Thursday, 17 May 2012

Et in Arcadia ego & Honorificabilitudinitatibus

This canvas from French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) has the alternative titles Les Bergers d’Arcadie (The Shepherds of Arcadia) and Et in Arcadia ego, a Latin phrase meaning ‘Even in Arcadia I’where Arcadia is a place of untroubled quiet and peace, and I the pronoun for Death.

A graceful poetic image, you might think, reminding us, in the words of an Elizabethan proverb, that we all owe God a death. But there is something about the simple Latin phrase that troubles some people, and that is that it lacks a verb, and whilst this is perfectly standard grammar in that ancient language, to these malcontents it suggests that the phrase is incomplete, giving rise to speculation that it holds some deep hid meaning for the world and Mankind.

One suggestion is that it is an anagram for I! Tego Arcadia ego, which translates to English as Begone! I Keep God’s Secrets, thus implying that the tomb in the picture is that of Jesus Christ. [The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln]. 

The same theme is pursued in a bestseller, only this time the authors decided to add another word and to make the phrase Et in Arcadia ego sum, another anagram (they say) this time for Arcam dei tango iesu, meaning I touch the tomb of God Jesus. [The Tomb of God by Richard Andrews and Paul Schellenberger]

And while we’re on the subject of making anagrams from Latin, let’s not forget a certain Isaac Hull Platt, who in 1905 argued that the longest word in a Shakespeare play - honorificabilitudinitatibus [Love’s Labour’s Lost 5.1.41] - is an anagram for Hi ludi F Baconis nati tuiri orbi, which translates from the Latin as These plays, F Bacon’s offspring, are preserved for the world, thereby ‘proving’ that Shakespeare's words were in fact those of Francis Bacon, a claim, incidentally, to which Bacon never made any, er, claim himself.

Poussin’s picture hangs in the Louvre in Paris, and a second version is in Chatsworth House in England.

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