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In De Rerum Natura (I.14):

Inde ferae pecudes persultant pabula laeta
et rapidos tranant amnis ...

In their commentary William Leonard & ‎Stanley Barney Smith provide three suggestions:

ferae: "maddened by desire." See Catullus ( LXI.56–59 ): tu fero iuueni in manus | floridam ipse puellulam dedis a gremio suae | matris. Other interpretations have been suggested : that ferae pecudes simply means "wild creatures," or that ferae means "wild beasts" as distinguished from pecudes, domesticated animals. In this latter case notice the absence of connective.

First, I might be missing what the first interpretation is. Is a distinction drawn between "wild" and "maddened by desire"? As for the rest, interestingly some suggest that ferae is a noun and not an adjective as Loeb has this: "Next wild creatures and farm animals dance over the rich pastures and swim across rapid rivers"; this despite, as mentioned in the commentary, missing any connective. Do we have compelling reasons to prefer this translation?

3 Answers 3

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The lack of a connective is called "asyndeton", and it's not uncommon in Lucretius. Michael Gilleland collected some examples, if you're interested in seeing it taken to the extreme.

Bailey, at this line, calls it without elaboration "Lucretian asyndeton".

Is a distinction drawn between "wild" and "maddened by desire"?

Yes. The former can mean "not domesticated", rather than indicate any sort of mental state. Juvenal (11.104), for examples, calls the lupa that suckled Romulus and Remus a Romulea fera.

Taken together, ferae pecudes indicate common barnyard animals that are still wild (in the undomesticated sense), as it does in Varro:

Etiam nunc in locis multis genere pecudum ferarum sunt aliquot, ab ovibus, ut in Phrygia, ubi greges videntur complures, in Samothrace caprarum, quas Latine rotas appellant. Sunt enim in Italia circum Fiscellum et Tetricam montes multae. De subus nemini ignotum, nisi qui apros non putat sues vocari. Boves perferi etiam nunc sunt multi in Dardanica et Maedica et Thracia, asini feri in Phrygia et Lycaonia, equi feri in Hispania citeriore regionibus aliquot.

Even now there are several species of wild animals in various places: as of sheep in Phrygia, where numerous flocks are seen, and in Samothrace those goats which are called in Latin rotae;​ for there are many wild goats in Italy in the vicinity of Mount Fiscellum and Mount Tetrica. As to swine, everybody knows — except those who think that wild boars ought not to be called swine. There are even now many quite wild cattle in Dardania, Maedica,​ and Thrace; wild asses in Phrygia and Lycaonia, and wild horses at several points in Hither Spain.

Looking only at the passage at hand, reading ferae pecudae as adj. + noun makes total sense. Lucretius is painting a picture of the natural world that delights in Venus. Honestly, I'd say this is my preferred reading.

The issue comes into play that, as Bailey notes, "[Lucretius] frequently couples the wild and domestic animals." He provides two parallels, 1.163 (armenta atque aliae pecudes, genus omne ferarum [N.B. I don't think this is a good parallel - cmw]) and 2.343 (laeta armenta feraeque [which is a much clearer and cleaner parallel]), for reading it thus. He further says there's no reason that Venus is limited specifically to wild animals, but I don't think that's a proper reading. It's not that Venus is limited, but rather Lucretius is painting an idyllic portrait of the wild countryside untouched by human intervention. He's showing examples, not providing an exhaustive list.

There's not much more I can say about it at this point without writing a proper article examining Lucretius' portrayal of the wild and the domestic and human influences on it.

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  • Fantastic answer. thanks. Is Bailey David Roy Shackleton Bailey?
    – d_e
    Jan 9, 2023 at 21:28
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    @d_e Apologies for the lack of citation! It's Cyril Bailey, whose massive 3 voll. edition and commentary on Lucretius was published by Oxford in 1947. I haven't checked newer commentaries yet.
    – cmw
    Jan 9, 2023 at 21:30
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Just to add another commentary by Mason Hammond, Anne Amory that bring arguments for "maddened by desire" and to their preferred separated reading of ferae and pecudes:

ferae, pecudes: probably to be taken separately with no connective as = "wild beasts (and) cattle" rather than "flocks,(made) wild (by love)." The first interpretation might be supported by regarding the two following verbs as applying, in chiasmic (see 17 n. 2) order, the leaping to the flocks and the swimming to the wild beasts; if the swimming goes with the flocks, the unnaturalness of the action might justify taking ferae with pecudes as = "made wild (by love)," since in Vergil Georg. III 264-270 love maddens mares so that they swim streams: flumina tranant.

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Existing answers handle well the distinction here in Latin.

I thought it was worth pointing out that this distinction also exists in English, though many speakers don’t make it. Cambridge Dictionary defines feral as

existing in a wild state, especially describing an animal that was previously kept by people

While its (relevant) definition of wild is

used to refer to plants or animals that live or grow independently of people, in natural conditions and with natural characteristics

While they are often used synonymously, they are not always. For instance, you will sometimes hear distinctions between wild horses—those herds native to Central Asia that have always lived there—and feral horses, those herds that are descended from escaped or abandoned horses, found in various places around the world. (I learned this distinction in Chincoteague, Virginia, which has a famous herd of feral—but not wild—horses.)

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