April 09, 2007

Proximus sum egomet mihi

In English: I myself am closest to myself.

After yesterday's post from Terence's Andria, I thought I would include another saying from the same play.

As you will recall from yesterday's plot summary, the young man, Charinus, is in love with a woman who is engaged to be married to his best friend (his best friend, however, is in love with the disreputable "girl from Andros" of the play's title). As Charinus realizes that he has been betrayed, he confronts the fact that everyone is fundamentally selfish and he was perhaps foolish to have expected his friend to have changed his wedding plans in order to accommodate Charinus's affections.

Here, then, are the words that Charinus imagines he can hear on the lips of the friend who has betrayed him (even though, in fact, no real betrayal has taken place): quis tu es? quis mihi es? quor meam tibi? heus proxumus sum egomet mihi,, "Who are YOU? Who are you to me? Why [should I yield] mine to you? By god, I myself am closest to myself."

Originally, Charinus expected his friend to act, not in his own interest, but in an altruistic manner, deferring to the fact that Charinus is madly in love with his own fiancee. With these words, Charinus now realizes that true altruism is hard to find in this world! Instead, there is rampant egotism, proxumus sum egomet mihi.

The language of Roman comedy is often a bit difficult for beginning Latin students, who are used to having things always spelled the same way. Here in Terence, instead of the expected proximus, you have proxumus. This is simply because spelling is not an exact science, especialy when it comes to unstressed short vowels! Eventually, -imus because the standard spelling for the superlative in Latin, although you can find forms such as proxumus, maxumus, etc. in archaic Latin.

The emperor Claudius, who had quite an interest in the Latin language, realized that there were not enough letters to keep up with the sounds of the Latin language as he knew it. As a result, he proposed that three new letters be added to the Latin language! It seems likely one of those letters was intended precisely for the vowel that was in-between "i" and "u" in pronunciation, accounting for the sound that fluctuated between "i" and "u" in Latin orthography.

English, of course, suffers from the same problems and the most famous promoter of a reform in English orthography was Ben Franklin! The “Franklin Fonetic” alphabet would consist of 26 letters, like our existing alphabet, but he proposed removing 6 of the letters and replacing them with new letters of his own devising. You can read a discussion of Franklin's alphabet online here, and Franklin's own writing on the subject is also available online.

So here is today's proverb read out loud, with the standard classical spelling proximus:

770. Proximus sum egomet mihi.

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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