iPhone Latin

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Michael Dinan TMCnet Editor

Speaking in Martin Scorcese’s 2005 documentary “No Direction Home” about his break-up with then-fellow folk singer Joan Baez in the 1960s, Bob Dylan says: “You can’t be wise and in love at the same time.”

 
The quote came as Dylan discussed his failure to ask Baez to sing on stage with him during a tour in England that formed the basis of Scorcese’s film – as the songwriter broke away from the folk scene and “went electric,” to the horror of many, with a backup group that would become The Band.

On blogs and Web sites dedicated to the singer, the line has turned up – fans, as they have since he started writing songs, parsing the words to say how much it reveals Dylan’s vulnerability, regret, passion, humor, elusiveness . . .

In fact, it may reveal his knowledge of the mother language, Latin:
 
     Amare et sapere vix deo conceditur
     – Publilius Syrus, Sententia 22
 
Or, as translated on “Best Latin Quotes,” a new app for the iPhone (NewsAlert) and iPod Touch from MacPhun: “Even a god finds it hard to love and be wise at the same time.”
 

As someone who took 11 years of Latin and returns to those ancient texts from time to time, I have a bias toward the language

Yet anyone who has tried to get through Umberto Eco’s “In the Name of the Rose,” Iain Pears’ “An Instance of the Fingerpost,” or any of Colin Dexter’s wonderful Inspector Morse mysteries will attest – the language comes in handy.
 
But, as with any language, I imagine, it’s difficult for we erstwhile Latin scholars to stay on top of our conjugations, declensions, VINGOFICTOS and deponent forms without regular practice.
 
This is another place where MacPhun’s $2 app comes in.
As shown at left, for every Latin quote the application displays, it also shows a translation and a citation of the quote’s author, if known. That helps jog the glossary memories of people like me, who could remember every rule for the predicate nominative, but would need to look up three out of every four words on a page each time I translated.
 
In all, there are more than 400 original quotes on the application, and they’re broken into 15 different categories, including love, art, philosophy, famous quotes and funny.
 
That last category includes this gem:
 
     Stultior stulto fuisti, qui tabellis crederes!
Or, translated: “Idiot of idiots, to trust what is written!”
 
(Sounds a little like what you’d hear around this office about six months ago, as the presidential election approached its stirring finale).
 
One of my favorite Latin writers is Ovid, the author of “The Metamorphoses” who, when he was at the height of his powers, was banished – no one knows exactly why – from Rome, and lived out his days in exile on the Black Sea.
 
Ovid once wrote: “Gutta cavat lapidem,” or: “Dripping hollows out rock.”
 
Like studying Shakespeare – and you can find a review of an excellent Shakespeare app here – the “Best Latin Quotes” app also leads language-lovers back to the origins of phrases we take for granted, such as “a tempest in a teapot” (excitabat fluctus in simpulo) and “from soup to nuts” (ab ovo usque ad mala).
 
Some users appear to have found good use for the application.
 
As one reviewer writes on the Apple (NewsAlert) App Store site: “This really helped me a lot coming up with very fast comebacks, and snippy moments for the book I’m writing.”
 
Good luck with that.
 
The “insults” category yields a few of the app’s best quotes:
 
     Dare pondus idonea fumo. – Persius
     “Fit only to give weight to smoke.”
 
     Delphinium nature doces.
     “You are teaching a dolphin to swim.”
 
The application is not limited to “high” or classical Latin, but delves into Church Latin as well as “Modern Latin Quotes” (also a category).
 
Among those modern quotes: “tibi gratias agimus quod nihil fumas,” or “thank you for not smoking,” “caveat depascor,” or “browser beware!” And my personal favorite: “Sona si Latine loqueris,” or “Honk if you speak Latin.”
 
Beep beep.
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