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I read in Ritchie's Fabulae faciles ([Hercules, §22], macrons are mine):

(Hercules is about to attack the hydra)

Mox mōnstrum inuēnit, et quamquam rēs erat magnī perīculī, collum ēius sinistrā prehendit. Tum dextrā capita nouem abscīdere cœpit; quotiēns tamen hoc fēcerat, noua capita exoriēbantur. Diū frūstrā labōrābat; tandem hōc cōnātū dēstitit. Deinde arborēs succīdēre et ignem accendere cōnstituit. Hoc celeriter fēcit, et postquam ligna ignem comprehendērunt, face ārdente colla adussit, unde capita exoriēbantur. Nec tamen sine magnō labōre hæc fēcit; uēnit enim auxiliō Hȳdræ cancer ingēns, quī, dum Herculēs capita abscīdit, crūra ēius mordēbat.

My translation:

Soon he found the monster, and although it was a dangerous thing to do, with his left hand he grabbed one of its necks. Then, with his right hand, he began to cut off the nine heads; but every time he did this, nine heads popped up. For a long time he toiled in vain; finally he put an end to his enterprise. He then decided to cut down some trees and light a fire. He did this quickly, and after the wood had caught fire, he used his burning torch to burn the necks from which the heads had sprung. Finally, at the cost of considerable labour, he succeeded; in fact an enormous crab came to the hydra's aid, a crab that, while Hercules was cutting off the heads, was biting his legs.

In my dictionaries I see the following meanings but to my mind none of them match Ritchie's text:

  • to burn (on the surface, slightly) as in Dē Offic. 2.25 ~ sibi [adūrēre] capillum (to burn one's hair).
  • strike, damage (about wind or cold) as in Virgil, Georgics, 1.93: ācrior aut Bōreae penetrābile frīgus adūrat (the penetrating cold of Boreas burns)
  • strike (with fire), as in Cicero, Tusculanes 5.77: sine gemitū adūruntur (they let themselves be burnt without moaning).

In Ritchie's extract, I wonder what nuance is expressed by the verb ad-ūro, compared to the simple verb ūro. Can we assume that it is a synonym or is there a nuance that I don't understand?

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It's fairly common in Latin to have two verbs, one with a prefix and one without, that are mostly synonymous, and either aduro or uro could technically be used here without impacting the meaning of the sentence.

But there is some nuance. The prefix on aduro lends more weight to singing something, as opposed to burning in general, and if you look at the meaning in both L&S and OLD, damaging by burning (so literally in OLD, and "scorch", "singe" in L&S) is the more primary meaning.

Out of this action, aduro is the preferred word for cauterizing something. In Celsus' section on cauterizing in his De Medicina (5.26), he uses uro once (uri, quod est inter integrum ac vitiatum locum, debet) but aduro four times, including in its participial form adurentibus, which the OLD expressly defines as "having caustic properties."

So while Ritchie could have used uro here, aduro hearkens to medical language and better suggests the act of sealing the wound (thus disallowing more heads of the Hydra to grow).


Small note about your translation: the crab is biting at Hercules' legs, not the Hydra's. So you should use his there instead of its.

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  • Thanks ! I updated my translation.
    – suizokukan
    Commented May 20 at 7:02

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