Janus Vitalis’ “Qui Roman in media quaeris novus advena Roma” and eleven translations into five languages.

At the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, a Frenchman was able to read a poem on the ruins of Rome signed by Joachim du Bellay; a Pole knew the same poem as the work of Mikołaj Sęp-Szarzyński; a Spaniard, as the work of Francisco Quevedo; while the true author, whom the others adapted without scruple, was a little-known Latin humanist, Ianus [Janus] Vitalis of Palermo.

P. 10 in “Starting from my Europe”, by Czeslaw Milosz
(in The Witness of Poetry, Harvard, 1983, Norton Lectures,  pp 1-21.)

Qui Roman in media quaeris novus advena Roma is the rare case of the completely-translatable poem, probably because it is an epigram which relies on paraphrasable meaning, and I find J.M. Cohen’s prose version of theclosing line as effective as anyone’s: “Oh Rome, in your greatness and her beauty, what was firm has fled, and only the transitory remains and lasts.” The translators allowed do themselves some degree of freedom: for example, they address the poem variously to “the stranger”, “the pilgrim”, “the traveler”, and “the newcomer”.

To me the import of this poem is not as clear as it seems. It’s a meditation on the transience of glory, but Rome in just its imperial phase lasted for well over five centuries, and Rome cast such a shadow on later centuries that states were claiming to be Rome as late as 1917.* Those of us who are unfriendly to Empire can take little comfort from this poem.

* While the Holy Roman Empire no longer existed in 1917, having been disestablished by Napoleon, Russia claimed that Moscow was the Third Rome, after Constantinople. The empire of Napoleon I lasted only about 15 years and did not call itself Roman, to my knowledge, while the empire of Napoleon III was just a joke, as Marx explained. When the lookalike cousins Nicholas II, George IV, and Wilhelm II all claimed to be emperors simultaneously, you knew that the emperor business was over and done with.

De Roma
Janus Vitalis Panormitanus (d. 1560)
(Giani or Giovanni Vitali of Palermo)

Qui Romam in media quaeris novus advena Roma,
Et Romae in Roma nil reperis media,
Aspice murorum moles, praeruptaque saxa,
Obrutaque horrenti vasta theatra situ:
Haec sunt Roma. Viden velut ipsa cadavera, tantae
Urbis adhuc spirent imperiosa minas.
Vicit ut haec mundum, nixa est se vincere; vicit,
A se non victum ne quid in orbe foret.
Nunc victa in Roma Roma illa invicta sepulta est,
Atque eadem victrix victaque Roma fuit.
Albula Romani restat nunc nominis index,
Quinetiam rapidis fertur in aequor aquis.
Disce hinc, quid possit fortuna; immota labascunt,
Et quae perpetuo sunt agitata manent.


Janus Secundus, another Dutch neo-Latin poet
Baldassarre Castiglione on the ruins of Rome
More poems about permanence and transience
Waiting for the Barbarians

More Salvaged Idiocentrism Posts

Le Real is a Kind of Sturgeon

Back when postmodernism was a thing, I did a faux-erudite parody of Derrida and Lacan. It might fool a few people, but it probably be wasted now, since postmodernism is no longer a real thing. (Latin Res+al = “thing-like” = “real”).

Janus Vitalis: Rome Buried in its Ruins

Over the centuries Qui Roman in media quaeris novus advena Roma. Janus Vitalis’s Renaissance Latin meditation on the ruins of Rome, has been translated at least 11 times into at least 5 languages and has gained its own permanence.

Baldassar Castiglione on the Ruins of Rome

An Italian meditation on the ruins of Rome by an older contemporary of Janus Vitalis.

Transience and Water

General reflections on transience in Chinese, English, and Latin.

Waiting for the Barbarians

Verlaine and Cavafy were rather noncommittal about the arrival of the barbarians.

Drakon and Solon

Drakon, a shadowy figure, was credited as the founder of the Athenian democracy / republic and as a consequence, the first democrat / republican in history –but he is also remembered as a brutal tyrant. The methods by which orderly, peaceful states are founded are normally brutal and lawless, and often a martial leader and a civil leader are coupled at the legendary beginning. In the case of Athens the civil leader was Solon, famed everywhere for his wisdom.

Werewolves and the State

However, Solon did not see himself as peaceful, but compared himself to a lone wolf with a pack of dogs snapping at him from every side. In Derrida and his commentators the ruler is described as a wolf or werewolf — the lonely man who decides the state of exception.

Trained incapacity and Institutional psychosis

It turns out that I’m not the only one who makes things up.

A Naive Reading of Descartes’ Discourse on Method

Descartes’ Discourse on Method is short and easy, and it shows you a Descartes far different than the one you read about in survey courses.

Michel Meyer and Practical Philosophy

After several decades of trying to read contemporary Anglo-American and Continental philosophy, I decided that I had been wasting my time, and I feel much the same way about social science theory and literary theory. Along with Stephen Toulmin, Meyer is one of few writers accepted as philosophers who point toward something better. The relationship between timeless, universal, disembedded truths and historical, particular, embedded knowledge is a tricky one and should be one of the main topics of philosophy. For a variety of not-good reasons (careerism and the needs of power), philosophy and the social sciences tend to be unduly biased toward the former set.

Staying at Home

Voltaire laughed at geodeticists like Maupertuis who traveled to far places to take measurements to determine the exact shape of the earth, because Voltaire already knew that the earth was a perfect sphere. As one of the founders of scientism, Voltaire wanted his concepts to be rational and perfect and easy to handle, and empirical studies just make things messy. (Laozi and Thoreau shared Voltaire’s disdain for travel).

Starting from Greenland: “Kayak” Circumnavigates the Globe

Narwhal ivory from Greenland reached China well before Columbus on well-worn trade routes following rivers from the Baltic sea to the Black Sea or Caspian Sea, and then from Samarqand to China. The kayak reached China only after Columbus, but the word “kayak” for some type of boat was found in most Turkish languages and all the way to the Adriatic. The Inuit lived on both sides of the Bering strait and originated in Asia, and when the Inuit “kayak” reached the Mediterranean, the possibly-related etymologically-Turkish “caique” was already there. (But no, it wasn’t a kayak.)

Salvaged Idiocentrism Posts

Ariel Sharon as teacher

Ariel Sharon’s principle was “Act now, and let everyone else pick up the pieces”. I do not admire Sharon and am not suggesting that he be taken as a role model, but he serves as a nice contrast to the Democratic Party’s unspoken rule of “Never do anything unless you’re absolutely 100% sure that it’s the right thing to do based on the Science and customary procedures”.

Neoliberalism in America: I

An introductory piece clearing away some specifically American misunderstandings of the terms “liberalism” and “neoliberalism”.

Daniel Kato: Liberalizing Lynching

For almost a century the American Supreme Court protected lynch law in the South by blacking all efforts to apply the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to the once-Confederate states. This was not done based on any deep legal principle, but just because the justices, who in many cases probably had some degree of sympathy with white supremacy, were unwilling to take the initiative of actually applying the law by judging a civil rights case on its merits. When the Court finally changed its mind, it was because Lyndon Johnson, in response to a mass movement led by the Martin Luther King, the SCLC, et. al., appointed Thurgood Marshall and Abe Fortas to the course on the understanding that they would change civil rights law. Kato’s conclusion is something like “if the Constitution is as flexible is this, what is the point of having a Constitution?

Kathleen Pistor: The Code of Capital

The American legal system is tweaked in many different ways to make sure that it always favors the big-money players. Pistor shows in detail how law has been this way back to the beginning, but gives special attention to changes in the law made, sometimes under cover of darkness, during the nineteenth century. If someone finds that their political or reform efforts are consistently blocked by technical legal details, it’s no accident. The law is intended to work that way. (This is very relevant to the work of the Virginia School economist James Buchanan, whose final project was to help lock free market ideology permanently in place by Constitutional methods).

Trump As Extremophile

Trump is not a defective normal human being, but someone who has triumphed in the present-day American world of loose money and soundbite politics. He has never lived under the constraints familiar to us, but is comfortable and competent in the world he lives in, and this world happens to rule our world. His stupidity is not his own personal, but is the public stupidity of America.

Starting from Greenland: “Kayak” Circumnavigates the Globe

Sort of a thought experiment. The kayak and the word “kayak” came to Europe sometime after 1000 AD, when the Norse reached Greenland, and the thing itself was known in England no later than 1556. The kayak was in use by the Inuit all across N. America, from Greenland to the Bering Strait, and words for a boat related to “kayak” were used in Turkish and other languages all across Asia as far as the Adriatic, where a certain kind of small boat is called a “caique”. The Norse had reached the Adriatic long before they reached Greenland, so the inuit word, though not exactly the thing, might have been etymologically global at some point in the early Middle Ages.

Original Dao: Introduction

The only area of scholarship in which I am possibly legit is Daodejing studies. .This piece presents my division of the Daodejing into “Early Dao” and “Sage Dao” a quick summary of my reasons for dividing it, a division of “Early Dao” into 7 textual / topical groups, and a proposed history of the text.

Ressentiment, The Teacher, and Marriage in Western Civilization

St. Augustine as the prototype for Nietzsche, Rimbaud, and other alienated geniuses. Authoritarian schooling and deferred marriage forced on sons by ambitious middling parents are the origin of the Oedipus complex. Really.

Could Nietzsche have married Jane Austen? No. While Nietzsche resembled Austen’s dreamboat Darcy, he did not have A Thousand A Year.

Zarathustra and Kahlil Gibran

Also Sprache Zarathustra as the first New Age self-help book, with Kahlil Gibran as mediator.

Why did Henry James Kill Daisy Miller?

Miasma theory. The American Girl was different and she taught the staid, horny Frenchmen how to flirt. Henry James’s most popular book, and he swore never to make that mistake again.

A naive reading of Descartes

Descartes’ Discourse on Method is short and easy, and it shows you a Descartes far different than the one you read about in survey courses.

Murder Most Foul

Young Genghis Khan’s murder of his half-brother Bekter was not an anomaly or an abomination, but part of the normal career path of conquerors and founders of states.

Medieval Pulp Fiction: Aucassin et Nicolette

Not your typical medieval romance.

To the Shores of Tripoli: an Appreciation of Google

The Marine Hymn, American secularity, Billy Budd, and the pro- / anti-war song “Reuben James”.

History of the Caucasian Albanians

No, not those Albanians. Before Charlemagne, when Albania was in the Caucasus, Greeks were Romans, Arabs were Tajiks, and the Catholikos was not Catholic.

Other writings by John Emerson

“The Highest Virtue Is Like the Valley,” Taoist Resources 3, no. 2 (1992):

“A Stratification of Lao Tzu, 1995, Journal of Chinese Religions 23: 1-2

Yang Zhu’s Discovery of the Body“, Philosophy East and West, 46 (4):533-566 (1996)

Reciprocity and Reversal in Daoism

Shen Dao: Text and Translation

Shen Dao in the Daodejing




John Emerson at Seeing the Forest

The Sex Life of the Nineteenth Century