March 11, 2007

Aqua et panis est vita canis

In English: A dog's life is water and bread.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb, which was also about dogs. Today's proverb is about how a dog does not enjoy a very good life, condemned to a diet of bread and water, like some prisoner in a jail.

We still use the phrase in English "a dog's life" to refer to a miserable and desperate life, even though today's pooches are more pampered than many people are! Compare also the phrase "to die like a dog," which means to die a violent or disgraceeful death, without dignity and honor. As the phrases "a dog's life" and "to die like a dog" make clear even in English, dogs do not always have an easy of time of it, trying to make their way as hangers-on in human society.

There is a wonderful English word, no longer in common usage, which also conveys the idea of the hardships of the dog's life: dogsbody. The dogsbody, or dog's body, is someone who has to carry out menial, laborious tasks. At the end of a day's work, the dogsbody would no doubt be dog-tired!

Notice that today's Latin proverb features a strong rhyme: panis...canis. The use of rhyme is a distinctive feature of medieval Latin proverbs. While medieval Latin poetry and proverbs often feature line-end rhyme and various forms of internal rhyme, the use of rhyme was actually avoided in classical Latin style. In English poetry and song-making, the use of rhyme is highly prized (just look at rap music today), which means that in many ways medieval Latin poetry is much more congenial for English-speakers than is the poetry of classical Latin authors!

So enjoy that rhyme when you listen to today's proverb read out loud:

312. Aqua et panis est vita canis.

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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3 comments:

Letterman said...

Can you help me? I'm trying to find out the english meaning for the latin word neuma. I know it is related to the drawing of breath but I'm unsure if it is specifically a musical term or can be used more generally to refer to breathing.

Laura Gibbs said...

the word you are looking for is Greek, pneuma (like in the English word pneumonia), and you can read more about it in this Greek dictionary online (this is a dictionary of Biblical Greek, so it emphasizes the "Spirit" definition first but if you read on down you will find breath, breathing, etc.)

pneuma

Letterman said...

that's great thanks - sorry for the late reply i've been having lots of trouble with my internet connection. Great blog, keep up the good work :)