He must be either dead or teaching school

This is Antonio Machado, the author. Juan de Mairena is not real.

Juan de Mairena’s lucid explanation

Mairena was — notwithstanding his angelic appearance — basically rather ill-tempered. From time to time he would receive a visit from some paterfamilias  complaining, not about the fact that his son had been flunked, but about the casualness of Mairena’s examination process. An angry scene, albeit a brief one, would inevitably occur:

“Is it enough for you just to look at a boy in order to flunk him?” the visitor would ask, throwing his arms wide in feigned astonishment.

Mairena would answer, red-faced and banging the floor with his cane, “I don’t even have to do that much. I just have to look at his father!”

Antonio Machado   Juan de Mairena XVI


Aut mortuus est, aut docet litteras

Ή τέθνήκεν ή διδάσκει γράμματα

“He must be either dead or teaching school”. An iambic line current as a proverb, and used in the old days to convey that a man was in great misfortune, though it was not clear what the man was doing. This passed into common speech, as Zenodatus tells us, on the following occasion. The Athenians, under command of Nicias, had on one occasion fought and lost a battle against the Sicilians; they suffered heavy casualties, and many prisoners were taken and carried off to Sicily, where they were compelled to teach Sicilian children their elements. And so the few who escaped and returned to Athens, when asked what so-and-so was doing in Italy, used to reply with the line I have quoted above.

Desiderius Erasmus, The Adages of Erasmus, ed. Barker,  I X 59, p. 131, Toronto, 2001

Published in: on March 5, 2010 at 3:05 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Arr! Ye’ve got an extraneous acute on yer eta!

  2. Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur.

  3. I’m using Vlach script.

  4. Actually, looking it up, the mistake is either Erasmus’s or the University of Toronto’s.

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