Friday, September 03, 2004


Motes, Beams, Lice, Ticks, Rucksacks

Matthew 7:3-5:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
Luke 6:41-42 is similar. Mote translates Greek karphos (splinter, twig), and beam translates Greek dokos (log). There are also parallels in ancient Greek and Latin literature. Horace, Satires 1.3.25-27, talks as follows about the inability to see one's own faults:
You're half-blind, your eyes are smeared with lotion, you overlook your own sins. How is it then that in the case of your friends' faults you're as clear-sighted as an eagle or a snake from Epidaurus?

cum tua pervideas oculis mala lippus inunctis,
cur in amicorum vitiis tam cernis acutum
quam aut aquila aut serpens Epidaurius?
In Petronius' Satyricon (57.7), one of Trimalchio's freedmen says to Encolpius:
You see the louse on another, you don't see the tick on yourself.

in alio pedulcum vides, in te ricinum non vides.
This idea can be traced back in another form to one of Aesop's fables (359 Halm, tr. Olivia and Robert Temple):
Once upon a time, when Prometheus created men, he hung from them two carrying-pouches. One of these contained the deficiencies of other people and was hung in front. The other contained our own faults, which he suspended behind us. The result of this was that men could see directly down into the pouch containing other people's failings, but were unable to see their own.
Babrius put the fable into Greek verse (66, tr. Ben Edwin Perry):
Prometheus was a god, but of the first dynasty. He it was, they say, that fashioned man from earth, to be the master of the beasts. On man he hung, the story goes, two wallets filled with the faults of human kind; the one in front contained the faults of other men, the one behind the bearer's own, and this was the larger wallet. That's why, it seems to me, men see the failings of each other very clearly, while unaware of those which are their own.
Note that Babrius, like Matthew, says that our own faults are more numerous or grievous than the faults of others.

Phaedrus (4.10) wrote some Latin verses on the same theme:
Jupiter placed two wallets on us:
the one filled with our own faults he put behind our backs,
the one heavy with others' faults he hung in front.
For this reason we cannot see our own sins;
as soon as others commit a crime, we judge them.

Peras imposuit Iuppiter nobis duas:
propriis repletam vitiis post tergum dedit,
alienis ante pectus suspendit gravem.
hac re videre nostra mala non possumus;
alii simul delinquunt, censores sumus.
The fable is mentioned in passing by other ancient authors:

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