September 20, 2006

Noli numerare pullos antequam nascuntur.

In English: Don't count the chicks before they are born.

Or, as we say more commonly in English, "don't count your chickens before they are hatched." I decided to include this proverb today in honor of the State Fair. We went up to the State Fair in Oklahoma City today and saw, in one of the exhibit halls, an "Egg Plant," where they had eggs, and chicks, and chickens, in order to teach children about farm production.

This is a famous proverb, even today, although I am not sure how many people know the fable that goes along with it. It's originally a fable from ancient India that then passed into the Arabic tradition, and thence into the European tradition during the Middle Ages. The story easily assimilated itself into the Aesop's fable tradition, even though it is not originally from Aesop. In his verse Fables, The French poet Jean de La Fontaine provides what has become the "standard" European version, about a milkmaid: The Milkmaid and the Pot of Milk. The milkmaid was making her way to town, balancing a pot of milk on her head. She thought about how she would sell the milk and buy a hundred eggs, and she could then sell the chickens to buy a pig, whom she would fatten up and sell in order to buy a calf and cow, and she imagined how the calf would leap about in the field, and then she herself leaped, and as she leaped, she spilt the milk and ended up with nothing.

The ancient Indian version is usually about a man rather than a woman. The man has a pot of oil, which he has carefully placed on a shelf above his head. He is going to take the oil to the market and sell it, whereupon he will buy sheep, and he will care for the sheep and they will have lambs, and when the flock became large enough, he would be able to take a wife, and then he would have a son, but the son would misbehave and, by God, he would beat that boy and teach him a lesson - whereupon the man lifts up his cane as if to beat the boy, and in doing so he bangs the cane into the jar and it spills the oil all over him.

So: don't count your chickens before they are hatched, especially if it means you are going to spill the milk or break the pot of oil as a result! These kinds of stories are the pessimistic (realistic?) counterpoint to the news story, quickly taking on all the qualities of a mythical tale, about the man who parlayed his one red paperclip into a house by a series of deft trades. You can read more about that mass media fairy tale at Kyle McDonald's blog: One Red Paperclip.

And if you are looking at all the paperclips lying there on your desk right at this moment, thinking how you might turn them into houses, do keep today's proverb in mind! :-)

And here is today's proverb read out loud:

3038. Noli numerare pullos antequam nascuntur.

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.

No comments: