Cevolanian syntactical rubbish

The "old and affectionate pupils" of Giuseppe Cevolani, also quoted by Traina (see below)—as well as by Trombetti in the Preface to his own Latin Grammar—had the "initiative" of having published in a single volume "writings [of their old professor] scattered in various journals, today [1960] not easily available" (cf. G. Cevolani, Studi critici di sintassi latina, Rocca San Casciano [Cappelli Editore] 1960, p. III “AI LETTORI”).

We have no intention of reviewing all of Professor Cevolani's critical contributions, as it would be a sterile waste of time. However, since Professor Cevolani, in those writings, lashes out against two great Latinists, Giovan Battista Gandino and Enrico Cocchia, it seemed our duty to inform young scholars who are lovers of classical languages—and of Latin in particular—about the literary guerrilla warfare engaged in by Professor Cevolani to ridicule and annihilate the eminent Latinists mentioned.

Since the object of Cevolani's note, which "has a merely didactic, not a scientific purpose" (op. cit. p. 349 f.), is the "short and succinct exposition" (so worded by G. B. Gandino himself, cf. Esercizi latini con regole ed osservazioni per uso dei ginnasi, Parte Quinta, Torino [Paravia] 1904, p. V) that Gandino puts before the "Interrogazione doppia o disgiuntiva (Double or disjunctive questions), we report here in full the introductory text to the exercises (p. 147):

The double or disjunctive question, by which one asks which of two opposing concepts is affirmed or denied, is made with one or two particles.
The first phrase can be stated in direct and indirect questions with utrum or with ne or even without any particle; the second one with an or, if the question is indirect and the first phrase is without a particle, with ne.
The forms with utrum or ne in the first phrase and an in the second are the most commonly used; the forms with no particle in the first phrase and an or ne in the second are used only in short and strongly opposed clauses.
When the question has more than two phrases, the second phrase and the remaining ones are enunciated with an.

Illustrative examples follow. Then Gandino continues:

The Italian conjunction 'o' when it does not express an absolute opposition between two concepts, but serves only to declare or correct the concept that precedes it, is translated in interrogative clauses by aut, not an.
'O no' is ordinarily said in direct questions an non, in indirect questions necne with or without repetition of the verb.

And, again, other illustrative examples follow, the first of which—pay attention—is: voluptas melioremne efficit aut laudabiliorem virum? Which, by contrast and for patent pedagogical purposes, is followed by: voluptas melioremne efficit virum an deteriorem?
Well, Cevolani writes: "I immediately ask this question: how the disjunctive 'o' has to be translated into Latin in a sentence such as: Hai visto Antonio o suo fratello (Did you see Antonio or his brother)?” Then he restricts himself quoting the first paragraph of Gandino's point II. (see above) and also calls into question Cocchia's La sintassi latina (Napoli 1901): "The same, very same words are used—naturally—by Cocchia [...]; except that, when he arrives at the words 'aut is used instead of an,' he adds: 'and more frequently ne than utrum'.” (cf. p. 398).
Note that Cevolani does not simply say "the 'o'", but specifies "the disjunctive 'o'", resolving his bogus doubt with that attribute, without realizing it!
"Let us therefore propose," continues the professor, "to a pupil the translation of the sentence I have formulated above and let us give him the Gandino's teaching aid."
Now, we wonder how a normal pupil would behave. In our opinion, a normal pupil, excluding point II., would follow the instructions given in point I.; he would only have to choose between the various options: 1. utrum Antonium an fratrem (eius) vidisti? 2. Vidistine Antonium an fratrem? 3. Antonium vidisti an fratrem? And then, a normal pupil would move on to the next sentence.
Not at all!
Actually the professor continues:

The pupil will think: "As long as it is a question of the Gandinian pair meliorem-laudabiliorem,[1] the matter is very clear; it is evident that between the two terms there is no absolute opposition, indeed there is great affinity; likewise everything is clear for the other pair meliorem-deteriorem, where the opposition is diametrically straight. But when it comes to Antonio and his brother, the matter becomes terribly complicated. Let us leave aside Gandino's words "it only serves to declare or correct", which are obviously not applicable here, since no one will ever think of saying that his brother "declares or corrects" Antonio. And let us turn our attention to the distinction between absolute and non-absolute opposition. Which is the good one here? I would say that Antonio is one person, and his brother quite another. So I would conclude: absolute opposition. An argumentative guy might, it is true, object that, since they are two persons of the same family, the opposition is not absolute but relative. But to a witticism, and moreover of questionable taste, one must not attribute force of reasoning. Therefore, here, an.” So, if I am not mistaken, a pupil with the Gandino's aid would reason like that...

Well, once again we wonder: would a gymnasium pupil do the reasoning set out by Cevolani before translating that sentence? Rather, we are faced with the after-effects of a desperate and pathological failed mental masturbation.

"... but (that pupil)—infers the professor—would be wrong".

(The reader should note that the pupil, who had translated 'o' with an, "would be wrong"). And why would he be wrong? Because

the question we are dealing with can have two entirely different senses:
1) It may be pronounced in such a tone of voice, meaning: Which of these two persons did you see, Antonio or his brother?
2) It may be pronounced in such a tone of voice as to mean: Did you see either of these two persons, that is, Antonio or his brother?
In the first sense the question is disjunctive (in which case it would be absurd to answer it: yes or no), and then 'an' is required, not 'aut' .
In the second sense the question is simple (in which case it is perfectly possible to answer it: yes or no), and then you must use 'aut', not 'an.'

In other words, the student, after having elaborated, while doing his homework, all the reasoning exposed by Cevolani, should have waited for the next Latin lesson and, having entered the classroom, should have asked his teacher—who irresponsibly had adopted Gandino's Exercises—to pronounce with the right tone of voice the sentence "Did you see Antonio or his brother"; otherwise, he would not have been able to translate it!
It is clear that the picture described by Cevolani depicts a pupil suffering from a worrying obsessive pathology, or, better, a professor who projects onto his pupil the discomfort caused by his own didactic inadequacy. One would think that during his secondary school years, poor Cevolani would have been subjected to unrepeteable harassment by one of his teachers.

We object:
1. If the pupil had translated 'or (his brother)' with 'an,' he would not have been wrong, since he would have heard in his mind the tone of voice assumed (?) in number 1); and if he had translated it with 'aut,' he would also not have been wrong, since he would have heard in his mind the tone of voice assumed (?) in number 2). Where is the mistake?
2. Teachers are aware that exercise books are not audio books: the drills are just read! If the sentence to be translated is not clear, the responsibility lies with the person who proposed it. The unfortunate question "Did you see Antonio or his brother?", as it is written, without any additional note, in Italian has only a disjunctive value.
3. Our professor has not realised that the example with 'aut' is taken from Cicero and that Gandino, for true didactic purposes of illustrating the difference between a disjunctive question and an alternative one, which most people call 'simple' (?!), has taken the same sentence changing the pair of adjectives, which is not invented, but quite Ciceronian (cf., e.g., Phil. 13,40)!
If we really want to quibble with Gandino's text, we could observe that he should have titled paragraph 3. Double disjunctive questions (set out in section I.) and alternative questions (set out in section II.). In the disjunctive question (with 'an') the phrases are opposed (e.g. meliorem-deteriorem), while in the alternative one, also called by Cevolani 'simple' (with 'aut'), the phrases are almost one the alternative of the other (e.g. meliorem-laudabiliorem), but the second expresses the same concept viewed by a different standpoint.
Now, there is no one who does not see the absurdity of Cevolani's arguments, illustrated—mind you!—for "merely didactic purpose"!
But the professor, determined to inflict the coup de grâce on Cocchia too, is not yet satisfied:

A final observation concerning the two authors cited. Are we to believe that Gandino judges the sentence "Voluptas melioremne efficit aut laudabiliorem virum" as disjunctive? This cannot be stated categorically; however, from the whole context of the discussion and especially from the fact that he has placed the examined rule under the title Double or disjunctive interrogative sentences, it seems that he considers it disjunctive. Now this, as we have seen, is contrary to the truth.

Here Cevolani shows all his bad faith, since Gandino inserts Cicero's example (which Cevolani did not grasp) under section II., "when 'o' does not express an absolute opposition between two concepts". But the professor continues triumphantly:

But what is doubtful for Gandino, is instead certain and indisputable for Cocchia: he judges it disjunctive. It will be said: and the proof? We answer: it is that addition he wanted to make to Gandino's words, that is:.... and more frequently ne than utrum.
In fact, these words say that—albeit less frequently—utrum is also used in our case. Well, where utrum is, there the question is disjunctive.
Verum haec quidem hactenus.

And there is the rub! Compare Varr. l.Lat. 7,32: in determining the origin of words one is sometimes uncertain, ut in hoc, utrum primum una canis aut canes sit appellata; and Cic. de or. 1,233: quibuscum ego non pugno, utrum sit melius aut verius. In these two examples utrum is in correlation with aut, i.e. the question is not disjunctive! Not to mention the numerous cases in which in the disjunction utrum... an, the first phrase (introduced by utrum) presents one or more alternatives expressed by aut, as at the beginning of the Orator: utrum difficilius aut maius esset negare... an efficere... dubitavi.
And in all the articles collected in the cited volume, Prof. Cevolani applies his puerile logicism, from which one cannot learn anything, but only remain first astonished, then disgusted. According to Traina, "although spoilt by excessive logicism, the notes and essays collected by G. Cevolani are not negligible,...".[2] On the contrary, we invite the not dopey student to keep away from those Studi critici, unless he wants to have a good laugh.
As for Gandino, we affirm that of all the collections of exercises published after his Latin Exercises, exploited and badly copied by generations of teachers of all kinds, none has managed to exceed in completeness, competence and usefulness those five volumes dedicated to pupils of the gymnasium, without forgetting the masterpiece of Sintassi latina illustrata con luoghi di Cicerone, and the volume Lo stile latino. The accusation, made by some to Gandino, of being too Cicero-like, is the most stupid of accusations, if only we think that, as for classical Latin—the one that must be studied diligently before going back to the so-called archaic Latin, or entering the phase of its transformation, which begins with Livy—the writings we have of authors other than Cicero (Varro, Caesar, Sallust, Cornelius Nepot) represent all together less than a fifth of the works that have come down to us of Cicero; in other words, for just one quotation from each of the writers mentioned, there are almost twenty from Cicero alone. So only a fool can accuse Gandino of excessive Ciceronianism.
And now we say it:
Verum haec quidem hactenus!


[1] This pair, in passing, is Ciceronian indeed, cf. parad. 1,15!

[2] Cf. Propedeutica al latino universitario, Bologna [Pàtron] 62007, p. 240.

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