Friday, November 24, 2017


Si Quid Mali, in Pyrrham

An example of epipompē in a proverb, from Erasmus, Adages II vii 1 to III iii 100, translated and annotated by R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), p. 224 (III ii 1, with end omitted), plus notes on p. 389:
Si quid mali, in Pyrrham
If there's anything bad, on Pyrrha's head

Εἴ τι κακόν, εἰς Πύρραν, If there's anything wrong, on Pyrrha's head — we must understand 'be it' or 'let it fall,' or something of the kind. In this way, if they feared some impending evil, they sought to avoid it by turning it aside, and prayed that it might fall on their enemy's head. Hence too that form of words well known in both Greek and Latin authors, 'May this befall our enemies.' Ovid:1 'Would that such parties might befall our foes.' Again, in book three of the Art of Love: 'May cause of such foul shame befall my foes'; in book three of the Fasti: 'Would that that colour might befall my foes'; in book two of the Elegies: 'Sleep in an empty bed befall my foes! And let my foes live such a Spartan life!' and again in book three: 'Such cause for shame befall my enemies!' Virgil2 too in book three of the Georgics: 'May the gods send good men a better fate, And send that error on our enemies!' and in the eighth Aeneid, speaking of Mezentius: 'May the gods keep this in store for him and for his race.' Propertius:3 'May a cold-blooded wench await my foes!' And Horace4 in the Odes: 'Let enemies' wives and children feel / The gathering south-wind's angry roar.' And Terence5 in the Heautontimorumenos, that is, the old self-tormentor 'Oh dear! I do beseech you, let that be for your enemies,' and again in the Eunuchus: 'Would that all those who wish me ill were in the same plight.'

The traditional origin of the proverb is as follows. In old days the people of Pyrrha were intensely unpopular with all their neighbours, with the result that if they ever saw trouble threatening, they sought to avoid it by praying that it might fall on the Pyrrhaeans instead, saying 'On Pyrrha's head be it!'


In 1508 this stood after what is now III ii 7; it was moved here in 1515. The basis is a translation of Zenobius 4.2.

1 Ovid] Heroides 15.217, already used in II iii 11 and added in 1515 to III ii 78; Ars amatoria 3.247; Fasti 3.494; Amores 2.10.16-17 in reverse order; 3.11.16. The first of these is of 1508, the other four of 1533.

2 Virgil] Georgics 3.513; Aeneid 8.484, both of 1533

3 Propertius] 3.8.20, added in 1533

4 Horace] Odes 3.27.21-2 (trans Conington); this is of 1508, and had already appeared in II iii 11.

5 Terence] Heautontimorumenos 1015, added in 1517/8 with the title of the play given in Latin. In 1533 Erasmus inserted the usual form of it, and appended Eunuchus 655.
Εἴ τι κακόν, εἰς Πύρραν, id est Si quid mali, in Pyrrham, subaudiendum 'recidat' aut 'abeat' aut eiusmodi quidpiam. Ad hunc modum malum, si quod timeretur, deprecabantur abominantes et in hostium caput imprecantes. Vnde et illa figura Graecis pariter ac Latinis scriptoribus familiaris: Hostibus nostris hoc eueniat. Ouidius:
Hostibus eueniant conuiuia talia nostris.
Idem in tertio De arte amandi:
Hostibus eueniat tam foedi causa pudoris.
Idem libro tertio Fastorum:
Eueniat nostris hostibus ille color.
Idem libro secundo Elegiarum:
Hostibus eueniat vacuo dormire cubili.
    Hostibus eueniat vita seuera meis.
Idem libro tertio Elegiarum:
Eueniat nostris hostibus ille pudor.
Rursum Vergilius libro iii. Georg.:
Dii meliora piis erroremque hostibus illum.
Idem in viii. Aeneidos de Mezentio: Dii capiti illius generique reseruent.

Hostibus eueniat lenta puella meis.
Et Horatius in Odis:
Hostium vxores puerique caecos
Sentiant motus orientis austri.
Et Terentius in Heauton timorumeno, in Sene seipsum excruciante: Au, obsecro te, isthuc inimicis siet. Idem in Eunucho: Vtinam sic sint qui mihi male volunt.

Originem prouerbii tradunt huiusmodi: Quondam Pyrrhaeos, quotquot erant finitimi, graui odio persequebantur; vnde si quod malum aliquando videretur impendere, id abominantes precabantur, vt in Pyrrhaeos auerteretur, dicentes εἰς τὴν Πυρραίων, id est in Pyrrhaeorum regionem.

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