Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas
The Vulgate (Latin) Bible's rendering of Ecclesiastes 1:2 has been translated into English in many different ways.  

From the King James Bible: Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

From the New International Version:  "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher.  "Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless."

St. Jerome, who translated the Bible from Hebrew into Latin in the fourth century, translated the Hebrew word hebel as vanitas, and the English equivalent for vanitas is vanity.  

The usual meaning of vanity today is having an inflated pride in one's importance or personal appearance.  (Think Carly Simon's song, "You're So Vain.")  But the roots of the word hebel indicate vapor, fog, steam, or breath -- all of which are transitory, ephemeral, and without lasting substance.

We think that making money, building buildings, writing books, and all the other things that humans do matter.  But do they really?

As the author of Ecclesiastes goes on to say:

No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come
will not be remembered by those who follow them.
Over the next three days, 2 or 3 lines a day will continue to explore this theme.

"Vanitas," by Pieter Claesz (1630)

1 comment:

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