Saturday, December 17, 2016

Boswell, Dr. Johnson, and the Last Latin Quiz

I said in a post a few days ago that I would shed a tear when Dr. Johnson died, and of course I did. James Boswell invented a new type of biography with at once the only notable instance of that new type and history’s greatest masterpiece of the biographical genre. My pastor has started Boswell’s monumental Life of Johnson and, after a hundred pages or so, asked me to explain to him why on earth I liked it so well. I told him to hang on until the point when Boswell meets Johnson: from then on, the biography is told not just from documents (although the Biographer uses documentary evidence galore) but from personal observation. It is not too much to say that Boswell revered Dr. Johnson; through his virtually unique approach – eye-witness accounts and descriptions of personal interactions – he has passed on that reverence to generations of readers so successfully that Samuel Johnson is still normally referred to as “Dr. Johnson.” I certainly refer to him in that way.

The Blogspot stats tell me that my occasional Latin quizzes have consistently drawn a lot of views, so I thought I’d devote the bulk of my final Boswell post to a quiz on a baker’s dozen of expressions from the ancient tongue that I came across in this year’s reading of the book. Match each numbered phrase with a letter-coded translation from the second list. Don’t scroll down too far until you’re ready to see the answers!

Latin from the final 10% of Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson

1. Abite curae.
2. Ita enim senectus honesta est, si se ipsa defendit,
     si jus suum retinet, si nemini emancipata est,
     si usque ad extremum vitae spiritum vindicet jus suum.
3. Laetus sum laudari a laudato viro.
4. Melius est sic penituisse quam non errasse.
5. mollia tempora fandi
6. Nocitura petuntur.
7. Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
8. Praeterea minimus gelido jam in corpore sanguis febre calet sola.
9. Quid te exempta juvat spinis de pluribus una?
10. Spartam quam nactus es orna.
11. Te teneam moriens deficiente manu.
12. vis inertiae
13. vis vitae


a. (Cicero, slightly misremembered) For old age is honoured
     only on condition that it defends itself, maintains its rights,
     is subservient to no one, and to the last breath rules over
     its own domain.
b. (Cicero) I am happy to be praised by a man whom others praise.
c. (Horace) What does it help to get rid of one thorn among many?
d. (Juvenal) Besides, the little bit of blood now in this cold
     body is only warm because of the fever.
e. (Juvenal) Things hurtful are sought.
f. (Juvenal) You should pray to have a sound mind in a sound body.
g. (Tibullus) While I die, let me hold you with my weakening hand.
h. Appropriate times for speaking
i. Depart, cares!
j. It is better to have repented in this way than not to have erred.
k. Power of idleness
l. Power of life
m. Since you have obtained Sparta, honor her.


The Answers:

1-i, 2-a, 3-b, 4-j, 5-h, 6-e, 7-f, 8-d, 9-c, 10-m, 11-g, 12-k, 13-l

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