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Submovendam ignorantiam.

Ignorance must be done away with

Quod monstrum id? sphinx[1] est, cur candida virginis ora,
Et volucrum pennas, crura leonis habet?
Hanc faciem assumpsit rerum ignorantia, tanti
Scilicet est triplex caussa, & origo mali.
Sunt quos ingenium leve, sunt quos blanda voluptas,
Sunt & quos faciunt corda superba rudes.
At quibus est notum quid Delphica litera[2] possit,
Praecipitis monstri guttura dira secant.
Namque vir ipse, bipesque tripesque & quadrupes idem est,
Primaque prudentis laurea, nosse virum.

What monster is that? - It is the Sphinx. - Why has it the bright face of a maiden, the wings of birds, the legs of a lion? - Ignorance has assumed this form, because the cause and origin of this great evil is threefold. There are some whom frivolity makes ignorant, others the blandishments of pleasure, still others arrogance. But those who are aware of the force of the Delphic letter, these cut the dread throat of the lowering monster. For man himself is two-legged, three-legged, four-legged, one and the same, and the first victory of the wise is to know the man.


1.  The Sphinx was a monster which lay in wait on the road to Thebes and killed all travellers who could not answer its riddle: What goes on four legs in the morning, two at mid-day, three at evening? Oedipus destroyed the monster by giving the correct answer, ‘Man’ (i.e the baby crawls on all fours , the youth walks upright on his two legs, the old man requires a stick). See below, 1.9 (Namque vir ipse...). See also Erasmus, Adagia 1209, Boeotica aenigmata.

2.  ‘the Delphic letter’, i.e. the letter E. See Plutarch, De E apud Delphos, an essay which discusses various explanations put forward for the ‘E’, a letter cast in bronze. At the end of the essay (392ff.), the letter is brought into connection with the inscription Gnothi sauton, ‘Know thyself’ (cf. 1.10), which greeted those who came to consult the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. See also Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.6.6.

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