- Latin forms of address: From Plautus to Apuleius by Eleanor Dickey
Eleanor Dickey’s Latin forms of address is a sequel to her 1996 Greek forms of address (Oxford: Oxford University Press). With this second volume, D has established herself as a major force in classical philology. She has demonstrated an equal facility in the two languages that constitute the heart of the discipline as it has been defined since the systematic study of the ancient languages was established on a scientific basis by German classicists at the start of the nineteenth century. She has shown an in-depth knowledge, if not always a total mastery, of a wide variety of difficult and highly varied texts: from Pompeian graffiti to Vergil, Horace, and the redoubtable Persius. And she has brought a new level of theoretical sophistication to an often-stodgy discipline that has been resistant to methodological change and reluctant to join modern linguistics in either its formal or social dimensions. Indeed, D’s introduction to the basic concepts of sociolinguistics would be beneficial reading for all students of ancient language and literature. Latin forms of address, like its companion volume, is a contribution to linguistics per se in its demonstration of the applicability of the basic paradigms of sociolinguistic research to so-called ‘dead’ languages, those with no native informants available for interview
While D’s book can be read from end to end, since it does pursue a systematic coverage of its field, most scholars will use it as a reference work. One quickly comes to master the basic distinctions between different registers of a language and between the ‘referential’ and ‘address’ usage of a given word. After the initial methodological discussion, most readers will choose the chapters that correspond to their particular research needs, such as ‘Names’, ‘Titles’, ‘Kinship terms’, ‘Insults’, or my personal favorite, ‘Addresses between spouses and others with a romantic interest’. Particularly useful is the fifty-page glossary in which a vast array of Latin words are defined and their uses in forms of address are described with appropriate textual citations.
This is not to say that the book is without blemish. At times, it labors to prove the obvious. Thus we are told that ‘one very common means of expressing [affection and esteem] is by means of an affectionate or respectful adjective such as carissime “dearest” ’ (130). It is hard to imagine the reader who would construe carissime in any other fashion. Likewise, in the struggle for linguistic rigor, there is occasionally a regrettable lack of cultural and literary understanding. At one point, D contends that the reason that insults referring to people as animals should be part of the low register in classical Latin is not ‘apparent’ (177). Nonetheless, any student of satire or of the theories of the grotesque of Mikhail Bakthin would instantly recognize dehumanization as a consistent strategy of insult in the lower registers of most European languages and literatures, and three pages later, after much cogitation, this same conclusion is gingerly broached (180).
These, however, are minor irritations. This is a solid book that makes a real contribution to our understanding of the Latin language. D has demonstrated a record of solid achievement. We can only look forward to what comes next.