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Vox populi - vox Dei

 
Vox populi - vox Dei
The voice of the people (is) the voice of God


Reading the Wikipedia article about the meaning of the phrase "vox populi (vox dei)" one may experience some confusion regarding the origin of the expression:

Often quoted as, Vox populi, vox dei, "The voice of the people is the voice of God", is an old proverb often erroneously attributed to William of Malmesbury in the twelfth century.[1]

Another early reference to the expression is in a letter from Alcuin to Charlemagne in 798, although it is believed to have been in earlier use.[2] The full quotation from Alcuin reads:

Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.[3]

English translation:

And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.[4]


Indeed, further medieval references can be cited, such as Peter Damian:

Tunc denique probatum est uerum esse quod dicitur: Vox populi uox Dei.
And then if finally proved to be true they, as they say: The voice of the people is the voice of God.


But Let us now look at Isaiah 66:6, using Jerome's Latin translation:

vox populi de civitate vox de templo vox Domini reddentis retributionem inimicis suis

The voice of the people from the town, the voice from the temple, the voice of the Lord who renders recompense to His enemies.


What's interesting, you will not find the word people in the Septuagint and, as far as I can tell, in the Hebrew text. Cf. KJV:

A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the LORD that rendereth recompence to his enemies.

Whatever the reason for textual discrepancies, we have an innovation in the Latin translation (although, I am sure, Jerome had some textual basis for his reading). Thus, for the first time we have within the same context the idea of the people's voice and the idea of the voice of God. Apparently, sometime after the Vulgate became widely used these two ideas produced the well-known proverb. It is funny that the origin of the phrase is completely erroneous and accidental, but it is still regarded as holding some veracity and an independent value of a morally obliging statement!



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