Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

07/16/08

Permalink 12:18:02 am, by Chris Jones Email , 215 words, 3154 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature, Roman Culture

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

A google of recent news articles shows that the quote in the subject line–"Who will guard the guards?"–is still a rather common adage. Two examples can be found in just the past week:

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But ever since reading Juvenal’s Satire VI in college–where the quote can be found split between lines 347-8–I always smile a bit whenever I happen upon it. Here’s it is in context:

Audio quid veteres olim moneatis amici:
‘Pone seram, cohibe.’ Sed quis custodiet ipsos
custodes? Cauta est et ab illis incipit uxor.

(Pone seram - “put up the bar” is equivalent to “bar the door/lock her in")
Though in modern times the quote is applied to corrupt, unaccountable or incompetent organizations/government institutions, the original context is far more earthy. The poet is complaining about the morality of women: Even if you put guards on your adulterous wife, she is cauta (not “cautious"; “wily” is probably better here) and so she incipit her seduction with them!

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Qui sciet quae quoque sint modo dicenda, nisi tamen in procinctu paratamque ad omnis casus habuerit eloquentiam, velut clausis thesauris incubabit.

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