19 July 2019

Honest Men Lying Abroad

Eloise Davies

After Sir Kim Darroch resigned as the British ambassador to Washington last week, everyone from leader writers in the Times to George Galloway on Russia Today was quoting Sir Henry Wotton’s line about an ambassador being ‘an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country’. Wotton wrote it in Latin in 1604 in the album amicorum (a sort of early modern autograph book) of a German acquaintance, en route to the Republic of Venice for his first embassy: ‘legatus est vir bonus peregre missus ad mentiendum reipublicae causa.’ It isn’t a pun in Latin, unfortunately: the verb mentior means ‘lie’ as in ‘deceive’ but not as in ‘lie down’.

29 May 2014

The Chancellor

John Crosthwait

The Chancellor’s Latin The Chancellor’s many accomplishments did not include much, if any, knowledge of Latin. This was a problem, because the ceremony to confer honorary degrees, over which he had to preside, was conducted in that language. Of course, like a church service, a good deal was formulaic patter, relatively easy to master. The eulogies for the honorands (specifically those personally selected by the Chancellor himself) were a different matter. Although only a short paragraph in length, each had to encapsulate the subject’s distinctive merits in a combination of precision and ornateness, well suited to the Chancellor’s style of speech and writing in English. But putting the paragraph into Latin suitable for a grand public occasion required an aid operation.

14 March 2014

Translating Lorem Ipsum

Nick Richardson

Sometimes, when we’re putting together an issue of the LRB, we use Lorem Ipsum, a chunk of phoney Latin dummy text that’s been used by printers and typesetters since the 16th century. We paste it into a layout so we can tell what a page will look like before the copy's ready. The practice is known as ‘greeking’ because the Latin’s so mixed up it’s all Greek. Only it isn't. The text itself has been designed not to communicate, to have the look of text but no meaning – but meaning bubbles up through it nonetheless. The 16th-century printer who came up with it got there by mangling Cicero’s ‘De finibus bonorum et malorum’, an exposition of Stoicism, Epicureanism and the Platonism of Antiochus of Ascalon. Though most of the metaphysical subtlety has been wrung out, sense hasn’t completely: the text is haunted, as Derrida might have put it, by the piece of writing it once was.