The saying “urbi et orbi” was remarkably successful in referring to a “city” that had a notable success in becoming the capital of the “orb” and also because in itself the phrase contains an attractive word game, apun, consisting of relating Words of different meaning but which differ only in a phoneme or a letter; that is because “urbi and orbi” is a paronomasia.
Varro, logically, does not resist the temptation to seek an explanation or draw a conclusion, (no matter if it is focused or not, but it does not appear to be correct), from the proximity between the two terms: urbem and orbem. He does so it in his De lingua Latina, (On the Latin Language) V, 143:
Many founded towns in Latium by the Etruscan ritual ; that is, with a team of cattle, a bull and a cow on the inside, they ran a furrow around with a plough (for reasons of religion they did this on an auspicious day), that they might be fortified by a ditch and a wall. The place whence they had ploughed up the earth, they called a fossa ‘ ditch,’ and the earth thrown inside it they called the murus ‘ wall.’ The orbis ‘ circle ‘ which was made back of this, was the beginning of the urbs ‘ city ‘ ; because the circle was post murum ‘ back of the wall,’ it was called a postmoerium ; it sets the limits for the taking of the auspices for the city. Stone markers of the pomerium stand both around Aricia and around Rome. Therefore towns also which had earlier had the plough drawn around them, were termed urbes ‘ cities,’ from orbis ‘ circle ‘ and urvum ‘ curved ‘ ; therefore also all our colonies are mentioned as urbes in the old writings, because they had been founded in just the same way as Rome ; therefore also colonies and cities conduntur ‘ are founded,’ because they are placed inside the pomerium. (Translation by Roland G.Kent. Ph.D.)
Oppida condebant in Latio Etrusco ritu multi, id est, iunctis bobus, tauro et vacca interiore, aratro circumagebant sulcum (hoc faciebant religionis causa die auspicato), ut fossa et muro essent muniti. Terram unde exculpserant, fossam vocabant et introrsum iactam murum. Post ea qui fiebatorbis, urbis principium; qui quod erat post murum, postmoerium dictum, eo usque auspicia urbana finiuntur. Cippi pomeri stant et cirum Ariciam et circum Romam. Quare et oppida quae prius erant circumducta aratro ab orbe et urvo urbes; et ideo coloniae nostrae omnes in litterid antiquis scribunturt urbes, quod ítem conditae ut Roma; et ideo coloniae et urbes condungtur, quod intra pomerium ponuntur.
I will present some texts that exemplify the use in the Antiquity of this paronomasia.
Cornelius Nepos (c.100 BC – c. 25 BC) in the Life of Atticus puts in touch both words, urbis and orbis:
Nepos, Life of Atticus, 20.5
How strong such attachment is, he will be easily able to judge, who can understand how much prudence is required to preserve the friendship and favour of those between whom there existed not only emulation in the highest matters, but such a mutual struggle to lessen one another as was sure to happen between Caesar and Antony, when each of them desired to be chief, not merely of the city of Rome, but of the whole world. (Translation by John Selby Watson, MA)
hoc quale sit, facilius existimabit is, qui iudicare poterit, quantae sit sapientiae eorum retinere usum benivolentiamque, inter quos maximarum rerum non solum aemulatio, sed obtrectatio tanta intercedebat, quantam fuit incidere necesse inter Caesarem atque Antonium, cum se uterque principem non solum urbis Romae, sed orbis terrarum esse cuperet.
Thus Ovid, in his Ars Amatoria comments that the public shows, that the women attend, are a good opportunity to establish some kind of relationship. In this passage he makes an interesting integration, a paronomasia, between “urbe” and “orbis“: atque ingens orbis in Urbe fuit.
The Art of love, 1, 171 et seq.
Caesar would represent a naval fight,
For his own honour and for Rome’s delight.
From either sea the youths and maidens come,
And all the world was then contain’d in Rome!
(atque ingens ORBIS in URBE fuit)
In this vast concourse, in this choice of game,
What Roman heart but felt a foreign flame!
Once more our prince prepares to make us glad,
And the remaining east to Rome will add.
Rejoice, ye Roman soldiers, in your urns,
Your ensigns from the Parthians shall return,
And the slain Crassi shall no longer mourn.
A youth is sent those trophies to demand,
Ard bears his father’s thunders in his hand;
Doubt not th’ imperial boy in wars unseen,
In childhood all of Caesar’s race are men.
Celestial seeds shoot out before their day,
Prevent their years, and brook no dull delay.
(Translated by John Dryden (1631–1700).
quid, modo cum belli navalis imagine Caesar
Persidas induxit Cecropiasque rates?
nempe ab utroque mari iuvenes, ab utroque puellae
Venere, atque ingens orbis in Urbe fuit.
quis non invenit turba, quod amaret, in illa?
eheu, quam multos advena torsit amor!
ecce, parat Caesar domito quod defuit orbi
addere: nunc, oriens ultime, noster eris.
Parthe, dabis poenas: Crassi gaudete sepulti,
signaque barbaricas non bene passa manus.
ultor adest, primisque ducem profitetur in annis,
bellaque non puero tractat agenda puer.
Marcus Velleius Paterculus (c. 19 BC – c. AD 31), Compendium of Roman History, 2,44
But to resume. It was in Caesar’s consulship that there was formed between himself, Gnaeus Pompeius and Marcus Crassus the partnership in political power which proved so baleful to the city, to the world, and, subsequently at different periods to each of the triumvirs themselves. Pompey’s motive in the adoption of this policy had been to secure through Caesar as consul the long delayed ratification of his acts in the provinces across the seas, to which, as I have already said, many still raised objections; Caesar agreed to it because he realized that in making this concession to the prestige of Pompey he would increase his own, and that by throwing on Pompey the odium for their joint control he would add to his own power; while Crassus hoped by the influence of Pompey and the power of Caesar he might achieve a place of pre-eminence in the state which he had not been able to reach single-handed. Furthermore, a tie of marriage was cemented between Caesar and Pompey, in that Pompey now wedded Julia, Caesar’s daughter. (Translated by Frederick W. Shipley)
Hoc igitur consule inter eum et Cn. Pompeium et M. Crassum inita potentiae societas, quae urbi orbique terrarum nec minus diverso cuique tempore ipsis exitiabilis fuit. Hoc consilium sequendi Pompeius causam habuerat, ut tandem acta in transmarinis provinciis, quibus, ut praediximus, multi obtrectabant, per Caesarem confirmarentur consulem, Caesar autem, quod animadvertebat se cedendo Pompei gloriae aucturum suam et invidia communis potentiae in illum relegata confirmaturum vires suas, Crassus, ut quem principatum solus adsequi non poterat, auctoritate Pompei, viribus teneret Caesaris, adfinitas etiam inter Caesarem Pompeiumque contracta nuptiis, quippe Iuliam, filiam C. Caesaris, Cn. Magnus duxit uxorem.
Tertullian also in his Apologeticum (ca.160-ca.220), 40,1-4 relates the two words:
quantae clades orbem et urbes ceciderunt!
On the contrary, faction is a name which belongs to those only who conspire in the hatred of the good and virtuous, and remonstratefull cry for innocent blood, sheltering their malice under this vain pretence, that they are of opinion, forsooth, that the Christians are the occasion of all the mischief in the world. If Tiber overflows, and Nile does not; if heaven stands still and withholds its rain, and the earth quakes ; if famine or pestilence take their marches through the country, the word is, Away with these Christians to the lion ! Bless me ! what, so many people to one lion ! Pray tell me what havoc, what a mighty fall of people has been made in the world and Rome (quantae clades orbem et urbes ceciderunt!) before the reign of Tiberius, that is, before the advent of Christ ? We read of Hierannape, and Delos, and Rhodes, and Co, islands swept away with many thousands of their inhabitants. … (Translated by Jeremy Collier, A.M.)
At e contrario illis nomen factionis accommodandum est, qui in odium bonorum et proborum conspirant, qui adversum sanguinem innocentium conclamant, praetexentes sane ad odii defensionem illam quoque vanitatem, quod existiment omnis publicae cladis, omnis popularis incommodi Christianos esse in causa[m]. Si Tiberis ascendit in moenia, si Nilus non ascendit in arva, si caelum stetit, si terra movit, si fames, si lues, statim: “Christianos ad leonem!” acclamatur. Tantos ad unum?
Oro vos, ante Tiberium, id est ante Christi adventum, quantae clades orbem et urbes ceciderunt! Legimus Hieran, Anaphen et Delon et Rhodon et Co insulas multis cum milibus hominum pessum abisse.
Sidonius Apollinaris (430-489 AD), bishop of Clermont Ferrand, in Carmina, 7, uses this paronomasia:
captivus, ut aiunt, orbis in urbe iacet (verse 557)
Carmen 7 is a panegyric to his father-in-law Avitus on his inauguration as emperor. In a meeting of the gods Rome complains of its decadence; its history is reviewed and Jupiter takes part. Soon Avitus is proclaimed emperor by the Visigothics and Gallicromans.
Sidonius Apollinaris, Carmina, 7, 550 y ss.
Now the supreme office calls for thee; in time of peril a realm cannot be ruled by a poltroon. All ambitious rivalry gives place when extremity calls for men of renown. After the losses of Ticinum and Trebia the trembling republic came in haste to Fabius. By the election of Livius the disaster of Cannae, famous for Varro’s rout, was undone; undone too was the Carthaginian, still exulting over the deaths of the Scipios. The world, they say, lies captive in the captive city ; the Emperor has perished, and now the Empire has its head here.
Ascend the tribunal, we beseech thee, and raise up the fainting; this time of peril asks not that some other should love Rome more. Nor do thou by any chance deem thyself unequal to sovereignty. When Brennus’ host beset the Tarpeian rock, then, thou knowest, Camillus was himself the whole of our state, and he, the destined avenger of his country, covered the smoking embers of the city with the slaughtered enemy. No gold scattered among the people hath secured for thee the verdict of the centuries ; this time no venal tribes bought with plenteous coin rush to give their votes the suffrages of the world no one can buy. Though a poor man, thou art being chosen; rich art thou in thy deserts, and that suffices in itself. Why dost thou hinder the desires of thy country, when she orders thee to give orders to her? This is the judgment of all: ” if thou becomest the master I shall be free.” (Translated by W.B. Anderson).
nunc iam summa vocant, dubio sub tempore regnum
non regit ignavus, postponitur ambitus omnis
ultima cum claros quaerunt: post damna Ticini
ac Trebiae trepidans raptim respublica venit
ad Fabium; Cannas celebres Varrone fugato
Scipiadumque etiam turgentem funere Poenum
Livius electus fregit, captivus, ut aiunt,
orbis in urbe iacet; princeps perit, hic caput omne
nunc habet imperium, petimus, conscende tribunal,
erige collapsos; non hoc modo tempora poscunt,
ut Romam plus alter amet. nec forte reare
te regno non esse parem: cum Brennica signa
Tarpeium premerent, scis, tum respublica nostra
tota Camillus erat, patriae qui debitus ultor
texit fumantes hostili strage favillas.
non tibi centurias aurum populare paravit,
nec modo venales numerosoque asse redemptae
concurrunt ad puncta tribus; suffragia mundi
nullus emit, pauper legeris ; quod sufficit unum,
es meritis dives, patriae cur vota moraris,
quae iubet ut iubeas ? haec est sententia cunctis :
si dominus fis, liber ero.’
Flavius Cresconius Corippus, who lived approximately from the year 500 to 570 AD was probably the last major Latin author of antiquity, on time of the Byzantine emperors Iustinian I and Iustin II. His two major works are the epic poem Johannis and the panegyric In laudem Iustini minoris.
It is precisely in this last one that in several occasions he uses the formula “urbis–orbis“; Precisely it is a feature of his style, the repetition of words and concepts and also the use of paronomasias or words very similar in form although different in the meaning. So
Verses I, 173 y ss.
The whole group, prostrate and lying before their feet, while speaking thus, says together: “Have pity, pious, of those who beg you, holy man, come to help us in adversity. As the day arrives you will see that everything is lost if the people can hear that the throne is empty and the emperor is not there. As much as your affection for your virtuous father may affect you, let not your love for your country be less than that you have for your father. Your uncle himself, dying, ordered you with his own words to kept the scepter. See how much it was the forecast and request of the old man for our city and the whole world (aspice quanta fuit nostrae simul urbis et orbis). In your behalf God made all that he wanted to happen. Mount your father’s throne, mighty prince, and rule the world that is submission to you.
Talia dicentis pedibus prostrata iacensque
omnis turba simul “pius es, miserere” perorat
“supplicibus, vir sancte, tuis: succurre periclis.
Omnia mox veniente die periisse videbis,
si vacuam vulgussine príncipe senserit aulam.
Quantumcumque boni moveat dilectio patris,
non sit amor patriae patrio minor. Ipse tenere
sceptra tuus moriens te iussit avunculus ore.
aspice quanta fuit nostrae simul urbis et orbis
próvida cura seni. pro te deus omnia fecit,
quae fieri voluit. solium conscende paternum
et rege subiectum, prínceps fortissime, mundum
And again in Verses 244 y ss.
And not unjustly, I think, would he, in death, be so happy and with a countenance so full of goodness, if his mind, conscious of the good that he makes, would not have abandoned his tranquil body members, flying towards heaven and would not have ensured the empire by the confirmation of an heir. When the noble Justin came here, throwing his loving arms around the lifeless body, he said, sobbing: “Light of the city and the universe, Father Justinian, are you leaving your beloved court and are you abandoning your relatives, your servants and so many subjects? Do you despise your lands? Do not you sail for the exhausted world? Here you have the Avars and the harsh Franks and the Gepids and the Getas, and so many other nations who, after raising their ensigns, cause war everywhere. With how much strength will we overcome so many enemies if you, firmness of Rome, are dead? “
Haud, reor, immerito sic laetus et ore benignus
Ille foret moriens, nisi mens sibi conscia recti
in caelum properans securos linqueret artus
et tutum imperium firmato herede locaret.
Huc ubi magnanimus sacra cum coniuge venit,
cara per exanimum circumdans brachia corpus
cum lacrimis Iustinus ait: “lux urbis et orbis,
Iustiniane pater, dilectam deseris aulam?
Cognatos fámulos et tantos linquis alumnos?
Contemnis terras? Fesso non prospicis orbi?
En Avares Francique truces Gepidesque Getaeque
totque aliae gentes commotis undique ignis
bella movent; qua vi tantos superabimos hostes,
cum virtus Romana iacet?...
And again in verses III, 72 y ss.:
Organs, plectrums and lyres resounded throughout the city; a thousand kinds of spectacles, a thousand banquets, dances, laughter, conversation, joy and applause were offered. They prayed for long life for the emperors in happy cries. “After its old age,” they say, “the world rejoices its rejuvenation and seeks the principles of its original appearance. The iron age has now gone, and the golden age is getting up in your time, Justin, hope of the city and the world, light of the Roman Empire, glory added to all the emperors who preceded you, whose victorious wisdom has gained the highest summit of your father’s kingdom»
Organa, plectra, lyrae totam insonuere per urbem.
Mille voluptatum species, convicia mille,
saltatus, risus, discursus, gaudia, plausus.
Augustis vitam laetis clamoribus optant.
post senium dicunt “sese iuvenescere mundus
gaudet Et antiquae repetit primordia formae.
Férrea nunc abeunt aurea saecula surgunt
temporibus, Iustine, tuis, spes urbis et orbis,
Romani iubar imperii, decus addite cunctis
retro principibus, cuius sapientia victrix
obtinuit patrii fastigia máxima regni.”
The summary of all this, of the content and the of literary figure, is personified by a happy verse of the fifth century French poet Rutilius Namatianus, from which we retain part of the only poem we know he wrote, entitled “De reditu suo” (On the return ). In it he sings the greatness and ancient splendor of Rome and criticizes Christianity. In the so-called Hymn to Rome, which appears personified, we find the summary verse which I referred:
‘urbem fecisti quod prius orbis erat’
“Listen, O fairest queen of thy world, Rome, welcomed amid the starry skies, listen, thou mother of men and mother of gods, thanks to thy temples we are not far from heaven: thee do we chant, and shall, while destiny allows, for ever chant. None can be safe if forgetful of thee. Sooner shall guilty oblivion whelm the sun than the honour due to thee quit my heart; for benefits extend as far as the sun’s rays, where the circling Ocean-flood bounds the world. For thee the very Sun-God who holdeth all together doth revolve: his steeds that rise in thy domains he puts in thy domains to rest. Thee Africa hath not stayed with scorching sands, nor hath the Bear, armed with its native cold, repulsed thee. As far as living nature hath stretched towards the poles, so far hath earth opened a path for thy valour. For nations far apart thou hast made a single fatherland; under thy dominion captivity hath meant profit even for those who knew not justice:and by offering to the vanquished a share in thine own justice, thou hast made a city of what was erstwhile a world.
“As authors of our race we acknowledge Venus and Mars — mother of the sons of Aeneas, father of the scions of Romulus: clemency in victory tempers armed strength: both names befit thy character: hence thy noble pleasure in war and in mercy: it vanquishes the dreaded foe and cherishes the vanquished. (Translated by J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff)
“exaudi, regina tui pulcherrima mundi,
inter sidereos Roma recepta polos,
exaudi, genetrix hominum genetrixque deorum,
non procul a caelo per tua templa sumus:
te canimus semperque, sinent dum fata, canemus:
sospes nemo potest immemor esse tui.
obruerint citius scelerata oblivia solem,
quam tuus ex nostro corde recedat honos.
nam solis radiis aequalia munera tendis,
qua circumfusus fluctuat Oceanus.
volvitur ipse tibi, qui continet omnia, Phoebus
eque tuis ortos in tua condit equos.
te non flammigeris Libye tardavit harenis,
non armata suo reppulit Ursa gelu:
quantum vitalis natura tetendit in axes,
tantum virtuti pervia terrae tuae.
fecisti patriam diversis gentibus unam:
profuit iniustis te dominante capi.
dumque offers victis proprii consortia iuris,
urbem fecisti quod prius orbis erat.
“auctores generis Venerem Martemque fatemur,
Aeneadum matrem Romulidumque patrem:
mitigat armatas victrix clementia vires,
convenit in mores nomen utrumque tuos:
hinc tibi certandi bona parcendique voluptas:
quos timuit superat, quos superavit amat.
The Roman Catholic Church is debtor of Ancient Rome almost everything, in much of its myths, beliefs and dogmas, in its rites, in its artistic expression, in its administrative and juridical structure, and of course in its official language, which is still Latin. This expression is further evidence of this. If the Catholic Pope today can address “the city and the world”, it is precisely because he is “the bishop of Rome,” the city (urbs) that was the capital of the world (orbis)