Oh, the Humanity!

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 13.17:

“That the term Humanity” does not mean that which the common herd of people thinks, but those who have spoken sincerely have used that word more properly.

Those who have produced Latin words and have used them properly did not wish “humanity” to be what the common people think – what is called “philanthropia” in Greek and means a kind of dexterity and a promiscuous benevolence toward all people. Rather, they “humanity” what the Greeks call “paideia”, though we say that this is erudition and instruction in the good arts. Those who sincerely desire and seek these good arts out are called humanissimi. The concern for and instruction in this knowledge is given to humans alone of all the animals in the world, and it is for that reason that it is called “humanity”.

Therefore, almost all books make it clear that the ancients used the word in this way, especially Varro and Cicero. For this reason, I have thought it enough to produce just one example. And so, I have excerpted the words of Varro in his first book Of Human Affairs, the beginning of which reads:

‘Praxiteles, who on account of his exceptional art is unknown to no one who is in any way more humane (humaniori).’

By ‘humaniori’, he does not mean (as common people do) someone more easy and tractable and benevolent, though uneducated in literature – for this is wholly out of keeping with the sentence – but rather, someone who is more erudite and learned, and who knows who Praxiteles was from books and history.

 

“Humanitatem” non significare id, quod volgus putat, sed eo vocabulo, qui sinceriter locuti sunt, magis proprie esse usos.

I. Qui verba Latina fecerunt quique his probe usi sunt, “humanitatem” non id esse voluerunt, quod volgus existimat quodque a Graecis philanthropia dicitur et significat dexteritatem quandam benivolentiamque erga omnis homines promiscam, sed “humanitatem” appellaverunt id propemodum, quod Graeci paideian vocant, nos eruditionem institutionemque in bonas artis dicimus. Quas qui sinceriter cupiunt adpetuntque, hi sunt vel maxime humanissimi. Huius enim scientiae cura et disciplina ex universis animantibus uni homini datast idcircoque “humanitas” appellata est. II. Sic igitur eo verbo veteres esse usos et cumprimis M. Varronem Marcumque Tullium omnes ferme libri declarant. Quamobrem satis habui unum interim exemplum promere. III. Itaque verba posui Varronis e libro rerum humanarum primo, cuius principium hoc est: “Praxiteles, qui propter artificium egregium nemini est paulum modo humaniori ignotus”. IV. “Humaniori” inquit non ita, ut vulgo dicitur, facili et tractabili et benivolo, tametsi rudis litterarum sit – hoc enim cum sententia nequaquam convenit -, sed eruditiori doctiorique, qui Praxitelem, quid fuerit, et ex libris et ex historia cognoverit.

 

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