Wednesday, October 11, 2006
From the Mailbag
For the Athenian populace always more or less resembles a ship without a commander. In such a ship when fear of the billows or the danger of a storm induces the mariners to be sensible and attend to the orders of the skipper, they do their duty admirably. But when they grow over-confident and begin to entertain contempt for their superiors and to quarrel with each other, as they are no longer all of the same way of thinking, then with some of them determined to continue the voyage, and others putting pressure on the skipper to anchor, with some letting out the sheets and others preventing them and ordering the sails to be taken it, not only does the spectacle strike anyone who watches it as disgraceful owing to their disagreement and contention, but the position of affairs is a source of actual danger to the rest of those on board; so that often after escaping from the perils of the widest seas and fiercest storms they are shipwrecked in harbour and when close to the shore. This is what has more than once befallen the Athenian state. After having averted the greatest and most terrible dangers owing to the high qualities of the people and their leaders, it has come to grief at times by sheer heedlessness and unreasonableness in seasons of unclouded tranquillity.On Johnson's definition of goldfinder as "One who finds gold. A term ludicrously applied to those that empty jakes," E.J. Moncada cites:
Cassiodorus, Inst. I, 1.8.: aurum in stercore quaerere, cited as a proverb. But earlier, Vita Vergilii interpolata. Donatus auctus. 71 Diehl, se aurum colligere e stercore Ennii.In both of these passages, the saying is attributed to Vergil.
Cassiodorus, Institutes 1.1.8:
While Vergil was reading Ennius, he was asked by someone what he was doing and he answered, "I'm searching for gold in dung."Donatus auctus, Life of Vergil:
Vergilius, dum Ennium legeret, a quodam quid faceret inquisitus respondit - "Aurum in stercore quaero."
When Vergil was holding Ennius in his hand and was asked what he was doing, he answered that he was collecting gold from the dung of Ennius.I cannot find Donatus auctus online, and so I quote from Domenico Comparetti's Virgilio nel Medioevo. I have not seen Georges Folliet, "La fortuna du dit de Virgile Aurum colligere de stercore dans la littérature chrétienne", Sacris Erudiri 41 (2002) 31-53.
Quom (Maro) Ennium in manu haberet rogareturque quidnam faceret, respondit se aurum colligere de stercore Ennii.