Pliny: Natural History
I. In hortis seri et coronamenta iussit Cato, inenarrabili florum maxime subtilitate, quando nulli potest facilius esse loqui quam rerum naturae pingere, lascivienti praesertim et in magno gaudio 2fertilitatis tam variae ludenti. quippe reliqua usus alimentique gratia genuit, ideoque saecula annosque tribuit his, flores vero odoresque in diem gignit, magna, ut palam est, admonitione hominum, quae spectatissime floreant celerrime marcescere. sed ne pictura quidem sufficit1 imagini colorum reddendae mixturarumque varietati, sive alterni atque multiplices inter se nectuntur,2 sive privatis generum funiculis in orbem, in oblicum, in ambitum quaedam coronae per coronas currunt.
I. Catoa bade us include among our gardenChaplets, the various kinds. plants chaplet flowers, especially because of the indescribable delicacy of their blossoms, for nobody can find it easier to tell of them than Nature does to give them colours, as here she is in her most sportive mood, playful in her great joy at her varied fertility. To all other things in fact she gave birth because of their usefulness, and to serve as food, and so has assigned them their ages and years; but blossoms and their perfumes she brings forth only for a day—an obvious warning to men that the bloom that pleases the eye most is the soonest to fade. Not even the painter’s art, however, suffices to copy their colours and the variety of their combinations, whether two kinds are woven together alternately, and also more than two, or whether with separate festoons of the different kinds chaplets are run through chaplets to form a circle, or crosswise, or sometimes forming a coil.b
- aR.r. VIII. § 2.
- bThe old editors put a full stop at ambitum. The MSS. have nectantur and currunt. Detlefsen has two indicatives and Mayhoff two subjunctives.
Alterni: two kinds of flowers interwoven alternately.
Multiplices: several kinds interwoven according to various patterns.
Privatis generum funiculis: strings or festoons of flowers, one kind only on each string. These are made into hoops or rings, which pass through one another, each ring being a link in a chain. This chain of rings could easily be shaped who would find them unnecessary, being perfectly familiar with them.
Another translation has been suggested to me by Professor W. B. Anderson, who thinks that alterni may have its late sense of in vicem, and that quaedam does not mean “certain,”
but “as it were,” “so to speak.” He would translate:
“whether they are intertwined with one another in elaborate convolutions, or form as it were garlands within garlands with strings of particular flowers arranged in rings or slantwise or running right round.”
If with the old editors we put a stop (or even a semicolon) at ambitum, the sense of the first part of the sentence is improved, for funiculi could be twined in orbem etc. more naturally than could strings of coronae. The difficulty however remains of distinguishing in orbem from in ambitum, and the words quaedam . . . currunt by themselves form a very jerky and obscure sentence. in orbem, or coiled, like a watch-spring, in ambitum, or bent at an angle in oblicum. The last however may refer to pairs of separate rings, the smaller passing through the larger at right-angles.
Warmington’s explanation is:—
Pliny has not been careful to give details to his readers, Note continued on p. 162.
In orbem: forming (filled in) disks; In oblicum: forming spirals, or coils; In ambitum: forming rings (hollow disks not filled in nor spiral). Ambitus suggests a closed periphery, not filled in.