The Meaning of ablocare

Verbum ablocare a Suetonio solo et bis omnino perscriptum quid significet. Anglice.
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    Verbum ablocare  a Suetonio solo et bis omnino perscriptum quid significet. Anglice. The Meaning of ablocare  (Suet. Iul. 26.2, Vit. 7.2)  Suetonius tells us that the future emperor Vitellius, when made governor of Inferior Germania by the emperor Galba, lacked the money to pay for the journey; so great was his want of family wealth that he was forced to take desperate measures:  satis constat exituro viaticum defuisse, tanta egestate rei familiaris, ut uxore et liberis, quos Romae relinquebat, meritorio cenaculo abditis domum in reliquam partem anni ablocaret utque ex aure matris detractum unionem pigneraverit ad itineris impensas  (Suet. Vit. 7.2). 1 ablocarit  Bentley  : oblocaret Sabellicus  ( cf. Iul. 26  ) || pigneraret  N   The authors of the translations we have seen all agree that Vitellius rented out for the rest of the year a house which belonged to himself: “he let his house for the rest of the year” (Rolfe); “il mit en location pour le reste de l’année sa propre maison” (Ailloud); “so that he could let out the house for the rest of the year” (Edwards); “rented his house for the rest of the year” (Hurley). Ownership of a house is not precluded by tanta egestate , since it is quite possible that his debts were nearly as great or even greater than his assets, and in fact Suetonius goes on to describe how his departure was complicated by a mob of creditors (7.2: creditorum quidem  praestolantium ac detinentium turbam ); scholarly dictionaries, moreover, by their definitions of ablocare  fully justify, or even require, such an interpretation: “i. alii habitandam locaret” (TLL, s.v.); “to lease out or let out on hire” (Lewis-Short, s.v.); “to place a contract for (work); to let (a house)” (OLD, s.v.). 2  But neither can we exclude the possibility that Vitellius was poorer still, too poor even to own a house. Roby simply reported for the verb ablocare , without further explanation, the meaning “let off = sublet.” 3  He might have been influenced in part by tanta egestate , but was not exclusively so, for he gives the definition among those of a large number of verbs bearing the 1   Critical text after M.   I HM  (Lipsia 1907). 2   J.   C.   R  OLFE  (Loeb ed. 1914); H.   A ILLOUD  (Budé ed. 1932); C.   E DWARDS  (Oxford 2000); D.   W.   H URLEY  (Indianapolis 2011). The two fairly recent English translations give us some confidence that the point was not dealt with in three English-language commentaries which were unavailable to us: G.   W.   M OONEY , C. Suetoni Tranquilli de vita Caesarum libri VII-VIII (London 1930); C.   L.   M URISON , Suetonius: Galba, Otho, Vitellius (London: Bristol CP 1992); D.   C.   A.   S HOTTER  , Suetonius: Lives of Galba, Otho, Vitellius (Warminster: Aris & Phillips 1993). 3   H.   J.   R  OBY , A Grammar of the Latin Language from Plautus to Suetonius, Pt. II, Bk. IV (London 1882) 356.   prefix ab - or an assimilated form thereof. The unprefixed form locare  can of course by itself mean, among other things, “to award contracts for (work), contract for having (a thing) done,” and “to lease, let (property, lands, etc.)” (OLD, s.v. 5a, 7b); it would therefore be quite logical if the addition of the prefix had an effect on the meaning, but in practice, of course, it is often impossible to detect a difference in meaning between prefixed and unprefixed forms, just as it is impossible to detect a difference between forms with different prefixes. We then seem to be at an impasse, for both “let out” and “sublet” yield good sense, while tanta egestate  and ab -, even when taken together, cannot establish the correctness of the latter, since accumulation cannot by itself render insufficient grounds sufficient. Since a shorthand sign which has been resolved as ablocat  , 4  even if rightly resolved, 5  tells us nothing about the meaning, we have only to contend with the other instance in which we find the word in actual use: munus populo epulumque pronuntiavit in filiae memoriam, quod ante eum nemo. quorum ut quam maxima expectatio esset, ea quae ad epulum  pertinerent, quamvis macellaris ablocata, etiam domesticatim apparabat   (Suet. Iul. 26.2). 6 maxima G !  : maxime (- "    L ) rel  . ( # ), inde  cum maxime  Bentley  | populum G  || adlocata T   : oblocata  P  1 O 1 !  ( vulg  .) : at oblocata $ 2   in marg  . ( cf. Vit  . 7) Clearly here a different sense of the base verb locare  is operative, “to contract for having a thing done” (Lewis-Short, s.v., I.B.2.b), and it was for this reason that the OLD offered two definitions of ablocare ; 7  at first sight, then, there seems to be little prospect of learning anything of use in the other passage from this one. But if, where a domus  is concerned, the sense “to let” becomes “to sublet” through the addition of the prefix, then, where an epulum  is concerned, the same  prefix on the same base verb, especially when occurring in the same author and even work, ought so to modify the sense that “contract” becomes “subcontract”; that, however, is plainly not the case: it was not some recipient of a contract who in turn contracted with the victuallers, but The Meaning of ablocare 2 4   G VIL .   S CHMITZ , Commentarii Notarum Tironianarum cum prolegomenis adnotationibus criticis et exegeticis notarumque indice alphabetico (Lipsia 1893) tab. 37, 89; preceded by elocat   (88) and followed by adlocat, collocat, relocat   (90-92). 5   V L .   F.   K  OPP , Palaeographia critica, pars secunda (Mannhemium 1817) 414 n. h, betrays more doubt about the word than the resolution: “Solius Suetonii auctoritate hoc verbum nititur.” 6   After I HM . 7   E D .   W ÖLFFLIN ,  Ablatio-Abnuto , Archiv für lat. Lexikogr. 4 (1887) 563, similarly, offered two definitions, “ita alicui alqd mercede pacta locare, ut usus fructus a domino abeat in conductorem” to illustrate the meaning where domum  is the object, and where things connected with an epulum  are the subject adds: “Dicitur etiam de muneribus praestandis.” C.   H OFSTEE , C. Suetonii Tranquilli vitae Galbae, Othonis, Vitellii (Groninga 1898) 101, in his turn took note of the different meanings: “ ablocare  idem est quod elocare , i.e.  suum alieno locare ; Caes. 26 autem...significat alicui aliquam rem locare praebendam .”  Caesar himself. There is then no longer any reason to suspect that ablocaret   in the other passage means “sublet,” or rather, there is now a positive reason to believe that it did not. We should not however hasten to conclude that ablocare  does mean “let” after all and that Vitellius therefore was the owner of the domus , for it is quite possible that each of the alternative meanings presented to us in the scholarship of the question is false, or that the one which is not false is nevertheless imprecise; the determination that the prefix did not affect the meaning of the verb in the way Roby thought is not the same thing as determining that it had no effect at all, and if we look past the differences which are immediately obvious a common thread  between the two ablocations is discernible: in each case what was located had been reduced in some respect. Where the location concerned the preparations for a banquet, it was the object of the contract, the amount of provisions ordered from the macellarii , which had been lessened, since the household of Caesar was simultaneously making preparations of its own. Where the location concerned a house, it was again, strictly speaking, the object of the agreement which had  been lessened: there was not a restriction on the amount of physical space being offered to the lessee, 8  but a shortening of the duration of the lease; the lessor was never offering more than the right to inhabit a dwelling for a set period of time, normally one year from 1 July (Suet. Tib. 35.2, cf. Mart. 12.32), but in the present instance perhaps running from 1 November, 9  since he arrived in his province at the end of that month (Tac. Hist. 1.52.1:  sub ipsas superioris anni  Kalendas Decembres Aulus Vitellius inferiorem Germaniam ingressus.... ). It does then seem reasonable, or at any rate not unreasonable, to think that in the passages examined ablocaret   means neither “let” merely, nor again “sublet,” and that ablocata , which can hardly mean “subcontracted for,” nevertheless does not simply mean “contracted for,” but that in each case ab-  conveys the notion of separation: ablocare  in the context of leasing would not indicate separation from the lessor, for then every act of location would be at once an act of ablocation, but separation “away from” the part of the Roman rental year which had already expired; it is neither necessary nor advisable to make this division explicit in a sentence which contains the phrase in reliquam partem anni , but where one sees it absolutely, as in the notae Tironianae , one could translate ablocat   —assuming that “to let” is the operative sense of the base verb—with “he lets after 1 July,” or “he lets late”; ablocare  in the context of contracting would mean “to contract for separately.” It might be objected that we are making ab - do the work which Suetonius in the one passage accomplishes through in reliquam partem anni , and that the inclusion of that phrase proves that the prefix did not itself transmit any such nuance, but we are equally free to maintain that the sentence as written is pleonastic, and that omission of the phrase in reliquam partem anni  would not alter its meaning. Aug. 2014 3 8   There is no reason to think that in renting out the domus  he was regarded as renting out part of a whole  because his action involved only the domestic space of the domus  proper, not the attached apartments and shops; rather, he is to be regarded as renting out a totality because he was renting out all the space which he had been occupying up to that time with his uxor   and liberi . 9   H URLEY  ad loc. states: “He left for the Rhine around November 1, 68 CE; the rental year was from July to July.”   From the interpretation advanced here it follows that the verb ablocare  does not allow us to infer anything about the legal position of the lessor. If it had turned out to mean “to sublet,” he would have been revealed as a renter; if it had turned out to mean “to let,” he might still have  been a renter, on the assumption that a distinction between letting and subletting was not necessarily made, or he might in addition have been either an owner or a usufructuary. Thus even a source distinguishing between locationary and ablocationary acts and making a leaseholder the subject of ablocat  , i.e., showing him engaged in an act which we consider subletting, should not be considered to have had that concept, since he would likewise have made both an owner and a usufructuary leasing residential property on the same date the subject of ablocat  . Accordingly, in a context of leasing, it was not necessary for an act of ablocation to  be preceded by an act of location, for the property might previously have been occupied by either an owner or a usufructuary, or indeed simply vacant; similarly, in a context of contracting, an act of ablocating did not presuppose an act of locating, for Caesar did not give a contract to his own slaves and freedmen as he did to the macellarii . As pedantic as it might seem to ask how words would have been used in contexts in which we never find them used, it is a way to determine and clarify the range of meaning which can reasonably be attributed to them. In the two known cases what was ablocated was greater than what was not: when Vitellius left the city, only about 1/3 of the Roman rental year had elapsed, so he perhaps let the house for eight months, and it is hard to imagine that the slaves and freedmen of Caesar came anywhere near providing 1/3 of the food for the masses at a memorial  banquet, but there would be no good reason to generalize that the portion which was not ablocated was always smaller; thus if Vitellius had left for some destination around 1 March, we would still expect to get ablocaret   to describe the resulting four-month lease. We could go on to ask whether Suetonius would have described a lessor making a short-term rental which did not  begin late, one running, say, for four months from 1 July, with the same prefixed form, or how he would have described a host of a public memorial banquet who did make two contracts, one, say, with high-end merchants for the delicacies which presumably were what Caesar had handled domesticatim . It seems quite conceivable that ablocare , although srcinally perhaps denoting a late or later location and merely connoting a partial one, nevertheless came to be used to describe rental contracts which indeed went into effect on 1 July, but were shorter than 12 months in duration; similarly, the commercial contract concluded first, whether a smaller one with high-end merchants or a larger one with low-end merchants, was perhaps srcinally considered an act of location, even where known to be partial, but could quickly have come to be regarded, or alternatively regarded, as an act of ablocation, whenever it was known to be partial, for it was an act of “contracting away” from a coming contractual act rather than a preceding one. The widened range of meaning envisaged for the term must however have stopped short of the point at which it became acceptable to use ablocare  to describe a rental of the usual length  begun at the usual time, or contracting for the entirety of the work needed, for otherwise the word would be far less rare than it is. That rarity remains comprehensible even on the The Meaning of ablocare 4  assumption that the form prefixed with ab - came to denote all partial locations: frequently it would not have been correct to use it, since many or most locations would have been total; even where the location was partial, it would never have been necessary to use the prefixed form in order to be correct, for it was possible to regard every ablocation as a species of location. Nor even to be precise, since the partial nature of the location could be made clear by the context; the Suetonian passages, after all, are both so informative that the prefix is strictly otiose: the author might have written locaret   and locata  without obscuring his meaning. F. X. Ryan a.d. VII Kal. Sept. anno a.C. MMXIV divulgavit. Rerum Naturae Musaeque gratias.Aug. 2014 5
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