In the second episode of the docu-series Meet the Romans, I heard an intriguing epitaph for an ancient named Tiberius Claudius Secundus:
“Bards, wine, and sex ruin your body.”
This is not only a fantastic example of the comprehensive Rule of Three, but… What’s a comprehensive Rule of Three?
[A] thrice repeated emphasis is an example of what the Romans called omne trium perfectum, meaning “every three is perfect.” We see this pattern both in literature and the visual arts. In photography and painting, it is often called the Rule of Thirds…
In writing, it is called the Rule of Three. But, although all threes may be perfect, not all threes are the same.
The comprehensive version of this Rule aims “to encompass all possibilities.”
… The three bears who confront Goldilocks are Papa Bear who was too much, Mama Bear who was too little, and Baby Bear who was just right. The audience facing Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony are wrapped up as “Friends, Romans, Countrymen.” The Christian dogmatic Trinity expresses the godhead as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The triplet I heard on Meet the Romans seems to fall into this category. “Bards, wine, and sex” are the Trinity of debauchery. We can almost see the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in bards, certainly the wine in the Son (who was compelled by his mom to make it from water), and sexual union in God “the Father” who created humans in “his” image: “male and female created he them” according to Genesis 5:2.
Only, I misheard Meet the Romans. The actual epitaph:
Balnea, vina, Venus corrumpunt corpora nostra;
sed vitam faciunt balnea, vina, Venus.
Which, accurately translated, is:
Baths, wine, and sex spoil our bodies;
but baths, wine, and sex make up life.
So, it’s intriguing that I switched out “bards” for “baths.” (To be fair to myself, those two words sound very alike to my American ear in the narrator’s British accent.) What cognitive bias had led me to the wrong interpretation? What “right” answer had I been looking for?
Perhaps, I heard in that epitaph an echo of the classic “wine, women, and song.” Or the more modern “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.” It’s a triplet echoed in languages from ancient Sanskrit (“Sur, sura, sundari”) to Colombian Spanish (“Mujeres, música, y trago”).
Amazing the grip that these triplets have on us!