Friday, June 15, 2007


Fixed Quantities

In the following passages, St. Jerome seems to assume that the amount of money in the world is a fixed quantity. An individual can have more or less, but the total remains constant.

On Isaiah 33.13:
Monies are not heaped up for one man except with loss and damage to another man.

nisi cum alterius damno et malo, pecuniae alteri non coacervantur.
Tractate on Psalm 8.24:
For whoever is rich, cannot be rich unless he has robbed a poor man.

quicumque enim dives est, nisi pauperem exspoliaverit, dives esse non potest.
Letters 120.1:
For all wealth is derived from wickedness, and unless one man has lost, another cannot find.

omnes enim divitiae de iniquitate descendunt, et nisi alter perdiderit, alter non potest invenire.
There is a curiously similar belief that the amount of evil in the world is constant. You can't destroy evil altogether. The best you can achieve is to move it somewhere else. See, for example, the prayers in Livy 5.18.12 that invoke destruction on Rome's arch enemy, the Etruscan city Veii:
Supplications were made in the temples, and with prayers the gods were asked to ward off destruction from Rome's houses, temples, and walls and to turn that panic against Veii.

obsecrationes in templis factae, precibusque ab dis petitum ut exitium ab urbis tectis templisque ac moenibus Romanis arcerent Veiosque eum averterent terrorem.
Similarly, in Appian, Civil Wars 5.10.96 (tr. Horace White), bad omens must fall on someone or something. The best that can be hoped for is that they don't fall on our side (emphasis added):
When the fleet was ready, Octavius performed a lustration for it in the following manner. Altars were erected on the margin of the sea, and the multitude were ranged around them in ships, observing the most profound silence. The priests who performed the ceremony offered the sacrifice while standing at the water's edge, and carried the expiatory offerings in skiffs three times around the fleet, the general sailing with them, beseeching the gods to turn the bad omens against the victims instead of the fleet. Then, dividing the entrails, they cast a part of them into the sea, and put the remainder on the altars and burned them, while the multitude chanted in unison. In this way the Romans perform lustrations of the fleet.

Ἐπεὶ δ' ἕτοιμος ἦν ὁ στόλος, ἐκάθαιρεν αὐτὸν ὁ Καῖσαρ ὧδε. οἱ μὲν βωμοὶ ψαύουσι τῆς θαλάσσης, καὶ ἡ πληθὺς αὐτοὺς περιέστηκε κατὰ ναῦν μετὰ σιωπῆς βαθυτάτης: οἱ δὲ ἱερουργοὶ θύουσι μὲν ἑστῶτες ἐπὶ τῇ θαλάσσῃ καὶ τρὶς ἐπὶ σκαφῶν περιφέρουσιν ἀνὰ τὸν στόλον τὰ καθάρσια, συμπεριπλεόντων αὐτοῖς τῶν στρατηγῶν καὶ ἐπαρωμένων ἐς τάδε τὰ καθάρσια, ἀντὶ τοῦ στόλου, τὰ ἀπαίσια τραπῆναι. νείμαντες δὲ αὐτά, μέρος ἐς τὴν θάλασσαν ἀπορρίπτουσι καὶ μέρος ἐς τοὺς βωμοὺς ἐπιθέντες ἅπτουσι, καὶ ὁ λεὼς ἐπευφημεῖ. οὕτω μὲν Ῥωμαῖοι τὰ ναυτικὰ καθαίρουσιν.
There is a lot of talk about eliminating world hunger. From an etymological point of view, when something is eliminated, it is not destroyed. Rather it is just moved elsewhere, thrust out of doors, from ex (out of, away from) plus limen (threshold). An inscription from Termessos (Tituli Asiae Minoris iii.103) commemorates a certain Honoratus "because he chased hunger into the sea" (δίωξε γὰρ εἰς / ἅλα λιμόν, lines 6-7).

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