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SUMMA VIRTUS ADUMBRATAM
VIRTUTIS SPECIEM ABOLET.

REAL VIRTUE EFFACES THE IMPERFECT SEMBLANCE OF VIRTUE

Ambustos apud Aethiopas, calidamque Syenen,[1]
Torrida quae tropico terra sub orbe iacet:[2]
Cům super umbilicum[3] media sol parte diei
Constitit, aestivi tempore solstitii:
Efficit hic nullas tunc sol altissimus umbras.
Lumine nam corpus circuit omne suo.
Quae prius & rerum nigra spectabatur imago:
Evanescit. & haec iam patet esse nihil.
Sic ubi Τῆς ἀρετῆς φῶς λάμπρον, τῆς τὲ σοφίας
Vir clarus, summi luminis exoritur:
Esse videbantur qui nonnihil, evanescunt.
Et nulli fiunt: qui fuerant aliqui.
Οἶος πέπνυται: τοὶ δὲ σκίαι ἀΐσσουσι
Τοὺς λοιποὺς ἀπολεῖ: καὶ μόνος ἐστὶ σοφὸς

Among the well-roasted Ethiopians and in red-hot Syene (the torrid land that lies beneath the tropical orbit ) when the sun stands still above the navel of the world in the summer heat of the solstice, then the sun at his greatest height in the sky makes no shadows, for he surrounds all bodies with his light. The black image of things that was seen before vanishes, and it’s clear that it was nothing all along. Thus, when the bright light of virtue and a man famed for wisdom, a soul of the greatest brightness,* rises, the things that were seen to be nothing vanish, and those who seemed like somebodies suddenly are nothing. He alone thinks. The shadows flee.† He will destroy the others. He alone is wise.
* The combination of Greek and Latin only makes sense if we assume the Greek is pulled into the gravity of the Latin sentence as a genitive qualitatis, a construction largely unknown in Greek.
† The Greek verb applying to ‘shadows’ doesn’t actually mean this, but the sense seems to require it to. The idea is Stoic in origin.

Notes:

1.  Today’s Aswan, Egypt, in ancient times the border between Egypt and Nubia.

2.  A reference to the idea, long defunct but quite prevalent in Antiquity, that the earth is divided into five climactic zones, only two of which are habitable: cf. Vergil, Georgics, 1.231; Horace, Odes, 1.22.17ff; Cicero, De republica, 6.21.

3.  The idea that the world has a centre, its navel, was common in Antiquity; the Navel (omphalos) itself was to be seen in Apollo’s temple of prophecy at Delphi. The expression seems here to owe its existence to the cheap jingle with umbrae, ‘shadows’ in the next line.



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