Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Latin Worth Knowing: Davus sum, non Oedipus - I'm Davus, not Oedipus

Oedipus, for all of his other Oedipal failings, solved the riddle of the Sphinx:

"What is that which has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?"

He solves it, "A man, who as a baby crawls on all fours, then walks on two feet, and then, in old age, adds a cane."

The Sphinx, in despair that someone solved the riddle, commits suicide. 

The Roman playwright Terence, in his play Andria 1.2, has the trickster slave, when asked to solve a problem, utter the delightful response:

Davus sum, non Oedipus.
"I'm Davus, not Oedipus."

This quote, useful I guess now only within the most erudite settings, can be employed when one is asked to speak to an area far outside their area of expertise. 

My high school Latin students typically are working levels of mathematics far beyond what I was required even for my BA degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1987. And I have said, when asked by one of them, "Hey, Dr. Massey, can you help me with Calculus?"

"Davus sum, non Oedipus."


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