March 15, 2007

Primordia cuncta pavida sunt

In English: All beginnings are frightening.

After yesterday's saying about the timid rabbit, I thought this proverb about timid beginnings would make a good, philosophical follow-up. The saying comes from the Variae of Cassiodorus, and the complete passage reads: primordia cuncta pavida sunt et aliter timiditas non tollitur, nisi cum rebus necessariis novitas abrogatur., "All beginnings are frightening, and fear is not dislodged by any other means except when the novelty is removed by unavoidable tasks."

This is a sentiment that makes a good deal of sense to me. I am a creature of habit (known to some as the "Queen of Routine"), and doing something new and unprecedented can be a bit alarming for me. Yet at the same time, when I simply have to do something, I generally am willing to tackle it. Then, just as this passage in Cassiodorus suggests, by doing what is absolutely required, I realize that the whole thing is really not as bad as it seemed at first.

Of course, I have to invoke an Aesop's fable which expresses this same idea by means of animals! Here is the story of the Lion and the Fox as told by the Renaissance writer Hieronymus Osius:
Villosum Vulpes non viderat ante Leonem,
Cui iam facta potest obvia paene mori.
Haec adeo perculsa gravi formidine fertur,
Maxima quae viso mota Leone fuit.
At iam rursus ubi datur obvia forsan eunti,
Hanc minus attonitam, quam prius, esse ferunt.
Tertia spectandi cui postquam oblata facultas,
Sustinet aspiciens tunc animosa feram.
Accedens propius quia compellare Leonem
Audet, et huic blandis vocibus usa loqui.
Nil tam difficile est, quod non tractabile reddas,
Creber ad has operas si ferat usus opem.
Res inopina movet mentes vehementius omnis,
Sed turbare parum saepe revisa solet.


The Fox had not ever seen the shaggy Lion before; when she ran into him she could almost have died upon seeing the Lion. The Fox is said to be have been struck with such great fear that it was the greatest fear she had ever felt. But then when it happened by chance a second time that she ran into the Lion as he was walking by, they say the Fox was less thunderstruck than before. When later on the Fox was given a third chance to look at him, she was able to endure looking at the beast, gazing bravely at him, because she even drew closer and dared to address the Lion and speak to him, using flattering words. There is nothing so difficult that you cannot render it manageable if frequent opportunity gives you a chance to try it. Every thing that is unexpected powerfully shakes the mind, but when it is seen again and again it usually causes little disturbance.
There's a great illustration of this online, with a fox who seems to be made supernaturally large by her own courage in saying "hello!" to the lion.

So, with hopes that you are bold enough to say hello to any lions you might meet, here is today's proverb read out loud:

65. Primordia cuncta pavida sunt.

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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