December 04, 2006

Perit voluptas, virtus immortalis est.

In English: Pleasure perishes; personal worth is immortal.

In yesterday's post, I cited a passage from Saint Augustine, where he posed the contrast between how life passes by (transit), while the word of God remains (manet). Today's saying poses a similar contrast between fleeting pleasure, voluptas, and undying virtus.

The translation of the Latin word virtus poses a basically insurmountable problem in English, for which I do not have a good solution. In this proverb, there is clearly a sound play between the "v" in voluptas and the "v" in virtus. It's almost as if the proverb is saying: don't be fooled - these two words might start with the same letter, but they lead to completely different ends! Notice also the sound play with perit and voluptas, where there are echoes of "perishing" in "pleasure" itself.

Luckily the sound play between "perish" and "pleasure" works very nicely in English. But how to translate virtus to keep the sound play with "pleasure" in English? There are so many possible translations of Latin virtus: virtue (which is a very moralizing word in English, much more limited than the Latin), physical prowess, resourcefulness, bravery. So, in order to pick up on that sound play between voluptas and virtus, I chose "pleasure" and "personal worth" as the English translation here, although it's not an entirely satisfactory solution. Translation is never entirely satisfactory - as anyone knows who has worked seriously at it.

Luckily, the Latin grammar of this saying is so entirely simple that you don't really need to rely on the English translation at all! The saying itself comes from Publilius Syrus, one of my very favorite sources for Latin proverbs and adages. You can find Publilius "The Syrian" at The Latin Library online, and in book form Publilius is included in the fascinating Loeb volume, Minor Latin Poets I. I suspect it is simply to torment us that when they broke it up into two volumes, they put Publilius in volume I, while the Dicta Catonis are in Minor Latin Poets II.

If you are wondering why Publilius is included in the "poets," this is because his maxims do scan! Although most American Latin students get short-changed when it comes to learning iambic meters in Latin, the iambic meter is actually an easy one for English speakers, if you want to read this maxim metrically: Perit ~ volup~tas, vir~tus im~morta~lis est."

And here is today's proverb read out loud (but not with any emphasis on the meter):

2245. Perit voluptas, virtus immortalis est.

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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