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1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Aut insanit homo aut versus facit Either the man is crazy, or he's writing poetry

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“Aut insanit homo aut versus facit” is one of many "topics" of the Latin poet Horace Quintus Flaccus; topic in the etymological sense of "place", passage appointment, from Greek τόπος. The verse, become “maxima”, sentence, is quoted by many people in a variety of contexts.

The sentence appears in his Satires, Bk. II, 7, v, 117. Known is the ease with which ancient authors, in particular Horace, create phrases and round sentences, pregnant with meaning, which soon escape the initial "text", (tissue),  and acquire a long land autonomous ife.

Horace is the author of sentences (and some have said on this blog) such as:

- takes the opportunity "Carpe diem" (Odes, Bk. I, 11.8), http://en.antiquitatem.com/carpe-diem-horace-poetry-epicureism

- Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latium. Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresti Latio. (Book II, epistle 1, lines 156-157.) http://en.antiquitatem.com/graecia-capta-greek-culture-quignard

- It is sweet and honorable to die for the fatherland "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori." (Odes, 3,2,13)

- Golden Mean in verses "Auream quisquis mediocritatem / diligit" (Anyone who chooses the golden Mean ... "(Odes, II,10,5-6)

- And many more ...

When the phrase takes its autonomy, are speakers who of it are served, who fill  content and nuances that sometimes have little to do with its original meaning. This could be the case in view of the use of the phrase make hundreds and even thousands people. So I'm going to let a little exploration of the question.

Horace is one of the few people, least literate, who with enviable sense of humor and remarkable maturity, is presented to your readers with all his little faults and defects, such as he is. This takes advantage of the annual festivals of Saturnalia when in the Roman society that was reversed the established social order. During those days the slaves were the lords and the lords endured the insolence of slaves, who even wore their own clothes. In those days, feeling free, they could go to their "dominus" in inadmissible terms  at another time. (the subject is really interesting from a sociological, ethnological and psychological standpoint, although this is not the time).

Well, this is what Davus, the slave of Horace makes, with his master, whom among other niceties called fickle and capricious (if he is in Rome he wants to go to the field, if he is in the field he wants to go to  Rome ), servile with whom him invits, glutton, drunk, sleepy, lazy,  illegaly slave of married women, slave of many more, etc. (Basically what Horace is saying us by mouth of a slave is that the only truly free man is the wise man and not the fool, the variable and dependent of thousand whims, some dangerous) Well, after this long string, the poet no longer supports such boldness and says angrily:

Horace: Where I have a stone?
Davus: What do you need?
Horace: Where are the arrows?
Davus: Either  this man is  crazy, or he's writing poetry
Horace: If you do not outta here in a hurry, you will serve ninth-worker on my farm

(Working in the field (on the farm of Sabina) was considerably harder than serve in the house of the Lord)

Horatius:  unde mihi lapidem?                             
Davus:   quorsum est opus?                                 
Horatius: unde sagitas?
Davus  aut insanit homo aut versus facit  /     
Horatius: ocius hinc te ni rapis, accedes opera agro nona Sabino    

Well, the meaning in context seems clear and initially limited to a single event. But you must know that Horace has used a very important contextual detail, also for the future of the sentence. Actually he is relating the "insanity" of the poet with the common opinion that the ancient poets are caught incidentally by "furor poeticus", by "divine inspiration", by  certain madness that notes  and separates away from ordinary mortals .

Horace himself disagrees in his Epistula ad Pisones 295-97 with Democritus, which required some madness from  poets, while Horace calls the demanding job of polishing and correction:

Because Democritus believes that natural talent
is luckier than the poor technical
and excludes the healthy poets
(who are not crazy) from Helicon.

(Note: the Helicon is a mountain near the Parnassus dedicated to the god Apollo and the Muses)

Ingenium misera quia fortunatius arte
Credit et excludit sanos Helicone poetas

Let’s us recall also how the word "carmen" means "poem, verse" but also "spell, song, singing and enchantment, prophecy, prediction, magic potion, formula religious, moral judgment ...".

Also "poet", from  Greek  ποιητής, "poietés", is the creator, author, manufacturer, maker, poet (maker of verses) is also called  on Latin "vates”, “seer", prophet, poet inspired by the gods (in fact, the Vatican is the hill of the “vaticinia”, the"predictions" or prophecies as says an etymology that all do not admit, let's be precise, but that seems plausible).

This feature of the poet as a special individual in the community touched by the gods has gone through the Middle Ages, Modern (remember to Cervantes and his reference to poetry as "the grace that would not give me the sky"), and contemporary and on somewhat way has come to our days.

The poet is still seen as a "madman" or insanus, not dangerous (sometimes he is or can be), by the way, but as a person fortunate by the  gods or by mother nature, able to penetrate thing or feeling the reality more deeply  than ordinary mortals.

Perhaps in some cases  someone charges with higher pejorative  content the adjective "insanus" crazy, caught, taken perhaps by the envy of someone who is better equipped to perceive and express their feelings.

Do not quite understand the absolute widespread meaning of the sentence, which accurately applied  would disqualify  the vast majority of humans, who nor do verses certainly or  have any ability to do them  if they wanted.

Maybe we could admit some generalization in the sense that it is sheer madness for humanity reduce the life of the people to an exclusive concern with economic issues. Those who so live are crazy, they are not healthy, that's what the term itself means in-(negative preverb) sanus.

The alternative to this state of human alienation, of course, is poetry, at least a little poetry, in the sense of feeling and enjoy a full of feelings life, of nuances and experiences. In this task is essential the education of people, comprehensive education and not education for competitiveness.

But this was certainly not the sense that Horace gave his famous verse, although we agree to use it and we like to expand its meaning.


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