Thursday, April 3, 2014

Latin in the Spring

I have a little Latin quiz for you today. I read most of these phrases in Thomas Reid’s Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man. The last one comes from the pen of Ludovico Ariosto and was quoted by translator Barbara Reynolds in the introduction to vol. 2 of Orlando Furioso.  Here are the phrases:

A. Optat aprum autfulvum descendere monte leonem.
B. Verbaque provisam rem non invito sequentur.
C. Quicquid agunt homines, votum, timor, ira voluptas, gaudia, discursus
D. rudis indigestaque moles
E. parva sed apta mihi

Which one of these phrases would you use in the following situations?
  1. You are nervous about presenting a plan to a committee.
  2. You are a Renaissance poet and want to describe the subject of your satirical epic.
  3. You see a friend choosing a dangerous course of action in order to avoid a much less dangerous problem.
  4. You come back home from a dinner party at your rich friend’s fancy mansion.
  5. You get a glimpse of your teenager’s room for the first time in weeks.
OK, I asked the question incorrectly. You probably wouldn’t use any of those phrases any time at all. But which could you use in each of those situations – if you wanted to make some classical allusions and befuddle or annoy everyone within earshot?

Quotation A comes from Virgil: “He chooses [or hopes for or prefers] a boar or tawny lion to descend from the mountain.” We might say, “He’s cutting off his nose to spite his face.” If you really want to say this phrase to your reckless friend, and not just about your friend, you need to change the ending of the first word: optas.

Quotation B comes from Horace: “Words will not unwillingly follow a matter foreseen [or provided for or well considered].” I have to overlook the Romans’ weird taste for double negatives, but I really like it that Horace says that, once you have carefully considered a matter, the words will come as if by their own will.

Quotation C comes from Juvenal: “Everything humanity does, its hope, fear, rage, joy, wanderings.” Reid doesn’t quote the last four words of the sentence: nostri farrago libelli est (“are the hodgepodge of my little book”).

Quotation D comes from Ovid: “a rude and disordered mass.” I don’t know what ugly object Ovid used the phrase to describe; I just found the translation on the, oh, so helpful But, of today’s five phrases, I see this one as the most promising for everyday use.

Quotation E, as I said, comes from Ariosto. He was describing his house: “small, but suitable for me.”

The answers, then (for those of you keeping score at home), are 1-B, 2-C, 3-A, 4-E. and 5-D.

Other posts on Latin can be found here, here, here, and here.

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