Avoid Career Suicide or Self-Homicide in Online Firefights -- Reb MacRath

With a title like that, I know I really should start off with a bang. A pulp flourish or note of high drama. Shutters flapping. Lightning flashing. Thunder booming. That and more.

And yet, I beg your forgiveness, I must start with a single word. And not even one in English:


That's the final word in an eight-line Latin poem I was trying to translate. Martial, the poet, spent six lines telling us how Atticus could do anything in the nicest or prettiest, effortless way. The word 'belle' or 'bellus' appears thirteen times in those first six lines. And each repetition seems a bit more mocking. Then, suddenly, Martial springs his trademark stinger: at the tail end, a raucous quip or dazzling bit of word  play. Here, he wonders: 'Since you do nothing well and everything not badly/What would you have me say of you?'

The answer in Latin: Magnus es ardalio.

You are a great...something--but what? Loeb Classical Library translations are generally reliable, if drab. So I trusted their rendition of 'You are a great trifler.' And a few other translations showed the same drift. Still, I wanted to dig a bit more. The word, I learned, does not appear in the massive Lewis and Short Latin dictionary. The closest thing to it is the word ardelio--which means busybody or meddler. One or the other word may reflect an error in transcription. But neither makes a lick of sense in terms of the rest of the poem. The offender's crime isn't meddling but middling: doing everything in his smooth, uninspired way.

Bring on the thunder and lightning now, please:

I approached an online Latin forum for help in translating the word. One expert poo-poohed my confusion, explaining that Martial was simply insulting the man.(Duh, yeah. That's what satirists do.) And that ardelio must be correct since it's in the dictionary. Therefore, the definition of 'busybody' must be right. End of conversation--

Not. At least not in the old days, when I could be drawn into a firefight by any online expert 'with just enough of learning to misquote' But this time I took stock, resisting the urge to engage.

Takeaways from the resistance:

1) There's little to gain and too much to be lost by allowing ourselves to be drawn into online firefights. More than one writer's been ruined by slews of bad reviews from foes in online forums.

2) These free-for-alls can take an incalculable toll on our creative powers, time, and reputations.

3) Furthermore, over-indulgence in the joys of buffoon bashing results in loss of joy and light.

4) I'm free to write my own small book on Martial without alerting rivals or giving the store away. My take is boldly fresh...but it won't be for long if I blather online.

This is my report.


Welcome to MacRathWorld, if you like premium blends of mystery, action, and suspense. From Caesar's Rome to Seattle today, the twists fly at the speed of night. If you're unfamiliar with my work, I recommend starting with the new Seattle BOP mysteries. Here's the link to my AuthorPage on Amazon for a detailed look at the variety of 'rides' in my amusement park.




Sandra Horn said…
Go, Reb! It's your take on the work. You'll be as right as many and righter than some!
Bill Kirton said…
I’m sorry, Reb, that my Latin’s too comprehensively inadequate to contribute a suggestion, (although I’m entirely with you on the futility of most online critical exchanges). But as an ex translator of Molière, I do identify and sympathise with your translator’s angst. Maybe Martial was just using the alchemy of the way words toy with meanings to create a previously unlabelled category. (And, with a name like that, he’d be allowed to.)
Reb MacRath said…
Sandra, thanks for the vote of confidence. I believe I'm on the right track for a lively version of this poet that modern readers will love.
Reb MacRath said…
Thanks, Bill. It's interesting to picture some translator a thousand years from now, using an OED from the 1950s, trying to make sense of such basic Millennial words as 'dig it', 'get your groove on', and 'Google.'

Language evolves. And translators have to remember that dictionary definitions aren't always our best friends.

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