September 18, 2006

Non mare transisset, pavidus si nauta fuisset.

In English: The sailor would not have crossed the sea, if he had been afraid.

This proverb makes it worth learning the Latin pluperfect subjunctive! The pluperfect subjunctive is most commonly found in past contrary-to-fact conditional statements, which is what we have today in the proverb: The sailor would not have crossed the sea (but he did cross the sea!) if he had been afraid (thank goodness, he wasn't afraid!).

This is a very inspiring proverb I think, since fear is something that usually threatens any sort of personal endeavour. It might be an endeavour as big as crossing the ocean, as in this proverb, or it might be something as small as going to a party (what if I don't know anybody? what if I say the wrong thing? etc.).

It seems very appropriate to have this proverb today since there is a special kind of sailor, nauta, who is up there in the sky right now: the astro-naut (star-sailor) Anousheh Ansari. Ansari is an American citizen who was born in Iran and she is wearing both the U.S. flag and the Iranian flag on her space-suit. You can read more about her at Ansari showed up in America as a teenager, helped to build a hugely successful telecommunications company, and was able to pay for the chance to travel to space. She is also funding a multimillion dollar prize to inspire the development suborbital spacecraft.

There's also a connection between the fearless sailor of today's proverb and William Strachey, the source for yesterday's proverb. William Strachey joined the Virginia Company of London in 1609, and while in their employ he was part of the "Sea Venture" expedition, a ship sailing to North America that became shipwrecked in Bermuda. William Strachey's account of this shipwreck seems to have provided William Shakespeare with some of the inspiration for this play The Tempest. You can read more about the wreck of the Sea Venture at wikipedia. The ship was caught in a hurricane. Imagine that: sailing across the ocean without any weather forecasting. We know now all too well what incredible destruction a hurricane can threaten, and it seems that the Sea Venture blundered straight into one. It's an absolutely extraordinary story. Stranded in Bermuda, the survivors managed to build two small ships which they used to sail to Virginia. They arrived to find the Virginia colony at Jamestown itself decimated by starvation and were preparing to rescue those survivors and sail to England when a relief ship arrived just as they were about to depart. Astonishing: I cannot believe no one has made a movie about this amazing set of adventures.

Now, don't get me wrong: I am beset by fears, like most people. I am not the sort of person like Anousheh Ansari or William Strachey, embarking on great trips across the seas of water or of space. Still, I treasure their stories and admire their fearlessness. It can be a source of inspiration in my own smaller endeavours!

Here is today's proverb read out loud:

3449. Non mare transisset, pavidus si nauta fuisset.

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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