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For this one we kind of need to read the previous lines to understand it:

Vidi ego, qui iuvenum miseros lusisset amores,
Post Veneris vinclis subdere colla senem
Et sibi blanditias tremula conponere voce
Et manibus canas fingere velle comas,
Stare nec ante fores puduit caraeve puellae
Ancillam medio detinuisse foro.

I have seen the man that had mocked the hapless loves of the young, in later time put his aged neck in the halter of Venus

and make soft speeches for himself in quavering tones and turn his hands to dressing his hoary hair :

nor did he blush to stand before the doors of the beloved or to stop her maid in the middle of the forum.

which the Loeb edition translates as

And then the hard part:

Hunc puer, hunc iuvenis turba circumterit arta,
Despuit in molles et sibi quisque sinus.

I don't get why 'puer' is singular though clearly since 'circumterit' is singular it is not a mistake. I also don't get what case or part of speech 'iuvenis' is. It seems that it can be both noun or adjective, and although it is always singular, it seems to be a collective noun that is singular grammatically but plural in meaning, such as 'sand' in English. By the way, the Loeb translation is:

Round him boys and young men pressed in a jostling crowd, and spat each into his own soft bosom.

At first I thought the first 'hunc' might be the object of 'circumterit' and the second 'hunc' the object of 'despuit' but what about 'sibi'? Couldn't 'sibi' be the object of 'despuit'? Although there are not too many examples of 'despuit' in the OLD, none of them take a dative. Still, if 'iuvenis' is a nominative adjective that modifies 'puer' then it seems that it would mean

A young boy pressed around him in a (small? compact? dense?) crowd

But my theory goes awry when it seems that 'quisque' means 'each member of the crow' which doesn't make sense because why would you talk about one member of the crowd crowding around the man, then go on to talk about the actions of the crowd itself. In any case,

and each one spat in his soft chest.

Still, I can't make sense of the second 'hunc'.

We also might as well talk about the meaning of 'arta'. I don't think 'jostling' is a good translation. I think OLD 7 is what is meant here: "Small or restricted in size, confined; containing few members, small in number; (of a number) small"

2 Answers 2

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"Puer" and "iuvenis" are separate nominative singular nouns here rather than a noun and an agreeing adjective. I'm not sure about how to explain the use of the singular rather than the plural, and the structure with the repeated accusative hunc (maybe it is like a "list" of alternative ways to start the sentence?).

"singular for plural" apparently shows up elsewhere in poetry

The use of the singular for puer and iuvenis in this poem is noted in The Elegies of Albius Tibullus: The Corpus Tibullianum Edited with Introduction and Notes on Books I, II, and and IV, 2-14, by Kirby Flower, 1913. Flower presents the poem on page 231, and provides other examples of "singular for plural" on page 195.

Iuvenis is not a collective noun like sand and is not always singular: it has a plural form iuvenes that is commonly used with the meaning that you would expect. This might be a context in Latin where a singular or plural form of a count noun can be used with a plural sense, like how in English the count noun lion can be used in either the singular or plural in sentences like "The lion is taller than the tiger" or "Lions are taller than tigers".

puer and iuvenis are often used to refer to contrasting age categories

Iuvenis is frequently used as a noun and, as the translation "boys and young men" indicates, iuvenis has as at least one of its definitions a specific age category that is older than the specific age category that is associated with puer. There is a preceding Stack Exchange question about the meaning of iuvenis here: Meaning of *iuvenis*, and here is a Textkit forum thread: When does 'iuvenis' become 'vir'?

For this reason, I don't think iuvenis puer is a likely collocation to express the meaning "young boy". To indicate or emphasize that a puer is especially young, I'd instead expect to see parvus puer, parvulus puer or puerulus.

artus

As for artus, I think the translation as jostling is meant to express the sense "crowded" or "close-packed", which is close in meaning to jostling. Since turba is translated here as crowd, it would make for an awkward translation to write "crowded crowd". I don't think "turba arta" is meant to mean small crowd, since the word turba connotes a multitude that contains a large number of people.

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  • Thanks as always for your answer, Asteroides. Maybe the two 'huncs' could be explained by the fact that it is not out of the realm of possibility in English to say: 'He saw him, and she him, meaning, he saw him, she saw him.' Though admittedly wrong, you can sort of see what is going on. But, 'he saw her, and she him' is a bonafide English sentence.
    – bobsmith76
    Feb 13, 2022 at 3:01
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Duplication of words in Latin often implies that something is happening repeatedly, an unspecified number of times. This is evident in many fixed expressions, such as nunc...nunc, alius atque alius, modo ... modo, iterum atque iterum.

I believe here the repetition of hunc here simply expresses that the character was bumped into or jostled up against multiple times. Clearly in a crowd there are many boys and youths, but in each individual instance, the character is noticing the specific person doing the jostling at the moment. So, I think this is slightly different from your standard "singular for plural" because it's distributing the actions out into each individual act.

Hunc puer, hunc iuvenis turba circumterit arta,

A boy here, a young man there, bumps up against him on all sides in the dense crowd

Again, it's not that he was bumped exactly twice, once by a boy and once by a young man, but rather that this experience kept repeating while he was in the crowd.

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  • I'm aware of 'modo ... modo', 'iterum iterumque', but I've never seen the pronoun repeated or maybe I have I just didn't notice it. If it's not too much trouble are there any other examples?
    – bobsmith76
    Feb 13, 2022 at 22:03
  • @bobsmith76: I agree with Kinghorsey, in that it is a kind of anaphora, a common little figure of speech in which a word or words can be repeated, often for emphasis. I also agree with him that it serves to suggest that boys and youths bump into him successively. If you are interested in repeated pronoun-like structures which indicate contrast, cf. alius...alius.
    – Cerberus
    Feb 15, 2022 at 5:23
  • cool, i'll take a look into it.
    – bobsmith76
    Feb 16, 2022 at 21:05

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