Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Dermatology in Horace
One who expects his friend not to be offended by his own warts will pardon the other's pimples. It is but fair that one who craves indulgence for failings should grant it in return.Good advice, which Erasmus (Adagia I vi 91, tr. R.A.B. Mynors) says "has all the look of a proverb." Cf. Seneca, On the Happy Life 27 (tr. John W. Basore): "You look at the pimples of others when you yourselves are covered with a mass of sores" (papulas observatis alienas obsiti plurimis ulceribus).
qui ne tuberibus propriis offendat amicum
postulat, ignoscet verrucis illius: aequum est
peccatis veniam poscentem reddere rursus.
Horace also mentions a wen (polypus) afflicting someone named Hagna in line 40 of the same satire. As an aside, I sometimes wonder if people know the meaning of wen ("sebaceous cystic tumour under the skin, occurring chiefly on the head," Oxford English Dictionary). How else to explain that there is a hair care product called WEN®? The words wen and hair, in combination, suggest to me a bristle growing out of a warty facial excrescence. Not a pretty picture.
The mysterious Campanian disease mentioned by Horace in the fifth satire of his first book may have been a skin ailment. Here is the passage in context (Satires 1.5.56-64, tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
And first Sarmentus: "You, I say, are like a wild horse." We laugh, and Messius himself, " I grant you," and tosses his head. "Oh!" says Sarmentus, "if only the horn had not been cut out of your forehead, what would you do, when you can threaten, thus dehorned?" Now an unsightly scar had disfigured the left side of his bristly brow. With many a joke on his Campanian disease and on his face, he begged him to dance the Cyclops shepherd-dance: he would need neither mask nor tragic buskin.What the Commentator Cruquianus says ad loc. (my translation) is probably no more than a guess:
prior Sarmentus: "equi te
esse feri similem dico." ridemus, et ipse
Messius "accipio," caput et movet. "o tua cornu
ni foret exsecto frons," inquit, "quid faceres, cum
sic mutilus minitaris?" at illi foeda cicatrix
saetosam laevi frontem turpaverat oris.
Campanum in morbum, in faciem permulta iocatus,
pastorem saltaret uti Cyclopa rogabat:
nil illi larva aut tragicis opus esse cothurnis.
For this, as though by nature, is characteristic of almost all inhabitants of Campania, that on the temples of the head big warts grow, like horns. When they have the warts cut off, scars remain on the face, like marks of horns cut out.
hoc enim quasi a natura Campanis fere omnibus inest, ut capitis temporibus magnae verrucae innascantur in modum cornuum, quas cum incidi faciunt, cicatrices in fronte manent, quasi notae exsectorum cornuum.