May 28, 2007

In vestimentis non est sapientia mentis

In English: Wisdom of mind is not in the clothing.

Today's saying has a message very similar to the message of yesterday's proverb, Sub pallio sordido sapientia, "Beneath a filthy cloak, wisdom." Today's proverb makes the same point from the opposite direction: not only does wisdom lurk under filthy clothes, but if somebody is dressed elegantly, this does not mean there is anything elegant about their intelligence.

The real charm of today's proverb is in the special form that it takes in the Latin, with the rhyme that is characteristic of so many medieval Latin proverbs: In vestimentis non est sapientia mentis.

To come up with an English translation that really does justice to the form of the Latin, we might say: "You can't tell from his clothes what somebody knows."

There's another rhyming medieval Latin proverb which offers yet another way of expressing this same basic idea: In vili veste nemo tractatur honeste, "In shabby clothes, no one is treated decently." A rhyming version...? How about: "If your clothes look shabby, you'll be treated badly." Okay, it's not a perfect rhyme - but it's close!

If you put these three sayings together, you get a pretty good sense of how mixed-up the world can be: sometimes a person in shabby clothes is really wise, while a person dressed in fancy clothes is not necessarily smart - but it's the person dressed in shabby clothes who is bound to be treated badly.

Of course, as you listen to my disembodied voice here, you cannot tell if I am just wearing an old t-shirt or a tuxedo (thank goodness!)...

385. In vestimentis non est sapientia mentis.

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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