The trouble with misused quotes is one of my pet peeves, which in a Woody Allen moment, I was able to “fix” (in a very specific case) a few years ago on national television when I was a talking head in a TBS documentary called “Women of the Ink.”
The documentary was about female tattoo artists, and I was the talking head discussing the ancient history of tattooing in European culture, specifically focused on the ancient Picts of current day Scotland.
“Venit et extremis legio praetenta Britannis, Quae Scotto dat frena truci ferronque notatas Perlegit examines Picto moriente figuras”
“This legion, set to guard the furthest Britons, curbs the savage Scot and studies the designs marked with iron on the face of the dying Pict”
Add a few more sparse descriptions (which are actually the first surviving mention of the Picts dating from 297 AD), in a poem praising the emperor Constantius Chlorus, by the Roman orator Eumenius. And then by just repeating the same partial quote over and over, historians get into a debate about tattoo or painted? What does “marked with iron mean?”
Even the name is confusing: Pict (Pictii) is actually probably a derrogatory nickname given by the Romans to their tattooed enemies; it could mean “Painted.”
The ancient Greeks called them the “Pritanni” (which some people think is the origin of the word Britannic). Pritanni means “the People of the Designs” as does the word “Cruithnii,” which is what the Gaelic Celts called them.
So I actually went and researched the source and text of some of the original documents which mentioned the Picts and discovered that the quotes were but a small part, and once expanded not only confirmed that the Picts were tattooed, but described the process (they used sharp iron tools (needles?) and a natural plant-based ink called woad, which is apparently (in some forms) highly hallucenic by the way… sort of a very strong PCP type drug).
Most of the misquotes were taken from books 9 and 14 of the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (560-636).
In the Chronica de Origine Antiquorum Pictorum (The Pictish Chronicle), an otherwise confusing text, he writes:
“Picti propria lingua nomen habent a picto corpore; eo quod, aculeis ferreis cum atramento, variarum figurarum sti(n)gmate annotantur.”
“The Picts take their name in their own tongue from their painted bodies; this is because, using sharp iron tools and ink, they are marked by tattoos of various shapes.”
Painted and tattooed!
When I bring this up to a very smug historian in the “Women of the Ink” documentary, you can actually see his proper British jaw drop.