Caesar Sunday

The Latin game of the week in the office comes from De Bello Gallico I.40: Caesar convincing his panicking Roman legions to sack up and fight Ariovistus and his German giants.  In the midst of his rhetorical genius, Caesar lays down this structurally stunning gem:

Si quos adversum proelium et fuga Gallorum commoveret, hos, si quaerent, reperire posse diuturnitate belli defatigatis Gallis, Ariovistum cum multos menses castris se ac paludibus tenuisset neque si potestatem fecisset, desperantes iam de pugna et dispersos, subito adortum magis ratione et consilio quam virtute vicisse.

I like to toss these up on a board structurally, with indenting to show the grammatical relations.  One of my least favorite things about the entire digital age is how difficult it is to do this on a screen.  Sometimes the old ways are best!  Since I’m not going to drive myself insane trying to replicate in MS Paint and I’m too lazy to set it up in Word and do a screen cap, you’ll have to take my word for it: it’s a cool sentence.

The apodosis (consequent) of the conditional sentence is, depending on how you want to look at it, unexpressed or borrowed from earlier in the paragraph.  Basically there’s a hidden “Caesar says” introducing an indirect statement.  Here’s my render:

If the adverse battle and flight of the Gauls were to disturb any [Romans], these same, should they but inquire, could discover that, although the Gauls were exhausted from the length of the war, Ariovistus, although for many months he had held himself in his camp–nay let us say in the swamp–nor expended any of his power, arising suddenly conquered a despairing and now scattered from battle people, more by cunning and stratagem than by might.

A bit hard to lay down the English and keep the structure, which of course is why we learn Latin!  Caesar is mocking the Roman fear of the Germans.  Imagine Jules from Pulp Fiction or Col. Nathan Jessup from A Few Good Men delivering this speech and keep the sarcasm heavy.

The Gauls?  That’s your argument?  The Gauls?  Whoa, look out everyone! I guess if Ariovistus can defeat the Gauls then he’s on our level after all!  Listen up: First of all, they were Gauls.  Second, they were exhausted from the long war and Ariovistus had been hiding in his camp for months like a serpent slithering in the swamps and then BAM! he took them by surprise while they were desperate and scattered.  Gosh, how ever did he win that battle?  T. Lab, get the Senate on the line.  We’re surrendering our position in Gaul.

After Caesar soundly mocks them and makes clear that absolutely none of these factors will be in play (and other many great arguments besides), the chastened Romans get in gear and proficiscor their sorry asses toward Ariovistus.  And Caesar didn’t even have to crucify any of them!

A great, great speech.  Learn Latin.

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