Id possum tollere   Leave a comment

I’ve started on Chapter 6 of my Wheelock textbook, trying to relearn Latin. I’m focusing a lot more on the vocabulary this time around. It’s helping! I’ve never had difficulties understanding the grammar of foreign languages, but applying it practically has always been difficult, because vocab is hard. I drill myself a few days a week on it.

For Chapter 6 one of the vocab words was salvus, -i, and the definition given was safe, sound. This immediately put into my mind Capital City’s “Safe and Sound”.

I thought, Sumus salvus. I then began humming the ending of the song, which is basically “We’re safe and sound” over and over. They have the same amount of syllables, too. Suuuumus, sumus salvus — suuuuumus sumus salvus! Because I am a huge nerd. Then I tried translating the whole thing from the beginning, and then I got frustrated because I don’t know enough Latin grammar, basically.

I could lift you up Te possum tollere
I could show you what you want to see Te possum exhibere oh no I ran out of room
And take you where you want to be Et te word for take? It can’t be carpere, that is the figurative use of “take”, could it be “bring”? Is that in the subjunctive or is it ablative or what?

So I gave up and went back to studying Wheelock. But the first sentence took me a surprising amount of time. I couldn’t find a word that fit with “lift”. There isn’t a direct translation for the word, as with most English:Latin vocabulary. Latin is a very direct language. It doesn’t allow for much poetry. The first word I found that I sort of liked was “atollero”, and it took me forever to find proof that “tollere” was the same word (it has one less syllable). So the word stuck out in my mind.

So this morning I picked up my biography of Cicero. I read about the success of Marc Antony’s march on Mutina (he wanted the governorship of the Cisalpine province for strategic reasons, but Decimus Brutus already had the position, and anyway it was a big conflict between the people who wanted the Republic to stay unified and those who wanted it to have a stronger central command — an imperator or a dictator at its head). I came across this paragraph:

If the Consuls had survived and his strategy had succeeded, as it very nearly did, Cicero’s attitude towards Octavian would surely have been very different [Cicero had praised Octavian and pushed for honors and complacency towards the boy, hoping to appease him], for his usefulness to the Senate as its protector against Antony would have been at an end. In this connection it was most unfortunate that Octavian learned his “father’s” true intentions. Never one to avoid careless talk if a witty remark or a pun occurred to him, Cicero had observed that “the young man must get praises, honors–and the push.” The Latin is laudandum, ornandum, tollendum; the last word had a double meaning: to “exalt” and to “get rid of”. Towards the end of May, Decimus Brutus warned Cicero that someone had reported this joke to the young man, who had been unamused, commenting tersely that he had no intention of letting that happen.

I thought about how terrible of a Latin translator I am. And how weird of a coincidence it was that the word I had struggled over yesterday, tollere, turned out to be the central word in a pun by Cicero written two thousand years ago; and that I happened to have read that pun the day after I learned about the word. Then I thought how weird it was that Latin had a word that meant both “exalt” and “get rid of.” How often do those situations come up together?

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