December 12, 2006

Cancri numquam recte ingrediuntur

In English: Crabs never walk straight.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb about "teaching an elephant to dance" or "teaching iron to swim." Elephants don't dance, iron doesn't swim and, as today's proverb tells us, crabs don't walk straight. If you wanted to recast today's proverb according to the pattern of yesterday's proverbs, it would go something like this: cancrum recte ingredi doces, "you're teaching a crab to walk straight." In other words, you're wasting your time.

There's a great Aesop's fable which uses the theme of crabs and their crooked walk to very good effect. It's about a mother crab who is trying to compel her offspring to walk straight, even though she cannot do it herself. I thought I would share Caxton's English version of this fable... from 1484! (Caxton's Aesop was the first edition of Aesop's fables to be printed in book form in English.) I've also provided a more modern English version by Joseph Jacobs, in case you find Caxton a bit baffling:
Caxton (1484): He whiche wyll teche and lerne some other / ought first to corryge & examyne hym self / as it appereth by this fable of a creuysse / whiche wold haue chastysed her owne doughter bicause that she wente not wel ryght / And sayd to her in this manere / My doughter / hit pleaseth me not that thow goost thus backward / For euylle myght wel therof come to the / And thenne the doughter sayd to her moder My moder I shalle go ryght and forward with a good will but ye must goo before for to shewe to me the waye / But the moder coude none other wyse goo / than after her kynd / wherfore her doughter sayd vnto her / My moder fyrst lerne your self for to goo ryght and forward / and thenne ye shalle teche meAnd therfore he that wylle teche other / ought to shewe good ensample / For grete shame is to the doctour whanne his owne coulpe or faulte accuseth hym

Joseph Jacobs (1894): One fine day two Crabs came out from their home to take a stroll on the sand. "Child," said the mother, "you are walking very ungracefully. You should accustom yourself, to walking straight forward without twisting from side to side." "Pray, mother," said the young one, "do but set the example yourself, and I will follow you." Example is the best precept.
For Greek and Latin versions of this story, see the fables collected under Perry 322 at the website.

I like the way this little fable builds on the essentialism of today's proverb ("crabs never walk straight") and expands it into a drama, all-too-human, of preaching and hypocrisy. It's definitely a lesson all teachers can take to heart! If we are going to do our jobs right, we need to try to set a good example for our students.

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

3035. Cancri numquam recte ingrediuntur.

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:

Anonymous said...

this phrase could be used as a good advice, to all people who walk in the wrong side of the road, this reflect some wisdom to be applied in life.