Thursday, April 17, 2014

Acta est Fabula! Plaudite! - the Play is Over! Applaud!

Acta est fabula, plaudite!The play is over, applaud!(Reportedly, the Emperor Augustus' last words, but delivered in Greek)
Suetonius,
Divus Augustus 99.1


 These "famous last words" of Caesar Augustus show perhaps a window into his psyche. He had "played a role" his whole life, on behalf of the vision for Rome's future that he and his allies supported. And at the end of his life he can take off the mask and be, like all mortals, ready to face his demise. At any rate, he played his role well.

Francois Rabelais spoke similarly from
his death bed:

Je m'en vais chercher un grand peut-être; tirez le rideau, la farce est jouée.
"I am going to seek a grand perhaps. Draw the curtain, the farce is played.


To learn more about Latin, visit the Latin resources page on my website.

I have a collection of other Latin quotes there that you can explore.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Potius Sero Quam Numquam - Better Late Than Never

Potius sero quam numquam   Better late than never,  Livy,  Ab Urbe condita 4.2

 As a lifelong procrastinator, I've always loved and, unfortunately, lived by this motto. This particular Latin quote is a nice way to lock in the key vocabulary items of quam (than) and numquam (never). Spanish nunca has preserved it quite nicely.


http://www.keithmassey.com/masseybooks.html
To learn more about Latin, visit the Latin resources page on my website.

I have a collection of other Latin quotes there that you can explore.

If you'd like to support my blog or the Latin language resources on my pages, please purchase one of my books. Click on the book cover to explore them further.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

On Wisconsin: In Latin! (Porro Wisconsin)

To commemorate the Wisconsin Badgers Men's Basketball Team playing in the Final Four, I've made a Latin version of the Wisconsin State Song, On Wisconsin. 



Go Badgers!





Friday, April 4, 2014

"Strength and Honor": Adventures in Translation

Strength and Honor

Ever since I showed the movie "Gladiator" to my current Latin 1 class, some of the students use the greeting employed by Maximus and his fellow soldiers and gladiators, "Strength and Honor." I answer back with the same. It's strangely fun.

It's a glorious movie. I've seen it at least twenty times now. And I still cheer and tear up each time I watch it.

I wondered recently what the Latin antecedent of the greeting "Strength and Honor" was. A bit of internet research uncovered the background.

In an interview with "Inside the Actors Studio," Russell Crowe described how the phrase came to be in the movie. He recalls how he told writer/director Ridley Scott that he wanted some greeting that sounded more like what soldiers or gladiators might say and he proposed using something like the motto of his high school, "Strength and Honor." Ridley Scott told him "Use THAT!"

(Earlier in that interview, he quoted the motto of the Sydney Boys High School, Veritate et Virtute, and translated it as "Truth and Honor." Crowe and Scott had apparently (and correctly) determined that "Strength and Honor" had more gravitas and would make for a more memorable greeting.)

I've seen on the web numerous queries for the Latin original of "Strength and Honor," much of it so as to get a tattoo of the phrase. Since the greeting is only based on an authentic motto, there really isn't a Latin original at all. So, on one level, there could be multiple correct translations. But I'm going to explore what really is the best Latin translation, and why.

If something actually has an original antecedent, you don't translate it, you just go look it up. It would be ludicrous, for instance, to back translate "I sing of arms and the man" as "Canto arma et virum." That translation is technically correct, but all wrong at the same time, since what Vergil actually wrote was "Arma virumque cano."


Translating "Strength and Honor" into Latin 

"And"

First off, let's get "and" out of the way. There are two main options
for "and" in Latin. We can use the simple word et (as in panem et circenses, bread and circuses), or we can use the enclitic -que (as in Senatus Populusque Romanus [S.P.Q.R. the mark of the Legion in Gladiator], The Senate and Roman People). 

I'm choosing et as the most basic and straightforward way to bind two different things. Compare, for instance, such famous quotes as:

Ora et Labora, Pray and Work (Motto of the Benedictine Order)
Perfer et Obdura, Be Patient and Tough (Ovid, Amores 3.11.7)


"Strength"


If you look up "strength" in an English-Latin dictionary, you'll find a number of potential candidates there:

vīs, vīs (f., 3rd irregular declension): strength, force 
fortitūdō, fortitūdinis : strength, courage
virtūs, virtūtis (f., 3rd declension): strength, courage, excellence

Each one of these can be found as a proposed translation of "Strength and Honor" on the web. And technically each is a correct translation. But one is better than the rest.

First off, vīs is the word that describes mere physical force. When I hear the men in that movie say, "Strength and Honor," I am hearing and feeling "Strength" to include not just physical strength, but mental and moral strength as well. The word vīs is just not le mot juste! (Sorry to everyone with that tattooed onto your body.)

That brings us to fortitūdō. This word really does carry the deeper meaning of "Strength" that the soldiers and gladiators embody. One problem. Imagine saying "Fortitudo et Honor!" That just doesn't sing. That word simply has too many syllables to capture the energy and grace of the English phrase "Strength and Honor."


Which brings us to virtūs. This word truly conveys every aspect of what "Strength and Honor" means. Interestingly, Mr. Crowe's school translated that word as the "honor" component of "Truth and Honor." And that's not wrong. The word denotes not just bravery and strength, but also goodness, moral perfection, and high character. Indeed, it is the source of our English word virtue.

So, I'm translating "Strength" with the word virtūs.  Again, it's not that the other words are wrong. They're just not the best choice to convey this particular concept.


"Honor"


Our English word honor comes from the Latin word:

honor, honōris (m., 3rd declension): honor

However, this word was originally:

honos, honōsis

The earliest recorded Latin tracks a sound change in which all r's between vowels turn into s's. This is known as rhotacism. As a result of this sound change, the noun in question became:

honos, honōris

The s between vowels became an r in all the oblique cases. But the final s of the nominative singular was left intact.

As should be expected, by analogy, that vestige of an s was eventually replaced by an r in the word English actually borrowed:

honor, honōris

But the form honos was still attested and used in the Golden Age of Latin Literature. So, I'm selecting honos as my best rendering for the translation in question. It would have rung on the ears of Latin speakers as the dignified and formal way to say "honor."


Strength and Honor - Virtūs et Honos

I've presented above why I believe virtūs et honos is the best translation of the English phrase "Strength and Honor." Again, when translating anything from one language to another, there can be multiple "correct" translations. But I believe what I have produced best captures the beautiful camaraderie we see in the movie Gladiator, as men say, sincerely, "Strength and Honor." 

Please support this blog and my Latin language materials by purchasing one of my books. Click on the cover to explore them further.









Panem et circenses - Bread and Circuses

Panem et circensesBread and circuses.
Juvenal,
Satires 10.80-81


This Latin quote refers to the practice of the government in providing to the masses free bread rations and entertainment in the form of chariot races (a circus originally refers to the circuit around which a race happens). This practice was intended to distract the common person from dwelling too much on their horrible lot in life (which might lead them to revolt against the powers that be).

Today, the phrase "Bread and Circuses" refers to any attempt by a politician to pander to the people. (The verb "to pander" has only a chance similarity with the Latin word panis, bread.)


http://www.keithmassey.com/masseybooks.html
To learn more about Latin, visit the Latin resources page on my website.

I have a collection of other Latin quotes there that you can explore.

If you'd like to support my blog or the Latin language resources on my pages, please purchase one of my books. Click on the book cover to explore them further.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ab Ovo Usque Ad Mala - From the Egg up to the Apples (From Soup to Nuts)

Ab ovo usque ad malaFrom the egg up to the apples(I.e., from start to finish, akin to “From soup to
nuts”)
Horace,
Satires 1.3.6

  
This proverb is a nice way to lock in the ablative singular neuter form (following the preposition a/ab), as well as the valuable phrase "usque ad," meaning, "up to." (From which comes French jusqu'à and Spanish hasta.

http://www.keithmassey.com/masseybooks.html
To learn more about Latin, visit the Latin resources page on my website.

I have a collection of other Latin quotes there that you can explore.

If you'd like to support my blog or the Latin language resources on my pages, please purchase one of my books. Click on the book cover to explore them further.

Ab Ovo - From the Egg

Leda and her Twins
The poet Horace wrote that the Trojan War should not be recounted “nec gemino bellum  Troianum orditur ab ovo,” that is to say,  from the story of how Helen of Troy was born
from one of the twin eggs after Zeus turned her mother Leda into a goose. (Horace,
Ars Poetica, 147)


From this, we get the Latin proverb "Ab Ovo" (From the Egg), meaning, one need not tell any story from some unnecessary point prior to the event or in unnecessary detail.

This proverb is a nice way to lock in the ablative singular neuter form (following the preposition a/ab).

http://www.keithmassey.com/masseybooks.html
To learn more about Latin, visit the Latin resources page on my website.

I have a collection of other Latin quotes there that you can explore.

If you'd like to support my blog or the Latin language resources on my pages, please purchase one of my books. Click on the book cover to explore them further.

 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Shahada: Turning Pre-Islamic Polytheism on its head...

I'm going to describe in this post an observation I had quite some time ago. If I'm right, then the form of the Shahada was intentionally cast so as to combat the pre-Islamic polytheistic milieu of the Arabian peninsula.

Now, I'm not a Muslim. I am a practicing Eastern Orthodox Christian, but I have had the privilege to know quite a number of Muslims worthy of great esteem. Among them is a current student in one of my Latin classes, a young man named Mustafa--still in high school but half done memorizing the Qur'an. He is a consummately polite youth,  outspoken for his faith, yet ever respectful of others. He is a true credit to his coreligionists.

Anyway, it should be known that, prior to Islam, one of the most celebrated deities in the Arabian peninsula was the Moon god. This made some practical sense for them, since travel in the heat of the day is difficult. And travel in the night when the moon is not visible (prior to the New Moon) is perilous.

Muhammad preached a radical Monotheism into this milieu. And he rejected any worship of the sun and moon. 

And so here's my observation.

The Shahada (the Creed of Islam) contains the letters of the Arabic word for New Moon (hilaal), twice in a row, backwards.

هلال
hilaal
h-l-a-l
New Moon

لا اله الا الله
 laa 'illaha 'illa -llahu
l-a-l-h '-l-a-l-h
There is no God but God


Polytheists in Arabia worshiped the Moon. And they searched the sky for the appearance of the New Moon, in Arabic  (hilaal). Upon the appearance of the New Moon, they proclamed (hilaal!). 

But the Shahada proclaims Monotheism. 

It reverses and rejects Polytheism, twice through its letters.

The Qur'an asserts that worship of the Moon is to be rejected:

وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ اللَّيْلُ وَالنَّهَارُ وَالشَّمْسُ وَالْقَمَرُ لَا تَسْجُدُوا لِلشَّمْسِ وَلَا لِلْقَمَرِ وَاسْجُدُوا لِلَّهِ الَّذِي خَلَقَهُنَّ إِن كُنتُمْ إِيَّاهُ تَعْبُدُونَ
"And of His signs are the night and day and the sun and moon. Do not prostrate to the sun or to the moon, but prostrate to Allah, who created them, if it should be Him that you worship"
(Fussilat:37)

The formulation of the Shahada itself is a repudiation of the New Moon. Arabs before Islam worshiped it. The Shahada turns the New Moon on its head and rejects it as worthy of worship.

Muslims are free to believe this formulation was revelation. Non-Muslims should at least acknowledge that this formulation was nothing short of religious genius. 

 


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Meaning of Life

What is life? What is its meaning?

I'll compile here a collection of quotable quotes that try to address the matter. You'll notice that the collective musings of literary worthies on the matter tend toward the nihilist and pessimistic end of the spectrum. That's alright. After I've presented them, in no particular order, I'll offer my own meager thoughts on the topic, which will tend more to a brighter view.

Literary Quotes

Life is a jest; and all things show it.
I thought so once, but now I know it.
       John Gay (1685-1732), English poet

Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale,
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.
       King John  III. iv. 108

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
       The Tempest IV.i.148

       Shakespeare (1564-1616), English playwright

God, though this life is but a wraith,
Although we know not what we use,
Although we grope with little faith,
Give me the heart to fight--and lose.
       Louis Untermeyer (1885-1977), US author

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken to the soul.
       Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
       US poet, A Psalm of Life

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of.
       Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

The best of life is but intoxication.
       Lord Byron (1788-1824), Don Juan II.179

When all is done, human life is, at the greatest and the best, but like a froward child, that must be played with and humoured a little to keep it quiet till it falls asleep, and then the care is over.
       Sir William Temple (1628-1699), English author

Life is just one damned thing after another.
       Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), US author

Life is made up of marble and mud.
       Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), US author

Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another's trouble,
Courage in your own.
       Adam Gordon (1833-1870), Australian poet

Life is one long process of getting tired.
Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.
       Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
       Lord, What is Man? Life., English author.

Life is short and art is long.
(Greek original is  Ὁ βίος βραχύς, ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή. Commonly quoted from the Latin translation Ars longa, vita brevis)
       Hippocrates (460-357BC), Greek doctor

There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet thing; there's likewise a wind on the heat. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?
       George Borrow (1803-1861), English author

Life isn't all beer and skittles; but beer and skittles, or something better of the same sort, must form a good part of every Englishman's education.
       Thomas Hughes (1822-1896), English novelist

Unattributed Proverbs

Life is half spent before we know what it is.

Life is made up of little things.

Life lies not in living but in liking.

Life without a friend is death without a witness.


Life and Death and Finding Meaning

When our ancestors 100,000 years ago began burying their dead, covering their bodies in red ochre, they were already displaying a search for meaning in the great mystery of life and death. And the aim of religious systems that evolved out of the paleolithic era was to somehow systematize beliefs about how humans could orient themselves and their lives to some ultimate meaning their hearts told existed beyond this realm.

The very fact that we search for the meaning of life is at least evidence that such meaning does exist. I didn't say it proved it. For those who want to believe no meaning exists, no proof would suffice.

Gilbert Chesterton noted that humans have hunger and thirst for food built into their being, and these things exist. The fact that humans seem universally to have a hunger and a thirst for the divine shows an innate sense of the existence of a supernatural realm.

A good summary of life can be found in the book of Ecclesiastes:

Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! (1:2)

It is well for someone to eat and drink and enjoy all the fruits of their labor under the sun during the limited days of the life which God gives them, for this is their lot. (5:17)

The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is all of humankind. (12:13)

Note also:
Red Wine, by Diane Leonard, click to buy.

Wine is very life to humans, if taken in moderation. Does he really live who lacks the wine which was created for his joy? (Sirach 31:27)

And so, I raise a glass of wine and say, Lichayim! To Life.

And I'll leave you with the beautiful musings of George Harrison on the topic, who sings to God "You are the breath of Life Itself, You are the Love of Life Itself."




You are the one, You are my love
You send the rain and bring the sun
You stand alone and speak the truth
You are the breath of life itself
Oh yes, You are, 

You are the one
You're in my dream
I hold you there in high esteem
I need you more each step I take
You are the love in life itself
Oh yes, You are, 

You are the One
You are the one that I'd die for
And you're all that is real
You are the essence of that
Which we taste, touch and feel
You are the one, no matter what
You are the real love that I've got
You are my friend and when life's through
You are the light in death itself
Oh yes, are, 

You are the One
They call you Christ, Vishnu
Buddha, Jehovah, our Lord
You are, Govindam, Bismillah
Creator of all

You are the one, no matter what
You are the real love that I've got
You are my friend and when life's through
You are the light in death itself
Oh yes, are, You are the One

You are my love
You send the rain and bring the sun
You stand alone and speak the truth
You are the breath of life itself, oh yes, You are
You are the breath of life itself
Oh yes, You are, You are the one

Codex Gigas, The Devil's Bible--Not...

I stumbled on the legend of the so-called "Devil's Bible," Codex Gigas, currently housed and on display at the National Library of Sweden.

By legend, a monk had broken his vows and was condemned to be walled up alive. Here's the point where discriminating listeners would balk, knowing that such things weren't actually done. People went in and out of religious orders all the time.

At any rate, by legend, the condemned monk pleaded for leniency if he could produce, in one night, a copy of the entire Bible. When, in the middle of the night, he realized there was no way to meet this mark, he reportedly made a pact with the Devil, in exchange for his soul, to complete the task. 

In point of fact, the manuscript is a remarkable achievement, penned by one hand, attributed to a monk named Herman the Recluse.

The manuscript was produced in the 13th century in Bohemia, and brought to Sweden after the Thirty Years War by marauding Swedes. 

The legend of the diabolical origin of the work may have
evolved from the presence of this prominent illustration of the Devil the pages of the manuscript.

It's sad that the the salacious legend is even still in circulation. This book was undoubtedly the product of a deeply committed and meticulous individual. And I'll say that the sheer scale of his product was the result of a supernatural strength. But let's attribute the source where it certainly belongs. The man who painstakingly produced this extraordinary relic produced it likely over decades of work. And in between his long sessions of studied copying, he was strengthened by the regular prayer life of his monastery in Bohemia.

Hermann Incluse, ora pro nobis...