September 26, 2007

In medio stat veritas

In English: The truth stands in the middle.

I thought this saying would make a good companion to the other proverbs in praise of "the middle" which I've posted previously. I know this saying is quite well-known in English even today, as it is one of my husband's favorites. "The truth lies somewhere in the middle." In other words - when there are two extreme contesting points of view, you would do well to look for the truth somewhere in between their extreme accounts.

I've been having a great time searching for Latin proverbs using the amazing Google Books in order to locate collections of Latin sayings that Google has digitized and other interesting materials that turn up when you search for Latin things. When I searched for today's saying, I was led to an old Latin textbook from the year 1818: Liber primus, or, A first book of Latin exercises, by Joseph Dana. Here is an excerpt from the preface explaining the book's goals: "Its object is to present, in a genuine Latin style, sentiments worthy of a place in the minds of youth, as adapted to cultivate the moral sense; to excite, and, in some small measure, to gratify a laudable desire to knowledge."

The book begins with very short sentences, and then builds up to paragraph-long discourses, such as this little discourse on Truth, Veritas:
Nihil veritate sanctius et pretiosius haberi debet. Turpe est aliud loqui, aliud sentire; quod sentimus loquamur, quod loquimur sentiamus: concordet sermo cum vita. Non amat veritas angulos; in medio stat: licet nullum patronum aut defensorem obtineat, tamen per se ipsa defenditur. Non solum proditor est veritatis, qui mendacium pro veritate loquitur, sed qui non libere veritatem pronuntiat quam pronuntiare oportet; aut non libere defendit libertatem quam defendere oportet.

Nothing should be considered more holy or more precious than truth. It is despicable to say one thing and to think another; let us speak what we think; let us think what we speak: speech should accord with life. Truth does not love the corners; it stands in the middle: even if it might not have a patron or protector, truth itself is nevertheless her own defender. The betrayer of truth is not only the person who speaks a lie in place of truth, but he who does not freely speak the truth which he should speak, or who does not freely defend the freedom which he should defend.
As you can see, this writer has taken today's saying in a slightly unusual metaphorical direction. Here, it is not that truth lies somewhere in the middle between two extremes; rather, this is truth who stands boldly and proudly in the open middle and does not hide in the corners! This is not the usual way in today's proverb is taken, but it is metaphorically sound.

I'm not sure, but I think Dana's thought here might be inspired by something from one of Bernard of Clairvaux's sermons: Non amat veritas angulos; non ei diversoria placent, "Truth does not love corners; it does not like diversions from the way." The Latin diversorium usually meant a waystation or lodging house along the road - but truth keeps marching on straight ahead, turning no corners, not pausing at stops along the way. For yet a similar metaphorical expression, consider this saying from Dante's De Monarchia: recta via non amat angulos, "The right way does not like corners." Here again it is a matter of keeping on going straight ahead, without ducking aside or deviating from what is right.

So, you can think about something standing in the middle between two extremes, or you can think of something standing in the middle, stalwartly refusing to turn aside: in either case, the middle is a laudable place to be!

So, hoping you find yourself on middle ground at the moment, here is this week's proverb read out loud:



1108. In medio stat veritas.

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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