On this website there is an excerpt from Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets, quoting Samuel Garth (who was later to become personal physician to King George I) in his address to the Royal College of Physicians of London.

In 1697, Garth spoke that which is now called the Harveian oration; which the authors of the Biographia mention with more praise than the passage quoted in their notes will fully justify. Garth, speaking of the mischiefs done by quacks, has these expressions: "Non tamen telis vulnerat ista agyrtarum colluvies, sed theriaca quadam magis perniciosa; non pyrio, sed pulvere nescio quo exotico certat; non globulis plumbeis, sed pilulis aeque lethalibus interficit." This was certainly thought fine by the author, and is still admired by his biographer. In October, 1702, he became one of the censors of the college.

As is to be expected, Johnson does not translate the Latin quote. Can someone help me?

I've made a feeble attempt to do it myself, but didn't get past looking up most of the words:

"Non tamen telis vulnerat ista agyrtarum colluvies, sed theriaca

telum - weapon
vulnerat - he wounds
ista - that (near) or that (disparaging)
agyrtarum - ?
colluvies - effluvium; medley, hotchpotch (from "colluo" - to rinse)
theriaca - theriac

quadam magis perniciosa; non pyrio, sed pulvere nescio quo exotico

quadam - someone, something (fem abl. sing)
perniciosa - pernicious
pyrio - (dat or abl of pyrius) fiery
pulvere - (abl. sing) dust

certat; non globulis plumbeis, sed pilulis aeque lethalibus

certat - he disputes, competes, fights
globulis - (dat or abl. pl of globulus) (dim of globus) a globule
plumbeis - (dat or abl pl of plumbea) a ball of lead
pilulis - (dat or abl pl of pilula) a pill
aeque - just as much


interficit - he kills

There are a couple of Greek loan words here:

  • agyrta(?) (ἀγύρτης), vagabond
  • theriaca (θηριακή [sc. ἀντίδοτος]), antidote against a poisonous bite (e.g., snake bite)
  • pyrium (πύρινον [sc. φάρμακον]), fiery drug, probably arsenic (according to LSJ)
    Update: More likely, I think, especially given the context, pyrio = pulvere pyrio, 'gunpowder'

Other than that, I think you've got most of the words. In context, pulvus probably just means 'powder,' and colluvies is a bit stronger than what you've found – more like '(collective) cesspool.' I think the globulis plumbeis must refer to bullets or buckshot or the like.

The subject throughout is ista agyrtarum colluvies, and the sentence is a series of statements in the form:

'it's not by using x (noun denoting some 'normal' method of doing harm) that it (the agyrtarum colluvies) does y (verb denoting harm), but by using z (noun denoting a treatment used by a quack doctor).'


Nevertheless, it's not by spears that that cesspool of vagabonds wounds, but by some (kind of) antidote/theriac that's (even) more deadly; it's not by gunpowder but by some exotic powder or other that it fights; it's not by lead shot but by equally lethal pills that it kills.

  • Thank you @cnread! Before I accept the answer, can you provide a full translation? Or at least explain what is meant by "sed theriaca quadam magis perniciosa"? I don't think "theriac" refers to just any antidote, in this case, but to the timeless one with 64-odd ingredients and opium, of semi-mythical origin from King Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus. It sounds like Garth held a low opinion of it, but I want to be sure. ... Feb 9 '17 at 2:07
  • Based on your suggestions I'm parsing it something like this: "This cesspool of vagabonds wounds not with weapons, but with theriac, which is more pernicious; they fight not with fire but with powders, I don't know how exotic; they murder not with lead shot but with pills just as deadly." Feb 9 '17 at 2:08
  • 1
    @Metamorphic, Theriaca quadam magis perniciosa means 'by some more deadly antidote/theriac.' Quadam is an indefinite adj., which makes me think the more general meaning, 'antidote,' is intended. But quidam can also be used to soften/qualify a strong expression or metaphorical language; so even if Garth was alluding to the theriac, he might be backing off it somewhat: 'by a more deadly what-one-might-call theriac. Also note that nescio quo in pulvere nescio quo exotico functions as an indefinite adj., often with dismissive force; so the phrase means 'by some exotic powder or other'.
    – cnread
    Feb 9 '17 at 5:42
  • @Metamorphic, As you requested, I've provided a full translation in my original answer, replacing the summary that was there before.
    – cnread
    Feb 9 '17 at 6:01
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    @Metamorphic, In fact, I think it's quite likely that pyrio = pulvere pyrio ('gunpowder') here, which works a bit better with the other 2 weapon terms (spear and lead shot).
    – cnread
    Feb 9 '17 at 23:19

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