June 14, 2007

Regum fortuna casus praecipites rotat

In English: Fortune spins the headlong downfalls of the kings.

As a follow-up to yesterday's proverb, I thought I would carry on with the theme of kings. Today, the proverb does not emphasize the omnipotence or omniscience of kings. Instead, today's proverb is about the catastrophes that can attend those who rule on high. Because they occupy such a high position, the kings have much farther to fall when Lady Luck spins the wheel of fortune that brings them crashing down.

The Latin of this proverb is a bit trickier than most. The genitive plural, regum, "of kings," receives special prominence as the first word in the sentence, and it has a nice alliteration with the last word of the sentence, rotat, "spins." The nominative subject is Fortuna, that Roman goddess famous for her wheel which spins both up and down. Then there is the object of the verb: casus praecipites. Recognizing that casus, "falls" or "downfalls," is an accusative plural is a bit tricky - but praecipites gives you the clue you need to know that it is a plural noun, and it cannot be the nominative subject of the verb, since the verb rotat is singular.

With the limitations of English word order, there's no way to convey the same sense of the Latin word unless you resort to a bit of poetic license: "Of kings Fortune their headlong downfalls spins."

The saying in the form I've given here is found in the proverbs of Publilius Syrus, Publilius "the Syrian." You can also find the saying, with a slightly different word order - praecipites regum casus Fortuna rotat - in the opening chorus of Seneca's Agamemnon.

King Agamemnon, of course, was murdered by his own wife and her lover upon his supposedly triumphant return from the Trojan War. That would definitely him a king who, at least in his final moments, was very familiar with the regal reversal of Fortune!

Meanwhile, Lady Luck's "wheel of fortune" is definitely far more than a mere television game show. If you are interested in learning more about this important symbolic figure, you can find information and images at this wikipedia article.

Meanwhile, hoping that you are on the up-side of Fortune's wheel today, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1260. Regum fortuna casus praecipites rotat.

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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