This Latin saying is first recorded in the Roman comic playwright, Plautus, in his play Bacchides. To be more specific, it is reported by the fourth-century commentator Maurus Servius Honoratus, who attributes this saying to Plautus. Servius is commenting on the use of the word latro, "thief" in Vergil, and notes an etymology proposed by Varro, typical of Latin folk etymology. Varro says the word is a shortening of "laterones," a non-existent Latin word that would mean something like "side-kicks," because courtiers, who are as good as thieves, hang around on all sides ("latera") of the king. Then, Servius cites this passage from Plautus who says that a soldier is a "thief who puts his life up for sale in exchange for gold," latronem suam qui auro vitam venditat.
So, this is a good example of a bit of Latin that, luckily preserved in an obscure and rather odd source (a fragment of Plautus in Servius), can go on to have a career of its own as a nice little saying. Even better, this is a saying that someone can learn after just a week or so of Latin, since it is made up a first declension noun (vitam), a second declension noun (auro), and a simple first conjugation verb (venditat).
The verb "venditare" is an example of an frequentive formation, based on the verb "vendere" meaning "to vend, sell." This base verb gives rise to "venditare," "to try to sell again and again, to put up for sale, to prostitute." These frequentive verbs are quite common in Latin, yielding some common English words: agitation, dictation, habitation, etc.
My main reason, though, for posting this proverb today was quite simply that it seemed a good commentary on one of the leading items in the news today: Rep. Bob Ney pleads guilty in Abramoff scandal. Here is a man, one of the leaders of our country, definitely a "sidekick" in America's circles of power, who has ruined his political career and his personal life in exchange for "gold," in the form of expensive sports tickets, all-expense paid vacations, gambling chips, and so on. And the frequentive verb is very appropriate here, since he did not do this just once or twice but over and over again.
Here is today's proverb read out loud:
1082. Auro vitam venditat.
The number here is the number for this proverb in
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