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Somerville Undergraduate Wins Chancellor’s Latin Prose Prize

2nd July 2020

Maximum congratulations to Somerville Classicist Althea Sovani, who has been awarded the Chancellor’s Latin Prose Prize for the year 2020.

Our Classics tutor, Assoc. Professor Luke Pitcher had the following comment to make in recognition of Althea’s wonderful achievement:

“The Chancellor’s Latin Prose Prize was established under William Wyndham Grenville, Chancellor of the University in the early Nineteenth Century. Each year, a passage of English prose is chosen, to be translated into the most stylish possible Latin. Past winners have included some of the very greatest classical scholars, such as Sir Ronald Syme (1926), Robert Browning (1936), and Robin Nisbet (1948). Today’s winners, like Althea, often haven’t done this sort of composition at all before they come to Oxford, which makes their achievement all the more outstanding. In the old days, successful entries for the prizes were sometimes privately printed as pamphlets and circulated. The Internet makes such dissemination rather easier!”

Althea’s winning entry:

SICILY
‘Italien ohne Sizilien macht gar kein Bild in der Seele: hier ist der Schlüssel zu allem.’

(Goethe, Italienische Reise)

The island of Sicily lies as a triangle across the centre of the Middle Sea, dividing it into two and almost forming a bridge that joins Italy with Africa. Few islands have been better favoured by nature. Its climate is mild and its scenery beautiful, with rugged mountains and smiling valleys and plains. Even the frequency of earthquakes and the ever‐present menace of Mount Etna, though they have borne constant witness to the caprice of natural forces, have in compensation added to the richness of the soil. Man has been less kindly to the island. Geography placed it to be an inevitable battleground between the forces of Europe and Africa and to be an essential possession for anyone who would rule the Mediterranean world. Its story is one of invasions, wars and tumults.

Who the Siculi were who gave their name to the island, and whether they came from Italy and displaced the older autochthonous Sicani, is a matter for prehistorians to dispute. Sicilian history begins when the Siculi themselves saw their land invaded and colonized by the two great seafaring peoples of the ancient world, the Phoenicians and the Greeks. The Greeks founded their cities round the coasts of the eastern half of the island. The Phoenicians had come already, sailing in from the colonies that they had established in Africa, and occupying the western half of the island. There were wars between the two peoples, in which the Greeks held the mastery, though the Phoenicians, with the great African empire of Carthage to back them, remained a danger. When they were not fighting the Phoenicians, the Greek city‐states settled down to the endemic pastime of petty wars between each other and petty revolutions.

STEVEN RUNCIMAN

‘Εἰ δ’ ἡ Σικελία ἠφανίσθη, ἡ Ἑσπερία οὐδὲν ἂν σημεῖον ἐνεσήμαινεν εἰς τὰς τῶν θεωμένων ψυχάς· ἐν γάρ τῇ Σικελίᾳ πάντα μὲν φαίνεται, τὰ δ’ ἄδηλα δῆλα γίγνεται.’

(Goethe, Italienische Reise)

Sicilia, quam inter omnes constat triangulo simillimam esse, inter Italiam atque Africam instar pontis posita mare internum, quod a Romanis nostrum quoque appellatur, duas in partes dividit. Neque vero facile alias invenias insulas quae tam temperatae sint tamque praeditae benigna atque prospera natura. Nam pulcherrima semper illic loci natura est atque admiratione digna, modo aspera ac praeruptis montibus contenta, modo lata ac patens amoenis vallibus. Ipsi etiam motus quibus illa terra concuti solet atque Aetna quae voce quadam minaci toti insulae semper impendet usui incolis fuerunt. Quamvis enim quam necopinata ac varia rerum natura efficere possit, aeterno documento sint, tamen cum solum feracius uberiusque fecissent aliquid quoque boni utilisque adtulerunt. Maiorem autem labem atque perniciem Siciliae homines ipsi se praebuerunt, cum fere sine ulla intermissione, maximae et Europae et Africae nationes eam subigere occupareque conarentur. Nec vero id mirabile est propterea quod tam opportunus tamque idoneus ad dominandum insulae situs est ut, si quis omne mare internum eiusque gentes domare regereque cupiat, illam insulam capiat oporteat. Qua de causa, aliis invadentibus, aliis acriter proeliantibus, omni perturbationum genere longaque tumultuum serie insula per aetates affecta est.

Primum igitur, si cui pristinarum rerum id sit studium ut principium atque originem primam exquirat, perobscura quaestio est de Siculis penitusque explicanda, qua consuetudine quibus legibus institutisque vixerint, num deinde ab Italia profecti Sicanos –nam ii quidem antiquitus insulam incoluerant– ipsi expulerint. Perspicuum enim nihil est nisi quod Siculi nomen suum Siciliae imposuerunt. Sed quod ex quo tempore Siculi ipsi sub iugum missi sunt factum est, id accurate perspici tractarique potest. Nam et Phoenices et Graeci, inter antiquos rerum nauticarum cum usus tum scientiae peritissimi uterque, cum in Siciliam invasissent, illuc colonias deduxerunt. Hi vero omne per litus quod in orientem solem vergit urbes condiderunt. Illi autem coloniis in Africa constitutis Siciliam iam attigerant, quamobrem alteram partem captam tunc tenebant. Atque etsi cum bellum inter se gesserant, Graeci semper vincebant, Phoenices nihilominus auxilio magnoque imperio Carthaginiensium freti atque nitentes adeo valebant ut timerentur. Nisi autem cum Phoenicibus armis contendebant, coloni Graeci vires deminutas, ut earum civitatum mos semper fuit, intestinis bellis ac rebus novis consumebant iisque aliis alios numquam vere praestantibus.

Cum eis me, ut dixi, oblecto, qui res gestas aut orationes scripserunt suas aut qui ita loquuntur, ut videantur voluisse esse nobis, qui non sumus eruditissimi, familiares.

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