February 23, 2007

In praetoriis leones, in castris lepores

In English: In the palace, lions; in the camp, rabbits.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's lion proverb. Today's proverb is about would-be lions, people who are bold as lions when far away from the battle, but who become timid as rabbits when they get near the actual fighting!

These are animal stereotypes that are still alive for us today - the bold, courageous lion, and the "scaredy rabbit." This is a good occasion for another Aesop's fable - a weird one, but very funny I think, about the rabbits who decide that they are such cowards, life is not worth living anymore. Here is the Latin version in Steinhowel:

Cum strepitus magnus ad lepores subito veniret, consilium simul fecerunt, ut se precipitarent propter assiduous metus. Et euntes ad oram fluminis venerunt, ubi multae erant ranae; at ille ubi agmen leporum viderunt veniens, expaverunt valde et in fluvium se iactaverunt. Haec ubi lepores viderunt unus ex illis ait: Sunt, inquit, et alii timentes; sequamur vitam, ut ceteri quam natura dedit!

Here is the Caxton translation, from 1484 (as you can tell by the spelling... or the lack thereof):

For somtyme as a hunter chaced thurgh the feldes and woodes / the hares beganne to flee for fere And as they ranne / they adressyd them in to a medowe fulle of frogges / And whanne the frogges herd the hares renne they beganne also to flee and to renne fast / And thenne a hare whiche perceyued them so ferdfull sayd to alle his felawes / Lete vs no more be dredeful ne doubtuous / for we be not alone that haue had drede / For alle the frogges ben in doubte / and haue fere and drede as we haue .

You can also see some early illustrations to Steinhowel online.

Luckily, the rabbits were content just to be braver than frogs. They didn't aspire to feel as brave as lions!

So, you can ponder whether you tend towards the lion or the rabbit end of the spectrum as you listen to today's proverb read out loud:

394. In praetoriis leones, in castris lepores.

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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