November 26, 2006

Eloquentia sagitta

In English: Eloquence is an arrow.

After writing about the wounds of love and Cupid's arrows in yesterday's proverb, I thought it would be nice to follow up with a motto that is also based on the metaphor of the "arrow," although in a quite different context! Today's saying is the motto of the Bland family, and in the context of a family motto it can also be translated as "Eloquence is my arrow" or "Eloquence is our arrow." (Latin, unlike English, is very sparing in its use of possessive pronouns and adjectives, so you can freely add them to your English translations of Latin, if the context suggests the use of a possessive pronoun or adjective in English.)

The idea here, of course, is that instead of using weapons, such as arrows, members of the Bland family are able to use the power of speech to accomplish their goals and overcome any opposition that they face. In a sense, it's something like the English saying "the pen is mightier than the sword." If you are interested in the origins of this particular saying, there is a very interesting discussion at wikipedia.

Both of these phrases - "eloquence is my arrow" and "the pen is mightier than the sword" - make a similar point, that the power of language is actually a kind of weapon, a weapon that is preferable to or even stronger than conventional weapons.

In addition to the argument of the sayings, however, there are specific metaphorical associations at work here. The pen and the sword can be associated with one another because a pen is like a sword: it is shaped like a sword, it is wielded in the hand like a sword, etc. What, then, about eloquence and the arrow? In just what way can we think of eloquence as being like an arrow?

This brings us back to one of the most ancient metaphors in the western tradition: the famous "winged words" of the Greek poet Homer, the "epea (words) pteroenta (winged)." (And yes, that is the same "ptero" as in our English word "pterodactyl," referring to the dinosaur who had wings, "pter," for fingers, "dactyl"). Homer realized that spoken words are not static things, some kind of inert physical object like written words on a page. Instead, spoken words, especially well-spoken words, are winged things. They fly out from the mouth towards a targeted destination. Once set in motion, the words are swift in flight and cannot be called back. If you want to think of such words metaphorically as weapons, they would, indeed, be arrows.

It makes metaphorical sense, then, for the pen to be mightier than the sword, and also for words to be arrows, the idea clearly expressed in today's proverb.

So, winging its way toward you with digital sound, here is today's proverb read out loud:

16. Eloquentia sagitta.

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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tsak0s said...

Your veins are bursting from the unique culture obtained by knowing
classic languages. I bet you must
be passionate in etymology too.

Laura Gibbs said...

Thank you for your comment! I love etymologies, too - I just wish there were more than 24 hours in the day. Latin is my hobby, and I do not have as much time for it as I would like, alas! :-)

Anonymous said...

Made me switch my tattoo from the pen is mightier. Wonderful insight and historical reference. Thank you!

Laura Gibbs said...

I am glad you enjoyed it! Blogging is such a handy online way to communicate, because even though this is from a project I did five years ago, the materials are all still online for anyone who is interested, whenever. I like the short Latin proverbs the best, since they can convey so much meaning with just two or three words. :-)