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[9arg] What is meant by “ambiguous” words; and that even honos was such a word.

ONE may very often see and notice in the early writings many words which at present in ordinary conversation have one fixed meaning, but which then were so indifferent and general, that they could signify and include two opposite things. Some of these are well known, such as tempestas (weather), valitudo (health), facinus (act), dolus (device), gratia (favour), industria (activity). 1 For it is well-nigh a matter of general knowledge that these are ambiguous and can be used either in a good or in a bad sense.

That periculm (trial), too, and venenum (drug) and contagium (contagion) were not used, as they now are, only in a bad sense, you may learn from many examples of that usage. But the use of honor as an indifferent word, so that people even spoke of “bad honour,” signifying “wrong” or “injury,” is indeed very rare. However, Quintus Metellus Numidicus, in a speech which he delivered On his Triumph, used these words: 2 “In this affair, by as much as the whole of you are more important than my single self, by so much he inflicts upon you greater insult and injury than on me; and by as much as honest men are more willing to suffer wrong than to [p. 391] do wrong to another, by so much has he shown worse honour (peiorem honorem) to you than to me; for he wishes me to suffer injustice, Romans, and you to inflict it, so that I may be left with cause for complaint, and you may be open to reproach.” He says, “he has shown worse honour to you than to me,” and the meaning of the expression is the same as when he himself says, just before that, “he has inflicted a greater injury and insult on you than on me.”

In addition to the citation of this word, I thought I ought to quote the following saying from the speech of Quintus Metellus, in order to point out that it is a precept of Socrates; the saying in question is: “It is worse to be unjust than to suffer injustice.” 3

1 Tempestas means good or bad weather; valitudo, good or ill health, etc.

2 O. B. F., p. 275, Meyer.2

3 Plato, Gorgias, p. 473 A; 489 A; 508 B.

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