The introduction of Greek grammar to Rome led to greater awareness of linguistic variety and difference. While the horizon of Greek grammarians was almost entirely confined to their own language, from the start of grammatical study in Rome, the outlook of its practitioners was fundamentally bilingual. This made it possible to ask novel questions, for instance, about the nature of linguistic relatedness, and develop new methods of cross-linguistic comparison (Desbordes 1988, Schöpsdau 1992). Ancient lexicography provides an important witness to this development: not only do Roman grammarians draw on Greek vocabulary to understand the meaning of native words, they also use these juxtapositions to investigate and maintain the differences between “Latin” and “Greek” as linguistic and cultural categories.
My contribution will focus on one strand within the tradition of ancient lexicography where this process is most in evidence: the part concerned with the identification and elucidation of idiomata. An idioma was defined in its narrowest sense as a word one aspect of whose meaning or usage was uniquely Latin rather than Greek (e.g. quae pro nostro more efferimus et non secundum Graecos, Char. p. 379.3B). For instance, Charisius lists idiomata of gender (e.g. haec gens, τá½¸ á¼¦θος), verbal diathesis (e.g. misereor, á¼λεá¿¶), and syntactic governance (e.g. parco + dat., φεÎ¯δοµαι + gen.), among other categories. While Greek grammarians used á¼°δÎ¯ωµα in a wide sense to refer to any peculiarity of style (e.g. á¼°δÎ¯ωµα á¿¾ΟµηρικÏŒν), it seems to have been a Roman innovation to apply the term to the features that were deemed unique to a particular language. Collections of such idiomata can be found in several grammatical texts (Char. 379-86B, Diomedes GL 1.310–20, and an anonymous De idiomatibus casuum = GL 4.566–72) and likely originated in grammatical work from the first century C.E. (Barwick 1922:115-16). This line of investigation culminated in Macrobius’ treatise De verborum Graeci et Latini differentiis vel societatibus, the most innovative and systematic comparison between two languages that survives from antiquity (De Paolis 1990: xxii).
My talk will investigate the historical practices of collecting idiomata and the linguistic concepts and theories that evolved in tandem with those practices. On the theoretical level, I will demonstrate the various ways in which the term was conceived by collecting definitions of idioma and analyzing its usage in other contexts. These definitions also reveal implicit assumptions about the nature of language and linguistic comparison: in particular, that Latin and Greek, by virtue of their shared analogia—a hallmark of their civilized status—were uniquely capable of being compared (e.g. Macrob. GL 5.631). Regarding practice, I will ask how and by whom collections of idiomata were meant to be used. Unlike bilingual glossaries, many of which were intended for everyday use, lists of idiomata addressed an educated audience keen to distinguish their language from ordinary speech. The prevalence of particular categories of idiomata (e.g. the gender of nouns and diathesis of verbs) suggests that these lists played an important role in preserving Latin and Greek as separate linguistic categories, especially at the points where they were most vulnerable to slippage and conflation.