Apuleius, Metamorphoses VI.24.3:

scaena sibi sic concinnata ut Musae quidem chorum canerent, tibias inflaret Saturus, et Paniscus ad fistulam diceret.

This is from the Loeb edition, which translates it as follows:

"She had arranged the stage so that the Muses were singing in chorus, a Satyr blew the flute, and a Paniscus played on the reed-pipes."

Now, I have never seen dicere used to mean "play [an instrument]". Is this common? Or just extremely rare? Or an error by the Loeb edition?

Here is the Cambridge edition:

scaena sibi sic concinnata ut Musae quidem chorum canerent aut tibias inflaret, Saturus et Paniscus ad fistulam dicerent.

It translates the text as follows:

"...while a Satyr and a little Pan sang to the shepherd's pipe."

I must say this translation is much closer to what I would expect; at least Lewis & Short have dicere "to sing":

  1. To describe, relate, sing, celebrate in writing (mostly poet.):
    "tibi dicere laudes", Tib. 1, 3, 31;
    so, "laudes Phoebi et Dianae", Hor. C. S. 76:
    "Dianam, Cynthium, Latonam", id. C. 1, 21, 1:
    "Alciden puerosque Ledae", id. ib. 1, 12, 25:
    "caelestes, pugilemve equumve", id. ib. 4, 2, 19:
    "Pelidae stomachum", id. ib. 1, 6, 5:
    "bella", id. Ep. 1, 16, 26; Liv. 7, 29:
    "carmen", Hor. C. 1, 32, 3; id. C. S. 8; Tib. 2, 1, 54:
    "modos", Hor. C. 3, 11, 7:
    "silvestrium naturas", Plin. 15, 30, 40, 138 et saep.:
    "temporibus Augusti dicendis non defuere decora ingenia", Tac. A. 1, 1; id. H. 1, 1:
    "vir neque silendus neque dicendus sine cura", Vell. 2, 13.—

And the Cambridge has a different Latin text, which I cannot judge, but which allows this translation, contrary to the Loeb's Latin.

At any rate, even the "sing" from the Cambridge seems different from the usage in L&S to me. For each of those quotations has a theme, i.e. a complement with an 'object-like' meaning, such as a direct object or an noun that agrees with the gerundive of dicere. So I read the L&S definition as "to sing [something] in writing", which I would understand as "to write about something in verse". That hardly fits the Cambridge translation "[they] sang to the shepherd's pipe", which strongly suggests oral singing, and without a theme.

How would you feel about a translation "they recited to the shephard's pipe"? Or is that too literal and simple-minded of me? I can imagine the Ancients' reciting to a musical instrument, although I'm not entirely sure whether I remember correctly that they did this (think of recitals like those in the Matthäus-Passion).

  • 2
    If you look at the apparatus in the Cambridge edition you will see that the text has been heavily emended. The Loeb editor has kept the manuscript reading. Just so we know what we are discussing.
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 9:59
  • @fdb: Good point and good to know (I figured the Loeb translation must be some kind of tour de force). I was going to go back and find the apparatus criticus, but the Google decided that I couldn't view that page any more...
    – Cerberus
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 13:40

1 Answer 1


It's not necessary to be too literal in translating something like this, and I can't see any objection to the poetic licence in your suggestion of 'reciting', which makes the English roll along nicely while avoiding repetition : in fact I rather like it.

It isn't unusual to find idiomatic uses of dicere translated into English. A single word to cover all of these might be 'utter', generally used of causing some sort of sound, though it's obviously preferable to use a word of more particular meaning. Smith's Latin-English Dictionary has under Dico at item IV, I :

to describe, sing, celebrate in verse (mostly poet.) : tibi dicere laudes, Tib. 1, 3, 31 ; laudes Phoebi et Dianae, Hor. C S. 76 : Dianam, Cynthium, Latonam, id. Od. 1, 21, 1 : coelestes, pugilemve equumve, ib. 4, 2, 19 : Pelidae stomachum, ib. 1, 6, 5 …

— and others from Horace, Livy and Pliny.

For what it's worth, my copy of the Adlington translation of 1566 has :

… The Muses sang with sweet harmony, Apollo tuned pleasantly to the Harpe, Venus danced finely : Satirus and Paniscus plaid on their pipes ; and thus was Psyches married to Cupid …

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.