Friday, May 25, 2012

Latin Without Latin: Senex et Iuvenis

This is my twenty-fourth "Latin without Latin" essay. For background and a link to other essays, see this page: About the English Essays. This new essay is from the moral distichs attributed to Cato; since Cato's distichs are probably the most influential Latin distichs ever composed, I figured I should be posting more of them here! No, they are not by the famous Cato the Elder of the Roman Republic, but the sayings of Cato (so-called) were enormously famous and influential in the Middle Ages. They were probably composed sometime in the third or fourth century A.D., and you can learn more about them in this Wikipedia article.

This little poem is a good one to keep in mind whenever you hear someone complaining about "kids today" as opposed to kids "in the good old days" (as a teacher, I hear plenty of such complaints from teachers who are of the apocalyptic persuasion; I am not). Here is the poem:

Multórum cum facta senex et dicta repéndis,
Fac tibi succúrrant, iúvenis quae féceris ipse.

Here's how it works:

Multórum. This is from the Latin adjective multus, meaning many (compare the English word multiply or multitude). The form is genitive plural, meaning of many, i.e. of many people - but we need to read on to find out more.

cum. This Latin word can mean when or it can mean with. In this poem, it is going to mean when.

facta. This is from the Latin verb fácere, meaning to make or to do. It is the participle form, factum, meaning something that is a done, a deed (compare the English word fact). The form is plural: facta, deeds. So now we have a complete noun phrase, multórum facta, the deeds of many people, many people's deeds, wrapped elegantly around the word cum, when.

senex. The Latin adjective senex means old (compare the English word senile). It is in the nominative case here, so we know it is going to refer to the subject of the verb - but we don't have our verb yet.

et dicta. The Latin word et means and, while the word dicta is from the verb dícere, meaning to speak or to say. It is the participle form, dictum, meaning something which is said, the words people speak (compare the English words dictation and edict). The form is plural: dicta, sayings, words. This expands on our noun phrase: multórum facta et dicta, the things that many people do AND say.

repéndis. This is from the Latin verb repéndere, meaning to weigh but also to weigh in the mind, to think about, to obsess about (you can see this same root in the English word pensive). The form is present tense, second-person singular, so the subject of the verb is you - but not just any you: you senex, you old man.

So, put it all together and we have the first line of the poem: when you, as an old man, cum senex, think about what many people do and say, multórum facta et dicta repéndis… then what? We will need to move on to the second line to get the main clause of the statement.

Fac. This is from the Latin verb fácere, this time in the imperative form, expressing a command: do, make it so, make something happen. So, when you, old man, are obsessing about other people, you need to do something, fac - but do what? Read on to find out!

tibi. This is from the Latin second-person pronoun, tu, meaning you. It is in the dative case, meaning to you or for you. We will need to read on to find out the more exact meaning.

succúrrant. This is from the Latin verb succúrrere, which means to run to the aid of someone (compare the English word succour), and also to come to mind, to come rushing into your thoughts. The form is third-person plural, and it is in the subjunctive mood, which fits with the command we saw earlier: fac tibi succúrrant, make it so that (something) should come to mind - something in the plural, but we still need a more specific subject for the verb: what things should you bring to mind?

iúvenis. The Latin adjective iúvenis means young, youthful (compare the English word juvenile). It is not in the plural, so we will need to keep on reading to find the subject of our verb and also to see how this new adjective fits into the sentence overall.

quae féceris. Here which have the Latin relative pronoun, qui, meaning which; the form is neuter plural, quae, meaning the things which (good! this is the plural we were looking for). For the verb, we have yet another form of the verb facere. You see here what is called the perfect stem of the verb (fec- instead of fac-), which indicates action that has been completed. So, quae féceris means the things that you did or have done. Make it so that you bring to mind, fac tibi succúrrant, the things which you have done, quae féceris. Plus, we can fit in the adjective also: iúvenis quae féceris, the things which you did (as) a young man, iúvenis.

ipse. The Latin pronominal adjective ipse is an intensifer, so it is not just the things you did, quae féceris, but the things you YOURSELF did, quae féceris ipse.

So, put it all together, and you can see the contrast between old and young, senex et iuvenis, very clearly. When, as an old man, senex, you keep obsessing about the things that so many people do and say, multórum facta et dicta repéndis, then you should bring to mind, fac tibi succúrrant, the things you yourself did when you were young: iúvenis quae féceris ipse.

Multórum cum facta senex et dicta repéndis,
Fac tibi succúrrant, iúvenis quae féceris ipse.

So, even while Homer might be furious about the things that Bart does or says (see image below), we know that Homer himself was no angel in his youth!

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. As I add new English essays, you will be able to find those in the English stream at the blog. The next poem invokes these three goddesses: Themis, Suada, Minerva.