nemo est, qui non aut uere tantum sapit ....

wandle

Senior Member
English - British
Is More using a triple negation?

This thread in the English forum suggests Thomas More in Utopia used a triple negation in order to make a subtle satirical point. Two English versions are discussed:

(a) Burnet's 1684 translation at Project Gutenberg:
and, among the ministers of princes, there are none that are not so wise as to need no assistance, or at least, that do not think themselves so wise that they imagine they need none; and if they court any, it is only those for whom the prince has much personal favour, whom by their fawning and flatteries they endeavour to fix to their own interests;
(b) the 1989 version by Logan and Adams, cited from Google Books:
Moreover, the counsellors of kings are so wise already that they don't need to accept or approve advice from anyone else - or at least they have that opinion of themselves.
Thus (a) presents an apparent triple negation: 'there are none that are not so wise as to need no assistance'.
Does this mean 'none are so wise that they need no assistance' or 'all are so wise that they need no assistance'?
And if the latter, is it meant genuinely or ironically? That is the issue discussed in the English forum.

On the other hand, (b) simplifies the construction: 'the counsellors ... are so wise that they don't need to accept ... advice'. This is clear, and removes any irony from this part of the sentence (it is in the following clause that an explicit ironical comment is made), but is it a correct version?

The question what More intended really depends on the Latin text. Here is the version given by The Latin Library:
praeterea quicumque regibus a consilio sunt, eorum nemo est, qui non aut uere tantum sapit, ut non egeat, aut tantum sibi sapere uidetur, ut non libeat alterius probare consilium, nisi quod absurdissimis quibusque dictis assentiuntur et supparasitantur eorum, quos ut maxime apud principem gratiae, student assentatione demereri sibi.
I read the key section as follows:
eorum nemo est, qui non aut uere tantum sapit, ut non egeat, aut tantum sibi sapere uidetur, ut non libeat alterius probare consilium

This analysis indicates that there is no triple negation, but a logical disjunction: 'qui non aut ... sapit ... aut ... videtur': 'who does not either (a) or (b)'.

On this basis, neither of the English versions above is accurate. I construe the Latin as follows:

'Besides, whoever are of counsel to kings, there is not one of them, but either truly is so wise as not to need, or seems to himself to be so wise as not to like, to approve the counsel of another, except so far as they agree with and praise all the most absurd sayings of those men whom they seek to oblige to themselves by flattery because they are most greatly in favour with the ruler.'

And suggest the following version:

'Besides, all those who are counsellors to kings either are really so wise that they do not need to give any credit to the opinion of others, or else consider themselves so wise that they are unwilling to do so: except so far as they agree with and praise even the most absurd statements of those who are most in favour with the ruler, in order to oblige them by flattery.'

This seems quite ironical enough without introducing any extra negation.
 
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  • wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Wasn't double (and multiple) negation normal in English in Burnet's time?
    If so, how do you understand Burnet's phrasing?

    It seems to me that Burnet means his negations to be taken literally, and is saying 'all are so wise that they need no assistance'.
    Burnet's use of negatives is thus correct, provided they are not taken as rhetorical.

    The inaccuracy of his version, in my view, lies in leaving out 'vere' (truly), in 'need assistance' for 'probare consilium' and in 'or at least' instead of 'either... or' (understating the disjunction).
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    In context, More has suggested to Hythloday that he is wise and experienced enough to contribute good advice in a king's council. Hythloday replies that royal counsellors would not give him credit for his advice, either because they are really so wise that they would not need to, or because they are so conceited that they would not want to.
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings

    Wow! That is some arduous syntax.

    A couple of immediate observations.

    First, wandle's segregation of
    eorum nemo est, qui non aut uere tantum sapit, ut non egeat, aut tantum sibi sapere uidetur, ut non libeat alterius probare consilium
    is surely right, and the sense of this is:

    "...there is none of them [sc. princes' privy counsellors] who does not either truly understand enough not to need, or who to himself appears to understand enough that it does not suit him, to consult another's opinion".

    That is, some counsellors really do understand enough not to need to consult others' views, others who fancy their own wisdom so much that it is irksome even to consider the views of anyone else.

    So far so good.

    nisi quod absurdissimis quibusque dictis assentiuntur et supparasitantur eorum, quos ut maxime apud principem gratiae, student assentatione demereri sibi.
    prima facie: "unless [that is] in that they agree to and parasitically support all the most absurd utterances of those whom..."

    And then we run into the syntactical buffers.

    "...those who[m] strive by their flattery to bring demerit/disgrace upon themselves" seems to be the general sense, and quos could have been in classical Latin an attracted use of the Acc.

    There are several things at first sight wrong with the syntax here, though. (I wonder if the original text has been mangled - no disrespect to the OP, but More's Latin was good).

    I don't suggest this as a final answer, and look forward to reading the alternative suggestions by wiser (though scarcely older) heads than mine. But here - provisionally - is my suggestion:

    "Moreover, of those who are Counsellors to kings, there is none who does not either truly understand enough not to need, or who to himself appears to understand enough that it does not suit him, to consult another's opinion, apart from just agreeing to and parasitically supporting all the most absurd utterances of those who seek by their flattery to dishonour themselves for the sake of favour with the Prince".

    I'm a classical Latinist, so I may have missed a trick or two in mediaeval/Renaissance Latin conventions. But it will be interesting if and how this Thread develops.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    You don't think 'quos' is the accusative object of the deponent form demereri?
    [the favor of those] whom they are zealous to <oblige / make favorable> to themselves through <flattery/ fawning assent>.

    * From Lewis and Short: demereo:
    II. (Since the Aug. per.) With acc. pers., to deserve well of, to oblige:[....]
    In this signif. usually in the deponent form, -mĕrĕor (not ante-Aug.):

    Burnet's translation seems to me acceptable, and I have been puzzled as to why people read it as a positive assertion that the people about the king do need and accept advice.
    The irony comes out of the piling up of negatives, a perfectly acceptable rhetorical device in both Latin and English.
     
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    _Utente

    New Member
    Russo
    Hi,

    I have written so much yesterday (in the post I deleted), but now I realize all that boils down to one single question and one simple reasoning: what if the wisdom of the counselors is that of not believing to other people? That is, other people will deceive anyway, because it's politics, so there's no good in taking their advices.

    That is, let's imagine people who are wise enough to reject others' help (in reality, "vere") — or, at least, who think they are and act accordingly (a counselor, "qui aut vere tantum sapit ut non egeat, aut tantum sibi sapere videtur ut non libeat, alterius probare consilium"). Now, let's imagine people whose action is different — either because they are not so wise (in reality, "vere"), or, maybe, because they don't think they are. (The same, but "non aut ... aut" instead of "aut ... aut ..." — the counselor's qualities of mind, and, therefore, the way he acts, are negated). Now, we'll say that such imaginary counselors don't exist ("eorum nemo est, qui"). Couldn't the tricky Latin sentence analyzed like that? Well, I see from the answers above, it could.

    So:
    Burnet's translation seems to me acceptable, and I have been puzzled as to why people read it as a positive assertion that the people about the king do need and accept advice.
    Subscribed. :confused: But indeed, the trick with negated imaginary people is brain-boiling. In either language. Especially if one is a native (I have checked it by translating the idea into Russian).

    Regards :)
     
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    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings once again.

    I assume that Cagey's post #6 was addressed to mine?

    No problem at all with demereri in this sense, thus quos...student assentatione demereri sibi = "whom they are eager through obsequious agreement to make favourable to themselves".

    Perhaps I am being stupid, but still I find it difficult to construe the intervening words, ut maxime apud principem gratiae, which correspond with those in Burnet's version,
    for whom the prince has much personal favour
    I am not for a minute suggesting that Burnet's translation is wrong. And ut maxime apud principem can be construed as "as most especially before a prince". But then what are we to do with gratiae?

    In any case, though, as Cagey declares, the rhetorical irony of the compiled negatives is clear.

    I look forward to more.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I would see gratiae as a genitive of quality, with homines understood: [homines] apud principem gratiae meaning 'men of favour in the eyes of the ruler'.

    And I would understand sint following ut, introducing an understood ita:
    quos, ut [homines] maxime apud principem gratiae [sint, ita] student assentatione demereri sibi meaning: 'whom, to the degree that they are men most greatly in favour with the ruler, they seek to oblige by obsequiously agreeing with them'.

    This refers to the (less wise) members of the king's council who make a practice of agreeing with whatever view (no matter how absurd) is expressed by counsellors who are influential with the ruler. This form of agreement, More says, is the only way in which these less wise counsellors are prepared to agree with (or support) another man's opinion.

    This, I think, gives us a clue to the meaning of probare consilium. Since we are talking about what is comparable to a ruling Cabinet, consilium (advice) is equivalent to 'policy view': what each member advises the king to do on a government issue.

    In the council, as each member makes a recommendation, others may or may not agree and support it: probare consilium meaning 'approve the advice (offered to the king)'. In doing so, they are not only supporting the advice, but also the counsellor who offers it. The less intelligent but more self-important counsellors are not prepared to give their support to other members, except to those already established in the king's favour.

    On the other hand, those counsellors who really are wise have no need to support the view of an intelligent newcomer such as Hythloday would be if he followed More's advice: they will already have formed a similar view on their own. That is why Hythloday declines to put himself forward.

    The newcomer finds himself in a weak position: even if he has good advice to offer, no one else in the council will give it his approval.
     
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    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    Burnet’s translation is brilliant. It is not literal (no good translation is), but it captures all the irony of the original, which manifests itself precisely in the cavalcade of negatives. The 1989 translation is without wit and without style. It is the sort of thing that makes one doubt whether there is really such a thing as progress.
     

    _Utente

    New Member
    Russo
    This refers to the (less wise) members of the king's council who make a practice of agreeing with whatever view (no matter how absurd) is expressed by counsellors who are influential with the ruler.
    But that members are said to be wise previously... :confused: He's the same "qui" as in the just previous period, isn't he?
    On the other hand, those counsellors who really are wise have no need to support the view of an intelligent newcomer such as Hythloday would be if he followed More's advice: they will already have formed a similar view on their own.
    My point is that in politics, really wise people do not have views. They have ambitions. I think, that's where More's irony resides.
    I would see gratiae as a genitive of quality, with homines understood: [homines] apud principem gratiae meaning 'men of favour in the eyes of the ruler'.

    And I would understand sint following ut, introducing an understood ita:
    quos, ut [homines] maxime apud principem gratiae [sint, ita] student assentatione demereri sibi meaning: 'whom, to the degree that they are men most greatly in favour with the ruler, they seek to oblige by obsequiously agreeing with them'.
    Excellent! So logical it seems! As I said, I dunno no Lats, but if Latin indeed permits to skip words like that, then it's really beautiful — the word "humanes" just begs to be omitted! (Because it feels superficial in the context — this is already understood that the talk is about people, about men).
    I can't help presenting:
    Далее, если говорить про королевских советников, среди них нет никого, кто либо и вправду не оказался бы достаточно разумен, чтобы не нуждаться в помощи, либо не полагал бы себя достаточно разумным, чтобы воздерживаться от помощи других людей; разве только преклонят они слух перед удостоенным королевской милости счастливцем, поддакивая ему во всякой глупости и желая тем самым привлечь к себе его расположение.
    I hope, at least somebody around here is versed in Russian... Besides, this version is more close to the original syntax, especially in the first part (in English it would be impossible, I think), though, again, it's not perfectly syntactically close to the original. Also, it shows the imaginary nature of invented not-so-wise counsellors by the word "бы" ("не оказался бы достаточно разумен", "не полагал бы себя достаточно разумным"), which is interesting.
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    But that members are said to be wise previously... He's the same "qui" as in the just previous period, isn't he?
    Strictly speaking, the clause nisi quod ... sibi with its plural verb student must refer to the last available plural noun, which in fact is the first word of the sentence: eorum.
    In other words, this clause suggests that all counsellors engage in the practice of supporting whatever views the most influential members put forward. However, since More has distinguished between counsellors who are really wise and those who consider themselves wise, it is presumably implied that the mindless sycophancy is practised by the latter. Otherwise, the wise will also be sycophants.
    My point is that in politics, really wise people do not have views. They have ambitions. I think, that's where More's irony resides.
    I see the whole sentence as being a discussion of how members of the king's council, both the really wise and the seeming wise, behave in offering their views, that is, their policy advice, to the king.

    I can't comment on the Russian text, but perhaps the Russian forum could help with that.

    Edit: for 'plural noun' read 'plural noun or pronoun'.
     
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    _Utente

    New Member
    Russo
    Strictly speaking, the clause nisi quod ... sibi with its plural verb student must refer to the last available plural noun, which in fact is the first word of the sentence: eorum. In other words, this clause suggests that all counsellors engage in the practice of supporting whatever views the most influential members put forward.
    Ah, yes, my mistake! :( (I think, you meant "quicumque", right? — "eorum" seems to be done with in the "eorum nemo est" part). Somehow I thought of French verbs like "fait", "subit" etc, and I didn't check the number of the verb "student". :( And of course, I didn't realize (though I had to!) that imaginary people can't behave... Well, OK. This doesn't change my position.
    However, since More has distinguished between counsellors who are really wise and those who consider themselves wise, it is presumably implied that the mindless sycophancy is practised by the latter. Otherwise, the wise will also be sycophants.
    Why do you think, More distinguished between different people? Couldn't the "aut ... aut ..." construction rather refer to the same people, of whom More doesn't quite know, whether they are really wise, or they just think they are wise? — because there's no way to distinguish between them, both (hidden) categories of people behave the same and have the same internal intentions. (And then he goes on to tell, how they behave: first, don't "alterius consilium probant", second, use flattery and assent).
    I see the whole sentence as being a discussion of how members of the king's council, both the really wise and the seeming wise, behave in offering their views, that is, their policy advice, to the king.
    Ah, might as well be. But doesn't the verb "probare" also refer to experience — that is, to take advice and to see, what happens (no good happens, because true politicians shouldn't follow advices, if they don't want to be deceived and ruined)? I think, Burnet understood it like this, and I see no reason to disagree.
    it is presumably implied that the mindless sycophancy is practised by the latter. Otherwise, the wise will also be sycophants.
    Why? Isn't it simpler (and more beautiful) to think, that, since the subject of the clause unites all royal counsellors, then the predicate is about all of them, too? Yes, the "wise" are sycophants, that's their wisdom — More is being ironic.
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I think, you meant "quicumque", right?
    quicumque is a relative: what we need to find is the noun or pronoun which is the antecedent of quicumque; and that is eorum, the logical order being 'eorum, quicumque sunt a consilio regibus' meaning 'of all those who are of counsel to kings ...'

    The discussion is about all those who act as counsellors to kings, and More is putting into Hythloday's words the fruits of his own experience in that role, and this presumably represents his view about real people in real situations. (This part of the conversation is not describing the imaginary state, Utopia.)
    Why do you think, More distinguished between different people?
    Why do I draw that conclusion from the text?
    Because he divides two groups by the exclusive alternation 'aut ... aut ...', meaning 'either ... or ...', and states that one of these groups consists of those who 'really are wise'. I understand this as intended literally.
    Why, in my view, did More make the distinction?
    Because, I believe, it reflects the observations More himself had made as a relatively young man called into the councils of the king.
    But doesn't the verb "probare" also refer to experience — that is, to take advice and to see, what happens?
    probare can also mean 'test'. Thus 'probare consilium' on its own could mean 'to test advice', 'put advice to the test'. However the conjunction 'nisi quod' makes clear that the activities described in the final part of the sentence - various ways of agreeing with and supporting the opinions of others - form the exception to the general point made in the earlier part of the sentence. Thus the activities referred to in the earlier part need to be of the same class as those in the 'nisi quod' clause. This indicates that in the present context 'alterius probare consilium' means 'to approve the advice of another'.
    I think, Burnet understood it like this, [that is, to take advice and to see, what happens] and I see no reason to disagree.
    Well, Burnet says 'there are none that are not so wise as to need no assistance'. This can only mean 'there are no counsellors that are not so wise as to need no assistance from other counsellors'.
    This is not the same thing as 'put advice to the test'. The only person in the king's council who can put to test the advice of the council, or of any individual, is the king himself. That takes place when he gives his approval to a policy recommendation and says 'So be it'. No matter what is advanced in discussion, no action is taken until the king gives his decision.
    Another problem with Burnet's version is that it changes the topic from advice given by counsellors to the king into advice given by counsellors to other counsellors. This is not what, in the preceding context, More is advising Hythloday to do. There he is suggesting that Hythloday could offer useful counsel to a king, which he thinks the king would welcome.
    Isn't it simpler (and more beautiful) to think, that, since the subject of the clause unites all royal counsellors, then the predicate is about all of them, too? Yes, the "wise" are sycophants, that's their wisdom — More is being ironic.
    The conjunction introducing the final clause is 'nisi quod': 'except to the extent that (they engage in sycophancy)'. Even though the verb is plural, this does not necessarily mean that all royal counsellors engage in sycophancy. This expression is perfectly applicable to the case where some do and some do not. Besides, if they all engaged in sycophancy, there would be no one left for them to be sycophantic towards.
     
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    _Utente

    New Member
    Russo
    quicumque is a relative: what we need to find is the noun or pronoun which is the antecedent of quicumque; and that is eorum, the logical order being 'eorum, quicumque sunt a consilio regibus' meaning 'of all those who are of counsel to kings ...'
    Thank you for the tip. :)
    The discussion is about all those who act as counsellors to kings, and More is putting into Hythloday's words the fruits of his own experience in that role, and this presumably represents his view about real people in real situations. (This part of the conversation is not describing the imaginary state, Utopia.)
    Yes, I agree. Actually, I have to apologise: I used the word "imaginary", implying quite another thing, and didn't think of this allusion. I referred to the process of analysing the system of negations: you introduce a man by imagining him, then you describe him and say that no such person exists. I was trying to present the process of analysis as an observable algorithm.
    Why do I draw that conclusion from the text?
    Because he divides two groups by the exclusive alternation 'aut ... aut ...', meaning 'either ... or ...', and states that one of these groups consists of those who 'really are wise'. I understand this as intended literally.
    Yes, but couldn't the mutually exclusive branches of the alternation present not different people, but different opinions of More about those people? Opinions do exclude each other (let's say, a certain person is either a bubble, or a butterfly, we don't know though, which one), but don't have to really classify people into two groups.
    probare can also mean 'test'. Thus 'probare consilium' on its own could mean 'to test advice', 'put advice to the test'. However the conjunction 'nisi quod' makes clear that the activities described in the final part of the sentence - various ways of agreeing with and supporting the opinions of others - form the exception to the general point made in the earlier part of the sentence. Thus the activities referred to in the earlier part need to be of the same class as those in the 'nisi quod' clause. This indicates that in the present context 'alterius probare consilium' means 'to approve the advice of another'.
    Well, in the 'nisi' part the counsellors listen to significant people and assent them, that implies, they take their advices. Now, do they test their advices? I think, it depends on what is an 'advice', and what does mean 'to test'.

    In my view, the advice is any proposition, that one person (for example, Raphael Hythloday, an experienced voyager and philosophier) makes to another person. Another person tests it by raising the question in the counsil, by openly discussing it, and he sees from the test, whether the discussion was harmful for his position or not (this is the result of the test). The point of More is that (I use the translation) any royal counsil is 'made up of persons, who envy all others and only admire themselves', and therefore nobody will give a go to any good suggestion, there will be no test.

    Of course, alone the interpretation you presented looks to be certainly possible, too ("approve the advices before a king"), but I do not think the context encourages it.
    This is not what, in the preceding context, More is advising Hythloday to do.There he is suggesting that Hythloday could offer useful counsel to a king, which he thinks the king would welcome.
    Actually, he is suggesting Hythloday to enter a counsil and from there to try to set good examples before a king. Hythloday refuses to, not because he thinks he can't enter a counsil (I believe, he can), but because any counsil is a tangle of serpents, all envious of each other, and all perpetually making harm to each other and to their own souls. (In fact, nobody of them is wise in the literal sense of the word; they can be called 'wise' only ironically, and More does so).

    If Hythloday entered a counsil, of course he would need to make conversation with other members and exchange ideas, advices. But he wished to save his 'quiet', noting that he in his youth has already done more for his friends, than other people do during their whole lives, and now he's right to have a rest from silly people.
    Besides, if they all engaged in sycophancy, there would be no one left for them to be sycophantic towards.
    Why? They are syncophantic towards each other.
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Well, I have given the reasons for my view, both on linguistic and historical grounds. I see this as a description of the real process which took place in a king's council of those days, and which we can see parallelled in modern cabinet government, where individuals rise and fall according not only to their ability, but also to the success or failure of their policies. What appears a sound policy will gain support from other ministers, and the result is that the proponent of the policy gains support himself and rises in reputation and power. There is competition between ambitious and able people as to who can most quickly and most surely lay claim to a good policy proposal and make it his own.

    More makes Hythloday refuse the attempt on the ground that a newcomer will have no purchase to enable him to gain support in the beginning. The real answer to this objection is that you have to believe in your ability and persevere despite disappointment, misrepresentation and neglect. In the end, if you have a useful contribution to make, it will be perceived and respected.

    The idea that More regards all royal advisers as sycophants seems to me both cynical and unrealistic. He is distinguishing between those members of the council who have ability and good policies to propose on the one hand and those without constructive ideas on the other, who jockey for a share of power by clinging on to the coat tails of the able and influential figures.

    There are in fact good, able people in influential positions: the sort of person who 'vere sapit' (really is wise). That is true of human nature, both then and now. More was regarded as one of the best and most able men not only in England but in Europe. He would have been attacking himself if he had said that all ministers were sycophants.
     
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    _Utente

    New Member
    Russo
    Yes, I see, surprisingly enough, the interpretation of the sentence becomes a matter of personal preference, and personal belief. I see, what your belief is based on (optimistic :) and even quite realistic considerations, that the world is not as bad as it might seem to some). Let me explain, what is the basis of mine.

    I think, More, as the author of the work, might exaggerate the situation for textual purposes, and show us a single side of politic life, assents and hidden attacks, not mentioning that our world is not as good as it might seem to some either, and lie is just part of our everyday life, only maybe it is just often less severe in private life than in the political scene, and also that genuine wisdom of love is counted in governments, too, though so often suppressed by personal considerations and interests of war, not peace. What textual purposes? He had to introduce the constitution of Utopia, which is much better than the constitution in European countries of that epoch from his point of view (I don't discuss the modern time here); but first, he had to show, that the constitution of humane life in the European world was quite unsatisfactory (so that the reader would be convinced that it is, and proceed with the reading). So, he might deliberately show it from the worst side to the reader, especially its public institutions (because he goes to discuss politics in the first place).

    No, I don't think he had been attacking himself, because "self-exclusion" is so usual when we discuss faults of groups of people, in which we are included. Besides, the More, who was writing the work, and the More, who was a character in the work, might be, I think, two different persons, with the same biography, but with different personal traits. After all, More's intent was not to tell readers about himself, but to persuade them that Hythloday's ideas about what is right are correct (and to give an excuse, why the ideas of him didn't come into reality). So, following his goals, he might set the character as a slightly different person, who would argue in a noble manner with the noble and truly wise (unlike the counsellors in his book) Hythloday, defending the institutions of European countries, and do nothing else, and Hythloday (who is the real bearer of the real author's thought, not More of the book) would show him wrong. Who could do something else and publish the (harsh) book? The real More.

    Regards!
     
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