Jan's perspective

Non olet ...

Photo: Maartje ter Horst

Pecunia non olet. Since some of our readers may not be classical languages alumni, I’ll add the translation here: money doesn’t stink. We owe this particular nugget of wisdom to historian Suetonius, who recorded the story of emperor Vespasian. The latter reintroduced the tax on urine abolished by Nero in order to replenish the Roman empire’s treasury after its finances had been run into the ground. (Here in the Netherlands, the Roman Empire can mainly be found underground, but that’s another story). Vespasian’s son Titus (I hope you’ll forgive me the long list of Latin names) (and all the comments in brackets) complained to his father about the money’s odious origins. Vespasian (also history’s first ever scooter rider, but Suetonius never mentions that) tossed a coin and told his son: Do you feel offended by the smell? No? Yet it comes from urine.

Pecunia non olet is a paraphrase of this historical story. The logical, mathematical equivalent of this expression would be: if something stinks, it can’t be money. After all: shit isn’t money. Rotten fish isn’t money. And ‘Love is a stinking miracle’ [Liefde is een stinkend wonder], in the words of poet Leo Vroman. Obviously, he was trying to say: it isn’t money. Still, there’s definitely something fishy about a lot of financial transactions. There’s also something paradoxical about money: there’s more than enough of it, but lots of people don’t have enough. Inflation is skyrocketing, food banks have never been busier, winter gas prices are cause for serious concern. Still, Michelin-starred restaurant De Librije in Zwolle is fully booked until July 2023. Cafe terraces and festivals are packed. People willingly pay 110 euros (or more, on the black market) to watch Max Verstappen racing at the Zandvoort track.

I don’t begrudge anyone the right to enjoy divine food or sustenance for the heart and mind. Still, money needs to flow. The only problem is it always seems to flow in the same direction. If the richest 10 percent of the Netherlands were willing to live on 10 percent less, we could eliminate poverty from this country. Money may not stink, but the way it’s distributed certainly does.

Jan Beuving 
Jan studied at Utrecht University for nine years, completing a Bachelor's programme in Mathematics (2008) and a Master’s programme in the History and Philosophy of Science (2009). After that, he became a comedian and cabaret artist and is currently touring through the country with his newest show, Restante
.  See his websitefor his performance schedule.