In Historia Inventionis Phosphori (link), I'm struggling to parse a sentence in the second paragraph.

De cujus inventore anno 1692 Gallico sermone prodiit Viri Egregii & in experimentis hujus Phosphori versati relatio, sed in locis non paucis, iisque capitalibus a re gesta discedens, &, ut opinor, ex narrationibus hominum plus aequo uni faventium, aut etiam rumoribus incertis hausta.

The language seems more literary and the usage of words seems more free. What I have so far, if I were to translate, is:

About the inventor of which in the year 1692 there came forth a report in French of an eminent man engaged also in experiments of this Phosphorus, but in not a few places, ...

So far the use of sermo seems to refer to language (ex. "Sermone eo debemus uti, qui notus est nobis: ne, ut quidam Graeca verba inculcantes, jure optimo irrideamur." Nepos Hannib.), relatio refers to a report, versare to engaging in something (ex. "opifices omnes in sordida arte versantur" Cic.), and prodire to coming about.

For the remainder, I'm not sure what to make of the usages and structure of the phrasing. Is there a way to rearrange or reword the sentence to be more clear so I can better understand it? Are there further usage tricks that might help? (A translation is also helpful, though not preferred.)


2 Answers 2


The relatio is further qualified as discedens and hausta. Specifically, it is “in not a few places” (iisque capitalibus, “and the main ones”)

  • a re gesta discedens (deviating from the history),
  • ex narrationibus, aut etiam rumoribus hausta (sourced from tales, or even rumours),

where the narrationes are further qualified as

  • hominum plus aequo uni faventium (of people who favour one more than is proper)

and the rumores as incerti.

Put together, “… but in not a few places, and the most important ones at that, it deviates from the actual events, and is, as I believe, sourced from tales of people who unduly favour one person, or even from uncertain rumours.”


Leibniz is a German philosopher.

His German inspired Latin grammar is at least as complex as his ancient Greek role models, in contrast to the simplifying texts of Cicero.

His style may be inspired by Aristotle, who was in a similar historical position of reformulating 5th century Greek philosophy by the new world of facts from all branches of science.

The overcautious of Leibniz scientific style is dictated by two facts.

  1. his position as a high ranked ministerial in Hannover, trying to mediate between the courts and scientific centers in catholic world of Italy, Austria, France, Spain, Naples and the protestants in the northern German states, Netherlands, England and Scandinavia.
  2. The fast evolving natural sciences that rendered most of the academic literature useless, but sparked bitter academic feuds, censorship up to incrimination by the authorities of states and churches (Galilei, Descartes, especially).

A translation into English, using my intermediate Latin into German, yields an understandable text:

In 1692 a report of a respected man who was familiar with the experiments of this phosphorus was published in French about its discoverer; but which, however, differs from the facts in not a few places, in the main points especially; in my opinion, they may have been collected from the lessons of men, who are more likely to renarrate; or even refere to rumors of uncertain origin.

  • Thanks for the insight, I'm curious about the difference in meaning between "a report about a respected man also engaged in these experiments" and "a report about the inventor by a respected man who was familiar with these experiments." I think your version sounds right, but I just misread it when originally translating. Apr 9 at 15:55
  • What is "men who are more likely to renarrate" supposed to mean, and how do you interpret plus aequo uni faventium? What do aequo and uni: stand for in your opinion? Apr 9 at 16:17
  • In plain German renarrate means 'nachplappern' , English perhaps 'reproduction of knowledge from hearsay, parrot. The 'plus aequo uni faventium' means 'biased by affiliation to a special author'. In the academic world of Leibniz up to Goethe, any printed paper was dripping with devotion for the people of influence on the authors professional career. In Germany, still in the last century, is was obligatory to thank the 'adviser' at least for his 'constant willingness to talk'.
    – Roland F
    Apr 10 at 8:02
  • @RolandF if that's so, why does your translation talk about „nachplappern“ when there is nothing like that in the Latin? Also, I asked about plus aequo etc. not so much because I was interested in 18th century academic customs, but because it does not show up in your translation at all. Apr 11 at 16:00
  • You are right, my only purpose was to understand, why 'he is using 'narration' here, that unavoidable sounds like , 'Narr' in German, even if not derived from Latin origin: meaning fool, scientific phantasts or idiot.
    – Roland F
    Apr 11 at 18:39

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