May 24, 2007

Forma raro cum sapientia

In English: Brains together with beauty are rare.

I thought this was a good contribution to the previous days' proverbs about wisdom, sapientia. Today's saying is also about "wisdom," although I've used the word "brains" here in the English translation since the alliteration of "brains" and "beauty" in English was hard to resist!

The Latin word for beauty is very interesting: forma literally means "form" or "shape," but it also has all kinds of positive connotations, something like the English word "shapely."

There's a related adjective formosus, "full of form, full of shapeliness, beautiful." This is the word which gave the island of Formosa, now Taiwan, its name. The Portuguese sailors called Taiwan "Formosa" because it was so beautiful.

In Spanish, the word for pretty, hermoso, is derived directly from the Latin formosus (based on the usual rule where Latin f- becomes Spanish h-, as in fabulare-hablar, factum-hecho, etc.).

In Phaedrus, you can find a saying about how external beauty is no indicator of inner quality: formosos saepe inveni pessimos, et turpi facie multos cognovi optimos, "I have often found the beautiful people to be worthless, and I have known many who were ugly to look at to be the best sort of people."

Now, the Romans were also doubtful not only about the brains of the beautiful people, but also of the tall people! Another Latin saying states, Homo longus raro sapiens, "A tall man is rarely wise." There's even a great Aesop's fable about why the tall people ended up short on intelligence!
After Zeus had fashioned the human race, he ordered Hermes to give them intelligence. Hermes divided intelligence into equal portions and then applied it to each person. The result was that short people became wise, since they were more completely suffused with the standard dose of intelligence, while the tall people turned out stupid, since the potion that was poured into their bodies did not even reach as high as their knees.
So, with no hard feelings for the beautiful people and tall people who might be reading this blog, here is today's proverb read out loud:

28. Forma raro cum sapientia.

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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