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Subject:Reading in Bed
Time:03:17 pm
Liber eram et vacuo meditabar vivere lecto.
I was free and planned to live my life in an empty bed.

That's the first line of Propertius 2.2. Apart from the (at least at first appearance) attractive and simply funny thought of living one's whole life in bed, empty or otherwise, I think Propertius hints at a bookish life (liber), spent reading (lecto). I'm not an expert on Propertius and I haven't got a decent commentary at hand, so: is it likely that he would have played with words like that?
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ioanna_ioannina
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Time:2013-02-05 03:50 pm (UTC)
I'd say it's not impossible, on condition that he did not feel the difference between liber (a book) and liiber (free) so strongly, that it would eliminate all the similarity between the two words. We have to keep in mind that until Augustin, nobody was reading silently, to read meant automatically to recite, therefore to hear the text. But on the other hand, if he did not want to use the word "liber", he could use any of the synonyms, so in reading, we have to take the word with its whole cloud of meanings and connotations (not only free, but "not a serve of anything", too, and maybe "liber - liber", as you propose).
Moreover I see two coniunctions by alliteration there: liber - lecto (very audible because of the positions of the words, in the beginning an the end of the verse) and vacuo - vivere. Propertius was poeta doctus from the group of neoterics who liked to play with figures like this. So we can pay attention to all four of those "highlighted" words.
I mean, it may be further evidence that your theory works.
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leopold_paula_b
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Time:2013-02-06 10:32 am (UTC)
Thanks a lot!
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leopold_paula_b
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Time:2013-02-11 03:47 pm (UTC)
Not strictly revelant to my question, but I just remembered Horace's "cantamus (,) vacui" (Odes 1.6.19), where "vacuus" means "fancy-free". (And both David West and Niall Rudd translate it like that.) Considering that we get to hear "vacuo meditabar vivere" before "lecto" comes as a kind of "punchline", I'm almost sure that Propertius wants us to think of himself as fancyfree as well as of his bed as empty.
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ioanna_ioannina
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Time:2013-02-12 07:05 pm (UTC)
Yes, I can agree. Horatius' "convivia... cantamus, vacui" for me seems to be a counterpart to "quis Martem... scripserit". I'm just thinking, whether he meant it as a laus to pax Augustea, or a pun to Agrippa (like "don't introduce themes like this, you brute"), or a shot to his own lines (like "we are incapable of previous grave heroic poetry").
But definitely yes to the pun in "vacuo... lecto".
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lysimache
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Time:2013-02-05 08:49 pm (UTC)
I would want to see evidence from elsewhere that the Romans would make a play on those two words (liber/līber) given the differing quantities of the first syllable. Without it, I'm disinclined to see it.
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leopold_paula_b
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Time:2013-02-06 10:40 am (UTC)
Thanks for your skeptical view. I do still see the allusion there, but I don't think that I can "prove" it. And of course the poem works perfectly well without books and reading.
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falmouthroad
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Time:2013-02-11 04:12 pm (UTC)
Difference in quantity does not seem to have worried ancient etymolosing too much - thus e.g. 'Philomela' could be felt to be derived from 'phileo' + 'melos'.
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leopold_paula_b
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Time:2013-02-13 06:02 am (UTC)
I actually went so far to pester Paolo Fedeli (author of "Properzio: Elegie, Libro II", Cambridge, 2005), who agrees with you: "la sua ipotesi è ingegnosa; per parte mia, però, continuo a credere che per i Latini la quantità di una sillaba fosse fondamentale, e decisiva nei casi in cui distingueva una parola da un'altra graficamente identica."
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falmouthroad
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Time:2013-02-14 09:58 am (UTC)
I agree (... of course! ...) with the thrust of what Paolo Fedeli says but punning (and the related phenomenon of etymologising play) is a much looser business. It can be seen that ancient etymology was very ambitious in making connections between words which are quite dissimilar in form (and which are not truly etymologically connected) - e.g. 'Venus' could be connected etymologically with 'vincula' and 'vis' and wordplays organised around such connections (see Varro De Lingua Latina 5.61f - see Cairns 'Tibullus: A Hellenistic Poet at Rome' and O'Hara 'True names: Vergil and the Alexandrian tradition of etymological wordplay')).

Also while it is right to place most emphasis on the heard sound of words (here, especially, when the word is in the first position of the line), ancient poetry is not entirely free of purely visual effects - a case in point being acrostics (cf. Aratus Phaenomena as the most well-known example) and also cf. the anagrammmatic play which seems to be apparent at Aen. 8.322-3 'Latiumque vocari / maluit, his quoniam latuisset tutus in oris' (with 'latuisset' self-consciously signalling the conceit).

So although it is of course right to approach such suggestions with a health dollop of judicious skepticism, one shouldn't be too dogmatic about this kind of thing.
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leopold_paula_b
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Time:2013-02-14 02:46 pm (UTC)
I didn't understand Fedeli's very kind and encouraging reply as a total rejection of the mere possibility of a pun here. He just doesn't think it very likely. And I don't believe that Propertius must have had this wordplay in mind. I just think it possible. (And as I find the idea attractive I keep it alive in my mind.)

Thanks for the book titles you're mentioning! They sound great.
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catsidhe
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Time:2013-02-06 05:12 am (UTC)
I'd actually think it a good hypothesis. I don't think there's a rule anywhere that two words in a pun or allusion must be identical; similarity should be able to at least hint at a pun.

Apropos of nothing, I also like how "planned to live" is literally in "an empty bed".
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leopold_paula_b
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Time:2013-02-06 10:03 am (UTC)
As in Horace, carmina 1.5: Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa: te "embraced" by gracilis ... puer, and both between multa ... rosa.
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falmouthroad
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Time:2013-02-11 04:09 pm (UTC)
I don't see why not. A pun on 'liber' = free; 'liber' = book would be easily felt.

If there is a pun, the alternative implication might be 'liber eram' - 'I was a book' (i.e. one book of love poetry down - Propertius Book 1) and I was planning on something other than love poetry. But...

Cf. the 'recusatio' topic - i.e. I would write poetry about war and kings but...' - of which Propertius 2.1 is an example and Ov. Amores 1.1 is an extreme example.

I have a vague hesitation about whether it would be physically convenient to read in bed using a book roll, remembering that the codex had not yet been invented - but I don't see why not. Less convenient than a paperback but not much worse than an Ipad!

Propertius expects girls to read his book sitting up - cf. Prop. 3.3.19-20.

'ut tuus in scamno iactetur saepe libellus,
quem legat exspectans sola puella virum.'
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leopold_paula_b
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Time:2013-02-11 04:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I also arrived at "I was a book and planned to live on my immaterial reading", but both wordplays don't quite work (the wrong "i" in liber and the strange singular of "lecto"). But maybe an allusion could still be there.
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falmouthroad
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Time:2013-02-11 04:16 pm (UTC)
Of course, any such pun should not detract from the main force of 'Liber eram' - namely release from servitude, servitude being one of the strongest topics/metaphors of Propertius' love poetry (cf. e.g. Prop. 1.1).
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falmouthroad
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Time:2013-02-11 10:24 pm (UTC)
...and more fuel for your 'lectus' - bed / 'lectus' - read pun.

Quis poterit lecto durus discedere Gallo? 765
(Ov. AA. 1.765)

One could easily misread the first five words as 'who could depart hard from their bed?'. Then one reaches 'Gallo' and one's understanding of the line completely changes.

(and surely there is some such sexual double-entendre intended here with 'durus' in Ovid's line - even if it does not depend on the 'lecto'/'lecto' pun).
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leopold_paula_b
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Time:2013-02-12 08:02 am (UTC)
Good example!
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