by Kim Pederson…….
I came across the word “veritas” a few days ago editing a bio. In this context, it referred to an on-campus student organization of some sort (not identified). You perhaps know it better as the motto of Harvard University. It’s also the motto of several other schools as well as that of the Dominican Order of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, the word “veritas,” which in Latin means “truth” or “truthfulness,” is much more popular than I knew or imagined. Indeed, if Fox Mulder were reading this, he might say, “Wow, there really is a lot of it out there.”
And now for a few “for instances”:
- Veritas, Prince of Truth, a 2007 movie in which “Kern has to fight an evil menace that could destroy the earth when Veritas, his favorite comic book hero, comes to life and seeks his help.” Yes, the title might be a tad redundant but consider the audience.
- “Veritas” appears as an episode title in the TV series Sanctuary, Smallville, CSI:New York, and Castle.
- “Veritas” is the name of a monster in one of The Sarah Jane Adventures. It’s an alien who takes humans to task, ironically, for not telling each other the truth about aliens.
- In science, 409 Veritas is an asteroid name and VERITAS is the name of an astrophysics telescope in Arizona and a proposed spacecraft mission to Venus.
- “Veritas,” in addition, is the name of, among others, a political party in Britain, a software corporation, a German auto parts maker, and a Canadian tool manufacturer.
The list goes on and on. In her original incarnation, Veritas is the goddess of truth, a daughter of Saturn and the mother of Virtue. In Greek mythology, her name is Aletheia and she is the daughter of Zeus or a creation of Prometheus. She is also often depicted as naked and holding a hand mirror, a metaphor that captures one of the rawest truths, and perhaps the only bona fide one, we come across in our lives. Another belief about “Veritas” is that she is a slippery, elusive character who likes to hide at the bottom of wells.
No wonder we have such a hard time finding her. In this country at least, we don’t have many wells left to look in. If there were and we actually discovered her at the bottom of one, we could point and say definitively, “There stands (floats, dog-paddles) the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (no clothes you see).” But there isn’t and we can’t. In fact, no one can and there, in truth, is the gigaration (gigantic botheration or, as Will S. would say, one big-ass rub).
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it this way: “The problem of truth is in a way easy to state: [defining] what truths are, and what (if anything) makes them true.” It then goes on to list about seventy gazillion “theories of truth.” Maybe the only one to truly know is Pliny the Elder, who famously said “in vino veritas.” So if we can find a well filled with wine and drink our way to the bottom of it, perhaps there she will be.
In the search for veritas, however, I’m more inclined to take the Edith Ann approach. You might remember her as the little girl played by Lily Tomlin who always ended her stories with “And that’s the truth” followed by a loud raspberry. So here’s the trick: whenever you see or hear or read about anyone of any persuasion or profession claiming to be full of veritas, imagine them sticking out their tongues and making a rude noise right after. There, methinks, lies the real truth.
* Statue of Veritas outside the Supreme Court of Canada. Photo by Tomkinsr at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0.