Monday, December 06, 2010

labor omnia vincit

A bit of a Latin discussion in the paper over the last couple of days, from Column 8. First on Saturday:
''Latin, being the concise language it was (or is), causes much confusion in translation,'' writes obstetrician and gynaecologist Phil Watters, of Fern Tree. ''My favourite story is the opening of a large new maternity unit which had the words 'Primum non nocere' placed over the entrance. This is the exhortation in medicine to 'First do no harm'. Some wags then pointed out it could also mean 'The first time doesn't hurt', or 'Once is OK' etc (you get my drift), so they changed it to 'Labor vincit omnia'.'' It took us a while to work it out, but it translates as ''Labour conquers all''.
Which occasioned this response today:
Beryl Lubov, of Sussex Inlet, insists that the correct version of Saturday's Latin maternity ward sign ''is 'Labor Omnia Vincit' (the verb always comes last in Latin), also the motto of Sydney Girls High School, the alma mater of the NSW Governor, Marie Bashir'', and indeed Beryl herself. ''In the 1940s it was translated as 'Work Conquers All', and to students from other high schools Sydney Girls was known as the 'sweat school'.''
...the verb always comes last in latin? A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

The motto comes from Virgil's Georgics, where he describes the degeneration of humanity from a mythical Golden Age. He writes:
tum variae venere artes. labor omnia vicit

improbus et duris urgens in rebus egestas.

At that time various different skills arose. Wicked toil conquered all, and poverty too, pressing upon us in hard times.
(Georgics I.145-146)
labor here is seen not as a virtue but as oppression, described as improbus and working alongside egestas. So I'm not sure it's a great motto for a school. Much better would be a similar phrase from the Eclogues, where the passionate Gallus says:
omnia vincit Amor: et nos cedamus Amori.

Love conquers all: and let us give in to Love.
(Eclogues X.69)

which wouldn't make a bad motto for a maternity ward now either now I think about it. And do you notice how neither of the verbs (vincit, cedamus) are at the end of the sentence?

5 comments:

jm said...

another instalment appeared in today's paper:

''Labor omnia vincit is also the motto of Liverpool Girls High School,'' writes Paul Grguric, of Haymarket (Column 8, yesterday), ''so when Gough Whitlam visited for the school's 50th birthday, he said in his speech 'I noticed your school motto is ''Labor always wins''.' ''

jm said...

and more on wednesday:

''Beryl Lubov is wrong when she argues for a motto to read 'Labor omnia vincit' on the basis that Latin verbs are always placed at the end of a sentence,'' writes Dr8 Paul Roberts, of Lake Cathie, among many others. (In fact, we were astonished at how many Column 8 readers know their Latin, but perhaps we shouldn't have been.) Anyway, back to Paul: ''They are not. The precise model for the phrase is to be found in Virgil's Eclogues Book X, line 69 where the verb appears in the middle of 'Omnia vincit amor' - love conquers all things - though it is often rendered as 'Amor vincit omnia' - still with the verb in the middle - and inscribed thus on the gold brooch worn by Chaucer's Prioress in the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. The slight misquotation is probably deliberate as a sly dig at the Prioress's less than perfect education.''

jm said...

Wednesday 15th:

Translations of mottos keep coming. ''In my youth,'' writes Harvey Sanders, of Paddington, '''Sic transit gloria mundi' used to be rendered as 'Gloria threw up in the back of the van the day after a very heavy weekend'.'' Jonathan Hornibrook, of Newtown, recalls that ''Sydney University's 'Sidere mens eadem mutato' was generally taken to mean 'Sit down men, eat the potatoes''', while Brian Syms, of Port Macquarie, tells us: ''The UK Army Physical Training Corp has as its motto 'Mens sana in corpore sano'. I used to live near their headquarters in Aldershot, and was told on good authority it meant 'The men will stay sane if the corporal's alright'.'' Our favourite so far comes from John Flannery, of Duffy, ACT. ''The motto for Parkes High School is 'Dum vivo disco'. As students there in the '70s our translation was 'We're not real smart but we know how to dance'.''

jm said...

Thursday 16th:

''Beryl Lubov asserts that 'women were/are never wrong' - particularly on Latin grammar,'' writes Dr8 Paul Roberts, of Lake Cathie (Column 8, Tuesday). ''The great Latin poet Virgil puts it another way: 'Varium et mutabile semper femina' - a woman is an ever fickle and changeable thing.'' Look you two, that's quite enough. You'll have to take your spat to another forum. Meanwhile, Peter Smith, of Orange, writes ''It is said that when the film star Gloria Swanson had to return to the US after falling ill while touring Europe, Variety magazine carried the headline 'Sic Gloria in transit Monday'.''

Anonymous said...

I recall Tacitus's line in the Annales where he describes Agrippina's feminine credulity "facili feminarum credulitate ad gaudia." I once bought a bottle of wine, and on the label it had "mundus mulorum non est regulorum"

A land of mules is not one of rules!

Michael