Tuesday, September 02, 2008

QOTD: In Tenebris

I recall that people have been asking me to tell more about myself. Herewith, the motto of my house, as rendered by me with some assistance from an unnamed classicist: In tenebris omnia vexilli glaucus sunt. In serviceable English: In the dark all flags are gray.

Latin doesn't actually have one word that means exactly "gray". "Glaucus" also means cloudy. "In tenebris" can also be translated as "in doubt".


Blogger Michael M. Butler said...

This little motto is rich with interpretations.

1) If you're clueless and combative, you might attack anyone.

2) If you don't have good knowledge (or wisdom?), you can't tell who the good guys or your friends are.

3) If you're ignorant, or blinded by expectations or what-have-you, you can't tell who the bad guys are.

4) If the fate of mankind is to dwell in darkness, you never can be confident that you have done anything that's purely good.

Phew. Heavy.

02 September, 2008 23:37  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5) If you're not sure which side you're on, maybe you're in the dark.

02 September, 2008 23:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like a rehash of Benjamin Franklin talking about sex with older women. "In the dark all cats are gray" you can look that up.

03 September, 2008 00:27  
Blogger Nortius Maximus said...

All those are fine. It's actually intended to have a bearing on Gumptionology, if you squint just right. :)

Any other people want to play?

04 September, 2008 00:28  
Blogger Nortius Maximus said...

Hint: Butler's #3 is pretty close.

04 September, 2008 00:30  
Blogger LabRat said...

I do enjoy the multiple possible meanings. The first places my mind jumped to were the "fog of war" and the impossibility of making totally correct decisions under it, and Mark Twain's quip about a man who chooses not to read being in functionally the same boat as a man who can't.

04 September, 2008 15:58  
Blogger Michael M. Butler said...

I did another little bit of research. "Tenebris" is really plural, meaning something like "shadows".

In [the] shadows all pennants are vague.

Still not quite there.

04 September, 2008 20:40  
Blogger Nortius Maximus said...

Time to admit that it's half "all cats are gray" as an Anon had it, and the other half, I realized after I'd coined it, harks back to the last phrase (three lines) in Matthew Arnold's poem Dover Beach.

And we are here as on a darkling plain /
Swept with confus'd alarums of struggle and flight, /
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The intent is for there to be multiple meanings in the motto, so the motto is a self-reference.

And when I think of the poem plus the "all cats are gray" sentiment, I always misremember Arnold's verse at first, and substitute the word "unseen"...

Where unseen armies clash by night]

Which has a nice additional ambiguity I wanted to carry over.

The connection with gumptionology is that when you're confused, but there is an answer (as it turns out later), it's often because your mental map is frustratingly incomplete or off target -- what you know that ain't so. But when you're confused and there is no answer, really none, because your mental map can't be complete and / or it's a "wicked" problem, it's exactly as frustrating and you might as well pick any flag to fight for as any other until the shadows clear (if they do). Or leave the field altogether and stop fighting for any flag. And while the shadows persist, maybe you ought to be a little more humble and a little less cocksure you know the score.

I coined the motto after being influenced by Allan Watts's The Wisdom of Insecurity, a slim volume I hope to write about.

Hey, as mottoes go, it's no Fortuna Favet Fortibus, but it's mine and I'll take it.

And it's less soppy and negative than Arnold's poem, to boot! :)

My father Biggus Dickus would have had it no other way.

04 September, 2008 23:14  
Blogger Nortius Maximus said...

LabRat is in the right ballpark as well. There's a further coarse connection to the Ben Franklin aphorism, which might not be original with him; he was (it's said) writing about why a young man should choose an experienced older woman as a lover. Coarsely, "In the dark all cats are gray" was probably Franklin's clever way of saying that with the lights out, in the sack, all ahem "kitties" are the same. The most obnoxious reading of that has overtones of "two-bagger" frat humor.

When I'm frustrated, I find another meaning in the Franklin all-cats connection. It helps me lighten up:

If you're in the dark, might as well f*** it! :)

Thanks to all who contributed!

04 September, 2008 23:25  

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