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Beati hispani quibus vivere est bibere. Lucky the Spaniards, for whom living is drinking

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"Lucky the Spaniards, for whom living is drinking" - A reference to the Spanish pronunciation of the Latin, in which "v" (“vivere”) was pronounced as "b" (“bibere”).

This is a funny Latin saying that has had remarkable success. It bases its strength or comical "vis" in the fact that the words "vivere" and "bibere" sound exactly the same because in the Spanish pronunciation of the Latin there is no different sound for [b] and [v].

You have to know that in classical Latin the "v" sounded like "u", that is, as the English / w /, and the "b" sometimes as plosive labial / b / and others as fricative voiced bilabial / v /, for which at that time the indicated confusion was impossible to happen.

Related to this, although different, is the phonetic evolution by which, on one hand, the   / b / (plosive voiced labial) became fricative in intervocalic position and, on the other hand, the semivowel / w / (that was the sound of the V or u) also becomes fricative.

These phonetic changes took place as early as the first century AD. This coincidence of / b / and / v / is called “betacismus” and it is common in the language of Oc (French Occitan), in Castilian, Basque, largely Catalan and Galician and Northern Portuguese; and it also happened in former Greek.

As a result of all this the orthographic confusion on the use of "b" and "v" has been very common since Antiquity, being specially accentuated since the Visigoth Hispania times and throughout the Middle Age, but then the etymology set the current writing.

So in Visigoth manuscripts is usual the graphic confusion between “vivere” and “bibere”. In the Emilian Glosses, considered the oldest document in Castilian or Spanish (because it does not seem to deserve this title the oldest texts of “Valpuesta” Monastery, in Alaba, in the Basque Country) we read (“sanos et salbos”) ("healthy and saved") (from Latin salvus) or alquandas beces (in Spanish algunas veces) (from Latin vicis= shifts, times, sometimes) or salbatore and serbitjio in the famous gloss number 89. We could cite Berceo or Verceo and his "plain language"="En qual suele el pueblo fablar a su becino” /en el cual suele el pueblo hablar a su vecino/ (“in which people vse to talk to their neighbours”) and many other documents.

In modern times the “betacismus” is one of the main features of the Castilian and Gascon or Basque, although the etymology has established the original orthography, as we said.

On the success of the expression or saying we´re talking about we must also take into account the idea, moreover, unscientific, that Spaniards (Spanish people) drink a lot or that many of them are drinkers who drink more than other nearby people. It is not uncommon to read or hear news where, with a critical but well-meaning point of view or with an idiot satisfaction of believing as if we are setting a record somehow, it is stated that Spain is the EU country in which there are more pubs.

This expression (beati hispani quibus vivere est bibere), as it has been transcribed, is anonymous or at least the father of this saying hasn´t been found.

The phrase, as it has been transcribed, is anonymous or at least has not been noted its father,  but its meaning or relate acuity involving relationship of to live with to drink wine is very old. Serve as evidence the fact that Atenaeus, Greek grammarian, rhetorician and erudite , who lived in the second century of Christ, under the emperor Marcus Aurelius, in his book " The Deipnosophistae, or Banquet of the learned,  22F" quotes a passage from playwright Antiphanes , who lived between 408 and 334 BC, which reads:

To live, tell me,
What is it? I say it is to drink.

Τὸ δὲ ζῆν, εἰπέ μοι,
τί ἐστι; τὸ πίνειν φήμ´ ἐγώ.

There have been some people who (without any evidence) have attributed the poet Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis) (40-104), who was born in Bilbilis, near the current Calatayud, in the province of Zaragoza, the following couplet:
Haud temere  antiquas mutat Vasconia voces
Cui nihil est  aliud vivere quam bibere

Without fear the Basque Country changes the old voices
for whom there´s no difference between vivere
(living) and bibere (drinking)

The Hispanic origin of the Latin poet seemed, therefore, enough to attribute him a verse which is neither his nor seems suitable with the satirical intentions of this author. Otherwise, this would not be reason enough, because also the Lusitanian (Portuguese) people suit it to their homeland and say about themselves:

beati  Lusitani quibus vivere est bibere.
beati sunt Lusitani apud quos vivere est bibere

Lucky  are the Portuguese for whom vivere (to live) is bibere (to drink)

And something similar is said about the Gascons, or Basques, from both sides of the Pyrenees, who refers the impulsive Julius Caesar Scaliger to and in whose reference is surely the closest source of the happy expression, as we will see later.

The fact that the Latin, although it was written the same everywhere, it wasn´t spoken the same in northern Africa, in Hispania, in Asia or in Germania is well attested since ancient times, but we have no evidence that the identity of sound between b and v in Hispania and in the south of France was so old. The sentence or expression “beati hispani quibus vivere est bibere” seems to reflect, then, the medieval and Renaissance pronunciation.

Anyway, puns between "vivere" and "bibere" were already made since Antiquity, but this does not mean they were pronounced the same. An example is what Flavius  Vopiscus (one of the historians of the Augusta History, in the third century) says about Gallus Quintus Bonosus, who proclaimed himself emperor in 281 and was born in Hispania curiously, although his father was from Britain and his mother from Gaul,

Bonosus was born in Hispania (he was of Hispanic house), Briton source and
Gaul mother, as he said, son of a professor of rhetoric... he was general
of the Rhaetian borderline, and he drank more than any other man. Aurelian used to say about him: he was not born to live, but to drink.

“Bonosus domo Hispaniensi fuit, origine Britannus, Galla tamen matre, ut 
ipse dicebat, rhetoris filius, … dux limitis  Raetici fuit, bibit quantum  
hominum  nemo.  de hoc Aurelianus saepe dicebat, "Non ut vivat natus est, 
sed ut bibat
,"   (Historiae Augustae, Flavius Vopiscus, Firmus Saturninus 
Proculus et  Bonosus,  14, 1… y 3..)

Moreover, and regardless of phonetic issues, there is also some semantic relatedness between the "life" and the "wine",  invigorating drink of the same colour that the blood which gives us life, which could make it easier the pun. Notice that it´s not strange to this the use of wine in religious rites since the most ancient times.

But since when there is confusion in the sounds so that the sound "v" [w] is confused with the sound [b]? In the Iberian Peninsula, amomg the Gascons or Basques, the phenomena seems to soar at least to the Carolingian period. 

Of the difficulties that the diverse pronunciation of the Latin throughout the Roman Empire generated, and not just by the Hispanic confusion we're dealing with, (on another occasion we´ll discuss this issue) we can have an idea by the fact that the great humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) devoted a treatise to this issue in 1528, the treatise of “De Recta latini graecique sermonis pronuntiatione”(About the right Latin skill to pronounce speeches) in which he says what follows with regard to this matter:

«Hic peccant et eruditi, vulgus autem, et qui vulgatam pronuntiationem non dedidicerunt, interdum pro b pronuntiant v consonans, et contra, ut vivit pro bibit, et bibit pro vivit. Id peculiare dicitur cuidam Hispaniarum regioni» .

Here make mistakes scholars too and not only the vulgar people, who also did not scorn the vulgar pronunciation and pronounce as "b" the consonant "v" and, conversely, when they say-"vivit" instead of "bibit" and "bibit "instead of" vivit". This peculiarity is given in a certain region of Spain

Felix natio, ubi est vivere bibere: this is attributed to Erasmus, but I have to check.

It is possibly Scaliger (1484-1558), an impulsive natural classical scholar from Rocca di Riva, at Lake Garda (Italy), faced with Erasmus, whom despised as Latin scholar, who lived in France, (he lived and died in Gascony) who is the father of the expression we´re dealing with "Beati hispani quibus vivere est bibere".

This humanistic was called Giulio Cesare Scaligero or della Scala in Italian; in Latin, Julius Caesar Scaliger; Julio César Escalígero in Spanish; in France he called himself Jules Cesar de l'Escale of Bordonis.

This saying, as such, is not among the works of Scaliger, but he personally refers to his own burlesque consideration on the indifference with which the Gascons pronounce the "b" and the "v". He says in his work “De causis linguae latinae libri XIII "(Lyon, 1540; Geneva, 1580, reprinted in 1597), Chapter X, entitled Consonantium potestates: (p. 17 in the edition of 1540 and pages 21-22 in the edition of 1597):

This is also a usual bad habit of the Basques, because they pronounce the "B"
just as we say that the Greeks do. And so we made a joke about them (the Basques) in an epigram stating that for them vivere
(living) is bibere (drinking).

Vasconibus quoque hoc est vitium peculiare, ut eo modo pronuncient  B quo et
Graecos dicimus. Itaque lusimus in eos (Vascones) epigrammate ut eorum
vivere bibere sit

This epigram, which Scaliger himself refers to, is the same which was attributed to Marcial, but with little changes: non by haud, mutas by mutat

Non temere antiquas mutas, Vasconia, voces,
Cui nihil est aliud vivere quam bibere

And indeed, in his important study of poetry “Poetices Libri Septem "(Geneva, 1561; Leyden, 1581; Heidelberg, 1607), we find the following couplet...

Non temere antiquas mutat Vasconia voces
Cui nihil est aliud vivere quam bibere

It is in the Book III, p.170 Apud Ioannem Crispinum Edition of 1561 and on page 432 of the second edition, Apud Petrum Santandreanum, 1581.

Indirectly he refers to the phonetic confusion we have already mentioned before, but not explicitly, because what he says exactly is:

Verum ut res aliae ex aliis suboriuntur, hilariora fiunt omnia ubi litterae 
syllabaeve mutantur, quemadmodum nos…

Now, as some things have their origin in others, all are made
funny if you change the letters or syllables as-I did-...  

and then comes the couplet quoted.

So it is not itself in the work of Scaliger the exact sentence "Beati hispani..." or "Beati populi...”. Most likely a disciple, colleague or reader of Scaliger, later created from his couplet the general expression:

Beati populi quibus vivere est bibere"

or the more specific one and limited to Hispania

"Beati Hispani quibus vivere est bibere"

then repeated endlessly and attributed without any evidence to that Julius Caesar Scaliger. But anyway it is attributed to him frequently. Thus in the “Menagiana”, Gilles Menage (1613-1692). In it we find a reference to certain “Recueil des poesies” by Scligere. Fifty or sixty years later the abbot Moreri in his great Dictionnaire historique, Volume V, Paris 1759, in the article on Gascogne says:

"Les habitants prononcent l'V (sic) comme le B, et le B comme l'V, et c'est par cette raison that Scaliger, parlant des Gascons, a dit plaisamment "Felices populi quibus bibere est  vivere".

And Abbot Pierre Adam d'Origny, in his Dictionnaire des origines, Article Gascogne, presents the expression or saying under its brief version which is more usual (Paris 1777,

"L'habitude qu'il (ancient Basques) avaient apporté d'Espagne de confondre V et le B a fait dire a Scaliger: Felices populi quibus bibere est vivere").

Even Victor Hugo, taking his stay in Behobia says:

"... I am in the country where people pronounce B instead of V; to
what the drunkard Scaliger made jokes: Felices populi- he exclaimed-
quibus vivere est bibere”.

There are also many quotes of the sentence in which its paternity is attributed to Julius Caesar, as is, the famous Gaius Julius Caesar in an absolutely unjustified way. It wouldn´t have been a bad parenting nor one of little authority, but I´m afraid that such a big mistake  is only due  to the childish confusion of the humanist Julius Caesar Scaliger with the dictator Julius Caesar, Roman Empire origin, who are separated only by sixteen centuries.

Otherwise there are numerous versions of this sentence, which basically say the same thing:

Beati Hispani quibus vivere est bibere
Beati Hispani quibus vivere bibere est               
Beati Hispani quibus bibere vivere est          
Beati Hispani, dum bibere dicunt vivere  
Or beati hispani, dum vivere dicunt bibere 

There are also many variants or versions replacing "beati" with "felices". Thus:

Felix natio, ubi vivere est bibere”, (which some attribute to Erasmus, that probably comes from a sentence of Lipsius that we will discuss little below)

Or “felix Iberia, ubi vivere bibere est” (that is the concretion to Spain of the Latin sentence above)
"Faelices populi quibus vivere bibere est" (sentence that Manuel de Larramendi (1690-1766), priest and pioneer of Basque nationalism, attributed to Scaliger in his trilingual Dictionary of Castilian, Basque and Latin, 1745).

The only reference or quote in reverse, defending the sobriety of the Spanish people, belongs to another humanist Justus Lipsius (1547-1606), also concerned about the pronunciation of the Latin, who in his work Dialogi de recta pronuntiatione Latinae Lingvae, Caput XII, (on the page. 35, 1599 Edition, Antverpiae, Ex officina Plantiniana, Apud Ioannem Moretum) refers to the confusion of "b" and "v" and says:

To the Hispanics and also to the Basques, who soften and distort   to the V digamma, sober men who do not like Bibere (Drinking) but Vivere (Living)

«Et Hispanos itemque Vascones, qui emolliunt et ad V digamma 
  Torquent,  homines sobrii et quibus non placet Bibere sed Vivere

In no way should we reject easily that it is precisely Justus Lipsius (1547-1606) and not Scaliger who is at the origin of the sentence or saying that is the reason for this article and which it´s based on. He was born in Brabant, in the Spanish Netherlands, and therefore it doesn´t seem baseless or idle to us to claim his role in the matter.

Of the success of the joke, having its origin in Lipsius, Scaliger or coming from the ancient times and having it been adapted by each location to their reality, as seems more likely, also gives us an idea the following quote from Don Quixote, Part Two, Chapter . XIIII, 27 (a possible translation into English could be, more or less, the next one):

But even if they fill with silk cocoons, know, sir, that I am not going to fight: leave it to our masters, they will see, but meanwhile let´s we drink, and live instead, cause the time itself is careful enough to take away our lives, so we don´t need to walk looking for other reasons to help it so that they finish before the time they reach their end and fall as they become mature.

In summary, the conceptual connection between living and drinking is very old, the connection between the Latin terms "vivere" and "bibere" so is, the phrase "beati hispani quibus vivere est  bibere" is creation of Renaissance Humanism.


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