Saturday, April 5, 2008

Verse: Spiritus quidem promptus; caro vero infirma

In English: The spirit is willing; the flesh is weak. (Mark 14:38)

I haven't blogged here for a while because I've been working on a book manuscript - Aesop's fables in Latin, which should be out in August with Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers - and finally I've gotten the manuscript done so I can start blogging again. Yeah!

In that book manuscript I was working on some Latin grammar topics which will also be the focus of my blogging here. One of my main topics of interest is the use of postpositive particles in Latin, which you can see very nicely here in Mark 14:38. Although there is no verb stated, you have a very clear subject-predicate relationship in each of these two parallel statements, with the particles quidem and vero marking out the two statements very clearly:

[subject] Spiritus quidem [predicate] promptus;
[subject] caro vero [predicate] infirma

So often it is a temptation to translate the particles with words - mere words, I would say - in English, when the particles are actually serving not so much a communicative function but instead a metacommunicative function, organizing the sentence, punctuating it verbally.

In English this is often rendered as "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak," although the Latin here is subtly different. There is not a conjunction, "but" (Latin sed) which connects these two statements. Instead, the statements are connected by their parallel structure. The postpositive particle vero has both a connecting and adversative function. It strongly affirms the statement - the flesh truly is weak - while at the same time also emphasizing a contrast with the previous statement - the flesh truly is weak (unlike the spirit).

The postpositive particle quidem in the first statement is an emphatic particle. I often compare that to the same effect as putting a word in all-caps or in bold: The SPIRIT is willing (but) the flesh (truly) is weak. The particle quidem is the particle that puts the word SPIRITUS in all-caps, while the particle vero conveys the idea both of "truly" (the flesh truly is weak) and also "but" (the spirit is willing but the flesh is not; it truly is weak).

Not surprisingly, there is also a pair of particles used in the Greek here, the familiar combination μὲν ... δὲ:

τὸ μὲν πνεῦμα πρόθυμον ἡ δὲ σὰρξ ἀσθενής.

Students of Greek are given many opportunities to study and learn about the use of particles, while this is something often ignored in Latin studies, unfortunately. In the coming weeks, I will try to provide some more examples here in the blog of nice uses of Latin particles in the Vulgate text.

Meanwhile, here is today's verse read out loud:

226. Spiritus quidem promptus; caro vero infirma.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Vulgate Verses: 4000 Sayings from the Bible for Teachers and Students of Latin.

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