September 21, 2006

Camelum saltare doces.

In English: You're teaching a camel to dance.

In other words: you are wasting your time. The camel was the creature in the ancient world who was proverbial for being ungainly, so teaching a camel to dance is therefore a waste of time.

This Latin saying reminds me of the English saying about the pig: "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig."

The poor camel who wants to dance but who looks ridiculous shows up in the Aesop's fable tradition, as in this fable about "The Monkey and The Camel" (from Aesop's Fables, Oxford University Press).
At the animal convention, the monkey got up and danced. He won great approval and was applauded by all. The camel was jealous and aspired to the same success so she also stood up and attempted to dance, making a complete fool of herself. The other animals grew angry and drove the camel away, beating her with clubs. This fable is appropriate for jealous people who try to rival their superiors.
In another Aesop's fable about camels and dancing, the camel acts more wisely and refuses to dance the "Pyrrhic," a famous Greek dance:
While he was out carousing, the owner of a camel ordered her to dance to the music of bronze cymbals and flutes. The camel refused and said "I am lucky just to walk down the road without being laughed at: dancing the Pyrrhic is out of the question!"
Curious about Greek and Roman dancing? You can read more online in the article entitled Saltatio in William Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities online.

Here is today's proverb read out loud:

1551. Camelum saltare doces.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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