Monday, April 23, 2012

Noli Altum Sapere

Here is today's emblem and distich by Gabriel Rollenhagen, Book 2:13, with an English rendering by George Wither. Here are Wither's comments on the symbolism of the image:
Exalt thou not thy selfe, though, plac'd thou be,
Vpon the topp of that old Olive-tree,
From whence the nat'rall branches prun'd have bin,
That, thou, the better, mightst be grafted in.
Be not so over-wise, as to presume
The Gard'ner, for thy goodnesse, did assume
Thy small Crab-Olive, to insert it, there,
Where, once, the sweetest-berries, growing were:
Nor let thy Pride those few old-boughes contemne,
Which, yet, remaine upon their ancient Stemme;
Because, thy new-incorporated Sprayes,
Doe more enjoy the Sunnes refreshing raies:
But, humbled rather, and, more awfull bee;
Lest, hee that cut off them, doe breake downe thee.
This tradition of the olive tree emblem and the motto "Noli Altum Sapere" goes back to the scholar Robert I Estienne, famous for having printed a Bible with verse numbers. For purposes of comparison, here is one of Estienne's emblems:

Noli Altum Sapere
Noli altum sapere, et plus quam mortalia fas est
Pectora; nam sapere, non nimium sapere est.

Above thy Knowledge, doe not rise
But, with Sobrietie, be wise.

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

fas - divine command, that which is allowed
sapiō sapere sapīvī: be wise

altus -a -um: high, lofty; deep
et: and
mortālis -e: liable to death, mortal
nam or namque: for, indeed, really
nimius -a -um: too much, excessive; nimis or nimium: excessively
nōlō nōlle nōluī: be unwilling
nōn: not
pectus -oris n.: chest, breast
plūs plūris n.: a greater amount or number, more
quam: how?; (after comparative) than
sum, esse, fuī: be, exist