Rhyming like a pharmacist

Innokenty Annensky wrote in The Second Book of Reflections (1909, Brand-Ibsen, pp. 173-179):

Perhaps what’s captivating in Brand is that Brand does not fear being a psychological absurdity from time to time, that we’re judging Brand, marvel at him, go to war over him while the wily Norseman [Ibsen] keeps grinning quietly.

It even seems to me that I can see a wide smile broadening his face between the overhanging earflaps of his walrus hat…

But what is this charming quality of the play?

Why, after all, are we so ready to forgive not only Brand for being Brand but forgive Ibsen himself his apothecary rhymes – do you recall: quantum satis and caritatis – twice, even – did he find them so good? –

Annensky was a Classicist by education, occupation and conviction, although more of a Grecian than a Latinist (he translated all of the extant Euripides into Russian). Quantum satis, “as much as will suffice,” used to be a common specification in medical prescriptions. Chekhov dropped it every now and then in his stories, especially his early, comic miniatures – he was a practicing doctor. From A Doctor’s Novel (or A Doctor’s Love Affair), 1882-83:

If you have reached manhood and finished your studies, then recipe: feminam unam and dowry, quantum satis.

Literally, “take: one woman and dowry as much as needed.”

That’s what I did: I took feminam unam (taking two is not allowed) and dowry. Already the ancients reproached those who took no dowry when marrying (Ichthyosaurus, XII, 3).

In The Druggist’s Wife (1886), an army doctor talks to the eponymous wife:

“What a pity spirits aren’t sold in drugstores! However… you’re supposed to be selling wine as a medicine. Do you have vinum gallicum rubrum?”

“We do.”

“Aha! Bring it to us! Devil take it – drag it over here!”

“How much do you need?”

Quantum satis!.. … First with water, and afterwards per se…”

Finally, Dr. Astrov speaking in Uncle Vanya (1899; translated by Marian Fell):

ASTROFF. I have come to see your husband. You wrote me that he had rheumatism and I know not what else, and that he was very ill, but he appears to be as lively as a cricket.

HELENA. He had a fit of the blues yesterday evening and complained of pains in his legs, but he seems all right again to-day.

ASTROFF. And I galloped over here twenty miles at break-neck speed! No matter, though, it is not the first time. Once here, however, I am going to stay until to-morrow, and at any rate sleep quantum satis.

(The orginal says thirty versts, about the same as twenty miles.) Going back to Annensky’s 1909 essay, it’s worth reading in full, as its author was one of the finest and best-educated Russian poets of the Silver Age and his view of Brand and Brand himself is quite different from, say, Alexander Blok’s or Lev Shestov’s.

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