December 08, 2006

Regnant qualibet urbe lupi

English: Wolves reign in every city.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb about the wolf and the sheep. Today's proverb is one that can only be understood metaphorically because, no, wolves - those four-footed wild cousins of the dog - do not really rule in every city... but it might seem like they do! These "wolves" are politicians who do as they please and take what they want, with no regard for what is just or what is right.

The saying comes from a medieval collection of Aesop's fables (often attributed to Walter of England). The plot of the fable is an old and famous one. A wolf and a lamb have come to the same stream to drink, and the wolf definitely plans on eating the lamb, but he wants to find a good excuse. First, he declares the lamb is muddying the waters so that the wolf cannot drink, but the lamb notes that the wolf is standing upstream, not downstream. Depending on which version of the story you read, the wolf then launches into a series of absurd accusations, all of which the lamb is able to refute. One of my favorite versions of the story is by Sir Roger L'Estrange:
As a Wolf was lapping at the Head of a Fountain, he spy'd a Lamb paddling at the same time a good way off down the Stream. The Wolf had no sooner the Prey in his eye, but away he runs open-mouth to't. Villain (says he) how dare you lie muddling the Water that I'm a drinking? Indeed, says the poor Lamb, I did not think that my drinking here below could have foul'd your Water so far above. Nay, says t'other, you'll never leave your chopping of Logick, till your Skin's turn'd over your Ears, as your Father's was, a matter of six months ago, for prating at this saucy rate; you remember it full well, Sirrah. If you'll believe me, Sir, (quoth the innocent Lamb, with fear and trembling) I was not come into the World then. Why thou Impudence, cries the Wolf, hast thou neither Shame nor Conscience? But it runs in the Blood of your whole Race, Sirrah, to hate our Family; and therefore since Fortune has brought us together so conveniently, you shall e'en pay some of your Forefathers Scores before you and I part. And so without any more ado, he leap'd at the Throat of the miserable helpless Lamb, and tore him immediately to pieces.
In appending a moral to the story, L'Estrange uses the wonderful English proverb, Tis an easy Matter to find a Staff to beat a Dog. In Walter of England's medieval version, which is written in elegiac couplets, the moral is expressed as follows:
Sic nocet innocuo nocuus, causamque nocendi
Invenit. Hi regnant qualibet urbe lupi

Thus the harmful one harms the harmless, and finds a reason for doing the harm. These wolves reign in every city.
If you are interested in reading an ancient Roman version of this fable, you can find it online over at, with English translation and grammar help, and there is an audio reading over at, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1311. Regnant qualibet urbe lupi.

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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