11 July 2010

How silly of me

In my last post, I expressed appreciation for one of the captions in the Westminster Cathedral exhibition of objects from its treasury. Malo mori quam foedari is translated as "I prefer to die rather than to compromise". I assumed this was a humorous allusion to the die-hard uncompromising Ultramontanism which Manning, upon whose cope this motto is embroidered, demonstrated at the First Vatican Council.

The penny has finally dropped in my mind. This is not a piece of humour; the illiterate fool who wrote it was under the impression that foedari had something to do with Foedus/foederis!

Is this just another example of what you may consider my most tedious preoccupation: the illiteracy of the post-conciliar RC Church? It occurs to me that there is another possibility. Perhaps the Cathedral authorities made the mistake of asking some passing "Art Historian" do do their exhibition for them. And most "Art Historians" are every bit as ignorant of Latin as some RC clergy. This is unfortunate; an "Art Historian" can hardly do his job if he does not know Latin. I suspect that this is what makes them so secretive about their ignorance; if they asked for help with Latin, it would be rather like admitting to a habit of compulsive self-abuse. So they hide their dirty and shameful little secret and believe that, if only they spend long enough huddled over a furtive Latin Dictionary, they will be able to work out what a bit of Latin means on their own; like the Ultra Catholic Priest in Eric Mascall's poem, they aren't too sure about those awkward moods and tenses (although his ORDO Recitandi's strict Westmonasteriensis), nor, commonly, about the case structure of the Latin language.

I'll give you a random brace of examples so that you can't accuse me of just blustering. In the book of the RA exhibition The Printed Page, some joke called Alexander, describing himself as "Professor of Fine Arts at the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University", translates (p138) "Vis concilii expers mole sua corruit" as "lacking the strength of counsel she falls through her own size". He does not appear, either, to recognise where the quotation comes from or even that it is a quotation; and "concilii" is his own misreading of "consilii", as the photograph on the previous page makes clear. Secondly, in the book of the Tate exhibition "Dynasties" (p128), describing the Lockey picture of S Thomas More with his family, a woman called Thackray makes two obvious mistakes in simply copying the words "Scaccarii primum tum AD 1529 totius Angliae Cancellarius est factus", and then 'translates' them as "[...] first [made] Chancellor of all England in 1529 AD" (the square brackets and dots are her admission of her own incomprehension).

These 'scholars' can't even translate things that the member of every Public School Common Room who teaches mainly Sport but fills up his timetable with III Form bottom set Divinity, Maths, and Latin, could have translated for them*. But it's not surprising. The book of the V&A exhibition on the Baroque contained endless howlers in the area of Christian Worship; the writers were simply too proud to go next door and ask the Oratorians a few elementary questions.

Arrogant charlatans.

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*I presume that most College Libraries would contain a copy of the handy Latham (Medieval Latin Wordlist) to reveal that Scaccarium is Medieval Latin for Exchequer.

4 comments:

davidforster said...

It actually sounds like the motto of some Army regiment - very appropriate for a great defender of the Church Militant like Cardinal Manning.

In fact, the translators have no excuse now that the Internet is in operation. Stick a motto like this into Google, and you'll probably get dozens of translations. ... In fact, I just did, and got 8460 references.

Joshua said...

Too true. Well, if no one, not even seminarians, are taught Latin (whatever the CIC orders), what do you expect?

francis said...

I had assumed you were being sarcastic when you described the translation of fœdari as "a flash of humour".

To be fair, the distinction between the two fœdus homonyms is a bit advanced. I must have been at least in the second form before I came across it.

A said...
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