Keeping myself off the road to hell with an “Ave atque vale”

As my more than useful, indeed precious, Dictionary of Foreign Phrases and Abbreviations tells me, I am following in Catullus’s footsteps if I take just a moment to say “ave atque vale” (hail and farewell).  Only, of course, as the book also says, the expression is “A Roman formula used at funerals when bidding farewell to the dead.”  So, this will tell you that though the sentiment is noble and arcane and resonant, it is not exactly “le mot juste” (the perfect expression) to use to my readers, for I hope they are all alive and kicking.    It would in fact be a “mauvaise plaisanterie,” or “bad taste in jesting.”  My joke is weak and slight, but I’m more obsessed with keeping myself off the road to hell (which as we know, is “paved with good intentions.”)  My good intentions originally were (as of a week or two ago) to keep up my posting schedule to make it a more frequent occurence than it has been lately.  But I’m finding this hard to do, partly because I’m in the middle of trying to read David Foster Wallace’s nearly 1000 pages novel Infinite Jest, not because I want to write a post on it (what a gargantuan task!), but just because.  If it weren’t for the crazy humor of the book which keeps me going, I would just throw up my hands and murmur in Latin (yes, at one point I was able to mutter in Latin) “Non omnia possumus omnes,” or as Virgil said in his Eclogues, “We cannot all do everything.”

Already, you are looking at this post, and if you are Italian, you are nodding wisely and saying to yourself, “Molto fumo e poco arrosto,” while if you are of the same mind but not Italian you are knowingly remarking “Much smoke and little roast meat,” or in more Shakespearean guise “Much ado about nothing.”  To which, in my desperation, I respond, again in my overwrought Latin passion for the clipped phrase, “Ex necessitate rei!” (“arising from the urgency of the case”).  After all, I would love to have something to say to you every day, and would willingly write a post a day as I originally started out doing, except that I can only read books, poems, plays, and short stories so fast, and as I’m sure you’re aware inspiration takes time, or to put it another way “Dal detto al fatto vi è un gran tratto”; but as many of my readers are English, French, or German speaking, perhaps I should just reveal again that this Italian expression means “It’s a long haul from words to deeds,” or to use the English turn of phrase, “There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.”  I feel uninspired; I feel dry and non-creative (or again as my Italian-speaking friends would say, “Dalla rapa non si cava sangue” (“You cannot get blood out of a turnip”).

There is, of course some benefit to being far from heaven’s inspiring touch, and that’s that one doesn’t become disordered in one’s everyday arrangements in order to pander to one’s creative whims, one doesn’t participate in the occasional craziness of being too near Mount Olympus (I know by now you’re expecting something in another language than English, and I’d hate to disappoint you, so I’ll just say that this sentiment can be expressed more succinctly as “Procul a Jove, procul a fulmine”–“To be far from Jove is to be far from his thunder”).  This is why, when “Ave atque vale” popped into my head this morning as all I really felt like saying for the moment (not speaking to the dead, but revising the significance of the saying to say “hiya; goombye for now” to people who might be expecting me to be coherent and lucid today), I thought that it must be fortuitous that the phrase had popped into my head, and were I an ancient Roman, would have said “Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt,” or “The Fates lead the well-disposed; they drag the rebellious.”  Meaning that I would rather follow what tiny thread of inspiration had appeared than just come up with another “no post today, sorry,” which for some reason I don’t mind hearing from others when they have other obligations than posting, though I always feel different about saying it myself.

So, anyway, today I jumped into my post, determined to avoid the road to hell even in imagination, telling myself (and I don’t even speak German, but I swear I was thinking the exact thought):  “Wer gar zu viel bedenkt, wird wenig leisten.”  (What I actually said was, of course, “The man [or woman] who considers too long accomplishes little.”)  Therefore, taking a little while to type this post, I’ve told myself in relation to glancing through my little book to amuse and inform you a bit, “Sophois homilon kautos ekbese sophos,” as Menander said in his (Greek) Monostichs: “If you associate with the wise”–the book, not me–“you will become wise yourself.”  And now, my work of getting out a post today is done, though you may be a little disappointed at its flimsiness (“Was man nicht kann meiden, muss man willig leiden”:  “What can’t be cured must be endured,” at least if you’re German).  To end, I will leave you with this thought:  I’ve done, I can no more, because I hesitate “vouloir rompre l’anguille au genou,” as I rarely “attempt to break an eel on [my] knee,” or “attempt the impossible.”  Good day, I have said what I had to say, or to end in Spanish, “He dicho!”


Filed under A prose flourish, What is literature for?

6 responses to “Keeping myself off the road to hell with an “Ave atque vale”

  1. How smart and fun. Now I can express my own shortcomings in a variety of languages!


  2. Charming, Victoria. But don’t think it gets you off the hook for writing about Infinite Jest! Your faithful readers are out here, awaiting with some patience your summation . . .


    • Ah-ha, Richard! But then, it will take so long to complete “Infinite Jest” that I’m counting on a lot of my readers to forget that I ever mentioned it in the first place (he-he!). It’s like a revved up sort of Thomas Pynchon, so far. If only it were possible to interview the reclusive Thomas Pynchon on what he thinks of the book….


  3. D. James Fortescue

    Infinite Jest sounds like a challenging tome.

    Most of the Latin I’ve ever learned has been from the ‘Asterix’ book series. ‘Veni vidi vici’, ‘morituri te salutant’, ‘alea jacta est’… those are the ones off the top of my head.

    Virgil would be amazed by the modern woman, i imagine =)


    • You’ve forgotten one of the classics, sure to occur in a fantasy series somewhere: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (Sweet and just/fit it is to die for one’s country). Enough warmongers have certainly quoted it as justification for making war, but it is an interesting sentiment, all the same. And if countries in the real world were really like some utopias in fantasy fiction, it would even be true. (As to Virgil, he was sometimes amazed even by the classical woman! Take Dido, for instance).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.