March 27, 2007

Iucunda poma, si procul custodia

In English: Fruits are sweet if the guard is far away.

Since I've posted two proverbs based on the Latin word procul recently (Procul a Iove, procul a fulmine, and Procul ex oculis, procul ex mente), I thought this would be a good follow-up saying. The idea, of course, is that the value of something depends on its context. The question is not so much whether the fruits are sweet in and of themselves. Instead, the fruits are sweet if you can get at them, safe from the interference of someone or something that might be protecting those fruits from your predations!

There is a famous Aesop's fable about "sour grapes" which illustrates exactly the opposite idea. Here is a version of the story by Phaedrus:
Fame coacta vulpes alta in vinea
uvam adpetebat, summis saliens viribus.
Quam tangere ut non potuit, discedens ait:
"Nondum matura es; nolo acerbam sumere."
Qui, facere quae non possunt, verbis elevant,
adscribere hoc debebunt exemplum sibi.

Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine, leaping with all her strength. As she couldn't manage to reach the grapes, she went away and said: "You aren't even ripe yet! I don't eat sour grapes." People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain should apply this instructive little story to their own lives.
So, fruits are sweet if the guard is far away, but if the fruits are out of reach, you might be tempted, like the fox, to say that they are sour!

The most famous guarded fruits in mythology would be the golden apples in the garden of the Hesperides, protected by a hundred-headed dragon who was always awake. You can read about this famous dragon, named Ladon, at wikipedia.

So, hoping the produce section in your supermarket is not guarded by any kind of dragon, here is today's proverb read out loud:

115. Iucunda poma, si procul custodia.

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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