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Bill Thayer

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De summo planus, sed non ego planus in imo
Versor utrimque manu: diverso munere fungor.
Altera pars revocat, quidquid pars altera fecit.


Flat is my top, not flat my base at all,
Both ways I'm turned, nor do my tasks appal,
What one end does the other can recall.


Flat on top but not flat below, I am turned either way by the hand; different duties I perform: the one part revokes what the other has done.

Editor's Additional Notes:

Graphium: Ancient styli were often of iron or bronze, but are found more often of bone. Although some had a rectangular or oval flat surface at the top, many had simply rounded knobs for smoothing over the wax already scratched with characters. hence the phrase vertere stilum means 'to erase, make a correction.' Cf. Hor. S. I.10.73: Saepe stilum vertas, iterum quae digna legi sint scripturus; Cic. Verr. II.2.101: vertit stilum in tabulis suis; also Prudent. Hymn. S. Cassiani Martyr., 51‑54:

Inde alii stimulos et acumina ferrea vibrant,
qua parte aratis cera sulcis scribitur,
et qua recti apices abolentur et aequoris hirti
rursus nitescens innovatur area.

2 utrimque: "either way", i.e. from either end. For a similar use cf. Hor. Epist. I.18.9: Virtus est medium vitiorum et utrimque reductum.

3 revocat: one advantage the pen has over the tongue; witness Horace's famous lament, Epist. I.18.71: semel emissum volat irrevocabile verbum, an idea which he repeated in Ars Poet. 390: nescit vox missa reverti.

Ohl's Critical Notes on the Latin Text:

Tit. Grafius A; De grafio β

2 utraque α; utrumque d — et munere α; diversa et munera d

3 quicquid αβ — facit A

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Page updated: 17 Feb 06