July 10, 2007

Tanti homo est sine amico, quanti corpus absque spiritu est

In English: A person without a friend is worth as much as a body without breath.

After the previous proverbs involving tantus, I thought I would do just one more, this time involving the correlative use of quantus and tantus.

This time instead of an "ablative of degree of difference" (tanto), we are dealing with tanti in the genitive case, which is sometimes referred to as "genitive of price," genitivus pretii as it is called in Latin grammar.

The idea is that a body without a breath (a corpse) is worth pretty much nothing, which is what a person is worth without a friend. I really like the further implication of the proverb, which is not just the comparison of value tanti...quanti, but also the metaphorical parallel between the two phrases: a person's friend is like the breath of the body, without which life cannot exist.

The Latin word spiritus is a fourth declension noun, which emphasizes its verbal qualities, as seen in the verbal form spirare, "to breathe." You can translate spiritus as "breath" or "breathing," or even as "life," since it is the "breath of life."

Of course, spiritus can also be translated as "soul" or "spirit," and as such forms the third person of the Trinity, the Spiritus Sanctus, the "Holy Spirit." Yet we would have a better understanding of the range of meaning of the word spiritus if we called it instead the "Holy Breath." The Hindu practice of yoga, for example, has always taken breathing very seriously, in a way that Christianity has not...

So, take a deep, friendly breath, and listen to today's proverb read out loud:

962. Tanti homo est sine amico, quanti corpus absque spiritu est.

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:

Henry von Blumenthal said...

Perhaps you were already aware that the Hebrew for Spirit, Ruach, is also the word for breath?

Laura Gibbs said...

It is a profound thing throughout the cultures of the world! There is a marvelous book on metaphors of the body that seem to lie at the roots of human thinking:
The Origins of European Thought About the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time and Fate by R.B. Onians -
I cannot remember if he discusses Hebrew Ruach in there, but it would fit right in! :-)