September 19, 2007

Intacta invidia media sunt

In English: Middle things are untouched by envy.

Note: As those of you who read the daily round-up for the Bestiaria Latina blogs already know, I'm shifting from daily updates at the various blogs to weekly updates until I claw my way out from under the pile of book obligations I have heaped upon myself! So, there is something new at the Bestiaria Latina blogs every day, but there will only be one new Audio Latin Proverb post per week for a while. Thank you for your patience... and wish me luck with the Vulgate Verses book (almost done!) and the Barlow's Aesop (barely begun!).

Today's saying is a good follow-up to the previous proverb about the golden mean, aurea mediocitas. Today's saying also advocates moderation, "middle things," Latin media. The idea here is that if you are not a person with extravagant wealth, you will not provoke the envy of those around you. You can find the saying in Livy's History of Rome.

In our modern way of thinking, envy is an emotional state, a feeling that someone might experience when they want something that someone else has and which they do not. When envy is an emotional state, the only real victim is the person who suffers from envy. For that reason, this proverb does not really make a lot of sense in the modern context. Honestly, who cares if someone envies you? That is their problem, not yours. You might worry about a thief trying to break into your house and steal your wealth - but we do not associate thieves with envy; that is an altogether different cycle of vice.

For the ancient Romans, though, the problem of envy, invidia, was something altogether more serious, and more threatening. Envy was able to manifest itself as the power of the evil eye, hence in-vidia. Someone who is envious of you could cast the evil eye upon you, with disastrous consequences! So, being "touched by envy," i.e. being touched by the evil eye, was a real danger in the ancient Roman way of thinking. The moderation praised in today's proverb is laudable precisely because it does not provoke envy, and does not leave you exposed to the terrible peril of the evil eye!

It's also worth saying something here about the Latin grammar of this saying, since it is something that can be useful for even beginning Latin students. Even though intacta, invidia and media end in the letter "a" they are not the same forms by any means. The word invidia ends in a long "a" and is a feminine ablative singular form. The words intacta and media end in short "a" and are neuter nominative plural, agreeing with one another as subject and predicate. Notice also that the Latin word media has itself become a modern English word, as in the "mass media." Do you regard "media" as a singular or a plural word in English? While we use both the words "medium" and "media" in English, I'm guessing most native English speakers do not think of "media" as the plural of "medium" (my random inquiry of the people I was talking with today found only one person who made that connection, even with a bit of prompting!).

So, hoping you are enjoying a "happy medium" that is envy-free, here is this week's proverb read out loud:

120. Intacta invidia media sunt.

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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1 comment:

randy said...

Latin plural nouns becoming English singular nouns is an interesting phenomenon. Most interesting to me is how different words in this same situation are perceived quite differently. I see three different scenarios:

* Alumni: Most everyone knows that alumni is plural and will use it as such. Occasionally you'll hear people say, "I'm an alumni of this school," but not very often.

* Data / Media: Not everyone knows these are plural words. You'll hear an equal number of people say, "The media is such-and-such," and, "The media are such-and-such." When someone uses them as plurals, it sounds intellectual: some people would admit if asked that it's technically correct to say, "The data point to this conclusion," but even those that know this will still usually say, "The data points to this conclusion."

* Agenda: Very few people realize this is a plural at all. You'll never hear anyone, not even the most intellectual person, say, "The agenda are important."