Monday, August 4, 2008

Melior est pugillus cum requie quam plena utraque manus cum labore

In English: Better is a little handful accompanied by relaxation than both hands full, accompanied by exertion. (Ecc. 4:6)

I've been so busy with Aesop's fables and the fable book this summer, that I have not had much time for posting here, but I thought I would add another verse here today which carries on with the theme of parallelism which I've been exploring in some previous posts. Parallelism can be used for rhetorical purposes in aphorisms, and you can see that done very nicely here in this saying from the Book of Ecclesiastes, which features two parallel noun phrases, each featuring a prepositional phrase with cum.

The predicate adjective comes first, melior est, and the comparative form of the adjective leads you to expect two items. The better item comes first, in the nominative: pugillus cum requie, a small handful, a little fist full of something (of food, of money, the specifics are not important), accompanied by relaxation, cum requie. The thing being compared is then introduced by quam, "than," and the noun phrase has a structure which parallels the structure of the first noun phrase: plena utraque manus cum labore, "both hands full, accompanied by exertion." Both noun phrases consist of a noun and a prepositional phrase, cum:

Melior est
pugillus cum requie
quam
plena utraque manus cum labore.
The Latin has the added benefit of a bit of sound play between the p in pugillus and in plena.

The real charm of the verse in Latin, however, is the contrast between the words pugillus and plena utraque manus. The word pugillus is a diminutive of pugnus, a fist, meaning "a little fistful." The use of the fist here, and the diminutive of fist in particular, suggests the idea that there is so little of the stuff, whatever it is (money, food, etc.), that you have to clench your fist just to hold onto it, as opposed to hands that are so full you could not even close them into a fist if you wanted to.

At the same time, this tiny little handful comes with requie, peace and quiet, as opposed to the labore required for those two full hands. I'm definitely someone who has taken the "little fistful" approach to life, so this is a saying that I like very much.

As for the Latin pugnus, "fist," this is a very productive root in Latin, yielding the word pugnare, "to fight," and it is also where we get our term "pugilist" in English, meaning a boxer!

So, hoping you have fistfuls of happiness today, without any fistfights, here is today's verse read out loud:

458. Melior est pugillus cum requie quam plena utraque manus cum labore.

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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4 comments:

SceleratissimusLutheranus said...

Hi Laura, will you be posting more verses from the Vulgate?

I'm in the process of memorizing the proverbs you posted to help build my vocabulary. Thank you for posting the audio along with them. It helps me tremendously trying to learn on my own!

Laura Gibbs said...

Thanks for your comment - I am so glad the materials are useful. During the summer I have more time to work on projects, although last summer I got all caught up in a big Aesop project... this summer, though, I will definitely think about how to go forward with some Vulgate-related material. It's something I enjoy working on very much whenever I can find the time, and I am very happy if the materials are useful to others, also! Thanks again for your note.

Richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick said...

There are many young seminarians that want to celebrate the Latin Mass of the Ran Catholic Church prior to Vatican II changes as well older ones now. I think a very good and very useful project could be
The reading of the daily Mass Propers ( Introit, Prayer, Epistle, Gospel, Offertory Prayer, Secret,Communion,Post Communion prayers) according to the Ordo of prior 1962 before the Vatican II changes. There are many CD's with the Common parts of the Tridentine Latin Mass out. But these priest that were not exposed to Latin in the seminary would find it most useful if at least the Propers of the Sunday Masses were recorded 52 different Mass propers. I found you are very easy to understand your Latin very clear.
As well Masses of the Dead and special feast. I think this would be a very good project and one that
would be in demand and greatly appreciated. Talking to many priest
if they could just hear each proper they could go over the correct way to say each word and read the Latin. The priest need not have a complete understand of each word he
is reading he only needs to have an understanding of what the prayer or passage is saying to celebrate the Latin Mass. I think it would be an excellent undertaking and there would be a market to sell these CD's. Church Latin is pronounced differently from classical Latin.
Rick