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More Latian Anagrams (Aen. 8.314-36)

This paper offers a new reading of Evander’s speech at Aeneid 8.314-36. The passage contains a celebrated anagrammatic wordplay centering on the word Latium, to which we add several newly identified anagrams. In particular, we argue that these wordplays represent in microcosm the composition, disintegration, and recomposition of states leading up to and including Rome itself. In doing so the anagrams convey an underlying evolutionary process in which elements - whether letters or peoples - are grouped differently over time to create new words and identities. At the same time, couched in Evander’s moralizing discourse about human evolution, the wordplays do more than merely exemplify societal change: formal features embody real-world processes with major historical and ethical effects.

Evander famously explains the origins of the name Latium as an etymological play on the verb latere (8.321-3). Critics have noted that line 323 contains anagrammatic wordplay with the word maluit in addition to this etymology (Ahl 1985, O’Hara 1996, Nelis 2006). Despite the close attention given to this passage, no commentator, as far as we are aware, has observed yet another rearrangement of the same letters appearing three lines below within the word paulatim. In contrast with the preceding anagrams, which pertain to a civilizing process and culminate in a Saturnian “Golden Age” (aurea saecula, 8.324-5), the word paulatim appears in Evander’s description of moral decline and societal collapse (deterior donec paulatim ac decolor aetas / et belli rabies et amor successit habendi, 8.326-7). Here in a new and worse age the word Latium, like the state, is dissolved; moreover, the meaning of paulatim makes it an especially appropriate descriptor of this incremental dissociation. The whole sequence of wordplay thus casts the pre- and post-Saturnian history of the region as a continuous evolution (cf. Thomas 2004-2005) rather than a set of discrete phases, as in the canonical myth of the metallic ages.

Further support for Vergil’s engagement in anagrammatic wordplay here is found in amor (327), previously suggested as a deliberate palindrome of Roma (Cairns 1989). We suggest, however, that Rome is already prefigured in the very first line of Evander’s speech: tum rex Evandrus Romanae conditor arcis: / “haec nemora indigenae Fauni Nymphaeque tenebant” (8.313-14). Explicitly identified as the founder of the Roman citadel, Evander describes the location using a word, nemora, which both contains the letters of Roma and repeats all but one of the letters of Romanae in the preceding line. As critics have observed, the opening of the speech recalls a passage of Lucretius: haec loca capripedes satyros nymphasque tenere / finitimi fingunt et faunos esse loquuntur (Lucr. 4.580-1; cf. Eden 1975 ad loc.). Vergil’s change from loca to nemora does more than add descriptive color; it specifies the rusticity from which Saturnian civilization will arise. It also, we argue, hints at the telos of this land in the Rome to come. Furthermore, if the first two words are fleetingly read as *haecne mora, the effect is to highlight a word, mora, that is not only an exact anagram of Roma but also a term implicated in the network of relations between Roma and amor (cf. Reed 2016).

The paper concludes by turning to the relationship between Rome and Latium in Augustan culture (cf. Cooley 2006), attested in Horace’s pairing of Roman and Latium fortunes in the Carmen Saeculare (65-8) and in Ovid’s emphatic designation of the subject of his Fasti as the Latian calendar (1.1-2). Finally, in discussing potential reference to Augustan Rome, we suggest a further allusion in Vergil’s paulatim: to the Palatine (Palatium, an exact anagram) as well as to Latium. In this way, we show the stunning aptness of the passage’s anagrammatic play for conveying the larger questions of identity- and character-formation in which the Augustan writers, and Augustan culture writ large, are so invested, a culture in which ideas of deformation and reconstitution held particular poignancy.