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Duplex libelli dos est: quod risum movet
 et quod prudenti vitam consilio monet.
Calumniari si quis autem voluerit
 quod arbores loquantur, non tantum ferae,
...
(Line 3~6)

  • Dos is explained as a dowry by Ørberg: donum quod alicui debetur (ut marito ab uxore).
    • Dowry doesn't make sense to me. I checked the dictionary and I found the figurative sense, gift, endowment, which I think better for translation.
    • Then why does Ørberg explain it like this?
  • Ørberg's note: prudenti vitam monere = prudentem de vitā monere.
    • Prudenti seems dative here. L&S gives aliquem de re m., aliquem aliquid m., aliquem alicujus rei m., but not alicui aliquid m.. Is this an exceptional structure?
  • Why is loquantur subjunctive? If I'm not mistaken, quod means because here, and it requires a indicative verb.
  • Following is my literal translation:
    • The gift of the little book is double: because it excites laughter and because it reminds the wise person of life designedly. ...

    • Is this correct?
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    Prudenti is ablative, modifying consilio. Oct 21, 2023 at 18:05
  • @Kingshorsey That's not what Ørberg thinks. Oct 21, 2023 at 20:53
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    quod prudenti vitam consilio monet seems to have confused people throughout the ages, if Google Books is any indication. Many think it should be prudentis, some think monet should be a different word altogether (e.g. regit), some think vita stands for homines viventes, i.e., society or some such. Oct 21, 2023 at 21:14

3 Answers 3

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To answer the easy questions first:

  • Dos does originally mean dowry. But the word over time came to be used to express something like “excellent quality, particular value,” etc. Lewis & Short defines this as “a gift, endowment, talent, property, quality.”
  • Quod being followed by the subjunctive makes it indirect speech – the speech of those who would criticize the fables; in other words, it indicates the reasons they cite for their rejection of the work. You could translate this as: “If someone should want to cavil at this book on the grounds that trees speak etc.”

Now for the difficult question. The phrase quod prudenti vitam consilio monet is dark and has apparently puzzled philologists for centuries. Ørberg offers an explanation, but I am not sure he has solved the riddle.

There seem to be two main schools of thought:

  • Those who think that prudenti modifies consilio, which yields the translation: “that it reminds of life with prudent counsel.” And if we note (from Lewis & Short) that monere can also be found “without the accessory notion of reminding or admonishing, in gen., to teach, instruct, tell, inform, point out,” we can say: “that it teaches life” (as if as a discipline, I suppose), or “teaches about life.”
  • Those who think that consilio is has no modifier, believe that prudenti describes the recipient of the monition and often emend it to prudentis, yielding the translation: “that it teaches the prudent (or: the prudent man) about life with counsel.” Ørberg seems to be in this camp (minus the emendation). In principle you don't need a dictionary to allow the dative to be used – the dative can be used freely to name beneficiaries. Still, monere has a normal way of naming the recipient, which is very frequently used, and that's the accusative, so the dative is at least a little unexpected. This interpretation also raises the question why the prudent in particular should need advice. (For a spirited rejection of this objection in Latin, see the 1911 dissertation by one Alfred H. W. Tacke titled Phaedriana).

Of course, vitam monere is strange as well. It sounds as if the message of the fables was “Live, love, laugh!” – which as far as I know is not in fact the case. There seems to have been a school of thought that read vita as “those living,” i.e., the writer's contemporaries, yielding the translation: “to teach society with prudent counsel.” This is actually not completely crazy, as this meaning is also attested in other (poetic) contexts (see Lewis & Short). Still, it seems not to have gained much traction.

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    Dos might primarily mean 'dowry', but the idea that that meaning is older than the meaning 'gift' is pretty silly.
    – Cairnarvon
    Oct 22, 2023 at 3:57
  • Is quod of indirect speech and an object clause interchangeable (calumniari arbores loqui)? Oct 22, 2023 at 4:32
  • I'm still a bit confused. Which definition of quod in L&S matches the quod (with calumniari) here? I can't find a matching entry in Allen & Greenough's, either. Oct 22, 2023 at 15:29
  • @Cairnarvon Well, if you put it like that ... but L&S are referring to "gift" in a translated sense, i.e. "talent, advantageous property" &c. Incidentally, the English term "endowed" has come to be used almost exclusively in this sense ;-) Oct 22, 2023 at 16:10
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    @KotobaTrilyNgian This is a completely normal causal quod like you've seen a hundred times before, meaning “because.” Calumniari is not the verbum dicendi; in fact, there isn't any. If you want, you can imagine something like: Calumniari si quis autem voluerit, dicens id se facere quod [vel quia] arbores loquantur &c. That should make clear why you see the subjunctive, but note that it is different from what is actually written – no explicit mention of a causal relationship is put in the critics' mouths by the author. Oct 22, 2023 at 18:40
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This is just a partial answer to the OP's question and a follow-up commentary on Sebastian's correct answer to what he refers to as the "difficult question".

In my opinion, what is really "puzzling" is not the syntax nor the interpretation of the Latin text but rather Ørberg's misleading note/equation prudenti vitam monere = prudentem de vitā monere. Here it is just the case that the surface syntax of the original text does not express two elliptical constituents that are indeed relevant for the interpretation: cf. the predicative frames alicui risum movere (cf. the explicit dative mihi in this example from Cicero: Ille mihi risum magis quam stomachum movere solet (Cic. Att. 6,3,7)) and aliquem vitam monere (prudenti consilio). I agree with Kingshorsey's comment above that prudenti goes with the nominal adjunct consilio, which acts as an instrumental modifier of monet.

Given the normal (i.e. unpuzzling!) ellipsis of the dative animate argument with risum movet in the first conjunct, one wonders why the ellipsis of the accusative animate argument of monet in the second conjunct should instead be considered as "puzzling". These two animate arguments are both expected to be elliptical here since we are dealing with a generic context. To conclude, the alleged "puzzle", "riddle" or whatever is in our heads but not in the Latin text.

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    If that is how you read the passage (and I am inclined to agree), then Ørberg's explanation is not simply misleading, but wrong. A Google Books search will soon reveal, however, that widely varying interpretations existed long before Ørberg came along. It's a good question why, though, since as you say there is nothing special about monere without an explicit recipient. Oct 23, 2023 at 19:54
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dos, dotis 3f is a word meaning a dowry. For example, in the Ars Amatoria there is a sentence: dos est uxoria lites ("the dowry of a wife is quarreling").

Why does prudenti seem dative? To me it seems to be an adjective in the ablative modifying and agreeing with consilio, "(it) counsels life by prudent advice".

The word loquantur is in the subjunctive because it is in a subordinate clause, and moreover it is a causal subordinate clause. There is an article in the Dickinson web site that discusses how to undersand the subjunctive with respect to causal clauses. When subordinate ideas are hypothetical or causal, then they are almost always subjunctive. So, for example, if you have a sentence like "If X happens to be true (because Y causes this), then blah blah." The causal clause will be in the subjunctive, as it is here.

quod does mean "because" here but that does not necessarily require the indicative.

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