What is the difference between Latin words "cupire" and "desiderare" in "Melius est videre quod cupias, quam desiderare quod nescias." (It is better to see (=contemplate?) what you want than to desire (?) what you do not know (=understand?), Ecclesiastes 6:9)? Does "desiderare" then imply a more abstract type of wishing (when you are not sure what exactly you wish for), or?

  • 1
    The former relates to cupid, the latter to desire.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 6:22

1 Answer 1


The poetic style uses the words as synonyms with no intent of a difference. The rest of the context is the difference. In fact, cupire is supplied as understood in the Hebrew. The Hebrew vocabulary is simple in this verse, but the translation more complex.

A more literal, but not better, translation of the Hebrew, by neglecting the nuances would be:

"Good/better an appearance to the eyes than a walking/wandering soul/life; this also is vapor/vanity and a striving spirit/wind."

Here's a commentary:

(XII) Vanity of Desires (6:7-12). The basic fact is that man’s desires cannot be fulfilled (the thrust of v. 7 is different from a similar saying in Prv 16:26). Hence, the wise man has no advantage over the fool, nor is there a profit for the poor man for his conduct. The saying quoted in v. 9 amounts to our popular proverb, “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” Apparently, vision (“what the eyes see”) is taken as some sort of possession, at least in comparison with desire. Yet, in view of the many uncertainties that already have been rehearsed by the author, the basic vanity of any alleged “possession” is clear. In v. 10 he returns to the thought of 3:14-15; God’s sovereign (and, for man, unintelligible and uncontrollable) causality. In contrast to Job (Jb 13:21-22; 31:37) and Jeremiah (Jer 12:1-5), Qoheleth cannot contend with God; “many sayings” (cf. 5:1-6) cannot disguise the fact that man does not know the future, especially his own (cf. 3:22)! -- Brown, R. E., Fitzmyer, J. A., & Murphy, R. E. (1996). The Jerome Biblical commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 537–538). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.