February 18, 2008

Errores medicorum terra tegit

In English: The earth covers the doctors' mistakes.

Yes, as so many of you have perhaps experience, this has been the winter of the cold and flu season from hell! My husband got sick and then I got sick but now, hallelujah, we are both pretty much back to normal. In honor of the medical system's inability to do much about the so-called common cold, however uncommonly bad it has been this year, I chose today's proverb.

This is a saying you will find in all the major European languages. You can find it in Spanish, "los errores de los médicos, la tierra los cubre" and in Italian, "gli errori dei medici, la terra li copre" and also in Polish: "błędy lekarza pokrywa ziemia." I also found this similar saying in Polish about young doctors in particular: "nowy lekarz, nowy cmentarz," "a new doctor, a new cementary."

That last Polish example rhymes (lekarz-cmentarz), which is what gives it its charm, just as the Latin proverb relies on its nicely alliterative terra tegit to give the saying a truly proverbial feel. Proverbs do not gain their currency just from what they say, but from how they say it. This particular Latin proverb relies on its elegant expression (terra tegit), and also the dissonance of what exactly a doctor's error consists of. An error, according to the metaphor of this proverb, is not a mistake in judgment, an action (or inaction) which resulted in a negative outcome. No, quite literally, an error is a human corpse, a body that is covered up by the earth itself.

It reminds me of the body of Abel, murdered by his brother Cain. Of course, the earth communicated to God about that particular body: vox sanguinis fratris tui clamat ad me de terra, "the voice of your brother's blood is crying out to me from the earth." The earth may cover that body, but the voice of the murdered man's blood can still call out to God from the earth.

In English, there is a nice variation on the Latin saying about the errores medicorum which is about doctors and rich men, two of the favorite targets of proverbial acumen, combined here into one: "Physicians' fault are covered with earth, and rich men's with money."

Well, I survived my cold without going to the doctor... which is a good thing, since I am not a rich man either! Ha ha. In any case, I'm glad to be blogging again this week, more or less fully recovered!

Hoping you have avoided any possible doctor's errors in this season of cold and flu, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1763. Errores medicorum terra tegit.

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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