Sunday, August 07, 2011


Small Houses

Eric Thomson, in an email, writes about an inscription at Lope de Vega's house (now a museum) in Madrid:
D.O.M. PARVA PROPIA MAGNA: MAGNA ALIENA PARVA. Given its position on the lintel over the entrance to a house, there is a temptation to read D.O.M. (actually Deo Optimo Maximo) as DOM[VS] PARVA, the full stops notwithstanding, but that would stymie the chiasmus and in any case if 'parva' is a neuter plural nothing more is required...
Even if D.O.M. doesn't stand for domus, parva and the other adjectives could still be feminine singular with domus understood. Also, note propia by dissimilation for propria (cf. Spanish propio versus French propre). We could paraphrase the inscription as follows:
Small, but mine own—large enough; large, but another's—too small.
In a letter Lope de Vega also refers to "mi casilla, mi quietud, mi güertecillo, y estudio" ("my little house, my quiet, my garden and study").

The sentiment is similar to that of Ariosto's Latin inscription for his house (tr. W. Francis H. King):
Small, but it suits: 'tis mortgaged not to any:
Clean, and (what's more) bought out of my own money.

Parva sed apta mihi, sed nulli obnoxia, sed non
Sordida, parta meo sed tamen aere domus.
The popularity of the house inscription Parva domus, magna quies (small house, great peace) seems to date only from the nineteenth century. The earliest attestation I can find is Philippe Chasles, "Les Espions, les Valets, et la Musique à Rome en 1834," Revue de Paris 12 (1834) 29-35 (at 32):
L'inscription: Parva domus, magna quies, qui est placée au-dessus de la porte de la villa Albani dans Castelgandolfo est partout une grande vérité, mais ici plus qu'ailleurs.
My mother-in-law once gave me a little wooden plaque inscribed Parva domus, magna quies, which hangs on a wall in my house.

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