Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sit fides penes authorem

Re-browsing Locke, I came across this Latin phrase:

There are creatures, as 'tis said (sit fides penes authorem, but there appears no contradiction, that there should be such) that with language, and reason, and a shape in other things agreeing with ours, have hairy tails …

glossed in the footnotes as "Let the author be trusted";  without attribution.

Googling the phrase  got a number of hits, but almost all on this very passage -- even when the rest was in translation:

            Hay criaturas, según se dice (sit fides penes authorem)

            та й розбила дзеркало, sit fides penes Authorem

and so forth;  along with an alternate (and more interesting) translation,
sit fides penes authorem; let him that informed me undergo the blame if it prove false
but again no indication of the source.

Q:  What gives ?

A:  Our Latin master and spiritual advisor, as well as the Webmaster for this site, Dr. Massey, explains:

Locke made it very hard indeed to find the original because he Anglicized the word *auctor* into *author*.

This is a quote from a strange little book by Seneca, the Apocolocyntosis or "Pumpkinification". It is a satire of the concept of a dead emperor, in this case specifically Claudius, becoming a god.

The full quote is:

In caelo quae acta sint, audite: fides penes auctorem erit.
Listen to what happened in heaven: the proof will lie [literally be] with the source [of the information].

Seneca is here claiming that Claudius showed up in heaven for he goes on to say:

Nuntiatur Iovi venisse quendam bonae staturae, bene canum;
It is announced to Jupiter that someone of tall stature had come, with very white hair.

So, penes auctorem in short means "the burden of proof lies with the author" in any philosophical discourse.

By the way, penes is a rare preposition that just happens to be identical to the plural of penis. You just have to wonder whether that fact resonates on the ancient ears or if Seneca is using it intentionally for some effect.

The quote as Locke uses it seems to be a Renaissance reappropriation of Seneca's original. The phrase "penes auctorem" occurs only in the Apocolocyntosis. I would have expected it to show up in Cicero if it were a more widely used dictum.

(And with that, we hope to have at last a search-phrase that will lead unsuspecting Lockeans to this site.  Here they may be cleansed of their empiricist-sensationist deformations, and be ushered into the paradise of Cantorian Realism.)

(Pronunciation of the correct Latin sit fides penes auctorem :
SIT FEE-dace PEN-ace owk-TOR-em .
You'll be surprised how it just rolls off your tongue.)

For Murphy’s take on all this, see

For more tasty Latin tidbits, click here.
For posts where Locke comes in for mention, click here.

For Dr Massey's Latin lessons, here:

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