Saturday, January 08, 2011

Virgil's Graecism: "sensit medios delapsus in hostis" (Aeneid 2.377)

Flight from Troy (1598)
(Image from Wikipedia)

Through my investigations into the grammatical background to the line "And knew not eating death" (Paradise Lost 9.792), I've come across more evidence that Milton would have been very familiar with the possibility in Greek grammar for a participle in the nominative case to follow a verb of knowing or perceiving. He would also have been quite familiar with this grammatical possibility in Latin, for such well-known writers as Virgil borrowed it from the Greek, as in Book 2, Line 377 of the Aeneid:
sensit medios delapsus in hostis
This line occurs in the following context, lines 370-384, in which Aeneas, describing his flight with a number of other Trojans from the fallen city of Troy, recounts how he and his compatriots inadvertently encountered a band of Greek soldiers led by Androgeos:
Androgeos, followed by a thronging band
of Greeks, first met us on our desperate way;
but heedless, and confounding friend with foe,
thus, all unchallenged, hailed us as his own:
"Haste, heroes! Are ye laggards at this hour?
Others bear off the captives and the spoil
of burning Troy. Just from the galleys ye?"
He spoke; but straightway, when no safe reply
returned, he knew himself entrapped, and fallen
into a foeman's snare; struck dumb was he
and stopped both word and motion; as one steps,
when blindly treading a thick path of thorns,
upon a snake, and sick with fear would flee
that lifted wrath and swollen gorge of green:
so trembling did Androgeos backward fall.
These English lines are from the translation of Vergil's Aeneid by Theodore C. Williams (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1910), and I've borrowed them from the Perseus Digital Library, which is edited by Gregory R. Crane, of Tufts University. This library also supplies a Latin version replete with hyperlinks defining each word and offering grammatical analyses.

As for Williams, he translates "sensit medios delapsus in hostis" (line 377) of the Latin original as "he knew himself entrapped, and fallen / into a foeman's snare" (lines 378-379). If we want a more literal translation of "sensit . . . delapsus," we obtain "he sensed . . . fallen," i.e., "he sensed (himself) . . . fallen." The word "sensit" is the third singular perfect indicative active of the verb "sentio" (i.e., "to discern by sense, feel, hear, see, perceive, be sensible of"), and the word "delapsus" is the singular perfect passive masculine nominative participle of the verb "delabor" (i.e., "to fall, sink, slip down, glide down, descend").

I was led to all of this by way of a couple of sources. The first that I came across was a note in Roland Gregory Austin's annotated edition of Virgil's Aeneid. In Aeneidos Liber Secundus (Oxford University Press, 1980), Austin notes of line 377 in book 2 ("sensit medios delapsus in hostis," page 13):
377 sensit . . . delapsus : a pure Grecism, ᾔσθετ᾿ ἐμπεσών, for which there is no precise Classical Latin parallel; Löfstedt (Synt. ii. p. 428) notes Apul. Met. iv. 34 'invidiae nefariae letali plaga percussi sero sentitis'. For an allied turn cf. Stat. Th. 7. 791 f. 'non aliter caeco nocturni turbine Cori / scit peritura ratis'; so Milton, PL ix. 792 'And knew not eating death'. (page 159)
The other source was the New First Latin Reader, by John Henderson and R.A. Little (Toronto: The Copp, Clark, Company, Limited, 1906), which also notes of line 377 in book 2 ("sensit medios delapsus in hostis," page 168):
377. sensit delapsus : a Graecism for sensit se delapsum esse : cp. ᾔσθετ᾿ ἐμπεσών. So also Milton, Paradise Lost, 9, 792 :--

Greedily she gorged without restraint
And knew not eating death.

i.e., that she was eating.

So also Catullus iv, 2 :--

Phaselus ille quam videtis hospites
Ait fuisse navium celerrimus.
This note is found on page 215 of Henderson and Little. As for ᾔσθετ᾿ ἐμπεσών, this is the Greek expression that Virgil takes as his model for "sensit delapsus," and the Perseus website also proves useful in analyzing this Greek model:
αἰσθάνομαι - to perceive, apprehend by the senses, to see, hear, feel (ᾔσθετ᾽ is the third singular aorist indicative middle form of the verb)

ἐμπίτνω - fall upon (ἐμπεσών is the singular aorist active masculine nominative participle form of the verb)
And that's probably enough for any reader who's followed me this far into terrain beyond my ken. Let us now follow the example of Aeneas instead and escape this terrain by setting sail for other shores.

And off we go to the farewell of "Bon voyage!"

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home