December 01, 2006

Sto super vias antiquas

In English: I stand upon the old ways.

I thought this proverb would be a good follow-up to the via antiqua of yesterday's post. Depending on context, this proverb can take slightly different forms: sto, "I stand," stare, "to stand," or the imperative state, "stand!" (second person plural).

This saying ultimately derives from the Hebrew Bible, but the actual Biblical quotation is a bit different in form. Jeremiah 6:16 reads: State super vias et videte et interrogate de semitis antiquis, quae sit via bona, et ambulate in ea, "Stand upon the ways and look and inquire about the old paths, as to which is the good way, and walk in that way."

You can find the vias antiquas form of the proverb in The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon. In this fascinating passage, Bacon warns against the twin dangers of too much antiquity on the one hand, and too much novelty on the other:
The first of these is the extreme affecting of two extremities; the one antiquity, the other novelty; wherein it seemeth the children of time do take after the nature and malice of the father. For as he devoureth his children, so one of them seeketh to devour and suppress the other; while antiquity envieth there should be new additions, and novelty cannot be content to add but it must deface. Surely the advice of the prophet is the true direction in this matter, STATE SUPER VIAS ANTIQUAS, ET VIDETE QUAENAM FIT VIA RECTA ET BONA ET AMBULATE IN EA. Antiquity deserveth that reverence, that men should make a stand thereupon and discover what is the best way; but when the discovery is well taken, then to make progression.
Francis Bacon admirably represents this need to stay in touch with the old while pursuing the new. His familiarity with traditional culture and myths is clear from this passage (time devouring his children being the foundation myth for the succession of the Greek gods), while Bacon was also one of the leaders of the scientific revolution in the 17th century. If only the current debates about religion and scientism had the the good sense we see here expressed by Francis Bacon!

So, looking both backwards and forwards, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1032. Sto super vias antiquas.

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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