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

Mundus (World) / cosmos: the creation of a new scientific language in Latin

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The legendary and mythical foundation of Rome is dated 753 BC; then the Greeks recited the two great epics of the West, the Iliad and the Odyssey. One hundred and fifty years after the death of Alexander the Romans conquered Greece and declared it a Roman province, although a hundred years earlier they had already made contact with the Greeks of Sicily, the Magna Graecia, the Great Greece. Among the cultural contributions of Greece to the Romans highlights the Filososfía. But Latin lacks sufficient scientific terminology.

But we know according to the happy verse of Horace in Epistles II, 1, verse 156 to 157 that  ultimately it was Greece that dominated the Romans with their culture and civilization, which is ours civilization:

Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror  and brought her arts into rustic Latium.

Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit artes et intulit agresti Latio

See: http://en.antiquitatem.com/graecia-capta-greek-culture-quignard

Well, in this process of acculturation, the Romans found a huge lack  when they came to translating and integrating into Latin the specialized and scientific terminology that Greeks had coined. Latin did not have technical terms appropriate to the invasion of new knowledge.

Latin authors respond to the problem by two possible ways: trying to translate and seek the equivalent Latin term or simply transcribing the Greek word into Latin adapting its spelling. So the numerous Greek terms  in the Romance languages, the languages  derived from Latin, do not come directly from the Greek but through its Latin form.

Latin authors were very conscious of this problem. So Lucretius writes a great scientific treaty: physics, chemistry, natural science,  in verse, in a poem of 7415 hexameters.

He titled it "On the Nature of Things", "De Rerum Natura", and he expounds the theories of Epicurus, from whom we have little and rare texts. Lucretius is precisely the main source to know the thought of Epicurus, who incidentally has little to do with the caricature since Antiquity was made of him.

Well, Lucretius, conscious of the linguistic difficulty of the work  and perfectly raising the question, says in the verses of the Book I, 136-145:

I know how hard it is in Latian verse
To tell the dark discoveries of the Greeks,
Chiefly because our pauper-speech must find
Strange terms to fit the strangeness of the thing;
Yet worth of thine and the expected joy
Of thy sweet friendship do persuade me on
To bear all toil and wake the clear nights through,
Seeking with what of words and what of song
I may at last most gloriously uncloud
For thee the light beyond, wherewith to view
The core of being at the centre hid.

(Translation  by William Ellery Leonard, 1916)

Nec me animi fallit Graiorum obscura reperta
difficile inlustrare Latinis versibus esse,
multa novis verbis praesertim cum sit agendum
propter egestatem linguae et rerum novitatem;
sed tua me virtus tamen et sperata voluptas
suavis amicitiae quemvis efferre laborem
suadet et inducit noctes vigilare serenas
quaerentem dictis quibus et quo carmine demum
clara tuae possim praepandere lumina menti,
res quibus occultas penitus convisere possis.

Maybe some kind reader asks curiously why he wrote this treaty of science on hexameter verses. The answer lies partly in connection with the stated above. The issue of the “nature” deserves an adequate, great and full of prestige and high tone treatment. At that time there is still no scientific prose sufficiently developed; so it uses the already prestigious, the epic verse, the hexameter, but now applied to a work whose aim is mainly didactic

Cicero also recognizes the importance of the work of translating Greek texts into Latin in his "On the Nature of the Gods", I, 4,7-8:

If again anyone asks what motive has induced me so late in the day to commit these precepts to writing, there is nothing that I can explain more easily. I was languishing in idle retirement, and the state of public affairs was such that an autocratic form of government had become inevitable. In these circumstances, in the first place I thought that to expound philosophy to my fellow-countrymen was actually my duty in the interests of the commonwealth, since in my judgement it would greatly contribute to the honour and glory of the state to have thoughts so important and so lofty enshrined in Latin Literature also ; and I am the less inclined to repent of my undertaking because I can clearly perceive what a number of my readers have been stimulated not only to study but to become authors themselves. A great many accomplished students of Greek learning were unable to share their acquisitions with their fellow-citizens, on the ground that they doubted the possibility of conveying in Latin the teachings they had received from the Greeks. In the matter of style however I believe that we have made such progress that even in richness of vocabulary the Greeks do not surpass us. (Translation by H.Rackham, M.A.  Harvard University Press)

Sin autem quis requirit quae causa nos inpulerit ut haec tam sero litteris mandaremus, nihil est quod expedire tam facile possimus. Nam cum otio langueremus et is esset rei publicae status ut eam unius consilio atque cura gubernari necesse esset, primum ipsius rei publicae causa philosophiam nostris hominibus explicandam putavi, magni existimans interesse ad decus et ad laudem civitatis res tam gravis tamque praeclaras Latinis etiam litteris contineri.
eoque me minus instituti mei paenitet, quod facile sentio quam multorum non modo discendi sed etiam scribendi studia commoverim. complures enim Graecis institutionibus eruditi ea quae didicerant cum civibus suis communicare non poterant, quod illa quae a Graecis accepissent Latine dici posse diffiderent; quo in genere tantum profecisse videmur, ut a Graecis ne verborum quidem copia vinceremur.

Cicero himself also complains bitterly about  his countrymen who despise the Latin works even if they are a direct translation from Greek on  De finibus bonorum et malorum ("On the ends of good and evil"), I,2,4

A more difficult task therefore is to deal with the objection of those who profess a contempt Latin writings as such. What astonishes me first of all about them is this, — why should they dislike their native language for serious and important subjects, when they are quite willing to read Latin plays translated word for word from the Greek ? Who has such a hatred, one might almost say, for the very name of Roman, as to despise and reject the Medea of Enniusor or the Antiope of Pacuvius, and give as his reason that though he enjoys the corresponding plays of Euripides he cannot endure books written in Latin ?....
(Translation by H.Rackham, M.A.  Harvard University Press)

Iis igitur est difficilius satis facere, qui se Latina scripta dicunt contemnere. in quibus hoc primum est in quo admirer, cur in gravissimis rebus non delectet eos sermo patrius, cum idem fabellas Latinas ad verbum e Graecis expressas non inviti legant. quis enim tam inimicus paene nomini Romano est, qui Ennii Medeam aut Antiopam Pacuvii spernat aut reiciat, quod se isdem Euripidis fabulis delectari dicat, Latinas litteras oderit?....

Cicero follows opposing the two languages in this passage for a long text and again in the same work (De finibus bonorum et malorum) in II, 4.12 and III, 2, 4

I now specify and exemplify this question with the term "cosmos" which is translated into Latin by "Mundus", a word that has passed into the Romance languages (Spanish: mundo, Italian mondo, French: monde ...).

cosmos, κόσμος in Greek means order, arranged, how beautiful, clean; the Latin "mundus" is nothing but a translation that means the same. Who has not fallen into this reflect on the meaning of "in-mundus" on roman languages, which is the negation of the previous concept, ie "dirty, messy, ugly."

By extension cosmos and mundus (world)  refer to the order of the universe and therefore mean universe, bright sky, cosmos and world, set of celestial bodies.

Moreover, when Cicero has translated κόσμιος, kosmios, usually, well ordered, moderate, he  does it by  "mundanus" for example in Tusculanae, 5,3,108.

Pliny begins his book II, precisely dedicated to astronomy, with the term "mundum"

Book II, 1.

The world1, and whatever that be which we otherwise call the heavens2, by the vault of which all things are enclosed, we must conceive to be a Deity3, to be eternal, without bounds, neither created, nor subject, at any time, to destruction4. To inquire what is beyond it is no concern of man, nor can the human mind form any conjecture respecting it. (The Natural History. Pliny the Elder. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855.)

Liber II, 1

Mundum et hoc quodcumque nomine alio caelum appellare libuit, cuius circumflexu degunt cuncta, numen esse credi par est, aeternum, inmensum, neque genitum neque interiturum umquam. huius extera indagare nec interest hominum nec capit humanae coniectura mentis.
Then further down, in the same book, he clearly explains why the the universe is called "mundus" in Latin:

And in Pliny, Book II,(4) 8

With respect to the name, I am influenced by the unanimous opinions of all nations. For what the Greeks, from its being ornamented, have termed κόσμος, we, from its perfect and complete elegance, have termed mundus. The name cœlum, no doubt, refers to its being engraven, as it were, with the stars, as Varro suggests.  In confirmation of this idea we may adduce the Zodiac, in which are twelve figures of animals; through them it is that the sun has continued its course for so many ages.  (The Natural History. Pliny the Elder. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855.)

Equidem et consensu gentium moveor; nam quem  κόσμοn Graeci nomine ornamenti appellavere eum et nos a perfecta absolutaque elegantia mundum. caelum quidem haud dubie caelati argumento diximus, ut interpretatur M. Varro. 9 adiuvat rerum ordo discripto circulo qui signifer vocatur in duodecim animalium effigies et per illas solis cursus congruens tot saeculis ratio.

But Pliny seems to quote from memory  Varro to establish the relationship between caelum (heaven) and caelare (chisel). Varro is quoting his master Aelius  Stilo ,  who establish the relationship, with that Varro himself is not on accord.

Varro  says on his "De lingua Latina" V, 18

Caelum, Aelius writes, was so called because it is ‘caelatum' raised above the surface,' or from the opposite of its idea, ‘celatum’ 'hidden' because it is exposed ; not ill the remark, that the one who applied the term took caelare 'to raise' much rather from caelum than caelum from caelare. But that second origin, from celare ‘to hide,’ could be said from this fact, that by day it celatur ‘is hidden,’ no less than that by night it is not hidden.
(Translated by Roland G.Kent, Ph.D.)

Caelum dictum scribir Aelius, quod est caelatum, aut contrario nomine,celatum quod apertum est; non, male: quod postriora multo potius a caelo quam caelum a celando vel caelando. Sed non minus illud alterum de celando ab eo potuit dici, quod interdiu celatur, quam quod noctu non celatur.

Later S. Isidore of Seville repeats these explanations in his Etymologies, XIII, 4:

The sky (caelum) is so named because it is like an engraved (caelatum) vessel, whicht has the lights of the stars pressed in it, just like ornament;  a vessel which shines  with fine figures  is called engraving (caelatus).God honored  the heaven and filled it with bright light,  with the sun and the refulgent orb of the moon; he adorned it with  the bright constellations of glittering stars. [However according to some,  it is named so from engraving (caelare) the superior bodies.]

Caelum vocatum eo quod, tamquam caelatum vas, inpressa lumna habeat stellarum veluti signa. Nam caelatum dicitur vas quod signis eminentioribus refulget. Distinxit enim eum Deus claris luminibus, et inplevit; sole scilicet et lunae orbe fulgenti et astrorum micantium splendentibus signis adornavit. [Alias autem a superiora calenado].

Naturally modern scientific philology does not accept these simplistic etymologies of  caelum "heaven" rather own of elementary popular imagination. Nor it accepts another long-standing, which derives "caelum" from Greek κοῖλον (koilonconcave´´,´´empty´´, ´´hollow´´,  allowing transcribe sometimes belatedly as "coelum" because the sky seems an immense concavity. Also sometimes it is spelled "celum" as "celare".

But philology did not find the origin of the Latin term. It is also thought that it derives from the verb "caedo", "to cut", meaning the  space which it is cut  or delimited by the augur for  observe the signs of the gods. All these are somewhat outlandish mere hypotheses. At most it is suspected  an early Indo-European word * kaid-slo-, from a root meaning "bright, clear" that leaves traced in Germanic and Baltic.

Mundus is the term very used by Lucretius, especially in the book V, often with the extended sense of "universe", including heaven and earth. Cicero also uses it with the same sense. Roman authors sometimes use it as "land" or "heaven". The reduction of the meaning of mundus "world" to "terrestrial world, earth, earth dweller" came since the imperial era.

Then even it  suffered a further restrictions on the language of the Church, opposing mundus "the world" to caelum "heaven", becoming along with "the devil" and "meat" as an object of sexual incontinence one of the three enemies of the soul .

These polyvalences have passed to the Romance languages, where it is the context that is to clarify the specific meaning.

In any case universum  is actually the neutral form of the adjective universus-a-um, which means "all"; etymologically it is composed of unus and versus, turned to one point, one. Cicero translated the Greek word τὸ ὅλον, "to holon"  with the term “universes”, meaning all, entire, whole, and therefore universe becomes to mean "the whole, the set of all things."

Well, going back to the initial question, the translation of cosmos by Mundus, if cosmetic, κοσμητικός,  is derived from cosmos, like beauty products or art of applying beauty products for the body, especially on the face, hiding what ugly it may have, it should be known that also on Latin  the objects or toilet kits of girls and ladies are called “mundus

I will finish this long article by saying that mundus "world" soon stopped been perceived as scientific or technical term to refer to the cosmos or to the  whole of all things perfectly ordereded. That perception and etymology is much less evident today. Of course nobody would identify at this time the "cosmology" with the “mundology?”, "worldly wisdom", “savoir vivre”,  for example.


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