April 07, 2007

Mus satur insipidam diiudicat esse farinam

In English: The mouse, when full, considers the flour insipid.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb about a mouse. Today's proverb is not a word game, however. Instead, it is one of those metaphorical proverbs. When the mouse is full, it isn't interested in eating flour. So, too, with people - when you've got a pantry full of gourmet food, you're not interested in eating Ramen noodles. Or, to expand the metaphor from beyond the world of food: when you've got closets full of clothing, you are interested in darning your socks, for example.

The humor of the proverb, of course, depends on the fact that the mouse is a creature who very rarely has more than enough for food to eat. The little mouse spends most of its life in a desperate quest for food, nibbling away at anything that it can find. Yet if some mouse is fortunate enough truly to have a full belly, then that mouse might turn into a little snob, turning up its nose at the food it would normally be quick to devour.

There's a great little saying that provides a counterpoint to today's saying: Fames optimus est coquus, "Hunger is the best cook" (you can read a previous blog post about this saying). The mouse is not hungry, so it considers the flour to be tasteless, but hunger would definitely give that flour a delightful savor!

Another saying that today's proverb reminds me of is the famous "sour grapes." When the hungry fox was not able to reach the grapes, it declared that the grapes were sour anyway, and not worth having.

So, judgments about what is tasty and what is not are relative judgments. When the mouse has no hunger, the flour has no appeal. When the fox cannot reach the grapes, the grapes are sour. The larger message is that when we dismiss something as worthless, we might consider our own situation, and just what it is that prompts us to make such a judgment!

So, hoping that like the little mouse you got plenty to eat today (and did not go hungry, like that fox), here is today's proverb read out loud:

1173. Mus satur insipidam diiudicat esse farinam.

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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