Monday, May 12, 2008

Dignus est operarius cibo suo

In English: The worker is worthy of his food. (Matt. 10:10)

I chose this saying for today because, as in the last verse I posted about, you can find a good example here of "wrapping," where a phrase, in this case a predicate adjective phrase - dignus cibo suo - wraps around the subject, operarius. This lends the verse a kind of stylistic elegance in Latin which is difficult to capture in English. If you render the verse in English following the Latin word order, it would be: "Worthy is the worker of his food." That is poetic language in English, so poetic as to be almost non-natural; it is certainly not typical spoken English.

In Latin, however, this kind of word order is definitely elegant, but it is not unnatural or a purely written affectation. It is an easy and obvious possibility in Latin, because it is the case endings, not the word order, which govern the grammatical relationships between the words. Not surprisingly, the King James Bible opts for a more unpoetic translation in English, observing the standard rules of English word order: "the workman is worthy of his meat."

Greek, like Latin, is a highly inflected language with extremely free word order. In the Greek original of this verse, you can see the same exact style of "wrapping" word order as in the Latin: ἄξιος (worthy) ὁ ἐργάτης (the worker) τῆς τροφῆς αὐτοῦ (of his food, his nourishment). In the Greek, the linking verb "to be" has been omitted. This would also be possible in Latin, but the inclusion the verb est in the non-emphatic second position in the Latin verse helps make it clear that dignus is a predicate adjective, while operarius is the subject noun; otherwise, without the est, it might seem, at least at first, that you were dealing with a noun phrase, dignus operarius, "the worthy worker."

You might be surprised here by the word cibo, "food," since the more famous version of this verse is the example provided by Luke 10, which is also repeated in I Timothy 5, dignus est operarius mercede sua, "the worker is worthy of his reward" (or "his wages"). (In Greek: ἄξιος ὁ ἐργάτης τοῦ μισθοῦ αὐτοῦ.) King James renders this as "the laborer is worthy of his hire" (Luke) or "The laborer is worthy of his reward" (I Timothy).

As you can see, the Latin word dignus takes an ablative complement, although we translate this into English as "worthy of." Don't let the English fool you; the case here in Latin is ablative, not genitive. There are other constructions you can find with dignus in Vulgate Latin. The adjective can take an ut clause, as here: non sum dignus ut sub tectum meum intres, "I am not worthy that you enter under my roof" (Luke 7). It can also take an infinitive: non sum dignus solvere corrigiam calceamentorum eius, "I am not worthy to untie the lace of his sandals," (Luke 3) or Quis est dignus aperire librum?, "Who is worthy to open the book?" (Revelation 5). Here is an example with a passive infinitive: non sum dignus vocari filius tuus, "I am not worthy to be called your son" (Luke 15).

Luckily, these idiomatic uses of the word dignus in Latin are not so different from the idiomatic uses of the word "worthy" in English. What is different, however, is the extraordinary range of word order options that is always available to speakers and writers of Latin, which is simply not available in English. So, be glad that so many Latin idioms are quite similar to idioms in English, and then just relax and enjoy the unexpected twists and turns of Latin word order, which provides an expressive register which is something new - and exciting - for us speakers of English!

So, in honor of all the workers and their wages, here is today's verse read out loud:

41. Dignus est operarius cibo suo.

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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