Friday, December 2, 2016


Yes, this post involves Latin, but do not leave just yet. Indulge me for a moment.

There is a story in the book of Luke in the New Testament that is commonly called "the rich man and Lazarus" in which a beggar named Lazarus is pretty much ignored by a rich man during their lives. Eventually they both died (as Gomer Pyle might say, "Surprise, surprise!") and Lazarus went to "Abraham's bosom" (not heaven exactly, but the abode of the righteous dead in Hebrew culture) and the rich man went to Hades, where he was tormented.

I'm not going to torment you with the story. You can read it here if you want to. Or not.

Knowing my readers as I do, I could almost predict who will read the story and who will pass on the opportunity. As my Albanian mother-in-law used to say, "Do what you please."

The reason I mention it at all is that I have wondered something for years, and it's this:

Why do some churches refer to this passage as the story of Dives and Lazarus? I mean, the rich man's name is not mentioned. The only proper names in the story are Lazarus, Abraham, and Moses. Where do they get Dives? Have they added something to the story that really isn't there?

I know it's not an earth-shattering problem, but it has puzzled me for a long time.

And now, after many years of wondering, I have learned the answer.

The answer, my friends, is not blowing in the wind, it's in the Vulgate.

Say what?

In the Vulgate, the version of the Bible that a man named Jerome translated into Latin from Greek way back in the fourth century, I discovered that dives is the Latin word for rich man. It's that simple.

Mystery solved.

You don't have to believe me, though. Being the thoughtful blogger that I am, I will enable you to see for yourself. Here is the first part of the story in 1611 King James Version English with the Latin of the Vulgate shown after each verse in italic font:

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. (Homo quidam erat dives, qui induebatur purpura et bysso, et epulabatur quotidie splendide.)

And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, (Et erat quidam mendicus, nomine Lazarus, qui jacebat ad januam ejus, ulceribus plenus,)

And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. (cupiens saturari de micis quæ cadebant de mensa divitis, et nemo illi dabat: sed et canes veniebant, et lingebant ulcera ejus.)

And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; (Factum est autem ut moreretur mendicus, et portaretur ab angelis in sinum Abrahæ. Mortuus est autem et dives, et sepultus est in inferno.)

The story continues, but I'll stop now so that you won't be bored to death.

I did find a couple of other interesting things that made me go "Hmmm," though. Later in the story the rich man asks Father Abraham to send Lazarus that he may "dip (intingat) the tip of his finger (extremum digiti sui) in water (in aquam ) and cool (refrigeret) my tongue (linguam meam)".

Fascinating! Dip is intingat (the root of our English word intinction) and finger is digiti and water is aquam and cool is refrigeret and tongue is linguam.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus cool is actually refrigeret in Latin! Who knew?

So here is the conclusion of the whole matter, courtesy of your intrepid correspondent. Latin is not dead at all. It's right here with us, hiding in plain sight in many modern English words and peeking out at us if we just have eyes to see.

Here's Betty Furness from a 1955 commercial for Westinghouse to tell you all you need to know. (2:06)

We now return you to the program in progress.


  1. I wanted to learn Latin while at school. My parents forbade me 'because it was a dead language'. And yet, so many of the words we know and use spring from its loins...

  2. Even though languages fade from common use they never die. One of the things that fascinates me about the English language is that it derives its words from so many other languages.

  3. You mentioned Father Abraham. He had a hit with "The Smurf Song". See him and hear it here:-

    Thank you for the Latin lesson. Latin is embroidered in our shared language even though I imagine that you speak it like Rocky Balboa.

  4. You would think that if those churches were to use the Latin word dives then they would go the whole hog and refer to it as: Fabulam de divite et Lazaro.

    Interesting that the root of dive is deus and means favoured by the gods which obviously wasn't true in this case. Unless it means that you can have your worldly wealth and suffer for it later, or having your cake and not eating it.

  5. I was so good at Latin class that the teacher begged me to take it into higher studies, but I couldn't for the life of me see the point and so declined. It would have been interesting I now thing, and bearing in mind how my 'career' has turned out, probably useful from the point of writing at least! Quis scit?!