Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Translating Cicero’s In Verrem V with my year 12 class recently, we came across an unusual Latin word. Verres had been accused (among many other things) of accepting a bribe to release a pirate, and keeping the plunder for himself and his cronies, and Cicero, in summing up his behaviour, writes:

Haec igitur est gesta res, haec victoria praeclara: myoparone piratico capto dux liberatus, symphoniaci Romam missi, formosi homines et adulescentes et artifices domum abducti, in eorum locum et ad eorum numerum cives Romani hostilem in modum cruciati et necati...

And so this is what he accomplished, this outstanding victory: having captured a pirate myoparo, the leader was set free, the musicians who had been on board were sent to Rome, as for the pirates’ captives, the good-looking ones, the young ones those with any kind of skill were taken away to his home, and in place of the pirates whom he had set free, and to make up their number, Roman citizens were tortured and killed as if they were enemies…

The unusual word here is myoparo, in the first line; it seems to refer to some kind of pirate ship, but what kind of ship exactly? Levens has this to say:

myoparone: this word, which is used later in the speech (§§89, 97, 100), to describe other pirate ships, was a grammarians’ puzzle until the discovery in Tunisia [i.e. the Ancient city of Carthage] of a mosaic depicting various types of a ship with their names attached… There a myoparo is shown between a vessel called mydion or musculus (Gr. and Lat. diminutives of mus, which in both languages, means a rat or mouse) and another called paro, so we suppose it to be a portmanteau word denoting a ship combining the characteristics of these two types. The first half of the compound suggests that the myoparo was small (cf. §§89; 97) and fast-moving (in the mosaic it has both mast and oars), as pirate ships would need to be…

R. G. C. Levens, Cicero; The Fifth Verrine Oration

I tried to locate a picture of the mosaic referred to by Levens, but the best I could find was at this site. Here are two other discussions of what kind of ship this actually was:

As a rule we do not find that the pirates made use of any particular rig or build. Probably, in most cases the would-be pirate was content with the first boat that came to hand by theft or purchase… The two vessels which in Hellenistic and Roman times are most closely associated with the pirates, the hemiolia and the myoparo, were [also] widely used by others… The myoparo, according to Mr Torr was broader than the regular warship in proportion to its length, and, we may assume, more suitable for stowing loot. Both vessels were sea-going ships, the myoparo, at any rate, possessing a mast and sails, as well as oars.

[Myoparones] were fighting ships of no great size. They were in use throughout the Mediterranean in the First Century B.C. for warfare and for piracy. Apparently they were broader than the regular war-ships in proportion to their length, and therefore better able to keep the sea. [The evidence of Appian and Plutarch] would naturally define the myoparones as vessels of a hybrid species between the long ships and the round ships… vessels termed parones and parunculi are mentioned in verses that are ascribed to Cicero…. The myoparones therefore bore a compound name: and a compound name would naturally be given to a ship of an intermediate type.

C. Torr, Ancient Ships

No comments: