Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

Political correctness gone stupid

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It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is an admirable work, and I studied it intently. The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts. They also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more.Winston Churchill

Over at the BizTimes Biz Blog, Richard Pieper quotes Horace, “It is of no consequence of what parents a man is born, as long as he be a man of merit.”

Pieper adds, “The only thing Horace got wrong is he should have used the word ‘person,’ not man.”

Sigh. The problem with pulling quotes from inspirational posters and calendars is you tend to lose sight of a few, minor details.

Like the fact that Horace wrote in Latin.

Or the context.

SATIRE VI.

Of true nobility.

Not Maecenas, though of all the Lydians that ever inhabited the Tuscan territories, no one is of a nobler family than yourself; and though you have ancestors both on father’s and mother’s side, that in times past have had the command of mighty legions; do you, as the generality are wont, toss up your nose at obscure people, such as me, who has [only] a freed-man for my father: since you affirm that it is of no consequence of what parents any man is born, so that he be a man of merit. You persuade yourself, with truth, that before the dominions of Tullius, and the reign of one born a slave, frequently numbers of men descended from ancestors of no rank, have both lived as men of merit, and have been distinguished by the greatest honors: [while] on the other hand Laevinus, the descendant of that famous Valerius, by whose means Tarquinius Superbus was expelled from his kingdom, was not a farthing more esteemed [on account of his family, even] in the judgment of the people, with whose disposition you are well acquainted; who often foolishly bestow honors on the unworthy, and are from their stupidity slaves to a name: who are struck with admiration by inscriptions and statues. What is it fitting for us to do, who are far, very far removed from the vulgar [in our sentiments]?

So it is not Horace who says it, but Horace attributing the idea to someone else. Since Horace is the subject of the idea, and not its author, then it would have been silly for Horace to use a gender-neutral word (*had one been available).

Of course, even funnier is that the quote from Horace is taken from a work that was intended to demonstrate the exact opposite.

For grant it, that the people had rather confer a dignity on Laevinus than on Decius, who is a new man; and the censor Appius would expel me [the senate-house], because I was not sprung from a sire of distinction: and that too deservedly, inasmuch as I rested not content in my own condition. But glory drags in her dazzling car the obscure as closely fettered as those of nobler birth. What did it profit you, O Tullius, to resume the robe that you [were forced] to lay aside, and become a tribune [again]? Envy increased upon you, which had been less, it you had remained in a private station. For when any crazy fellow has laced the middle of his leg with the sable buskins, and has let flow the purple robe from his breast, he immediately hears: “Who is this man? Whose son is he?” Just as if there be any one, who labors under the same distemper as Barrus does, so that he is ambitious of being reckoned handsome; let him go where he will, he excites curiosity among the girls of inquiring into particulars; as what sort of face, leg, foot, teeth, hair, he has. Thus he who engages to his citizens to take care of the city, the empire, and Italy, and the sanctuaries of the gods, forces every mortal to be solicitous, and to ask from what sire he is descended, or whether he is base by the obscurity of his mother.

But there is an upside to Horace’s station and he explains why he would not trade it for one higher.

Now, if I please, I can go as far as Tarentum on my bob-tail mule, whose loins the portmanteau galls with his weight, as does the horseman his shoulders. No one will lay to my charge such sordidness as he may, Tullius, to you, when five slaves follow you, a praetor, along the Tiburtian way, carrying a traveling kitchen, and a vessel of wine. Thus I live more comfortably, O illustrious senator, than you, and than thousands of others. Wherever I have a fancy, I walk by myself: I inquire the price of herbs and bread; I traverse the tricking circus, and the forum often in the evening: I stand listening among the fortune-tellers: thence I take myself home to a plate of onions, pulse, and pancakes. My supper is served up by three slaves; and a white stone slab supports two cups and a brimmer: near the salt-cellar stands a homely cruet with a little bowl, earthen-ware from Campania. Then I go to rest; by no means concerned that I must rise in the morning, and pay a visit to the statue of Marsyas, who denies that he is able to bear the look of the younger Novius. I lie a-bed to the fourth hour; after that I take a ramble, or having read or written what may amuse me in my privacy, I am anointed with oil, but not with such as the nasty Nacca, when he robs the lamps. But when the sun, become more violent, has reminded me to go to bathe, I avoid the Campus Martius and the game of hand-ball. Having dined in a temperate manner, just enough to hinder me from having an empty stomach, during the rest of the day I trifle in my own house. This is the life of those who are free from wretched and burthensome ambition: with such things as these I comfort myself, in a way to live more delightfully than if my grandfather had been a quaestor, and father and uncle too.h

(*I confess to an education lacking in Latin, so I’ll leave that part of the discussion to someone else.)

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