Monday, June 2, 2008

Caeci sunt duces caecorum

In English: They are blind leaders of the blind. (Matt. 15:14)

As in the previous verse I posted about - Deus cordis scrutator est verus - we are dealing again here with a split predicate phrase, although this time the displaced adjective is in the first position, rather than in last position. To make matters more puzzling, at least for English speakers, the subject of the sentence is not expressed, but is implied by the verb: sunt, "they are."

So, as you read through this verse, what you have is caeci, a predicate adjective, followed by the verb, sunt, "Blind they are," or in more natural English word order, "They are blind." That could be a complete sentence, and could stand on its own.

Yet there is more to come, duces. So they are caeci duces, blind leaders - a predicate phrase, wrapped around the verb. You've already got a bizarre situation: someone who is not able to see is not likely to be someone who would be in the lead.

Then, with the last word, the situation becomes even more unexpected: caecorum. It is not just that they are blind men who are in the lead, but the people they are leading are blind as well. If you want to render the gradual unfolding of the situation as the Latin word order has it, you would have to say in English: "Blind they are, blind leaders, and those they are leading are blind, too." Latin, however, is able to develop that same progression of ideas in four simple words, artfully arranged: Caeci sunt duces caecorum.

You find the same word order in the Greek: τυφλοί εἰσιν ὁδηγοί τυφλῶν, "Blind are they, leaders of the blind." Yet there is some variation in the Greek text, and you can find a quite different word order for this verse, but still with a split predicate: ὁδηγοί εἰσι τυφλοὶ τυφλῶν, "leaders they are, blind, of the blind." In this version, the rhetorical power comes from the juxtaposition of the nominative plural τυφλοὶ (Latin caeci) and the genitive plural τυφλῶν (Latin caecorum). Both arrangements are powerful - you can either have the two parallel words standing at the beginning and end of the sentence (τυφλοί εἰσιν ὁδηγοί τυφλῶν), or you can juxtapose them unexpectedly at the end of the sentence (ὁδηγοί εἰσι τυφλοὶ τυφλῶν).

There is some variation in the Latin text as well: in some versions, you can find an et inserted as follows: Caeci sunt, et duces caecorum, "Blind they are, and they are even leaders of the blind." If you choose the reading with et you have a compound predicate, rather than a single predicate phrase which is wrapped around the verb. The rhetorical force in either case is still the same, however, with caeci in the strong first position, and the unexpected caecorum in final position, creating a double-whammy of surprise, with or without the et introduced to make explicit the double nature of the paradox - blind leaders, and their followers are blind, too!

So, hoping the grammar commentary here has done better than to lead you into a syntactic ditch, here is today's verse read out loud:

145. Caeci sunt duces caecorum.

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

If you are reading this via RSS: The Flash audio content is not syndicated via RSS; please visit the Vulgate Verses blog to listen to the audio.

For more information about subscribing to this blog via RSS or by email, visit the Bestiaria Latina blog using the link provided here.