Pecunia non olet  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Pecunia non olet ("money does not stink") is a Latin saying. The phrase is ascribed to the Roman emperor Vespasian (ruled 69-79 CE).

Contents

History

Vespasian imposed a Urine Tax (vectigal urinae) on the distribution of urine from public urinals in Rome's Cloaca Maxima (great sewer) system. (The Roman lower classes urinated into pots which were emptied into cesspools.) The urine collected from public urinals was sold as an ingredient for several chemical processes. It was used in tanning, and also by launderers as a source of ammonia to clean and whiten woollen togas. The buyers of the urine paid the tax.

The Roman historian Suetonius reports that when Vespasian's son Titus complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father held up a gold coin and asked, whether he felt offended by smell (sciscitans num odore offenderetur). When Titus said "No," he replied, "Yet it comes from urine" („Atqui ex lotio est“).

The phrase Pecunia non olet is still used today to say that the value of money is not tainted by its origins. Vespasian's name still attaches to public urinals in France (vespasiennes), Italy (vespasiani), and Romania (vespasiene).

In literature

"Vespasian's axiom" is referred to in passing in the Balzac short story "Sarrasine," in connection with the mysterious origins of the wealth of a Parisian family. The proverb receives some attention in Roland Barthes' detailed analysis of the Balzac story in his critical study S/Z. It is possible that F. Scott Fitzgerald alludes to Vespasian's jest in The Great Gatsby with the phrase "non-olfactory money."

In That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis, the Warden of Bracton College is given the nickname "Non-Olet" for having written "a monumental report on National Sanitation. The subject had, if anything, rather recommended him to the Progressive Element. They regarded it as a slap in the face for the dilettanti and Die-hards, who replied by christening their new Warden Non-Olet."

Sources

  • Lissner, Ivar. Power and Folly: the story of the Caesars
  • Suetonius. De Vita Caesarum--Divus Vespasianus
  • Laporte, Dominique. History of Shit

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pecunia non olet" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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