In Gilles d'Aymery's Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Or Is It Dystopia? (May 20, 2002), the author made an error in the quote by Juvenal, the Roman satirist. A loyal reader alerted the author to it. But as it turned out, to the embarrassment of the author and the reader, the correction was itself incorrect! Here is the exchange of e-mails between the two. This awkward episode led the author to write an essay about the experience, A Tiny Typo: From Intellectual Responsibility To The Law Of Unintended Consequences.
May 20, 2002
To the Editor:
"Duas tantum rex anxius optat, panem et circenses."
("The people long anxiously for two things, bread and circuses.")
The word 'rex' means 'king' not 'people.' A dictator wants bread and circuses to keep the people docile and dumb. Today it is fast food and television that keep Americans fat and sedated--and totally unaware of the destruction carried out by their government around the world.
Thomas L. Karst
St. Louis, Missouri
May 20, 2002
Thank you so much for catching my error. It's particularly embarrassing since I have my Latin-French dictionary right next to my desk. Well, I am not too proud...but I have quietly corrected the error. I will however acknowledge it in the next rendition by publishing your note. Many thanks again.
May 28, 2002
Thank you for your kind reply to my letter. It is rare to find someone who is capable of quoting Juvenal, and you are to be commended for it. Juvenal is worth reading again and again, particularly in the political climate of today, when conquest and empire dominate international politics. I will add a few comments on Juvenal's insights further on.
However, don't be too hard on yourself about the 'rex' word. It's a typo! I should have done a little more homework before sending my comments. I think I found the site that gave you the English and Latin versions that you quoted.
I was surprised to see the word 'rex' in the Latin quotation, because I always thought this quotation referred to the people of Rome, Obviously, the ruler could desire bread and circuses to satisfy the people, but the people's desire seems to be the central theme. For Juvenal, the once proud people of Rome (SPQR - Senatus Populusque Romanus) was reduced to a Roman mob with all of the vices and none of the virtues of a people.
The English translation that said 'people' seemed to be accurate. But it did not match the 'rex' in the Latin. I did some searching on the internet, and came up with the original quote from Satire X.
...nam qui dabat olim imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, panem et circenses.
Here is the English translation from the informamerica.com website:
"The people who had once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else now longs eagerly for just two things, bread and circus games.." -- Juvenal, poet, upon observing the decline of the Roman empire.
The translation ought to translate 'imperium' as 'rule', 'power', or even 'empire', because that is essentially what Roman dominance resulted in.
You will notice from the Latin, that 'rex ' in the quotation from the other website is a misprint. The correct word is 'res' which is part of the phrase 'duas res', a plural direct object. ('Res' means 'thing, affair, matter' and gives us 'res publica' -- 'the public thing'-- meaning the community -- and eventually our English word 'republic', which Americans may not have much longer).
So I hope you haven't published my comment, because I dropped the ball.
Some other thoughts of wisdom from Juvenal have an uncanny resonance in today's world. Here are a few of his insights, like 'diamond in the rough.'
"Many individuals have, like uncut diamonds, shining qualities beneath a rough exterior."
Another popular quotation:
"The mountain went into labor and gave birth to -- a mouse!"
(I don't recall the Latin text for that one. On a talk show recently, a former American ambassador to Saudi Arabia quoted this line in Arabic, and said it was an old Arab proverb. It would be interesting to find out if the Arabs said this before Juvenal did.)
"Quis custodit ipsos custodes." "Who will guard the guards themselves." (Juvenal's comment about the policemen in Rome, and pertinent today when you look at America's military prowess.)
Another phrase from Juvenal that I have yet to track down goes something like the following:
"..vitae causa, vivendi perdere causam.." ("just for the sake of life, to lose one's reason for living" or "to give up one's reason for living just to stay alive")
I don't know if the words above are even in the correct order. The phrase is a play on the word 'causa', which can be a reason for some event, but also can take on the meaning of 'cause', that is, 'motivation, goal'. The first 'causa' is ablative case.
Many oppressed people in the world today are asking themselves the same question. Is it worthwhile to live only to be subjugated by American military power? The people of Serbia were viciously attacked twice in this century by a German-Austrian alliance, and their motto was 'Liberty or Death'. In 1991, Germany began its third major assault on Serbia, this time in a German-American-Iranian alliance, and once again the country has been destroyed and Serbs chose to die rather than bow to NATO imperialism.
The people of Palestine must often reflect on this dilemma, and Will Shakespeare took a shot at it himself.
I believe Martin Luther King made a similar remark that someone who has nothing to die for has nothing to live for.
Thank you for your e-mail and for digging further on the matter. Interestingly enough, I too had a vague recalling that Juvenal's quote was referring to the people and not to the king. I say vague, recalling for my Latin days go back almost 37 or 40 years! (By the way, are you aware that Latin is still taught in French schools? It is!)
No, I have not published your initial comments yet, but I have spent a good couple of hours this very morning formatting the letters to the editor and appending a note to the original article!
The note reads: "[Author's note added June 3, 2002] I initially translated the Latin word rex as "people" instead of "king." A reader alerted me to the error a few hours after the article had been posted on May 20, and I chose to edit the text directly. Please see the Letters to the Editor.
And the Letters to the Editor says, in addition to your initial mail and my answer to you: "[Ed. As small a shop as Swans may be, navigating well under the radar screen, we endeavor to bring quality work. Fact-checking is a big part of the editing process. Still we make mistakes. Ignorance when acknowledged and publicly corrected is no sin; It's the ignorance of the ignorance or the hiding of the mistakes, both widely encountered attitudes, that debase the entire endeavor (bringing food for thought and providing a quality literary and political site). We are always grateful when readers alert us to an error or a misrepresentation and we can only encourage everybody to never hesitate to send a comment or a correction. As a visitor or a participant to the site the minimum expectation you should have is intellectual integrity, something you can count on when reading Swans.]"
I am now smiling.
From time to time I do mention the importance of intellectual integrity on Swans and I also talk about humility...
Talk about humility! Another lesson well learnt... You sent me an incorrect "correction." I ran with it and acknowledged my error. Yet, somehow, both of us had a hunch that Juvenal had talked about the people, not the king. And yet I focused on "rex," which obviously means king, and forgot about my hunch. IOW, I did not question "rex" and the possibility of a typo!!!
Bottom line, both of us were well intended, even eager to be, and I did not take the time to think further... An all but too common behavior...
Am I glad you eventually did? Wow, I am! I did not have the inclination to revisit the issue (at my peril)...
So where are we now?
1) The article's quote is incorrect.
2) I corrected the quote once (though I don't think many people will have noticed the difference).
3) The quote remains incorrect.
4) Interesting conundrum...
Here is what I would like to do:
I'd like to:
a) correct the quote on the original piece with a note leading to the letters to the editor. (Are you certain that your latest quote is ok?)
b) publish your initial mail, my initial answer, your present mail and my present answer.
c) finally, write a short piece, with a zest of humor, about the notion of "best intentions."
These are lessons to learn from for any fair-minded people. In my book, it's a lesson worth broadcasting. I wish the "truth" armies would understand.
Please tell me urgently what you think as I am working on the coming rendition.
Thanks again for your intellectual steadiness.
May 29, 2002
Here's the link to the Latin quotation from Satire X. I think it can be considered authoritative.
I got the translation from another source (which inexplicably did not translate "se continet" which means "to hold back, cease"). The link to the English text is in my letter.
Will send further reply to your letter shortly.
I found the Satire 10 (as well as the entire series) yesterday at, http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/juvenal10.html
Also got further background at, http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa062700a.htm
I learned a lesson in humility as well.
I liked your reference to 'bread and circuses' and believed it was very relevant to today's society. I also liked the fact that you had Juvenal in your arsenal of ideas.
Someday historians may link the decline in the knowledge of Latin to the decline of American civilization. Greek and Latin, and Western literature in general, have given us a frame of reference or a universe of discourse within which we can attempt to deal with the world we live in.
But in agreeing with your comment about 'bread and circuses', I overreached myself, and I used what is really a minor typo as my starting point. I am glad you saved me from the mortification I would have felt if my inaccurate reading would have gotten into print.
You obviously take your editorial responsibilities very seriously, but as a reader I have some editorial responsibilities as well. I should not create editorial nightmares for the publisher of a newsletter when I send a letter to the editor.
In any case, watching a small error bounce through the system is fascinating and somewhat frightening. And that brings us back to where we started. In view of the public's appetite for bread and circuses, or for hamburgers and television today, how hard would it be to create a completely fictitious world of propaganda that would control the thinking of an entire society? That's what the Army's "psychological operations" endeavor to do, and in regard to the war against Yugoslavia, they were admirably successful.
My Latin days also go back some forty years, but I have collected books about Latin and books in Latin for many years; and I even have some Latin textbooks published more than a century ago. Did you ever encounter Bradley's Arnold Latin Grammar?
It has been very interesting to converse with you. Again, let me apologize for adding to your editorial headaches. Thanks for providing me and your other readers with a very interesting and substantive publication.
St. Louis MO
Very quickly as I need to focus on the forthcoming rendition.
No need to apologize. We both made a small error which in the order of things is negligible. Yet, I wonder, if one cannot correct a small error can one or is one willing to correct a big one? And we are constantly being submersed with BIG errors from perpetual war to feeding frenzy...
I haven't encountered Bradley's Arnold Latin Grammar and my knowledge of Latin is rather thin, to say the least.
I need to ask you again what I asked yesterday. Can you authorize me to publish our exchange of e-mails? I truly think that it is a telling exchange and it can help me to write a little tale about good intentions, leading once again to the notions of intellectual integrity and intellectual humility. But I do need your clear authorization. Please, kindly let me know by return.
Finally, you first contacted me in June 2000, suggesting that I add a link to balkanpeace.org. Do you by any chance recall when you first visited Swans; that is, how long have you been following our work?
This has been very gratifying exchange. Thank you.
Thanks for your emails. You have full permission to use anything I have written to you. Some of what I said, of course, is merely the musings of a mind concerned about our world today, but if you want to use anything at all, feel free to do so, and feel free to comment as you wish.
To answer your question about how long I have been following your publication, I really can't say, but my correspondence in June 2000 is probably a good indication of the time I found your website. I have followed events in Yugoslavia for many years, even back in the days of Compuserve and its news clipping service, and I was gratified to see that your site presented a more objective view of the crisis there than what the media establishment was saying.
There was a famous Oxford or Cambridge classics professor in the 19th Century with a last name of Arnold, who wrote a very popular grammar. Then a professor named Bradley published a revised version of the grammar, which then got the peculiar name of Bradley's Arnold. That is of purely antiquarian interest (sort of an inside joke), and I probably should not be taking up your time with such tidbits of information.