May 12, 2007

Caesar non supra grammaticos

In English: Caesar is not superior to the grammarians.

I thought this saying would make a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb which also invoked the privileges of Caesar. Yesterday's proverb was about the claims of God and the claims of Caesar. Today's proverb is about the competing claims of Caesar and the rules of grammar - with the rules of grammar coming out on top.

This particular Latin saying dates to a legendary incident at the Council of Constance in 1414. The Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund used the word schisma, "schism," as if it were a feminine noun. As a matter of fact, the word is neuter in gender. It is a borrowing from Greek, and like other Greek words ending in -ma, it is neuter (that's how you end up with "il problema" in modern Italian).

Members of the Council explained to Sigismund that he had made a mistake, but Sigismund declared that, because he was the Holy Roman Emperor, the word schisma would now be a feminine noun, even if it had been a neuter noun previously.

A certain archbishop then rose to his feet and declared, Caesar non supra grammaticos, "Caesar is not superior to the grammarians." Consequently, the word schisma remains neuter in gender.

There's a similar incident recorded about the Roman emperor Tiberius, as recorded in the history written by Cassius Dio:
The following year Gaius Caecilius and Lucius Flaccus received the title of consuls. And when some brought Tiberius money at the beginning of the year, he would not accept it and published an edict regarding this very practice, in which he used a word that was not Latin. After thinking it over at night he sent for all who were experts in such matters, for he was extremely anxious to have his diction irreproachable. Thereupon one Ateius Capito declared: "Even if no one has previously used this expression, yet now because of you we shall all cite it as an example of classical usage." But a certain Marcellus replied: "You, Caesar, can confer Roman citizenship upon men, but not upon words." And the emperor did this man no harm for his remark, in spite of its extreme frankness.
Sigismund could take a lesson from Tiberius here!So, giving all due respect to the grammarians, here is today's proverb read out loud:

409. Caesar non supra grammaticos.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

If you are reading this via RSS: The Flash audio content is not syndicated via RSS; please visit the Latin Audio Proverbs blog to listen to the audio. You can also hear this saying read aloud at a Polish website: Wladyslawa Kopalinskiego Slownik wyraz?w obcych i zwrot?w obcojezycznych (weblink).
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Jen said...

I'm curious, why would Tiberius refuse to accept money brought him?

Laura Gibbs said...

hi Jen, it's about bribery and corruption - if you click on the link there for Cassius Dio and search for "money," you will see other anecdotes on similar topics. here is a famous one which involves a quotable quote!

All the money that he bestowed upon people was counted out at once in his sight; for since under Augustus the officials who paid over the money had been wont to deduct large sums for themselves from such donatives, he took good care that this should not happen in his reign. All these expenditures, moreover, he made from the regular revenues; for he neither put anybody to death for his money nor confiscated, at this time, anybody's property, nor did he even resort to tricky methods of obtaining funds. In fact, when Aemilius Rectus once sent him from Egypt, which he was governing, more money than was stipulated, he sent back to him the message: "I want my sheep shorn, not shaven."

Victor Vasquez said...

Poder intelectual vs. Poder polĂ­tico, raciocinio frente a prepotencia.