Listen and learn with Latin audio proverbs.

O quantum est in rebus inane!

Original post date: Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In English: Oh how much trivial stuff there is in the world!

After the quantus in yesterday's proverb, I thought it would make sense to follow up with a quantum saying, which comes from one of the satires of Persius. It is, in fact, part of the opening line to his book of satires: O curas hominum! o quantum est in rebus inane!, "Oh, the worries of mankind! Oh how much trivial stuff there is in the world!"

When I Googled the saying to see what else I might comment on here, I was delighted to find an early poem by Samuel Coleridge which takes this line as its title! The poem dates from 1791, when Coleridge was just 19 years old. It begins with a description of our hero, Philedon, who has stayed in bed until noon, recovering from a hang-over:

O, curas hominum! O, quantum est in rebus inane!

The fervid Sun had more than halv’d the day,
When gloomy on his couch Philedon lay;
His feeble frame consumptive as his purse,
His aching head did wine and women curse;

Even worse, he has bills to pay - which suddenly stirs his Muse to flights of rapture!

His fortune ruin’d and his wealth decay’d,
Clamorous his duns, his gaming debts unpaid,
The youth indignant seiz’d his tailor’s bill,
And on its back thus wrote with moral quill:
‘‘Various as colours in the rainbow shown,
Or similar in emptiness alone,
How false, how vain are Man’s pursuits below!
Wealth, Honour, Pleasure — what can ye bestow?
Yet see, how high and low, and young and old
Pursue the all-delusive power of Gold.
Fond man! should all Peru thy empire own,
For thee tho’ all Golconda’s jewels shone,
What greater bliss could all this wealth supply?
What, but to eat and drink and sleep and die?
Go, tempt the stormy sea, the burning soil —
Go, waste the night in thought, the day in toil,
Dark frowns the rock, and fierce the tempests rave —
Thy ingots go the unconscious deep to pave!
Or thunder at thy door the midnight train,
Or Death shall knock that never knocks in vain.

And so the poem goes on and on, as our hero expresses the lofty thoughts that are disdainful of the trifling affairs of the world... until he finally realizes he can sell his mother's silver to pay the debt! Ha!

Such lays repentant did the Muse supply;
When as the Sun was hastening down the sky,
In glittering state twice fifty guineas come, —
His Mother’s plate antique had rais’d the sum.

There's a good deal of fabulously done and very witty rhyme within those "lays repentant," and you can read it online at Google Books (the only edition I was able to find online of Coleridges juvenalia).

As readers of this blog know, I am a big fan of rhyme in any language, so of course I find English poets like Coleridge irresistible...

Meanwhile, without rhyme, here is today's proverb read out loud:

592. O quantum est in rebus inane!

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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At 4:35 AM, Blogger Zoë said...

That's funny, I was musing about how much triviality there is in the world only this evening.

Excellent poem, BTW. Thanks for sharing! :)


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