December 06, 2006

Etiam me meae latrant canes

In English: Even my own dogs are barking at me.

I thought I would follow up on yesterday's proverb with another saying about dogs. Today's saying (taken from Plautus's Poenulus) is about someone who is in such a desperate situation that even his own dogs are hostile to him! A dog is supposed to be man's best friend, so you know you are in serious trouble if even your own dogs are barking at you. Metaphorically, this saying can apply to any situation in which you are being attacked by your own friends or allies (I wonder if Bush feels a bit like this with Gates telling the Senate that he doesn't think America is winning the war in Iraq...).

In order to illustrate this saying I thought I would choose two great storytelling moments. The first moment is the homecoming of Odysseus. This is not so much an illustration of today's saying as a counter-illustration. The great hero Odysseus has come home, but things are not good in Ithaca, so he has to infiltrate his own home disguised as a beggar. The faithful servant Euryclea recognizes Odysseus, even in disguise, because as she washes his feet, she recognizes the scar on his thigh (this scene is famously the subject of an essay by Erich Auerbach, "Odysseus' Scar," the first chapter in his wonderful book Mimesis). But even before he is recognized by Euryclea, there is someone else who recognizes Odyssues: his faithful dog, Argos. Remember that Odysseus has been gone nigh on twenty years, so Argos is a very old dog indeed at this time. As soon as he recognizes his master, he lowers his ears and tries to wag his tail in greeting. As he does so, he give out one last whimper and passes away. This is the perfect opposite of today's saying: even while Odysseus has to disguise himself from his family and his neighbors, his dog is utterly loyal and faithful, recognizing Odysseus even when others fails to do so.

For a completely different homecoming, which perfectly illustrates today's saying, consider the story of the Emperor Jovinianus from the ever-delightful Gesta Romanorum. Jovinianus was proud and boastful, and he was punished by God to have his place occupied by a body double, a guardian angel who takes Jovinianus's place in every way: the heaven-sent impostor takes Jovinianus's clothes, his horse, and his home, leaving Jovinianus naked and desperate, unrecognized by any of his friends or servants. And, in a moment of desperation like the one expressed in today's saying, Jovinianus is attacked even by one of his own dogs:
Qui cum taliter nudus introductus fuisset, canis quidam, qui antea multum eum dilexerat, ad guttur suum saltabat, ut eum occideret, sed per familiam impeditus est, sic quod nullum ab eo accepit malum.

When Jovinianus was thus brought into the court wearing no clothes, a certain dog, one who had previously loved Jovinianus greatly, leaped at Jovinianus's throat, seeking to kill him, but he was prevented by the household servants so that Jovinianus was not hurt.
Interested in reading more of this absolutely delightful medieval tale? You can find the Latin text online at The Latin Library.

Meanwhile, here is today's proverb read out loud (no barking, I promise!):

1312. Etiam me meae latrant canes.

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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