Monday 7 January 2008

Re ortu nominis Caesaris

I am in the midst of reading an excellent new book by linguist Nicholas Ostler called Ad Infinitum - A Biography Latin (very recommended). According to the book jacket besides being an author Ostler is also the chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages

I came across an interesting note in his chapter on Etruscan and Latin regarding the origin of the name Caesar - according to Ostler (page 42) - "The name Caesar, for example, suggests that some remote ancestor (possibly Lucius Julius, who fought in the first Punic War around 250 BC) had had a significant link with the Etruscan city of Caere (called in Etruscan Cair-)" Ostler gives as his source for this Facchetti's L'Enigma svelato della lingua etrusca Rome, 2000

In my classical studies I had encountered several potential meanings, the two most popular being that the first Caesar had a thick head of hair (Lat caesaris) or that it was an actually an anti-Caesar jibe since the Caesars were known for baldness and this could have been away of saying "oh yeah the ones with the hair). This is glossed in the Historia Augusta.

The other is that Caesar is not Latin at all - the suffix -ar was highly unusual for Latin and the etymology could come from the Punic word "caesai" meaning Elephant - and that one of Caesar's ancestors killed an Elephant during the First Punic War and got the title - Elephant Man (Caesar) - indeed Julius Caesar is said to have agreed with this interpretation and during his campaigns in Gaul and Britain had an image of an elephant stamped on the coins (see image).

As I said the caere one is a new one on me. Caere is the Latin name of the modern city of Cerverteri in Southern Eturia. It does have two variant names in the sources - Caisra and Cisra so certainly close. There were battles there during the Etruscan and First Punic Wars so it is possible that an ancestor of Caesar could have fought there and gained glory and his name (like Scipio Africannus, etc) - just needs some more research and any comments very welcome.

On another Roman front I am currently enjoying a series of lectures you can download from I Tunes U from Stamford University of Virgil's Aeneid - fun reliving this epic poem and I need to find the William Morris translation which the Professor - excellent Dr. Susan Bratman - says makes Virgil sound like Tolkien!

Oh and my Beginning Hittite Book came in the post today - another project for 2008!


Jason Fisher said...

Ask and ye shall receive. The William Morris translation of Virgil’s Æneid is available for free online, thanks to Google Books. You can read it online or download the entire 1876 edition in PDF format. It is very Tolkienesque in places, although I don’t recall whether Tolkien ever wrote in iambic hexameter.

As to the Ostler book, I’m still reading it too. Plenty of fascinating little tidbits, many of which I expect will make it onto my blog.

Dr. Andrew Higgins said...


Tibi gratias ago on the Virgil. Will watch your blog for comments on the Ostler. Waiting for the Silmarillion 30 Years book from Amazon!

Cheers, Andy

Jason Fisher said...

Tibi gratias ago on the Virgil.

Salutatio! Adiuvare mihi placet. :)

Will watch your blog for comments on the Ostler.

Something later today, I expect. I’ve queued up a number of interesting points and connections I’d like to highlight.

Waiting for the Silmarillion 30 Years book from Amazon!>

Do let me know what you think!

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