Friday, August 18, 2006

Blog Name Explained

I've been waiting for someone to ask about the blog's name. But nobody asked, and I actually didn't know much detail about the background, so I did some digging out of curiosity. Here goes.

Salto sobrius is Latin and means "I dance when sober". I assumed it as a motto to go with my heraldic arms (on azure, a badger argent) when I was dubbed a knight of the Forodrim (the Stockholm Tolkien Society) in the early 90s. It alludes to something Cicero once wrote, to the effect that nobody dances when sober unless they're out of their minds. Nemo enim fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit. I do dance when sober: in fact, I always do everything in a sober state. The idea of the motto was that I really enjoy living in this world even though I try to look at it with as unclouded an eye as possible. Besides, my friends tell me that they're really grateful that I don't drink, given my psychedelic behaviour when sober.

But why did this Roman make the observation about sobriety and dancing? Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BC) was a master of rhetoric, and a number of his surviving works are speeches made during court hearings. (Cicero was very conscious of his stature as a public speaker, and published his speeches after performing them. Publishing at this time of course meant to lend the manuscript to someone who ran a hand-copying business staffed with slaves.) The bit about dancing is from his 63 BC defence speech for a certain Lucius Licinius Murena, a fellow politician prosecuted for bribery at the instigation of Cato the Younger. Cicero got him off and Murena went on to serve as consul of Rome the following year.
"Cato calls Lucius Murena a dancer. If this be imputed to him truly, it is the reproach of a violent accuser; but if falsely, it is the abuse of a scurrilous railer. Wherefore, as you are a person of such influence, you ought not, O Marcus Cato, to pick up abusive expressions out of the streets, or out of some quarrel of buffoons; you ought not rashly to call a consul of the Roman people a dancer; but to consider with what other vices besides that man must be tainted to whom that can with truth be imputed.

For no man, one may almost say, ever dances when sober, unless perhaps he be a madman, nor in solitude, nor in a moderate and sober party; dancing is the last companion of prolonged feasting, of luxurious situation, and of many refinements.

You charge me with that which must necessarily be the last of all vices, you say nothing of those things without which this vice absolutely cannot exist: no shameless feasting, no improper love, no carousing, no lust, no extravagance is alleged; and when those things which have the name of pleasure, and which are vicious, are not found, do you think that you will find the shadow of luxury in that man in whom you cannot find the luxury itself?" (Cic. Mur. 6 [Latin text])
So, Cicero brings up dancing because Cato has called the man whom Cicero's defending a dancer, and because this is not a compliment. "Dancing is simply decadent", says 43-year-old Cicero, "and if you're going to accuse him of that you should be aware that it entails a much wider accusation regarding the man's entire lifestyle and state of mental health". And such an accusation, that Murena was a crazed and decadent party animal, would apparently have been an evident falsehood.

I dropped out of the Forodrim in 1998 when my first wife and I split up, but I still like my old motto and coat of arms. The silver badger is on my bookplate, and when I needed to come up with a name for the blog I decided I might as well dust off the motto. The content of this blog cannot be blamed on any chemical enhancements.

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Blogger Candy Minx said...

Ah, very charming and look at you knight and all. I knew the sobriety but thought your blog meant "i move sober"...loved hearing about it's origins. I am slowly studying Latin, not so good at it but it helps with comparing myths and stars that's for sure. Badgers are so cool.


18 August, 2006 23:00  

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