A very interesting series of items from Jonah Goldberg popped up at the National Review Online this week. First:
A slew of readers are outraged, perplexed, confabulated and gobsmacked by the claim made below by another reader that there’s no Latin word for “volcano.”
I agree it is bizarre. After all you would think that after Pompeii was covered in lava and hot ash by Mount Vesuvius, someone would have said “Hey, you know what? We could really use a word for that thing.”
Meanwhile, a friend informs me that Mons ignifer (fire-bearing mountain) is the Latin neologism for volcano.
Better late than never, I suppose.
via: No Latin For Volcano
Followed quickly by:
This is awesome, from a reader:
I discovered this a few years ago, after I’d read Robert Harris’ excellent novel, _Pompeii_. It’s told from the point of view of a hydraulic engineer in AD 79, sent to figure out why the aqueduct around Pompeii is running dry. I kept wondering why the characters weren’t thinking about the possibility of the volcano erupting, and I finally tried to look up the word in my Latin dictionary, without success. It’s the Chambers & Murray—considered the best 1-volume Latin dictionary out there—so it wouldn’t have accidentally missed the word.
That really surprised me. But I reckon Vesuvius really surprised the Romans, too. I thought this might have been the first eruption of a volcano their civilization had known, but that’s not the case, since even Vergil refers to an eruption of Etna in the Aeneid. So…even weirder they didn’t have a word, since they knew about these things. Huh.
via: No Latin for Volcano Cont’d
The controversy won’t go dormant. From a reader:
There may not be a single word for a volcano, but there is a Latin phrase for it:
mons flammas eructans (“mountain belching fire”)
Aren’t you being more than a trifle gullible? The Romans employed ample terminology for volcanoes; even more for the sort of eruptions of stupidity evidenced by your reader. I suggest you consign his email to the mouth of a mons flammas eructans. While you’re at it, utter a prayer to Volcanus.
good heavens — anyone who saw the doctor who episode “the fires of
pompeii” (2008) knows there was no latin word for “volcano.” also,
that as bad as volcanic eruptions are, they prevent the pyrovile rock
people from becoming our new alien overlords. sheesh.
According to the episode “The Fires of Pompeii” they simply didn’t have one.
THE DOCTOR (subdued, to Donna)
They don’t know what it is. Vesuvius is just a mountain to them, the top hasn’t blown off yet. The Romans haven’t even got a word for volcano. Not until tomorrow.
via: More Volcanic Latin
I’m not sure saying “they didn’t have a word for it” gives the right impression. As some of the commentators about are implying, it seems more accurate to say that the Romans didn’t really distinguish between mountains that ‘burned’ and mountains that didn’t ‘burn’ except with the addition of adjectives. Here, e.g., is what Pliny the Elder has in a section describing ‘flagrant mountains’ (2.110 via Lacus Curtius):
verum in montium miraculis ardet Aetna noctibus semper tantoque aevo materia ignium sufficit, nivalis hibernis temporibus egestumque cinerem pruinis operiens. nec in illo tantum natura saevit exustionem terris denuntians: flagrat in Phaselitis mons Chimaera, et quidem inmortali diebus ac noctibus flamma; ignem eius accendi aqua, extingui vero terra aut fimo Cnidius Ctesias tradit. eadem in Lycia Hephaesti montes taeda flammante tacti flagrant, et adeo ut lapides quoque rivorum et harenae in ipsis aquis ardeant, aliturque ignis ille pluviis; baculo si quis ex iis accenso traxerit sulcum, rivos ignium sequi narrant. flagrat in Bactris Cophanti noctibus vertex.