Saturday, August 12, 2006

Cicero speaks

Ut enim sunt . . . qui urbanis rebus bellicas anteponant, sic reperias multos, quibus periculosa et calida consilia quietis et cogitatis spendidiora et maiora videantur.
Those words at the top of this blog are fake Latin (a real translation of "Don't let the bastards grind you down" would be something more like "Improbos te terere ne sinito", but who would recognize that?), but I've actually been seriously studying real Latin of late, perhaps in an attempt to squeeze some use out of the five years I spent studying Latin in Junior and Senior High. I don't remember much of what we did during those years—I remember reading some Vergil but no Caesar, Ovid, Horace or any other of the popular schoolboys' authors, and the Vergil, after five years' study, was still laborious—but apparently I wasn't half the Latin student then that I am now, since after just under a year's brush-up I find myself reading Cicero with fair fluency.

It was while reading Digby that I was reminded of the quote at the top of this post, which I scrambled back to Cicero's De Officiis (On Duties) to find. Digby had written,

. . . what this means is that if somebody wants to wage a cynical, immoral, useless war for no good reason, Democrats simply have to go along with it if they want to be taken seriously. Why that should be, I don't know.
What Cicero write, for those of you not coming off intensive Latin studies, was:

For as there are those . . . who prefer military matters to domestic ones, so you may find many to whom rash and hazardous counsels seem greater and more brilliant than those that are calm and deliberate.
The basic problem is that, to some people, you just aren't serious about a problem unless you're willing to start a bombing campaign or send in the Marines. No matter how right you are about policy, if you're not fighting you're not acting. Cicero's observation tells us that this is a constant of human nature, as true 2000 years ago as it is today. It doubtless goes back all the way to the days of stone knives and bearskins.