November 10, 2006

In pratis ut flos, sic perit omnis honos

In English: As a flower in the fields, thus public esteem passes away.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb about how glory passes by like a puff of wind. Today's proverb tells us that Latin honos, "honor, esteem, achievement, etc." withers away like a flower in the fields.

The power of metaphors from the world of nature is that they seem to present an incontrovertible logic: of course flowers wither! Who would be foolish enough to think a flower is something that will last? Well, so too with worldly achievement: if you have seen a flower wither and die, then you should know that worldly achievement will do the same.

The verb that is used here to describe what happens to both flowers and to worldly glory is perire, which is a compound of the verb ire, "to go." Literally it means "to go all the way to the end" (as indicated by the verbal prefix per-). Metaphorically this comes to mean "to reach the end, to pass away, to vanish, to die." As you might have guessed, this Latin word is the origin of our English word "perish."

Notice that the proverb rhymes: flos... honos (the Latin word honos is also sometimes spelled honor, and you may be more familiar with it in this form). Rhyme and near-rhyme is commonly found in Latin proverbs, especially in medieval proverbs, yet it is almost impossible to convey that in the English translation. The rhyme in today's proverb is a fundamental part of how the proverb punctuates its meaning, but it's hard to capture that in English. Perhaps we could translate: "As flowers wither in the green, so perishes all great esteem," or something like that. Any ideas? If you can think of a nice rhyming translation, let me know!

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

2240. In pratis ut flos, sic perit omnis honos.

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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