Sometimes “Pueri” Means Children, But Sometimes “Boys.”

I love reading the Vulgate. Seriously, it is so fun that I imagine reading the Greek must be really, really fun.

So I run smack dab into a familiar reading from John 21:1-14, but it’s in Latin, so I read it a little differently:

“Dixit ergo eis Jesus: ‘Pueri, numquid pulmentarium habetis?'” (Jn. 21:5)

“Therefore, Jesus said to them, ‘Boys, don’t you have any relish?’

Heh. First of all, since the apostles are out fishing nekkid (in the practical ancient Mediterranean way when it was warm enough), it’s pretty clear that you can read it as “boys” or “lads,” not the generic “children.” If you want to, anyway.

Second, it cracks me up. “Any luck, kids? Wanna sell me some fish?” When of course He knows they’ve pulled up nada all night. Hence Jerome using “numquid,” which expects a no. (The Greek has to be less succinct and actually include “not.)

Third, the Greek ancient world felt that bread was your main dish (“opsarion”) for filling your belly, whereas fish was “relish” (“prosphagion”) that you ate as a condiment or improvement to your bread. Greeks thought it was greedy to eat more fish than bread. This comes up a lot in classical Greek stuff, so I guess it makes sense that it continued into later history.

I don’t think it was such a thing with the Romans (or they didn’t care if the Greeks thought they were greedy). Anyway, there was a Gentile city close to the Sea of Galilee and the apostles and Jesus apparently spoke Greek and were influenced somewhat by Greeks, so that’s why Jesus said that. Jerome’s “pulmentarium” is a direct translation of the Greek.

Interestingly to me, cheese and eggs also were regarded as “prosphagion” by the Byzantines, while vegetables didn’t really count as anything, and bread was still opsarion, the main dish. So maybe the fasting from cheese and eggs and fish in the East is really fasting from “relish,” whereas most of the West never thought of protein as optional for meals even when protein was hard to afford. (And there’s a lot less protein in Western grains than in ancient Greek grains, and we don’t have olives to add more protein to beans; so there may be good reason for that.) So that’s probably part of why fasting regulations have been loosened by the bishops of the West for pastoral reasons (although there’s a fair amount of individual loosening by priests in the East for pastoral reasons).


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