The Prow and Stern of the Matter

Erasmus, Adagia 1.1.8

Πρῶρα καὶ πρύμνη, that is Prow and stern. Cicero, writing to Tiro in the final book of his Epistulae Familiares, recalls the saying with these words: ‘It was my prow and stern, as the saying of the Greeks goes, to send you away from me so that you could explain my reasoning’. We mean by ‘prow and stern’ the entirety of our plan, on account of the fact that the whole ship hangs between stern and prow as if from head to heel. Among the Greeks, I found it given thus: Τὰ ἐκ πρώρας καὶ τὰ ἐκ πρύμνης ἀπόλλυται, that is, They perish from prow and from stern equally or the prow and stern perish equally, referring to complete destruction. Philostratus, in his Heroics, writes Ἀλλὰ δεῖ προσδεδέσθαι τῇ νηί, καθάπερ τὸν Ὀδυσσέα, εἰ δὲ μή, καὶ τὰ ἐκ πρώρας φασὶ καὶ ἐκ πρύμνης ἀπολεῖται, that is, But it is necessary to be bound to the ship in the manner of Odysseus, for otherwise, as they say, prow and stern are ruined together. It is said in a similar way in Apocalypse, Ἐγώ εἰμι ἄλφα καὶ ὦ, I am Alpha and Omega, that is, ‘I am the sum of all things. All things set out from me as from a fountain, and all are returned to me as to the port of felicity.’ For alpha is the first letter of the Greeks and omega is the last. The thought found in Theocritus’ Encomium of Ptolemy is not dissimilar:

Ἀνδρῶν αὖ Πτολεμαῖος ἐνὶ πρώτεσσι λεγέσθω

Καὶ πύματος καὶ μέσσος,

that is,

‘But in the number of humans, let Ptolemy be sung first, last, and middle.

Similarly, we have the Vergilian phrase, ‘A te principium, tibi desinet.’ [‘The beginning comes from you, and it will end with you.’] Demosthenes said that pronunciation was τὸ πρῶτον, τὸ δεύτερον καὶ τὸ τρίτον [‘the first, the second, and third’], understanding by that phrase eloquence as a whole. Plato, in the fourth book of his Laws, writes  Ὁ μὲν δὴ θεός, ὥσπερ καὶ ὁ παλαιὸς λόγος, ἀρχήν τε καὶ τελευτὴν καὶ μέσα τῶν ὄντων ἁπάντων ἔχων, that is, ‘Now God himself, as it is said in that old proverb, embracing the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things…’ Plutarch, in his essay On the Education of Children, writes Ὅτι ἓν πρῶτον καὶ μέσον καὶ τελευταῖον ἐν τούτοις κεφάλαιον ἀγωγὴ σπουδαία καὶ παιδεία νόμιμός ἐστι, that is, ‘Because one thing is the first, middle, and final head – a sound foundation and a legitimate education. Aristotle, in the third book of his Rhetoric, who tells of a certain Alcidamas, who called philosophy the wall and trench of the laws, implying that all of the protection of the laws is seated in philosophy. But the philosopher condemns that metaphor as hard and frigid, as though the ‘prow and stern’ were not a harsher metaphor. Though there may be faulty expressions in serious speech, harshness of metaphor does not offend as much in proverbial expressions, since they are often similar to enigmas and it almost seems that the most contorted sayings are the most praised. Accordingly, whenever we want to signify the sum total, all the circumstances, and even the safeguard of some affair, we will say the ‘prow and stern’ or ‘the trench and wall’, as in ‘our piety ought to be the prow and stern of our studies.’ or  ‘To some, the prow and stern in all affairs is money.’ or ‘Against the force of the Carthaginians, Scipio was the trench and wall,’ that is the chief safeguard.

Image result for roman trireme

Prora et puppis.viii

Πρῶρα καὶ πρύμνη, id est Prora et puppis. M. Tullius libro Familiarium epistolarum ultimo scribens ad Tironem suum paroemiam hanc refert his verbis : Mihi prora et puppis, ut Graecorum proverbium est, fuit a me tui dimittendi, ut rationes meas explicares. Prora itaque et puppi summam consilii nostri significamus, propterea quod a prora et puppi, tanquam a capite et calce, pendeat tota nauis. Apud Graecos invenio pronuntiatum hoc pacto : Τὰ ἐκ πρώρας καὶ τὰ ἐκ πρύμνης ἀπόλλυται, id est A prora pariter atque a puppi pereunt siue prora pariter ac puppis perit, hoc est ad internecionem. Philostratus in Heroicis : Ἀλλὰ δεῖ προσδεδέσθαι τῇ νηί, καθάπερ τὸν Ὀδυσσέα, εἰ δὲ μή, καὶ τὰ ἐκ πρώρας φασὶ καὶ ἐκ πρύμνης ἀπολεῖται, id est Sed oportet Ulyssis in morem naui alligatum esse, alioqui et prora, quod dici solet, et puppis perit. Consimili figura dictum est in Apocalypsi : Ἐγώ εἰμι ἄλφα καὶ ὦ, Ego sum alpha et ω. Ego sum rerum omnium summa. Omnia proficiscuntur a me velut a fonte, et ad eundem omnia referuntur tanquam ad felicitatis portum. Nam alpha, α, Graecis prima litera est, ω magnum postrema. Neque dissidet hinc illud Theocriticum in Encomio Ptolemaei :

Ἀνδρῶν αὖ Πτολεμαῖος ἐνὶ πρώτεσσι λεγέσθω

Καὶ πύματος καὶ μέσσος,

id est

Ast hominum in numero decantetur Ptolemaeus

Primus et ultimus ac medius.

Item Vergilianum illud : A te principium, tibi desinet. Huc pertinet quod Demosthenes pronuntiationem τὸ πρῶτον, τὸ δεύτερον καὶ τὸ τρίτον esse dixit universam eloquentiam intelligens. Plato De legibus libro quarto : Ὁ μὲν δὴ θεός, ὥσπερ καὶ ὁ παλαιὸς λόγος, ἀρχήν τε καὶ τελευτὴν καὶ μέσα τῶν ὄντων ἁπάντων ἔχων, id est Jam deus quidem ipse, quemadmodum vetusto verbo dicitur, tum initium tum finem tum medium rerum omnium complectens. Plutarchus in commentario De liberis educandis : Ὅτι ἓν πρῶτον καὶ μέσον καὶ τελευταῖον ἐν τούτοις κεφάλαιον ἀγωγὴ σπουδαία καὶ παιδεία νόμιμός ἐστι, id est Quod una res primum et medium ac postremum hic caput est, proba institutio legitimaque eruditio. Aristoteles libro Rhetoricorum tertio refert ex Alcidamante quodam, qui philosophiam legum vallum ac fossam appellarit, omne legum praesidium in philosophia situm innuens. At philosophus eam metaphoram tanquam duram ac frigidam damnat, quasi vero non durior sit illa superior Πρῶρα καὶ πρύμνη. Verum in oratione seria fortassis vitiosae fuerint, in adagiis non item offendit durities, ut quae saepenumero vel aenigmatum simillima sint eaque ferme laudatissima videantur, quae paulo longius detorta fuerint. Proinde quoties summam totius negotii et omne momentum praesidiumque significabimus, proram et puppim aut fossam et vallum dicemus, ut pietas studiorum nostrorum prora et puppis esse debet. Quibusdam omnium rationum prora et puppis est pecunia. Adversus Carthaginiensium vim Scipio fossa pariter et vallum erat, id est praecipuum tutamentum.

One response

Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: