April 19, 2007

Multa fercula, multos morbos

In English: Many dishes, many diseases.

I thought this saying would be a perfect follow-up to yesterday's proverb, Cibus non qui plurimus, sed qui suavissimus, "Food: not the largest quantity but the most pleasant." If you ignore that good advice, you can probably expect to run into the danger pointed out in today's saying.

As someone who had dinner at Old Chicago Pizza (yes, I really did eat an entire spinach-artichoke calzone!), I might be learning this lesson myself later tonight!

It's worth noting a very important grammatical feature of today's proverb. The phrase multa fercula, "many dishes," is neuter plural, so it is ambiguously either nominative or accusative. When you look at the other phrase, multos morbos, "many diseases," you can see that it is unambiguously accusative. With morbos as the accusative object of an implied verb, you are left with fercula as the nominative subject of an implied verb: "many dishes bring on many diseases," or something like that.

The Latin word ferculum is actually derived from the verb ferre, "to carry," the idea being that the ferculum is the tray or dish on which the food is carried (the word is not limited to food: the ferculum is a tray or litter that can be used for all kinds of purposes). So, ferculum is closer to the idea of a "course" of food rather than a single dish, in the sense that a single tray could be carried out with a variety of foods on the tray, which constituted that particular "course" of the meal.

Yet even though ferculum is more precisely a course rather than a dish, I chose to use the word "dish" in the English translation of today's saying in order to get the nice English word-play between "dish" and "disease." Given the many times I've had to sacrifice the Latin word-play when translating a saying into English, it's nice to be able to get some extra word-play in this particular English translation, as if by way of compensation!

Of course with the multa...multos and the alliterative multos morbos, there's still plenty of word-play in the Latin too:

79. Multa fercula, multos morbos.

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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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

an easy Latin quiz
http://indianhillmediaworks.typepad.com/christmas_cartoons/

Laura Gibbs said...

yes, this is one of Henry Beard's translations of movie lines into Latin. it's his rendition of Clint Eastwood / Dirty Harry: go ahead, make my day. Henry Beard's books are all quite marvelous!