Lucan 1.683f

Classical Quarterly 40 (02):578- (1990)
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Abstract

So a frenzied matron cries out to Phoebus as she rushes through an appalled Rome. In CQ 34 , 454f. I pointed out that the words primos in ortus could not here bear their normal sense ‘to the far east’ , which in view of the next line would be geographically absurd, and, distraught as the lady was, even so highly improbable. I did, however, then think R. J. Getty right in taking the expression primos ortus as simply = ‘the east’, and adding ‘the epithet primos appears to be otiose’. But I now feel very doubtful about the epithet being viewed as otiose in order that the words may denote Egypt; quite different are the passages noted in OLD primus 6 ‘belonging to the rising sun, eastern’, as Stat. Silv. 1.4.73 ‘occidiias primasque domos’ in the cited Sen. Oed. 116 ‘miles… ausus Eois equitare campis / figere et mundo tua signa primo’ the literal meaning is no doubt ‘on the world's first edge’ , but its development into ‘eastern’ is readily seen. Egypt, however, as viewed by Rome, is but the bare beginning of the east, and that is what primos must indicate above : see OLD primus 10 b ‘the nearest part of, the entrance, threshold, or sim., of, noting e.g. Ov. Fast. 1.717 ‘horreat Aeneadas et primus et ultimus orbis’, Cic. Fam. 3.6.2. ‘te in prima prouincia uelle esse, ut quam primum decederes’. In a characteristic departure from their stock meaning Lucan's words primos in ortus must then mean ‘to the threshold of the east’, i.e. the delta of the Nile, as explained in the next line : contrast 7.360 primo gentes oriente = ‘the nations of the far east’ . For Egypt viewed as the beginning of the east, cf. Mela 1.9 ‘Asiae prima pars Aegyptus’, Plin. Nat. 5.47 ‘[Africae] adhaeret Asia, quam patere a Canopico ostio [Nili] ad Ponti ostium Timosthenes…tradidit’, Mart. Cap. 6.675 ‘Aegyptus… Asiae caput, 3 quae una ab ostio Canopi ad ostium Ponti habet… milia passuum’; cf. the close association of Egypt with the east in Virg. Aen. 8.687 ‘Aegyptum uiresque Orientis’. For the varied use of the word primus should be noted too Luc. 9.413f. ‘nee… plus litora Nili / quam Scythicus Tanais primis a Gadibus absunt’, ‘from Gades in the far west’ , ‘Gades the first place in the west’ , i.e. the threshold of the Mediterranean

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