October 27, 2006

Ego si bonam famam mihi servavero, sat ero dives

In English: If I will keep my good reputation, I will be rich enough.

I was prompted to include this proverb as a follow-up to the proverbs of the past few days which focused on the distinction between riches and wealth, a common theme in Latin proverbs. Today's proverb emphasizes the distinction between a good reputation and wealth. There is no profit worth the risk of your good reputation. Or, to put it another way, if you have a good reputation, that's money in the bank.

This week I watched a great old movie, Captains Courageous, which provided a delightful illustration of this proverb in action. If you have not seen this wonderful movie, I recommend it very highly! Unlike other movies from the 1930s which seem dated and out-of-place, this movie is a complete joy to watch. It tells the story of a very rich little boy who thinks he can get what he wants by bribery and by cheating. He so outrages the students and teachers at his posh private school that he is expelled. His father plans to take him on a cruise to Europe, but the boy falls off the ship and is picked up by a fishing boat where he ends up having to spend the summer because the fishermen, not impressed by the boy's description of his father's wealth, cannot afford to go back to land and abandon their summer fishing grounds. As the story unfolds we get to see the boy come to understand what it means to have a good reputation, earned by honesty and hard work. The story is a very simple one, which makes its message all the more powerful. By the end of the movie, the boy has earned a good reputation with those fishermen, and would rather stay on the boat earning three dollars a month honestly than to go back to the rich and superficial world of his former life. But don't worry: the boy's father is actually a good guy too and everything ends happily (although the film is a real tear-jerker by moments, that's for sure!).

The Latin saying itself comes from the Roman playwright, Plautus, and his play, Mostellaria. It's a delightful bit of Latin, with niceties of word order and word choice that are distinctively Latin and difficult to convey in English. In particular, it's a great exercise for students to see the future perfect and future side by side: "If I will have kept..." (servavero), "I will be..." (ero). You can just see how the future perfect here is formed by adding the future tense of "to be" on to the perfect stem (servav-ero). The Latin verb system is a beautifully integrated whole, and I'm always sad when students instead see it as a series of disjointed paradigms, which they memorize by brute force, rather than seeing its inner workings.

So, with best wishes for good grammar and good reputations, here is today's proverb read out loud:

3445. Ego si bonam famam mihi servavero, sat ero dives.

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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