Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Latin Without Latin: Petito

This is my fifty-sixth "Latin without Latin" essay. For background and a link to other essays, see this page: About the English Essays. It's been a while since I did one of the distichs of Cato; given that these poems constitute what must be the most famous collection of Latin distich poetry, I did not want to neglect him! So, here is one of Cato's distichs:

Quod iustum est pétito vel quod videátur honéstum;
Nam stultum pétere est quod possit iure negári.

Here is how it works:

Quod. This is from the Latin relative pronoun, qui; the form quod is neuter singular: that (thing) which.

iustum est. This is from the Latin adjective iustus, meaning righteous, right, just. The form iustum is neuter singular, agreeing with the relative pronoun. The word est is the third-person singular form of the verb esse, to be (compare the English word essential). That completes the relative clause: quod iustum est, that which is right.

pétito. This is from the Latin verb petere, to ask for, aim at, seek (compare the English word petition). The form is a future imperative, a direct command: pétito, seek, ask for! The relative clause provides the object of the verb: pétito quod iustum est, ask for what is right.

vel. This Latin word means or.

quod videátur. Here we have another relative clause introduced with quod, plus a form of the verb videre, to see (compare the English word video). In the passive voice, which we have here, the word means not to see, but to be seen, to seem. The mood is subjunctive, expressing potential, possibility. So, seek what is just, pétito quod iustum est, or what can be seen, quod videátur... can seen as what? We need a predicate to complete the clause.

honéstum. This is a form of the Latin adjective honestus, worthy, honorable, honest. The form is neuter, completing the clause: pétito quod videátur honéstum, seek what can be seen as worthy.

As often the first line of the poem has give us a direct command; now the second line will then provide the reason why:

Nam. This Latin word means for, because. It lets us know that the second line is introducing an explanation of the command in the first line.

stultum. This is from the Latin adjective stultus meaning silly, foolish (compare the English word stultify). The form is neuter singular: stultum, a foolish thing.

pétere est. Here we have the verb petere again, to seek, along with the verb est, it is. Put it all together and we have a statement: stultum pétere est. It is foolish to ask for... but to ask for what? We need an object for the verb.

quod possit. We have the relative pronoun quod as in the first line, along with a form of the verb posse, can, be able (compare the English word possibility). The form possit is third-person singular, and the mood is subjunctive: quod possit, what could be, what might be.

iure. This is from the Latin noun ius, meaning law, right (compare the English word justice). The form iure is ablative, meaning by right, rightfully.

negári. This is from the Latin verb negáre, to deny (compare the English word negation). The form is passive: negári, to be denied. That completes the statement: stultum pétere est, it is foolish to ask for, quod possit iure negári, that which might be rightfully denied.

So, put it all together and you have a good piece of advice in the first line - seek what is just, quod iustum est pétito, or what can be seen to be worthy, vel quod videátur honéstum - along with a justification in the second line: because it is foolish to ask, nam stultum pétere est, for what might be rightfully denied, quod possit iure negári. Very useful advice for the next time you need to ask your boss for something!

Quod iustum est pétito vel quod videátur honéstum;
Nam stultum pétere est quod possit iure negári.

For more of Cato's poems in Latin, you can visit the Cato stream in my Latin distichs blog, and here is a link to the blog post for this specific poem. Meanwhile, as I add new English essays, you will be able to find those in the English stream at the blog. The next distich is a love poem, from John Owen to his absent girlfriend: Ad Amicam Absentem.

Below, you can see that this LOLCat has not been reading Cato's distichs! :-)

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