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Auream mediocritatem diligo

Original post date: Friday, September 14, 2007

In English: I cherish the golden mean.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to the theme of "gold" in the proverbs of the past couple days. In today's proverb, "golden" is used in the positive sense of the "golden" mean, not too much and not too little, something that is definitely to be prized. Moderation in all things.

Yet as soon as you read the Latin, you realize what a dreadful fate has befallen the Latin word mediocritas, the "mean" or "middle-ness" of moderation. In English, the word "mediocrity" has nothing but negative connotations. We are living in the world of Garrison Keelor's Lake Wobegon, "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." You can even read an entry about the Lake Wobegon Effect in wikipedia, where it is defined as "the tendency to overestimate one's achievements and capabilities in relation to others."

In other words, it's not good enough to be "good enough" anymore; instead, everybody has to be better than average. No more golden mean.

The Latin form of today's phrase is adapted from one of Horace's odes, which reads: Auream quisquis mediocritatem / diligit, tutus caret obsoleti / sordibus tecti, caret inuidenda / sobrius aula.. You can see three different English verse translations of this famous ode at Laudator Temporis Acti; my favorite of the three is this one by John Conington, who translates this stanza as follows:

Who makes the golden mean his guide,
Shuns miser's cabin, foul and dark,
Shuns gilded roofs, where pomp and pride
Are envy's mark.

So, in the end, today's proverb has much in common with the theme of yesterday's proverb: better the golden mean of moderate prosperity than the golden shackles of wealth ... or the iron shackles of abject poverty!

So, hoping you have had a "mediocre" day in the good old Latin sense of that word, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1855. Auream mediocritatem diligo.

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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