April 25, 2007

Ubi triticum non est, ibi non est farina

In English: Where there is no wheat, there is no flour.

This proverb is based on the same ubi...ibi pattern in yesterday's saying. I've been trying to come up with a good English equivalent for today's proverb, but I cannot really think of one - perhaps we just live in a world where flour seems to grow effortlessly on grocery store shelves, so we cannot appreciate the profound law of agricultural consequences in this saying, where a time without wheat means that there is going to be a time, a grim time, without flour.

Apropos of this saying, I wanted to share an Aesop's fable, not about wheat and flour, but about wheat and its sharp beard, called in Latin arista. This is not a classical Greek or Roman fable; rather, it is one of the fables of Abstemius published in the late 16th century. Although Abstemius has been long forgotten, his fables were quite popular in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Clarke's Aesop's Fables for Beginners, published in 1787, includes the fable, which goes as follows:
Quidam Rusticus impetraverat a Cerere, ut triticum nasceretur absque aristis, ne laederet manus metentium et triturantium. Quod, cum inaruit, est depastum a minutis avibus: Tum Rusticus inquit, "Quam digne patior! Qui causa parvae commoditatis perdidi etiam maxima emolumenta."

A certain countryman had requested from Ceres that his wheat should grow without beards, so that it would not hurt the hands of the reapers and threshers. The wheat, when it grew ripe, was eaten up by the tiny birds. Then the countryman said, "How rightly I suffer! For the sake of a small convenience, I also lost the greatest advantage."
If you would like to see Clarke's 18th-century translation, complete with 18th-century capitalization, you can see the text reproduced at the aesopica.net website.

So, as the poor farmer has learned, in order to get an "easy" harvest, he lost his wheat. Without the protection offered by the beard, the wheat was easily consumed by the little birds in the fields. This causes a real crisis for the farmer: as today's proverb warns him, where there is no wheat, there is no flour. The farmer and his family are going to go hungry this winter, unless he is able to get the goddess Ceres to give him some bread. Will the goddess grant him another favor? Probably not; the gods and goddesses are usually not in the habit of granting additional requests to human beings who previously squandered their divine favor on foolish indulgences, as this farmer did.

So, hoping your harvest today has been plentiful, whatever it is you are cultivating, here is today's proverb read out loud:

987. Ubi triticum non est, ibi non est farina.

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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