My favorite half-line of Latin poetry!

One of the things I love most about the Latin language is how its writers can massage it to add information and imagery without having to add more words.  I call this, personally, writing in two dimensions.  Here's an example:
At one point in the Aeneid, Aeneas and Dido are having a lovers' tryst in a hidden cave, which was dedicated to a god.  Because Latin is a highly inflected language, word order carries little grammatical information (unlike English), but can add quite a bit of what I call "two-dimensional" information.  So, in English the line might be written:
Aeneas and Dido were in the holy cave.
But Vergilius writes instead (only in Latin):
In the holy Aeneas and Dido were cave.
Thus, even in terms of word order, Aeneas and Dido are INSIDE the cave!  I find things like this absolutely thrilling.  But it's not my favorite half-line in Latin poetry.
That honor belongs to the poet Ovidius (most know him as Ovid), who opens his great epic Metamorphoses -- composed entirely of stories about people changing shape, which are all hidden jokes aimed at Emperor Augustus -- with a cosmogony, or a creation of the universe story.
In Ovidius's account, Chaos was the original state of the universe, and it was a state in which opposites fought constantly.  As he says, the hard things were fighting with the cold things, the soft things with the hard things, et cetera.  The last element in this list is (in the Latin):
sine pondere, habentia pondus.
Literally translated, this means "the things without weight (were fighting with) those things having weight".
HOWEVER, Latin uses a construction called the substantive more than English does.  The substantive is when you use an adjective as if it were a noun.  In English, we do so when we talk about "the rich", "the young", "the poor", et cetera.  Latin, however, uses the substantive enough that it is perfectly allowable to use an adjectival prepositional phrase (one which is used to describe something) as a substantive.  Thus, "sine pondere" literally means "without weight".  Think about that, they have such little weight that the word "things" ISN'T EVEN THERE!
And I'm not done yet.
Latin poetry also does something that, for example, French and Italian do.  It's called elision and it happens when a word ending in a vowel (or an -um) is followed by a word beginning with a vowel (or an h).  In these cases, the end-vowel of the first word isn't pronounced and the two words are smashed together into one word.  Think about the Italian name d'Angelo, for example, which is an elided way of saying "di Angelo", or "from Angelo".
This elision happens in that half-line between the words pondere and habentia, which get pronounced as a result as "ponderhabentia".  Which means that these weightless things are so light that, not only is the word "things" not there, THE WORD FOR "WEIGHT" IS MISSING A SYLLABLE.
Blows my mind every time.


Chris H.

College and High School Latin & English

5+ hours
if (isMyPost) { }