Homo Sum: Humani Nil a Me Alienum Puto

“I am human, and nothing human is strange(meaning: irrelevant) to me (puto = I consider).”

The quote’s been attributed to everyone from Martial to Maya Angelou, but Terentius probably said it first, in the context of a play where a character uses it as justification to butt in where he really doesn’t belong. So much for the clarity of context. Anything that survives in a proverbial form outside of its original context is no longer bound by it and takes on its own shades of interpretation. Today the proverb means just what it says: “I am human, and nothing human is alien to me.”

Anyone who writes books and stories set in cultures not their own (practically anyone who writes sf or fantasy) is eventually going to get this, and whether it’s from someone “well-meaning” or an internet troll, it amounts to the same thing: “How dare you?” As in: “How dare you write from a NA viewpoint or use NA mythology as a springboard because you’re not NA, or Japanese, or Chinese, or Thai, or Mayan, or Spanish, or Basque, or Masai…” That includes the legendary or mythological past and any syncretions and accretions thereunto. Sometimes they will grant that it’s okay for a Westerner to write about ancient Greece even though most of us 1) Are Not Greek and 2) Don’t know any more about the REAL ancient Greece than anyone else does.

It doesn’t matter who it comes from, it’s pure rubbish from start to finish. We’re all human, which is one thing we all share and why we’re more alike than different even when we’re very different indeed. Which is absolutely not the same thing as saying “people are all alike.” They are most emphatically not all alike. Anyone who’s done even basic reading for historical and cultural context can figure that out, and if that doesn’t work then all they have to do is take a good look around. If that simple fact still doesn’t sink in, then they need to take up a different avocation.

That said, down to brass tacks. When we write a book or story or poem we always owe our subject matter accuracy of course regardless of what it is, but it goes beyond simple accuracy because we owe one thing and one thing especially above all others–respect.That means doing your homework and, to the best of your ability, getting it right. ‘Cause if you don’t, you darn well will hear about it, and rightly so. Other than that, though, you’re on your own. We all are. We are always The Other, no matter what or who we’re writing about.

Homo Sum: Humani Nil a Me Alienum

We can drop the wishy washy “puto.” It’s not an opinion; it’s the simple truth.

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2 thoughts on “Homo Sum: Humani Nil a Me Alienum Puto

  1. I agree: if we comprehend any parts of human nature at all, we are entitled to address those expressions in ANY culture!

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