I found a couple books that quote the introduction to the Systema Naturæ thus:

Tanto igitur magis nosse naturam operæ pretium, quo nullum majus est!

Linnaeus actually wrote:

Tanto igitur magis nosse Naturam operæ pretium, quo nullum magis est!

Were they misquoting Linnaeus or correcting him?

This is actually a Latin grammar question. I was googling for this sentence in hope of finding clues for how to parse it. I had originally misunderstood Tanto igitur magis as "So much greater, then, …" That is, I had confused the adverb magis with the adjective maius. Having sorted that out, I see the first magis as part of the infinitive clause magis nosse Naturam, "to better know Nature". So now I'm thinking that the whole sentence means something like:

Therefore such a great labor as to better know Nature is worthwhile, indeed nothing is more valuable!

Since the Latin plays on the idiom operæ pretium est, it's hard to translate into English without radically rewriting it or losing something. Regardless of how to say it in English, this interpretation makes the second clause compare nullum with pretium (quo's antecedent is pretium)—which seems to call for maius, not magis.

On the other hand, if quo's antecedent is operæ, then the sentence is saying that no labor is greater—which would agree with the emphasis from starting with Tanto but still call (I think) for maius.

Or…does the choice of magis vs. maius disambiguate between possible comparisons?

So, how do you parse Linnaeus's sentence?

  • 2
    Here's an edition with majus instead. I suspect this was either an editorial error or emendation... majus definitely seems better.
    – brianpck
    Apr 25, 2017 at 22:10
  • @brianpck Correcting him, then. :) (Or quoting a later edition.)
    – Ben Kovitz
    Apr 27, 2017 at 5:37


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