Saturday, January 14, 2006

Advice on Seeming Profound

Today, I may seem to be channeling Laudator Temporis Acti, which would mean that I might be channeling that "praiser of time past" Horace (Ars Poetica 173), but actually, I'm channeling Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra . . . or, rather, the "lively and intelligent friend" (page 42) of his fictional counterpart in the Prologue to Don Quixote:

. . . as to quoting in the margin the books and authors from whom you collected the sentences and sayings you have included in your history, all you have to do is to drag in some trite phrases and tags of Latin that you know by heart, or at least that cost you little trouble to look up -- for instance, when dealing with liberty and captivity, to introduce:

Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro

and in the margin cite Horace or whomever said it. (page 44)

As the scholarly footnote makes clear, the Latin quote in fact comes from Aesop and means "Liberty is not well sold for all the gold in the world" (Aesop's Fables III, 14) (page 44, note 3).

For those who like to trace such things, I'm reading Don Quixote in the Walter Starkie translation, the recent edition (New York: Signet, 2001) with an introduction by Edward H. Friedman.

The quote about freedom, by the way, appears inscribed above the entrance to the famous Fortress of Lovrijenac, constructed to defend the western approach to Dubrovnik, on the Dalmatian Coast of the Balkans, where freedom entailed walling up city and fortress in what looks from the outside like a prison and which must have cost a great deal of medieval gold to construct.

But I digress. Let me end this by quoting a genuine Horace:
"The past is but behind us, and we quote by talking out our ears, making asses of ourselves."
I wonder if Laudator Temporis Acti could translate that into Latin . . .


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