September 19, 2006

Hectora quis nosset, si felix Troia fuisset?

In English: Who would know Hector, if Troy had been happy?

Like yesterday's proverb, today's proverb is a contrary-to-fact conditional statement: Who would know Hector (but of course everybody knows Hector, the great Trojan hero who was killed by Achilles), if Troy had been happy (but of course Troy ended very unhappily).

The form Hectora is a Greek accusative form. It's not unusual to find Greek words and word forms used in Latin, especially in Latin poetry - and this saying comes from a Latin poem by the poet Ovid. When he was sent into exile, Ovid wrote a collection of poems called the Tristia, "Sad Things," and this line is from a poem in Book IV, poem 3, of that collection.

In the poem, Ovid addresses his wife, lamenting his exile and asking for her support. Here is the passage where the reference to Hector is found:
nec tibi, quod saevis ego sum Iovis ignibus ictus,
purpureus molli fiat in ore pudor.
sed magis in curam nostri consurge tuendi,
exemplumque mihi coniugis esto bonae,
materiamque tuis tristem virtutibus imple:
ardua per praeceps gloria vadit iter.
Hectora quis nosset, si felix Troia fuisset?
Don't let there be the red blush of shame on your soft cheeks because I have been struck by the fierce lightning of Juppiter. Instead, rise up with a mind to defend me and be the model of a good wife to me. Let your virtues expand to fill this sad situation: glory ascends the heights by a precipitous path. Who would know Hector, if Troy had been happy?
Troy was singularly unhappy, of course, and despite the valiant efforts of Hector and the other Trojan heroes, the city fell to the Greeks and was destroyed. Homer's Iliad ends with Hector's funeral, and then Vergil's Aeneid provides an account of the actual fall and destruction of the city. We happen to be reading parts of the Aeneid this week in my Mythology and Folklore class. The students will see Hector's ghost appear to Aeneas, and they will meet Hector's widow, Andromache, in Chaonia.

The kind of heroism that Ovid invokes here is quite different from the heroic achievement of the anonymous sailor in yesterday's proverb. Hector is famous precisely because he failed; he is known precisely because of the tragedy of his failure.

Does Ovid really find that thought to be a comfort to him in his exile? I doubt it. The thought is posed in the form of a rhetorical question, and it's very easy to imagine a response along the lines of "It would have been better by far if no one heard of Hector, and Troy had remained forever happy."

Meanwhile, here is today's proverb read out loud:

3448. Hectora quis nosset, si felix Troia fuisset?

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

If you are reading this via RSS: The Flash audio content is not syndicated via RSS; please visit the Latin Audio Proverbs blog to listen to the audio. You can also hear this saying read aloud at a Polish website: Wladyslawa Kopalinskiego Slownik wyrazَw obcych i zwrotَw obcojezycznych (weblink).

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