Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"mors omnia devorat"

Still Life With A Skull
Philippe de Champaigne
Vanitas (c. 1671)
Musée de Tessé, Le Mans
(Image from Wikipedia)

To assist me in my quest for all-devouring death -- or rather, since death will find me soon enough, my search for the source behind this deathly personification in John Donne and John Milton -- an online acquaintance of mine, Michael Gilleland, has emailed me a pertinent Latin quote:
A possible source is Seneca, De remediis fortuitorum 2: "alia nos torquent: mors omnia devorat."
Michael didn't specify Seneca the Elder or Seneca the Younger, but perhaps he meant Seneca the Pseudo-Seneca, for I find some authorities who claim that De remediis fortuitorum is a pseudonymous work,for example this scholar.

I'm not much good at Latin, but even I can see that "mors omnia devorat" means "Death devours all things." Okay, I had a little help.

I won't attempt the rest of the quote since I'd have to labor hard and long to get it exactly right, and I have only enough time this morning to embarrass myself if I tried, but Michael is a linguist and Latin scholar and can perhaps assist if he has time to spare from his own impressive blog, Laudator Temporis Acti.

As for the image above, the original title is Vanitas -- meaning, I think, not a preoccupation with one's fantasized beauty but a reflection on the emptiness of worldly affairs -- but I prefer the English title, Still Life With A Skull, for its perhaps inadvertent irony.

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At 5:05 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

The donkey of me! There was a very important source to all-devouring death: the three-headed hellish dog Cerberus, whose meaning (see Servius on the Aeneid) was interpreted as the earth, the soil, which devours man. Death.


The Latin word homo, Man, was said to come from humus, earth, soil. Cerberus devoured it, exactly as the Serpent would do after Genesis 3.14 ("you will eat dust"): St. Augustine read this verse as referring to the condition of Man ("you are dust") being destroyed by death.

The link Cerberus / Serpent was probably alluded to by Dante, who called the hellish dog "il gran vermo", the Great Worm.
See also the Worm in Blake's own mythology and artwork.

At 6:37 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

I tried to sum it up by a drawing

At 6:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Very interesting on that doggone snake, Dario.

(And I don't mean your name in any sly appositional sense.)

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

On that drawing . . . well, I've heard that there's sometimes teeth down there (though I never considered the warning credible till now).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:38 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

On that drawing . . .

There were a lot of ideas to copy from: the dragon teeth in the myth of the Argonauts, the cult movie Tremors, even Moby Dick...


"Doggone snake", Jeff (no appositional sense), is a really cute pun.


At 3:57 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Moby what? Moby what?! I'll have you know this is a family blog!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:11 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Hey, that was a writers of YOURS, it is not a translator's fault, once in a time...


Btw, I had come back online because I was suddently struck by a suspicion. When you wrote:

there's sometimes teeth down there

did you mean, down THERE? well, another fascinating myth, much liked by Surrealists etc. That would bring the issue of Eating Death into the Lilith / Milton's Sin one.

At 4:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sorry, but I never say exactly what I mean in such cases . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:00 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

I never say exactly what I mean in such cases

And rightly so. Not only out of politeness, in this case, but also because, in general, hidden concepts are more enjoyable.
The important thing is to make one's mind be understood anyway --- that sometimes requires a smarter reader than this.


At 8:07 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well said.

Jeffery Hodges

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