Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996), p. 16:
The question asked by Tacitus when the well-to-do citizens of ancient Rome began fleeing the troubles of the city by retreating behind the walls of their guarded villas -- "Who will guard the guards?" -- is still a good one.
Tacitus didn't ask the question; Juvenal did. Juvenal didn't ask it when the wealthy retreated into their gated communites; he asked it about those who were supposed to keep watch over potentially adulterous wives.

The question occurs twice in Juvenal's misogynistic sixth satire, once at lines 347-348 (deleted by M. Maas) and once at lines 31-32 of the Oxford fragment discovered by E.O. Winstedt. Here is Wendell Clausen's Oxford Classical Text of both passages, accompanied by G.G. Ramsay's Loeb translation.

[audio quid ueteres olim moneatis amici,
'pone seram, cohibe.' sed quis custodiet ipsos
custodes? cauta est et ab illis incipit uxor.]
iamque eadem summis pariter minimisque libido,
nec melior silicem pedibus quae conterit atrum
quam quae longorum uehitur ceruice Syrorum.

I hear all this time the advice of my old friends--"Put on a lock and keep your wife indoors." Yes, but who will ward the warders? The wife arranges accordingly and begins with them. High or low their passions are all the same. She who wears out the black cobble-stones with her bare feet is no better then she who rides [in a litter] upon the necks of eight stalwart Syrians.
consilia et ueteres quaecumque monetis amici,
'pone seram, cohibe'. sed quis custodiet ipsos
custodes, qui nunc lasciuae furta puellae
hac mercede silent? crimen commune tacetur.
prospicit hoc prudens et ab illis incipit uxor.

I know well the advice and warnings of my old friends--"Put on a lock and keep your wife indoors." Yes, but who is to ward the warders? They get paid in kind for holding their tongues as to their young lady's escapades; participation seals their lips. The wily wife arranges accordingly and begins with them.
Norris freely admits elsewhere in her book (pp. 9, 37) that she's no scholar. And if we were only allowed to quote authors whom we ourselves have actually read, then quotation would be effectively outlawed or at least drastically curtailed.

But Riverhead Books is a division of the venerable firm G.P. Putnam's Sons, who boast that they have been publishers since 1838. Where were the editors, proofreaders, and fact checkers? Or, to paraphrase Juvenal, Who will edit the editors themselves? Who will proofread the proofreaders themselves? Who will fact check the fact checkers themselves?

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