For cursing the genius of our President

The latest comment from Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary:

I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.

I wish she’d added “stable” but the comment is immeasurably amusing as is. It reminded me of the passage in Trimalchio’s Feast (from Satyricon, by Petronius) that for some reason I’ve remembered since first seeing it as a youth. Here it is, enlarged, translated by W. C. Firebaugh:

But his passion for dancing was interrupted at this stage by a stenographer who read aloud, as if he were reading the public records, “On the seventh of the Kalends of July, on Trimalchio’s estates near Cumae, were born thirty boys and forty girls: five hundred pecks of wheat were taken from the threshing floors and stored in the granaries: five hundred oxen were put to yoke: the slave Mithridates was crucified on the same date for cursing the genius of our master, Gaius…”

Here’s Mithridates’s punishment in the original Latin:

…Mithridates servus in crucem actus est, quia Gai nostri genio male dixerat.

Unfortunately, the joke is a little off, or even a bit fake, since there a difference in the  meaning of the word genius as used by Stephanie Grisham and by the author of Satyricon. It was most probably intended to mean Gaius’s tutelary spirit. rather than his extraordinary creative or intellectual capability.

This is how other translators interpret the term. Michael Heseltine (1913):

…the slave Mithridates was led to crucifixion for having damned the soul of our lord Gaius.

I assume that “damned” means “cursed” in this context. Alfred Allinson (1930):

…Mithridates, a slave, was crucified for blaspheming our master Gaius’ tutelary genius.

Sarah Ruden (2000):

…the slave Mithridates was crucified for cursing the guardian spirit of our Gaius.

The Russian translation that introduced me to the scene was less literal but no less memorable for that: “the slave Mithridates was nailed to the cross for an irreverent word about the genius of our Gaius.”

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