February 03, 2007

Vinum memoriae mors

In English: Wine is the death of memory.

After yesterday's proverb about wine, the "mirror of the mind," I thought it would be good to point out the perils of wine. It is the memoriae mors, "the death of memory." Drink too much, and you just might say or do things that you will not remember the day after. I'm not sure how we could capture the nice sound play of memoriae mors in English. Perhaps, "wine is the death of discreation."

A fuller form of this saying is Vinum, nervorum venenum, et memoriae mors est, "Wine is the poison of the nerves and the death of memory." You can find this in William Lily's Latin Grammar of 1549. (You can find some readings from Lily's Latin Grammar online.) Lily, born in 1468, was a scholar of both Latin and also Greek in Renaissance England, at a time when Greek scholars were still in short supply in Europe.

Lily's Latin grammar was widely used in the Elizabethan Age, and the style of this grammar was made much fun of by Shakespeare in this scene from the Merry Wives of Windsor, when one "William" is interrogated by Sir Hugh Evans, with Mistress Quickly and Mistress Page in attendance (you can read the whole scene online):
Eva. What is your genitive case plural, William?
Will. Genitive case?
Eva. Ay.
Will. Genitive, horum, harum, horum.
Quick. Vengeance of Jenny’s case! fie on her! Never name her, child, if she be a whore.
Eva. For shame, ’oman!
Quick. You do ill to teach the child such words. He teaches him to hick and to hack, which they’ll do fast enough of themselves, and to call ‘horum?’ fie upon you!
Eva. ’Oman, art thou lunatics? hast thou no understandings for thy cases and the numbers and the genders? Thou art as foolish Christian creatures as I would desires.Mrs. Page. Prithee, hold thy peace.
Eva. Show me now, William, some declensions of your pronouns.
Will. Forsooth, I have forgot.
Eva. It is qui, quœ, quod; if you forget your quis, your quœs, and your quods, you must be preeches. Go your ways and play; go.
Mrs. Page. He is a better scholar than I thought he was.
Although I was not able to find a complete William Lily on grammar, the folks at Saint Louis University have put John Harmar's Praxis Grammatica of 1623 online - definitely worth a visit!

Meanwhile, here is today's proverb read out loud:

260. Vinum memoriae mors.

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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