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The Latin of Dantiscus’ letters of 1537

The Latin used by this outstanding humanist in his everyday life deserves a separate analysis. His letters, which were not meant for publication and did not disguise other literary genres in the form of a letter – these letters whose main purpose was to provide day-to-day information and to maintain interpersonal contacts – constitute excellent material for such an analysis.

How the texts are written

The observations below on how Latin texts were put down by Dantiscus are based chiefly on analyses of the autographs of his letters. I have analysed both Dantiscus’ own fair copies and his rough drafts, keeping in mind their different use; the rough drafts have been treated with circumspection, since they were often written in haste and carelessly, and thus do not always reflect the actual rules of text-writing their author followed.

Rules of orthography practiced by Dantiscus

1) Writing of the phone group -ti-

Before vowels, Dantiscus writes the classical -ti- as -ci-, except -tio- when it comes after c and s, and -tia- after s. He also seems to keep in mind the etymology of etiam (et + iam), as the dominant spelling in the original letters, where he makes an effort to write correctly, is etiam (60%), while in the rough drafts the spelling eciam dominates (88%).

2) Diphthongs

Dantiscus clearly tends to provide the classically correct spelling of diphthongs – in the original letters -ae- is written in accordance with the classical spelling (most often in the graphic form of e caudatum) in 81% of cases. There is also a number of examples of hyper-correct spelling (caetera, caeterum, claementer, sincaere). The diphthong -oe- (written as e caudatum) comes up just twice in the analyzed letters, in the words foedus and foedant, as it’s hard to view as an example a single instance of the spelling of poenitudo with e caudatum in view of the variancy poenitudo and paenitudo. The monophthong -e- comes up in one instance of the spelling tragedia.

3) The letters u and v

In almost 100% of cases (6 exceptions in the fair copies, 28 in the rough drafts, which is a fraction of a percent), Dantiscus writes v at the beginning of a word. In the middle and at the end of a word, it is always u, with one exception: -v- is written consitently in the middle of a word in compounds with the preposition in- (inviserem, invitabo, invitus, invtilem). As an exception to this exception, the combination in- + -u- appears in compounds with the verb venio equally consistently.

4) Geminates

There is also a distinct tendency to write geminates according to the classical rules. One important exception is the word litterae, usually written as an abbreviation, except for one instance in the original letters (literulae) and one in the rough drafts (literis); for lack of other evidence, this spelling has to be accepted as binding. Another exception is the consistent disregarding of regressive assimilation in some compounds of verbs and prepositions (adferet, adfuturum, adnitendum, adnixsus but: affectum, affectionis, assequetur, assecutus, asserat). Words derived from sollicito are always written with one -l-, words derived from opportet are always written with one -p-, the verb bullio (which occurs just once) is spelled with one l.

5) Other observed regularities

  • in the compound verb exspecto the -s- is always left out (expecto).
  • some words starting with a are aspirated - (habunde, harena)
  • always in the fair copies and in 67% of cases in the rough drafts, the word beneuolentia is spelled beniuolencia (33% of the rough drafts: beneuolencia)
  • words of Greek origin which contain the phones φ, θ  and Ď„  in Greek, are spelled with ph (phanaticus, sicophanticique), th (Theodericus, aetherea, theologiae) and t (auctenticum, autenticum), respectively, even if the classical Latin spelling opposes this. The word prophanos is spelled hyper-correctly with ph.
  • in the words siincerus and ociissime the spelling -ii- occurs sometimes instead of the classical -i-.

Dantiscus’ use of the majuscule

There is also some limited regularity in Dantiscus’ use of capital letters (e.g. Regnum – Kingdom, Respublica – Republic, Senatus Regni – senate of the Kingdom, Consilium – Sejm, Consilium – Prussian Council, Aula Regia – royal court, Aula Caesarea – imperial court, Concilium – [church] council, Capitulum – chapter, Episcopatus – bishopric, Magistratus – municipal board, and others). Majuscules abound rather regularly in the titles of lay and church officials, starting with the emperor and the pope, through kings, princes, bishops, castellans, to canons and lower-level officials. There are some exceptions, though. At the beginning of a sentence and at the beginning of the names of people and geographical names, capital letters appear at random. Quite often, though one can hardly speak of consistency here, capital letters appear at the beginning of some common words, mainly nouns (including Exemplum – a copy of a document, Copia – a copy of a document, Cives – burghers, Indigena – native, Eques – horseman, Equus – horse, Sigillum – seal, Sacellum – chapel, Castrum – castle, Nuncius – messenger, Querela – complaint, claim, Subditus – subject etc. ). One characteristic regularity is that the word DEUS is written entirely in majuscules, but there are exceptions to this rule, for example the expression dei gracia written entirely in minuscule. The name Christus always starts with the capital letter, as do the derivative words Christianus and Christianismus. The adjectives diuus in the sense of holy, diuinus – divine and beatus – saintly, blessed – start with a small letter. All this combines to form quite a specific though not very regularly applied system – capital letters are used in recognition of people, concepts and objects that the author feels a special respect for, and sometimes also to highlight the start of a sentence or thought.

Dantiscus’ punctuation

Dantiscus’ punctuation is the one of rhetorical meaning, which is compatible with the custom of the time. In studying it, I considered all types of contemporary sources, because the analysis of Dantiscus’ letter to Giese (IDL 1745), preserved in two forms – the autograph fair copy (original) and an office copy from the same time – shows that office copies follow the fair copy faithfully in terms of punctuation. I did not make separate analysies of punctuation in the rough and fair copies, because statistically punctuation marks occur in them with a similar frequency, accounting for about 1.9 % of all characters in the texts.

In the analyzed texts, Dantiscus uses the following punctuation marks:
virgule / (3697 times)
question mark ? (three times)
parentheses ( ) (eight times)

The virgule is used as a universal punctuation mark. Most often, it fulfills the function of our comma, and about two times less often – of the full stop. Sporadically, it can be ascribed the role of the contemporary dash, colon, semicolon, question mark and exclamation mark. From among these punctuation marks, only the question mark is sometimes written by Dantiscus in a separate form, close to modern usage (Quis autem adeo stupidus et bardus est, vt id, quod suum est, sciens emat? ; Quid est quod Dei, cui nos commisimus, consilio et voluntati resistit? ). This doesn’t prevent Dantiscus from using the virgule in the role of the question mark as well (e.g.: Quis tamen huius tragoediae futurus sit exitus? ). He uses parentheses on several occasions, putting parenthetical clauses within them. Below are some examples:
Quod vero nuncii isti putant mihi magnae esse ignominiae, quia maiestas regia adeo parum mihi dari commisisset (plus tum mihi datum est, erant enim 60 floreni), nihil me mouet
quidam de primis regni praelatis, mihi bene maxime volens, (nomen reticuit, quod tamen certa coniectura Dominacionis Vestrae Reuerendissimae esse deprehendi) cum eo de me rebusque meis plurima contulisset
Si masculum pepererit (sic stant pacta matrimonii) vera est coniunx; si feminam, solutum est coniugium: tamquam <tam> diu stupris vti liberum erit, quousque ex aliqua nascatur filius.

A larger than usual space between words clearly serves as a marker of the place where the end of a paragraph would come today – the next sentence always starts on a new topic. A specific variation of this situation is the abbreviation etc. at the end of a phrase. Dantiscus uses this abbreviation over 40 times, at least a dozen cases of this denoting that he is referring the letter’s addressee to a text well known to him, quoted or paraphrased by the author. Among the other 30 or so occurrences, there are those that seem to refer to an author I have failed to identify, and those which seem to have no relation to intertextuality understood as using someone else’s written text to formulate one’s own statement. They could, however, refer to a text that had never been put down, e.g. conversations with the addressee, or to expressions characteristic of persons familiar to the addressee, or they could signal the shortened character of a given statement where additional arguments or examples had been left out. In any case, it is symptomatic that when he uses someone else’s text to construct his own, Dantiscus uses the abbreviation etc. only in certain specific circumstances – exclusively when he wants to conclude a given topic with a paraphrase, in order to achieve a greater effect. Thus we can assume that this abbreviation fulfills an additional punctuation function.

Anna Skolimowska
Translated from Polish by Joanna Dutkiewicz and Maria BoĹĽenna Fedewicz