Monday, June 25, 2012

Latin Without Latin: Zoilus

This is my fifty-fifth "Latin without Latin" essay. For background and a link to other essays, see this page: About the English Essays. In yesterday's poem, Martial rebuked one of his critics very wittily, so I thought a good follow-up would be a poem about Zoilus, the archetypal critic of the Greco-Roman tradition (Zoilus is the ultimate human critic, while Momus was the critic among the gods). The historical Zoilus was a Greek grammarian and Cynic philosopher of the fourth century B.C.E. He gained the nickname of Homeromastix, the "Whipper-of-Homer" for his harsh criticism of Homer's poems. Legend has it that when Zoilus directed his criticisms of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, king of Egypt, the king was so furious that he condemned Zoilus to death on the cross (the story is no doubt apocryphal, as Ptolemy reigned in the third century B.C.E., long after the historical Zoilus had shuffled off this mortal coil). As the centuries passed, Zoilus became a proverbial figure, the archetypal critic, as you can see in this poem by Georgius Carolides (1569-1612). As often, Carolides chooses a Latin proverb as the title for his poem: Calúmniae Mórsui Nullum Remédium.

Here is how the title works:

Calúmniae. This is from the Latin noun calúmnia, trickery, a false accusation, a malicious charge, calumny. The form is either dative singular (for calumny) or genitive singular (of calumny); we will have to keep reading to find out which.

Mórsui. This is from the Latin noun morsus, meaning a bite (compare the English word morsel). So, the genitive of calúmniae fits nicely here: calúmniae mórsui, the bite of an accusation, calumny's bite. The word mórsui is in the dative case; we will have to keep on reading to find out the function of this dative.

Nullum. This is from the Latin adjective nullus, meaning not any, none (compare the English word nullify). The form is either masculine or neuter; we will have to keep reading to find out which.

Remédium. This is the Latin noun meaning medicine, remedy. The word is neuter, so with nullum makes a noun phrase: Nullum Remédium, there is not any remedy, there is no remedy. Add in the dative noun phrase and it all fits together: Calúmniae Mórsui Nullum Remédium, There is no remedy for calumny's bite.

So, the title does not mention Zoilus - but it mentions calumny, which is definitely the kind of speech that Zoilus preferred. You will then find Zoilus here in the poem:

Divérsos hóminum sanat medicína dolóres:
Zoiléos mórsus nulla medéla levat.

And here is how the poem works:

Divérsos. This is from the Latin adjective divérsus, meaning separated, different, diverse. The form is masculine plural, and the case is accusative, so we have here the object of our verb - but we need a noun to go with the adjective.

hóminum. This is from the Latin noun homo, meaning person, man (compare the name of our species, homo sapiens - the wise man!). The form hóminum is genitive plural: of people, of men.

sanat. This is from the Latin verb sanáre, meaning to heal (compare the English word sanatorium). The form is third-person singular: sanat, he/she/it heals. We are still waiting on our subject!

medicína. This is the Latin noun that means medicine, and it is in the nominative case, giving us the subject of our verb: sanat medicína, medicine heals. We have part of our object also: divérsos sanat medicína, medicine heals various (masculine things) - but we need an accusative noun to clarify the meaning of the object.

dolóres. This is the Latin word for sorrow, pain (compare the English word dolorous; via Maria de los Dolores, "Mary of the Sorrows," it is the origin of the name Dolores). The noun is masculine plural in the accusative case, dolóres, so that gives us our object completes the sentence: sanat medicína, medicine can heal, divérsos dolóres hóminum, people's various pains.

So, the first line makes an affirmative statement about medicine and its powers. In the next line, however, we encounter Zoilus:

Zoiléos. This is the adjectival form of Zoilus' name, masculine plural, in the accusative case. So, the object of the verb is going to be "Zoilean," having something to do with Zoilus.

mórsus. We saw this word, bite, in the title already, and it goes with our adjective: mórsus here is masculine plural (mórsūs, long u), and like the adjective Zoiléos it is in the accusative case: Zoiléos mórsus, the bites of Zoilus. So, we have the object of the verb - now we just need the verb and its subject.

nulla. This is from the adjective nullus, not any, which we saw in the first line. This time the form is either feminine or neuter; we will have to keep reading to find out which it is.

medéla. This Latin noun means something with a healing power, a cure, medicine (you can see that medéla shares the same root with the word medicína that we saw in the first line, and also remédium in the title). The word is feminine nominative, in agreement with our adjective nulla, giving us our subject: nulla medéla, no medicine.

levat. This is from the Latin verb levare, meaning to lighten, to relieve, to alleviate. The form is third-person singular: levat, it alleviates. Put it all together and you have a complete statement: nulla medéla levat, no medicine can alleviate, Zoiléos mórsus, the bites of Zoilus.

Luckily, I am a pretty thick-skinned person, but no one likes to be bitten by criticism - so watch out for Zoilus, because his criticism bites... and there is no medicine that will heal the wound:

Divérsos hóminum sanat medicína dolóres:
Zoiléos mórsus nulla medéla levat.

To find out more about Zoilus, you can visit this Wikipedia article. Meanwhile, for more of Carolides' poems in Latin, you can visit the Carolides stream in my Latin distichs blog, and as I add more of these English essays, you will be able to find those in the English stream at the blog. The next essay is one of the distichs of Cato: Petito.

I could not find a portrait of Zoilus online, but below is a sculpture of a Cynic philosopher - that will have to suffice!