Nuper programma quoddam anglicè "Latin R.I.P" nomine Radiophoniâ Societatis Emissivae Britannicae Quartâ emissum per MP3 formam auscultavi. Edouardus Stourton locutus est, Simon Crow produxit, quando autem id primùm emissum sit ignoro.
Edward Stourton (presenter): "For aspiring citizens in far flung provinces, it must have been comforting to know that the rules of grammar could fox even the giants of the Golden Age. [Here is] Peter Jones."
Peter Jones: "The Romans were fascinated by exactly the same problems of Latin grammar that we were. For example, Pompey built the first stone theatre in Rome and he spent a long time wondering how he should inscribe it. Should he inscribe it "this theatre was built in Pompey's third consulate" or "this theatre was built during Pompey's third consulate"? The point is that "in Pompey's third consulate" is time when and would go into the ablative case, tertio consule, while "throughout Pompey's consultate" is time throughout and would go into the accusative case, tertium consulem. So he phoned up Caesar who was also an expert on grammar and actually wrote a book on grammar when he was crossing the Alps going into Gaul. Caesar said he didn't know... so he phoned up Cicero. Cicero played around with it and said "Oh Hell!" he said, "Write "tert. cons." In other words, leave out the endings entirely and let people make up their own mind. That's the sort of debate these people had."
I was interested and checked possible sources. It seems to me now that the details aren't correct. Here is what Aulus Gellius says about the matter.
Fontes credibiles quaesivi quòd id mihi curae erat. Nunc perperàm eum dixisse id mihi videtur. Ecce quod dicit Aulus Gellius de hâc re:
Noctes Atticae. Liber decimus. Caput primum. wrote:Verba M. Varronis, ex libro Disciplinarum IV. haec sunt : Aliud est quarto praetorem fieri et quartum; quod quarto locum adsignificat ac tres ante factos; quartum, tempus adsignificat et ter ante factura. Igitur Ennius recte, quod scripsit "Quintus pater quartum fit consul" et Pompeius timide, quod in theatro, ne adscriberet, consul tertium aut tertio, extremas literas non scripsit.
[I translate // sic verto] These are the words of Marcus Varro from Book IV of the Disciplines: To be made a fourth praetor and for the fourth time praetor is something else. For "quarto" signifies place and three were made before; "quartum" signifies time and three times before it would have happened. Ennius therefore rightly wrote "Quintus the father becomes/became consul for the fourth time" and Pompey timidly, in order not to write "consul tertium" or "consul tertio', didn't write the word endings in the theatre.
Is Varro right about "quarto locum adsignificat ac tres ante factos; quartum, tempus adsignificat et ter ante factura"? [The Disciplinae is a lost work.]// Recténe dicit Varro in eo quod attinet ad "quartum/quarto"? [Perditum est opus Disciplinarum.]