Friday, December 2, 2011

Prudens Simplicitas

Here is today's distich by John Owen, with an English translation by Thomas Harvey, 3.195. Owens dedicated this poem to his "dearest friend," (amicus amicissimus), John Clapham, who was a historian. The epigram alludes to the words of Matthew 10:16, Estote ergo prudentes sicut serpentes, et simplices sicut columbae, "therefore be wise as serpents, and simple as doves." The title of the epigram condenses the paradoxical advice: prudens refers to the serpent, while simplicitas refers to the dove. The epigram then shows just how the paradoxical pairing works: you should imitate the dove in that you do no harm to anyone, and also the serpent in that no one will be able to injure you!

Ut nulli nocuisse velis, imitare columbam,
Serpentem, ut possit nemo nocere tibi.

That thou do wrong to none be like a Dove:
That none thee wrong, wise like a Serpent prove.

The vocabulary is keyed to the DCC Latin Vocabulary list. There are only three words in this poem that are not on the DCC list:

columba - dove, pigeon
imitor, -ārī - imitate, copy, mimic
serpens, serpentis f. - snake, serpent

nēmo: no one (gen. nullius, dat. nulli, abl. nullo or nulla > nullus -a -um)
noceō nocēre nocuī: harm
nūllus -a -um: not any, no one
possum posse potuī: be able
tū tuī tibi tē: you (sing.)
ut, uti: as (+ indic.); so that, with the result that (+ subj.)
volō velle voluī: wish, be willing