April 11, 2007

Aliud cupido, mens aliud suadet

In English: Desire urges one thing, reason another.

Like yesterday's proverb, today's saying uses the coordinating pronouns aliud...aliud, "one thing... another thing..." as the objects of the verb suadet, with the nouns cupido and mens as the subject of the verb.

The passage comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses, the story of Medea and Jason. Medea exclaims:
sed trahit invitam nova vis, aliudque cupido,
mens aliud suadet: video meliora proboque,
deteriora sequor...


Some strange force pulls me, unwilling; Desire urges one thing, Reason another. I see what is better, and I approve it, but I pursue what is worse.
The Latin actually says cupido, "Cupid," which I have translated here as "Desire," although I could justifiably have said "Cupid" in English. This is a fascinating problem in translating the Latin, in fact. We are used to the idea of "Cupid" in English, toting around his arrows, making people fall in love (whether they like it or not!), but the same is not as true of the other noun in the sentence, Mens, "mind, reason, understanding." We do not have a ready-made divine personification of "Mens" that is a counterpart to "Cupid."

Yet for the ancient Romans, Mens was a goddess, known also as Bona Mens, "Good Mind." She had a festival on June 8 (a. d. VI Idus Iun.), and she had a temple on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, dating back to the third century B.C.E. (You can read an account in Livy of the temple for "Good Mind," founded after the battle of Trasimenus during the Second Punic War.)

It is fun to speculate just what a fully personified "Good Mind" might look like, juxtaposed with the familiar image of Cupid, the young boy toting his arrows. If you are a Latin teacher, that might be a fun classroom activity: you could review the literature and iconography of Cupid, and then imagine just what the iconography of "Good Mind" could convey! Perhaps "Good Mind" would be like the depiction of medieval angels based on Aquinas's assertion that the angels had an intelligence without body, prompting artists to depict them as heads with wings, but no body from the neck down!

So, as you listen to today's proverb, try to imagine just what that "Good Mind" looks like, urging Medea to come to her senses! Here is the proverb read out loud:

1511. Aliud cupido, mens aliud suadet.

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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