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Who said: “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”
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Thumbnail of Publius Ovid (source)
Publius Ovid
(20 Mar 43 B.C. - 17)

Roman poet who ranks with Virgil and Horace as one of the great poets of Latin literature.

Publius Ovid
“Some wounds are made worse”

Illustrated Quote - Large (800 x 600 px)

Publius Ovid quote Some wounds are made worse
Wall mural uncovered at Pompeii shows a Roman army medic using pinchers to remove an object from a soldier’s wound from before 79 a.d. (source)
Curando fieri quaedam majora videmus vulnera, quae melius non tetigisse fuit.
Some wounds are made worse by treatment, as we see: it had been better not to touch them.
— Publius Ovid
From Epistolae ex Ponto, III, 7, 25, translated by Arthur Leslie Wheeler.

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A more common translation of this quote is commonplace in books and on the web: “Some wounds grow worse beneath the surgeon’s hand; ’Twere better that they were not touched at all.”1 Which seems to belong to a medical treatment context. WRONG! On looking at the original Latin text, no word in it is remotely about either a surgeon or a hand. Thomas Benfield Harbottle translated using a much too liberal poetic licence. This isl understood from a closer look at the original Latin text, as below. Which is why Webmaster chose to use another translation, by Arthur Leslie Wheeler that is closer to the original, shown above as the subject quote.

The original Latin text is Curando fieri quaedam majora videmus vulnera, quae melius non tetigisse fuit. Putting it through Google’s translation engine, the raw literal result is: “We see greater things to be done taking care of the kind of wounds, which would be better not to touch them.” Rather clumsy, but using Google translate and checking word by word, there is no surgeon and no hand to be found in the original text.

Digging deeper into the context means taking a larger view of the text, thus:

Spem iuvat amplecti, quae non iuvat inrita semper, et, fieri cupias siqua, futura putes. Proximus huic gradus est bene desperare salutem seque semel vera scire perisse fide. Curando fieri quaedam maiora videmus vulnera, quae melius non tetigisse fuit. Mitius ille perit, subita qui mergitur unda, quam sua qui tumidis brachia iactat aquis. Cur ego concepi Scythicis me posse carere finibus et terra prosperiore frui? Cur aliquid de me speraui lenius umquam? An fortuna mihi sic mea nota fuit? Torqueor en gravius repetitaque forma locorum…”

Fortunately, the heavy lifting has been done in the translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler:

“Tis good to embrace a hope—though it bring no good and be ever vain—and whatever you long for that you may deem will happen. The next stage is utterly to give up hope of salvation, to know once and for all with full assurance that one is lost.

Some wounds are made worse by treatment, as we see: it had been better not to touch them.

More merciful is his death who is suddenly overwhelmed by the waters than his who wearies his arms in the heaving seas. Why did I conceive it possible for me to leave the Scythian land and enjoy a happier one? Why did I ever hope any mercy for myself? Was it thus that I had come to know my fate? Lo! my torture is all the worse…”

So, from the bigger picture, is becomes clear that  the context is solely concerning emotional wounds. No blood involved. No surgeon. No stitches. For this emotional wound, Ovid says better not to drag it out, by trying to fix it up. No. Just take a quick end instead. A much darker meaning than anything about a surgeon’s hand!

The conclusion is thus. To use this quote in the context of surgical medical treatment is far out of context - unless used only in a metaphorical sense. Anguish and sorrow are the wounds referred to. So Webmaster suggests the quote is best used in a context similar to the familiar phrase, “don't open old wounds.” Take care how you console someone going through grief. Don't bring the subject up, if the trying to help, interrupts a natural healing process.

1 Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations (Classical) (1897), 39.

Commentary by Webmaster, with quotes from Epistolae ex Ponto, III, 7, 25. Original Latin and side-by-side translation in Arthur Leslie Wheeler (trans.), Ovid: With an English Translation: Tristia, Ex Ponto (1939), 416-417. (source)

See also:

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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