You are here:

Latin/Meaning of a phrase

Advertisement


Question
Hi Maria,

I asked a fellow expert a question on the phrase In oculis animus habitat and received the answer below which was very helpful. I was wondering if you had anything you can add. Specifically, I would be interested to know the context the phrase was used in the book, and what Pliny's interest was in the phrase. I hope this falls within your area.

Thanks in advance,

Dave
This phrase occurs in chapter 11.37.54 (section 145) of Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia (Natural History), an encyclopaedia of ancient knowledge written around the first century after Christ.

It is a common belief, which Pliny reflects, that somehow the eyes reveal the inner soul.  Even in modern English we have such phrases as "the eyes see into the soul" and "evil eye."  Even our word "envy," which comes from the Latin "invidia," literally means "to see into."

Since you are interested in secular and religious history, you may be interested to know that not only was Pliny the Elder a noted natural philosopher of his day, but was the uncle of Pliny the Younger, who, in the early second century after Christ, became the imperial governor of the Roman province of Bithinia-Pontus, just east of modern Turkey.  There he represented the Roman emperor Trajan and wrote one of the most important descriptions of early Christian practice from the perspective of a non-Christian.

Pliny the Elder was in charge of the Roman fleet around the Bay of Naples.  When on that fateful day in A.D. 79 Mount Vesuvius erupted, he was quite effective in deploying the fleet to save whatever he could of the populace.  Unfortunately, he perished while courageously performing his task.  His nephew wrote two letter to Tacitus, the contemporary Roman historian, detailing the eruption of the volcano and his uncle's activities.  It is the only first-hand report that we have of the famous eruption.

Answer
Hello,

since you would like to know the context where Pliny the Elder in his “Naturalis Historia “ uses  the phrase  “In oculis animus habitat” (lit.“The soul dwells in the eyes“), I  can tell you that we read such a sentence in the book 11, chapter 54 [or 58, according to different editions], where the Roman naturalist and admiral of the Roman fleet Pliny the Elder (died in A.D. 79 during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m  of ash and pumice the city of Pompeii) talks about the theory of sight in living creatures as well as about the various characters of persons that one can judges just from their eyes.

It is exactly in this context that Pliny the Elder says:
”Profecto in oculis animus habitat: ardent, intenduntur, umectant,conivent". [It is just in the eyes that the soul/mind dwells: in fact, the eyes are sometimes ardent, sometimes fixed and interested, sometimes humid or indulgently  conniving].

For an English translation of the whole chapter 54 see at:  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/textdoc=Plin.+Nat.+11.54&fromdoc=Perseus%3At

As you can see, there is no religious background related to Pliny’s phrase, but only his interest in natural history.

Hope this can be helpful to you.

Best regards,

Maria

Latin

All Answers


Answers by Expert:


Ask Experts

Volunteer


Maria

Expertise

I am an expert in Latin Language and Literature and I'll be glad to answer any questions concerning this matter.

Experience

Over 25 years teaching experience.

Education/Credentials
I received my Ph.D. in Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

This expert accepts donations:

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.