January 22, 2007

Stultus quoque, si tacuerit, sapiens reputabitur

In English: The fool, too, if he can just keep quiet, will be considered a wise man.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb. Even if spoken words do not leave a physical trace (verba volant), they can still form a lasting impression in people's minds. This proverb points out that a foolish person can make no better choice than to keep quiet, and perhaps be considered a wise man in the process.

An English variant that I have heard on this saying is, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." This is a more discouraging proposition, of course. The Latin saying lets the foolish person hope that he might even be considered a wise man if he can manage to keep his mouth shut.

The Latin saying actually comes from the Biblical Book of Proverbs, where the full form is Stultus quoque, si tacuerit, sapiens reputabitur, et si compresserit labia sua, intelligens, "The fool likewise, if he keeps quiet, will be thought a wise man, and if he would keep his mouth shut, he will be thought to be intelligent."

As you can see from the number of this proverb, it comes near the end of the Latin Via Proverbs book, because grammatically it is more challenging than most of the other proverbs in the book. Conditional sentences are never easy, and this one involves a future passive form (reputabitur), along with a future perfect, which you often find in conditional sentences - but not in many other constructions. If you are using Wheelock, this is a construction that is not covered until Chapter 33!

Meanwhile, in the spirit of making noise rather than keeping quiet, here is today's proverb read out loud:

3442. Stultus quoque, si tacuerit, sapiens reputabitur.

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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Vox Familiae said...

Years ago one of my professors said to me " O si tacuisses, Philosohus mansises" or something close to this. IHave you ever seen this quotation?
Frank F

Laura Gibbs said...

YES, that is a famous variation on the same idea, too. Here are several versions of that idea of the would-be philosopher who ruins his reputation by opening his mouth:

Sile et philosophus esto.
Keep quiet and be a philosopher.

Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses.
If you had kept quiet, you would have remained a philosopher.

Intellegis me esse philosophum? Intellexeram, si tacuisses.
Do you think that I am a philosopher? I would have thought that, if you had kept quiet.

Odo of Cheriton makes a WONDERFUL comparison that links this proverb to the Aesop's fable about the crow who lost its cheese by opening its mouth:

Here is a quick English translation of the philosopher part:

Mos erat apud Athenas, quod qui uoluit haberi pro [p]hilosopho, bene uerberaretur, et, si pacienter se haberet, pro philosopho haberetur. Quidam autem bene uerberabatur, et, antequam iudicatum esset quod philosopho haberetur, statim post uerbera exclamauit dicens: Bene sum dignus uocari philosophus; et respondit ei quidam: Frater, si tacuisses, philosophus esses.

It was the custom in Athens that if someone wanted to be considered a philosopher, he would be whipped thoroughly and, if he endured patiently, he would be considered a philosopher. A certain man, however, having been well whipped, but before he had been judged to be a philosopher, right after the whipping, exclaimed: I am well worthy to be called a philosopher! And a certain other man replied: Brother, if you had kept quiet, you would have been a philosopher (Frater, si tacuisses, philosophus esses).