Wednesday, August 18, 2010
These Tanti Men
Upon being asked by a friend3 what he should think of a man who was apt to say non est tanti;— 'That he's a stupid fellow, Sir; (answered Johnson): What would these tanti men be doing the while?'"Non est tanti" means "It's not worth such a price," where "it" presumably means "life."
3The friend very likely was Boswell himself. He was one of 'these tanti men.' 'I told Paoli that in the very heat of youth I felt the non est tanti, the omnia vanitas of one who has exhausted all the sweets of his being, and is weary with dull repetition. I told him that I had almost become for ever incapable of taking a part in active life.' Boswell's Corsica, ed. 1879, p. 193.
Seneca was one of these tanti men. Gordon J. Laing, The Genitive of Value in Latin and Other Constructions with Verbs of Rating (Baltimore: The Library of The Johns Hopkins University, 1920), p. 17, as examples of the use of the genitive of value "where something, desirable in itself, is or is not sufficient consideration for the performance of some act or the endurance of some hardship," cites, inter alia:
- Seneca, On Mercy 1.9.4 (tr. John W. Basore): "If so many must perish in order that I may not, my life is not worth the price" ("non est tanti vita, si, ut ego non peream, tam multa perdenda sunt").
- Seneca, Natural Questions 1 prol. 3 (tr. Harry M. Hine): "Take away this invaluable blessing, and life is not worth the sweat and the panic" ("detrahe hoc inaestimabile bonum, non est vita tanti ut sudem, ut aestuem")
Montaigne is another one of these tanti men. In his Essays 3.13 (Of Experience) he wrote, "Is living worth such a price?" ("An vivere tanti est?").