December 16, 2006

Assidua stilla saxum excavat

In English: The persistent drip wears through stone.

After the water theme of yesterday's proverb and the day before, I thought this proverb would be a good follow-up. It is one of my favorite proverbs in Latin! The idea, of course, is that "slow and steady wins the race," but in this case, the scenario is much more plausible than a tortoise actually outrunning a hare. Water really does wear away stone! The drip drip drip of the water can wear away stone, even though the water is so soft, and the stone is so very hard. It is a profound but everyday event in the world of nature, and the metaphorical applications are enormous. If there is some daunting task that you face, some task that might even seem impossible, this is the kind of proverb that can inspire you to keep going! Be like the water... don't worry if your opponents are stone: you really can wear them down and follow your own path.

This is one of the proverbs that made its way into Erasmus's Adagia, 3.3.3. Erasmus cites many parallel passages from both Greek and Latin sources which express this same basic idea, and one of the parallels he cites is this couplet from Ovid's Ars Amatoria:

Quid magis est durum saxo, quid mollius unda?
Dura tamen molli saxa cavantur aqua.

What is more hard than stone, what is softer than the wave?
Nevertheless, the hard stones are worn away by the soft water.

This is another great example of how it is possible to generate many different forms of the "same" proverb, each with a slightly different shade of meaning or style. You can take the same basic idea and by changing one or two of the words, or just by altering the word order, you can come up with a version of the proverb exactly suited to the point you wish to make.

For example, today's proverb calls attention to the persistent dripping of the water, drop by drop by drop: assidua stilla. Ovid's version, on the other hand, calls attention to the paradox of soft versus hard. So, if you want to emphasize the need to be persistent in the face of adversity, use the saying assidua stilla saxum excavat. If instead you want to emphasize the paradox of how something hard can be overcome by something that is not hard at all, go with Ovid's version. The choice is yours!

Also, if the Latin word stilla, "drop," is new to you, just think of the English word "still," where liquor is dis-stilled (Latin de-stillare), drop by drop.

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

1088. Assidua stilla saxum excavat.

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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1 comment:

a latiiin student said...

omiG!! my teacher had that thingy in latin...with the rock and soft water...how it can turn soft with the "Nevertheless" as the first word on the 2nd line...she said it was a song tho