Ars ueterinaria set within a book-length account of its ancient veterinary context. The style throughout is plain, accessible and highly readable. On occasion, A. appears almost to be apologizing for his brevity but it is a notable virtue of the book. All and only the essentials are set out, inferences are drawn, findings summarized, and we move on. Another virtue is clarity of argument and organization: every section, and many a sub-section, has its own summary or conclusion, so that the reader always knows where s/he is. It is a handsome and well-produced volume; the proofreading and the cross-references are well-nigh perfect; the whole thing commands total confidence. One misses only a more articulate table of contents and an index locorum. Since the former is severely brief and the running page-headings give only chapter-title, and the three indexes (of Latin words, Greek words and subjects) rather selective, it is not always easy to find again a gem that one knows is in there, and, perhaps worse, would-be users with a specific query will conclude wrongly that it is not addressed.

It is not possible to do this volume justice in anything less than a review-article—and difficult even so. In view of the relatively unfamiliar subject-matter, this review is more than usually discursive on the scope and general themes of the book; I take up some linguistic points along the way.

Roman Imperial veterinarians ( ueterinarii, later mulomedici) were concerned chiefly with the health of the equine animals, horses, mules and donkeys (cf. the Greek for ‘vet’, hippiatros). These animals had great economic and social importance not only in everyday activities but especially in the army, the cursus publicus and the circus races. Their importance was such that it was in the interests of their owners that their diseases be carefully observed and, consequently, an impressive body of accurate knowledge about equine diseases, their description, classification and treatment, had been accumulated by the time of the later Empire, when the Latin treatises were composed (pp. 46-9). These treatises are three: Vegetius (the author of an Epitoma rei militaris between 383 and 450) compiled also a Mulomedicina, in which he mentions Pelagonius and makes extensive use of his Ars and of the third veterinary work, the so-called Mulomedicina Chironis. Certain choices of vocabulary are thought to link Pelagonius closely in time with Vegetius and to put ‘Chiron’ significantly earlier than the other two (pp. 3, 373, 571). Any more than a basic relative chronology has, it seems, to remain provisional.

A.’s main subject is the language of Pelagonius, both technical and non-technical, and one of his main aims is (p. 34) ‘to categorise the stylistic texture of the Ars ueterinaria and to identify the sources of Pelagonius’ Latinity’. The technical elements are of course central to a second major concern of the book, namely the possibility of regarding veterinary Latin as a technical or special language. This involves a whole set of related questions, in particular (p. 2): what was the relation between veterinary and medical Latin? what were the sources of the vocabularies relating to anatomy and disease? and was veterinary (and medical) Latin just a set of special words, or did it have special morphology and syntax as well? These interests naturally expand the scope of the inquiry beyond Pelagonius: no terminology or linguistic variety can be characterized on the basis of a single writer and, indeed, throughout the book A. draws on and elucidates all available ancient veterinary sources, including at many points the Greek hippiatric corpus (see p. 5 f.). A. rightly makes the further assumption that the larger purpose of assessing veterinary Latin as a technical language requires him to place Pelagonius’Ars and the other treatises in their literary, social and scientific settings (their broader linguistic context, as it were). This is the ideal approach to the task of characterizing any technical or special language, ancient or modern; it is also an immensely ambitious project and its successful single-handed completion a rare, perhaps unique, achievement, one that builds on and goes well beyond the accomplishments of earlier generations, such as Svennung’s Palladius.

In consequence of this design, the relatively slender chapters 4 and 5 on the text of Pelagonius, at the heart of the book, are framed, being followed by three massive chapters on names of diseases, anatomical terms and the language of the veterinary authors, especially Pelagonius, and preceded by terse and masterly accounts of the socio-linguistic background.

Chapter 1 introduces the treatises and the relationships between them (summarized in a diagram on p. 9); it also introduces the practice and practitioners of ancient veterinary medicine, not always clearly separate from human medicine (pp. 51-2), generally ‘a sordid pursuit’, although the 41 testimonia of ueterinarii from literary and primary sources (presented and discussed on pp. 53-65) include a few educated individuals of some social status. Non-veterinarian readers should note in particular the extremely informative introduction (pp. 18-51) to the magical and the rational/’scientific’ elements that sit incongruously together in ancient works on both horse and human medicine; of special interest are the discussions of ‘overt’ vs ‘rationalised magic’ (pp. 24 ff.), and of the presence and nature of medical theory in veterinary treatises—if diluted and garbled in Pelagonius (pp. 34 ff.).

Chapter 2 presents evidence that during both the Republic and the Empire animals received routine treatment rather from their owners or their keepers than from a class of specialist ueterinarii. The evidence comes from Cato, Varro, Vergil, Columella, the Vindolanda tablets, Apuleius and later technical treatises, Greek and Latin (as well as some papyri, pp. 100-1), and A. finds that in this respect not much changed between the time of Varro and that of Vegetius. He suggests that the servile status of the many ueterinarii who still in the 4th century carried out sordid tasks at the behest of the animals’ owners will have affected the character of ‘veterinary language’. He proceeds to argue emphatically from the absence of veterinary schools, from the very different sources of veterinary terminology (in peasant culture, on the one hand, and in the society of wealthy owners and their advisers, on the other), and from the inevitable variability and inconsistency in terminology that he infers from these two circumstances, to the conclusion (p. 102) that ‘ancient veterinary language could simply not be a scientific language in the modern sense’ (cf. p. 645). While the premisses are hardly in doubt, the stark opposition inferred between ancient and modern veterinary language leaves me slightly uneasy. This may be just a question of presentation but I suspect that the truth is not so black and white: that, just as many modern medics object to being told that their language is everywhere uniform and scientific, so many ancient ueterinarii would not have accepted that the Latin they used while ‘on the job’ showed a corresponding absence of consistency and no trace of scientific structuring. Socially diverse though practitioners undoubtedly were, widespread literacy in even the lower echelons of the (horse-)medical corps was probably a strong force for linguistic homogeneity, without of course eliminating local and social variation (cf. p. 642). (I have no space to pursue the idea here, but the modern world of automotive engineering—A.’s opening economic simile (p. 1)—perhaps offers closer social and linguistic analogies with the ancient vets than modern veterinary medicine.) I wonder also whether it is legitimate to argue from an inconsistent terminology to the absence of a technical language?: is the substance of a special language shaped by borrowing alone? may not the nature of the (standardized) activity itself play a part in determining morphology and syntax?

Chapter 3 sets out to identify the expected readership of the extant Latin treatises, and opens with a fascinating survey (pp. 103-12) of the roles of donkeys, mules and horses in the Roman Empire. Each animal served its own set of purposes and had very different monetary and social value. By saying nothing about the treatment of donkeys, by focusing on the horse and by advertising his interest in race-horses and his acquaintance with wealthy owners, Pelagonius betrays his orientation toward an upper-class, horse-owning readership (a bias which is even more evident in the work of the stud-owning Vegetius). Chiron’s scope is much broader: he deals with the equids in general and, being ‘socially non-committal’ (p. 145), probably expected a more varied readership than either Pelagonius or Vegetius did. Not that Chiron’s work is safe evidence of the status and attitudes of a single author, since it is surely the outcome in part of a cumulative tradition of the written recording of care for all (equine) animals that goes back at least as far as Varro’s literate magister pecoris and pastores (pp. 74-5).

Chapter 4 is a brilliant and thoroughly convincing attempt to distinguish on stylistic grounds genuinely Pelagonian passages of the treatise from those parts which have been changed or added by editors and scribes. Parts of it should be required reading for all concerned with the tradition of sub-literary works and with stylometry, literary or not. In late antiquity there were at least two recensions of Pelagonius’Ars represented by the (recently discovered) manuscript E (used by Vegetius) and by R (used by the Greek translator of Pelagonius). The divergences are due to the revision of phraseology by editor or scribe, or to late editorial insertion. Nonetheless there are recurrent mannerisms in both manuscripts, and not only in the ‘epistles’, which give ‘the impression that it is meaningful and justifiable to talk of a single author “Pelagonius” as responsible for a substantial part of the Ars ueterinaria‘ (p. 203). (I would particularly draw attention to A.’s discussion (pp. 197-208) of the various linguistic means of expressing instructions to the reader, gerundives, imperatives, subjunctives and indicatives.)

The Greek (?army-)vet, Apsyrtus, was an important source for all three Latin writers. Vegetius evidently thought of Apsyrtus as a Latin writer and the question arises (and is the theme of chapter 5) whether Pelagonius was himself translating Apsyrtus or using an existing Latin translation. It emerges that the passages drawn from Apsyrtus abound in features of Pelagonian Latinity in a way that those based on Columella and others do not; on the other hand, non-Pelagonian features in the same Apsyrtus-passages are not significantly numerous or distinctive, and A. concludes (p. 225) that Pelagonius was directly responsible for the Latin versions of Apsyrtus. The use made of Apsyrtus by Pelagonius reveals the latter’s ignorance and inadequacies as a veterinary writer and as a translator: these are enumerated, and the chapter (and in effect Book I) ends with a resounding and rather damning review of Pelagonius as a ‘horse-doctor’.

Chapters 6 and 7 begin each with detailed discussion of about 80 veterinary terms relating to, respectively, pathology (pp. 239-331) and anatomy (pp. 361-423). The primary aim in each case is to specify as far as possible the meaning of each word. (Many of the Latin anatomical terms are usefully placed against the figure of a horse beside the same figure labelled in English (pp. 362-3)—though in the latter, be warned, only the skeleton is labelled: you are expected to know your hocks, pasterns and fetlocks!). It is interesting to note the contrasts between ancient and modern comparisons between equine and human anatomy: the Roman vets saw as the (front) ‘knee’ of the horse ( patella, genu, etc.) what is now understood to correspond anatomically to the first part of the human hand (the carpus); on the other hand, some parts of the horse’s front leg are implicitly named after the human arm and shoulder ( brachiolum, armus).

An understanding of the vocabulary once established, A. is no less interested in the questions of its sources and development, and of its differentiation from the terminology of human medicine. These differences emerge at numerous points: veterinary terms drawn from the specialized vocabulary of human medicine often have different meanings in the two spheres (e.g. suspirium [pp. 300-2] of breathing difficulties associated with glanders in horses, with asthma in humans), and many veterinary terms have no real place in the medical language (pp. 340-1; cf. 427-8 on anatomy). The chief means of term-formation in the field of veterinary anatomy is reported to be semantic shift (notably by specialization and metaphorical usage) of existing words (p. 429); in two striking cases a shift which was to become standard with reference to the human body is attested first with reference to animals ( coxa‘hip’ ‘thigh’ [French cuisse, etc.], renes‘kidneys’ ‘lumbar region’ [Old French reins, etc.]).

While very few animal body-part terms are borrowed—this is true also of human anatomy—borrowing (from Greek) is an important source of disease-terms in the late treatises: nearly a quarter of those discussed in chapter 6 are of Greek origin. This is, however, not the case in the veterinary vocabulary of Columella (pp. 341-7) and Pliny (pp. 350-3), and, on the strength of this and other points of comparison between Columella and Pelagonius, A. draws at this juncture (p. 349) the very important chronological inference that it was between the first and the fourth century A.D. that a specialist veterinary vocabulary emerged, as part of which ‘a major development … was the infiltration of Greek terminology into the Latin veterinary language’ (p. 348). There is nothing in Pliny’s veterinary terminology to challenge this view, although another plausible account (also allowed for by A., p. 352) is that Columella and Pliny are relatively ignorant and/or reluctant for social reasons to research and report horse-medicine in greater detail. On the other hand, neither Pliny nor Columella is likely to have suppressed Greek terminology if it was available to them in their sources; Léon Rippinger reports ( Les hellénismes chez Celse, Diss. Paris Sorbonne 1980, p. 431) that Columella uses overall roughly as many Greek loanwords as Celsus, although the Romans were much less dependent on the Greeks in agriculture than in medicine. Another question of relevance here is surely the date of Chiron: his work evidently represents the developed specialist veterinary vocabulary and includes many Greek terms, but if one is to allow for significant (socio-)linguistic developments in Roman veterinary science between the times of Columella and Chiron, associations between the two based on shared vocabulary cannot presumably be pressed too hard (cf. p. 3).

A consistent and very useful feature of A.’s conclusions on the terminology of the veterinary writers are the several sets of categories of terms which he uses to map out the material in linguistic and sociolinguistic terms. Probably the most important example is in his conclusions at the end of chapter 8 (pp. 641-2), where he distinguishes the following lexical varieties in Pelagonius: (a) the vocabulary of horsemanship; (b) the vocabulary of ueterinarii; (c) ‘medical’ vocabulary; (d) recipe language and (e) late and colloquial language in general (but note also, in chapters 6 and 7, his classifications of Greek terms (pp. 332-3), of the relations between Greek and Latin terms (p. 334 f.), of the motivations of Greek loanwords (p. 336), of other categories of terms relating to disease (pp. 337-9) and anatomy (pp. 427-29).)

The main purpose of chapter 8 (pp. 430-661) is to elucidate the stylistic layers of Pelagonius, and the major sections address syntax; word order; morphology and word-formation; and vocabulary. A. persuasively distinguishes at least four linguistic influences on the syntax of Pelagonius, namely colloquial Latin, late Imperial Latin, didactic prose and ‘recipe-syntax’ (see pp. 488-9). The last is perhaps of special interest, in that it can be shown to continue a ‘formulaic’ tradition of culinary and medicinal recipe-writing, which may be traced back through Cato’s De agricultura to at least the third century B.C. (witness the double parody at Plaut. Merc. 139-40 resinam ex melle Aegyptiam uorato, saluom feceris.—at edepol tu calidam picem bibito, aegritudo apscesserit; cf. pp. 608, 642). The seventy pages on word-formation contain a wealth of invaluable insights and new material concerning many types of verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs. Items peculiar to veterinary Latin emerge in (e.g.) the sections on denominative verbs (including potionare‘to give a potio to’, sanguinare‘to let blood’ and the hyponyms of the latter, de-brachiol-are, de-matric-are, de-pector-are, de-tempor-are to let blood from particular parts of the horse) and on adverbs in -atim used to describe the pattern to be used on the horse’s body in cautery or surgery ( decusatim‘in the form of a ten, X’, craticulatim‘cross-hatched’, stellatim, etc.). The last section, on vocabulary (pp. 569-639) deals in turn with a large number of words and meanings, both quite general (e.g. words for ‘horse’, ‘disease’, ‘to swallow’, uses of sed and simul) and more specialized (e.g. suspendo‘to hang’ an ailing horse in a frame, elido‘to cast’ a horse, i.e. bring it to the ground so that it can be treated, cogo‘to force’ a horse beyond its capacities; here I would particularly recommend the section headed ‘Tripodare and terms for the gait of equine animals’ [pp. 592-602]; I have, if not dined out, at least lunched in, on the Latin for walk, trot, canter and gallop!)

A. concludes for diversity in both style and vocabulary but acknowledges (p. 646) that ‘there remains a veterinary technical vocabulary, which overlaps in part with medical technical vocabulary but is in part distinct’. He draws attention ‘particularly to the structured semantic fields identifiable within the veterinary pathological vocabulary, which suggest that some thought went into the naming of conditions which needed to be carefully distinguished’ (pp. 646-7), but after reviewing patterns of syntax, word-order and derivation which might have been typical of the register of late ueterinarii, he comes to negative views on these and concludes that we are left with ‘vocabulary as the prime distinguishing feature of veterinary (medical) Latin’ (p. 653). It is impossible to disagree with this careful formulation. Any technical variety of any language is necessarily rooted in the language of everyday, spoken and/or written, since this is the first language of its users. The only linguistic features which the technical variety must have peculiar to itself will be some word-meanings and some lexemes, and just possibly an affix or two (cf. perhaps -itis in modern medical English). The rest of its grammar it will share with the language of everyday but—and it is in my view a big ‘but’—in the choices it makes from the options afforded by the language of everyday for constructing sentences and for making new words, it may show patterns of frequency quite different from those encountered in the ‘ordinary’ language, which would certainly be represented in the grammar as quantitative characteristics, but which would leave the lexical items as the primary distinguishing features.

A. goes on to stress (ibid.) that he regards ‘vocabulary’ ‘as isolated lexical items, not primarily as representatives of certain suffixal classes or formations’, and (I hope it is fair to say) his approach to transparent, motivated derivatives is consistently ‘atomistic’, word by word ( chaque mot a son histoire!). It is, of course, important to note that A. is confining himself here to veterinary language as revealed by Pelagonius and that he does allow the possibility (p. 520) that a study of Chiron ‘might lead one to modify this negative conclusion about the place of derivation in veterinary word-formation at this period’, but I do wonder whether he does not in general terms slightly underrate the significance (as a quantitative feature) of the clustering of words made with certain suffixes in particular lexical fields of the medical vocabulary (e.g. symptoms and conditions in -or, -oris, skin-diseases/degenerative conditions in -igo, -ies, lesions and tumours in the ‘diminutive’ suffixes). In my view such morpho-lexical clusters are shown to have some sort of derivational reality for native speakers by the appearance of even a single new example in a late text (e.g. frig(i)dor in late medical and veterinary writers, including Pelagonius, uermigo in Chiron, cantabries in Cassius Felix, duritiola, apertiuncula in Pelagonius), especially if new instances in other lexical fields are rare or non-existent; for a suffix to be motivated and associated with a particular lexical meaning, it is, I think (cf. p. 523, n. 236), not necessary for it to show several or many new lexemes, though some certainly do show this level of productivity (e.g. patients in -osus or -icus [on Latin stems], remedies in -torius). Derivational morphology apart, it is perhaps slightly surprising that in summing up his colossal survey A. should acknowledge only the ‘binary’ contrasts between veterinary and non-veterinary Latin (i.e. those in the lexicon), as if to illustrate Jacques André’s contention ( Etudes de lettres 1986, p. 9) that ‘les langues techniques latines sont des langues réduites au lexique’.

Of course, as it should by now be clear, the preceding 400 pages have given a full and masterly contrastive account of both qualitative and quantitative characteristics of veterinary Latin (and in large part of medical Latin, too) as compared with classical and Imperial Latin. In this we latinists are extremely fortunate: of this hitherto unwritten chapter of the history of Latin, we have, in A.’s Pelagonius, the definitive account.