September 14, 2006

Dat veniam corvis, vexat censura columbas.

In English: The censor forgives the crows and harasses the doves.

This is a very elegant Latin saying that comes from the Roman poet Juvenal. Although the grammar is incredibly simple (nothing but simple first conjugation verbs here and simple first and second declension nouns), the criticism bites deeply. The crows are proverbial thieves, but they get off scot-free, while it is the peace-loving doves who are not left in peace.

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable lists a great English parallel saying: "One man may steal a horse, but another must not look over the hedge."

This is actually a problem I face as a teacher all the time. Because there are a few, just a few, students who cheat, we have to build a system which assumes that all students are potential cheaters - and this elaborate system is a burden for me, as the teacher, and it's a burden for the honest students as well! Moreover, I'm not convinced that it really catches the students who are intent on cheating. It just compels them to become more skilled at cheating.

I'm also cynical enough about the legal system to believe your likelihood of proving your case in court is not determined so much by your innocence, but by your ability to hire yourself a fancy lawyer. The crows can no doubt afford some fancy lawyers, when the poor doves cannot.

Meanwhile, on the international stage, consider this item from the New York Times today about the latest antics in Saddam Hussein's trial:
September 14 2006. New York Times.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The chief judge in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial said Thursday that he does not believe Saddam was a dictator. Judge Abdullah al-Amiri made the remark in a friendly exchange with the deposed leader, a day after the prosecution said the judge should step down because he is biased toward the defense.
Saddam and his co-defendants are being tried on charges of committing atrocities against Kurds in northern Iraq nearly two decades ago.
Questioning a Kurdish witness Thursday, Saddam said, ''I wonder why this man wanted to meet with me, if I am a dictator?''
The judge interrupted: ''You were not a dictator. People around you made you (look like) a dictator.''
''Thank you,'' Saddam responded, bowing his head in respect.
I would love it if we could have the Roman poet Juvenal covering that trial! He would have some biting commentary to offer on all sides, I am sure.

And here is today's proverb read out loud:

1091. Dat veniam corvis, vexat censura columbas.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is Quote est Magnus

Timmylee said...

Perhaps this inspired a flock of the thieves to be called a "Murder"?

Laura Gibbs said...

What an interesting question! I checked the Oxford English Dictionary to see what they say about a "murder of crows" and they are not sure at all about the origins of this use of the word "murder" - here's the etymological entry for murder n.2:

[Origin uncertain; prob. the same word as MURDER n.1 (perh. alluding to the crow's traditional association with violent death, or, as suggested in quot. 1939 at main sense, to its harsh and raucous cry).]