So, in an episode from the romance M. Bergeret à Paris, by Anatole France, M. Bergeret cites a saying in Latin:

Pulcher hymnus divitiarum pauper immortalis.

The translation given in the book I have (and found on the internet) is

C'est un bel hymne aux richesses que l'éternelle condition du pauvre.

I just cannot understand exactly what the french translation means, especially due to the second "que" (before "l'éternelle"). Going from Latin to English, I believe (I don't know much about latin) we would have something close to

What a beautiful hymn to riches eternal poverty is.

The main questions I would like some help on:

  1. Is my English understanding of the saying correct?
  2. What would be the English translation of the French version?
  3. Also, how could the French translator come up with such a detailed phrasing? Contextual translation? Or is it indeed true to its ancient origins?

1 Answer 1


1: I guess yes..

2: Off topic here in FSE but that might be: An endless state of poverty is a beautiful hymn to the wealth1.

3: French requires more words than Latin, in particular to render the declensions.

In any case, this sentence is a joke. The original Latin one reads:

Pulcher hymnus Dei homo immortalis

The immortal man is a beautiful hymn to God.

About the role of que in this sentence, it a pronom relatif prédicat averbal as in:

C'est une belle fleur que la rose

which is equivalent to:

C'est une belle fleur, la rose.

The verb être is implicit here so the translation might be completed that way:

C'est une belle fleur que la rose est.

and with Anatole France's translation:

C'est un bel hymne aux richesses que l'éternelle condition du pauvre est.

but we almost never explicitly use a verb here.

1Thanks to Luke for the corrections !

  • lit. "The immortal Pauper is a beautiful hymn to wealth." Given the phrase being satirized (nice find), I think that makes the most sense. If taking the "poverty" interpretation, I'm afraid your suggestion is ungrammatical. I would try something still close to the first syntax: "Undying poverty is a beautiful hymn to wealth."
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 12:59
  • The only problem remaining to me is the referred second "que". It seems like this "que" would start a subordinative clause, but it should be the subject of the phrase, shouldn't it? I would've translated the Latin phrase into something like: L'éternelle condition du pauvre est un bel hymne aux richesses.
    – psygo
    Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 21:17
  • @LukeSawczak Would *An endless state of poverty..." be still ungrammatical and/or is the issue elsewhere?
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 22:32
  • 1
    @PhilippeFanaro It is the subject of the phrase and those two wordings are equivalent in meaning. It's a type of cleft phrase that simply splits the subject and predicate along the lines you see there. There are lots of questions on this function of « que » (which does seem to trip up non-natives), e.g. here.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 23:30
  • 1
    @jlliagre I count four issues: (1) the lack of an article before the count noun "state" (2) "poverty state" sounds like either a country or the kind of state meant in programming (3) the definite article before "richness" shouldn't be used unless you have some richness in mind from before (4) "richness" doesn't normally refer to riches or wealth, oddly enough, but to e.g. the consistency and taste of cake. Your revision to "An endless state of poverty" fixes two of the issues. All four would be fixed by "An endless state of poverty is a beautiful hymn to wealth (or riches)."
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 23:35

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