March 26, 2007

Procul a Iove, procul a fulmine

In English: Far from Jupiter, far from his thunderbolt.

This is another proverb following the same pattern as the previous proverb, procul ex oculis, procul ex mente, "out of sight, out of mind." This proverb uses the same type of repetition to make its point: procul...procul..., "if you keep far away from Jupiter, you will be far away from the danger of his thunderbolt."

There is a variant form found in Erasmus's Adagia, 1.3.96, Procul a Iove pariter atque a fulmine, "Far from Iupiter equally far from the thunderbolt too." In his commentary on the saying, Erasmus explains, Admonet, non esse agendum cum praepotentibus, qui nutu possint perdere si quando libeat, maxime cum regibus, ac tyrannis. Habent enim fulmen, quando commoveantur., "This warns us not to get involved with people who are extremely powerful, who can with a mere nod destroy us whenever it pleases them; in particular have nothing to do with kings and with tyrants, for they do have a thunderbolt, whenever they are aroused."

Jupiter, or to use his Greek name, Zeus, is not just the king of us mortals but the king even of the gods. He was also a sky god, a lord of the thunder and lightning, and the thunderbolt, Latin fulmen, was his special attribute. From this Latin word, we get the English word "fulminate," meaning literally "to explode with a loud noise" (as thunder does) but also "to attack verbally; to condemn, denounce."

And Zeus did indeed use that thunderbolt as a weapon. Consider for example, the story of Salmoneus. Salmoneus was the king of Elis, a powerful warrior and the ruler of a prosperous people. Yet instead of being thankful to the gods, Salmoneus was boastful, and acted as if he himself were able to rival the gods. He commanded that his people call him with the name of "Zeus" and to offer sacrifices in his honor. He hung copper kettles from his chariot so that he would make a clanging noise like thunder when he rode, and the people were supposed to shout, "The thunder of Zeus!" as he rode by. Salmoneus would throw burning torches from the chariot, and the people were supposed to shout, "The lightning of Zeus!" Needless to say, Zeus did not like this one bit, so he blasted Salmoneus with a real thunderbolt, killing on the spot. At that moment, the people shouted, "This is the thunderbolt of Zeus for real!"

So, keeping an eye out for the thunderbolts of tyrants large and small, here is today's proverb read out loud:

399. Procul a Iove, procul a fulmine.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

If you are reading this via RSS: The Flash audio content is not syndicated via RSS; please visit the Latin Audio Proverbs blog to listen to the audio. You can also hear this saying read aloud at a Polish website: Wladyslawa Kopalinskiego Slownik wyraz?w obcych i zwrot?w obcojezycznych (weblink).
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