Saturday, August 28, 2004



The Roman comic playwright Plautus coined this triple compound in his Trinummus, line 100:
Your fellow-citizens call you greedy for filthy lucre.

turpilucricupidum te vocant cives tui.
Turpilucricupidus comes from turpis (shameful, filthy, cf. turpitude), lucrum (profit, cf. lucre), cupidus (desirous, greedy, cf. cupidity).

The word is a hapax legomenon ("once said"), that is, a word that doesn't occur elsewhere in Latin literature, although perhaps it should be read in St. Jerome's Vulgate translation of St. Paul's letter to Titus 1:7 (turpilucricupidum instead of turpis lucri cupidum):
For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre.

Oportet enim episcopum sine crimine esse, sicut Dei dispensatorem: non superbum, non iracundum, non vinolentum, non percussorem, non turpis lucri cupidum.
St. Jerome was an avid reader of Plautus, as he confesses in a famous letter to Eustochium (22.30.1, tr. W.H. Fremantle):
Many years ago, when for the kingdom of heaven's sake I had cut myself off from home, parents, sister, relations, and -- harder still -- from the dainty food to which I had been accustomed; and when I was on my way to Jerusalem to wage my warfare, I still could not bring myself to forego the library which I had formed for myself at Rome with great care and toil. And so, miserable man that I was, I would fast only that I might afterwards read Cicero. After many nights spent in vigil, after floods of tears called from my inmost heart, after the recollection of my past sins, I would once more take up Plautus.
The Greek adjective in Titus 1:7 is aischrokerdes, and the corresponding noun is aischrokerdeia, from aischros (shameful) plus kerdos (gain). Probably the same adjective was in the Greek play by Philemon (Thesauros = Treasure) which Plautus adapted in his Trinummus (see line 19).

Demosthenes charges the guardian who cheated him out of his inheritance with aischrokerdeia (Against Aphobus 3.4). The Greek comic poet Diphilus (fr. 99, tr. J.M. Edmonds) says about it:
Avarice is a fatuous thing; the mind
That's given to getting, to all else is blind.
Polybius (6.46.2-3, tr. W.R. Paton) claimed that the inhabitants of Crete were especially afflicted with this vice:
Money is held in such high honour among them that its acquisition is not only regarded as necessary, but as most honourable. So much in fact do sordid gain [aischrokerdeia] and lust for wealth [pleonexia] prevail among them that the Cretans are the only people in the world in whose eyes no gain is disgraceful.
In his Characters, Theophrastus devotes an entire chapter (30) to aischrokerdeia. Here is a translation by R.C. Jebb (revised by J.E. Sandys):
Avarice is excessive desire of base gain.

The Avaricious man is one who, when he entertains, will not set enough bread on the table. He will borrow from a guest staying in his house. When he makes a distribution, he will say that the distributor is entitled to a double share, and thereupon will help himself. When he sells wine, he will sell it watered to his own friend. He will seize the opportunity of taking his boys to the play, when the lessees of the theatre grant free admission. If he travels on the public service, he will leave at home the money allowed to him by the State, and will borrow of his colleagues in the embassy; he will load his servant with more baggage than he can carry, and give him shorter rations than any other master does; he will demand, too, his strict share of the presents, -- and sell it. When he is anointing himself at the bath, he will say to the slave-boy, 'Why, this oil that you have bought is rancid' -- and will use someone else's. He is apt to claim his part of the halfpence found by his servants in the streets, and to cry 'Shares in the luck!' Having sent his cloak to be scoured he will borrow another from an acquaintance, and delay to restore it for several days, until it is demanded back.

These, again, are traits of his. He will weigh out their rations to his household with his own hands, using 'the measure of the frugal king,' with the bottom dinted inward, and carefully brushing the rim. He will buy a thing privately, when a friend seems ready to sell it on reasonable terms, and will dispose of it at a raised price. It is just like him, too, when he is paying a debt of thirty minas, to withhold four drachmas. Then, if his sons, through ill-health, do not attend the school throughout the month, he will make a proportionate deduction from the payment; and all through Anthesterion he will not send them to their lessons because there are so many festivals, and he does not wish to pay the fees. When he is receiving rent from a slave, he will demand in addition the discount charged on the copper money; also, in going through the account of the manager <he will challenge small items>. Entertaining his clansmen, he will beg a dish from the common table for his own servants; and will register the half-radishes left over from the repast, in order that the attendants may not get them. Again, when he travels with acquaintances, he will make use of their servants, but will let his own slave out for hire; nor will he place the proceeds to the common account. It is just like him, too, when a club-dinner is held at his house, to secrete some of the fire-wood, lentils, vinegar, salt, and lamp-oil placed at his disposal. If a friend, or a friend's daughter, is to be married, he will go abroad a little while before, in order to avoid giving a wedding present. And he will borrow from his acquaintances things of a kind that no one would ask back, -- or readily take back, if it were proposed to restore them.

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