Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice

eric (new york)

New Member
This is the epitaph for Christopher Wren, who was the architect for St. Paul's Cathedral in London. He was buried in a crypt in the Cathedral. Here's the plaque: http://image06.webshots.com/6/9/3/66/83 ... rEq_fs.jpg

I've found various translations of the phrase, but they differ slightly, and I'm looking for the literal meaning.

For "monumentum", some say "a/the monument", some say "his monument", some say "memorial". Which is correct?

For "circumspice", some say "look around you" and others say "look around". Presumably literally it means "look around", but is it possible that this does in fact mean "look around you"?

Thanks.
 

Imber Ranae

Ranunculus Iracundus
"Reader, if a monument you seek, look about!"

The English word "you" is not here explicitly conveyed by an equivalent Latin pronoun. The reason so many translators add it is because the idea of checking one's immediate vicinity, without necessarily moving, is intrinsic to the meaning of the verb circumspicio. It does not mean "look around" in the sense of "search all over", and in order to avoid the latter connotation it helps to limit the locality by adding "you".

Latin doesn't use articles ("the" and "a/an") to mark definiteness. Generally it doesn't mark definiteness at all, so often a single word like monumentum can mean either "a monument" (indefinite) or "the monument" (definite), and a determination of which can only be made by context. Here it is most likely indefinite.

The word monumentum contains the ideas of both a physical monument and a memorial.
 

eric (new york)

New Member
To Imber Ranae:

Thank you for your good explanation of "circumspice".

What do you think about the way that some translations of this phrase say "his monument" rather than merely "the monument" or "a monument"? For example, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Wren#Death), quoting an unidentified translator in a London guidebook. And when I've looked around via Google, I've found other similar translations adding "his". (One example of many: http://www.lisaliguori.com/lector-si-mo ... rcumspice/ )

So what I'm wondering is whether the "his" is somehow implied in the original (like "you" - as you've explained - in "circumspice", "look around you"), or whether the "you" is simply a gratuitous addition, in the customary way that people often like to interpret and "improve" an original text, rather than retaining its original meaning and ambiguities. Personally, I always prefer literal translations, because "improvements" sometimes change the sense of the original.

Thanks.
 

Cinefactus

Censor
Staff member
eric (new york) dixit:
To Imber Ranae:

So what I'm wondering is whether the "his" is somehow implied in the original (like "you" - as you've explained - in "circumspice", "look around you"), or whether the "you" is simply a gratuitous addition,
If you were going to insert a pronoun, I think that my would be a better choice, however it is not there in the Latin. In terms of which monument is being referred to, the Latin is ambiguous.

I don't think that it is referring to the gravestone itself however. What might be more likely is that it is asking the reader to look at the buildings in the city of London which he designed, rather than just his grave.
 

Imber Ranae

Ranunculus Iracundus
Yeah, to be honest I'm not sure what the purpose of the inscription is. If you're reading it you must have already found the monument, assuming that's what monumentum refers to. I suppose it could just be a silly conceit of sorts.

It seems open to interpretation, as Cinefactus notes.
 

richardus

New Member
Imber Ranae dixit:
If you're reading it you must have already found the monument, assuming that's what monumentum refers to. I suppose it could just be a silly conceit of sorts.
The man was a famous architect, so obviously it doesn't refer to the tomb itself.

Here's the context from Wikipedia:

Wikipedia dixit:
Sir Christopher Wren (20 October 1632 – 25 February 1723) was one of the best known and highest acclaimed English architects in history, responsible for rebuilding 51 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, including his masterpiece, St. Paul's Cathedral, completed in 1710.

Educated in Latin and Aristotelian physics at the University of Oxford, Wren was a notable astronomer, geometer, mathematician-physicist as well as an architect. He was a founder of the Royal Society (president 1680–82), and his scientific work was highly regarded by Sir Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal.
And the inscription on his tomb was written by one of his sons, so, as Cinefactus said, ""Reader, if a monument [to this man] you seek, look about!" would be the best rendering.
 

NickA

New Member
Have just come across this discussion - and it is apparent that no one contributing to it either lives in London or has visited St Paul's.

The whole point of the inscription - obvious if you are actually standing in front of it (or on it - as similar words are also inscribed on the floor of the cathederal under the dome http://www.corbisimages.com/Enlargement/AH001011.html) - is that St Paul's stands as a enduring monument to Wren's achievements.

So, given the physical context, "his monument" is absolutely appropriate.
 
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