August 15, 2004

X is for "Zeno"

If you've ever wondered how those Roman names worked, Dr Weevil has a post on the subject.

...Nomenclatural ambiguity affects Roman authors in a different way. Most Romans had three names, which should have reduced the possibilities for confusion. The first (praenomen) was the personal name, like a modern first name, the second (nomen) the family or clan name, and the third (cognomen) was used to distinguish branches of the same family. Thus Marcus Tullius Cicero and Quintus Tullius Cicero were brothers, members of the Cicero branch of the Tullius family, while Titus Livius (the historian Livy) only had two names, since he came from a small town where there were only a few other Livii...

...This brings us back to the famous names. Scholars refer to eminent Romans by nomen or cognomen, whichever is more distinctive. Some have two uncommon names, so Publius Vergilius Maro could be either Vergil or Maro, Publius Ovidius Naso either Ovid or Naso, and Marcus Tullius Cicero either Tully or Cicero. For the last few centuries, they have been Vergil (or Virgil), Ovid, and Cicero, respectively, but older books often called them by the other names, especially Tully...

I had always assumed that using "Tully" was some sort of scholarly whimsy or affectation, a kind of inside joke, but not so...

Posted by John Weidner at August 15, 2004 7:08 PM
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