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Liber medicina animi

Original post date: Friday, January 19, 2007

In English: A book is medicine for the soul.

I thought this would make a good follow-up to the proverbs about books that I've posted in the past several days: Optimus magister bonus liber, Bonus liber amicus optimus, and Libri muti magistri sunt. Today's saying applies a metaphor from the world of medicine: if your soul is troubled, a book might be the cure you need.

Of course, it would also be possible to translate this as "A book is medicine for mind." That might, in fact, be a better translation, since the word "soul" has strongly religious connotations in English, which is not true of the Latin word animus. As often, even when the meaning of the Latin is entirely clear, finding a straight-forward and accurate English translation can be very frustrating.

Latin, in fact, has two closely related words, which are both very difficult to translate into English: animus (the word in question here), and the feminine noun anima. Etymologically, they both come from the same root, meaning "wind" (hence the word "anemometer," from the Greek word anemos, meaning, quite simply, "wind").

If you look up animus in the big Lewis and Short dictionary, it tells you: In a general sense, the rational soul in man (in opp. to the body, corpus, and to the physical life, anima). In a more restricted sense, the mind as thinking, feeling, willing, the intellect, the sensibility, and the will; the general power of perception and thought, the reason, intellect, mind; the power of feeling, the sensibility, the heart, the feelings, affections, inclinations, disposition, passions; the power of willing, the will, inclination, desire, purpose, design, intention.

If you look up anima, the dictionary tells you: [Literally] A current of air, a breeze, wind; the air; the air inhaled and exhaled, breath. [Metaphorically] The vital principle, the breath of life. [Metonymically] A creature endowed with anima, a living being.

So that is why in English we have words like "animate" and "inanimate," meaning "alive" or "not living." If someone is "animated," it means they are in motion; you can see the spirit of life moving through and with them.

Meanwhile, here is an etymology to really ponder. Think about the English word "animus." It is our version of Latin animus, but it has taken a quite negative turn for the worse! The Oxford English Dictionary explains: "animus. Actuating feeling, disposition in a particular direction, animating spirit or temper, usually of a hostile character; hence, animosity."

I guess in order to keep our Latin animus from turning into a mean-spirited hostile wicked English animus, we should read more books! Yes, we all need medicine for our animus, as this English etymology clearly warns.

So, before you go get a book and start reading, here is today's proverb for you to listen to read out loud:

127. Liber medicina animi.

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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