Sunday, August 12, 2007

Et in Arcadia Ego (reprise)

What, then, is the literal sense of this phrase? As was mentioned at the beginning, we are now inclined to translate it as 'I, too, was born, or lived, in Arcady.' That is to say, we assume that the et means 'too' and refers to ego, and we further assume that the unexpressed verb stands in the past tense; we thus attribute the whole phrase to a defunct inhabitant of Arcady. All these assumptions are incompatible with the rules of Latin grammar. The phrase Et in Arcadia ego is one of those elliptical sentences like Summum jus summa iniuria, E pluribus unum, Nequid nimis or Sic semper tyrannis, in which the verb has to be supplied by the reader. [...]
The correct translation of the phrase in its orthodox form is, therefore, not 'I, too, was born, or lived, in Arcady', but: 'Even in Arcady there am I', from which we must conclude that the speaker is not a deceased Arcadian shepherd or sheperdess but Death in person.
E. Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts, Penguin, 1987, p. 351-53.



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