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Innocentia eloquentia

Original post date: Monday, November 27, 2006

In English: Innocence is eloquence.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb, eloquentia sagitta. Today's proverb is also about "eloquence" but it makes a rather different point: innocence speaks for itself, hence innocence is eloquence. In an ideal world, an innocent person would not need speak out, or hire lawyers to speak out on his behalf in a courtroom. Instead, his innocence would convey the message in and of itself.

This Latin saying is cited in a fascinating and extremely funny document from the ancient world, mid-second century: Apuleius's defense, or Apologia pro se de magia, when he was charged with witchcraft. From start to finish (here's an appropriately humorous summary of the whole thing!), Apuleius makes a mockery of his accusers, and here you can see him twisting the words of this proverb around to his benefit - since Apuleius was probably the most eloquent man of his day, he claimed that eloquence as proof of his innocence!
Sane quidem, si uerum est quod Statium Caecilium in suis poematibus scripsisse dicunt, innocentiam eloquentiam esse, ego uero profiteor ista ratione ac praefero me nemini omnium de eloquentia concessurum. Quis enim me hoc quidem pacto eloquentior uiuat, quippe qui nihil unquam cogitaui quod eloqui non auderem?

Clearly indeed, if it is true what they say Statius Caecilius wrote in his poems, that innocence is eloquence, by this line of reasoning I can claim and assert that I yield to no one in the world when it comes to eloquence. For who among the living could be in this respect more eloquent than I am - I, indeed, who have never thought anything which I did not dare to speak openly?
Apuleius is best known for his amazing and delightful novel, Metamorphoses, the adventures of a man who was turned into a donkey by accident when he was testing out some magic spells without being quite sure what he was doing. His life as a donkey is not easy, but he finally manages to eat some roses, which brings him back to his human state. It's one of the most wonderful works to have survived from the ancient world - if you have not read it, then... read it! Now! Here is an English translation online: The Golden Asse (Adlington's translation, 1566).

As for the Apologia, there is an outstanding Latin-English edition online, with notes and commentary! In addition to the text, you will also find some accompanying essays, such as "Apuleius the Magician" and "Magic in the Daily Life of Roman North Africa in the Time of Apuleius."

Meanwhile, here is today's proverb read out loud, in case you ever need to make a self-defense in Latin:

15. Innocentia eloquentia.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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