The movie Tombstone from 1993 was loosely based on real events that occurred in Tombstone, Arizona in the early 1880’s. However, one part of the film is particularly intriguing to viewers. The Latin duel, also known as the cup spinning scene. In this scene, Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo meet one another. They exchange snide remarks with one another before the insults turn personal. Doc Holliday was drunk in this scene and it provided justification for his antagonistic remarks.
Doc ponders “Should I hate him?” (referring to Ringo). He makes a clear statement that Ringo and himself share many qualities. He then proceeds to say “I’m sure of it. I hate him.” This is the part where one of his friends chimes in by saying “He’s drunk!” This was an attempt to soften the blow from Doc’s harsh words. However, to his surprise, Ringo responded to his Latin statement, in Latin. Thus proving he was an educated man and could play on the same level as Doc. Without subtitles, most wouldn’t know what these phrases mean in English. Let’s take a look at the translation and what part it played in the film going forward.
1. Doc says:
“In vino veritas.”
This means “In wine there is truth.”
2. Ringo replies:
“Age quod agis.”
This means “Do what you do.”
3. Doc retorts:
“Credat Judaeus Apella, non ego.”
This means “Let the Jew Apella believe it; not I”
4. Ringo then says:
“Juventus stultorum magister.” This means “Youth is the teacher of fools.”
Thanks to credible points made by commenters Al and Justin, I believe Ringo actually says:
“Eventus stultorum magister.”
Which would mean “Experience is the teacher of fools.” This makes more sense in
5. Doc Holliday finally says:
“In pace requiescat.”
This means “Rest in peace.”
As you can see by these translations, the argument escalated as the two men spoke in Latin. Let’s take it section by section to fully grasp the significance of this scene. The literal meaning of the words needs to be parsed through carefully to get at the actual meaning.
Meaning and Significance
In part one, Doc credits his “truthful” remarks to the wine’s ability to provoke honesty. He doubles down on his statement affirming he hates Ringo by saying the alcohol makes him even more truthful (than he would normally be sober).
In part two, Ringo replies with a light threat and essentially reminds Doc to “watch himself.” There are numerous translations of this phrase. Sometimes it can mean “watch what you do,” while other times it simply means “be careful.” This line is slick and almost flies under the radar because it’s not a direct threat.
In part three of the conversation, Doc responds with a typical remark of one who boasts confidence. He tells Ringo to “tell it to someone else,” implying he is uninterested and unaffected by Ringo’s attempts to rattle him.
Ringo realizes his threat was of no use to Doc and decides to respond slightly differently this time around. He says “
youth experience is a teacher of fools.” When he says this line, he reaches down to grab his pistol. This shows authority and experience on Ringo’s part. This was an attempt to further intimidate Doc and reaffirms his previous statement that Doc should watch what he says/does.
Things are taken to the next level when Doc responds with “rest in peace.” He says this phrase as the final response in the Latin exchange and solidifies his stance of confidence. It could mean that Doc is the one who will make Ringo rest in peace, or kill him.
Even if these short and compact phrases don’t sound like much at first, they certainly carry weight and are full of double meanings. Watching this scene over and over will help you pick up on the subtle cues.
The scene ends with Doc saying “Mr. Ringo is an educated man. Now I really hate him.” This is when Ringo proceeds to pull his gun on Doc. He shows off his skill with a gun when he twirls and spins his gun in a prolonged, intense scene.
What does Doc Holliday do in response? Hilariously, he mimics the moves Ringo did with his gun – but with his cup! Move by move, he twirls and spins his slightly battered tin cup, confounding those watching and Ringo.
Image credit: Bob Boze Bell
FAQs: The Real Life Doc and Ringo
What are the similarities between Doc and Ringo (if any)?
Doc and Ringo were not as similar as they may appear in this scene. Aside from the fact they both dressed well and enjoyed the same type of beverage, the two characters were not that similar in real life.
Is it true that both men spoke Latin in real life?
During the time both men lived (which was the mid to late 1800’s) speaking Latin was a common part of school education. Doc received a higher quality education than Ringo and therefore spoke Latin, along with a smattering of French and Greek. Ringo likely did not have the same opportunity and is only recorded to have attended basic education as a child in Missouri. He may, however, have picked up enough Latin to keep up his end of a conversation.