The Latin inscription on Main Guard (2)
I read the letters of both Giovanni Bonello (June 18) and of Albert Ganado (June 16) on the error in the Main Guard inscription with keen interest. I had long wondered about the apparent error there, especially since it was written at a time when the study of Latin and Greek was approaching its zenith in Britain. Without wishing to dismiss out of hand the theories of either Dr Ganado or Dr Bonello, there is, however, another possible explanation for this glaring anomaly.
As I was reading the aforementioned correspondence, it occurred to me that I have sometimes come across singular verbs used with composite subjects in the best classical prose. Pulling out a random volume of Cicero, I flicked through a few pages and immediately came across this example: "...nulla est rei publicae gerendae ratio atque prudentia..." (De Divinatione I.XIV). The instant I opened a handy volume of Livy, I came across the following: "meliores, prudentiores, constantiores nos tempus diesque facit." (Ab Urbe Condita XXII.39). Barely in the second paragraph of one of Caesar's operas, I ran into: "Intercedit M. Antonius, Q. Cassius, tribuni plebis." (De Bello Civili, I.2) A brief consultation of Bradley's Arnold (§27) confirmed this observation.
Perhaps the author of the Main Guard inscription was more of a stylist than of a sciolist. I admit that it's a long shot. Nonetheless, the emphasised dative and the quasi-parenthetical second nominative makes me suspect that the author's grasp of Latin grammar and style was better than anyone taking that singular verb at face value may conclude. Apart from issues of this kind, Latin is a surprisingly easy language to learn and its historical, and cultural, importance is probably unpar-alleled. Anyone wanting to learn a bit of Latin, Greek and Sanskrit may contact the Malta Classics Association on [email protected].