learned ignorance

by Frederick W. Ricord
from the Latin of Hugo Grotius

Image: Newark History
Image: Newark History

Who, curious, undertakes all things to span,
By dint of labor all his own, nor can
A limit to his mental pow’rs admit,
A poor judge makes—a valuer unfit
Of self and nature; for the God o’er all
Would have us wonder much, with knowledge small,
And touch alone what in our way is set.
This primal error leads to greater yet,
For he who lack of knowledge will deny,
Himself with fallacy must satisfy.
The mind that’s most at ease, will err the least,
Content on knowledge smoothly earned to feast;
Nor will it search for that which searching flies.
Not knowing some things, ofttimes is most wise.

Frederick W. Ricord was a man of letters and historian, a linguist and educator, and a two-term mayor of Newark. As librarian and secretary of the board of education, he produced three volumes on Roman history for schools.

“Learned Ignorance,” one of Ricord’s many verse translations, appeared with his rendering of Terence’s Self-tormentor in 1885. The original by Grotius follows:

                Qui curiosus postulat totum suae
                Patere menti, ferre qui non sufficit
                Mediocritatis conscientiam suae,
                Iudex iniquus, aestimator est malus
                Suique naturaeque: nam rerum parens,
                Libanda tantum quae venit mortalibus,
                Nos scire pauca, multa mirari iubet.
                Hic primus error auctor est peioribus.
                Nam qui fateri nil potest incognitum,
                Falso necesse est placet ignorantiam;
                Umbrasque inanes captet inter nubila
                Imaginosae adulter Ixion Deae.
                Magis quiescet animus, errabit minus,
                Contentus eruditione parabili,
                Nec quaeret illam, siqua quaerentem fugit.
                Nescire quaedam, magna pars Sapientiae est.

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