Your Asterix and Obelix comic was right of course, the quote from the Vulgate bible (Ecclesiastes) is: "Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas," famously translated in the King James Bible as "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
Lots of people don't like that translation anymore because the Elizabethan (okay, Jamesean) era language has drifted away from modern usage.
The word translated senseless, הבל (hevel), literally means vapor, breath. Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) uses it metaphorically, and its precise meaning is extensively debated. Older English translations often render it 'vanity'. Because in modern usage this word has often come to mean "self-pride," losing its Latinate connotation of emptiness, some translators have abandoned it. Other translations include empty, futile, meaningless, absurd, fleeting or senseless. Some translations use the literal rendering 'vapor of vapors' and so claim to leave the interpretation to the reader.
I actually like the King James version.
But leave it to a pretentious punk like me to challenge the vulgate Latin!
*Flashback to school*
(Monty Python: Romani ite domum!)
I learned a little Latin (little Latin, less Greek) in college, and as the saying goes, 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.'
Latin is leaving out the verbs, which should be "Vanitas vanitatum (est), omnia vanitas (sunt)."
I've got no quarrel with the first part, 'Vanity is made up of vanities.'
But focus in on the second phrase, "Omnia vanitas (sunt)."
For "omnia" _ "all things" _ to be the subject, it has to be neuter plural (see table at the very bottom of the post if you're interested). But if that's true, and it's the subject, shouldn't the last word ("vanitas") also be neuter plural? Because it ain't.
Here's some Latin grammar page I pulled up:
The verb “to be” (“sum”) is such a verb. It merely couples the subject with some other noun, or an adjective. For example, “Catherine is the queen (noun)” or, “Catherine is old (adjective).” Hence “sum” is called a COPULATIVE VERB. The nouns and adjectives that are coupled to the subject are called PREDICATE NOMINATIVES, to distinguish them from the typical nominative, the subject of the sentence. When you translate, make sure that the adjective on one side of the copulative verb “sum” is the same gender, number, and case as the noun on the other side. For instance, “Femina est antiqua”; “vir est antiquus; “feminae sunt antiquae.”
So if Omnia is the subject it should "agree" in number and gender with the form of "vanity" that you use.
If it were Omnis Vanitas, as I put it, no problem: "All is Vanity."
But Omnia Vanitas seems to say "All things (plural) IS Vanity (singular)."
Where I come from, you have to say "All thing ARE Vanity."
To make them both plural, it would need to be "Omnia Vanitatia"
or at least "Omnes Vanitates"??
In sum, I don't get it.
This is why I was never that good in Latin.
Latinists out there? Have I discovered a huge error in the Vulgate bible that millions of people have overlooked all these years?
I have the sneaking suspicion the answer is: no.
Maybe "all things" can be considered to be some kind of group single. Like: The United States IS big.
Or maybe it's some "Church Latin" thing. I hate church Latin.
At any rate, I'm damn well not going to change it on my web page until somebody explains to me why I'm wrong.
I will be once again amazed at the power of the Internet if that actually happens.
As a footnote, I came across a nice Disraeli quote while trying to figure this out.
"There is a great mistake in the Vulgate. . .the Latin
translation of the Holy Scriptures, and that is that instead
of saying “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” – Vanitas
vanitatum, omnia vanitas, the wise and witty king (Solomon)
really said, Sanitas sanitatum, omnia sanitas. Gentlemen,
it is impossible to overrate the importance of the
subject. After all, the first consideration of a
Minister should be the health of the people."
-Benjamin Disraeli, 1872.
(Here are the tables, sorry if they're not displaying correctly. I tried)
Declension of omnis, omnis, omne
masculine feminine neuter
nominative omnis omnis omne
genitive omnis omnis omnis
dative omni omni omni
accusative omnem omnem omne
ablative omni omni omni
nominative omnes omnes omnia
genitive omnium omnium omnium
dative omnibus omnibus omnibus
accusative omnes omnes omnia
ablative omnibus omnibus omnibus
Unfortunately, I had to do the declension of Vanitas (-atis 3f., a regular noun). myself, since I can't find it on the web. The masculine/feminine nominative plural is Vanitates, and the neuter is Vanitatia.
Nominative: Vanitas Vanitas
Genitive: Vanitatis Vanitatis
Dative: Vanitati Vanitati
Accusative: Vanitatem Vanitatem
Ablative: Vanitati Vanitati
Nominative: Vanitates Vanitatia
Genitive: Vanitatium Vanitatium
Dative: Vanitatibus Vanitatibus
Accusative: Vanitates Vanitatia
Ablative: Vanitatibus Vanitatibus