By the way, we are Homo sapiens !!
What do we call ourselves? Human!! Yes, we are human, we are Homo sapiens. If we consider the case of Man, we should not be surprised to see that we are subject to classification as cat or rat in zoological terms. Surprisingly, we are labeled everyday and this labeling activity has created a solid flexible lexicon on Homo sapiens. Zoologists and anthropologists, they have to follow strict codes of classification and terminology, others don’t have to go by anything hard and fast. Just keep the Homo, omit the sapiens and pick a word perfectly Latinized which is very much expressive of the idea that you want others to perceive. May be it’s not that much easy but it’s very much frequent in the non-anthropological areas of knowledge, for instance, philosophy, literature, history. Hundreds of diverse terms have been employed by modern authors and people anonymous. Take these examples from French literature, Homo communista ‘Man the communist’ (Aragon 1946-1953), Homo liber ‘Man the free’ (Barres 1905), Homo machine ‘Man a machine’ (La Mettrie 1960), Homo nudus ‘Man the naked’ (Levi-strauss 1971), Homo problematicus ‘problematic Man’ (Marcell 1955), Homo singularis ‘Man the unique’.
In Anglo- American culture this practice of labeling Man according to his traits is also in vogue and the list of it is very much significant if one considers the size at least. For example, Homo unidimensionalis ‘one-dimensional Man’, Homo bidimensionalis ‘bi-dimensional Man’, Homo multidimensionalis ‘many dimensional Man’. Most of these concepts evolve from religious, literary, sociological and philosophical speculations.
The raison d’être that works behind this labeling (naming) is that Man as a human being is different from other creatures in some way. It is Man alone that has been able to codify his characteristics at every level of his life. Whether good or bad, light or heavy, overt or covert, Man knows best to verbalize his traits and thus to create codes for him.
Now let’s take a look at some interestingly striking codes or labels on Homo sapiens.
Term found often in Cicero with two meanings:
- a dejected, despondent, disheartened person
- a worthless, low, abject man
‘A man who is fit or good for nothing’ (Cicero).
Sallust uses the term as a synonym for enemy, though in general it means someone opposed and contrary to one’s ideas, beliefs, or actions.
In Terence, a person being more than a simple friend. A patron, a protector.
In Plautus, one who keeps a secret, trustworthy.
In Cicero’s terminology, it was employed in a bad sense meaning someone sly, cunning, artful. Also a shrewd individual.
‘Man the daring’ is attested in Roman literature since Plautus in both the positive and negative sense.
A good and favorable man (Pliny, Cicero and Horace).
A double-tongued, hypocritical, deceitful man.
In a good sense, it designates an ingenious, skillful, expert man (Cicero); in a bad sense a crafty, cunning, sly person (Plautus).
Human nature changes. It’s like a flux. Based on one’s necessity and situation, one changes his attitude, plan, goal, destination, etc. We can term this changing nature of human as Homo Instabilis which means ‘Man the unstable, inconstant, fickle.’ It is used by Dante in the superlative form to describe Man as a very changeable animal with regard to language and other habits.
Human nature is so complicated and varied. Man is labeled as Homo Potens meaning ‘a powerful, able, potent person’. We have the power to shape or reshape our nature. And that’s why we say human nature is protean. Naming or labeling the wide spectrum of human nature is always open because of this possibility of diversity. Whatever terminology or label we use, at the end of the day we are Homo sapiens.
N.B. All the phrases related to Homo sapiens in this article are taken from the book titled: ECCE HOMO! A LEXICON OF MAN– by Luigi Romeo, 1979.