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Cicero on Themistocles

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Cicero on Themistocles

Postby rkday » Thu Mar 25, 2010 5:14 pm

I'm polishing up my Latin by translating the unadapted passages from the back of Wheelock, and checking them against online translations I find, but I've found a difference I can't quite reconcile.

The Latin:

Themistocles fertur Seriphio cuidam in iurgio respondisse, cum ille dixisset non eum sua, sed patriae gloria splendorem adsecutum: ‘Nec hercule,’ inquit, ‘si ego Seriphius essem, nec tu, si Atheniensis clarus umquam fuisses.’ (Cicero, De Senectute, 3.8)

The Loeb rendering I found:

there is a story that when, in the course of a quarrel, a certain Seriphian7 had said to Themistocles, "Your brilliant reputation is due to your country's glory, not your own," Themistocles replied, "True, by Hercules, I should never have been famous if I had been a Seriphian, nor you if you had been an Athenian."

I'm not sure about the last part - I'm more tempted to read it

Hercule, nec (si ego Seriphius essem) nec (si tu Atheniensis [esses]) (clarus umquam fuisses)

By Hercules, neither if I were a Seriphian, nor if you were an Athenian, would you ever have been famous! (i.e. it's not all down to country of birth - you're the kind of man who would be a pleb whatever the circumstances!)

I think (contextually) that, if they're quarrelling and the Seriphian is insulting Themistocles, a reading which has him basically agreeing that his glory is due to Athens is odd, and I think (textually) supplying "fuissem" to make "clarus umquam" apply to them both is maybe a stretch. Am I mad, or am I justified?
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Re: Cicero on Themistocles

Postby adrianus » Fri Mar 26, 2010 4:14 am

I don't know if you are mad but you do seem justified to me, rkday. Otherwise it's a bit witless. Good one!
Nescio, rkday, an insanus sis, at justum equidem te habeo. Aliquid desipiens aliter dictum. Benè factum!
I'm writing in Latin hoping for correction, and not because I'm confident in how I express myself. Latinè scribo ut ab omnibus corrigar, non quod confidenter me exprimam.
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Re: Cicero on Themistocles

Postby adrianus » Fri Mar 26, 2010 5:08 pm

You gave a 1909 translation by Sir Charles Evelyn Shuckburgh which is everywhere online: // Versionem (anno millesimo nongentesimo nono proditam) de Carolo Evelyn Shuckburgh milite dedisti quae passim est in interrete:
Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero, with his treatises on Friendship and Old Age wrote:"If I had been a Seriphian," said he, "even I should never have been famous, nor would you if you had been an Athenian." (http://ancienthistory.about.com/library ... enec.htm#3)

I was interested in that, rkday, and looked for other English translations online.
Id, rkday, mihi curae erat et alias in interretem quaesivi versiones anglicas.
Cyrus Edmonds, Cicero's Essays on Old Age and Friendship (1896), wrote:"Neither, by Hercules, said he, if I had ever been a man of Seriphus, should I ever have been eminent, nor if you had been an Athenian, would you ever have been renowned." (p.14) (http://ia301543.us.archive.org/3/items/cicerosessayson00cicegoog/cicerosessayson00cicegoog.pdf)

William Melmoth, Cato or An Essay on Old Age (1773), p.15, wrote:"It may be so", replied the Athenian general, "for if I had received my birth at Seriphos, I could have had no opportunity of producing my talents: but give me leave to tell you, that yours would never have been made a figure though you had been born in Athens."
(http://books.google.fr/books?id=3_UpAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=william+melmoth+cato&lr=&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false)

It goes to show that you can't always rely on translations, and translators may often lazily borrow from each other.
Quod demonstrat non semper fideles esse versiones, et forsit interpretes mutuò ab invicem pigrè sumere.
I'm writing in Latin hoping for correction, and not because I'm confident in how I express myself. Latinè scribo ut ab omnibus corrigar, non quod confidenter me exprimam.
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Re: Cicero on Themistocles

Postby modus.irrealis » Fri Mar 26, 2010 6:57 pm

I have to say I read it like the translation mostly because of the placement of the "tu", so the "nec ... nec ..." coordinates the main verbs and not the si-clauses.

rkday wrote:I think (contextually) that, if they're quarrelling and the Seriphian is insulting Themistocles, a reading which has him basically agreeing that his glory is due to Athens is odd, and I think (textually) supplying "fuissem" to make "clarus umquam" apply to them both is maybe a stretch.

I don't think he's quite agreeing but he's saying it's not just where you're from. Sure Themistocles wouldn't be famous if he were Seriphian, but the other wouldn't be famous even if he were an Athenian. So Themistocles would still be making the point that the other guy would not amount to much no matter where he were born. This also the meaning that fits with what follows:

Quod eodem modo de senectute dici potest. Nec enim in summa inopia levis esse senectus potest ne sapienti quidem, nec insipienti etiam in summa copia non gravis.

So even the philosopher won't find old age easy if he's poor (like Themistocles if he were Seriphian), but the non-philosopher will find it hard even if he's extremely wealthy (like that Seriphian if he were Athenian).
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Re: Cicero on Themistocles

Postby rkday » Fri Mar 26, 2010 7:20 pm

modus.irrealis wrote:I have to say I read it like the translation mostly because of the placement of the "tu", so the "nec ... nec ..." coordinates the main verbs and not the si-clauses.


I would have agreed, but the placement of the "ego" is something that's making me think twice - it's inside the first si clause, so the "nec"s don't seem to contrast "ego" with "tu". That makes me feel quite iffy about rendering it "neither would I have been...nor would you have been...", I suppose.
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Re: Cicero on Themistocles

Postby adrianus » Fri Mar 26, 2010 9:51 pm

For neither indeed to the wise man in the direst circumstances, nor to the fool in the richest, can old age be easy.

You have a point, modus.irrealis, but what about the principle that what's funniest is best? what about the appeal to humour?

Non immeritum quod dicis, modus.irrealis. Quid autem de hôc dicto: ridiculissimae res verissimae? Quid de argumento ad festivitatem?
I'm writing in Latin hoping for correction, and not because I'm confident in how I express myself. Latinè scribo ut ab omnibus corrigar, non quod confidenter me exprimam.
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