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Gratia gratiam parit

Original post date: Thursday, November 15, 2007

In English: One favor gives birth to another.

In honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I thought I would do some Latin "thanks" proverbs based on the fascinating Latin word gratia, which can mean, among other things, "thanks" - as you can still recognize in the Spanish "gracias." This particular saying, gratia gratiam parit can be found in Erasmus's Adagia.

The Latin word gratia actually has a whole wide range of meaning, which is quite difficult to capture in a single English word. This is because Latin gratia is one of those notorious two-way words, which works to define both the relationship you have to others, and also the relationship they have to you. (Another such notorious word in Latin hospes, which means both "guest" and "host.")

You can see this split in the two main headings for the definition of gratia in Lewis and Short. On the one hand, gratia is something that someone shows to you, not so much "thanks" but rather their "favor" to you, the "grace" they bestow upon you: I. A. Favor which one finds with others, esteem, regard, liking, love, friendship (syn. favor) B. Transf., objectively, like the Gr. xa/ris, agreeableness, pleasantness, charm, beauty, loveliness, grace.

Alternatively, Latin gratia can be the "favor" you do for someone else, the "thanks" that you give to them, a sign of your "gratitude," etc.: II. A. Favor which one shows to another, mark of favor, kindness, courtesy, service, obligation. B. In partic., a mark of favor shown for a service rendered, thanks (by word or deed), thankfulness, gratitude; acknowledgment, return, requital.

This reciprocal relationship embodied in the word gratia helps to expose the deep logic of today's proverb - and also the impossibility of translating it into English! When you say in Latin gratia gratiam parit, you are expressing that reciprocal relationship: a person's gracious favor engenders grateful thanks on your part; and your act of thanksgiving to that person, in turn, engenders their gratitude, and so on.

Isn't it lovely? English has derived many word from Latin gratia, such as "grace," "gracious," "grateful," "gratitude," and even "gratuitous" and "ingrate" - but all those separate words do not manage to convey the reciprocality inherent in the definition of Latin gratia itself.

This post is dedicated to Nancy Diven: she will know why immediately! :-)

Meanwhile, hoping you are expecting a happy Thanksgiving holiday, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1566. Gratia gratiam parit.

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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2 Comments:

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Scott Utley said...

Laura - With each proverb, (I do not have a teacher I can assault in the flesh), I manage, to varying degrees, to deconstruct each one logically. After studying your remarks on each proverb, (which, by the way, I extract most of what moral texture I compose myself with from your relating of Latin fables) I usually use tricks like figure eights to make the sentence work, or threading the line up over - up over - loop - loop - etc - You have other names for this but I am still years away from my GED so proper Latin must wait, but - and my question is - can you dissect this proverb - Gratia gratiam parit - into three distinct ideas - the first one is clear - gratia- but then gratiam -? parit? I know this is a big favor to ask but in return, I will stop stealing Hamsters from Woolworth's - ooooops! Flashback to 1968. I was ten years old, but in my defense, I was liberating the poor little creatures.

Scott Utley
Los Angeles

 
At 1:57 PM, Blogger Laura Gibbs said...

Ha ha! no problem! this is a very simple one:

Gratia: nominative case, cannot help but be subject of the sentence

gratiam: accusative case, because it is the object of the verb

parit: from the verb pario, parere, to give birth, which also gives us the word "parent," which is from the present active participle, parens (genitive, parentis) "giving-birth" - so your parent is the one who parit, gives birth, to you.

Latin very often uses the sentence pattern that you see here: S-O-V, subject-object-verb. Latin is very flexible and can use all kinds of patterns, while English is pretty much strictly S-V-O, subject-verb-object (man bites dog).

:-)

 

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