A note on Virgil, Aeneid 5.315–19

Classical Quarterly 48 (02):569-572 (1998)
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The meaning of the expression simul ultima signant in Virgil's description of the foot race in the memorial funeral games for Anchises has been controversial since ancient times. The interpretation implied by R. A. B. Mynors's Oxford text printed above is that the word simul in line 317 is a conjunction and that the expression refers to the final section of the race. The sense presumably is: ‘As soon as they trod the last stretch’ Nisus came out in front, whereas previously the runners had all been in a bunch, pouring forth like a storm cloud from the start. This interpretation, which requires a full stop in the middle of line 317, was proposed by F. H. Sandbach in response to problems generally acknowledged in the line as traditionally punctuated, that is, with a lighter pause after similes and a full stop at the end of the line—as, for example, in F. A. Hirzel's Oxford text: effusi nimbo similes: simul ultima signant. With this punctuation the last three words of the line have been taken to mean either that the runners fix their eyes on the finish, which gives a meaning to the verb which is difficult in the absence of any reference to the eyes, or that other people apart from the runners mark out the finishing line, which gives unexceptional sense to the verb but an implausible timing to the operation: it is odd indeed to leave the marking of the finish until after the race has started. These and other suggestions are discussed by Sandbach and R. D. Williams, who believe that they are untenable



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