Four Years of Presidential Memories: Skatokhasm, Another Word You Know You Need

How does one say “shithole” in Ancient Greek? As with other such esoteric considerations, this takes us into the depths of metaphor and meaning. Is a “shithole” a place whence shit emerges or one in which shit properly settles to age? To be more pointed, when we say “shithole”, do we mean the rectum (so is it a synonym for “asshole”) or do we mean a receptacle too primitive and unformed to be graced with the designation ‘toilet’?

I think when the leader of what was once the free world uses the term , he probably means the second meaning–that the countries designated so are “primitive”, bereft of proper sanitation, and, as such, both filled with excrement (in his excitable mind) and a worthy place for excrement to stay. Thanks to the magic of the conceptual metaphor, of course, the “shithole” can simultaneously indicate both origin and receptacle. One reason it is terribly racist is that the people who move from one to the other or inhabit them are, by extension, excrement.

Because I process trauma and horror through ancient Greek and lexicography, I need to ‘own’ this word by putting it in Greek. I think the stronger force of this metaphor is the location of discarded shit not the organ of excretion. Ancient Greek does not have a clear parallel (and believe me, gentle reader, I looked). I would love to hear some other suggestions. I put the call on Twitter.

The best suggestion, I think, is σκατοχάσμα (skatokhasma, see below). I like it because it has clear parallels (e.g. skatophage). Also, it sounds like “shit-gasm” which is what I think happens every time a certain chief executive speaks. Weaknesses: khasma is not very productive in ancient Greek compounds and is also rather ‘epic’ in scope. In English, “hole” is dimunitive a small. Shitholes are thus additionally awful because of their insignificance.

Honorable Mentions: τὸ σκατώρυγμον (skatorugmon). this has the sense of something hastily and poorly made by people. Also, κοπροβάραθρον is, as one correspondent declared, totally “metal” and, really epic. (Also, coprophilia is something the captain of our ship might cop to). The Lexicographer Zonaras treats all three of these nouns as synonyms (“Barathron: A ditch. A depth. The maw of the earth.” Βάραθρον. ὄρυγμα· βάθος· χάσμα γῆς). For me, barathron is mythical; orugmon is man-made, and khasma is more generic and ‘natural’. I prefer it, in sum, because of its huuugeness. It is really big. And the speaker mentioned above doesn’t do anything small.

https://twitter.com/diyclassics/status/951866406844469249

Some Instructive Compounds

κοπρόνους: “manure-minded”
κοπράγωγεω: “to collect crap”
κόπρειος: “full of crap”
κοπρολογεῖν: “to gather crap”
κοπροφαγεῖν: “to eat crap”
κοπροστόμος: “foul-mouthed”
σκατοφάγος: “shit-eater”
κόπρανα: “excrements”
κοπραγωγός: “shit-bearer”
κοπρία: “dung-heap”
κοπρίζω: “to make dung”
κοπρικός: “full of it”
κοπροθέσιον: “a place where dung is put”. ‘Shit-bucket”
κοπροδοχεῖον: “cess pool”
κοπροποιός: “dung-making”
σκατοφάγος: “shit eater”
σκαταιβάτης: “shit-walker”
σκωραμὶς: “shit pot”; cf. Ar.Lys. 371: σκωραμὶς κωμῳδική: “comedic shitpot”

Image result for medieval manuscript toilet

From Beekes:

chasm

A Sweet Evil: Schadenfreude in Ancient Greek

From the Suda

Epikhairekakía: is pleasure at someone else’s troubles”

ἐπιχαιρεκακία δὲ ἡδονὴ ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις κακοῖς

Diogenes Laertius, Vita Philosophorum 7. 114

“Pleasure is irrational excitement at gaining what seems to be needed. As a subset of pleasure, are elation, pleasure at someone else’s pain (epikhairekakía) and delight, which is similar to turning (trepsis), a mind’s inclination to weakness. The embrace of pleasure is the surrender of virtue.”

῾Ηδονὴ δέ ἐστιν ἄλογος ἔπαρσις ἐφ’ αἱρετῷ δοκοῦντι ὑπάρχειν, ὑφ’ ἣν τάττεται κήλησις, ἐπιχαιρεκακία, τέρψις, διάχυσις. κήλησις μὲν οὖν ἐστιν ἡδονὴ δι’ ὤτων κατακηλοῦσα· ἐπιχαιρεκακία δὲ ἡδονὴ ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις κακοῖς· τέρψις δέ, οἷον τρέψις, προτροπή τις ψυχῆς ἐπὶ τὸ ἀνειμένον· διάχυσις δ’ ἀνάλυσις ἀρετῆς.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1107a 8-11

“There are some vices whose names are cloaked with evil, for instance, pleasure at evils [epikhairekakía], shamelessness, and envy; and there are deeds too: adultery, theft, and manslaughter. All these things and those of this sort are called evil on their own, it is not an indulgence in them or an improper use that is wrong.”

ἔνια γὰρ εὐθὺς ὠνόμασται συνειλημμένα μετὰ τῆς φαυλότητος, οἷον ἐπιχαιρεκακία
ἀναισχυντία φθόνος, καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν πράξεων μοιχεία κλοπὴ ἀνδροφονία· πάντα γὰρ ταῦτα καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα λέγεται τῷ αὐτὰ φαῦλα εἶναι, ἀλλ’ οὐχ αἱ ὑπερβολαὶ αὐτῶν οὐδ’ αἱ ἐλλείψεις.

Plutarch, On Being A Busybody 518C

“Envy is pain over another person’s good things; schadenfreude is pleasure at another person’s sufferings. Both feelings arise from raw and animalistic hurt, from bad character.”

φθόνος μὲν γάρ ἐστι λύπη ἐπ᾿ ἀλλοτρίοις ἀγαθοῖς, ἐπιχαιρεκακία δ᾿ ἡδονὴ ἐπ᾿ ἀλλοτρίοις κακοῖς· ἀμφότερα δ᾿ ἐκ πάθους ἀνημέρου καὶ θηριώδους γεγένηται τῆς κακοηθείας.

Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, right wing

Charlatans With Unjustified Confidence and Unmeasured Words

M. Cornelius Fronto to Marcus Aurelius (c. 139 CE)

“I believe that a lack of experience and learning is completely preferable in all arts to partial experience and incomplete education. For one who knows that he has no experience in an art tries less and fails less thanks to that. In fact, such hesitation limits arrogance. But whenever anyone uses knowing something lightly as expertise he makes many mistakes because of false confidence.

So, people claim that it is better to never taste Philosophy than to sample it lightly, as it is said, with just the lips. Those men turn out to be the most malicious kind, who travel to a discipline’s entrance and turn away rather than going completely inside. It is still possible in other arts that you can play a part for a while and seem experienced in what you do not know. But in how to choose and arrange words, one shines through immediately when he cannot provide any words but those that show his ignorance of them, that he judges them poorly, provides them rashly, and cannot know either their usage or their strength.”

1. Omnium artium, ut ego arbitror, imperitum et indoctum omnino esse praestat quam semiperitum ac semidoctum. Nam qui sibi conscius est artis expertem esse minus adtemptat, eoque minus praecipitat; diffidentia profecto audaciam prohibet. At ubi quis leviter quid cognitum pro comperto | ostentat, falsa fiducia multifariam labitur. Philosophiae quoque disciplinas aiunt satius esse numquam adtigisse quam leviter et primoribus, ut dicitur, labiis delibasse, eosque provenire malitiosissimos, qui in vestibulo artis obversati prius inde averterint quam penetraverint. Tamen est in aliis artibus ubi interdum delitescas et peritus paulisper habeare quod nescias. In verbis vero eligendis conlocandisque ilico dilucet, nec verba dare diu quis1 potest, quin se ipse indicet verborum ignarum esse, eaque male probare et temere existimare et inscie contrectare, neque modum neque pondus verbi internosse.

Image result for Head of Mercury Pompeii wall painting
Fresco, Mercury (Pompeii)

Worse Through Words: National Emergencies and War

Cicero, Philippic 8.2

“But what is the substance of the controversy? Some people were thinking that the title “war” should not be given in the statement; they were preferring to use the term “national emergency” because they are ignorant not only of the matter but of words too. For a war is possible without a “national emergency”, but a “national emergency”, however, cannot exist without a war. What thing could be a “national emergency” but a trouble so great that a serious fear arises?

This is where the terminology itself for “national emergency” [tumultus] comes from. For our ancestors used to say that there was a “national emergency” in Italy  which was domestic or a “national emergency” in Gaul, which is on our border, but they used to call nothing else that. And that a “national emergency” is, moreover, more serious than a war can be understood from the fact that exemptions from service are valid in war but they are not in “national emergency”.

Therefore, as I was just saying, a war can exist without a “national emergency” but a “national emergency” cannot exist without a war. And since there can be no middle-ground between war and peace, it is true that a “national emergency”, if it is not part of a war, must be part of a peace. And what could be a crazier to say or imagine? But I have gone on too long about a word. Let’s look at the matter itself, Senators, which I do think often can become worse through language.”

At in quo fuit controversia? Belli nomen ponendum quidam in sententia non putabant: tumultum appellare malebant, ignari non modo rerum sed etiam verborum: potest enim esse bellum ut tumultus non sit, tumultus autem esse sine bello non potest. Quid est enim aliud tumultus nisi perturbatio tanta ut maior timor oriatur? Unde etiam nomen ductum est tumultus. Itaque maiores nostri tumultum Italicum quod erat domesticus, tumultum Gallicum quod erat Italiae finitimus, praeterea nullum nominabant. Gravius autem tumultum esse quam bellum hinc intellegi potest quod bello [Italico] vacationes valent, tumultu non valent. Ita fit, quem ad modum dixi, ut bellum sine tumultu possit, tumultus sine bello esse non possit.4Etenim cum inter bellum et pacem medium nihil sit, necesse est tumultum, si belli non sit, pacis esse: quo quid absurdius dici aut existimari potest? Sed nimis multa de verbo. Rem potius videamus, patres conscripti, quam quidem intellego verbo fieri interdum deteriorem solere.

Image result for cicero national emergency
There is a town called Cicero. It responds to emergencies.

Loose Lips Sink…On Silence As Better than Speech

A reminder that sometimes what isn’t said can save you….

Two sayings come from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

58 “When Aristotle was asked what the most burdensome thing in life is he said “staying silent.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθείς, τί δυσκολώτατόν ἐστιν ἐν βίῳ, εἶπε· „τὸ σιωπᾶν”.

382 “[Kratês] the Cynic used to say that it is better to slip with your foot than your tongue.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη κρεῖττον εἶναι τῷ ποδὶ ὀλισθῆσαι ἢ τῇ γλώττῃ.

Plutarch De Garrulitate (On Talkitiveness), 505f-506e

No word uttered has helped as much as many held in silence. For it is possible to say later what has been kept silent, but certainly not to render silent what has been said—that has been poured out and has wandered far afield. This is why I think that we have men as teachers of speech, but gods as teachers of silence, since we maintain quiet in their sacrifices and rites.

And the poet has made the most capable speaker Odysseus the most silent, along with his son, wife and nurse. For the nurse says “I will keep it as a strong tree or iron would.” (19.494). And Odysseus is described when he sits next to Penelope as “mourning in his heart as he pities his wife, though his eyes stood strong untrembling beneath his brows like horn or iron” (19.210-212). He was so full of self-control throughout his body and reason kept him completely obedient and ready and ordered his eyes not to weep, his tongue not to speak, and his heart neither to tremble nor yelp since his power of reason extended even to the subconscious movements, mastering and softening even his breath and blood.

Many of Odysseus’ companions were similar in character—for they did not turn against Odysseus or reveal the fire-made too prepared for his eye even as the Cyclops was dragging them and smashing them on the ground. Instead, they were willing to be eaten raw rather than disclose any part of the secret, and a better example of self-control and trust does not exist. This is why, when the king of Egypt sent a sacrificial victim to him and ordered him to cut out the best and worst meat, Pittakos did not do badly when he cut out the tongue because it was the organ of the greatest good and evil.

Just so, Euripides’ Ino, when offering a speech about herself, says she knows “how to be silent when it is right and to speak when it is safe.” (fr. 413.2). For those who obtain a noble and royal education learn first to be silent and then to speak.”

οὐδεὶς γὰρ οὕτω λόγος ὠφέλησε ῥηθεὶς ὡς πολλοὶ σιωπηθέντες· ἔστι γὰρ εἰπεῖν ποτε τὸ σιγηθέν, οὐ μὴν σιωπῆσαί γε τὸ λεχθέν, ἀλλ’ ἐκκέχυται καὶ διαπεφοίτηκεν. ὅθεν οἶμαι τοῦ μὲν λέγειν ἀνθρώπους τοῦ δὲ σιωπᾶν θεοὺς διδασκάλους ἔχομεν, ἐν τελεταῖς καὶ μυστηρίοις σιωπὴν παραλαμβάνοντες. | ὁ δὲ ποιητὴς τὸν λογιώτατον ᾿Οδυσσέα σιωπηλότατον πεποίηκε καὶ τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ τὴν τροφόν· ἀκούεις γὰρ λεγούσης (τ 494) ‘ἕξω δ’ ἠύτε περ κρατερὴ δρῦς ἠὲ σίδηρος.’
αὐτὸς δὲ τῇ Πηνελόπῃ παρακαθήμενος (τ 210—2)

‘θυμῷ μὲν γοόωσαν ἑὴν ἐλέαιρε γυναῖκα,
ὀφθαλμοὶ δ’ ὡς εἰ κέρα ἕστασαν ἠὲ σίδηρος,
ἀτρέμας ἐν βλεφάροισιν·’

οὕτω τὸ σῶμα μεστὸν ἦν αὐτῷ πανταχόθεν ἐγκρατείας, καὶ πάντ’ ἔχων ὁ λόγος εὐπειθῆ καὶ ὑποχείρια προσέταττε τοῖς ὄμμασι μὴ δακρύειν, τῇ γλώττῃ μὴ φθέγγεσθαι, τῇ καρδίᾳ μὴ τρέμειν μηδ’ ὑλακτεῖν (υ 13). ‘τῷ δ’ αὖτ’ ἐν πείσῃ κραδίη μένε τετληυῖα’ (υ 23), μέχρι τῶν ἀλόγων κινημάτων διήκοντος τοῦ λογισμοῦ καὶ
τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ αἷμα πεποιημένου κατήκοον ἑαυτῷ καὶ χειρόηθες. τοιοῦτοι δὲ καὶ οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν ἑταίρων·

τοιοῦτοι δὲ καὶ οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν ἑταίρων· τὸ γὰρ ἑλκομένους καὶ προσουδιζομένους (ι 289) ὑπὸ τοῦ Κύκλωπος μὴ κατειπεῖν τοῦ ᾿Οδυσσέως μηδὲ δεῖξαι τὸ πεπυρακτωμένον ἐκεῖνο καὶ παρεσκευασμένον ὄργανον ἐπὶ τὸν ὀφθαλμόν, ἀλλ’ ὠμοὺς ἐσθίεσθαι μᾶλλον ἢ φράσαι τι τῶν ἀπορρήτων ὑπερβολὴν ἐγκρατείας καὶ πίστεως οὐ λέλοιπεν. ὅθεν ὁ Πιττακὸς οὐ κακῶς τοῦ Αἰγυπτίων βασιλέως
πέμψαντος ἱερεῖον αὐτῷ καὶ κελεύσαντος τὸ κάλλιστον καὶ χείριστον ἐξελεῖν κρέας ἔπεμψεν ἐξελὼν τὴν γλῶτταν ὡς ὄργανον μὲν ἀγαθῶν ὄργανον δὲ κακῶν τῶν μεγίστων οὖσαν. ἡ δ’ Εὐριπίδειος ᾿Ινὼ παρρησίαν ἄγουσα περὶ αὑτῆς εἰδέναι φησί (fr. 413, 2)

‘σιγᾶν θ’ ὅπου δεῖ καὶ λέγειν ἵν’ ἀσφαλές.’

οἱ γὰρ εὐγενοῦς καὶ βασιλικῆς τῷ ὄντι παιδείας τυχόντες πρῶτον σιγᾶν εἶτα λαλεῖν μανθάνουσιν

Perhaps Plutarch was inspired by the proverb attributed to Zeno:  “for this reason we have two ears and one mouth, so that we might hear more and say less…”

διὰ τοῦτο … δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν, ἵνα πλείω μὲν ἀκούωμεν, ἥττονα δὲ λέγωμεν

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.15.1

“Those light-weight, annoying and pointless talkers who, though they cannot rely on any strong foundation, pour out lolling, liquid words, are correctly believed to draw only as deep as the lips and not the heart. Indeed, most people say that the tongue should not be free but should be guided by lines tied to the deepest part of the chest and the heart, as if by a ship’s captain. But still you may see certain men who toss around words without any semblance of judgment, but instead with a certainty so great and profound that even while they are speaking they do not seem to understand that they speak.

Homer has his Ulysses, however,–a man suffused with wise eloquence–move his voice not from his mouth but from his chest. This depiction is not so much about the sound and style of his voice as it is indicative of the considerable weight of the thoughts conceived within. And Homer also said quite appropriately that teeth are a wall built to contain immature and dangerous words—not just so that the watchful guardian of the heart could restrain them, but that they may be stopped by a guardhouse of sorts positioned at the mouth. The Homeric lines which I mentioned above are: “But when he released the great voice from his chest” (Il.3.221) and “What kind of word has escaped the bulwark of your teeth”? (Il. 4.350)

1 Qui sunt leves et futtiles et inportuni locutores quique nullo rerum pondere innixi verbis uvidis et lapsantibus diffluunt, eorum orationem bene existimatum est in ore nasci, non in pectore; linguam autem debere aiunt non esse liberam nec vagam, sed vinclis de pectore imo ac de corde aptis moveri et quasi gubernari. 2 Sed enim videas quosdam scatere verbis sine ullo iudicii negotio cum securitate multa et profunda, ut loquentes plerumque videantur loqui sese nescire.

3 Ulixen contra Homerus, virum sapienti facundia praeditum, vocem mittere ait non ex ore, sed ex pectore, quod scilicet non ad sonum magis habitumque vocis quam ad sententiarum penitus conceptarum altitudinem pertineret, petulantiaeque verborum coercendae vallum esse oppositum dentium luculente dixit, ut loquendi temeritas non cordis tantum custodia atque vigilia cohibeatur, sed et quibusdam quasi excubiis in ore positis saepiatur. 4 Homerica, de quibus supra dixi, haec sunt:
ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ ὄπα τε μεγάλην ἐκ στήθεος εἵη (Il.3.221)

Vergerio, de ingenuis moribus et liberalibus adulescentiae studiis, XIII:

“They should be deterred from this vain mendacity as much as possible. First, because men who became accustomed to lying in youth tend to maintain the habit, and nothing could be more shameful. Second, because almost nothing offends elders more, than the mendacity of youths who try, though just born yesterday, to ensnare old men with deceit. It would be well if our youth were advised to speak little and rarely, unless bid to do so. For, in excessive speech there is always something which can be criticized, and if one is to make a mistake in either direction, it is much safer to be silent than to speak. Indeed, he who is silent at the wrong time, makes only this one mistake, that he is silent: but in speaking, one may make many mistakes. Therefore, we ought to see to it that youths do not become accustomed to base and dishonest talk. For, as was said by a Greek poet and repeated by the Apostle Paul,

                “Bad conversations will corrupt good characters.”

Ab hac autem mentiendi vanitate deterrendi sunt maxime. Primum, quod assueti in iuventute mentiri morem hunc viri servant, quo nihil est turpius; deinde, quod prope nihil aeque maiores offendit quam mendacia adulescentium, qui studeant, pridie nati, senes fallaciis circumvenire. Proderit autem si admoneantur parum loqui et raro, nisi iussos, dicere. In multo namque sermone est aliquid semper quod reprehendi possit. Quod si alterutro est peccandum, multo sane tutius est tacere quam loqui. Nam qui intempestive tacet, hoc in unum peccat, quod tacet; loquendo autem, in multis errare contingit. Providendum etiam ne foedis atque inhonestis sermonibus assuescant. Nam, ut est a graeco poeta dictum et ab apostolo Paolo repetitum,

                corrumpunt bonos mores colloquia mala.

Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, de Educatione Liberorum XXXV

“What then should we say, considering that there is great utility in both silence and in speaking? We would have you hold to the middle course, and find yourself neither always speaking nor always quit. I do not demand a five-years silence in the Pythagorean fashion, nor would I recommend the loquacity of a Thersites. The ancients used to say that the tongue should not always be free and wandering, but moved and perhaps even governed by chains rooted deep in the heart and soul. The words of those who speak freely, lightly, aimlessly, and with no sense of timing ought to be considered as springing not from the heart, but from the mouth itself. Homer, however, says that Ulysses – a man endowed with wisdom and eloquence – would speak not from his mouth, but from his heart. Certainly, the ‘bulwark of the teeth’ is placed as a restraint on inconsiderate speech, so that temerity in speaking would not be checked only by the heart’s guardianship, but also be hedged in by guards placed in the mouth. One should take care not to deserve that charge of Epicharmus, of being a man ‘who, although he was unable to speak, yet could not be silent,’ or even that of Sallust, who speaks of one who ‘when he spoke was talkative rather than eloquent.’”

Quid ergo dicemus, cum et silentii et orationis magna utilitas sit? Tenere te medium volumus, neque tacere semper neque loqui semper. Non exigimus Pythagoreum illud quinquennale silentium neque Thersitis loquacitatem. Linguam dicebant veteres debere non esse liberam nec vagam sed vinculis de pectore imo ac de corde aptis moveri et quasi gubernari. Nam qui sunt faciles, leves, futiles et importuni locutores, horum orationem bene aestimatum in ore nasci, non in pectore. Ulixem contra Homerus sapienti facundia praeditum vocem mittere ait non ex ore, sed ex pectore. Nempe verborum coercendae petulantiae vallum positum est dentium, ut loquendi temeritas non cordis tantum custodia cohibeatur, sed et quibusdam quasi excubiis in ore positis saepiatur. Cavendum est, ne obiici possit illud Epicharmi, ‘<qui> cum loqui non posset, tacere non potuit,’ aut Sallustianum: ‘loquax inquit magis quam facundus.’

Image result for medieval manuscript silence and speech
Vulcan finding Venus and Mars together, from The Roman de la Rose, France, Central? (Paris?), c. 1380, Egerton MS 881, f. 141v

A Sweet Evil: Schadenfreude in Ancient Greek

From the Suda

Epikhairekakía: is pleasure at someone else’s troubles”

ἐπιχαιρεκακία δὲ ἡδονὴ ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις κακοῖς

Diogenes Laertius, Vita Philosophorum 7. 114

“Pleasure is irrational excitement at gaining what seems to be needed. As a subset of pleasure, are elation, pleasure at someone else’s pain (epikhairekakía) and delight, which is similar to turning (trepsis), a mind’s inclination to weakness. The embrace of pleasure is the surrender of virtue.”

῾Ηδονὴ δέ ἐστιν ἄλογος ἔπαρσις ἐφ’ αἱρετῷ δοκοῦντι ὑπάρχειν, ὑφ’ ἣν τάττεται κήλησις, ἐπιχαιρεκακία, τέρψις, διάχυσις. κήλησις μὲν οὖν ἐστιν ἡδονὴ δι’ ὤτων κατακηλοῦσα· ἐπιχαιρεκακία δὲ ἡδονὴ ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις κακοῖς· τέρψις δέ, οἷον τρέψις, προτροπή τις ψυχῆς ἐπὶ τὸ ἀνειμένον· διάχυσις δ’ ἀνάλυσις ἀρετῆς.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1107a 8-11

“There are some vices whose names are cloaked with evil, for instance, pleasure at evils [epikhairekakía], shamelessness, and envy; and there are deeds too: adultery, theft, and manslaughter. All these things and those of this sort are called evil on their own, it is not an indulgence in them or an improper use that is wrong.”

ἔνια γὰρ εὐθὺς ὠνόμασται συνειλημμένα μετὰ τῆς φαυλότητος, οἷον ἐπιχαιρεκακία
ἀναισχυντία φθόνος, καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν πράξεων μοιχεία κλοπὴ ἀνδροφονία· πάντα γὰρ ταῦτα καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα λέγεται τῷ αὐτὰ φαῦλα εἶναι, ἀλλ’ οὐχ αἱ ὑπερβολαὶ αὐτῶν οὐδ’ αἱ ἐλλείψεις.

Image result for Ancient Greek Vase party

“The Cheapness of Our Tongue”: Three Latin Passages on Translation

Seneca the Elder, Contr. 9.14

“People who teach translation have never made a lot of money”

numquam magnas mercedes accepisse eos qui hermeneumata docerent.

Pliny, Letters C. Plinius Arrio Antonino Suo S.

“How could I give you a greater sign of how much I want to copy you and admire you than the fact that I am trying to translate your Greek epigrams to Latin? Still, this is a decline. I bring to it the feebleness of my own ability, and add to this the poverty, or what Lucretius calls “the cheapness of our own language.” Nevertheless, if these Latin translations of mine seem at all charming to you, you will know how much pleasure your Greek originals brought me! Farewell.”

Quemadmodum magis adprobare tibi possum, quanto opere mirer epigrammata tua Graeca, quam quod quaedam Latine aemulari et exprimere temptavi? in deterius tamen. Accidit hoc primum imbecillitate ingenii mei, deinde inopia ac potius, ut Lucretius ait, egestate patrii sermonis. Quodsi haec, quae sunt et Latina et mea, habere tibi aliquid venustatis videbuntur, quantum putas inesse iis gratiae, quae et a te et Graece proferuntur! Vale.

Cicero, de optime genere oratorum 18

“Two kinds of objections are possible for this task. The first is: “It is better in Greek.” One can answer such people by asking if they can make anything better in Latin. Another is: “Why should I read this translation rather than the Greek?” Well, the same people often embrace a Latin Andria, Synephebi, and even an Andromache, Antiope and Epigonoi. Why is there so much intolerance for speeches translated from Greek when there is none for translated poems?

Huic labori nostro duo genera reprehensionum opponuntur. Unum hoc: “Verum melius Graeci.” A quo quaeratur ecquid possint ipsi melius Latine? Alterum: “Quid istas potius legam quam Graecas?” Idem Andriam et Synephebos nec minus Andromacham aut Antiopam aut Epigonos Latinos recipiunt. Quod igitur est eorum in orationibus e Graeco conversis fastidium, nullum cum sit in versibus?

Image
Greek, Latin and Arabic

Charlatans With Unjustified Confidence and Unmeasured Words

M. Cornelius Fronto to Marcus Aurelius (c. 139 CE)

“I believe that a lack of experience and learning is completely preferable in all arts to partial experience and incomplete education. For one who knows that he has no experience in an art tries less and fails less thanks to that. In fact, such hesitation limits arrogance. But whenever anyone uses knowing something lightly as expertise he makes many mistakes because of false confidence.

So, people claim that it is better to never taste Philosophy than to sample it lightly, as it is said, with just the lips. Those men turn out to be the most malicious kind, who travel to a discipline’s entrance and turn away rather than going completely inside. It is still possible in other arts that you can play a part for a while and seem experienced in what you do not know. But in how to choose and arrange words, one shines through immediately when he cannot provide any words but those that show his ignorance of them, that he judges them poorly, provides them rashly, and cannot know either their usage or their strength.”

1. Omnium artium, ut ego arbitror, imperitum et indoctum omnino esse praestat quam semiperitum ac semidoctum. Nam qui sibi conscius est artis expertem esse minus adtemptat, eoque minus praecipitat; diffidentia profecto audaciam prohibet. At ubi quis leviter quid cognitum pro comperto | ostentat, falsa fiducia multifariam labitur. Philosophiae quoque disciplinas aiunt satius esse numquam adtigisse quam leviter et primoribus, ut dicitur, labiis delibasse, eosque provenire malitiosissimos, qui in vestibulo artis obversati prius inde averterint quam penetraverint. Tamen est in aliis artibus ubi interdum delitescas et peritus paulisper habeare quod nescias. In verbis vero eligendis conlocandisque ilico dilucet, nec verba dare diu quis1 potest, quin se ipse indicet verborum ignarum esse, eaque male probare et temere existimare et inscie contrectare, neque modum neque pondus verbi internosse.

 

Image result for Head of Mercury Pompeii wall painting
Fresco, Mercury (Pompeii)

 

Suffering for a Lack of the Latin Language

Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 7.72

“I used to tell you that Cestius, because he was Greek, suffered because of a lack of Latin words though he had an abundance of ideas. Thus, whenever he dared to describe something more broadly, he often stalled especially when he attempted to imitate some great genius.

This is the issue in this controversy. For, in his story, when he was telling about how his brother was given to him, he was pleased by this lonely and sad description: “night was laid out, and everything, judges, was singing under silent stars.” Julius Montanus, who was a companion of Tiberius and an exceptional poet, was claiming that he wanted to imitate Vergil’s line: ‘it was night and all the tired animals over the earth, the races of birds and beasts, were held by a deep sleep.’ “

Soleo dicere vobis Cestium Latinorum verborum inopia hominem Graecum laborasse, sensibus abundasse; itaque, quotiens latius aliquid describere ausus est, totiens substitit, utique cum se ad imitationem magni alicuius ingeni derexerat, sicut in hac controversia fecit. Nam in narratione, cum fratrem traditum sibi describeret, placuit sibi in hac explicatione una et infelici: nox erat concubia, et omnia, iudices, canentia sideribus muta erant. Montanus Iulius, qui comes fuit , egregius poeta, aiebat illum imitari voluisse Vergili descriptionem:

nox erat et terras animalia fessa per omnis,alituum pecudumque genus, sopor altus habebat

Cats doing cat things: sleep, play with mice, and take an unhealthy interest in caged birds from a medieval bestiary
Oxford University: Bodleian Library

“Well, Actually, None IS”: Seneca the Elder on Grammatical Pedantry

Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae 2.13, 540 M

“The grammarian Procellus used to claim that [Severus’] line was a solecism because, although he indicated many were speaking, he used to say “this is my day” instead of “this is our day”. And in this he was carping at the best part of a great poem. For, it is feeble if you make it “our” instead of my—all of the verse’s elegance will disappear.

For its greatest decorum is in this line and it comes from the vernacular (for, “this is my day” is something like a proverb). If, in addition, you reconsider the sense, then the grammarian’s pedantry—which should be kept away from all of the better minds—has no place at all. For, they did not all speak together as a chorus might with a leader guiding them, but each one spoke individually, “this is my day.”

Illud Porcellus grammaticus arguebat in hoc versu quasi soloecismum quod, cum plures induxisset, diceret: “hic meus est dies,” non: “hic noster est,” et in sententia optima id accusabat quod erat optimum. Muta enim ut “noster” sit: peribit omnis versus elegantia, in quo hoc est decentissimum, quod ex communi sermone trahitur; nam quasi proverbii loco est: “hic dies meus est”; et, cum ad sensum rettuleris, ne grammaticorum quidem calumnia ab omnibus magnis ingeniis summovenda habebit locum; dixerunt enim non omnes simul tamquam in choro manum ducente grammatico, sed singuli ex iis: “hic meus est dies.”

this is my day, punk.