January 16, 2007

Satis eloquentiae, sapientiae parum

In English: Plenty of eloquence, not much intelligence.

I thought this proverb would be a good follow-up on the "speaking" proverbs that I've posted over the past few days. This particular saying depends on a very nice place on words in the Latin: eloquentiae-sapientiae, which I tried to capture, at least partially, with "eloquence-intelligence" in English.

The idea here is that somebody can be a glib speaker, but this does not mean that there is wisdom in what they say. For example, you might be easily impressed by someone's big vocabulary, or their effortless delivery, or perhaps even just their accent (Americans are usually in awe of British accents, for example). Yet none of these external features can guarantee the quality of what's inside. You might call this a variation on "you can't judge a book by its cover," adapted to the particular world of elocution and the spoken word.

The saying itself can be found in Sallust's Bellum Catilinae. Sallust's description of Catiline is absolutely riveting, wonderful Latin. Here's the passage in context:
L. Catilina, nobili genere natus, fuit magna vi et animi et corporis, sed ingenio malo pravoque. Huic ab adulescentia bella intestina, caedes, rapinae, discordia civilis grata fuere ibique iuventutem suam exercuit. Corpus patiens inediae, algoris, vigiliae supra quam cuiquam credibile est. Animus audax, subdolus, varius, cuius rei lubet simulator ac dissimulator, alieni adpetens, sui profusus, ardens in cupiditatibus; satis eloquentiae, sapientiae parum. Vastus animus inmoderata, incredibilia, nimis alta semper cupiebat.

L. Catiline, born of a noble lineage, had great strength of mind and body, but wicked and corrupt tendencies. His joy from youth onwards was civil war, murder, plunder, and political factions, and that is how he passed the early part of his life. His body could put up with incredible extremes of hunger, cold and sleepless. His mind was bold, tricky, versatile, able to feign or dissemble whatever he wanted. He was jealous of other people's goods, profligate with his own, passionate in his wants. Plenty of eloquence, not much intelligence. His wide-ranging ambition was boundless beyond belief, always reaching for things beyond his grasp.
Well, we can be glad this character, at least, is not running for President in 2008!

So, with that one small comforting thought in the face of upcoming elections, here is today's proverb read out loud:

29. Satis eloquentiae, sapientiae parum.

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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Anonymous said...

I'm an amateur Latin student, and I found your post extremely helpful with something I came across in my studies. Thanks!

Laura Gibbs said...

I'm glad! Latin is a hobby for me, and it is nice being able to share it online with other Latin hobbyists! :-)

Fiona Spence said...

I love your daily emails and when I haven't for time or energy to 'study' they are a great inspiration and I find I end up doing something each day, even if it is just reading the proverbs. Thank you so much.