‘Everyone loves you on your deathbed’ (omnes te moriturum amant), or so says the inscription on the fictional Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, seen just before the closing credits of tonight’s episode of House on Fox.
As my wife pointed out, this bears an uncanny resemblance to that familiar gladiatorial phrase, morituri te salutamus. (EDIT: Keen readers have pointed toward the correct form: ‘have imperator, morituri te salutant,’ which comes from Suetonius, 5. 21.)
We think director/star Hugh Laurie was having a bit of a laugh.
UPDATE: My wife tells me that a commenter at the AV Club claimed this to be the motto of the Cambridge Footlights, but the internet tells me their motto is ‘ars celare artem est’, a version of a common theme (compare Quintilian, Inst. Or. 1.10, ‘ea prima [ars] est, ne ars esse videatur’).
Searching today, I’m delighted to see that my translation ‘everyone loves you on your deathbed,’ has cropped up in a few places around the web.
Does anyone have any real insight on the phrase’s inclusion in the show?
INTERPRETATION: Now that I reckon most people have seen the episode I’ll tell you what I think. This is House, and so we should be a little cynical in our reading. TE MORITVRVM means (literally) ‘you being about to die,’ and while my translation (‘on your deathbed’) was called poetic on Wikipedia, all translation should be. The ultimate judge in translation should be sense wedded with style. How do you say in English what the Latin said, in the way the Latin said it? I gave a colloquial translation, but what does the context of the episode tell us about sense?
Throughout the episode various of the characters derived great pleasure from tormenting others. House and the dying Classics professor from Princeton trading barbs and cutting insights, Taub and Foreman digging into one another’s pasts or trading physical blows, Wilson and 13 extracting ‘truths’ and issuing humiliating dares, the boy pinching his baby sister. I think much of this depends on the English idiom which I suspect is behind the phrase, namely the metaphorical use of ‘dying’ and ‘killing’. Everyone takes pleasure when you are on the verge of death, metaphorically or not. They enjoy watching you squirm.
That was the entertainment, and the common theme. But in the literal sense, and seen in the episode’s more serious counterpoint, House connected with the dying Classics professor, and though he maintained his shell for much of the exchange, showed his humanity, encouraged him to express his love—however distantly— to his estranged daughter, opened his own soul, and apologized for not taking his case. He connected with him, eased his pain, and waited with him while he died.
If House is capable of doing that, everyone is. Death humanizes all of us. And when the missing baby, feared dead, was reunited with her family by Dr. Cuddy, there never was a more perfect image of joy.