In a tirade on the uselessness of Spanish for high school and middle school students, John Derbyshire writes:
No offense to anyone, but Spain was always a bit of an outlier of Western Civ. Name a Spanish mathematician; hum a tune from a Spanish opera; etc., etc.
I don’t know that I could, but many opera lovers could certainly hum one tune from a Spanish opera. In the Act II finale of Don Giovanni, Mozart has the band play a tune from the previous year’s big hit, and the Don himself says ‘Ah! Una Cosa Rara.’ The composer, Vicente Martín y Soler, died 201 years ago today. I would dearly love to see a live or DVD performance of one of his operas. Una Cosa Rara and La Capricciosa Corretta sound wonderful to my untutored ears, but I’ve never found it easy to follow a comic plot by ear. Of course Derbyshire could object that the Spaniard Martín y Soler only won fame by leaving Spain and setting Italian and Russian librettos. (He died in St. Petersburg.)
Later in his post, Derbyshire recommends Latin and misquotes Catullus as writing Da me basia mille, deinde centum. That should be Da mi, where mi is the shortened form of dative mihi. Whether we take me as accusative or ablative, Da me basia mille is gibberish.
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