Latin Phrases They Didn’t Teach You in School

“Valens cartam et calamum e manibus eius violenter extorsit.”

Valens violently wrenched the paper and pen out of his hands.

— Hilary of Poitiers, Liber I Ad Constantium, 8. (CSEL 65: 187, 12-15.)

This is another bad bishop story. Bishop Eusebius of Vercelli (good bishop) found out that his younger colleague, Bishop Dionysius of Milan, had signed a synod statement that was kinda Arian. So he up and went to the synod himself, and ended up presenting the synod with the Nicene Creed to sign. Dionysius thought this was a great idea, and started writing down his name.

That’s when Bishop Valens of Mursa (bad bishop) grabbed the paper and pen away from Bishop Dionysius.

“carta” is literally a sheet of papyrus, and hence a page or a letter.

“calamus” is a reed, and hence a reed pen or a reed pipe. A reed pen basically operates the same way as a quill pen or a dip pen: the hollow inside the reed is the ink reservoir, and the nib is carved into a rectangular shape with a cut down the middle for ink. (You carve the nib with a penknife, of course.) Dip the pen nib into an ink pot, and the ink goes up into the reed. Write something, and the ink goes down the nib onto the paper (or papyrus, in this case).

2 Comments

Filed under Patristics, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Latin Phrases They Didn’t Teach You in School

  1. Reblogged this on Medieval Otaku and commented:
    This story appeals to my sense of humor. You wonder if the bad bishop even knows what he’s signing.

  2. Bishop Valens and his compadre, Bishop Ursaces of Singidunum, were notorious for switching their theology to whatever the Emperor liked. So they had previously been against the Nicene Creed and then were for it, and then were against it again at the time of this story. Meanwhile, the orthodox bishops suffered exile for resisting the imperially desired Arian conclusion.

    There is a bit more to the story, and I will write it up.

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