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Medicus curat, natura sanat

Original post date: Friday, November 24, 2006

In English: A doctor administers the cure; nature does the healing.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's "medical" proverb. Today's proverb is based on a simple parallel structure: on the one hand there is the medicus, the medical doctor, who administers the cure and takes care of the patient, curat, but it is natura, nature, who actually makes the patient healthy, sanat.

A fuller form of this proverb is medicus curat, natura sanat morbos, where the verbs curat and sanat are given an explicit object: morbos, sicknesses.

There are some good etymological items to notice in these two Latin verbs. The Latin verb curare means to take care of, in the sense of being concerned for something. This is indeed where we get the English word "cure," which is generally used in a medical context (although "manicure" and "pedicure" are admittedly not medical procedures!), but the Latin word has a range of meaning that extends far beyond the medical context. You can get a sense of the broader meaning of the Latin cura, if you look at some other English words derived from this same root, such as the "curator" who takes care of things. Even the English word "curious" is derived from this root, because a curious person is concerned with things - especially things that other people might not pay attention to at all. The English word "secure" is a person who has no cares or concerns, from the Latin se-curus, without care.

The other Latin verb in today's proverb, sanare, means "to make whole, make healthy," from the adjectival root sanus, meaning "healthy" and also "sane, rational." You can see both meanings of the san- root at work in English derivatives. When people go to a "sanatorium," they are hoping to get well and healthy (and hopefully everything is appropriate "sanitized" at the sanatorium), but someone who is "insane" is suffering specifically from mental illness.

So, hoping that everyone is feeling both sane and secure, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1087. Medicus curat, natura sanat.

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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