Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A motto, or a name?

Continuing an occasional series of re-treads of 'highlights' from the e-mail bulletins I used to assail my friends with in the first half of the Noughties….  this little bit of whimsy is from the early months of 2001.


One of my correspondents - cruelly recalling that in one of my past lives long ago I was a Classical scholar - has challenged me to produce a Latin and/or Greek rendition of the motto 'Better to be lucky than smart'.

Alas, I have thus far failed to find such an epigram, or anything like, in the Classical canon, and as an exercise in original translation I am finding it damned tricky (and not only because that region of my brain has been gathering cobwebs for the last 7 or 8 years).  It's tough to latch onto the best grammatical construction for such pithy statements, for a start; but the concepts are more of a bother to me. 'Better' is tough enough: I think 'materially well off' rather than 'morally good' would most often be rendered by some sort of 'blessed by the gods' idea (=enjoying good fortune=lucky), which leads us into a tautology.  'Lucky' is perhaps even worse: I can't recall ever coming across the idea of being 'lucky' in the ancient world (although, of course, I was never a very diligent student) - in the sense of "prone to having unlikely but beneficial things happen to you".

Indeed, I can't recall coming upon the notion of 'probability'.  Where are the ancient treatises on the mathematics – and psychology - of gambling??


In the quest for a Latin translation of that troublesome motto I mentioned a while ago, one of my Transatlantic correspondents helpfully offered 'Felix non sollers' as an admirably pithy, coat-of-arms style reduction of the essence of the sentiment. 'Lucky, not clever', he suggests. To my mind - but, hey, I'm no Classicist (not any more) - it's a bit more like 'Happy, not accomplished'.  However, I think that's a tremendous slogan for the slacker generation.

I'm also rather taken with the idea of insinuating a character called Felix Nonsollers into my still-gestating novel.  I can see him as a small-town solicitor in somewhere like Harrogate or Market Harborough.


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