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Towards a New Lexicon of Fear: A Statistical and Grammatical Analysis of pertimescere in Cicero

Emma Vanderpool

I employ the University of Chicago’s PhiloLogic, an automatic word search system created for the study of corpus linguistics, along with manual contextual observations, in order to explore how Latin authors from Plautus to Jerome, and more specifically Cicero, use pertimescere, “to become very scared (of) or to be excessively frightened (at)” (OLD). While Brenda Marina Fields and Andrew M. Riggsby have performed studies on words used to express fear in Latin, this paper’s word study provides a clearer understanding of pertimescere, a word often overlooked in such studies.

I first address the influence of the statistical bias caused by Cicero’s disproportionate corpus size. The number of times Cicero uses pertimescere accounts for 66.343% of all its occurrences in extant Latin literature, and, because of our dependence on a static historical corpus, the manner in which he uses pertimescere has a significant impact on our understanding of the verb’s usage. The statistical bias, which favors Cicero’s use of the Latin language, can be lessened by creating a corpus of words of fearing including pertimescere, timere, vereri, metuere, extimescere, formidare, and pavere and by comparing the relative frequency of each verb. These calculations and their accompanying graphs create a more objective picture of the frequency of pertimescere and suggest that Cicero uses pertimescere at a statistically unusual rate, which makes his usage integral to our understanding of the verb.

 Following this analysis, I make further statistical calculations regarding the different constructions of pertimescere and illustrate these statistics through graphs. These results help to create a broad outline of how the verb is used. Comparing individual instances of pertimescere in Cicero’s corpus to significant uses in the corpora of other Roman authors helps to better determine how Cicero uses the word. These observations concerning the constructions of pertimescere suggest that, on the surface, Cicero uses the verb in much the same way as other Roman authors, but with some tendencies that allow him to maintain his distinct authorial voice.

This word study not only provides a clearer understanding of the word pertimescere and creates a fuller picture of the lexicon of fear, but also demonstrates the powerful combination of new methodologies with the old when studying the Latin corpus.

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The Next Generation: Papers by Undergraduate Classics Students

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