After "rowing against the current" in yesterday's proverb, I thought an observation about deep waters would be a good follow-up for today. The English saying "still waters run deep" is still very well-known, and this Latin saying is just a slightly different way to say the same thing: water that is deep, aqua profunda, is still quieta.
As often, Heinrich Kocher offers many related Latin sayings for comparison:Altissima quaeque flumina minimo labuntur sono, "The deepest waters glide by with the least sound," Flumina tranquillissima saepe sunt altissima, "The most tranquil streams are often the deepest," Quamvis sint lenta, sint credula nulla fluenta, "Not matter how slow-moving, no streams can be trusted," Qui fuerit lenis, tamen haud bene creditur amni, "It might be slow-moving, but it is still not a good idea to trust a river."
These variants sayings are more explicit in their warnings: there are dangers that lurk in the deep waters! In our modern lives, we don't have to stand at the shore of a stream and decide whether or not it is safe for us to cross. We just use the bridge provided for us and cross the water without a second thought.
This was not so in the ancient world where you could easily find yourself facing a creek or stream or even a river and having to decide for yourself whether it was safe for you to cross it (on foot, on horse, with your wagon, etc.). This proverb served an important function, warning you that even if the stream looked calm on top, it still might be deep, and therefore dangerous for you to cross.
Practically speaking, then, the literal application of this proverb is a useful one, warning you to be careful when deciding whether or not to ford a river. Metaphorically, it can offer a huge range of applications, far beyond the world of river crossings. The warning is that, just like the deceptive river waters, many things in life might look smooth and tranquil, but there are depths to the situation which you cannot perceive, and which you could plunge into at your peril.
The phrase "still waters run deep" is still widely recognized in English, but I wonder how many people have really thought about what it means? In Roman times, the literal meaning of the proverb was reinforced every time you crossed a river. In modern times, the literal meaning has become irrelevant to our lives. I suspect that takes away from the force of the metaphorical applications of the saying as a result. If we do not appreciate the real and present danger of being swept away in the waters of a river, can we really understand what it means to say "still waters run deep"?
So, with that question to ponder, here is today's proverb read out loud:
19. Aqua profunda est quieta.
The number here is the number for this proverb in
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